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

November 25th, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

moved:

That, in the opinion of the House, the thorough examination and debate of proposed legislation on behalf of Canadians is an essential duty of Members of Parliament, and that the curtailment of such debate limits the ability of Members to carry out this duty and constitutes an affront to Canadian democracy; and, therefore,

that the Speaker undertake 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; (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; (iii) criteria would be set out for assessing the government’s justification, which would provide the Speaker with the basis for a decision to allow for the curtailment of debate;

that the Speaker report to the House no later than February 6, 2012;

that a motion to concur in the said report may be moved during Routine Proceedings, and that only when no Member rises to debate the motion, the Speaker shall interrupt any proceedings then before the House and put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the motion; and

if no motion to concur in the report has been previously moved and disposed of on the 20th sitting day following the presentation of the report, Standing Orders 57 and 78 shall be deemed to have been deleted.

Mr. Speaker, this motion has been brought before the House at this time because of the government's gross overuse of shutting down debate in the House, whether it is by a formal closure motion, which shuts down debate immediately, or by time allocation motions, which provide extremely limited time for debate on crucial issues facing both the House and the country more generally.

It is important that we recognize the effect of the motion. It is not that you, Mr. Speaker, need a greater workload, but that is the thrust of the motion. The motion would remove a government's unilateral ability to shut down debate in the House and would allow the Speaker, as an independent officer of Parliament, to make the decision as to when it is appropriate to curtail debate and when it is an abuse of the process. Therefore, a request for curtailment of debate could in fact be rejected by the Speaker of the day.

I have done some analysis of other jurisdictions that have similar parliaments to ours, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. Going back some 20 or 30 years, all of them moved to provide greater authority to the speaker to regulate when debate should be curtailed, limited or ended. In each of those parliaments, it is quite clear that it is the speaker who ultimately makes the decision in that regard.

The authority is different in each of those legislatures but the general wording and conduct of the speaker has always been: Is the request for curtailment or ending debate an abuse? Oftentimes the term “of a minority segment of that parliament” is used. It may be a large official opposition or it may be a small third, fourth or fifth party, but the speaker has the authority in each one of those parliaments to make the determination as to whether the request by the government to end or limit debate is an abuse of the rights of the members of Parliament.

I will move on to the context in which this motion is being put forward.

In less than two months of sitting days, we have had time allocation applied to Bill C-13, the budget bill, which was 640 pages long. We were given extremely limited time to debate it. It is the only time, that we have been able to determine, in the history of this country that such a limited amount of time has been given to a budget bill. I know the government House leader said that we had some debate on this in the previous Parliament. However, we have 100 new members of Parliament who were not here and had no opportunity to debate this in the last Parliament.

It is fundamental to our process that a budget bill be given a full extensive debate. We can go back to any number of the authorities where that is repeated over and over again, and not just in this legislature, but in every legislature that works off the Westminster model.

We then had Bill C-18 dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board. This is an institution that is well over 70 years of age. It is iconic in this country. However, on two occasions, at second reading and report stage, we were again slapped with time allocation.

The Wheat Board and the farmers in western Canada were entitled to that debate. The opposition should have been given time in both the House and in committee to deal with that issue. We were given extremely limited time given the significance of what was going to happen if the bill passed, especially when the majority of farmers in western Canada, who use the Wheat Board to sell their wheat, oppose the bill. However, again we were slapped with time allocation on two occasions.

Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill, is made up of nine former bills brought together. Again the House leader said that we had time to debate this legislation. More than 100 new members did not have time to debate this extremely complex bill because they were not here in the last Parliament.

The Conservatives have accused the opposition of delaying this legislation. On more than one occasion, the NDP has offered to take the part of the bill that deals with crimes against children, sexual predator type crimes, and run it through at all stages. It already passed through the House once before, so we were quite comfortable in having that done. On the more than one occasion that we offered that to the government, it refused and then slapped time allocation on the balance of the bill.

It was the same thing with Bill C-19, the gun control bill. We were given extremely limited time to debate an issue that is topical and very controversial. As the debate has gone on, more and more evidence has come out around reasons to not do away with the long gun registry. There was no opportunity to debate that legislation in the House to any significant degree.

Finally, Bill C-20, the seats bill. The bill proposes to make significant changes to the composition of this Parliament and again we are being limited to a significant degree in our ability to deal with it. I sit on the committee that is looking at the bill and the same thing is happening there. Extreme limitations are being placed at committee with regard to the number of witnesses we are allowed to call.

It just boggles my mind when I try to understand what is going on, and I think I am reasonably intelligent in terms of understanding it. It is a complex process that is being engendered now and it is new. It is not what was here in the last Parliament at all. The bill is a new incarnation of the process. It would make a very significant change and we are being given nowhere near the amount of time that we will need.

If we continue with the practice as it is right now, Bill C-20 will be out of committee and back before the House either by the end of next week or early the week following, when we have limited time to debate it here in the House and limited time in committee. The same can be said about the other four bills that I just mentioned. They all have had limited time in committee.

That is the context that we have. We have a precedent, if we want to put it that way, in other legislatures.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.

As I said earlier, we have this other precedent. If the bill passes, it will mean more work for the Speaker of this Parliament and subsequent Speakers. However, we need to find a much more proper balance in terms of our ability as opposition members to do our job. Our responsibility here is to determine whether legislation coming from the government is appropriate but we are not able to do that in the amount of time that we are being given at this point. We need to take the government's ability to limit time and place it in the hands of an independent member and, in this case, that would be the Speaker and his successors.

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

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a very simple question. How many bills have been debated this fall and have received royal assent? He is looking upward, so I will give him the answer. None.

We were elected to get some things done. The opposition has done its level best to prevent the government from passing legislation this entire fall session. We are almost at the end of this session and it is unconscionable that this Parliament has not been able to do its work.

The bills that are before us have been debated ad nauseam. The people who watch Parliament must be wondering what is going on. I will tell them that we have not debated one bill that has received royal assent this fall.

What does the member have to say about that?

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

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Actually, Mr. Speaker, if we take this session, the bills that have moved through this House rapidly have been as a result of the initiative that came from this side of the House. With the mega trials bill, as the justice critic for my party, we put before the House that in fact we should run that through.

By the way, the member is not correct, that bill has in fact had royal assent. It is in place at this point, but it was the result of the initiative from this side of the House.

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

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Not this fall.

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

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

He is playing, Mr. Speaker, it is not this fall, but it is in this session of Parliament.

Well, let us go with another one. Just last week, or earlier this week, we agreed to go through all stages of Bill C-16, which deals with the judiciary within the military. Again, that was in part an initiative that came from us, at the request of the government initially.

There in fact progress has been made. To finish, the question really is, how rapidly do we run important bills through the House? It is way too fast.

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

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for his, as usual, insightful remarks.

I certainly share the member's concern with respect to the rate at which bills are being jammed through the House and how debate is being limited, especially at committee. The member would be well aware that the omnibus crime bill, before the justice committee, was initially subjected to a five minutes per clause examination until basically the opposition parties kicked back and negotiated a lengthier time period for that.

I wish to draw the member's attention to something that was said in debate June 10, 2002. This was after 10 days of debate on Bill C-2, the species at risk act. The former member for Skeena said:

Mr. Speaker, the government should be ashamed of itself. How dare it rule the country with such an iron fist? The species at risk act is a major piece of legislation...This is the third attempt and it still does not have it right. The government just invoked time allocation which would seriously restrict debate. It does not care to listen to the concerns of Canadians--

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

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I am going to have to stop the member there to give the member for Windsor--Tecumseh enough time to respond.

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

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a good question with regard to that particular bill because it was its third incarnation. I used to be on the environment committee, so I was involved in that. I remember Jay Hill, who was the member he is referring to, the former government House leader, taking that position in spite of the fact that we had had 10 days of debate on it at third reading at that stage. We also had lengthy debates in prior Parliaments. However, I believe it was the Reform Party at that time, the predecessor to the Conservative government, raising this issue and doing that.

It is quite clear that when the Conservatives are in government they are talking an entirely different line than when they sat on this side of the House. After the next election, when we are in government, we would be quite prepared to live under the terms of this motion.

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

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the problem that I have is that in a democracy like ours, we have a Parliament where we debate bills. Through our committees we are able to bring Canadians in to help us hear their voices. Under this government we have had nine bills with time allocation. Conservatives are stopping Canadians and members of Parliament from raising questions and bringing their concerns on these bills. Is that not taking away the democratic rights of not only parliamentarians but all Canadians?

I think it is a serious matter when every bill in the House now has time allocation. “It's my way or the highway”. That is what the Conservatives are doing right now and they are going against democracy in our country.

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

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I never could bring the same passion that my colleague from Acadie--Bathurst brings to these issues, but I totally agree with his description of the underpinning that the rules have for us in order to have democratic debate and the attack on those basic, fundamental rights to have debate in this Parliament.

It is much worse. This is the worst that we have ever seen. The Conservatives were critical of the Liberals when they did this in 2002, but they are actually way ahead of them. They are worse than what the Liberals were.

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

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise in the House to speak to this motion, because I think it is truly non-partisan. The motion gives you, Mr. Speaker, the power to decide and the criteria to use for time allocation measures.

In general, under the Westminster system in Great Britain, the speaker can refuse to put the question if the motion appears to be an abuse of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons or an infringement of the rights of the minority. I see that as a way of ensuring that the system is not abused. That makes complete sense.

Obviously, we understand that the party in power can decide to limit debate on certain issues. However, we think that this option should not be overused, misused or used for partisan purposes. We think that putting this in your hands, Mr. Speaker, would help us and the other opposition parties, as well as the party currently in power, since it will end up back in opposition one day. When that time comes, it will be very happy that a motion like this was adopted.

Our colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh started talking about this when a question was raised. I would like to share with the House just how much our colleagues currently on the government side agree with this motion. First, our Prime Minister debated this subject a number of times in the House, for example in 2002, when he said, “We have closure today precisely because there is no deadline and there are no plans. Instead of having deadlines, plans and goals, we must insist on moving forward because the government is simply increasingly embarrassed by the state of the debate and it needs to move on.”

It is clear that when the government realizes that attacks are coming from all over, that a lot of people have concerns and do not agree with what is going on and that it has less support, it decides to shut down debate immediately. There is no more debate and it no longer wants to hear from the opposition. All that matters to the government is doing what it wants, regardless of what others have to say. That is unacceptable. Even they agreed with us. They were just as horrified by these kinds of petty partisan practices that make the House less democratic and that silence the people who voted for opposition parties. We can no longer say what we want. It makes no sense.

I could also mention the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, who in 2002 said, “Mr. Speaker, here we go again. This is a very important public policy question that is very complex and we have the arrogance of the government in invoking closure again. When we look at the Liberal Party [and this can be said of the current government] on arrogance it is like looking at the Grand Canyon. It is this big fact of nature that we cannot help but stare at.”

What I want to try and explain is that we do not simply want debate because we want to talk. It is because that is how things work. This is Parliament. There are systems. It is only appropriate that the people who voted for us and for the other opposition parties should be able to express their opinions through members who speak to their constituents to determine what they should be defending in the House. We are here to represent them. It makes sense that we would discuss topics that interest them.

I would like to talk about the speech made by the Prime Minister on the night of May 2, when he was elected as the head of a majority government. He said:

For our part, we are intensely aware that we are and we must be the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us.

The Conservatives are telling us that time allocation motions are necessary simply because people voted for them, they now form a majority government and they received a strong mandate from Canadians.

Yes, we understand that they have a majority government. They have said that they are governing for all Canadians, including those who did not vote for them. Those who did not vote for them, voted for us. There are 308 members here. We were all elected democratically and received a strong mandate to represent our people. At the very least, allow the members to debate and explain their points of view and opinions. That is the basic standard. It is quite simple.

Mr. Speaker, when the government introduces a time allocation motion, you will be able to decide whether it is justified, by determining whether it is merely an abusive partisan measure or it goes against minorities' interests. You will be able to decide, in all good conscience, what should be done with it. This will be useful not just to us, but to everyone and particularly to the government, when it sits on the opposition benches. I am sure that it will then use its nice rhetoric to express its indignation about motions that prevent us from debating certain issues.

In 1987, former Speaker Fraser said:

It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con, and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view.

The only thing missing is a measure that would allow you, Mr. Speaker, to regulate all this. We realize that it is sometimes important to limit debate because of certain constraints, because of an agreement reached between the parties and other similar measures, but that should not be done in a partisan way.

If we look at all the bills that have been rammed through using closure and time allocation motions since the beginning of this session in June, it just does not make any sense. There is the omnibus crime bill, which is hundreds of pages long. Then, all of a sudden, the government tells us that it does not want to look at it. The Conservatives do not want any more criticism or debate so as to avoid putting this legislation in the limelight, particularly since so few people support such measures.

As the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh mentioned, there are many things in these bills on which we could agree. We could decide that a measure is important and also want to proceed quickly to implement it. Some may not agree with certain measures and may criticize them. So when these initiatives are buried in all kinds of provisions and we need time to review them, it is only natural that we should not be pleased and should condemn the fact that the debate gets shortened once again.

Once again, the government is preventing the opposition—those who have reservations and concerns about a given measure—from speaking out. I do not understand how someone can say almost exactly the same thing as me when they are on this side of the House, and as soon as they get into power, refuse to listen to anyone. At one time, the Conservatives criticized the government in power for not wanting to listen to what they had to say, but now, they are turning a deaf ear and do not want to hear what we have to say. They do not want to have a debate, because they know they have very few good arguments and very little support. They refuse to listen and prefer to say that, since they have a majority, it is over.

There is something wrong with this picture. They are playing with the democratic process, with our Parliament and our democracy. We were all elected, so this is an important, even crucial issue.

I have another lovely quote from the Prime Minister:

After limiting debate in the House on the first day of debate, after limiting committee hearings to two days and giving witnesses 24 hours notice, the government now informs us it wants to make a major change...Will the government admit that it should properly consult Parliament, affected parties, experts and Canadians and that the appropriate thing to do is to withdraw Bill...

The Prime Minister, the person who is running our country right now, who is the head of our government, was saying exactly the same thing as we are now saying. I am convinced that this motion could be supported by a majority of the House, because it simply aims to improve democratic debates and how they work, and to give everyone the right to have their say.

One thing is certain: if we ever form the government, as my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh said, we will respect this kind of democratic principle and we will listen to all Canadians, not just those who voted for us.

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

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that debating policy in this place is very important, but I believe that equally important is the debate that happens during a general election. Our party was quite clear in the policies we wanted to bring forward for Canadians. Canadians were quite clear that they supported the policies that our party is now bringing forward in the House, such as issues around freedom for farmers in the Wheat Board. Just think about the number of seats that affects. There are about 50 seats, 1 in British Columbia, and we won 90% of those seats. My assumption is that 90% of the people support our policy on the Wheat Board.

I would ask the member, does she not value the debate that took place with the public and the policies that we presented? If she wants to respect democracy, she should respect what the citizens of Canada said on May 2.

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

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member very much for his question.

I find it interesting to see how statistics can be manipulated sometimes. He is trying to tell us that the Conservatives had strong backing to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board. We know that plebiscites were held on the matter for those truly affected by this and that the result was quite disastrous as far as the Conservatives were concerned. They claim to want to truly respect the decisions made on May 2. We are simply telling them they were supported by less than 40% of the Canadian public. The government received 39% of the popular vote, meaning that 61% of Canadians said they were not interested in the Conservatives' agenda and that it was not what they wanted for Canada.

I am not suggesting that everyone agrees with what we are saying. That is not it. We just want to add a different perspective. The other opposition parties also want to add a different perspective. However, the majority of Canadians said no to the Conservatives' agenda. If the Conservatives want to respect democracy—

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

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Trois-Rivières.

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

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member, who is perhaps stronger in statistics than I am.

I can understand how Conservative MPs from a previous Parliament may have held onto their old way of thinking about things and seeing things, although openness is always appreciated. However, it seems that 100 new MPs in the House of Commons is some sort of all-time record and a clear message from the Canadian public. If 100 new MPs are elected, particularly on this side of the House, then something has changed and the public wants a new vision in this Parliament. I find it especially contradictory that at a time when the government wants to increase the number of seats in the House of Commons to reflect the Canadian population, it is muzzling MPs once they get to the House. Can I—