Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting my colleague just at the beginning of his speech on the justification for the motion that he has just presented to the House, but we have a point of order that we need to raise because I think it establishes a couple of important things for you, as Speaker, to determine before we get into the context and the particulars of this motion.
Specifically, I will be citing Standing Order 13, which says:
Whenever the Speaker is of the opinion that a motion offered to the House is contrary to the rules and privileges of Parliament, the Speaker shall apprise the House thereof immediately, before putting the question thereon, and quote the Standing Order or authority applicable to the case.
This is the standing order that we cite, because we have looked at the motion the government has presented here today with some notice given last week.
This motion goes against the Standing Orders and certainly the spirit of Parliament. The government is not allowed to break the rules of Parliament that protect the rights of the minority, the opposition and all members of the House of Commons who have to do their jobs for the people they represent. This motion is very clearly contrary to the existing Standing Orders.
I have some good examples to illustrate this. In my opinion, there is no urgency that would justify the government's heavy-handed tactics to prevent members from holding a reasonable debate on its agenda. I say “agenda”, but for a long time now it has been difficult to pin down what this government's agenda is exactly. This is nothing new.
The motion comes to us today at a difficult time, but just because the government held a brief caucus meeting and is facing numerous problems and a few scandals, it is not justified in violating the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. No one would accept those excuses. There is no historical basis for the government to use the Standing Orders in this way. That does not work.
There are a few important things we need to point out. One is that it behooves us to have some explanation of what this motion actually does. For those of us who do not intimately follow the rules and history of Parliament, it can be quite confusing not in terms of the intention of what the government has read but certainly in the implications. It needs some translation, not French to English or English to French, but translation as to what it actually means for the House of Commons. That is why we believe a point of order exists for this motion.
The motion essentially would immediately begin something that would ordinarily begin in a couple of weeks, which is for the House to sit until midnight to review legislation. This is somewhat ironic from a government that has a bad history with respect to moving legislation correctly through the process and allowing us to do our work, which is what we are here to do on behalf of Canadians.
I am not alone in seeing that the government has shown the intention of having some urgency with respect to 23 bills, 14 of which have not even been introduced since the last election. Suddenly there is great urgency, when in fact it is the government that has set the agenda. The urgency is so great that it has to fundamentally change the rules of how we conduct ourselves in this place in response to an urgency that did not exist until this moment.
One has to question the need. Why the panic? Why now, and why over these pieces of legislation? Are they crucial to Canada's economic well-being? Is it to restore the social safety net that the government has brutalized over the last number of years? What is the panic and what is the urgency?
Context sets everything in politics, and the context that the government exists under right now is quite telling. Every time I have had to stand in this place raising points of order and countering the closure and time allocation motions that the government uses, I am often stating and citing that this is a new low standard for Parliament. I have thought at times that there was not much more it could do to this place to further erode the confidence of Canadians or further erode the opportunity for members of Parliament to speak, yet it has again invented something new, and here we are today debating that motion.
That is why we believe that Standing Order 13 needs to be called. It is because it is very clear that when a motion is moved that is contrary to the rules and privileges of Parliament—which is what I would underline, as it is the important part—the Speaker must involve himself or herself in the debate and ask that the debate no longer proceed.
The privileges of members of Parliament are not the privileges that are being talked about by our friends down the hall to falsely claim money that did not exist or privileges of limo rides and trips around the world. The privileges of Parliament that speak constitutionally to the need for Parliament are that members of Parliament have the opportunity to scrutinized and debate government bills.
Just before the riding week, we saw the government introduce another time allocation on a bill that had received exactly 60 minutes of debate. Somehow the Conservatives felt that had exhausted the conversation on a bill they had sat on for years, and suddenly the panic was on. We are seeing this pattern again and again with a government that is facing more scandal.
I was looking through the news today. Every morning I start my day with the news and we consider what we should ask the government in question period. There are some days when the focus can be difficult and one may not be sure what the most important issue of the day is. However, the challenge for us today as the official opposition is that, as there are so many scandals on so many fronts, how do we address them all within the short time we have during question period or in debate on bills.
I listened to my friend for Langley, who has been somewhat in the news of late on his attempt to speak on issues he felt were important to his constituents. We saw him move a new private member's bill today. He withdrew the former bill, and now he is moving one again. The New Democrats will support the bill going to committee for study because we think there are some options and availability for us to look at the legislation and do our job.
Whether it is muzzling of their own MPs and the Conservatives' attempt to muzzle all MPs in the House of Commons, or using private members' bills to avoid the scrutiny that is applied to government legislation, and one important piece of that scrutiny is the charter defence of the legislation and so, in a sense, the Conservatives are using the back door to get government legislation through and move their agenda in another way, or the omnibus legislation, which has received so much controversy in Canada as the government has increasingly abused the use of omnibus legislation, or the F-35 fiasco, or the recent Auditor General's report, or the former parliamentary budget officer who was under much abuse and the new Parliamentary Budget Officer who has asked for the same things he did, or infamously, prorogation, time and time again the pattern is the same. The government has complete disdain for the House.
Whether it be the scandals in the Senate, or the China FIPA accord, or the recent problems with the Prime Minister's former chief of staff, or the employment insurance scandals, or the $3 billion missing, or the 300,000 jobs that have not been replaced, the government keeps trying to avoid proper scrutiny out of embarrassment. However, the House of Commons exists for one thing and one thing alone, which is to hold the government to account.
The government will make some claims that the urgency right now is because there has not been enough progress on legislation. Therefore, the Conservatives have to hit the panic button and would have the House sit until midnight, which has consequences beyond just being a late night, and I will get into those consequences in a moment because they support our notion that it infringes upon the entitlements of members of Parliament to debate legislation properly.
The Conservatives' record shows, and this is not speculation or conspiracy, that when they ram legislation through, they more often than not get it wrong. That is not just expensive for the process of law making, but it is expensive for Canadians. These things often end up in court costing millions and millions of dollars and with victims of their own making. The scandal that exists in the Senate is absolutely one of their own making. The Prime Minister can point the finger where he likes, but he appointed those senators.
Specific to the point of order I am raising, this motion would lower the amount of scrutiny paid to legislation. It would allow the government extended sittings, which are coming in the second week of June anyway, as the Standing Orders currently exist, to allow the government to do that, but the Conservatives want to move the clock up and have more legislation rammed through the House.
Also, as you would know, Mr. Speaker, the order of our day includes concurrence reports from committee, which allow the House to debate something that happened in committee which can sometimes be very critical, and many are moved from all sides. However, they would not get started until midnight under the Conservatives' new rules. Therefore, we would study and give scrutiny on what happened at committee from midnight until two or three o'clock in the morning.
As well, emergency debates would not start until midnight. Just recently we had a debate, Mr. Speaker, that your office agreed to allow happen, which was quite important to those implicated. We were talking about peace and war and Canada's role in the world. It was a critical emergency debate that certainly went into the night. However, the idea is that we would take emergency debates that the Speaker's office and members of Parliament felt were important and start them at midnight and somehow they would be of the same quality as those started at seven o'clock in the evening.
The scrutiny of legislation has become much less important than the government moving its agenda through, which is an infringement on our privilege as members of Parliament. The Conservative's so-called urgency, their panic, is not a justification for overriding the privileges that members of Parliament hold dear.
As for progress, just recently we moved the nuclear terrorism bill through, Bill S-9.
We also had much debate but an improvement on Bill C-15, the military justice bill, to better serve our men and women in the Forces. The original drafting was bad. The Conservatives wanted to force it forward and we resisted. My friend from St. John's worked hard and got an amendment through that would help those in the military who found themselves in front of a tribunal.
We have the divorce in civil marriages act, which has been sitting and sitting. It would allow people in same-sex marriages to file for and seek divorce. All we have offered to the government is one vote and one speaker each. The government refuses to bring the bill forward and I suspect it is because it would require a vote. It is a shame when a government resists the idea that a vote would be a good thing for members of Parliament to declare their intentions on, certainly something as important as civil liberties and rights for gay men and women.
I mentioned earlier why, in the infringement of this privilege, it causes great harm and distress not just to Parliament but to the country.
I asked my team to pull up the list of bills that were so badly written that they had to be either withdrawn or completely rewritten at committee and even in the Senate which, God knows, is a terrible strategy for any legislation.
There was the infamous or famous Bill C-30, the Internet snooping bill, which the Minister of Public Safety said something to the effect that either people were with the government or they were with child pornographers, which may be an example of the worst framing in Canadian political history. There has probably been worse, but that was pretty bad. The Conservatives had to kill the bill.
We have also seen Bill C-10, Bill C-31, Bill C-38 and Bill C-42, all of these bills were so badly written that oftentimes the government had to amend them after having voted for them. After saying they were perfect and ramming them through, invoking closure and shutting down debate, the Conservatives got to committee and heard from people who actually understood the issue and realized the law they had written would be illegal and would not work or fix the problem that was identified, and so they had to rewrite it. That is the point of Parliament. That is the point of the work we do.
We have also seen bills that have been challenged at great expense before the courts. Former Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, with huge sections of the government's main anti-crime agenda, was challenged and defeated in court.
Bill C-38, arbitrarily eliminating backlog for skilled workers, was challenged and defeated.
Bill C-7, Senate term limits, was after years just now deferred to the Supreme Court. It is called “kicking it down the road”.
Also, there are Bill C-6, Bill C-33 and others, and there are those that are being crafted and debated right now that are going to have serious problems.
The essential thrust of our intention is in identifying the rules that govern us, and specifically Standing Order 13. The government has time and again talked about accountability before the Canadian people and talked about doing things better than its predecessors in the Liberal Party, the government that became so arrogant and so unaccountable to Canadians that the Conservatives threw it out of office. History repeats itself if one does not learn true lessons from history.
As I mentioned, Standing Order 27(1) already exists, and it allows the government to do exactly what we are talking about, but not starting until the last 10 sitting days. The Conservatives have said that there is so much on their so-called agenda that they have to do this early, allowing for less scrutiny, allowing for emergency debates to start at midnight, allowing for concurrence debates that come from committees to start at midnight and go until two, three or four o'clock in the morning.
This is contrary to the work of parliamentarians. If the Conservatives are in such a rush, why do they not negotiate? Why do they not actually come to the table and do what parliamentarians have done throughout time, which is offer the to and fro of any proper negotiation between reasonable people?
We have moved legislation forward. My friend across the way was moving an important motion commemorating war heroes. We worked with that member and other members to ensure the bill, which came from the Senate, made it through speedy passage.
Parliament can work if the Conservatives let it work, but it cannot work if they keep abusing it. Canadians continue to lose faith and trust in the vigour of our work and the ability to hold government to account. We see it time and again, and I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you have as well, in talking to constituents who say that they are not sure what goes on here anymore, that it just seems like government will not answer questions, that everyday they ask sincere and thoughtful questions and the Conservatives do not answer. Bills get shut down with motions of closure.
Let us look at the current government's record.
Thirty-three times, the Conservatives have moved allocation on legislation, an all-time high for any government in Canadian history. Through war and peace, through good and bad, no government has shut down debate in Parliaments more than the current one.
Ninety-nine point three per cent of all amendments moved by the opposition have been rejected by the government. Let us take a look at that stat for a moment. That suggests that virtually 100% of the time, the government has been perfectly right on the legislation it moves. All the testimony from witnesses and experts, comments from average Canadians, when moving amendments to the legislation before us, 99.3% of the time the government rejects it out of hand. It ends up in court. It ends up not doing what it was meant to do.
Ten Conservative MPs have never spoken to legislation at all. I will note one in particular. The Minister of Finance, who has not bothered to speak to his own bills, including the omnibus legislation, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, which caused so much controversy. He did not bother to stand and justify his actions. I find it deplorable and it is not just me, Canadians as well, increasingly so.
This is my final argument. We cannot allow this abuse to continue. This pattern has consequences, not just for what happens here today or tomorrow, but in the days, weeks, months and years to come and the Parliaments to come. If we keep allowing for and not standing up in opposition to bad ideas and draconian measures, we in a sense condone them.
We say that Parliament should become less irrelevant. We think that is wrong. We think what the government is doing is fundamentally wrong. It is not right and left; it is right and wrong. When the government is wrong in its treatment and abuse of Canada's Parliament, that affects all Canadians, whatever their political persuasion. We built this place out of bricks and mortar to do one thing: to allow the voice of Canadians to be represented, to speak on behalf of those who did not have a voice and to hold the government of the day to account. Lord knows the government needs that more than anything. It needs a little adult supervision from time to time to take some of those suggestions and put a little, as we say, water in its wine.
It has the majority. This is the irony of what the government is doing. In moving more time allocation than any government in history and shutting down debate more than any government in history and using what it is today, it speaks to weakness not strength. The Conservatives have the numbers to move legislation through if they saw fit, but they do not. They move legislation, they say it is an agenda and they hold up a raft of bills.