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

Question No. 250
Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

With regard to FedNor: (a) what is the total staff complement for FedNor for each of its programs and in what locations, for the fiscal years 2006-2007 to 2009-2010 and currently; and (b) what are the staffing projections for FedNor for each of its programs, and in what locations, for 2010-2011?

(Return tabled)

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

June 17th, 2010 / 10:45 a.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale House Leader of the Official Opposition

moved:

That a special committee of the House be hereby established to undertake an immediate study of all relevant issues pertaining to prorogation, including the circumstances in which a request that Parliament be prorogued would be appropriate or inappropriate, and the nature of any rule changes (either by way of the Standing Orders or legislation or both) that may be necessary to avoid any future misuse of prorogation;

that, as part of this study, the committee take into account the specific proposals for new rules pertaining to prorogation offered by the Leader of the Opposition, including: (a) a requirement that the Prime Minister give Parliament written notice in advance of any request to prorogue, together with his/her reasons therefore; (b) a requirement that there be a debate in the House of Commons after any such notice is given, but before any request for prorogation is made; (c) a requirement that the express consent of the House of Commons be obtained at the conclusion of any such debate if (i) fewer than 12 months have passed since the last Speech from the Throne, (ii) the requested prorogation is for a period of more than 30 days, or (iii) an issue of confidence is outstanding before the House; and (d) a provision that allows committees of Parliament to continue to function during any prorogation; and

that the special committee report to the House no later than June 23, 2010.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending June 23, 2010, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bills.

In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bills be distributed now?

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to present this motion about ways to prevent the potential misuse of prorogation in our parliamentary system.

As I do so, let me note that I will be sharing my time this morning with the deputy opposition House leader, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine. Among other things, she will be addressing some technical issues that have arisen since this motion first appeared on the order paper in April. We want to ensure that the motion is fully up to date.

Since notice circulated yesterday that this motion on prorogation was the topic we intended to offer for debate today, a couple of members from across the way have asked me privately why this particular choice was made, given that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has a prorogation study under way. That is a fair question, and I am happy to answer it.

The official opposition is, of course, fully aware of the work being done in the procedure committee, because we were the ones who initiated that work by that committee. However, there are at least four reasons why this motion today should proceed in any event.

First, the procedure committee is a very busy committee of this House. It is doing good work, but time is rapidly slipping by. The House is about to adjourn for the summer. As the Speaker just mentioned, we are on the final supply day. The last time the House adjourned for any significant amount of time, the Prime Minister, of course, took the further step of proroguing the House and Parliament altogether. Therefore, that threat of prorogation still hangs over Parliament.

In my view, and in our view on this side of the House, we need to put more effort into finding practical solutions to the prorogation issue. We need to put more horsepower behind this particular issue at this time.

Second, this motion is more comprehensive than the one before the procedure committee. It includes specific ideas for solutions to illegitimate requests for prorogation. The ideas include, for example, the requirement that the Prime Minister give notice that he intends to make a request for prorogation, and in addition, that he supply reasons as to why that request is reasonable.

There is also the suggestion that there ought to be a debate in this House after the notice is given but before the prorogation request is actually made.

Third, there is the suggestion in our motion that in certain circumstances, not only should there be a debate, but the formal consent of the House of Commons should be required, where appropriate.

Finally, we make the suggestion that, prorogation notwithstanding, the committees of the House of Commons, and indeed of the Senate, should continue to have the ability to function during a prorogation so that the wheels of democracy are not completely foreclosed.

For those reasons and because of the fact that our motion provides some specific suggestions to address the problem, we believe, again, that it is a timely and important motion to put forward.

With respect to the study under way in the procedure committee, it is, unfortunately, a rather invisible process. That is not a criticism of that committee. However, the issue is one that deserves greater public visibility.

This being the last opposition day in this sitting before the summer, it is timely to give the prorogation travesty some public profile once again.

This sitting began with a shameful padlock on Canadian democracy from December to March. The central institutions of parliamentary accountability were shut down, wrongfully, in our view. We all need to be reminded of that outrage and reminded of the spontaneous outrage of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Canadians who knew instinctively that what was going on with prorogation at that time was wrong.

Nearly a quarter of a million Canadians signed petitions on this subject. Thousands more turned out to public rallies. A hundred and thirty experts on parliamentary affairs and constitutional law wrote to the Prime Minister to point out the defects in what he was doing. Editorial opinion across the country was strongly averse to what the government and what the Prime Minister were doing with prorogation. They said, with a single loud voice, that it is wrong, and we want our democracy back. It is important to keep the public profile of this issue.

We need to make the point that prorogation is sadly a metaphor for something that is even worse. It is one way, but not the only way, this rather paranoid Conservative government tries regularly and relentlessly to avoid accountability, to subvert transparency, to muzzle criticism, to stifle dissent, and to silence voices that have the temerity to disagree with the government and to speak truth to power.

It all began with prorogation, and Parliament cannot allow that anti-democratic behaviour to be considered normal.

Back in 2005, the person who is now the Prime Minister of Canada said this:

When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent...is when it's rapidly losing its moral authority to govern.

Dissent is not tolerated by the Prime Minister, not in his cabinet, not in his caucus, and not even in Parliament, which he has padlocked twice in the past year and a half when the House of Commons kept asking tough questions about what the House considered to be Conservative wrongdoing.

Even more seriously, the Prime Minister resorts to character assassination and intimidation as an all too frequent partisan tactic. Think for example of Linda Keen, the former president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Think of Paul Kennedy, the former head of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Think of Peter Tinsley, the former head of the Military Police Complaints Commission. Think of Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Think of the independent officers of Parliament who are intended to supervise such fundamental things as free and fair elections, access to information, and ethics. They have all been vilified by the government when they looked into evidence of Conservative misconduct.

Perhaps the greatest abuse was aimed at long-time public servant and diplomat Richard Colvin, who dared to speak truth to power about the risk of torture in Afghanistan. His reputation was viciously maligned to belittle him personally, but equally, to intimidate other public servants and keep them from reporting wrongdoing.

Beyond the political precinct, think of church organizations, such as Kairos. Think of foreign aid groups, such as the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. Think of a vast array of women's organizations. Think of the Canadian Council on Learning. They have all had their funding slashed and have been intimidated by the government for dissenting from Conservative dogma.

All of these concerns have recently been verified and amplified by many of Canada's top journalists. Let me quote from the Canadian Press news service on June 11, just a few days ago, when it said this:

Journalism associations from across the country have issued a stern rebuke against the [present] government and called on reporters to fight back against its tight information control....“Under [this] Prime Minister...the flow of information out of Ottawa has slowed to a trickle. Genuine transparency is replaced by slick propaganda and spin designed to manipulate public opinion.

Now we have the ultimate absurdity of the Prime Minister purporting to dictate to Parliament who can be called as witnesses to testify before parliamentary committees and who cannot. Contrary to the powers of Parliament, and contrary to law, the Prime Minister is trying to shield political staff members who work for him and his cabinet from being called to testify. He says that they are too junior, and it is too tough on them to appear before these committees.

These people are not little kids. They earn six-figure salaries, up to $150,000 or more. They handle the government's most sensitive files. They manage things such as the lobbying activities of people like Rahim Jaffer. They interfere directly and personally in the release of information being processed under Canada's access to information law, and they make profound government policy announcements, such as, for example, the news that the government was going to prorogue Parliament last December and padlock Canadian democracy until March. Interestingly enough, that announcement was not made by the Prime Minister. It was made by his press secretary.

These examples simply show the absurdity of the government's position. It brings us full circle to the prorogation issue itself, and it illustrates again why this motion is up for debate today and why the House of Commons should adopt it.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Fundy Royal
New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism)

Mr. Speaker, I think the question on Canadians' minds would be this: Of all the possible issues the Liberals could possibly bring forward for us to discuss today, issues about the economy or crime, for example, why on earth would they bring this issue forward when they know full well that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been studying this motion for three months?

Is the hon. member aware that three of his members—their whip, the Liberal deputy whip, and the Liberal deputy House leader—are all currently sitting on a committee that is studying this very issue? How does he answer to Canadians that of all the issues we could be speaking about today, we are talking about an issue like this rather than about an issue like the economy, like crime, or like the upcoming summits?

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to answer that question.

Nothing is more fundamental to every one of the issues that he mentioned than a properly functioning democracy. If the principles by which this place and all of the committees operate are undermined by the capricious ability of the cabinet, the government and the Prime Minister to simply shut the place down, stifle debate, close it off, put a padlock on democracy, then all of the issues that the hon. gentleman mentioned would not be discussed anywhere in this country if prorogation gets out of hand, as it has under the Conservative government.

Prorogation was not an issue in this country between 1873 and 2008. From John A. Macdonald to the current Prime Minister, no prime minister has abused the privileges and the prerogatives of prorogation. However, in 2008 and 2009 it was abused and it shut down the ability of Parliament to discuss those issues or any other issues.

Nothing is more fundamental than having a properly functioning democracy. That is why 250,000 Canadians signed those petitions just three or four months ago to say that what the government was doing was wrong and that they wanted their democracy back so we could debate freely, fairly and without intimidation those issues that the parliamentary secretary mentioned and every other one that is important to Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, when this was brought to my attention yesterday I was bemused.

I understand prorogation is a hot issue with the Liberals, as it is with us, but this motion calls for a special committee. If I am right, this motion has been kicking around for a number of months and it would seem that at the last minute, after the official opposition fought to get more opposition days, it just reached on a shelf and picked one item to fill in the time with it.

The motion calls for a special committee but we already have a committee that has been holding meetings for months. I did not hear all of the member's remarks, but the motion calls for a report that would be due in six days.

I would like to know why this motion is even in front of us since it does not seem to make an awful lot of sense.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman would make an awful lot more sense if he bothered to pay attention to the discussion. He said that he missed the first part of the debate, so it is understandable why he does not get the point. That was all dealt with in the few minutes while he was outside the House, I gather, from what he just said.

The procedure committee is a very busy committee. It has been dealing with this issue for some considerable length of time but it has not yet produced a product. It has not produced an output. The House is about to adjourn for the summer. Does the member remember the last time the House adjourned for any significant period of time? The government prorogued it altogether. What happens if we get to the adjournment of the House in three or four days or maybe later this afternoon and the Prime Minister wakes up on Monday morning and decides to prorogue again?

It is time for action to be taken on this file and it is time to move it forward. It is all very well and good for the member to say that another committee is looking at the subject but we need to get some horsepower behind this issue to find a solution, not just more talk.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague, the House leader of the official opposition, has very clearly and succinctly explained the reason for this motion on this Liberal opposition day.

I have listened to the questions that have been asked by a member from the government side and a member from the NDP. It is clear that they are looking at it from a very narrow point, because our motion and the statement that has been made by the House leader for the Liberal opposition and the amendment that I will be moving will make clear that this issue of prorogation goes beyond simple prorogation.

The Prime Minister's latest tactics to cover up his government's role in the Afghan detainee scandal was to stop the business of Parliament dead. Everybody knows that. Thousands upon thousands of Canadians rose up in protest to that.

While the Prime Minister attempted to claim that the prorogation of Parliament was routine, I believe that my colleague, the House leader for the Liberal opposition, made quite clear that from 1867 to 2008 no previous prime minister had ever abused prorogation or had ever used it to try to hide from the will, decision and authority of Parliament. Not until the current Conservative Prime Minister did we see abuse of prorogation.

Our motion is not outdated. Our motion goes beyond the scope of what the procedure and House affairs committee is dealing with. In fact, the study that is being conducted as we speak in that committee is a motion that I brought to that committee. So, I know very well what is happening.

The current Prime Minister now holds the record for shutting down Parliament for 148 days over just four years in office. That is compared to the second place prime minister, Jean Chrétien, who prorogued 145 days over 10 years, a full decade.

My colleague also talked about how it goes beyond simply flouting the authority of Parliament, the supremacy of Parliament. Let us talk about the statement that the government has tabled that it will no longer permit its political staffers to appear before standing committees of this House who have been duly called before those committees.

Let us talk about how the government is stifling and smothering any kind of dissent. Let us talk about how, in a democracy, freedom of expression is one of the very principle tenets of a democracy, of democratic institution. Let us talk about how freedom of expression means that dissent is healthy, and how the Conservative government and the Conservative Prime Minister refuse to see dissent and healthy, objective, fair criticism as being an integral part of a democratic system, an integral part of all of our democratic institutions.

Let us talk about how we have what the government considers to be fringe groups, not-for-profit organizations and non-governmental organizations, that do excellent work, provide services to Canadians here in Canada and services to people in impoverished countries outside of Canada, but because they have criticized some of the government policies they have been smothered. Their funding has been cut.

Women's groups are considered to be fringe groups. A member of the Conservatives' own caucus, the senator from the other house, Nancy Ruth, told the truth to a gathering of women's groups when she said, “I have to tell you, shut the f-- up because, if you don't, I'm afraid that my own government, my own Prime Minister will come down on you even harder”.

The issue of prorogation goes well beyond just the supremacy of this Parliament. It goes to the issue of freedom of expression, supremacy of Parliament and the need for dissent in a democracy.

I move:

That the motion should be amended:

a) by adding after the words “during any prorogation” in section (d) the following:

“that the special committee also take into account any report on prorogation that may be forthcoming from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and provide an analysis of the consequences of the use of prorogation as a device to avoid accountability or to silence voices that may wish to express disagreement with the government;

that the committee consist of 11 members which shall include 5 members from the government party, 3 members from the official opposition, 2 members from the Bloc Québécois and 1 member from the New Democratic Party, provided that the chair shall be from the official opposition;

that the committee have all of the powers of a standing committee as provided in the standing orders;

that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party's members of the committee no later than June 23, 2010;

that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and

b) by deleting the words “June 23, 2010” and substituting the following:

“November 2, 2010”.

Opposition Motion—Prorogation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In order for an hon. member to move an amendment, the consent of the person who brought forward the motion in the first place is required. Is it accepted.