Mr. Speaker, your predecessor on May 29, 1991 ruled the following according to Beauchesne's fifth edition, citation 167(1):
The effect of a prorogation is at once to suspend all business until Parliament shall be summoned again. Not only are the sittings of Parliament at an end, but all proceedings pending at the time are quashed. Every bill must therefore be renewed after a prorogation, as if it were introduced for the first time.
I now continue with the text of the ruling of your predecessor. He said:
Thus prorogation gives Parliament the chance to start anew in dealing with the business of the nation.
While the effects of prorogation are clear, there have been many occasions when the government has sought the permission of the House to reinstate legislation considered in the previous session. This has always been considered an extraordinary procedure. In fact, on two separate occasions, July 1977 and March 1982, the House amended its standing orders to permit certain bills to be reinstated in the next session. These and other instances of reinstatement-have been dealt with by unanimous consent.
This tradition was not followed in 1991 and it is not being followed in this year's prorogation. All that the opposition demanded in 1991 is being demanded by Reformers and the Bloc now: government, please do not use a omnibus motion to reinstate all bills that died with prorogation; instead, bring them up for unanimous consent, one by one. We the opposition have not only the right but the duty to examine the reinstatement of each bill on its own merit.
Prorogation means the government decides to end a session of Parliament and suspend all business. Governments have historically used this mechanism because they have exhausted their agendas and wish to use the throne speech to set a new tone. All of this is business hallowed by long and valued tradition. It has served Canada and other parliamentary democracies well. It should be
changed only after it has shown clearly that it no longer serves such democracies.
The change in tradition introduced in 1991 and continued with the present motion threatens to destroy the basic purpose of prorogation: the opportunity for government to start parliamentary business anew with a new throne speech.
With the quasi-automatic reintroduction of unfinished bills from the preceding Parliament, all we have left of this tradition is a throne speech with its accompanying expensive pomp and vacuous media hype. The essential element of a clean legislative slate is gone. The historic modification of permitting the reintroduction of selected pieces of previous legislation is nullified by the insistence that all such previous legislation be reinstated without proper debate on each.
Perhaps it is more efficient in our times to have such omnibus motions. During the 1990s in one debate one the members of the present government, then in opposition, suggested that such an innovation should be embodied in a bill brought before the House before prorogation. Reformers agree and are ready any time to be persuaded that changing this or any other parliamentary tradition is in the interest of all Canadians. We were never given the opportunity by the government to vote on this matter.
Now here we are in the enjoyable position of being able to cite for all some of the remarks made by individuals now on the government side of the House, citations which show how power corrupts.
The former member for Ottawa-Vanier, now in the other chamber, said in a speech given on the occasion of prorogation in 1991, page 647: "I cannot understand why this government, these government bullies now want to impose their will on the House of Commons through force of numbers and then would have us believe that they are sensitive to parliamentary reform and want Canadians to see this House work in a friendly, co-operative way".
I continue with a remark by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands:
I want to deal with the propriety of the motion that the government has introduced. I suggest that it is contrary to all the practices of this House for the last 124 years. It is a breach of the proprieties of this place. I suggest that it is morally wicked of the government to proceed with this motion and particularly then to apply closure to the motion and thereby curtail the debate on it. What the government is doing by this, and let us make it perfectly clear what is happening here, is short-circuiting the legislative process.
I suggest that this is wrong. It is wickedly wrong. It is a gross violation of the constitutional principles on which this House has operated since Confederation. Indeed it is contrary to the whole practice of British parliamentary tradition for 900 years. Nothing like this has ever been tried before. I suggest it is wrong. The government knows it is wrong.
These are remarks made and recorded in Hansard by members of the present government in the House to a motion identical to the one before us today when they were opposing it.
Let me continue with another quotation by the hon. member, now a minister, for Cape Breton-East Richmond: "I contend that the motion is in principle unacceptable in that it seeks to circumvent, indeed to subvert, the normal legislative process in this House".
How can these members of Parliament look us in the eye when they stand to vote in favour of closure, in favour of this motion which they opposed with such strong words in the past?
The hon. member for Kingston and the Islands a few days later in 1991 said, commenting on this motion: "In other words there was always a debate allowed at third reading of every bill that was reinstated, but here in this motion today we have a bill that is deemed passed by this House, so there will be no debate at any stage on this bill".
The record notes an hon. member interrupted the speech saying: "That is terrible". The hon. member who had the floor said: "It is a national disgrace". Another hon. member yelled: "It is a travesty". These are the same members who have the affront today to get up and vote for a motion which they had a short five years ago condemned in such strong words. Let me continue with the speech made by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands. He said:
If this kind of thing was reported in parliamentary journals around the world, the Canadian Parliament would become a laughing stock because of the outrageous conduct of the government in introducing this motion. It violates all the constitutional principles of debating bills at three readings in the House of Commons. That is the standard practice in every British parliamentary institution and has been for hundreds of years, and this government is violating this practice.
Who is to blame for this practice aside from all the members on the other side? The government itself had a choice.
They had a choice. Remember those words. The members opposite may remember them because they came up in a debate. They had a choice. They chose to prorogue the last session and leave the business unfinished on the Order Paper. They sent us away through April and early May and said: "We do not want you in Ottawa. We do not want questions every day. We do not want to listen to you. We do not want our sins exposed to the people of Canada on national television here on the floor of the House of Commons".
I could not have said it better. The only thing I would change in order to make this a speech relevant for today's situation is to say: You have kept us away from here and the opportunity to do things
for Canadians by debating the issues on the floor of the House until February 27, when we were supposed to return much, much earlier.
The situation has not changed. These kinds of rulings and motions simply show how people change once they get power. Once they are sitting on one side and they see the interest of the people in continuing with traditions that have served the country so well, they argue one way and in the strongest fashion one can imagine. The words were used by the same individuals who are now in power. We all know power corrupts. What do the Liberals do? They have the nerve to stand up and look us in the eye and do exactly what they have condemned so strongly in the past.
Another favoured member in the government had a few words to say on this. It is the hon. member for Halifax. I can just see her demeanour when she read into the record the following:
I can only say that the government should hang its head in shame. One wonders today why the government prorogued the House of Commons last time. Why did it prorogue? We heard a speech from the throne which did not appear to tell us anything new or different. It did not appear to give us any new blueprint for Canadians. It was remarkably low on specifics about its programs. Yet we had the prorogation. One presumes it was because the government wanted to get away from here, take some time, regroup and come back with some fresh ideas.
Instead of fresh ideas, we have today this pernicious-and I underline that word-motion of the House leader ramming through five bills. We are just supposed to pretend that prorogation did not take place. We are just supposed to accept the government's decision that these bills will come to this Parliament in the state in which they were supposed to have died in the last Parliament.
I challenge the member for Halifax to look me in the eye, remembering the words I have just read which she said on the occasion when the government pushed on the House a similar closure motion that is under discussion today. It is very revealing the way power corrupts.
I have a few more quotations. Some of them are quite delicious. I must say I am disappointed to read that this is the way these individuals talked. The member for Winnipeg North Centre said:
The role of the opposition is to be a thoughtful opposition and a thoughtful critic of what the government is trying to do. But the lack of opportunity as posed to us in this case makes it very difficult for an opposition party to continue to deal with the government when we do not feel the government is being honest in its motives.
I cannot help myself but read this. It is from one of the most articulate and argumentative members of this House who has departed for higher callings. Now the premier of a province, the former member for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte said:
The governing party of the day, regrettably for the country-a country in desperate need of leadership on the constitutional front, a country in desperate need of leadership on the economic front-does not have the confidence of the people. Even as a member of the opposition, one who wants to replace the governing party, I say it is regrettable for Canada that at this time in our history only 14 per cent or 12 per cent or 8 per cent of Canadians have confidence in the government of the day.
What does this government do? Does it attempt to lay bare before the people of Canada its agenda? Does it attempt to persuade the people of Canada and the elected representatives of the people of Canada of the value of its agenda? Does it say it has a vision for Canada and such a profound belief in our vision for Canada that we are prepared to debate it and to defend it?
No, it uses the tyranny of the majority. It uses the temporary trust given to this party as a consequence of an election two and a half or three years ago to bulldoze its legislative measures through the Parliament of Canada, to deny the people of Canada a chance to be heard, to deny the elected representatives of the people of Canada-not an opportunity to speak, but their obligation to speak, their responsibility to be heard in the proper examination of bills.
This is merely a sample of the kinds of words and arguments a group of people while they were in opposition used to oppose a motion that now has been introduced in this Parliament. But the tables have turned. These same members are now part of the elite. They are part of the government. They have power.
We can see how much power corrupts. The principles they enunciated and the strength of the convictions they had at that point have gone down the drain. I challenge each and every one of the hon. members who made such strong statements, when they stand up to vote, to acknowledge that they are voting against their own words and their own arguments.