House of Commons Hansard #65 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prorogation.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this issue.

Prorogation became a bit of a household word in Canada this year. It was not a term that was familiar to a great many Canadians, but this year it became familiar to them. They made a point of understanding what was going on.

My colleague, who just spoke, mentioned two prorogations in the last two years. In fact, we have had three in three years. However, the one in 2007 was what one might call a normal prorogation, where toward the end of the summer, the government decided that instead of coming back in September, we would come back in October. Oppositions do not like that, but they understand that this happens on occasion. However, this year and last year, there were two very controversial uses of this blunt instrument. Canadians were outraged. There was a positive side effect to this, which was that Canadians became engaged.

I am splitting my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for York West.

Canadians became very outraged and that is a good thing. They became involved. We had rallies around the country. I can recall a very cold day in Halifax, being at a rally with other members of Parliament, labour unions and people who were interested. There was a huge crowd that came out to express their concerns. It generated a lot of interest and a lot of anger. This is an issue about democracy.

Canadians may not love their politicians. We know, in general, they do not, but they do expect them to go to work both at home and in Ottawa. We all know there is work to be done at home. There is no question about that, but we follow a schedule that demands that members of Parliament be in Ottawa. This is where the elected voice of Canadians have a chance to impact on public policy, on the comings and goings of the nation, and it is important.

We had heard from some people on the government's side that the prorogation was a normal course of events. We know it was not. I have already referenced Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto, who has said that no Canadian prime minister had abused this prorogation power to the extent that the current Prime Minister has. He quoted Senator Eugene Forsey, whom I quoted earlier, who had said:

—an unwanted and uncalled-for prorogation a usurpation of the rights of the House of Commons, a travesty of democracy and a subversion of the constitution.

Another great Canadian, whom I do not always agree with but I always read, is Jeffrey Simpson, and he wrote, on January 25:

A prime minister has his forums, of which Parliament is only one. He has cabinet, caucus, and a public platform each and every time he speaks, here and abroad. Parliament, however, is the platform of every point of view from those who have been elected, and the place where, however imperfectly, the government is held to account.

That makes a lot of sense.

There is no question of why Parliament was prorogued. It was a difficult time for the government. The issue of the Afghan detainees was to be studied in committees and the government wanted to shut it down. We know that.

Arthur Kent, who is the brother of a member of the Prime Minister's cabinet, was quoted as saying:

—there has been an unwritten fatwa maintained by the Prime Minister’s Office against discussion of any and all controversial aspects of the Afghan debacle...if [the Prime Minister] is uncomfortable with democracy, he should quit his job.

That is good advice and his brother ought to listen to him.

Tom Flanagan, a former campaign manager, said on TV, “Everybody knows that Parliament was prorogued in order to shut down the Afghan inquiry”.

The reason this was done this year was to shut down something that was uncomfortable for the government. The year before, it was to avoid a vote of non-confidence. Canadians have voiced their concerns about that.

Why does it really matter? It matters because it is about democracy. It is about a country like Canada, the traditions that make Canada great, that listens to opposition. I contend that the government not only does not want to listen to them, but does not want them to even speak, to even have a voice.

The Prime Minister has been compared on occasion to former president George Bush. I do not think that is accurate. He is more likely and favourably compared to Richard Nixon, where politics trumps everywhere and politics is all that matters. Richard Nixon had his famous enemies list. Dangerous people such as Paul Newman and Mickey Mouse were put on this enemies list and other people had their taxes audited and everything else. In Canada we have an enemies list too of the Prime Minister. I could name all the people who have been shut out by the government, but I only have 10, so I will mention a couple of them.

I want to talk about KAIROS, CCIC and CCL. KAIROS and CCIC are two great voices of international development that for many years have represented a Canadian view on international development, sometimes agreeing with governments, sometimes not.

KAIROS and the rebel organizations that are affiliated with it, like the Catholic Church and Presbyterian Church, were defunded in December, totally caught off guard for no reason whatsoever. CCIC and Gerry Barr, who was very highly regarded nationally as well as internationally, have been told they are also in peril.

The Canadian Council on Learning was set up in 2004 to be the voice of Canada when it came to evaluating how we were doing on educating our citizens, a five year program, easily renewable. The government and the Minister of Human Resources have even indicated in committee and in a letter to CCL that CCL is doing great work. The minister speaks often about the need for us to do an inventory of skills in Canada.

How are we doing on post-secondary education? How are we doing on early learning and child care? How are we doing on adult literacy and workplace training? These are very important issues. This was what CCL did. CCL did this with all of the provinces in Canada. CCL had the respect of all international partners. It had the respect of the universities, the community colleges, the students groups, the professors and the researchers in Canada. It was told its funding would not continue. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The government has said that it needs more information, yet it has shut down an organization that provides the very information it says it needs and has left nothing in its place. It said that it would get rid of CCL because it made two mistakes. It was originally funded by a Liberal government and it was doing good work, which is unacceptable to the government. It shut it down, but said that it needed the work CCL had done, but it needed a bit of time to get it going. Does that make any sense? I do not think so. It could not even continue the funding that it had.

Prime ministers leave legacies whether they want to or not. Pierre Trudeau brought us the Constitution Act of 1982. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms brought Canada to a very important place internationally. We are respected in this world and understood for the values we project abroad.

Brian Mulroney did work on apartheid in South Africa. He brought us free trade and the GST. Some may like it and some may not, but in many ways, it transformed the Canadian economy. Mr. Mulroney was a respected international leader.

Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin got the books of Canada in order after a generation or more of them being out of order. They brought Canadians together. They made commitments to Africa. The G20 exists today in large part because of Paul Martin, supported Jean Chrétien.

Those are legacies that people leave.

The current Prime Minister is working on his legacy. When we look back on the work of the government, we will say that the government took one of the world's great democracies and ripped it apart. It is dismantling our social infrastructure, shutting out dissent, shutting out voices and shutting down Parliament.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government in the world, except for all the rest”. It is a messy process. When we encourage people to come in and when we listen to people, that is important and that is democracy. Governments in the past, whether it was Mr. Mulroney's or Mr. Chrétien's, had all kinds of non-governmental organizations and lots of civil society organizations who they did not agree with and who spoke out loud and clear against government policy.

We did not defund them or shut them down. Whether one agrees with a government or not, those voices need to be heard. Democracy is about those voices. This is part of the same continuum that allows the Prime Minister to shut down Parliament when it becomes inconvenient. In many ways, it is the Prime Minister's inconvenient truth that he does not like democracy. He loves power, but he hates government.

In order to have government and democracy, we need voices. We need voices outside Parliament and inside Parliament. When we shut down those voices, we shut down the ability of Canadians to have input into their government. In my view, what the government has done is wrong and it needs to be fixed.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Siobhan Coady St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thought it was interesting how my hon. colleague used former prime ministers and their legacies in his speech. He talked a lot about democracy. This morning in committee, a witness was before us, Mr. Jaffer, who chastised the government on that very same thing. He was a former caucus cheerer of the Conservative government. He, again, admonished the government for being undemocratic.

I thought it was very interesting that my colleague wove within his speech evidence of how undemocratic the government had been and the serious challenges to Canada that this had caused.

Could my hon. colleague elaborate a bit more on what he thinks the legacy of the Conservative government will be? Clearly, he thinks it will be proven to be the most undemocratic government in terms of prorogation and closing down debate on things. What else would he like to add to that?

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl mentioned Mr. Jaffer who was part of the government's legacy. I believe the biggest legacy will be how we have changed Canada in a way that Canadians do not want it to be changed and hopefully we will test that at the next election.

The member talked about Mr. Jaffer. Some of his former colleagues have said some interesting things. The Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism was quoted as saying about prorogation, “As a minister, I often get more done when the House is not in session”. That tells us something about what listening is done when the government is here.

I like another quote from one of the government members who said, “If we are sitting, how do MPs get to...the Olympic games. It makes sense that we are not sitting”. If there is one thing every Canadian from coast to coast to coast can agree with, is the last thing we need at the Olympics is more politicians. We did not need to be prorogued so we could go to the Olympics or so the government could recalibrate. We needed to be prorogued so the government could shut down voices of dissent with which it disagreed.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Sweet Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have great respect for my colleague from Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. Since he had all the quotes close at hand of other members, when he rises to answer my question, could he quote either himself or other members on how they vehemently objected in the House when the prime ministers he sat under repeatedly prorogued the House? Could he share some of those comments so we could see some continuity in their righteous indignation regarding this?

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I was not in the House or in the gallery when that may have happened. The government said that this was always happening under the former government. However, all the constitutional experts like Nelson Wiseman have said that no Canadian prime minister has abused the prorogation power to the extent the current Prime Minister has.

We already indicated there was a prorogation in 2007, before 2008 and 2009. We had three in three years. The first though was what might be called a normal prorogation. There are certain times when the House prorogues and everyone says that makes sense. The government may need to recalibrate because it has new ministers, or maybe there is a meeting the prime minister has to attend. Those are normal in the course of events.

What happened in the last two years were attempts to divert attention away from the government or to deliberately contravene democracy in the House. That is a very different use of prorogation than has been used in the past.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I want to render homage to the member's father who was a premier of Nova Scotia and who stood up to the public and listened to the people in some very hard times, but he never ignored them. The Prime Minister is the prime minister of prorogation, but he is also the Prime Minister of fake public events, which bar the public from getting access to be in front of their Prime Minister when announcements are made.

How fake is it for a prime minister to avoid the public? The member's father did not.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, that is one of the greatest questions I have heard in my short time in the House. I agree with him completely and I look forward to discussing it with him when the CFL plays its first ever regular season football game in Moncton in the fall.

He is entirely right and I commend him on the questions he asked yesterday about how the government was playing politics with announcements in New Brunswick.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate and to follow my very esteemed colleague from Dartmouth who has proven himself so very well here in the House of Commons.

I thank the House for the opportunity to speak today in favour of the motion which would, if enacted, help to restore an element of democracy clearly missing here in the House.

I have had the privilege of sitting in the House now for more than a decade but the past four years have shown me just how fragile democracy really is, especially when placed in the hands of someone who has little regard for the will of the people or for alternative points of view.

Despite being elected on platform of openness and transparency, the Conservatives have proven themselves to be anything but open and transparent. They have also proven that they will shamelessly use every trick or tactic possible to press through their agenda, regardless of the consequences for the nation as a whole.

The government has fired independent officers of Parliament for simply disagreeing with its policies. It has dismissed Canada's nuclear safety watchdog for suggesting that there might be some safety issues that need to be addressed. It has manipulated G8 and G20 summit budgets for obvious partisan purposes to the tune of more than a billion dollars. The billion dollar boondoggle is what it will go down as in our history books.

Now we have learned from within the Conservative caucus that key ministers might be blocking certain public projects in the Maritimes because improving them might not serve their own narrow political interests. I say shame on that kind of action.

Those are but a few examples but they do not speak to the larger my way or the highway approach to public administration that has been clearly adopted by the Conservatives. It is my way or the highway until the walls start to close in, and then, whenever the heat becomes unbearable or whenever the opposition parties have been pushed to the brink or whenever the systemic safeguards begin to react, the Prime Minister scurries to Rideau Hall and demands prorogation.

Prorogation is a process that, when used in this manner, is tantamount to the schoolyard bully hiding behind the teacher's coattails, begging for an intervention after angry classmates have finally had enough.

While prorogation allows the Prime Minister to sidestep Parliament, the one group of people he cannot fire, the Canadian people, have been busy watching with an ever-deteriorating level of patience.

This was made very clear during the Prime Minister's most recent recalibration, as he called it, during the first few weeks of 2010. Canadians saw his actions for what they really were and they sent the Prime Minister a strong and undeniable signal: stop abusing the authority vested in the PMO and get to work.

Unlike how it is currently being used, prorogation is a parliamentary tool that has historically been used to clear the desks, refocus the government's agenda and even to respond to looming national issues that arise without prior warning.

The Prime Minister's most recent parliamentary shutdown lasted 63 days after a session of 128 days in length. Since 1964, prorogations have lasted 12 days on average and parliamentary sessions have averaged 187 days. I would submit that prorogation is a valid parliamentary mechanism that has served a purpose in the past but I would suggest that the current Prime Minister missed that day when he was learning through the orientation.

Because of these facts, I have no hesitation in saying that I support this motion and that from time to time governments of all stripes have needed to use prorogation for these legitimate purposes. However, since the current Prime Minister has sat upon his throne, prorogation has morphed into a mechanism of suppression, not only for members of Parliament but for all Canadians.

To find a precedent for such abuses of power, we have to reach all the way back to 1873 when John A. Macdonald tried to stop Parliament from probing his railway scandal. To me, it seems as though, whenever the current government finds itself in a tight spot, it pulls the plug on the people's House so as to avoid the oversight that can and should be provided by Parliament.

At first I wondered if the flagrant misuse of prorogation was the result of the total lack of understanding as to the traditions of Parliament, the practice and procedures normally used in a parliamentary system of government. However, as the obfuscation and democratic disregard continued to grow, it became apparent that the government knew quite well that it was violating the spirit of democracy that it had previously so vigorously promised to uphold.

It is for those very reasons that I am now in the category of people who believe that, due to the repeated abuse of prorogation by the Prime Minister, controls must be implemented if unfettered democracy is to again appear in this wonderful chamber of ours. The Liberal motion before the House today strives to do just that.

The motion would permit the Prime Minister to use prorogation subject to the House's oversight for the purpose for which it was intended but would impose real controls against abuse of power.

For example, the motion would impose “a requirement that the Prime Minister give Parliament written notice in advance of any request to prorogue, together with his/her reasons therefore”. Who could possibly object to that? It sounds like a normal practice that should happen. If all members felt Parliament should prorogue, then we would all vote in favour of it.

All that is being asked is that the Prime Minister not pull the rug out from under the House without a valid reason. Imagine what the real impact would be? Had Parliament not been closed down for two months at the beginning of 2010, we could have actually given thoughtful consideration to the pardons bill that the government has now demanded we pass immediately with no discussion and, if we do not pass it, we will be criticized for not doing so.

I understand that the parties have now reached a deal on this matter but that is only because the opposition parties were willing to collaborate on behalf of all Canadians. The deal certainly says nothing to the government's ability to plan ahead, as we have clearly seen in the boondoggle with the G8-G20 summit, and to proactively manage the nation's business or co-operate with other elected officials.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

It being 2 o'clock, I need to interrupt the member. She will have three minutes remaining when the House returns to this matter.

The Environment
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico painfully illustrates the high price of fossil fuels. These fuels are increasingly costly and difficult to extract. It is urgent that we transition to cleaner forms of energy.

That is why I commend the government's efforts through the clean energy dialogue and I encourage the government to accelerate these efforts and negotiate a Canada-U.S. climate change treaty with the Obama administration.

A Canada-U.S. climate change treaty would allow us, as North Americans, to lead the world at the UN climate change summit in Mexico this November and would greatly increase the likelihood of a legally binding global treaty.

Global and local actions are necessary.

That is why I also commend the village of Eden Mills in Ontario for going carbon neutral and for being a national Hometown Heroes award finalist sponsored by Cascades and the Royal Bank.

The gulf disaster shows that we need to act quickly and we need to act now.

Robert Bruce Salter
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to remember Dr. Robert Bruce Salter, a world-renowned orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children, who passed away peacefully on May 10 with his family by his side.

I will briefly highlight some of his extraordinary accomplishments. He developed a procedure to correct congenital dislocation of the hip. The pioneered continuous passive motion for the treatment of joint injuries. He wrote a textbook of orthopedic surgery called Textbook of Disorders and Injuries of the Musculoskeletal System, which is used worldwide.

He was an inductee into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, a Companion of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Order of Ontario.

While one of the best and most respected orthopedic surgeons in the world, he just wanted to be remembered as a surgeon who treated children.

I hope everyone in this House will join me in remembering this remarkable man.

Ginette Lamoureux
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Roger Gaudet Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to highlight the 20 years that a woman in my riding, Ginette Lamoureux, has been involved in Regroup'elles, an organization providing assistance to women who are victims of domestic violence.

Ms. Lamoureux joined the Regroup'elles board of directors in 1990 and has been employed there since 1995. Now the director of the organization, she spearheaded the project to provide a shelter for women, seeing it through to completion two years ago. The organization already offered a telephone support service.

A woman who does not sit back and wait for others to take action, Ms. Lamoureux is known and loved by everyone and has extraordinary energy and determination. I would like to thank her from the bottom of my heart for her dedication to women and also for the contribution she has made to our community.

We thank Ginette, for these 20 years of service to women who are victims of domestic violence. Keep up the good work; they still need you. The whole community is indebted to her for the services she provides.

Stewart Memorial Church
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, throughout this year, the Stewart Memorial Church in my riding of Hamilton Centre will be celebrating its 175th anniversary.

Founded in 1835 by fugitive slaves who came to Hamilton on the underground railroad, Stewart Memorial Church remains as one of the oldest predominantly black churches in Canada.

Stewart Memorial has played a significant role in Hamilton's history as a centre for outreach and celebration and a positive force for change in our community. As a gathering place, it has brought people together for various events, and it remains an important institution in Hamilton's black community.

On August 14 and 15, the church will be holding its homecoming 2010 celebrations, which will include a street festival, a cultural marketplace and music and dance performances. More information about the anniversary celebrations can be found at www.stewartmemorialchurch.com.

On behalf of all members, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to Stewart Memorial Church and wish it continued success for many years to come.

Justice Legislation
Statements By Members

June 17th, 2010 / 2 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the spring session of this House moves toward conclusion, I am relieved that this House has finally found a compromise on Bill C-23 to prevent dangerous offenders convicted of serious crimes from receiving pardons.

However, I am convinced that the only reason such a compromise was reached was due to the outcry of thousands of Canadians and their many calls to many MPs' offices demanding immediate action.

It is reassuring to know that members of the soft on crime coalition still occasionally listen to their constituents and act on their wishes.

I hope that those members will pay similar attention to the express wishes of their constituents over the summer and that, come this fall, the soft on crime coalition will stop stalling important pieces of legislation, such as Bill C-4, which would make crucial amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

I also trust that the 20 opposition members who voted in favour of Bill C-391 will be capable of applying that same democratic deference this fall and finally bring an end to a wasteful and ineffective long gun registry.

Cupids 400
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Andrews Avalon, NL

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today and let everyone know about a time that is being held back home this year, with the premier events being held from August 17 to 22. We are celebrating one of the largest cultural events ever in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Cupids, a wonderful town in my riding, was the site of the first English settlement established in Canada. Some 400 years ago John Guy and 39 men established Cupids as their home and set out to secure and make safe the trade of fishing.

We are celebrating with over 50 events this year. There is a phenomenal summer schedule which on every day promotes traditional entertainment, archaeology and cultural significance and history through classical theatre.

Just a few days ago I had the distinct pleasure to participate in the official laying of the keel to begin building a replica of John Guy's vessel The Indeavour in the community of Winterton.

There is something for everyone and I encourage members to visit the Cupids 400 website at cupids400.com.

The events surrounding Cupids 400 will not have come together without the hard work of--