Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this morning's debate. Throughout 2007, I was the justice critic for the official opposition. And throughout 2006, I served as deputy House leader of the official opposition, which is also my current role.
Thus, since the Conservative government's Speech from the Throne in 2006, I have been listening to the Conservative rhetoric, which I have weighed against the actions put forward by this government.
The motion we are debating today is:
That, given the government has declared the passage of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as a matter of confidence, and, that the bill has already been at the Senate longer than all stages took in the House of Commons, and that all aspects of this bill have already been the subject of extensive committee hearings in Parliament, and that in the opinion of this House the Senate majority is not providing appropriate priority to the passage of Bill C-2, a message be sent to the Senate calling on the Senate to pass Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, by March 1, 2008.
The Minister of Justice and Attorney General is applauding. Well, I wonder. The Minister of Justice made a big point about how in the 2006 throne speech the Conservative government made tackling crime a priority. It is one of five priorities of the government. Let us look at the record of the government prior to when it prorogued the session that began in the winter of 2006 after the 2006 election. Let us look at that record.
The Liberal record is that we supported the vast majority of the Conservative government's justice bills. The fact is that the Conservative government has needlessly delayed its own legislation. The fact is there has been no opposition obstruction, not from the official opposition, not from the Bloc Québécois and not from the NDP. The only obstruction has been from the government. Let me give an example.
The government talks about the age of consent legislation. In the previous session, the age of consent legislation was Bill C-22 . It is now found in this new tackling crime bill, Bill C-2.
Bill C-22, the age of consent legislation, was originally tabled by the government on June 22, 2006, some four and a half months after the government came to this House and opened Parliament with a throne speech. The House adjourned for the summer months one or two days later. I do not have the exact date with me but at the most, it was two days later. We came back on the third Monday in September 2006.
Did the government then move second reading of the age of consent bill? That is the bill that would raise the legal age of consent from 14 to 16 years. The government had an opportunity, its very first opportunity to move second reading. For Canadians who are listening, no one but the government can move government legislation from one stage to another.
The government tables its bill under parliamentary rules, House of Commons rules. It moves first reading and the motion is automatically deemed to have been adopted. The bill then goes on to the order paper and it stays there until the government moves second reading. We waited through the month of September 2006 and into the month of October 2006. The government did not move second reading.
That is the same government with a Minister of Justice and Attorney General who says that he is concerned, who says that victims, particularly our children who are victims of sexual predators, are among the Conservatives' first and main priority, and the government did not move second reading on the age of consent bill in 2006.
What did the Liberals do? Because that was a bill that we supported unconditionally, our House leader, who speaks on behalf of the official opposition, offered to fast track it.
Again, for those who do not understand the rules of procedure of the House of Commons, and possibly some of the government members who may not understand the rules of procedure of the House of Commons, the Standing Orders, when there is a majority in the House of Commons, whether it be the government only, or the government and another party, the government can fast track a bill.
We offered to fast track the age of consent legislation in October 2006. The government did not take us up on the offer. It ignored our offer. It did not even deign to officially respond to our offer. However, what this did was bring pressure to the government and several days later the government finally moved debate at second reading on the age of consent bill.
For a government, a Prime Minister, a Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, his parliamentary secretary and every single Conservative sitting on the government benches in this House of Commons to say that children, our children, are a priority and then to refuse to fast track the age of consent bill is unconscionable.
That bill could have been law by December 2006. We would have now had 13 months of better protection for our children and that government refused. This is what the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is not telling the Canadian people. That bill could have been law.
Let us look at another bill that we find in Bill C-2. Let us look at the bill about which the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada attempted to eloquently dis the official opposition. That bill used to be Bill C-35, regarding reverse onus on bail for firearm related offences.
That bill received first reading on November 23, 2006. Guess what? It sat. The government did not move second reading debate through the end of November 2006, the entire month of December 2006 and the entire month of January 2007. That government did not move second reading of the bail reform bill until February 13.
Is it not a coincidence, that is a bill which we offered to fast track. That is a bill that could have been law. It could have been law for over a year now, and that government did not take us up on it.
That is a government that sends ten percenters into ridings of my colleagues in Manitoba, in Ontario, in British Columbia, claiming that the Liberals are obstructing the government's justice agenda. The government obstructed its own agenda.
I have to ask myself the following question: is this simple incompetence on the part of the government or is this government being wilfully incompetent?
Is that pure incompetence on the part of the government or is it wilful incompetence in delaying its own legislation?
Those are just two things that we find in Bill C-2 which could have been the law for over a year now had the Conservative government actually been truthful to its claim about victims being its main priority. Had that been the truth, the government would have taken the Liberals up on our offer to fast-track the bill and the age of consent would have been 16 years old December 2006 and reverse onus on bail for firearm related offences would have been the law over a year ago.
However, it gets even better. The government says that the Senate has now had Bill C-2 longer than all stages in the House. The government is counting on the fact that most Canadians will not know the parliamentary agenda and calendar. Bill C-2 was sent to the Senate on December 12, 2007. Parliament adjourned December 14, 2007. Parliament did not resume until Monday, January 28, 2008. The government tabled this motion claiming that the Senate was wilfully obstructing the government's tackling crime agenda.
Had the government been so concerned with Bill C-2 and so concerned about victims and about getting the legislation that it claims is the cornerstone of its priority and agenda, why did it not table a motion last fall for a message to be sent to the Senate informing the Senate that when it receives Bill C-2, we expect it to be reported back to us by x date? The government had all the authority and power to do that last fall but it did not.
Again I must ask whether it was mere incompetence. Is it because the government after two years still does not understand the Standing Orders, which is what we call the rules of this House? Is it wilful incompetence? The government understands full well the authority and powers it has under the House of Commons rules but chooses not to use them in the hopes that most Canadians will not know that it is the government that is actually obstructing its own agenda.
Let us talk about another obstruction. I mentioned how most of the bills, except for Bill C-27, which is the dangerous offender piece of Bill C-2, had already moved through the House and had been referred to the Senate late May, early June, late June of 2007. The Senate only had a couple of days, according to the parliamentary calendar, before Parliament adjourned for the summer. We were scheduled to come back the third Monday of September 2007 but the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, or in his incompetence or in his wilful incompetence decided to prorogue Parliament.
What does that mean? Under the rules and procedures and Standing Orders, it means that every piece of legislation in front of the House of Commons or in front of the Senate automatically dies. The government killed its own age of consent bill, its reverse onus on bail bill and its impaired driving bill, which is interesting because that is the bill we supported wholeheartedly.
I wonder if MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, understands that if the impaired driving bill is not the law today it has absolutely nothing to do with the official opposition or with the Liberal senators, but has everything to do with the government's own decision to obstruct its own legislation, not to move its own legislation through the House of Commons in a timely fashion and then to prorogue and kill its own legislation. That legislation could have been the law for almost a year now had the government not wilfully obstructed its own legislation.
Let us take the dangerous offenders bill. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada talked about how that legislation would ensure that Canadians who commit violent, egregious crimes will not be free on the streets because of the changes that it brought to the dangerous offender system.
One of the things that the government is not telling Canadians is that the way the system worked before the government brought in Bill C-27, the crown prosecutor had full discretion as to whether he or she would apply for a dangerous offender hearing. The government has done absolutely nothing to change that with its tackling crime legislation. The crown will still decide. It does not matter if it is someone who has committed heinous crimes one time, been sent to prison, served the sentence, comes out, does it again, is found guilty and serves another sentence, the crown can still decide whether it will apply for a dangerous offender hearing.
What was the Liberal response to that? The Liberal response was that there should automatically--