Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise to speak to the motion before the House. Of course, the essence of this motion has to do with the government's treatment of its own business and its capacity to move legislation through the House of Commons. It has certainly been the case in the past that various governments have decided to extend sittings to try to accomplish some of the business they were not able to accomplish throughout the year.
However, I think that my hon. colleague who just spoke and moved an amendment raises an excellent and fair point. His amendment is a good one in addressing one of the issues of equity in the House. We know that it is the job of the Speaker and the House to balance the needs of the minority against the majority. The amendment recognizes the fact that some people in this place have more power by virtue of the number of MPs within the governing party, and that others do not. I think that point is very well taken in the Conservative amendment. It really is just about making sure that in the government's attempt to create more time to pass more bills in the lead-up to summer that the business and the issues that matter to the opposition are given their equal due.
Of course, some members of this House will know, and certainly you, Mr. Speaker, will know, that supply days originated for the airing of grievances before the crown, before Parliament approves funding. That is why they are kind of archaically called “supply days”. We most often refer to them as “opposition days”, but they are an acknowledgement of the importance of non-government members being able to bring forward important issues for consideration by the House as part of the process of the government's hearing those concerns before Parliament grants it the authority to spend money. Supply days are not just some sort of trivial part of the process. They are not just some sort of tangent. They are certainly not a favour that the government grants the opposition and they are not something the government gets to do what it wants with willy-nilly, as it were.
The proposed amendment simply tries to give that equal weight and value to the issues being brought forward by the opposition, as well as to the government. I think that is perfectly reasonable and it is something we will be supporting.
In the absence of having that fair treatment and the right balancing between the needs of the government and the legitimate needs and purposes of opposition members of the House, it does make it really hard to support the main motion, because in that case we would fail to find that right balance, as it would somehow be implied that simply by virtue of the fact that the government is bringing certain issues forward, those issues are more important and more deserving of time in the House when I think the Standing Orders are very clear that the opposition is entitled to a certain proportion of the time in the House to bring forward the issues that matter, not just to it as the opposition but also to many Canadians whose view the opposition brings to this House and who are not represented within the government.
It is a good amendment. It is one that we will support, and I think in the absence of that amendment's going through, it would be very hard to say this is a fair and balanced motion. It is therefore hard to support.
One of the reasons we are in this predicament, of course, is that there is a lot of government legislation that has yet to be passed. One only has to look at the Order Paper and the number of bills on it, with a little bit of an understanding of where some of those bills come from, to know that the government, remarkably, has not been very ambitious with its legislative agenda. There are bills like Bill C-76, for instance, that have just rolled in other bills. While one could point to the bill number and look at all the bills that have been before Parliament, the fact is that a number of them are simply routine appropriation bills having to do with the business of supply. There are also a number of bills on public service labour issues to repeal some of the nefarious legislation of the Harper government with respect to public servants that, for all the announcements and talk about those bills for years now, have not actually gone anywhere.
One bill gets presented, it gets talked about for awhile, and then a new bill gets that does something a little differently gets presented, and that one gets rolled under, and then there is some talk by government at various events about how there is a new bill before the House and so on. For a government that has not brought a considerable amount of legislation before the House, it is somewhat surprising that the Liberals are having to resort to extraordinary measures to try to get more legislation passed before summer.
It is particularly surprising, notwithstanding some of the comments by the government House leader during the closure debate, because the fact is that our party on an important bill with a deadline, Bill C-76, which makes a large number of modifications to the elections regime in Canada, did make a proposal to government via my colleague, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, to move forward with that bill in an expeditious way. By that, I mean not just in a way that allows more members to speak to it, but one that would allow a whole bunch of Canadians in their home communities to speak to the bill and the changes it proposes.
My hon. colleague presented the Minister of Democratic Institutions with a proposal for how to go out across the country, and central to that proposal was ensuring that the bill gets passed by the end of the summer. For the government to say that it sure would be nice if the opposition worked with it, I note that we have been quite willing to work with the government to get legislation passed. When my hon. colleague sent that proposal to the minister, she did not even dignify it with a response. It is hard to hear from the government that it wants to work with opposition members when it does not even bother to respond to proposals by the opposition on how to work together to get a bill passed. It is a bill that has to be passed on a timeline because the government did not act and bring that legislation forward.
Apropos to my point about bills being rolled into each other, Bill C-33 was an act to make a bunch of substantive changes to the Elections Canada Act and other acts that go together in order to, according to the government, improve our elections process. That bill sat on the Order Paper for 18 months and went nowhere. Now we are being told there is a big rush and that we have to get this bill through.
The NDP would like to see that bill passed, but it is a little cheeky of the government to wait so long to bring a bill forward to make those important changes when it knew all along, as did everyone else, that Elections Canada had been very clear about when those changes needed to be introduced and passed by Parliament to be implemented in time for the next election. The Liberals did not meet that deadline and now they are crying foul, saying that opposition parties are being obstructionist despite the fact we sent them a proposal on how to do it more quickly. We wish to goodness that they had just bothered to move it forward 18 months ago when they had a bill on the Order Paper.
None of this is rocket science. There is no black magic here. There is no opposition making unreasonable demands. It is just an opposition disappointed that the Liberals had 18 months to move forward with changes to the elections act after they tabled their own proposals. We wish they had moved forward with them. However, we did not get that opportunity, as we do not say which bills get debated during government orders.
While that was going on and we were not debating Bill C-33, we were debating some bills like Bill C-24, which was a complete and utter waste of time. I will refer members to my comments on Bill C-24. All that bill did was affirm what the government was already doing and what was clearly within its legal mandate to do. If it were not, then the government should tell us, because then it would be an issue of its acting outside its legal mandate and illegally paying ministers of state more. However, it did not seem to be doing that, so presumably we did not need a change in the law.
All the while we debated that bill, the other bill, Bill C-33, was sitting on the table. It could have been taken up and we could have been working on that and meeting the Elections Canada deadline. The government did not need to be in a panic as it is now to get that legislation passed. We could have spent time scrutinizing that legislation and trying to make it better, not just here in Parliament but also by travelling across the country to make sure that Canadians had an opportunity to weigh in on it in their home communities.
However, that was an opportunity they squandered for reasons that remain unclear. I will say that part of it has to do generally with what has become a theme of the government in terms of a serious lack of respect for Parliament. I know the Liberals will say otherwise. We hear a lot about the great respect they have for the work that is done in committees, but let us consider the fact that many committee recommendations are never taken up. We have certainly had instances where committees have amended legislation, only to see the government come in with a heavy hand at report stage and wipe out the amendments that were passed by its own members at committee. That does not make one feel that the Liberals are talking in good faith when they talk about the so-called good work of committees.
Who could forget the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, where the government did not have a majority and a number of parties came together in order to propose a way forward for the government to meet its own election commitment? Who could forget how the Liberals took that work and threw it in the garbage? The day the report was tabled, I remember the minister, with great fanfare, disrespected the work of the committee, because apparently the government thought it would fail and it did not.
Earlier today, we heard the government's own House leader get up and insinuate that concurrence debates were just a waste of time and there was no way an opposition party could move concurrence in a committee report seriously because it actually cared about what the committee said and wanted the House to pronounce on the recommendations of the committee. Of course, that is the whole reason committees do reports and report them back to the House. The current government really does not understand Parliament's place in the system and does not have a lot of respect for it.
I will come back to this theme after private members' business.