House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Sit-in at Hill Office of Indian Affairs Minister--Speaker's Ruling
Privilege

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 10, 2011, by the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development concerning an alleged sit-in at his Parliament Hill office.

I wish to thank the minister for having raised this matter and the members for Churchill and Yukon for their comments.

In raising this question of privilege, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development explained that on Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the member for Churchill arrived at his office, uninvited and accompanied by a group of the Sayisi Dene and media representatives, pressing his staff for an immediate meeting despite his absence. In his view, this constituted a protest and a sit-in. Characterizing the incident as a serious breach of trust and a serious matter from a security standpoint, the minister expressed concern that his employees were made uncomfortable and prevented from doing their work.

The member for Churchill countered that the visit was simply an attempt to obtain a meeting with the minister and not an orchestrated event with the intention of obstructing the work of the minister's office.

As all hon. members will recall, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 108 states:

Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference.

It also notes, on the same page, that:

Over the years, members have regularly brought to the attention of the House instances which they believed were attempts to obstruct, impede, interfere, intimidate or molest them, their staffs or individuals who had some business with them or the House.

In the case before us, the Chair is being asked to determine whether the unauthorized presence in the minister's office of the member for Churchill, a delegation of the Sayisi Dene and the media was tantamount to intimidation or obstruction of the minister's staff. To assist me, I reviewed the report on this matter prepared by House of Commons security, who attended the scene after being called upon for assistance by the minister's staff. It is clear to the Chair from the submissions, as well as the security report, that those occupying the minister's office were uninvited and did not have proper authorization to be there. As well, the Chair believes that the minister's staff was indeed uncomfortable, though they appeared to have handled the situation with aplomb and good grace.

I am troubled that the member for Churchill, without prior warning, took it upon herself to lead a group to another member's office. That media representatives were part of this group makes the situation that much more unfortunate. No matter how well intentioned the member for Churchill was, or how amicable the outcome of this particular incident, it was an unauthorized presence in a minister's office that left ministerial staff uncomfortable enough to warrant the assistance of security. It is a credit to the minister's staff, and it must be said to the unexpected visitors as well, that this incident did not escalate further and that the tone of the exchange was respectful.

It is well understood that members need access to ministers to fulfill their parliamentary functions but it is equally true that there are various well-known, entirely acceptable avenues available to secure such access. Members are expected to avail themselves of these mutually agreed upon opportunities rather than resorting to other unorthodox means that may place colleagues in untenable situations. Because of the actions of the member for Churchill, for almost an hour, her guests occupied the office of the minister without a previously arranged appointment. This is a clear abuse of the usual practices that all members are expected to follow. The Chair is disappointed that the member for Churchill showed a complete disregard for the common courtesies that are to be observed between members. In this case, the situation was well managed, but we may not always be so lucky.

It does not require a great deal of imagination to foresee the kind of circus atmosphere that could result if all members took it upon themselves to escort constituents, delegations or other citizens—however worthy their cause or objective—to whichever other member's office they chose.

That being said, in this particular case, in large part due to the calm, measured approach taken by the minister's staff in handling the situation, there is little evidence to suggest that the staff of the minister were obstructed in the fulfillment of their duties. The minister himself was careful not to overstate the impact of the incident on his staff. In view of the very high threshold required in adjudicating such situations, in this circumstance the Chair cannot find that a prima facie question of privilege has arisen in this matter.

The Chair expects that all members will heed the lesson of this incident in an effort to maintain the integrity of the precinct as a work environment where all members feel secure and respected.

I ask for the active collaboration of all members in this and I thank all members for their attention.

Privilege
Royal Assent

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall

Ottawa

March 25, 2011

Mr. Speaker:

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bills listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 25th day of March, 2011 at 7:55 a.m.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen Wallace,

The Secretary to the Governor General and Herald Chancellor.

The schedule indicates the bills assented to were Bill C-442, An Act to establish a National Holocaust Monument--Chapter 13; and Bill C-475, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (methamphetamine and ecstasy)--Chapter 14.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore
Ontario

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Leader of the Opposition

moved:

That the House agree with the finding of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending March 26, 2011, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill.

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

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

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

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, before we start this debate, I have a few words for you. You are at the end of your term as Speaker of the House, and I would like to express how much fondness and respect we all have for you. Your rulings have left their mark on our country's history.

Mr. Speaker, you have taught us all, sometimes with a modest rebuke, sometimes with the sharp sting of focused argument, to understand, to respect and to cherish the rules of Canadian democracy, and for that your citizens will always hold you in highest honour.

This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, the democracy that you, Mr. Speaker, have served so well. I have to inform the House that the official opposition has lost confidence in the government.

The government no longer has the confidence of the official opposition.

Our motion asks the House to agree with the finding in the 27th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented on March 21. This was a historic finding. It was the first time that a parliamentary committee has found the government in contempt.

Today, with this motion, we ask the House to do the same, to find the government in contempt and to withdraw the confidence of the House.

With this motion, we are calling on members of Parliament to condemn the government for its contempt of Parliament and to withdraw the confidence of the House. This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, but it is also an opportunity for us to confirm our commitment to parliamentary democracy and its fundamental principles.

What principles are we talking about? That the government has the obligation to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.

The principle at stake in this debate goes to the heart of parliamentary democracy: the obligation of a government to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.

We are the people's representatives. When the government spends money, the people have a right to know what it is to be spent on. Parliament does not issue blank cheques. For four months, the opposition has asked the government to tell the Canadian people the true cost of its budget plans. For four months, we demanded to know how much Canadian taxpayers were being asked to pay for fighter jets, prisons and corporate tax breaks. For four months. this House and the Canadian people were stonewalled by the government and they are being stonewalled still.

For four months, we have been trying to hold this government accountable. For four months, we demanded to know the real cost of the fighter jets, prisons and tax breaks for major corporations. For four months, we did not get a single answer, aside from the contempt and arrogance of this government. And today, still, we have no answers.

We were shocked, but we were not surprised. After all, this is the same government that shut down Parliament twice, the same government that was forced, by one of your rulings, to hand over documents to do with Afghan prisoners, and we are still waiting for those documents.

In the case of the Afghan documents, the government's excuse for withholding the truth was national security. In the case of the budget documents, it invented something about cabinet confidence, but actually it did not even bother with an excuse at all.

But you, Mr. Speaker, would have none of it. You, Mr. Speaker, held that the rules of our democracy require the government to answer the questions that Parliament wants answered. The matter was sent back to a committee for action and it came back with a finding of contempt. That is why we are where we are today. The House must decide whether the government has broken a basic rule of our democracy and therefore, whether it can remain in office.

For our part on this side of the House, there is no doubt. You, Mr. Speaker, have spoken, the committee has spoken, and now the House must speak with a clear voice. It must say that a government that breaks the rules and conceals facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office.

With one clear voice, the House must declare that a government that does not respect democracy cannot remain in power. We have had enough. If this vote results in an election, the Canadian people will have the opportunity to replace an arrogant government with one that respects democracy.

To those who say an election is unnecessary, we reply that we did not seek an election, but if we need one to replace a government that does not respect democracy with one that does, I cannot think of a more necessary election.

It is not just democracy that the House will be called upon to affirm this afternoon. The House should also affirm Canadians' hunger, nay their longing, for change. It is time to change Canada's direction. It is time to get us on the right path. After five years of Conservative government, it is time to say enough is enough. Enough of the politics of fear. Enough of the politics of division. Enough of the politics of personal destruction.

Enough is enough. We need to look at the government's priorities. It wants to spend 1,000 times more on fighter jets than on helping students in CEGEP and university. We reject the government's priorities. It is offering less to seniors for an entire year than what it spent on one day of the G20. We say no to this kind of waste. The government wants to spend 1,000 times more on prisons than on preventing youth crime. Again, we say no. This government's priorities are not in line with the priorities of Canadian families. We have had it. Enough is enough.

The priorities of the government laid bare in that thin gruel that we saw earlier this week reveal a government out of touch and out of control. There is no credible plan to tackle the deficit because there are no numbers any reasonable person can believe in. There is no vision of how to sustain our health care system. There is not a word about affordable housing, not a word about child care, and nothing for the pressing needs of Canadian families in poverty.

Instead, we get jets, jails and giveaways to oil companies, insurance companies, and banks that are doing just fine, thank you very much.

So we need a change. We need to focus scarce resources where they really matter: early learning and child care; college and university education for all, especially for aboriginal and immigrant Canadians; energy efficiency and green jobs; family care for our loved ones in the home, and security and dignity in retirement. We need all of this plus a clear plan to clean up our country's finances and get us back to balance without adding to the tax burden on Canadian families.

These are the priorities of our people. These are the needs that we must serve. These are the priorities at home. However, let us not forget the priorities abroad. We have so much ground to catch up. We have a government that has lost our place in the world and lost our place at the Security Council of the United Nations.

We need a government that restores our honour, our credit, and our prestige on the international stage, a government that understands the deep and committed internationalism that dwells in the hearts of all Canadian citizens.

We need a government for the people, a government that is accountable to the people and that serves the people and democracy.

I want to conclude by saying a few words about democracy. Some members of this government have been charged with electoral fraud. A member of the Prime Minister's inner circle is accused of influence peddling. Enough is enough. People are fed up.

I return to where I started, to democracy, to the abuse of power. We have a government whose most senior members stand accused of electoral fraud. We have a Prime Minister who appointed, as his top adviser, someone who served prison time for stealing money from his clients, someone who now faces accusations of influence peddling, and is under an RCMP investigation.

Canadians look at that picture and they say, “We have had enough”. This House has had enough, enough of the abuse of power and enough of the bad economic choices.

We have a government with unique distinctions. We have a government with the largest deficit in Canadian history. It is the highest spending government in Canadian history. It is the most wasteful government in Canadian history. Finally, it is the first government in Canadian history to face a vote of contempt in this House.

This is a government and a Prime Minister that is out of touch and is out of control. It is time for a change.

Mr. Speaker, I urge all of the members to support our motion.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's remarks and I want to remind the House and Canadians about the process that was followed.

Mr. Speaker, you referred this issue to the procedure and House affairs committee. You said it was a prima facie breach of privilege, which means on the surface it appeared there was a breach of privilege.

I had the honour and privilege of sitting on that committee during a constituency week when members should have been back in their ridings. We listened to some great input in committee. We heard from Mel Cappe, a number of ministers, and many other witnesses during the two days of hearings, and then a third day for another matter.

The problem is that the decisions of that committee, which should have been made after the input was received, were made long before the committee ever met. At the end, the committee was presented with the demands of the coalition opposition, one of which was that there would be a maximum of two pages in the report, two days of hearings and two pages in the report. It is unbelievable.

What is worse, the coalition demanded that there be no summary of evidence presented at the meetings to the House of Commons. We can talk about democracy and the contempt of parliamentary process, but I would ask my hon. colleague this question. If we do not provide information on the process that the procedure and House affairs committee went through for three days here in Ottawa, is it not a contempt of the parliamentary privilege of the members of the House?

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Kitchener—Conestoga for his public service on that committee, but I would draw to his attention a point in my speech indicating that the House asked for four months for the documents necessary for Parliament to make up its mind about the budget.

The member for Kitchener—Conestoga waves a binder in my face. Let me remind him that the answers we sought were not in those documents. We have been stonewalled for four months. The issue about who is to blame for contempt of Parliament lies squarely on the side of a government that when asked to provide the information necessary for the citizens of Canada to evaluate a budget, it stonewalled, objected, refused, and did not comply. This raises a fundamental issue of respect for parliamentary institutions.

The facts remain as I have stated. One cannot say that the government is in compliance when the binders do not provide the information required and when for four months, it gave us no answer at all.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some sadness that we are all involved in this debate today. It is a historic moment that a government of Canada is being found in contempt not just of Parliament but of the Canadian people.

All members come here in an effort to represent constituents back home. There is a list of concerns and serious allegations, some of them being founded by the public prosecutor charging four Conservatives and two may likely go to jail, cancelling the long form census, and firing independent government officers and agents.

Members are meant to hold government to account. It concerns me that just last night an email was leaked from the Minister of Industry who instructed his Senate colleagues to kill the generic bill for drugs to Africa. That is very similar to how the government instructed its people in the Senate to kill the climate change accountability act introduced by the leader of the NDP.

A government is being found in contempt, which has never happened before. There have been bad governments, lying governments, and contemptuous governments in this country before, but the present government has achieved this low bar of ethics and morality. How is it we find ourselves in this position and what must we all do collectively to never allow this to happen again?

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for his insightful remarks. He points out that we are here today because of a long pattern of abuse, not simply the withholding of documents on this occasion, which we have spent four long months in vain, seeking the documents we need to do our job, but there is a longer pattern of abuse that goes back to the shutting down of Parliament on two occasions.

When the Government of Canada was under pressure, facing just criticism from members of the House, it chose to prorogue. Canadians did not like that. It set the pattern of contempt, the pattern of disrespect, the pattern of abuse of our democracy that brings us to this place.

The member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley asks our side what we can do about it. That is why we are here today, to present a motion before the House that holds the government in contempt. If we do not do this, if we allow the government to get away with this, we will endanger the democracy which is incarnated by this beautiful room.

We have to be absolutely clear on this.

What has to be done to put things right and have democracy respected? The motion moved by the Liberal Party of Canada, the official opposition, has to be supported and adopted, that is what.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, the strength of the country we love is our people, but it is also the principles and practices of our democracy. People have worked for, fought for and have died for our democracy and our country. Now the government has broken the basic rules of democracy, and that is being expressed in the vote of contempt of Parliament that is happening today in the House of Commons.

Would the Leader of the Official Opposition tell us how the government's abuses of power and contempt of Parliament affect the very character of Canada? How do they affect the daily lives of people in their homes and communities in Canada?

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague and friend from Vancouver Quadra asks a question that essentially transports us out of the precincts of the House and asks what this means to ordinary Canadians, the families watching at home and people at work. This is a question that affects them directly.

Many Canadians enjoy the very special privilege of rich and lucky countries, of not having to think and worry about their democracy. They entrust its protection to their representatives. They do not think about whether their democracy is in danger. They do not look up from the more important things they have to do in their lives, such as getting the kids to hockey practice and to school, doing their jobs, being with their neighbours and friends.

However, in the deep background of their lives, there must always be a confidence that their democracy works and that it works for them, and that when members of the House ask a government questions about how taxpayer money is spent, they get an honest answer. That is the crux of our democratic system, that on behalf of the woman taking her son or daughter to hockey practice, on behalf of the man going to work in the mill, they can count on us in the House of Commons to ask the questions that those citizens need to know in order to hold our government accountable. When that government fails in this most elementary task of democratic freedom, it is the duty of the members of the House to bring the government down.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Carleton—Mississippi Mills, the chief government whip.

I rise today to speak to the motion introduced by the Leader of the Opposition on a matter of non-confidence in the government.

I wish I could say I am pleased to make this speech today, but I am not. In fact, I am saddened that a Parliament, which has accomplished a lot recently, will come to an end because of the reckless actions of the Liberal, Bloc Québécois and NDP coalition in forcing an unwanted and unnecessary election on Canadians.

Yesterday, I listed 10 important government bills which had received royal assent this week, bills like Bill S-6 to eliminate the faint hope clause, Bill C-48 to eliminate sentencing discounts for multiple murderers and Bill C-59 to get rid of early parole for white-collar fraudsters, a bill the Liberal leader opposed. That was a very positive week.

We also tried to pass important bills like Bill C-49, which would crack down on human smugglers and those who would take advantage of our generous immigration laws, and Bill S-10, which would get tough on drug dealers and date rape artists who would target our youth. I stood in this place just yesterday and asked for those bills to be passed. What was the response from the opposition coalition in passing these bills? No. No to getting tough on human smugglers. No to getting tough on drug dealers.

Instead, we find ourselves here today faced with the most partisan of attacks from an opposition coalition bent on defeating this government at all costs.

I know the Liberal members over there claim that the government was found to have done something wrong. What they are not telling Canadians is that this was an opposition-stacked committee that used the tyranny of the majority to get the predetermined outcome it wanted. Let us be clear. It was predetermined. After all, the members for Kings—Hants, Ottawa South, Joliette and Acadie—Bathurst said so in the media.

In my speech I could focus on all the abuses of parliamentary democracy and the absolute contempt that the opposition demonstrated, not just at that committee but on virtually every other committee of the House in overruling chairs, in making political decisions, ignoring the rules of this place, and on and on.

One may ask why we have never heard about these things. It is because the opposition coalition has a majority on every committee. Its members were the ones who demonstrated real contempt for Parliament, and they will have to answer to the Canadian people for that.

Let us be clear about what this vote of non-confidence is really about. It is a vote against the next phase of Canada's economic action plan. It is a vote against our low tax plan for jobs and economic growth. It is a vote against hard-working Canadians and their families. It is a vote that will weaken Canada's economic recovery.

It is a vote against the budget. It is a vote against our plan.

Let us be clear. The latest phase of Canada's economic action plan encourages owners of small businesses to hire more people. It provides potential employees with new opportunities to train and to hone those skills. It invests in innovation. It lays the groundwork for private sector growth to replace government stimulus. This is good for all Canadians in every region of our great country from coast to coast to coast.

For seniors across Canada, I am proud to report that our government is delivering once again. For the poorest of seniors, we are providing an important hike to the guaranteed income supplement. For people caring for infirm loved ones, we are providing support in the form of a $2,000 tax relief credit. For the many public servants who make their homes in my riding, we are providing a guarantee that we will not slash programs and eliminate jobs as the Liberals did in the mid-1990s. Instead, we will provide a strategic review to enhance efficiency and reduce overall overhead with minimal impact on service to Canadians.

I was pleased to see included a request from the Canadian fire chiefs to provide for our volunteer firefighters. Next week we could be enacting that tax credit in law, but it will not happen because of the Liberal-led coalition.

I hope Canadian colleges and universities will drive innovation and help Canada forge closer ties with promising markets like India's. Carleton University made a great proposal to do just that, but it will have to wait. We will certainly be supporting our students in new ways.

I am especially proud to say that our government is providing real support to people who find their pensions at risk because their employer goes bankrupt. The budget would provide at least some help from the federal government to the former Nortel workers, despite the fact their pension plans were provincially regulated. It is something.

Unlike previous but misguided efforts in this place, this will not hurt Canadian businesses.

In short, Canada's economic action plan is another huge help for people in my riding of Ottawa West—Nepean. It will be a huge help to my home province of Ontario. We are working closely with the government of Dalton McGuinty to cut corporate taxes to make Ontario and Canada a magnet for jobs, investment and opportunity. It will be a huge help from coast to coast to coast right across our great country. It will help secure our economic recovery. It will help create jobs and it will support all Canadians.

By voting against this motion of non-confidence in our government, the opposition coalition can stop this unnecessary and unwanted election later today. I want to urge the opposition to reconsider its support for an unnecessary and costly election. I hope it will vote for the things Canadians find truly important, for the measures that will help so many right across the country.

I move:

That this question be now put.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have always listened with interest to the comments of the government House leader, but rarely have I heard a more inaccurate account of what actually has taken place over the last several months.

I find it astonishing that a government House leader, who pretends he is respectful of the House and respectful of the Speaker's rulings, would make no reference at all to the Speaker's ruling, which responded to a four month effort on the part of members of Parliament to try to get information from the government for expenditures totalling $40 billion. The government has failed to account for that, has failed to respond to it, has failed to address it and now pretends it does not even exist. It is like talking about Moby Dick without mentioning the fact that it also happens to be a whale. There is a whale of a problem over there and the whale of the problem is that it is inaccurate.

Then there are the tiny inaccuracies. For three months the government refused to bring forward Bill C-49. There were no debate, no comments, no discussion. Yesterday the minister stood up and said that he would like to get it all done in three seconds. He is not telling the truth to the Canadian people. He is not coming clean to the Canadian people. He should know that is the problem.

Opposition Motion—Confidence in the Government
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, what the Liberal Party is doing today is the first act in a reckless coalition with the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois.

Let me say, particularly to the member for Toronto Centre and very directly, we have seen what bringing the NDP members into the cabinet room in Ontario can do. They over-governed Ontario. They over-regulated in Ontario. They killed jobs. They killed opportunities.

Most importantly, wherever the NDP has been in power, it has stolen the soul of the Canadian dream, the soul of the Canadian people.

We will not allow opposition members to do it lightly. We will take our case to the Canadian people and say that this reckless coalition is wrong for Canada, bad for the Canadian economy and bad for Canadian jobs. Simply put, we will not let them get away with it.