Mr. Speaker, during this debate and particularly yesterday, I listened intently and I especially re-read some statements made by some speakers, particularly on the government side.
I heard members, and particularly the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, repeatedly accusing the opposition, saying that it was the opposition that was filibustering and causing the democratic deficit.
I have a lot of difficulty accepting that the government, which introduced the motion, blame the opposition. Indeed, this is worth mentioning. It is not the opposition that introduced the motion. It is the government that introduced this motion whose aim is, as members reminded the House, to bring back to the House bills that were dropped following prorogation last November.
It is not because of the opposition that the House of Commons was prorogued last November. It is not because of the opposition that we did not sit as planned in November, December and January. It is not because of the opposition, it is because of infighting within the governing party.
At one point, the situation had become intolerable for the former government. I should say for the former prime minister, because it is not the former government, since we are back again today with the same government in front of us. All that has changed in this government are a few titles and people who have been moved around, but this is still the same governing party and the same government.
It is because the feud between the former prime minister and the current Prime Minister had come to a point where government operations were paralyzed, and it was virtually impossible to legislate. This feud and the problems were so blatant that, at one point, someone made a decision and said, “We will prorogue the House. We have no other choice”.
Of course, as my colleague from Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis said earlier, this bothered the current Prime Minister. It is causing him problems, and I hope it will cause him problems serious enough to get him to reflect further when it comes to the democratic deficit.
I want to come back to the issue of the democratic deficit. The last few months have been very telling. What happened was very significant. We have a man who decided to seek power, to replace the former prime minister and to prevent the government from operating for weeks, if not for months. That is what happened.
If only he had respected democracy, if only he had respected Parliament, if only he had respected the elected representatives of the people, things would have been different. Unfortunately, what happened is that an over-ambitious man prevented the government from operating.
Therefore, we have to remember that it was not the opposition who prorogued the House in November 2003, but the government and the party in office. That means, of course, that a greater number of bills died on the Order Paper. And now, the government wants to reinstate them as if nothing happened.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. If they want to pretend that they form a new government, that they stand for change, then they cannot just bring back the bills of the previous government and of the previous Prime Minister as if nothing happened.
Something very serious happened. For instance, if the government really wanted to eliminate the democratic deficit, it would have reinstated some of the private members' bills. Let me give the House a very good example of a bill which was ignored at the very last minute by the government, when the House was prorogued. The bill directly affects eastern Quebec. It deals with the issue of lighthouses. I said it affected eastern Quebec, but I could also mention the Maritimes and all of Canada.
I was just reading something that was published, on this matter, back in November, not long after the House was prorogued. At the time, the House was considering a bill requiring the government to maintain its properties, including lighthouses.
This affects all Quebeckers living along the St. Lawrence River, Quebec's maritime regions and the maritime provinces as a whole.
Right after the prorogation, I read a document from Radio-Canada Atlantique which clearly stated that, in Nova Scotia and elsewhere, up to 100 lighthouses that have been used until very recently to guide navigators could be lost because of the government's lack of commitment to meeting its obligations and maintaining the infrastructure.
The situation is the same in Quebec. We could talk about what is going on in Quebec and in British Columbia. This bill was introduced by a member following discussions in the Senate. The idea was to force the government to take its responsibilities and to maintain the infrastructure. This affected us directly. As I said earlier, this bill affects all of Quebec's maritime regions.
We could also talk about fisheries. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, which was sitting, had decisions to take. The Coast Guard could be in trouble following all the cuts that were made. Fisheries and Oceans may very well cut 600 jobs in the next few months. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was sitting to consider all the issues concerning fisheries.
Unfortunately, and maybe taxpayers ignore this, as soon as the House is prorogued, committees stop sitting. Naturally, it takes some time after the House has resumed its business for the committees to start sitting again.
So, all this process that I would described as undemocratic, all this infighting within the Liberal Party went on and caused the prorogation of the House, which stopped sitting. In the meantime, all the issues before us were suspended until today.
Now, they blame us, saying that the opposition is undemocratic because it refuses to pass such a motion. That is unacceptable. I will never be able to accept that the opposition be blamed for doing its job. The governing party is to blame for everything that happened, on top of the House being prorogued.
There is also Bill C-49 concerning the revision of electoral boundaries. This is very important. In our region, we are faced with quite a problem. The member for Rimouski--Neigette-et-la Mitis talked earlier about the size of her riding. We could mention the riding of Matapédia—Matane, which is just huge, but we could also mention the riding of Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-de-la-Madeleine—Pabok.
Let us not forget that, in recent history, 10 years ago, the Gaspé lost one riding. Now, we could lose another one. The government is not taking into account the huge size of the areas, particularly in the Gaspé, where the new riding will include some five regional county municipalities and a very large number of municipalities.
The riding of Matapédia—Matane, which is just next to that riding, is about the same size. Had it not been for the mergers, there would be some 60 municipalities over a very large area. From west to east, the riding is about 350 kilometres long. Constituents have a very hard time reaching their MP in such ridings.
As regards the democratic deficit, the government had a great opportunity to correct the situation by making exceptions and creating in all the so-called remote regions ridings that make sense.
Moreover, we were totally opposed to Bill C-49 because it did not take into account the historical aspect of the presence of Quebec MP's in the House of Commons.
I should point out that the government is adding new ridings, including in Alberta and British Columbia, which means that Quebec's representation will be proportionally reduced. We Bloc Quebecois members had suggested that the number of federal seats allocated to Quebec be increased from 75 to 77, to maintain a fair and equitable proportion. This would probably have enabled us to have smaller ridings, particularly in my region, in which an MP would have been able to do a perfectly adequate job, and in which it would have been much easier for constituents to have access to their MP.
The notion of democratic deficit is critical. First of all—and luckily the situation has changed at the federal level, although more than 20 years after changes were made in Quebec—there is now an act dealing with the financing of political parties. This is the very foundation of a democratic system. That was a major problem in terms of the democratic deficit. In Quebec, we realized that almost 25 years ago.
The very basis of democracy is the financing of political parties by the citizens, the participation of the people in the life of political parties. Naturally, in the end, during an electoral campaign, the more people participate, the better it is for democracy.
Unfortunately, since the last election, we have realized that voter turnout at the federal level has been dropping constantly. That is a sure sign of a democratic deficit that must be rectified.
We will certainly not deal with that deficit by acting like the government has acted towards members of Parliament and all-party committees. Even within the government itself, the problem is serious. We have seen it in the past. We have seen that the whole machinery of government, all the mechanics of government, the cabinet and the executive itself were centralized and operating from the Prime Minister's office, and that all decisions were being made there.
If we want to do something about the democratic deficit, that is where we have to start. The system must be more open, people must be given access to information and must be allowed to participate in the work of all committees and in all decisions made in the House.
I think the other democratic deficit concerns the members' right to speak. Opposition members have one right, and that is the right to speak. It is crucial. We also have the right to stand for our fellow citizens and those who sent us here.
Government members are not allowed to criticize or to make proposals. They do not have any right in the public forum. They have to remain silent. Therefore, it is much more difficult for them to stand for their constituents.
The government wants to reinstate another bill. Let me digress for a moment. We have heard a lot about safety lately. The government wants to reinstate Bill C-17 on public safety. The Bloc Quebecois was against this bill, and we still are today.
But we should not forget that, while the House was prorogued, the Canadian and American governments exchanged letters on the infamous missile defence shield. Commitments were made while the House was not sitting.
Through the back door, the government is trying to come to an agreement with the American government on an eventual Canadian participation in the American missile defence shield. I think this is an extremely serious democratic deficit.
There should have been a debate in the House on the subject, since this is a major decision. It is a decision involving the commitment of funds which may, of course, not be allocated to service delivery, funds that will not be available to provide services to the public. And this puts democracy at risk. We should have had this major discussion here in the House. We should have had a very serious debate on the subject.
During the prorogation of the House, something else happened, which directly affects taxpayers, particularly Quebec taxpayers: the Canadian government's decision to take part in a study with the American army to widen the St. Lawrence Seaway. In this regard, it would have been essential to have a heated debate on the subject, because the widening of the seaway may cause major problems, such as environmental problems. Let us think of all the stirring of sediments at the bottom of the seaway. If you disturb something that has been covered by a good layer of sediments, you will find large quantities of contaminants that came from the Great Lakes. There have been problems in the past.
This could cause environmental problems, first of all. In fact, there are sediments on the bottom of the seaway now. If we start to interfere with that thick layer of sediment, below it we will find contaminants that come from the Great Lakes, and very great quantities of them. We have had problems in the past. If all that shit—please excuse the word—were stirred up, it would obviously cause major environmental problems.
The second element regarding the enlarging of the St. Lawrence Seaway is shoreline erosion. If the seaway is enlarged, larger quantities of Great Lakes water will flow out, and there is a risk of provoking erosion problems all along the banks of the St. Lawrence. The problem already exists: imagine how much greater the erosion could become.
The third very important point regarding enlarging the St. Lawrence Seaway is an economic one. Why do they want to enlarge the seaway when, simply by setting up an intermodal transportation system based on the ports that already exist, it would be possible to ship freight easily to Detroit or the states concerned in the United States, since they seem to want to do this solely for the Americans and southern Ontario.
Once again, we in the Bloc Quebecois are not, at this time, in favour of entering into a process with the American army to enlarge the seaway. And yet, there is no debate in the House and on the government side, they are telling us about the democratic deficit. I think it is essential to hold a debate on this subject.
We could also be talking about Bill C-17. We can add another element to the concept of the democratic deficit. The Prime Minister was recently heard on the CBC talking about the $46 or $47 billion they have taken from the employment insurance fund. Of course, it is a virtual fund, but if you take money out of the fund and spend it all, you have stolen it, quite literally. It is very clear today that it is a completely virtual fund. Citizens, seasonal workers in particular, are being denied the help they need to live in decent conditions.
It must always be kept in mind, when referring to the employment insurance fund, that today not even 40% of workers have access to it. In terms of democracy, notwithstanding all that has been said on the subject, all the studies proving that it is totally unjust, the government kept on. The present Prime Minister, when finance minister, was the main one responsible for what happened to the EI fund.
We could also talk in terms of democratic deficit of all the services to the populations in regions such as mine, because of the fact that the electoral districts are very large. Given their immense size, the populations we represent are deprived of services.
Over the years since 1993, the federal government has become almost totally absent from our regions, abandoning the airports, no longer investing in the infrastructures that belong to it, among them the wharves at seaports. It has pretty well been the same thing for the entire railway system. In the region I come from, Canadian National is virtually absent and private companies are operating the railways today.
It is a democratic deficit when the entire population of my area pays as much in taxes as anyone else in the country and ought therefore to be entitled to about the same services, or so I believe.
Getting back to the motion before us, I was just referring to the ports. There was a private members bill on this, and it was abandoned. We could talk about all the other bills that fell by the wayside because of prorogation. As a result, today we find ourselves faced with a motion that is asking the opposition to say “Everything is forgotten. We start again from scratch”.
That is not exactly what the motion is calling on us to do. In actual fact, it is asking us to accept having all the bills that were before the House come back in the form they were in before prorogation. We did not accept those bills. We did not have all the time or debating space to express our views. Today what they want is to simply cancel out everything that was done. This is totally unacceptable.