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House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vice-chair.

Topics

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:35 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

The non-partisan things that go on there are controlled and manipulated by the government. I am sorry, there is no other way for me to say it.

Our committee wasted a long time, in my opinion, looking into what was really the minister's prerogative, which was co-management in Saskatchewan. Because the minister obviously has an agenda, the opposition role becomes one of damage control rather than trying to be a productive member of the committee, particularly if we have a point of view that is obviously quite different.

This gets away from the whole system of checks and balances that are crucial to the proper operation of government on an ongoing basis. The checks and balances in the Canadian system are, assuming that the committee system worked properly, already much less than the checks and balances built into other democracies. One that comes foremost to my mind is the one due south of us.

We need to scrutinize what this place is all about and where it is going. This is a crucial time in Canada's history. We are a young country. This is the wrong time for us to be creating so-called traditions that are anti-democratic, that we have been hearing about for the last while on this debate.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:35 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to speak against the motion. Like my colleagues, I am very concerned about the message that this motion sends. There is a real cynicism in the country today that is caused by many factors, not the least of which is the perception, and the fact, that MPs have become very unaccountable. Governments have become very unaccountable.

That perception can only be strengthened by what the government is proposing to do, continue on with same slate of vice-chairmen that we currently have in the standing committees. It is absolutely ridiculous. To illustrate why that is so wrong it is important to go back through what happened on the committee I was sitting on when we chose a vice-chair last time to show where some of the problems are.

I was sitting on the Canadian heritage committee. It is important to remember what committee I was on. When it came time to choose a new chairman and vice-chairman the hon. member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, the chief government whip, showed up at the meeting. That never happens. When the whip shows up in a committee you know the fix is in. The whip is there to keep people in line and that is exactly what happened. The whip is there to crack his whip.

The whip came in, sat at the table and the Liberal members were sitting beside him. The chair was chosen first. The chair took his place and we immediately moved a motion asking that a Reform member be nominated to sit as the vice-chair. We were told no, that was not going to happen. The chairman was not ready despite what the standing orders say, despite what the rules say, and our motion was ignored.

The Bloc motion was recognized and subsequently a Bloc member was chosen to be vice-chair of the Canadian heritage committee, the one committee that is dedicated at least in part to helping keep the country together. Where is the common sense in that?

Madam Speaker, if you go to Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Bathurst, New Brunswick, Sooke, B.C. or Brooks, Alberta and you ask people if that makes any sense at all they are going to ask what is the matter with MPs? No wonder Canadians are so cynical about this place. Should we have a separatist sit as the vice-chair of the Canadian heritage committee? That is ridiculous.

Last fall the committee was to travel across the country to hear from Canadians about how to keep Canada together. Are we really going to have a separatist chair that committee going across the country to talk about how we can keep the country together? Do you think that makes sense? Do you not think it is really contrary to what most people would regard as common sense? I certainly do.

In the wake of the referendum we heard that certain hon. members from the Bloc Quebecois were talking to members of the Canadian military about starting an armed forces in Quebec after the referendum campaign. Does it really make sense in the wake of the referendum to have a vice-chair on the defence committee from

the separatist party? That is absolutely nuts. It is crazy and yet here are these members across the way defending it.

We are sitting in Parliament, an institution that should reflect the wishes of Canadians. It should be an institution where the rules and procedures allow for the scrutiny of government, allow people to have their say through their elected representatives, first with respect to the issues, but also with respect to whom they want representing them on the various committees that are an offshoot of the House of Commons. Of course we do not have that despite the commitments that the government made in their red book.

The Liberals were elected because of the red book. They appeared in ads and said: "We have the people, we have the plan" and they flashed the red book around. In the red book was a commitment to change the way committees work. They said: "We want to make them more democratic. We want to give committees more power".

What did they do? They said they wanted to make them more democratic and wanted to give them more power, but what they did was completely different. They brought the chief government whip in, the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell who seems to have a love affair with the separatists. They sat him down in the Canadian heritage committee, and he made sure the Liberal members voted for a separatist to sit as vice-chair of the Canadian heritage committee. That is absolutely ridiculous.

There we go again, another broken Liberal promise. Just like the GST, just like the NAFTA and just like all the others, it is another broken promise. How cynical of them to sit over there and assert that we should accept that again in this session of Parliament. It is absolutely ridiculous.

Often we send delegations around the world to monitor elections in other countries as though we have some special expertise on democracy. What would happen if someone sat in on one of these committee meetings and watched how things were conducted, particularly when it is time to elect chairmen and vice-chairs for the committees? This is after we have seen the Liberal red book commitment which said that the vice-chairs would come from the opposition parties. We saw that even in the event of the debate over the Speaker's chair, but we need not go into that again. They made that kind of commitment. How ironic that we should be sitting here voting to send people around the world to monitor other people's elections. It is absolutely crazy. All we have to do is go to one of these committee meetings to see how ironic that is.

Not very long ago the Deputy Prime Minister, who is now the Minister of Canadian Heritage, argued that we needed to return to the spirit of 1967. She was referring to the year that Canada celebrated its 100th anniversary, the year when there was a great national celebration. We all felt very patriotic about our country and very sentimental about some of the things we valued in the country. That is a very noble idea. Some of the government's approaches toward achieving that are completely out to lunch. It seems to think somehow heritage flows from the government down to the people and not the other way around.

Setting that aside for a moment, I want to ask the Deputy Prime Minister rhetorically how this decision to have a member of the separatist Bloc Quebecois sit as a vice-chair of the Canadian heritage committee squares with her sentiment that we should return to the spirit of 1967.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Ian McClelland Reform Edmonton Southwest, AB

Maybe a Reformer should sit on the membership of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:45 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

There is an idea. Maybe we should have a Reformer sit on the membership of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society. I do not know. Perhaps that makes complete sense. As somebody said, maybe it makes sense to have Jack the Ripper in charge of a knife store. I do not know.

That is the argument members across the way are making. We need to have the separatists in charge of Canadian heritage. It is completely ridiculous. We should have the separatists in charge of the defence committee which, in light of what happened after the referendum or just before the referendum, is something that needs serious examination. If I were the defence minister I would be a bit concerned about that. I would be questioning my own members and saying: "Are you sure you really want to do that?" He has a responsibility to do that, in my judgment, after what happened.

Let me conclude by saying the Liberals made some promises. They made a promise to reform institutions like committees so that they were allowed to reflect the wishes of members of the committee. In other words, they wanted to give members of Parliament more power. They denied that by giving the member for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, the chief government whip, almost absolute power to go in there and say: "If you don't support the separatists then you will be in big trouble". We have seen what has happened to members in the past, where they have been kicked off committees because they voted the wrong way.

The second point I want to make in conclusion is that we have a situation today where people are deeply cynical about the way politics work. They are deeply cynical and very pessimistic about their futures. When we have a situation where promises of all kinds made in the red book are completely forgotten two years later we can understand why they feel that way. The government has helped contribute to the great pall of pessimism that has fallen across the land.

Third, this is a democratic institution. In this place of all places people should have the right to elect the people they want to elect without interference from the government. We raised a question of privilege the other day on the issue of the government interfering in the business of Parliament. In that case there was a very serious accusation, but we see it happen in all ways, shapes and manners in this place because the government keeps resisting the need to change.

The fourth point I want to make is from a common sense point of view. We have a separatist vice-chair on the Canadian heritage committee, the committee that is supposed to be in charge of helping to keep the country together. We have a Canadian unity committee that has sprung out of the Canadian heritage committee and we have a separatist vice-chair who is part of that committee, who will be helping to run that committee. It is absolutely nuts. We will have a separatist as a vice-chair on the defence committee as well. In light of what has happened that is ridiculous.

In conclusion, the attitude of the government was betrayed when Mr. Speaker very wisely ruled not long ago that based on parliamentary precedent the status quo had to be accepted in terms of leaving the Bloc-

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Reform

Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Unfortunately.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

It was very unfortunate, but he very wisely ruled that according to precedent he had to maintain the Bloc as the official opposition.

However what happened after that spoke volumes. When members of the Liberal Party applauded it said more in a few seconds than all the members in the House could say in an eternity. They applauded because they favour the separatists in the official opposition chair, none more than the hon. member Glengarry-Prescott-Russell who has made it a point to make sure every vice-chairmanship has gone to the Bloc Quebecois, the separatists, no matter how damaging it has been to the country.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, I have heard enough of this information. I have heard that separatists are unfit to vice chair the Canadian heritage and defence committees.

I pay taxes. The people of Quebec pay taxes to Canada, up to $30 billion a year. Moreover, soldiers from my riding have given their lives in Bosnia. As long as soldiers from my riding or from Quebec are giving their time, their health and their lives for Canada, Bloc Quebecois members should be and will be able to be vice-chairs of the defence committee. They have that right and no one can take it away from any Bloc Quebecois member.

Furthermore, 400 years ago ancestors of many Bloc Quebecois members arrived in this country. They started a relationship with the autochtones. The heritage we have from sea to sea to sea is not only the one they have in the west. It is also the one we have in the east and which our ancestors have built over centuries.

Who in the House has defended culture more than the Bloc Quebecois, whether in the printing business, the CBC, Société Radio-Canada or any other subject. Culture is something we understand and have understood for centuries. My father and grandfather were from the west. They were French speaking and contributed to that heritage in French.

I believe we have a right to contribute to the defence and the promotion of Canadian heritage because a large part of it is Quebec heritage, the heritage of our ancestors.

For Quebec taxpayers, our ancestors who donated all they had to build what we have today and the soldiers from Quebec who gave their health and their lives, the member's apology should be in order.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, the hon. member will be waiting a long time. The one who should be making apologies in the House is the one who is trying to rip the country apart.

The hon. member is arguing on the one hand that they should be allowed to sit as vice-chairs on these committees because of the great Canadian heritage they have helped to uphold. On the other hand he is saying that he would take his province out of Canada.

Let us not look backward for a moment; let us look forward. Are we saying that we want to put someone in charge of the Canadian heritage committee when we are sending a Canadian unity committee of that committee across the country to talk about ways to hold the country together? That is absolutely nuts. That is ridiculous.

We would be irresponsible if we did not note that leading up to the last referendum the defence critic for the Bloc Quebecois wrote a letter on his leader's letterhead to the Canadian military in Quebec and asked them to consider coming over to them in the wake of a referendum. If we did not take some steps to protect ourselves from what could happen as a result of that, we would be completely irresponsible.

The member is talking about talking Quebec out of Confederation, but let him not think that we should accept that. In his words, because he and the members of his riding are taxpayers somehow they have the right to sit as a vice-chair on any committee to propose things that would rip the country apart. That is nuts.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

There are four minutes remaining for questions and comments. Does anyone else wish to speak? The hon. member for Charlevoix.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:55 p.m.

Bloc

Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, I think that, this afternoon, the Reform Party has been attempting to skirt the issue. Before the House recessed for Christmas and before the prorogation of Parliament, they had put forward a motion in which they asked to be recognized as the official opposition. You will recall that they had asked the Speaker to rule on a motion claiming the status of official opposition.

Last week, the Speaker of the House of Commons came back with an excellent ruling, stating that the Bloc Quebecois had achieved official opposition status in 1993, after the elections, and was the second party in the House of Commons. In the event of an equality of seats, and this is purely mathematical, and of our losing one seat or of the Reform Party gaining one, they will become the second party, or we might remain the second party.

I suggest that we wait for the result of the March 25 byelection, at which time the Bloc Quebecois' position will be consolidated, with at least 54 seats.

I think that the masks should be taken away from the Reform Party members. I think that playing this role, this afternoon, and raising this issue about the chairmanship or vice-chairmanship of committees, is basically a back-door method of showing that the Speaker was wrong and should have designated the Reform Party as the official Opposition. They are trying to send to English Canada the message that the Speaker made a mistake.

Again, I maintain that the designation of the official opposition is purely mathematical. The advantage for us of having a Bloc member as vice-chair of a committee is, as the member for Portneuf explained, that it gives us priority for the first five minutes of questions to witnesses who appear before the committee. The vice-chair also sits on the steering committee that determines priorities on the agenda.

We have wasted a lot of time. We have been discussing this issue since oral question period ended, at 3 p.m. The Reform Party makes an issue of who should be vice-chair and who should be chair.

We are told that the interest on the national debt increases at the rate of $1,000 per second. The Reform Party should realize that, while we are arguing about who should fill the positions of vice-chair and chair, the interest on the debt has gone up $10,800.

We should be discussing job creation, programs and the future of our young people. Instead, the Reform Party is using roundabout means to try to show Canadians that the Speaker erred when he ruled that the Bloc Quebecois will remain the official opposition.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

Reform

Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, obviously I will not respond to everything because it would take too long. It is understandable that the Bloc members would like to assume all these chairmanship positions. That makes sense to me. I understand why they want that. Ultimately they want to go and become emperors in their own country. That is fine. They can pursue that.

The point I want to make and which we have been trying to make here is they should not be aided and abetted by the Liberals. They should not be turning the rules on their head for a party is committed to the separation of Quebec from this country. That party should not be using those rules to seek its own ends.

That is exactly what the Liberals have done. They have entered into this alliance, into this little intrigue with the Bloc Quebecois, with the separatists. They applauded them when the Speaker ruled that they should be maintained as the official opposition.

That speaks volumes of what is happening here about the commitment of these people to have federalists sit in the opposition and help guide the agenda. I understand where these people are coming from. We will never agree with them. We will never agree with the Bloc, but the conduct of the Liberals is unbelievable.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The question is on the amendment tabled by Mr. Ringma. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

All those in favour will please say yea.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

In my opinion the nays have it.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

I declare the amendment negatived on division.

(Amendment negatived.)

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question on the main motion?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.