House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was conservative.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please.

The hon. parliamentary secretary, a short answer please.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am more than happy to do so, but see how the parties are getting together over there. It is a coalition, there is no question. They want an unnecessary election, an expensive election that this government does not want. We do not want it and the Canadian people do not want it.

Opposition members should explain why they would give their intentions of voting against the budget without even reading it. They do not even know what is in it and yet they vote against it. The Bloc votes against it.

I am full of it. I have a lot more examples: highway 73 for $75 million; route 185 for $241 million. Bloc members voted against investments in their own province for their own people. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Bloc Québécois for moving this opposition motion today. It is a very good and relevant way to ring alarm bells across the country regarding our concerns about the state of democracy in Canada.

I will repeat the motion:

That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it did by justifying the Conservative Party's circumvention of the rules on election spending in the 2005-2006 election campaign, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used public funds to solicit donations to the Conservative Party, when the Party used taxpayers’ money to finance a pre-election campaign under the guise of promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan, when it changed the wording in government communications to promote itself, when it showed that it is acceptable for a minister to alter a document and make misleading statements to the House, when it refused to provide a parliamentary committee with the costs of its proposals, and when it improperly prorogued Parliament.

The whole motion is a litany of a clear demonstration of abuse of power.

Lawrence Martin, in his column in the Globe and Mail on Tuesday, said, “It's not the parts that count but the sum of the parts. Which invites the question: Is anyone doing the math?”

In the preface of Donald Savoie's book, Power: Where Is It?, he says:

My hope is that this book will shed some light on how the current situation came about and why. More particularly, I hope that it will prompt citizens to take a strong and informed interest in the state of their political and administrative institutions and organizations.

I hope the debate today will do that for Canadians as well.

There is a lament that Canadians still do not really understand the difference between Parliament and government. In a parliamentary democracy, it is the job of all parliamentarians to hold the government to account, the government meaning the executive cabinet and the public service.

Even though the motion of the Bloc Québécois only cites the government, there is also a lament for the fact that the Conservative members of Parliament do not understand that it is their job to hold their government to account as well. They have totally abdicated their responsibility, particularly today. They actually refuse to debate this very important motion and do nothing but speak about another brochure for the economic action plan.

It is important, particularly today, after the historic ruling of the Speaker of the House yesterday, that the civic literacy of Canadians be raised such that they too understand and be uncomfortable that this very institution has been degraded. The very institution of a parliamentary democracy is much lessened.

That the members opposite find it impossible to defend the indefensible or to speak to the important items in this motion makes them complicit in the concerns that we have about the government. I regret and also lament that this is in a chamber that was made for hon. members to do our part in holding the government to account and speak and vote for what we believe to be true and just.

It is ironic that in the very foundation document of the Reform Party of Canada, written by the now Prime Minister, the description of an assault on a democracy was:

Many of our most serious problems as a country can be traced to the apathy and non-involvement of Canadians in public affairs, and to decisions that too frequently ignore the popular will…. We believe in accountability of elected representatives to the people who elect them, and that the duty of elected members to their constituents should supersede their obligations to their political parties.

It is quite interesting how quickly the Prime Minister forgot that.

It was extraordinary to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons say, on Tuesday:

The tyranny of the opposition majority has been reckless and irresponsible in its demands for the production of documents that would breach cabinet confidence, and now the tyranny of the majority is being reckless and irresponsible with the long-standing practice and principle of parliamentary democracy, the sub judice convention, by passing judgment on individuals without any respect for due process.

Another member opposite called this a “kangaroo court”. This morning we had a member opposite heckle that this was a “garbage motion”.

There is nothing more serious in the state of our democracy. As the parliamentary procedure expert, Ned Franks, said:

—no government in Canadian history has been cited so many times for ignoring the rights of Parliament.

He offered two possible explanations:

[The rulings] suggest, to put it kindly, that the government is, at a minimum, ignorant of the rules and principles governing parliamentary democracy and, to put it unkindly, that they don’t give a damn and they'll try to get away with what they can.

As the leader of the official opposition has said:

These are very clear and crushing judgments. They make it clear that this Speaker believes this government does not respect the democratic principles at the heart of our democracy.

He has stated that Canadians will have will have two questions about the Prime Minister:

Can you trust him with power? Can you trust him to respect the institutions that keep us free?

In the Globe and Mail this morning there was a definition of “contempt”:

Contempt in its ordinary meaning is not terribly far off the legal one, and it is that ordinary meaning--lack of respect, intense dislike, scorn--that offers a useful guide to understanding Wednesday’s ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken. The government has scorned Parliament, and shown—

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. I would ask all hon. members to refrain from identifying members by their names, including the Speakers.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

The government has scorned Parliament, and shown a lack of respect to the people entrusted by Canadians to represent their interests...

The editorial concludes:

It is unacceptable that the government needs to be lectured by the Speaker on how to live within the rules of Canadian democracy.

I believe that speaks to the Bloc motion today.

We have been worried for a long time. The hon. member from Mount Royal said a long time ago that Parliament had been caught in a pincer movement between an activist judiciary and an ever more powerful executive branch.

Others have bemoaned the fact that sometimes governments view this Parliament as a minor process obstacle. Others have suggested that this now has become a suggestion box that we hang Christmas lights on once a year.

The late Jim Travers pointed out that the mantra on the Hill is now, “It has taken 500 years to wrestle power from the king and 50 years to get it back into one man's office”.

It was over two years ago that the late Jim Travers wrote his award-winning article, “The quiet unravelling of Canadian democracy”, when he compared his experience as a foreign correspondent in Africa to what is happening now.

He said:

Read the headlines, examine the evidence, plot the trend line dots and find that as Africans--from turnaround Ghana to impoverished Malawi--struggle to strengthen their democracies, Canadians are letting theirs slip.

He went on to say:

Once-solid institutions are being pulled apart by rising complexity and falling legitimacy.

He said that it would have been unthinkable that 30 years ago he would have:

—rejected out of hand the suggestion that Parliament would become a largely ceremonial body incapable of performing its defining functions of safeguarding public spending and holding ministers to account.

I think he would have been very happy by the Speaker's ruling yesterday.

He went on to say is:

—every one has happened and each has chipped away another brick of the democratic foundations underpinning Parliament. Incrementally and by stealth, Canada has become a situational democracy. What matters now is what works. Precedents, procedures and even laws have given way to the political doctrine of expediency.

He said:

Prime ministers are freeing themselves from the chains that once bound them to voters, Parliament, cabinet and party. From bottom to top, from citizen to head of state, every link in those chains is stressed, fractured or broken.

He concluded that famous article with:

If war is too serious to leave to generals, then surely democracy is too important to delegate to politicians.

I believe the Bloc Québécois motion today is a cry to all Canadians to come and help. We must. The cornerstone of every democracy is that citizens are actually paying attention.

In Robin Sears' article in Policy Options in the fall, he talked about that the problem with Parliament was not so much the gridlock of the minority House, it was the systemic issue found in all political capitals, namely, the growth in the power of the executive branch and the consequent decline in the role of the legislatures.

What we are really limiting here today is when we have that kind of concentration of power, we actually then have to rely on the person with the power to act with integrity. The Prime Minister and the government has nothing but contempt for democratic institutions. He thinks he makes the rules and tries to get around any restrictions placed on his power. In fact, in Tuktoyaktuk last summer, when asked if he had a licence when he was driving an ATV, he let it slip that he made the rules.

Yesterday, in Frances Russell's column, she said of the government:

It is dismantling, layer by layer, nearly 150 years of Canadian parliamentary democracy. Into the trash can has gone respect for the institution and traditions of Parliament, moderation in public discourse, toleration of differences of opinion, respect for civil society's institutions and even, at times, respect for the rule of law. Politics outside Parliament has descended into a cesspool of perpetual savage political attack ads. The poisonous hyperpartisanship of the American permanent election campaign is the new Canadian norm. Inside Parliament, the opposition is largely unable to hold government to account because ministers treat opposition MPs with flippancy, disdain, contempt, derision and insults.

On her blog yesterday, Susan Delacourt was trying to draw the distinction between value and values. She said that for the past five years the Conservatives have gambled, that voters only care about value, as we can certainly see today from the pathetic attempt of the Conservatives to defend themselves in their speeches. She said:

But if our collective attention turns to values, surrounding ethics, respect, character and idea-based politics, the Conservatives could be at a distinct disadvantage.

There may also be a conversation about value, about the value of this institution, the value of members of Parliament, and particularly the value of members of Parliament on the government side who have to expect better of their government at many times.

I remember when I was a new member of Parliament there were many times when we had to, as women's caucus or as backbench MPs, expect our government to do better. Whether it was to protect habitat on the endangered species bill or to do better for people with mental illness on the disability tax credit, we as parliamentarians, even sitting on the government side, were very organized in getting our government to do the right thing and to do better for Canadians. That is what hon. members do.

We cannot expect members of Parliament to just suit up in their team jerseys and treat this place like a sporting event, spewing forth talking points, quite often either purposely misleading, purposely saying half-truths or actual outright lies. It is sad to see this place where members of Parliament from the government side think that is what they were sent here to do, to just do the bidding of the government instead of actually doing their job as members of Parliament and holding government to account.

Albert Einstein once said that anyone who does not take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.

It is astounding that so many of the items mentioned in the Bloc motion are really about not telling the truth. It is about lying on the smallest things, but it is also deliberate selection of the facts to purposely mislead. When the government said that the Conservative Party had been exonerated at the lower court, it was actually misleading Canadians by saying that the in and out scandal had been okayed by the court. It was very clear in that judgment that it was not at all. Clearly, in the judgment the court said that it wanted the Director of Public Prosecutions to continue its work, which of course ended up in four charges being laid.

This seems to be a government that does not want to tell the truth, where the end justifies the means. It is a government that prefers to play only with people who agree with it and discredits those who challenge it. We believe that Canadians would prefer a government that just tells the truth. We believe that many governments can balance a budget. The current government does not seem to be able to. However, Canadians require and should be able to expect actual truthfulness and a competent and honest government that will actually govern.

As can be seen by the details in the Bloc motion, it is a government that has done nothing but run an administration that campaigns. It is a campaign machine. It is not a government. It actually refuses to govern and refuses to abide by the rules.

Democracy is sometimes messy. Sometimes it is slow. Sometimes it requires space and time. However, this kind of top-down, autocratic decision-making which actually means that people can get around the rules or even break them is a very sad day for Canadian democracy.

Integrity means that people will act within the rules, act in the public good, even when they are not being watched.

The government came to power saying that it was going to improve transparency and accountability, and it has gone in exactly the opposite direction.

Even on the accountability front, if the Conservatives believe what is right is what one gets away with and what is wrong is what one gets caught doing, even when the Conservatives get caught, all they do is say that everybody else did it, even if that is not the truth.

The British North America Act talks about passing laws and peace, order and good government.

The Bloc Québécois motion says that we do not have good government and we have a government that does not think it needs to act in the best interests of Canadians or within the law.

In honour of the late Jim Travers, whose parting benediction was always to fly straight, I think today we hope, in his memory, the government will fly straight or that we will get another government that will.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Paule Brunelle Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my Liberal colleague and thank her for her excellent speech. We appreciate her intellectual analysis of the issues.

She said that Canadian democracy was built brick by brick, but it could also be said that it was built stone by stone. But right now the Conservative government is trying to dismantle it through various means, including by denying democracy to the point where the Conservatives are telling Bloc members that they are not legitimate in the House and that they are useless. When the Conservatives are in opposition, we will return the message.

The Conservatives travelled across Canada and spent $250 million on 80 events during the break week as part of a pre-election campaign. They ignored the fact that the Government of Canada, not the government of the Prime Minister, was footing the bill. What does my colleague think?

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to be supporting the Bloc motion. I think that the money spent on these trips and on ads served to promote partisan Conservative policies and opinions. I am also very concerned about the television ads.

On the economic action plan, there is an advertisement from the Government of Canada that says “includes tax cuts”. It is not a recruiting poster. This is not telling people to pay their taxes or to buy Canada savings bonds. This is pure partisan government-funded nonsense.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. I would remind all hon. members to direct their comments and questions to the Chair.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Huron—Bruce.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Speaker, again, if I go back to the motion where it mentions “advance its partisan interests and oppose its regressive ideology”, perhaps the member may want to get off her high horse. She may remember a ten percenter which she would have signed off on and which she sent into a riding in northern Saskatchewan. There were pictures of body bags on the ten percenter. Perhaps when she is thinking about her speech about truth and ideology and all these highbrow concepts, she may think back to her own actions. Maybe she would have a response to that. We need to see both sides here.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that ten percenter was right. I have already apologized to the aboriginal people.

At that time I was equally passionate about the lack of action on our aboriginal people, the fact that there were 10 to 12 people living in one house with no running water in those communities I went to in northern Manitoba. That situation has not improved at all. I feel as passionate about that now as I did when the ten percenter went out. I agree that was wrong. That is why we, on this side of the House, moved to abolish ten percenters going into other ridings.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, there are 65 members who in the 2006 election spent over their limit and were able to claim rebates, illegally. This did not happen with any other party. It did not happen with the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party or the Bloc. It happened only with the Conservative Party. Interestingly enough, it did not replicate itself. It did not happen again in the election in 2008.

Why would a party whose candidates were caught red-handed five years ago continue to deny, sort of in a Nixon style, rather than try to settle? I know that it has been done in other jurisdictions. I am sure Elections Canada would be flexible enough that if a party came clean with its indiscretions, a settlement could be reached. But no, the Conservatives decided to deny, deny, deny. That has been their modus operandi in all aspects of government. At the end of the day, it is going to be their undoing. That is what I firmly believe.

I would like to ask the member whether she agrees with that.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party of Canada had the audacity to go to court to try to get those rebates, those ill-gotten dollars back.

What was very telling was the riding association of Hull—Aylmer had $12,000 in the bank before it got its transfer from the national party, and after the rebate, it had $36,000 ready to fight another election.

Obviously the Director of Public Prosecutions decided to target those four high-ranking people in the party. Eventually they will have to pay that money back.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, when the member for Elmwood—Transcona was up asking questions about the government party making good, I thought it would have been appropriate for him to suggest that the Liberal Party which apparently stole $40 million from the taxpayers during the adscam episode might like to make good on the $40 million, plus interest.

Would the member for St. Paul's like to tell the House whether her party is going to pay the $40 million plus interest back to the Canadian people which the Liberal Party stole during the adscam scandal, and which Liberal Party officials were convicted in court for and went to jail?

Is the Liberal Party going to pay back the $40 million or not? I do not need a long speech, just a good yes or no would be fine.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

March 10th, 2011 / noon

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think the Liberal Party of Canada paid dearly for that, and we have learned our lesson.

I would like to draw to the member's attention that with respect to the Gomery investigation, it was a public servant, two advertising executives and a low-ranking member of the party who actually ended up being accused. It was not the four top-ranking people, as it is with the Conservative Party of Canada. Also, out of the problems with the advertising problem the Liberal Party endured came the Gomery hearings and his recommendations, which the Conservative Party of Canada campaigned on. If we look at all those recommendations, the Conservative Party has implemented virtually none of them.

In fact, today's motion speaks to the fact of how the Conservatives really are in contempt of this place and of the law.

Opposition Motion—Conduct of Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

Noon

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to recognize my colleague's reference in her speech to the late Jim Travers and what he might think if he were here to comment and write an editorial on the erosion of democracy as it is unfolding today under the guidance of the Conservative government. What does she think, as a close personal friend, his reaction would have been?