That this House condemn the government for its failure to keep its red book promise to make the government more open and permitting members of Parliament to be more accountable to their constituents.
Mr. Speaker, I want to inform the House that pursuant to Standing Order 43(2), I and following Reform speakers will be splitting our time.
I am pleased to rise today to debate the Reform motion that condemns the government for its failure to keep its red book promise to make the government more open and permitting MPs to be more accountable to their constituents.
I thumbed through the red book the other day for the first time in a long while. I read the chapter on parliamentary reform and integrity in government. The rhetoric was wonderful. However looking at the history of this Parliament to date, the promises have not been kept and the government needs to be held accountable for that breach of trust with the Canadian public.
The government has failed so miserably in the area of open and honest government that it is starting to make Brian Mulroney's Tories look like saints. Believe me, the Tories certainly are not saints.
The government has been secretive, hierarchical and top down. It has hidden behind every excuse to avoid changing the structure and practices of this place and to avoid divulging information that the public has a right to know.
My reform colleagues and I will demonstrate through debate in the House today that the government has failed the Canadian people through not delivering on the following promises. They failed on their commitment to not use time allocation and closure. They failed on the issue of an independent ethics counsellor. They punish their own backbenchers for putting their constituents first.
The process of sending bills to committee prior to second reading is becoming a sham and the government has reneged on its commitment for more free votes in the House. This government has overused the order in council mechanism to slide through its own agenda. Its members have continued the proud Tory tradition of patronage, both in appointments and in the rewarding of party friends with government contracts without open tender. And the committee structure has made a mockery of democracy because of the overly zealous whipping of Liberal members.
The government has gone out of its way to block and refuse requests for access to information. Interestingly enough, in yesterday's Financial Post there was an article on the gag law, Bill C-114-``the infamous law that would send Canadians to jail for up to five years if they individually or as a group spend more than $1,000 to support or oppose political parties or candidates during a federal election''. The Liberals are supporting this. The article indicates that they may even appeal to the Supreme Court to continue to gag Canadians. They are breaking their promise of not being an open, responsible, and accountable government.
This government has made a number of promises in the red book about openness, democracy, parliamentary reform, and the freedom of members of Parliament to represent their constituents. I along with my Reform colleagues will go page by page through the red book and show how their promises were broken.
We are starting to rip pages out of the red book because they are irrelevant. All we will have left pretty soon is the cover, a hollow shell of what was a grandiose scheme that they presented to the electorate in the last election campaign.
We would all agree that the House of Commons is supposed to be a place of free and open debate, a place where every member should have the opportunity to give the pros and cons to each piece of legislation, particularly to explain to other members how any bill or motion will affect their own constituents. There is a procedural device that puts all that at risk, and the procedure is time allocation, used so many times by this government. Time allocation, or closure, is the most undemocratic of parliamentary procedures. Its only purpose is to stifle debate, robbing members of an opportunity to speak so that the government can ram through its agenda without scrutiny by all members of this House and without every member having an opportunity to place their position on the record if they so choose.
When the Liberals were in opposition they agreed that time allocation was undemocratic and unfair. They howled at the Conservative government whenever time allocation was used. They cried foul, they whined to the media, and they vowed never to use such an evil procedure if they ever got into government.
The previous member for Ottawa-Vanier, now undemocratically ushered into the Senate, said that closure was far from democratic. The member for Winnipeg St. James called it draconian. The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, an
experienced parliamentarian who is also the chair of the justice committee, said that it was a hijacking of democracy. The member for Kingston and the Islands, whose opinion I respect, said it was morally wicked. Those are strong words.
The Conservative government used closure fifteen times during the last Parliament-fifteen times in five years. It sounds pretty bad, and it is. The government has already used closure and time allocation ten times in only two years. This is despite a promise by the Liberal government House leader to use this blunt instrument far less than the Tories did. At this rate, they will pass their old record of 25 uses of time allocation set by the Liberal government in 1980 to 1984.
Despite all the damage the Liberals did to Canada during the 1970s and 1980s, they are in government again today and they are making frequent use of the time allocation measure. They have used time allocation ten times in this Parliament, so they have already made it into double digits, ten times in the short time we have been here since the election. The most undemocratic of parliamentary procedures has never been used so much and so shamelessly.
They brought in time allocation on Bill C-18, an act to interrupt the redistribution of electoral boundaries, at second reading. They brought it in on Bill C-32, the Excise Tax Act, at third reading. They time allocated third reading of Bill C-35, the Department of Citizenship Act. It sounds like a real national crisis.
This was done at both report stage and third reading of Bill C-33 and C-34, dealing with self-government in Yukon. On Bill C-68, currently being debated in committee, they implemented time allocation at second reading. The government time allocated the second reading debate on Bill C-76, the Budget Implementation Act.
Only in one case was the use of time allocation justified. That was in the case of a national emergency, an act to end the national rail strike. In this justifiable case, Reformers cooperated fully with the government.
It is well worth looking at the nature of the bills the government pushed through the House without full debate. The Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act is itself an undemocratic measure and was rushed through. Obviously the government was showing little shame in what it was doing. It was trying to limit the amount of public discussion on the bill. Other bills show a similar pattern: the Excise Act, self-government acts, gun control acts, budget implementation, all bills that try to pull a fast one on the taxpayers or on Canadian citizens.
It is clear the Liberals feel that if they do not like the nature of a debate, if they get uncomfortable over on the other side about the attention the opposition is focusing on some of their initiatives, they simply want to cut off the debate; they will not talk about it. This is unacceptable. This is undemocratic, and the government went out of its way to profess it would never do such a thing.
The Liberals have gone back on their word ten times already on this issue of closure alone. When they break their word so often and so easily, how can they expect anyone to believe them at all? It is no wonder the Canadian public is beginning to tire of the unethical and politics as usual actions of the government.
Another great promise of the government was that it was to open up the legislative process and allow more MPs the opportunity to have input into the creation of bills. The government announced it would allow certain bills to go to committee before second reading so members could have some input before the bill was written in stone. We have seen with Bill C-45, an inadequate correction of the Parole Act, and with Bill C-64, an act dealing with employment equity regarding the public service, which is currently before committee, that the government has kept and is keeping a short leash on its members in committee to ensure that no significant changes will be made to these bills while they are in committee.
It is a done deal. The government knew these bills were out of touch with common sense Canadians, so it was vigilant not to let public opinion or reasoned debate from the opposition sway their members. All the talk and bluster from the government benches has been a sham. There has never been any intent to accept any advice or input from their own backbenchers, let alone someone from the opposition side.
I wonder how my friends on the government back benches feel about the amount of input they do not have in the legislative process. On Bill C-68 and Bill C-41 we have heard that the members on the other side are very concerned about these measures. These and the budget are all good examples of how the cabinet views the opinions of rank and file Liberal members. They are told to toe the line; they must be team players and back the party on this one. The trouble is that every single vote comes up as another "this one". Get in line, folks.
I want to bring up the issue of the position of the Speaker. This is a very interesting promise made by the Liberals while they were in opposition. They produced a document entitled "Reviewing Parliamentary Democracy". It sounds really good. They always pick such nice words. It sounds really nice. What are the actions involved?
I quote from that document from the section dealing with the Chair:
In order to enhance the independence of the Chair and in an effort to reduce the level of partisanship, when the Speaker is from the Government party, two of the junior Chair Officers should be from the opposition, so that the four presiding officer positions are shared equally by Government and Opposition.
That was Liberal policy. That is what they took into the election. They broke that promise. It is just one of many promises they have blatantly broken, with no intention to keep them whatsoever. That is wrong. Canadians need to know about it. Whenever we start talking about these issues we are cut off in debate. That is brutally unfair and brutally undemocratic.
The document was authorized by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, the member for Kingston and the Islands. It was authored by the current government whip, by the Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs, who I see sitting in his seat across the way, and the minister of public works. These people signed their names to this promise and they did not keep it.
I wonder why it was not done. Is the government trying to set a record for the number of promises it can break, for the number of times it can go back on its word in one Parliament? What a sad case this is.
The government has failed completely on the issue of ethics, accountability to constituents, parliamentary reform, commitment to fairness, and equality of all members of the House.
I appreciate the chance to explain to the House why we are so concerned about our rights and freedoms as members of Parliament to function in an atmosphere where we can be effective, truly represent our constituents, and truly add to the dignity of this place in a manner Canadians deserve.