House of Commons Hansard #54 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debate.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her question. It is true that the government will oppose the NDP's motion because it will no longer have control over closure and time allocation motions. The government knows that it cannot control the Speaker.

The Liberal Party does not necessarily want the Speaker to have control over these motions. However, we would like the issue to be examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That committee would be able to find solutions with all parliamentarians. It is a decision to be made by Parliament and not necessarily the Speaker. It certainly is not a decision that should be made by the government. We are in favour of this motion in principle, but we do not agree with all of the details.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for allowing me to speak to this motion. I also thank my colleague for Windsor—Tecumseh for bringing this motion forward at this point. I want to look at the motion in detail because it is not just a simple statement that this is a bad sort of thing and that the government should not use time allocation as much as it does. The member provides some detail in the motion that I would like to talk about.

For instance, the motion states:

...a study and make recommendations to amend the Standing Orders with respect to closure and time allocation, such that: (i) a Minister would be required to provide justification for the request for such a curtailment of debate;

That is certainly something we ought to talk about simply because when time allocation is brought into this House we hear little justification for doing so. We are given short explanations that are basically passed over. The reason for that, on many occasions, is that there is no justification and no requirement to justify it. I agree with the member in many respects on that. I think that justification should be brought to the House and presented to all of us. A big reason for doing that is that some of the fundamental questions as to why time allocations are brought sometimes go unanswered, such as, if bills have passed over a certain period time such that members of Parliament could consult their constituents. A lot of the time, items are promised during campaigns, which is what the Conservatives go on about, and on which hey are now delivering.

In 2008, there was a basic promise in dealing with Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia regarding the Atlantic Accord and some of the money that would be withheld within the province because of oil revenues. The promise was that the equalization formula would be made such that non-renewable resources would not play a factor in tabulating each provinces' ability to raise money.

However, when the budget implementation bill came out, much later than the broad principles, it was realized that the devil certainly did lay within the details of what was happening in the budget implementation. It ended up that the promise, by which 100% of non-renewables was to come out of the formula, was not in the budget implementation. Essentially, they had put an agreement that was outside of normal equalization and brought it back in. Former member, Bill Casey, was one of the members who left the party as a result of this. He voted against the budget for that and sat on the opposition side shortly thereafter.

I only put that into context because there is a certain amount of time from when the broad principles of the budget are announced by the finance minister to the time of budget implementation. Once we look at the legislation and a lot of the details that are involved, sometimes these broad principles get watered down or are not what they had appeared to be. Therefore, I think time allocation works against this principle.

The government will remark that the Liberals did this back when they were in power, but a lot of times, such as the Species At Risk Act, time allocation was brought in at third reading. At that point there had been a substantial opportunity to discuss and debate.

Canadians can review the cut and thrust of debate, enough to see what the principles are about, how the legislation is laid out and then, coming back from committee, how the proposed legislation was fine-tuned or not.

I commend my hon. colleague for bringing this motion. I think he brings up some decent questions as to how we can deal with time allocation, filibustering and the limitation of debate within the House.

We also now use the terminology “constituency weeks”. For instance, when the House is shut down for a week, people say that members have a week off. However, no, they are in their constituencies dealing with constituents and they can find out at that point how their constituents feel about certain pieces of legislation. Time allocation works against that, in my opinion.

One of the comments that was made earlier was that we have had so much time to deal with this, that the budget implementation bill has been in the House for quite some time and that we have dealt with it thoroughly, therefore, no bills, as was stated, have received royal assent. However, that is not true. At the end of June, we had Bill C-2, Bill C-4 and three other bills that received royal assent at that time. Those measures went through.

When the Conservatives say that the budget implementation bill needs to be passed in 2011 because it is budget 2011, that may be a valid point but, if it is valid, why are we spending all these hours talking about copyright legislation, the long gun registry and other measures, such as Bill C-10?

What the Conservatives could do is put that on the agenda each and every time. Every member in the House, at that point, could certainly speak their piece on how they feel about the budget implementation bill or the budget bill for this coming year, 2012.

I do want to point out that in this motion the other thing that it goes on about is that:

(ii) the Speaker would be required to refuse such a request in the interest of protecting the duty of Members to examine legislation thoroughly, unless the government's justification sufficiently outweighs the said duty....

There is a great deal of responsibility in what the Speaker must bring to this legislature, beyond the obvious, which is the running of the House. The Speaker also the responsibility of judging whether the normal legislative process is adhered to. We saw examples of that when our former speaker was here. He made big rulings, certainly rulings that made history, and will always be looked upon as a key moment in the speaker's career, because of the judgments that he brought.

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the way you do your job, one of the key responsibilities is to look at legislation that has been accepted in principle and scope in second reading, then you must decide if, within the committee, its work went beyond the scope and principle of the bill. You have the authority to overturn those amendments, even if everybody in this House, as I have said time and time again, says that they agree with the amendments that were made, you, Mr. Speaker, have the authority to turn them down despite that.

It has been done before. It happened in a private member's bill some time ago on back-to-work legislation, or what people call “anti-scab” legislation. There was an amendment to exclude essential services and there seemed to be a lot of agreement with that, certainly the majority of members agreed with that, but the speaker turned down that particular amendment because it went beyond the scope and principle of the bill.

Therefore, this brings up a good point, which is that this motion would say that you, Mr. Speaker, should have that responsibility to turn this time allocation down, if it is not justified, certainly in dealing with the history, the principles and the spirit of how this House of Commons operates. I think that is a good thing. Why can the Speaker not be involved in this and say that he or she finds that it is not a very justifiable answer as to why we have to slap time allocation on this when we are dealing with something as large and complex as the budget?

Another valid point, I believe, is the fact that following the election there seems to be a lot of new members in the House. I only say “seems to be” because I think all the new members in this House of Commons are doing a fine job. I think they are holding the bar up there when it comes to representation of their constituency.

Time allocation runs in the face of that because a lot of these new members have not had their say. It is their first time in the House and I think compassion should be given, if not by the government then certainly by the Speaker to say, “Well, just a moment”. This legislation in regard to budget 2011 needs to be done soon, therefore, new members in the House should have a chance and the opportunity to speak to that.

I think that, in and of itself, is a good reason why we should have a filter upon which time allocation is used in this House. It has been used throughout history. I cannot justify a lot of the time allocations that have been used because, in many cases, it was wrong. Does the minister not agree? Whether it was red, blue, orange or any other colour, it was wrong in many cases. Depending on the issue, depending on the people involved and depending on the fact that some people have not had their say about this legislation, and that there has not been as much consultation, time allocation is used in a very crass way.

If we look at the situation in front of us now, there are several pieces of legislation deemed important, but some more so than others. Therefore, I would humbly suggest to the House that we should support this simply because it brings a new element into the House where no one party has the authority—

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The member has run out of time.

We will move on to questions and comments, the hon. member for Timmins—James Bay.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, one thing that has been very concerning since the Conservative majority came to power is the realization that our parliamentary system, which is built on the Westminster model, has always been based on a sense of understanding of the greater role of parliamentarians and that there is a lesser role for the crass partisan attack message box politics. However, that has been flipped in the government. We hear again and again that democracy is the fact that the Conservatives have won the election, so why does Parliament get in their way.

That is a very disturbing concept because it is a direct attack on the parliamentary tradition. Democracy is the system that was set up so constituents would send their members here to debate the issues of the day. That is my right and obligation as a parliamentarian.

Does my hon. colleague think that time allocation is actually part of a larger pattern of contempt for the traditions and the importance of the parliamentary system in our country on the part of the Conservative government?

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I can always depend on my colleague to give me a new turn of phrase that I thoroughly enjoy. I just got one and I would love to share it with the House if people are just tuning in on CPAC. I will even grant him copyright privileges. Message box politics is exactly what it is.

Message box politics is about the same message over and over again, void in interpretation of a member's particular riding. Members' statements that are heavily partisan should be looked at by the Speaker as well. They run one minute long. When they are extremely partisan, they forget one thing. At the very end they forget to say “I am the Prime Minister and I approve this ad”. That is the only thing missing from those members' statements.

It is unfortunate, but message box politics is not putting out the message as to what the legislation means for the average Canadian.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Weston West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have great regard for my colleague across the way in matters of democracy and parliamentary process, which he clearly has studied.

In everything there is balance. Even John Stuart Mill, the great promoter of liberalism and democracy, said that there were limits on freedom, limits on freedom of speech. What is the limit? We heard my colleague earlier today speak about the hundreds of hours that had been expended, the hundreds of debates that had already been committed to the topics Canadians wanted us to develop into laws and wanted us to move in a productive fashion. What is the limit? We could go on forever and there would be freedom, but there has to be freedom to limit, so said John Stuart Mill, and I believe my colleague would accept that principle as well.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I have a great respect for my colleague also. There is an east coast, west coast connection there.

I agree with the quotation from John Stuart Mill about the limitations of freedoms. However, the context is a little different. The context is about limitations and expressions of freedoms as long as they do not harm other people. I think that is probably what John Stuart Mill was getting at as opposed to the actual limitation in time within the House. I could be wrong, nonetheless I do believe that is what he meant.

What troubles me is the fact that the debate itself is what Conservatives are focusing on. The actual words spoken in the House has exceeded a certain number by which we have exhausted that. Respectfully, I put to the House, look at it from another way. If there are any limitations to be put on debate, they should not be put on members of Parliament who are now unable to speak on this issue simply because other people have spoken before them. That is where I get to the point about new members of Parliament having their say. This is brought to their riding and following that, they come here as the true representatives. The limitation should not apply to the individual member of Parliament not having his or her say.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

I stand today in support of the motion before the House. It is quite ironic that today I heard a colleague across the floor in the ruling party, admittedly a party that won a majority, say, “everyone has a right to have his or her voice heard in this House”. That is what he said when he was presenting a petition with which he did not agree. I was heartened by that, thinking there must be many Conservative MPs who agree with this motion.

If everyone has a right to have his or her voice heard in Parliament, then surely parliamentarians in the House should also have the same right to have their voices heard. I often hear the argument in the House that this bill was debated last March or this bill was debated last September. I have to remind all colleagues that Parliament dissolved, it is sitting again and this is a new session. Many of us were not in the House when the bills were previously introduced. When the legislation is reintroduced, it is new legislation. That is how it gets moved and spoken to. Because we have over 100 new MPs in the House, not only the newly-elected MPs but also the experienced MPs who have returned to the House should have the same right to discuss and debate the bills before them.

There have been a number of bills moved in the House that I have wanted to speak against, not because I want to hear the sound of my voice but because I want to represent the voices of my constituents. I have not been given that right because closure or time allocation has been moved. Surely, that cannot be right.

As a history teacher for years, I taught all about parliamentary democracy. We argue and we are very proud of the fact that democracy is fundamental. It has many flaws, but despite all its flaws, it is the best that we have. A parliamentary democracy is the best form of democracy we have. MPs are elected and the majority forms government, but then they come to the House to debate the issues. Having a majority does not make government a dictatorship. It does not mean that because it has a majority, the voices of those who oppose its points of view have to be silenced by moving procedural motions to close debate.

Parliamentary democracy, at its fundamental level, absolutely requires informed debate in the House. The government gets to take the time to present its perspective and the opposition gets to present its perspective both in comment and later in amendments, if there are any. However, what I personally have experienced in the House is that more and more I feel my voice has been muzzled, that I am not allowed to represent my constituents or a different point of view. This process is a threat to parliamentary democracy.

We are very proud of the role we play internationally in promoting democracy. In Egypt, we speak out for democracy. In Libya, we helped to overthrow a regime because we believed in democracy.

We talk about the importance of democracy in all these other countries, and this is an appeal to every parliamentarian. Surely we cannot sit in the House and undermine the very parliamentary democracy that we try to promote in other nations. We sound like hypocrites.

When we talk about the Middle East, whether it is Libya or Egypt, we talk about the right to protest, the right to free speech, the right for the opposition to express its point of view. When it comes to Ukraine, we speak out against the treatment of the opposition, and justifiably so. That is our role. Then surely my colleagues across this floor cannot sit silent, while their own colleagues' voices are muzzled in Parliament by the government moving closure time and time again.

I looked at some of the facts and figures, because I wanted to take a look at some of the history behind this. In 53 sitting days, the Conservative government has used time allocation 10 times and 8 times in the last 39 days. What do the Conservatives have to hide? They have legislation. Let us debate it, let us express our points of view and let us hear the debate. The Conservatives have the majority and will be able to pass their legislation without muzzling the voice of the opposition.

Then I think, what is the real agenda here? Is the majority government in a hurry to prorogue Parliament and go off, back to its constituencies? Or has it become so arrogant and out of touch with Canadians that it thinks the majority it received now allows it to behave more like an autocracy than a democracy? We really have to pay attention to those things.

Every parliamentarian needs to support this motion if we believe in a parliamentary democracy. Parliamentary democracy is not about shutting down the voices of the parliamentarians. It is not as if the debate has been a nuisance debate. On a bill that is the size of a phone book for many of our townships, we have had so little debate and many members have not even had the chance to speak. That is the budget bill. Surely, when it comes to the budget, how we spend the money of Canadians, the opposition should have the right to speak out and ask questions. If the government has nothing to hide, why does it keep cutting down debate?

When the Conservatives were in opposition, they had a totally different attitude. I have this wonderful quote. I want to remind members what has happened on the omnibus crime bill as well. That is also being rushed through, nine bills being rushed through in a few days of debate without much time for us to ask questions and for us to digest what is out there. Once again, why?

This is a quote from the Minister of Public Safety, on November 27, 2001. How things change when the Conservatives have a majority. He said:

For the government to bring in closure and time allocation is wrong. It sends out the wrong message to the people of Canada. It tells the people of Canada that the government is afraid of debate, afraid of discussion and afraid of publicly justifying the steps it has taken.

My appeal to all parliamentarians is this. If the government has nothing to hide, let us debate and let us support this motion.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Newmarket—Aurora
Ontario

Conservative

Lois Brown Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is new to the House, and it is nice to have her here. There are a few new colleagues on the other side.

However, I was here in the last Parliament when many of these debates did take place. All of these issues were presented to the Canadian public. Canadians did have a vote on May 2. The voters of Canada gave this government a very strong mandate to take forward these issues that we had been presenting in the House since 2006, when this government was first elected with a plurality. These issues have been debated here for many, many hours. Many speeches have been given.

What does the member think the election was all about?

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the election was about Canadians sending MPs to represent them in Parliament right here on Parliament Hill. That is exactly what Canadians did. They did not elect every Conservative candidate as an MP. They elected some members of the opposition, and they want the opposition to play a role.

I am getting really fed up with being told that things were debated before and that they are old history. When Canadians vote, they do not vote on specific bills or specific actions. Canadians are not aware of every line and every aspect of the bills that have been presented here. What we are hearing is a lot of rhetoric from the government side.

What I am saying is that elections are about electing MPs and sending them to the House so they can represent the diverse points of view from across this country. That is what elections are about.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank the hon. member for her excellent speech, which explained really well how this kind of time allocation motion undermines the credibility and democratic nature of our Parliament, and how it silences those who would like to be able to debate these issues and who have concerns about certain bills.

All we are proposing is to allow a non-partisan person, someone who is outside all of these partisan debates, to decide whether a time allocation motion is justified. If the government believes that it has legitimate reasons for moving such a motion and that doing so is very important, it can give its reasons. The decision will be left to someone other than the government itself, which otherwise decides everything.

I would like the hon. member to comment on that.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, absolutely. This motion is phrased in such a way that it is neutral. It is non-partisan and will apply to all political parties, no matter which party is in government. It actually gives the authority to the Speaker to make those determinations.

I want to read a quote that will add to this:

Parliament is derived from the French word “parler” which means to speak. It is the place where the representatives of the common people speak to issues that affect the common good.

That was said by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. That is all we are asking for, the right to speak for the common good.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if I am the only one who can see the irony of what we are doing here today, but let me put it in context. There are only about 16 sitting days left before we adjourn for the Christmas break.

While our government is putting forward legislation and trying to pass it on behalf of all Canadians, the NDP members have chosen this day, their supply day, to debate, not an important bill like perhaps the Wheat Board legislation, the budget or the gun registry, all of which they have complained they have not had enough time to discuss in Parliament, but what topic did they choose for their opposition day? They chose to engage in a debate on how much debate constitutes enough debate. It is unbelievable. They are abusing the parliamentary process on one hand by debating something frivolous and on the other hand, ignoring the issues of the--

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I have to stop the member there, as the member is out of time.

The hon. member for Newton—North Delta has less than 30 seconds to respond.

Opposition Motion—Closure and Time Allocation
Business of Supply
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing more fundamental than debating the value and salvation of parliamentary democracy. I am sorry that my colleague does not understand that what we are debating here is something that is fundamental to our parliamentary system. For him to call the debate a waste of time shows me why the Conservatives move closure so many times, They do not value speech in this House.