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House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-20.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege concerning the government House leader's tabling on the March 1 Notice Paper of a motion that threatens the rights and privileges of the House.

I will explain. Motion No. 8 introduced by the government House leader and published in the Notice Paper yesterday could, if deemed in order, threaten the rights and privileges of parliamentarians, of the House and, worse still, of the Chair. If this motion were deemed in order, it would show contempt for parliamentary democracy. It would unilaterally—and I emphasize the word unilaterally—change the rules of the parliamentary game.

Usually, when the standing orders are amended—and this is the practice, or has been since I have been here—the parties consult each other and hold discussions, which has not been the case this time around. This motion would muzzle the opposition by limiting its right to introduce amendments to the government's bill. It would allow only one amendment per member, but this limit would not apply to ministers.

This would be unfair because the motion would thus create intolerable discrimination among parliamentarians. It would allow members of the government party—but not all—to introduce an unlimited number of amendments, but would place outrageous limitations on the right of opposition members and of members of the government party not in cabinet to do likewise.

This motion strikes me as out of order because it makes a distinction between the rights of the constituents of a minister and those of opposition members, by giving more rights to one group than to the other. This motion is an illustration of how democracy is eroding in the hands of the Liberals, who want to gag not only the people of Quebec, but also the House of Commons, and all parliamentarians sitting in this House.

This is a government of secrecy, as we have seen with the HRDC scandal, with the APEC summit, and with the multitude of gag orders this government has made use of since it came in. This motion will again give more prerogatives to the government, which is already assured of a dominant position as far as all the business of this House is concerned.

This motion is out of order because it would impose unreasonable and unprecedented limits on any and all criticism, when that is precisely the role of an opposition in a British style parliamentary system. It is the role of the opposition to question the government party, which has an obligation to be answerable to parliament for its actions.

This motion would constitute an attack on the right of parliamentarians and members of parliament to speak, a right that goes back to the very origins of democracy. This motion is out of order because it would limit the freedom of the Chair to decide undisturbed and fully independently the status of the amendments we in the opposition might submit to the House.

This motion is out of order because it would break with the age old tradition preventing the Chair from becoming the executor of the wishes of the executive. It is out of order, Mr. Speaker, because it would deprive you of your role, which is to deal in total impartiality with all parliamentarians, from the highest of ministers to the lowest of MPs.

This motion is out of order because it would strike at the very heart of an institution whose role it is to maintain and preserve a space and a forum for public debate.

The government has raised the issue of the cost of debate here in this House. That is serious. Has the government reached the point where it raises the question of money when the opposition wants to debate an issue? How to explain the government's criticism of the Bloc Quebecois' opposition to committees travelling outside Ottawa and the country, as in the case of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, which would like to visit the Caucasus? Perhaps there would be no cost involved? How can they spend money in one instance and in another say it is a terrible thing?

Democracy has a cost. It is far preferable to places where there is no democracy.

When I hear the argument that the government side is going to win the vote in any case, I say we know the morning after an election that one party has a majority. Is the government telling us that there should be no opposition parties because it is a matter of fact that the party with the majority will win the vote? That is not valid.

More importantly, Mr. Speaker, your role is at stake. You must have the trust of all parliamentarians and all parties. That presupposes that the Chair is absolutely neutral and perfectly impartial. This motion would make you an instrument of the government. You cannot assume such status without losing the trust of this House.

Accordingly, I ask you to recognize that the action by the government House leader infringes the rights and privileges not only of parliamentarians but of the House and, more seriously, of the Chair, without which there would be no democratic debates here in the House of Commons.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

So far, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois has addressed Motion No. 8, which, in my opinion, has yet to be introduced. When the motion is introduced in the House, if it is, perhaps that would be the time to raise the issue rather than debating a hypothetical issue right now.

Are we going to debate all the motions on the Order Paper before they are called by the government? I wonder. If the question of privilege of the leader of the Bloc Quebecois relates to Motion No. 8, the motion is not yet before the House.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to understand what you just said. The Bloc Quebecois leader clearly specified that his question of privilege did not have so much to do with the motion per se, as with the action taken by the government House leader, and I also want speak to this issue.

As you indicated, Motion No. 8 is on the order paper, but the action in itself is highly reprehensible, because it ensures that, by remaining on the order paper, this motion will be a constant threat to all opposition parties for the rest of the session. This is totally unacceptable.

Mr. Speaker, I urge you to take into consideration the fact that the question of privilege raised by the hon. Bloc Quebecois leader does not have so much to do with the motion as with the action taken.

As I said, this measure will have the effect of creating a threat to all parliamentarians in this House, particularly to opposition parties but also to government backbenchers, who should understand that this is an unacceptable and intolerable violation of the privileges of this House and of every parliamentarian.

As the protector of the rights and privileges of independent members, you must take into consideration the fact that Motion No. 8 is also a potential threat to their right to table amendments at report stage.

I would urge you to allow the debate on this question of privilege to continue. Again, the question of privilege is not so much on the motion itself as on the intolerable action taken by the Leader of the Government in the House, who put this motion on the order paper, where it will remain indefinitely, thus posing a threat to our rights.

Moreover, yesterday, in response to the Thursday question about the future business of the House, he announced that this issue would be debated today. For one reason or another, it is not being debated today. When will it be? When will our rights and privileges as parliamentarians be put into question? I am asking you to consider this issue.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

In connection with the motion, if it is not the motion we are going to discuss, but rather the action taken in relation to a question, then perhaps I will hear a few other contributions.

I notice that the Leader of the Official Opposition is on his feet; I will recognize him.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the privilege motion brought forward by the leader of the Bloc. For clarification Mr. Speaker, are you just taking representations on what the whip presented? I am not sure what you are asking for here, Mr. Speaker.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

The day before yesterday I ruled that we would have points of order and points of privilege, whatever we wanted, when Motion No. 8 was brought to the floor. A very subtle change is being brought up here that is not so much on Motion No. 8 but now the whip is introducing the question of a gesture that is being made which may or may not carry with it some kind of threat.

I never heard this point before so I am interested in hearing a bit more about it. I am not going to let this go on forever but I want to hear a bit more about this.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have already recognized the House leader of the opposition, and I am going to give him the floor.

Privilege

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not think it is without precedent to treat a motion on the notice paper as something that should concern the privileges of the House. I would remind the Speaker for example that if someone were to place something on the notice paper that said they had lost confidence in the Speaker, even though it is on the notice paper, the House would be seized with it. Whether it has been called or not is not the issue. The issue is it is a threat over the head of the House in the case of non-confidence in the Speaker.

In the same way, I think this motion does hang as a sword over the rights and privileges of all members of parliament and I will explain that in some depth. I believe that the motion violates the first principle of parliamentary law because it targets the minority groups in the House. It takes away the privileges of the minority while leaving in tact the privileges of the cabinet.

The preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867 and section 18 of the act provides that the privileges, immunities and powers of the House of Commons and of its members are those of the British House of Commons and can only be defined by an act of parliament. Thus they cannot be suspended, altered or diminished by simply passing a motion here in the House of Commons dealing with those privileges.

A member's right to propose amendments, call concurrence motions and vote is a well established right that indisputably makes up part of the powers enjoyed by individual members of parliament. It is a constitutional democracy and the right of members to vote is fundamental and goes to the very heart of our parliamentary system.

The preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867 refers to a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom. A 1993 Supreme Court of Canada decision in New Brunswick Broadcasting Corporation v Nova Scotia confirmed the constitutional nature of parliamentary privilege on that very basis.

Many of the powers and privileges of members of this House are the result of centuries of practice and convention. The courts have clearly recognized that conventions are part of our constitution. Our legislative procedures, including voting on amendments, are part of our historic heritage, our parliamentary traditions and, indeed, the privileges collectively of the House and individually of its members.

If Motion No. 8 were allowed to be moved, if it even gets to that, and were adopted it raises the question, what can this House not do by majority vote? I submit that it would constitute a very dangerous precedent. Even if there were a way to achieve the government's objective of trying to affect votes in the House, I would argue that could only be done by means of a statute, not by a mere motion that takes away the rights that we have gained collectively over the centuries and decades by convention and historic practice.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1985 that the requirement of section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867 and of section 23 of the Manitoba Act, 1870 respecting the use of both the English and French languages in the records and journals of the Houses of Parliament is mandatory and must be obeyed. Accordingly, the House can no longer depart from its own code of procedure when considering a practice protected by the constitution.

We had two similar cases in the last parliament regarding committees. On June 20, 1994 and November 7, 1996 the Speaker ruled that “while it is a tradition of this House that committees are masters of their own proceedings, they cannot establish procedures which go beyond the powers conferred upon them by the House”. If we are to be consistent, I would point out that while this House is a master of its own proceedings, it cannot establish procedures which go beyond the powers conferred on it by the constitution.

The last point I want you to consider, Mr. Speaker, is the very first principle of parliamentary law, as set out in Beauchesne's. Beauchesne's states that the principles of parliamentary law are “to protect a minority and to restrain the improvidence or tyranny of a majority”.

Motion No. 8 targets the opposition. It is no secret that Motion No. 8 is designed, in part, to deal with Bill C-20. Virtually every motion to amend Bill C-20 is in the name of a member of a minority party. While Motion No. 8 would restrict the minority, it leaves in tact a cabinet minister's right to propose amendments.

In addition, independent members and independent minded members of recognized political parties would also fall victim to this motion. The motion presupposes that every member has a right to move amendments at committee. As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, independent members are rarely members of committees. Independent minded Liberal members are often thrown off committees or removed by the whip because of their independence.

I recall when certain Liberal members voted against the gun control bill. The very next day those members were moved off the committee by the government whip and other people were moved into their place.

The other consideration is the fact that the government runs roughshod over the opposition in committees, which often seriously hampers the opposition in its ability to move amendments in those committees.

Motion No. 8 is offensive. It is an affront to all opposition members, independent members and independent minded members of all parties of the House. Mr. Speaker, it is your duty to defend their rights against the government majority. You cannot allow the majority to deny the minority its right to propose and vote on motions. Because of the situation in committees, you have to be the guardian of the rights of the minority and independent members of the House.

Although Motion No. 8 was designed with Bill C-20 and the Bloc in mind, it affects every bill that will be considered in the House and restricts independent members and members of all parties. The government cannot continue to upset the balance between the opposition and the government.

On April 14, 1987, in response to a Liberal complaint about the bullying tactics of the day, it was said: “It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con, and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view”.

Stanley Knowles, a former member and table officer of this place, once said:

The opposition has only the rules for its protection, hence the authorities on parliamentary process emphasize the great importance to the opposition of the only protection it has, the protection of the rules. Only by according such rights to the opposition is it possible to achieve anything even approaching equality of strength between the two sides.

The government wants to drastically change our procedures and upset the balance between the opposition and the government. It is attempting to destroy that balance of strength which Mr. Knowles and Speaker Fraser addressed.

I cannot emphasize how important this principle is to this institution. It cannot function without some semblance of balance between the role of the opposition and the role of the government.

The reason this House is becoming dysfunctional is because the government no longer seems to support that principle of balance. It did while in opposition, but it has since abandoned respect for balance in this parliament. The government has invoked closure or time allocation 62 times. It bypasses members by making announcements outside the House. It routinely leaks information intended for this House. Now it is suggesting a measure that goes too far to solve a problem that is a response to the government's own way of handling issues in the House.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to consider how Motion No. 8 targets the minority with respect to committee concurrence motions. Again, a cabinet minister could restrict opposition members, and backbench members of all parties, by deeming the debate on a concurrence motion adjourned simply by rising on a point of order. Even if a member has the support of the majority of members of the House for the concurrence of a committee report, that member could not, without the consent of a cabinet minister, obtain that support for the motion. The cabinet then would have seized control of one of the last few remaining procedures that backbench members of parliament enjoy on both sides of the House.

All that would remain is Private Members' Business. The rules of private members are already so restricted that very few members of parliament ever get their issue on to the floor for debate, and even a smaller number get an actual vote on the issues they bring forward.

I would like to quote an MLA from the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. Mr. Holm said on January 26, 1995:

There is an old saying that holds as true today as it has forever in parliamentary democracy; the government opens the legislature and the opposition closes it. That truth is no more evident than it is right now. There is opportunity for compromise, for working together. We won't get everything we want as opposition; the government will probably get most of what it wants. The opportunity is there but we have to start anew with a relationship that will work.

I hope the government will seek another remedy that we can all work with and buy into on both sides of the House. Until that spirit of compromise and working together to make this place more functional, more winsome to the Canadian public, exists, I would ask, Mr. Speaker, that you take this question of privilege seriously. If you do not find that there is a prima facie question of privilege, I urge you to at least consider my comments as a point of order and remove Motion No. 8 from the order paper. I think it is offensive and an affront to the House, an affront to the workings of how this place should function.

This place functions because we work together as men and women who want to work together for the betterment of the country. With Motion No. 8 hanging over the heads of all members of the House, backbenchers on both sides, I do not think that spirit of co-operation or that spirit of balance between the rights of the opposition and the right of the government exists. That balance has to be restored and maintained so that opposition members are not singled out as people who not only do not carry the agenda forward, but are not even heard in this place.

Privilege

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

Once again, the member's attention was drawn in my view mostly to Motion No. 8. At the end he reflected on what was brought up.

I am going to recognize the House leader of the NDP right after I recognize a short intervention from the leader of the Bloc Quebecois.

Privilege

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, in order to do away with any possible ambiguity, since you may have not heard the beginning of my point of privilege properly, what I said was—and I am repeating it word for word—that I am raising a point of privilege in connection with the action taken by the government house leader on March 1. That is exactly what the whip of the Bloc Quebecois said.

Privilege

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for the clarification. I am going to listen to a few more hon. members on this matter.

Privilege

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can understand the ambiguity of the Chair with respect to whether it is appropriate for the House to be raising questions of privilege or, for that matter, points of order with respect to Motion No. 8, but I think it is wise on your part to hear us out.

When we consult our latest tome, House of Commons Procedure and Practice , which we all celebrated not too long ago, there is a role for the Speaker cited at page 971, which states:

When a notice is submitted for inclusion on the Notice Paper , it is examined by procedural staff of the Clerk. If any procedural irregularity is found, modifications as to the form and content of the notice may then be made in consultation with the sponsoring Member.

Here we see that at least in some senses, although I would presume this is at a stage prior to it actually appearing on the notice paper, there is a role for the office of the Speaker in relation to a matter that is not yet before the House. This matter is actually further along and is therefore more before the House than a matter which has not yet reached the notice paper. It is on those grounds, it seems to me, that there is wisdom in your hearing members of parliament with respect to Motion No. 8.

I would submit that one of the procedural problems, if you like, with Motion No. 8, as opposed to the politics of Motion No. 8, or for that matter all of the other things that have been brought up with respect to the appropriate balance between government and opposition, has to do with protecting minority rights, a matter on which you have heard me speak before, in this parliament and in previous parliaments, Mr. Speaker. All of these things have merit and should be taken into account.

I do not want to repeat them, but it seems to me that there is another matter which you should consider, and that is the retroactive nature of Motion No. 8. If it were to come before the House and pass, it would take place right in the middle of a process and it would be directed at the middle of a process, in this case a process having to do with Bill C-20.

For instance, there is the dilemma in which I found myself yesterday, not knowing whether I should keep my name on all of the amendments that I had submitted for Bill C-20, or whether I should ask other members of my party to move those amendments, because Motion No. 8 would stipulate that there would only be one amendment per member.

It was quite unfair to the House and to all members, particularly to critics, to have put us in this procedural twilight zone where we did not know whether we were going to be dealing with amendments in the context of Motion No. 8, or whether we were going to be dealing with amendments in the context of the established procedure. We did not know whether to withdraw amendments. We are only entitled to four pursuant to Motion No. 8. Should we withdraw the rest of our amendments? Or, if we left them on the order paper, would we then be endangering our right to select which four of our amendments would be dealt with by the House?

There were so many uncertainties that I would submit it created a violation of our privileges; that is to say, a violation of our ability to do our job, our ability to know what to do to make sure that those things which are most important to us to come before the House would actually come before the House. We did not know exactly what procedure we would be dealing with. Even if we knew, we did not know exactly what to do because, I would submit, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to how that would unfold should Motion No. 8 pass.

Many people in the House rail in other circumstances when it comes to various economic measures and other things about the unacceptability of retroactivity, yet in this case we have before us something which I think you, Mr. Speaker, should take very seriously as guardian of the House and guardian of the ability of members to do their jobs properly, which is the way in which this retroactivity, and the uncertainty that attaches itself to it, makes it impossible for us to do our jobs properly. That is one other thing I would like you to consider, Mr. Speaker.

Second, let us be frank. This arises out of a particular procedural opportunity being used by the opposition, which I think is legitimate, but legitimate only in the sense that it is a response to a government's suppression of proper debate. It is something I do not like. In the end, the fact that we vote day and night brings the whole House into disrepute, which does not help anyone.

On the other hand, it is quite unfair to lay this entirely at the foot of the opposition. This is a response to a growing frustration with the ability of the House to deal substantially with matters of importance. We have arrived at a place in our parliamentary tradition where if something is important it has to be dealt with briefly. If something is not that important it drags on and on and on. This seems to me to be just the opposite of what should be the case.

Getting back to my point, Mr. Speaker, I think we all need to be concerned, and you, in particular, with what brings the House of Commons into disrepute. We have a practice growing of far too many votes at report stage and a practice of voting through the night, which does not enhance the reputation of the House of Commons.

The question is, how can we deal with that in a way that does not call the House of Commons into further disrepute. My concern is, and I think your concern, Mr. Speaker, should be, that Motion No. 8 makes the problem worse. It does not improve on the situation and does not deal with that particular problem. Instead, it purports to deal with that problem while at the same time redressing the already imbalanced balance between the government and the opposition in a way that is not just a matter that the government should be concerned about, because obviously it would be subject to a great deal of criticism.

I do not want to get into that because that would be getting into debate on the motion. However, I think we all have a responsibility to see if we cannot put our heads together and deal with the problem we have on report stage. This cannot be done by eliminating the rights of members of parliament, not by making the imbalance between the opposition and government worse and not by taking away the rights of members to move concurrence in committees, because that will affect not just the opposition but, as others have pointed out, the rights of government backbenchers. The very thing that they have at their disposal now, the one lever that they have over the cabinet, will be taken away from them by their own government House leader in the name of dealing with something that has nothing to do with it, that is to say, report stage.

All these things impinge on the reputation of the House of Commons with the Canadian people. This motion belongs to all of us. It is a matter that you should concern yourself with, Mr. Speaker, and ask yourself whether or not this is in fact a motion that should be deemed in order, that should even come before you or whether there is a responsibility on the part of the Chair either to convene a meeting in which this problem could be dealt with or to ask House leaders to get together and see if we can deal with the problem we have on report stage that does not take away from the rights of members of parliament. Those kinds of solutions are available, Mr. Speaker. I would urge you to urge the House to find that solution and never have before us the kind of motion that the government put down yesterday.

Privilege

10:35 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I must add to earlier comments that we appreciate the indulgence and the wisdom displayed by the Chair in hearing this point of privilege because it is an extremely important matter for all members of the House.

Motion No. 8 brings about a very dark era for the remainder of this parliament should it pass. I realize that the Chair has directed members to speak specifically to the potential threat, the threat of intimidation that arises as a result of this motion even sitting on the order paper.

I would suggest that the motion, by virtue of its being tabled and resting before the House, even being held in abeyance, threatens to impale democracy and to impale the good workings of this Chamber.

This House is the place for the people of Canada to speak and for the people of Canada to be represented by their elected officials. By virtue of changing the rules of engagement, by virtue of the very intent of this motion, having this motion waiting, holding it over us like the sword of Damocles ready to descend, impugns the ability of members of parliament to do their work on behalf of their constituents.

This is a very provocative attempt by the government in response, I might add, to a very specific situation. Obviously this is aimed at one piece of legislation and one party.

Mr. Speaker, you as a member of the House but, more importantly, as the individual who presides over this House as a judge would preside over a court, should be blind, armed with a sword and armed with the scales of justice.

The motion asks you, Mr. Speaker, to remove the blindfold and use the sword. That is what the motion seeks to have you do, which, as has been alluded to earlier, undermines your ability and your credibility within this process. This would impugn the impartiality of the Chair and remove the non-partisan nature of the office that you hold.

In this House we are to respond and conduct ourselves with impartiality and fairness. The motion, without a doubt, is aimed at removing those boundaries, removing our ability to interact on a fair and even playing field.

Mr. Speaker, I know you are a fan of the sport of hockey. What the motion would do—and we are playing short-handed as it is—is essentially turn the government's net around and remove the blue line. It changes the rules by which we play the game. It changes the way we conduct ourselves here.

I want to speak specifically to the issue of intimidation. I refer the Chair to Erskine May, 22nd edition. I would also note quite importantly that this is British procedure, the basis on which the government is now relying on for Motion No. 8. On page 121 of Erskine May, 22nd edition, under the chapter headed “Obstructing Members of Either House in the Discharge of Their Duty”, I will read from a paragraph half way down the page. It states:

The House will proceed against those who obstruct Members in the discharge of their responsibilities to the House or in their participation in its proceedings.

Turning to page 123, I will refer to the last paragraph on that page. It states:

To attempt to intimidate a Member in his (or her) parliamentary conduct by threats is also a contempt, cognate to those mentioned above.

Actions of this character which have been proceeded against include impugning the conduct of Members and threatening them with further exposure if they took part in debates;

Finally, on page 124 of the same edition, under “Improper influence”, it states:

Attempts by improper means to influence Members in their parliamentary conduct may be considered contempts.

This motion and those actions which would flow from this motion intimidate members of the House. This motion, by virtue of sitting on the order paper ready to be used at some near future date in response to a specific bill in the House, as has been alluded to, having this hang over us undermines our ability to carry out our parliamentary duties. It hinders the Chair and all members on both sides of the House.

It would be much easier if the government in its wisdom would agree now to withdraw the motion and, as was suggested by the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona, go back to the way we used to conduct ourselves here, to sit down, co-operate and try to work together in some fashion to come to a reasonable solution as opposed to the bullying tactics that have been displayed by the government House leader.

Mr. Speaker, the motion not only sullies your office but, I would suggest, it sullies the entire process and sullies and damages all members of the Chamber.

Canadians will be watching to see how this occurs because a significant number of them still have faith in this process, as they should. However, in order for that process to be reinforced and for Canadians to continue to have faith, we must now deal with a situation that has arisen. It has arisen as a result of a provocative attempt by the government House leader to somehow intimidate and put members off their ability to conduct themselves in the normal fashion.

I am not overstating the case when I say that the government is now, by virtue of the motion, standing in the House with a knife to the throat of the opposition. It has said to the opposition members that if we do not back off with our intentions it will change the rules under which we play and it will somehow undermine the process by which we have been playing and conducting ourselves over the past number of years. The government must be disarmed.

I strongly urge the Chair to exercise its discretion, to exercise the tools of office with which it is empowered. By removing the motion from the order paper, we will then be able to fall back on the processes and the normal rules of engagement to which we are accustomed.

The government should withdraw the motion and once again, I would suggest, the spirit of co-operation and consultation could then flourish.

We have been told, and the Chair would obviously be aware of this by virtue of having reviewed the motion, that we will now face a situation where we have two classes of members. We know that the cabinet and the executive will be given certain powers and specific entitlements. However, in this Chamber, I, as a young, new member of the House, was led to believe that we were all equals. When we set foot in this sacred, hallowed Chamber we were to be treated equally and fairly by the Chair and by one another with mutual respect for the purposes of the smooth workings of parliament. This motion changes that. It changes the class structure. It changes the equity that is supposed to exist and pertain and reflect on all members.

This is an attempt, I would suggest, a last desperate and despotic attempt to bankrupt the administration and the smooth workings of the House. We have been working within these rules, albeit there are certainly times when there should be change and certainly occasions when we should all participate in a positive fashion to try to improve the workings of parliament not denigrate them nor remove or impinge on the ability of members of parliament to do do their work, but to improve and ameliorate the ability of members of the House to act. This is a step backwards. This is an attempt to return to an age when all of the power was centralized in the hands of but a few. I suggest that it would be a very dark day and a very sad day if we are to allow this to happen.

Independence and impartiality are what the Chair is empowered with, and those are very much the cornerstones of the workings of the House. The Chair's ability now is the last bastion of our ability to appeal for fairness. Changing these rules is anything but fair and anything but equitable.

I would suggest that this motion is very much an attempt to intimidate members of the House. It is very much an attempt to limit our ability to participate in an open fashion in the debates. It is not only debates that take place here, as we know. This motion very much touches upon the ability to work at committee.

I am sad to report that I believe for the most part Canadians do not understand the amount of hard work and the amount of positive work that is done at the committee level because it is done behind closed doors.

We know very much with reference to Bill C-20, which I think again is the specific root cause of what we see happening before us today, that the work that can be done at committee is very much curtailed. Even more than the work that takes place here in this public and open fashion, the work that is done at committee is the real, the substantive and the very important sustenance of what takes place in terms of the preparation of legislation and the presentation of new ideas, new laws and changes to our entire workings.

If we allow this motion to sit on the order paper, to continue to be a knife at the throat of members of parliament, we will not be able to move forward to make positive changes.

Again I implore and ask the Chair to take into consideration the words of all members of the House. I would expect that we would hear from the government on this particular point of privilege. Again I would suggest that by the very virtue of this motion sitting before us, pointed directly at us like a gun at our heads, the government is saying “If you do not comply, if you do not participate in the way we want you to, we will pull the trigger”.

Mr. Speaker, we are asking you, as members of the opposition, to remove that threat, to take that threat away, to disarm the government and allow us to get on with the work that Canadians expect from this Chamber.

Privilege

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am also raising the question of privilege in relation to the actions of the government House leader in tabling with the Journals Branch on March 1 a motion which infringes on the rights and privileges of this House.

I am not asking you to rule as to whether or not the motion is in order, but rather on the action by the government House leader in putting on the Order Paper a motion violating the privileges of the members of this House.

This is, in my opinion, an attempt to extinguish or render meaningless one of the most fundamental privileges of a British type parliamentary system. Contrary to tradition, without consulting the opposition, the government House leader has introduced a motion to change the rules of the House for the rest of the current session.

By raising a point of order, this motion would enable the government to shut down debate in the House even before a member has finished speaking to his or her motion. The motion would be transferred to Government Orders and the debate would be resumed as the government saw fit, which would likely mean never.

Worse yet, this motion is intended, to all intents and purposes, to prevent the members of the opposition from proposing amendments at the report stage in the House. No amendment would be selected for consideration at the report stage if it was or could have been proposed and been deemed in order in committee.

In practice, this means that no amendment at report stage can be selected for consideration, except amendments to delete clauses of bills.

Moreover, the motion provides that the total number of amendments to the bill that may be received shall not exceed the number of clauses, preambles and schedules contained in the bill. Each member can propose only one amendment.

There are always exceptions, of course, and these restrictions do not apply to ministers. That is disgusting.

This motion is an unprecedented violation of the rights and privileges of the members of this House.

Until now, members of the House of Commons had some guarantees that allowed them to freely express themselves on the appropriateness of government measures. These guarantees are provided by the standing orders, the conventions and the practices of the House.

The protection of the rights of the opposition is one of the most fundamental unwritten rules.

The contemporary role of the House of Commons is to monitor government action. Members must have the opportunity to question and to criticize freely, constantly and publicly the government and the measures that it proposes to the House. Any infringement on the role of a member diminishes the useful role of the House of Commons as a democratic institution.

The right to propose amendments and to debate motions to adopt committee reports are critical tools to allow members to exercise the most important privilege granted to them.

According to Marleau and Montpetit, at page 261, and I quote:

Freedom of speech...a fundamental right without which they would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents.

The Leader of the Government in the House would want to transform parliament into a docile and partisan instrument, this for the rest of the session. He would want to transform parliament into a servile and insignificant institution, which would merely rubber stamp the government's decisions and policies.

This motion would infringe on the authority of the Chair to decide in an impartial manner whether an amendment is admissible at the report stage of bills, as provided in Standing Orders 76(5) and 76.1(5).

According to Marleau and Montpetit, at page 668, and I quote:

Under the Standing Order, the Speaker thus has the power to select or group motions in amendment to be proposed at report stage.

This decision leaves him a certain discretion that he must exercise with the utmost impartiality. If Motion No. 8, standing in the name of the government House leader, were to come before the House, this would mean that he could no longer exercise this discretion and protect the right of members to introduce amendments.

On page 299 of Droit constitutionnel , Brun and Tremblay state as follows:

In enforcing the Standing Orders, the Speaker sets aside his political persona in order to perform a neutral and impartial function. This flows from tradition.

With the government House leader's motion, the Speaker's hands would be tied and he would be forced to reject all amendments at report stage because motions that were in order in committee could no longer be ruled in order at report stage by the Speaker.

With this motion, the Speaker could no longer serve the House and its members. He would become nothing more than a ceremonial presence in the House. This would be a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize the democratic operation of the House.

If this motion were to come before the House, it would violate the integrity and the very dignity of this place because it would have a direct negative impact on members' duties.

This motion infringes the rights of parliamentarians to express their views and to do their work properly.

As Maingot wrote on page 26 of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada :

The privilege of freedom of speech, though of a personal nature, is not so much intended to protect the Members against prosecutions for their own individual advantage, but to support the rights of the people by enabling their representatives to execute the functions of their office without fear of either civil or criminal prosecutions. One of the first and greatest of its privileges is free speech and one of the advantages of legislative bodies is the right of exposing and denouncing abuses by means of free speech.

By tabling his motion on Wednesday, March 1, the government House leader's sole intention was to block members' rights to criticize and oppose government measures. It was his intention to compromise the most important privilege of the members of this House, the freedom of speech.

In addition, placing this motion on the Order Paper represents a threat to the House and the members of the opposition.

With this motion, the government House leader is sending the following message to the House and more specifically to the opposition members “You would be well advised to table no more amendments at report stage, otherwise I will prevent you from doing so for the rest of this session”.

With this motion, the government House leader is saying he is prepared to limit the powers of the Chair and to jeopardize the rights and privileges of the members of this House if they disagree with the Chair. This is contempt of the House.

It is therefore your duty to consider the action taken by the government House leader a threat to the rights and privileges of the members and contempt of this House.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I appeal to your impartiality and to your sense of justice and democracy. You are the last bastion against the arbitrariness of the government majority in this House. Without your energetic intervention, parliament could become a totally meaningless institution.

I am prepared, with your authority, to table a motion of privilege in order to refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for consideration.

Privilege

10:55 a.m.

The Speaker

It being eleven o'clock, the House will now proceed to Statements by Members and then Oral Question Period. Afterwards, I will return to this matter.

Niagara Regional PoliceStatements By Members

March 3rd, 2000 / 10:55 a.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Niagara Regional Police service has recently received prestigious international recognition by its award of accredited status by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc., following a vigorous three year test and satisfaction of 439 professional policing standards in areas of administration, operation and technical support. The police service also received the mark of excellence award from the Criminal Intelligence Services of Canada for exemplary investigation in Project Expiate.

I congratulate all members of the Niagara Regional Police Service for their continuing excellence in providing high quality law enforcement to the residents of the Niagara region. I commend our officers for their dedication, pride and professionalism. They epitomize their motto “Unity, Responsibility, Loyalty”.

Grain TransportationStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Reform

Garry Breitkreuz Reform Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about recent reports that the government will not implement all the recommendations of its own commissions on grain transportation. Both reports emphasized the need for a more commercial, accountable, contract driven system.

A key recommendation was to remove the Canadian Wheat Board from any involvement in grain transportation. Mr. Kroeger gave this warning to the transportation committee on Tuesday:

I am worried about the proposal from the wheat board that you go to a contractual system but the wheat board would hold all the contracts. If the wheat board holds all the contracts but the parties haven't got contracts with each other then a grain company can't call a railway to account.

I urge the government not to cherry pick pieces of these reports to suit its political purposes but to implement the proposed changes including moving the Canadian Wheat Board to spout. Regulation and government control caused the problems in grain transportation today and so will not solve them.

PROTECTEUR

HmcsStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Stan Dromisky Liberal Thunder Bay—Atikokan, ON

Mr. Speaker, let us express our gratitude and admiration to the 285 men and women aboard HMCS Protecteur who returned home to Esquimalt yesterday.

After being away from home for over five months, we wish to join the cheers and congratulations of the flotilla greeting our sailors who have made a significant contribution to the international force in East Timor. They performed a vital sustainment role for Interfet. They ferried supplies, equipment and personnel between Darwin and East Timor, replenished Interfet ships, and supported the land forces of both the Canadian infantry company and our allies.

HMCS Protecteur also provided work parties that helped establish the base camps for our troops who still remain in Zumalai and Suni as well as numerous humanitarian projects for the people of East Timor.

In recognition of the great work performed by our sailors and the support provided by their families at home, let us offer them our congratulations and thanks for a job well done.

Government Of QuebecStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 1999 the government of Lucien Bouchard ate up part of the allowance to Quebec children.

Today's La Presse contains an article by Marie-Claude Lortie under the headline “Griping from Stay-at-home Mothers”. Constance Dubeau, a mother of four: Noémie, 6 months, Amélie, age 2, Adrienne, 3 and Kim, 4, is quoted as saying “It stinks”.

Mrs. Dubeau, of Pointe-Calumet, is a member of one of the many families who do not want to see the federal increase in child benefits diverted into daycare or other programs by Quebec.

Lucien Bouchard is contemplating doing as he did last year when Ottawa announced increased payments for children at home, decreasing the Quebec allowance so that Mrs. Dubeau will not see any more money for her children.

Lucien Bouchard does not want any real family policy. He supports a guaranteed minimum income for Quebec artists, but nothing for mothers and fathers staying at home to rear their children.

Lucien Bouchard was in agreement with secretly holding the sum of $842 million in the Toronto-Dominion Bank in Toronto for 12 months. So how much is there going to be for Mrs. Dubeau's children, Messrs. Bouchard and Landry?

National Capital CommissionStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

David Pratt Liberal Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier this week the National Capital Commission announced plans for a major long term revitalization project affecting the core areas of Ottawa and Hull in the vicinity of the Parliament Buildings. These plans are precisely what is needed to improve the appearance of our national capital.

This project will slowly replace the existing industrial facilities near Parliament Hill with parkland and refurbished heritage buildings, making full use of the majestic Ottawa River. A beautiful aboriginal centre is proposed for Victoria Island. The creation of a square in the Metcalfe-Sparks Street area will create a people place, improve the tourism infrastructure close to Parliament Hill with better parking and open up a beautiful vista of the Parliament Buildings from the downtown core. Also Lebreton Flats will finally be redeveloped.

I am sure that I speak for many of my colleagues in the Ottawa-Hull area when I say that we look forward with great enthusiasm to the realization of this magnificent plan for Canada's capital.

Violet ArcherStatements By Members

11 a.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, Canada lost a national treasure with the death of Violet Archer at age 86. I often passed Miss Archer in the hallway of my apartment building. Though aware of her cheerful smile, I was unaware of the magnitude and depth of her success as a musician. Composer, pianist, organist, percussionist and professor: this was Violet Archer, a woman who established an international reputation and composed some 400 works.

She received dozens of awards and five honorary doctorates. She was born in Montreal the daughter of Italian immigrants and had composed her first work at age 16. She attended McGill University and then studied with the great composer, Bela Bartok, who continued to mould her musical genius.

After attending Yale University on a scholarship, Miss Archer enjoyed an illustrious career as both composer and performer of her many works. She taught music at the University of Alberta and at three American universities.

Violet was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1983. I ask the House to remember today the achievements of this great Canadian who contributed so much to our society.

Arctic Winter GamesStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, this coming Sunday the 2000 Arctic Winter Games will begin in Whitehorse, Yukon. The three northern territories along with northern Quebec and northern Alberta will be joined by Alaska, Greenland and northern Russia for an exciting week of competition in traditional and modern sports, along with cultural events. This will be the first time that Nunavut will have its own team of athletes at the games since becoming a new territory.

I take this opportunity to wish all participants good luck and to emphasize how important it is for youth to be involved in sports. Sports provide young people opportunities to show true character and how to be a team player. Often the manner in which we play sports is a true measure of how we live our lives.

Our government support of amateur sport is truly an investment in young Canadians. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Amateur Sport will be on hand to help open the games. I also applaud other members who will be attending the games to lend their support.

Bill C-20Statements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Caroline St-Hilaire Bloc Longueuil, QC

Mr. Speaker, seeing how the federal government is behaving in connection with Bill C-20, and Motion No. 8, can young people of my generation be faulted, along with the rest of population, for no longer having any faith in the world of politics and its present institutions?

What is the Liberal government's next step going to be? To barricade the doors of the Quebec National Assembly so the Quebec people cannot be represented? To plaster all of Quebec with the Maple Leaf and the commandment “Thou shalt honour Canada”? While they are at it, why not ask the members of the National Assembly to start their session with O Canada? No way, Mr. Speaker.

With Bill C-20 and Motion No. 8, the federal government is on the wrong track. It is headed down a road with no return, while admitting that it has nothing to propose to Quebecers and that it is incapable of fulfilling the fundamental aspirations of the Quebec people.

KashmirStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, for over 50 years the people of the former princely state of Kashmir have been divided by a ceasefire line fixed by military conflicts, sanctioned by the United Nations and originally intended to be temporary.

Both India and Pakistan have so far been unable to reach a final agreement between them and with the people of Kashmir and have fought wars across the line. Thousands have been killed, maimed and displaced by the conflict not just between the armies but also because of the terror of a political insurgency that is stripping this area of its beauty, its economy and its peaceful heritage.

Both India and Pakistan and the rest of the world can benefit from the Kashmir region that is peaceful, democratic and offers economic opportunity to its citizens. I call upon both countries to collaborate in enabling Kashmiris to put violence behind and build a future, pull back the armies and invest in the people, celebrate what the Kashmir region can be for both countries, end the oppression of violence, renew the bilateral dialogue, include the Kashmiris, and please begin now.