House of Commons Hansard #21 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-11.


Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

The one doing the heckling ought to know. In March, 2000, there was a similar exercise. The House had to vote for 36 consecutive hours on 411 motions. Worse, in December, 2000, the House faced the prospect of having to deal with 3,133 motions, which would, in theory, have taken more than two weeks of non-stop sittings to be voted upon.

What a member decided to do in September, 2000, was to latch onto a sort of personal veto over the 300 other members of the House, since it is, of course, all but impossible to vote on 3,133 motions, unless we were to sit for months on end solely to deal with report stage of one bill.

We can no more claim that democracy is improved by such an action than we can claim that heckling in the House today contributes in any useful way to democracy.

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12:10 p.m.


Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Well, no, this is a dictatorship.

Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It is clear that the Standing Orders were never intended to pave the way for such shenanigans. And we all know it.

What is more, I and a parliamentarian from another party visited Great Britain's parliament, on whose procedures we modelled this standing order 32 years ago. There, I saw how this legislative procedure worked. It was plain that it was never intended to obstruct the parliamentary process.

In December 1968, the report stage procedures were adopted by the House. I am being reminded by members that perhaps what we have done here is more important than from where we got the rule, which was in the U.K. Okay, then, let us limit ourselves to what was done here when we adopted the rule in December 1968. The then chairman of the House procedure committee, which is what it was called then, proposed these rules. He said when he put them into place—these are his words, not mine—that his “description of the legislative process substantially applies to the proceedings of the United Kingdom parliament”.

In other words, when the rule was put in place in 1968, the chair of the procedure committee recognized that he went to the U.K., received the rule there and applied it to the Canadian parliament.

In the same debate, the acknowledged master parliamentary philosopher of the time and another member of the Special Committee on Procedures of the House—and I am sure my hon. friend from Winnipeg will want to speak of this—the late Stanley Knowles spoke about how this rule should apply. He said:

Generally speaking, however, the whole tenure of our recommendations has been to try to eliminate duplication of debate and to facilitate the possibility of the nation's business getting before parliament and being dealt with.

The Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Trudeau, said with respect to report stage:

The new power to be given to the Speaker to permit him to marshal proposed amendments and to select those that best permit the House to express its views will help to focus and to improve debate. If adopted, this will be one of the first instances in which the House has made use of the Speaker's new status in order to improve its own procedures.

Those were the words of Prime Minister Trudeau when we put that rule in place in 1968.

I have just enumerated three sources: one, the chair of the committee that put that rule in place; two, an opposition member and very eloquent spokesman, the late Stanley Knowles; and of course, the former Prime Minister, the late Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

It is clear to me that the framers of the report stage rules want this to be very clear. Here I draw attention to the words of former Speaker Marcel Lambert, a former Conservative member of parliament as well, who said:

Your Honour will have the task of marshalling these amendments and frankly, with the greatest respect, I do not envy you your task.

That is what Marcel Lambert, a former Speaker himself prior to that time, said. I believe he was Speaker around 1962, during the Diefenbaker years.

What Mr. Lambert was saying was that you, Mr. Speaker, will have a hard job of selecting through these amendments, ensuring that only the proper ones will be votable and so on. That was what a Conservative member of parliament said.

Thus we see that at the time the report stage procedures were adopted in Canada, it was clearly anticipated that the Speaker would exercise the very broad powers of selection that are exercised in the United Kingdom.

Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice discusses the power of selection on page 466 of its twentieth edition. Here is what it says:

Selection is made by the Chair in such a way as to bring out the salient points of criticism, to prevent repetition and overlapping, and, where several amendments deal with the same point, to choose the more effective and better drafted.

It is the same point.

Experience has shown that, in most cases, the discretion conferred on the Chair to select the amendments which may be moved is the best method of securing reasonable opportunities for all varieties of opinion.

That is what was said by Erskine May. The book is on our table in front of us as a reference manual, so I am not exactly inventing new parliamentary law here. It was clearly the intention of the designers of the Canadian report stage that detailed legislative work would be done in committee, that the great majority of amendments would be disposed of in committee and that the report stage would be confined to amendments that could not have been moved in committee or that enabled the House to address major points of criticism.

As Marleau and Montpetit, or M and M, as we sometimes refer to it now, indicates at page 663, the designers of this process intended that all members, not just those on the committee, should have the opportunity to propose suitable amendments, but the intent was not for this stage to become a repetition of committee stage. That is not Erskine May this time. This is our book, Marleau and Montpetit.

Over time, Speakers ceased to exercise that authority—I will not be challenging how Speakers have administered it, as these things happen—with each successive Speaker being less assertive than his or her predecessor. As a consequence, the report stage of bills took on what I would call an exaggerated place in the process at the expense of other stages.

In 1985 the reform of the House of Commons special committee, the McGrath committee—there is one member of that committee serving in the House and he will probably speak later—urged that the Speaker exercise the power to select, but the only practical consequence was that amendments that had been defeated in committee were routinely not selected at report stage. The member was a prominent member of that committee, as I have said, and is very much a prominent member of the House today and a very respected member as well.

As a consequence, the practice arose whereby members simply did not propose their amendments in committee at all, reserving them instead for report stage. This is only one of the problems. This further diminished the committee stage and exacerbated the already inflated role of report stage.

It gets worse. It was not long before the usual operations of report stage began to be employed for purposes for which they were never intended, rendering the process not merely one that is exceedingly unpleasant for members but also one that brings the House into what I will call public disrepute. I do not think Canadians watching us vote 24 hours a day 3 days in a row on changing commas to semicolons can be impressed by our collective behaviour.

We have seen before that when someone in the House stumbles upon a dysfunctional method of asserting political disagreement, it may start as the nuclear weapon of the parliamentary arsenal: we use it the first time because it is the greatest and most important issue ever to have hit the legislature, but in not too long a period of time it becomes the sine qua non of parliamentary opposition. In other words, we use it the first time because it is earth shattering, the second time we use it because it is very important, and the third time we have to use it, otherwise we are not serious at all. This is a little bit like the bell ringing incident.

Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Just like time allocation.

Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would gladly talk about time allocation at some other point, because in fact if we go back to the U.K. House, every bill is time allocated to one day, as we know, and yes, there is discretion for the Speaker to add an hour at the end of the day if the debate has not been long enough.

As I said earlier, in my discussions with other House leaders it has become clear that there is a broad range of issues with regard to the legislative process. I want to engage my colleagues and other parties toward all of that.

It is not what we are doing today. Today we are only repairing something that is broken in the rule in order to make parliament function.

We had a case during debate on the Young Offenders Act in the last parliament where there were hundreds of amendments only to change the implementation date of the bill. Remembering what we said, what the authors of the particular parliamentary reform 32 years ago wanted this procedure to do, clearly no one had in mind that we would have 3,133 amendments to a bill. No one ever had in mind that it was to be used for repetitive report stage amendments to change an implementation date. Certainly no one ever designed this system to permit one MP to have a veto over the legislative process.

If that were what the authors had in mind, why would they have done it? Why would they, in their wisdom in 1968, have brought in a procedure so that every member who did not like a bill and was creative enough to produce sufficient numbers of amendments could stop parliament from dealing with the legislation? Let us get serious. Nobody ever wanted the procedure to do that.

Perhaps there are other things that can be done to report stage. Perhaps there are other improvements or changes. If so, they should be done at another time because that would constitute a form of parliamentary reform I would like to discuss with other parties, but that is a different issue and that is why this motion does not do that.

I must say I would have liked it to have done other things at the same time. I have had conversations with others. I will not describe the nature of each one of those because I never divulge the content of a House leaders' meeting. I will not, not here or anywhere else. Sometimes to my peril I have not made public what has happened with other House leaders, but I think it is the only reason we are able to do anything around here, so I will not do that right now either.

In the months and even days to come, I would like to speak with my counterparts in the other political parties with a view to introducing a system of modernizing parliamentary rules which would include reciprocity, and ultimately result in an improved parliament for Canadians. I think that that is what we all want.

That is a discussion for another time, not for today.

Meanwhile there is one rule that is not working and it is this one. The difficulties with that procedure not only threaten the ability of all members to do their work in a reasonable fashion, but it tends to bring the House into disrepute. I would be remiss in my duties in the House if I did not propose this correction, and I am.

In making this proposal, I am not attempting to change the rules of the House. I am merely reaffirming the authority of the Chair as it was expected to be exercised by the framers of the rules 32 years ago. That is all I am doing today. I am merely reaffirming the views of the chairman of the committee that preferred those rules. I am referring to Gordon Blair.

I am merely reaffirming the views of great parliamentarians like Stanley Knowles and Marcel Lambert, a former Speaker of the House. I am merely reaffirming the views of the McGrath committee. I am merely reaffirming my faith in the judgement and fairness of the Speaker of the House of Commons. I urge all my colleagues to pass this motion so that parliament can do its job, nothing more and nothing less.

That is all I am asking today. As for the remainder, we will have a good discussion among the leaders, possibly among all members as well, about substantially changing the rules. But that is not for today.

Today, we must get parliament working again and leave more substantial changes for another time. So, to action. It is the duty of every member of the House.

Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, frequently when we rise in debate we begin our speech by saying “I am pleased to be able to stand and speak to this debate”. I have the extraordinary honour today of being the leadoff speaker for the opposition on this government motion. Pursuant to Standing Order 43, I am going to jolly well take my time doing it before the government prevents us from speaking at all on anything at any time.

The House leader seems to pride himself on the fact that we are patterned after the United Kingdom parliament. He gets a little smile on his face when he says “Over there, every bill is time allocated”. He seems so happy about that. I am very concerned about it.

I became a member of parliament in 1993. I have been around here for approximately seven years. In that time I have given some serious thought to what this place is. I have often said that I wish I would have learned French when I was young. I lived far away from French speaking people and I was so interested in science and math that I took those options and did not learn French.

However, one of the words in French that I know is parlez-vous; parle. It has something to do with speaking, does it not? It has something to do with debates. If parliament is not the place of debate then what is it? What then is our purpose for being here if we do not have adequate opportunity to debate issues?

I am quite aware of the fact that the motion today has nothing to do directly with debate. It is dealing with the question of whether or not members of the opposition, or any other members, can propose amendments. Backbenchers really do not have that much freedom to propose amendments, although I suppose legally according to the standing orders they could. What is really being proposed is a limitation on members of parliament, who are not in the front inner core over there, to put forward amendments at report stage.

I want to interrupt the flow of my speech for just a second. I am aware that there are hundreds, probably thousands, of Canadians watching this debate. It is Monday morning. Out west right now it is approximately 10.30 a.m. There are a lot of people who said they were going to leave their jobs for a while, watch CPAC and this important debate. The whole future of our parliamentary system hangs on this debate. I believe they are glued and riveted to their television sets right now.

I want to interrupt the talk about the proposed motion to describe very briefly how things work around here. People out there ought to know that we have three readings of bills. The first reading is usually the introduction of the bill. It seemed strange to me, when I first came here in 1993, that there was no vote on the first reading of the bill.

The Speaker gets up and asks if the minister is present. The minister usually does not even rise. The Speaker will read the motion or the bill then the Clerk will stand and acknowledge it. Then it will be said that bill is deemed to have passed, or words to that effect. I see the House leader is having major problems with what I am saying.

The bill has gone through the first reading stage, which is the stage deemed accepted without a vote. I thought that was strange but I can see why. The introduction of a bill only needs to be deemed to have been accepted by the House. I can see why neither the government nor probably the other members would want to come into the House to simply vote for something that says that the bill will be introduced.

However, the government introduces a bill and it is put on the order paper. The bill comes up for second reading on a subsequent day as given by the government House leader. Second reading of the bill is a discussion on the principles of the bill. It is a relatively short discussion as the normal rules of debate limit that time. Most of us give 10 minute speeches at that level. After second reading there is a vote and the bill is referred to a committee.

I have enjoyed my committee work. I have had some frustrations there but committee work is very enjoyable and useful. Committee work has a lot of potential for being a really important and pivotal part of the democratic process, the process of producing bills and motions.

At committee stage, the committee does a number of things. It usually gives an opportunity for people at large, whether they are a group, members of an association or individuals, to appear before the committee. Depending upon the importance, magnitude or how far reaching the bill is, the number of witnesses may be relatively small or may be quite large.

For example, I was a member of the finance committee in the last parliament when it was considering Bill C-38, a bill which unfortunately died on the order paper. Bill C-38 would have amended the way banking structures would operate. The committee heard information from many interesting and informed guests.

To summarize the stages of a bill, there is first reading and introduction and then second reading. After debate at second reading, the bill is voted on, agreed to and then referred to committee for members to consider at committee stage. Before the bill is returned by the committee to the House, the committee looks at all the suggestions and presentations made by different people. Committee members, utilizing not only their own skills but the skills of other staff and experts, may come up with amendments to the bill or to the motion. There may be an amendment that says that we will change a section, delete a section or add something. Those are amendments that come from committee.

When the committee reports the bill back to the House it simply means that the committee has finished its process. The bill comes back to the House for debate and for a vote on the amendments. It is called the report stage of the bill. At this stage we look at the amendments that the committee brought forward. This is where the system falls down.

I believe the motion before us today is trying to kill a gnat with a sledgehammer. Because the committee stage does not work the Liberals want to bring into the House rules and regulations that would prevent backbench members and opposition members from having an opportunity to adequately put forward their motions or amendments to a bill or a motion.

If this particular motion is passed, and using the clout of the parliamentary majority that the government has I believe it will pass, I predict that the motion will be subject to time allocation. I will talk more about that a little later on.

The motion will prevent members of parliament from getting their issues on to the floor of the House. There is a rule right now, and the government House leader made allusion to the fact that there is a standing order which prevents members in the House from moving amendments that were already dealt with at committee stage.

If a committee brings back a report with proposed amendments that were defeated in committee, they cannot be brought in again in this place. A certain argument can be made for that since they were already presumably dealt with in committee. On the other hand, any amendments approved by the committee will be included in the report of the bill back to the House for the House to deal with them.

It has been my observation in the seven years that I have been here that pretty well every amendment passed in committee is passed there because the parliamentary secretary who sits on the committee brings in the information from the minister and the minions which says that they want the amendment. Very often they are government proposed amendments and of course they pass. However if an opposition member puts in an amendment it is almost certain to fail since the committee has more Liberals on it right now, because the Liberals are in government, than it has other opposition members combined.

As a result the only amendments brought in are those which have the approval of the minister. His tentacles reach into the committee and basically control what happens there. The Liberals present in the House may be howling in protest, but that is my observation. That is what I have seen.

I remember proposing some amendments after my first election in 1993. I do not even remember now what the bill was, but I remember that I proposed some good amendments very early on. They were so good that some government members on that committee told me privately they were good ideas and even went so far as to say that they supported them.

A week or two later, after we heard from some more witnesses in committee, we came to clause by clause consideration. For the benefit of those thousands of people watching CPAC today, clause by clause consideration is when the chairman of the committee simply goes through the bill and asks whether the clauses should pass. Sometimes he speaks much more quickly than I was speaking now, but I am trying to give a little consideration to the interpreters who are working so hard for me this morning.

We go through the clauses very quickly. If we have an amendment for which we have given notice, we must be right on the bit when the chairman asks whether a clause should pass. Right then we must jump up and say that we have an amendment. Even if we have given notice of it, if we do not move it right at that instant it will not be dealt with and the clause will have passed unamended. That is how that works in committee. The last thing is whether the title should pass.

After that has been dealt with, the chairman asks if the bill should be reported to the House. There are also usually enough members in the committee to cause that to pass. Then it is brought back here, and that is what we are dealing with now. The bill or motion is reported back to the House, having gone through introduction, second reading, and study and clause by clause consideration at committee stage. Then the bill is back here for report stage.

As I said earlier, any amendments which have been dealt with in committee, in order to avoid duplication, are not permitted to be brought up here. Any amendments that have not been brought up in committee can be brought up by any member of the opposition or any backbencher on the government side. The government can also introduce amendments at report stage in the House which have not been dealt with in committee. That would deal with last minute technical changes or things of which it becomes aware.

Then we vote on each of the amendments. This is where the problem comes in. This is where the government just has convolutions of hopelessness. If we have a lot of amendments and if we on this side of the House force a standing vote on it, as opposed to just a voice vote which is called on division, then the government members could be literally forced to stand for hours, one at a time, voting against our amendments to prevent any amendments from going through.

Again, if I can give my observation, over all the years that I have been here now, there have been maybe three or four amendments put forward by opposition members that have passed in the House. I remember I had one. It was the first one in the 35th parliament.

Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

There were two.

Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

My hon. friend over on the other side is indicating that there were two. I do not remember. It was long time ago and a lot of water has gone under the bridge betwixt then and now. However, there have been very few. Most of them are just routinely rejected.

I would like to go back to the fundamentals of this. The fundamental is that committee stage does not work. That is the problem as I see it. If we would have a truly independent committee, one that was not controlled by the minister, his office, his parliamentary secretary and the minions, if we had true freedom to express ourselves and to vote freely on proposed amendments, very often we could improve legislation. It would be better for the country, the nation as a whole and for our citizens. It would increase the respect that Canadians have for the House of Commons, if we could actually do that without being coerced.

I would like to finish my little digression and say how this bill now finishes. After we have dealt with it in the House at report stage, it then goes to third and final reading. As we know, that also then includes debates. When the debate is finished, we vote on it. If there are sufficient numbers demanding it, there can be a demand for a standing vote, in which case we once again all come into the House. As we stand individually to express our yeas or nays, the clerk responds by stating our names from memory, which is quite a remarkable feat, and we then go on record as to whether we are in favour of the bill.

After it is passed here, it goes to the Senate and goes through a similar process there. If the Senate amends it, it comes back here. If the Senate does not amend it, it gets royal assent and goes on from there.

It just happens that what the government House leader is doing today is throwing a monkey wrench into the process by claiming that he wants this place to be like the house of commons in Great Britain. Of course he is very selective. He is being very careful to make sure that he just picks those parts which will promote his and the government's agenda but he does not pick the other parts.

For example, in Great Britain, it is not at all uncommon for opposition members to be the chairs of committees. What do we have here? We have the government coming to a committee. It has been predetermined who is going to be the chairman. The one day we will get a full contingent of the members of the government side in the committee is when they want to out vote anybody else.

Then we have this absurd way of electing the chairman of the committee. The whole issue is that usually when there is an election there is a list of candidates. When I ran for election as a member of parliament, there were four or five candidates each time and people had to choose from among these different candidates. There were actually more than six candidates on the ballot in 1993. There were some fringe parties there as well. There are some who want to call us the fringe party. That obviously is not true since we are the only party other than the Liberals that went up in popular vote in the 2000 election.

We do not elect the chairman by having a list and a ballot so we can check who we want. We do this in the House of Commons. We do this for our elections in the ridings. There is only one name permitted on the ballot. The name on the ballot is the first person who yells out his or here nomination after the clerk has taken the chair at the organization of the committee. One of the government members will immediately say that he or she nominates this person or that person to be the chairman. That is it. The motion does not have to be seconded. There is a vote on it. All the members who are in favour say “yes” and all who are opposed say “no”. There is no list of candidates. There is no secret ballot.

We went through this recently in the finance committee. I made a very strong argument for a secret ballot in order to free up the members on both sides of the table to vote freely without fear of recrimination. Incredibly, on command, the government members refused the request for a secret ballot.

Why do we not have these members go to their constituencies at election time, stand up on a platform and have the people yell who they want to vote for? Every vote should be public. Why do they insist on it? What is so scary about a secret ballot? It is incredible that these members, who love to talk about parliamentary reform to make this place more meaningful, cannot see that a secret ballot is important and that there should be a list of candidates.

In the particular case of the finance committee, I said I would vote for the person who won. I cannot say his name and I do not know the name of his riding. The person who became the chairman of the finance committee had my support. For the most part he has been fair, good to work with and has a good way of running the committee. Sometimes he goes a little fast but most of the time he is okay. I would have supported him. I had no problem with that. I do not think that is a place where we should have overt partisanship.

The backbenchers are not prepared to free themselves up in committee in order to express themselves without fear of recrimination. Even though they had the opportunity, they refused a secret ballot. It is interesting that the request for a secret ballot on whether or not to vote for the chairman by secret ballot was refused. That would require unanimous consent and it was denied.

I am talking about the broad picture of why the motion is here today. It is here because committees do not work. The motion would be totally unnecessary if the government of the day, or the Conservatives for nine years prior to that, had done its job. Since the Liberals have been in power we have had two elections in seven years. Running a $200 million election every three and a half years is a total lack of respect for taxpayer dollars. That is an aside.

We have a government that in the past seven years has just not been open to amendments. We would like to see some glimmer of hope that some of the amendments would be given careful consideration, not simply given time to talk about it.

This issue has arisen because opposition parties have used report stage in the House to demand standing votes on a number of motions to amend which are, not only in the words of the government House leader but also in motion before us, deemed frivolous.

The motion states in part:

—the Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at the report stage—

Why do opposition members do this? I think back about a year ago, when we were dealing with the now famous Nisga'a treaty. There was a lot of fuss made about it. The government House leader and some of the other members of the Conservative Party and the NDP said it was a waste of time. I agree with them. We started on a Monday night and we finished Thursday morning. We stood up and sat down for many hours.

That type of thing does not stand well in building respect for this place. If all we are going to do is hit that on the head with a mallet to make that go away and not deal with the root cause is like a surgeon. Instead of removing a wart on the hand, he takes an axe and cuts off the hand at the wrist. He has removed the wart all right but it is overkill in a gross degree. That is what this motion is. It does not deal with the root cause of why we in the opposition would come up with such a large list of amendments.

I remember when we were dealing with Nisga'a. I explained it to the people back home this way. I said that it was an important agreement and that it affected the well being of natives basically in perpetuity from that point onward. It also affected the non-native neighbours in perpetuity from that time onward because, among other things, it involved changes to the constitution. It involved permanent changes on how we would deal with these issues.

It is wrong to do things like that without giving adequate time not only for this place to debate it, but also for us to have a wider debate with Canadian citizens.

There is an old saying which states that democracy only works when the governed agree to be governed. It is called the consent of the governed. That is so true. I often speak to students in schools and explain to them how in this country we have a system of government completely different from governments that have existed in history. Instead of having a king with absolute power, his soldiers and other people who did his will and imposed it on the people, we have the potential for having a true circle of responsibility and accountability where members of parliament are elected by the people.

Members come here reflecting the will and the wishes of the people. They make rules that govern our society. The people, by virtue of the fact that they consented to this motion or bill through their parliamentarian, agree to be governed by that rule. What happens if we break the circle of accountability? What happens if along the line we impose a dictator, someone who has absolute authority? The circle of accountability is broken and no longer can we expect Canadian citizens to willingly consent to be governed when they are being dictated to by somebody who is out of the circle of accountability. It has to be the people, the parliament, the people.

People are responsible for obeying the laws of the country which are put together by parliament. However, parliament is accountable and responsible to the people who send us here. If we lose that circle, the system is flawed and it will fail. I am sure one of the reasons there is now such a lack of respect for this place is that in total this place does not reflect the will of the people.

I will now answer the question of why members of the opposition are bringing forward these amendments. As I was saying, I explained the issue to my constituents right after we had that long vote. I said that it was so important to Canadians that it demanded the time of parliament. For us to give notice to the government that this is so important that in one way or another we will use one week of parliament's time, that notion is a valid notion.

My first choice by far, rather than voting for three days or three and a half days, would have been to debate the issue here in the House of Commons. We did not have adequate debate. The record of the government shows that over and over it has invoked time allocation to limit debate after the debate has just started or, in some instances, even before it has started.

There are a number of occasions on record where the government has moved time allocation on this and all subsequent stages before we were even at the subsequent stages. In other words, we are not supposed to talk about it; we are just supposed to do it. The government is the bully in the schoolyard, the dictator. It is out of the circle of accountability and responsibility, and that does not serve democracy well.

I feel obliged to go back into the records because there was a very fine speech given in the House almost three years ago.

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1 p.m.


Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West—Mississauga, ON

Never one by you.

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1 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

The member says that it was not by me. I will concede that it was not by me. It was by one much greater than me. It was the previous leader of the official opposition who spoke on an issue very similar to what we are speaking to today.

Even though the speech is already in the Hansard of the day, I want to give portions of it today. I will read it back into the record because it was a very interesting story given by the leader of the opposition at the time, the member for Calgary Southwest. This is basically what he said:

Once upon a time there was a king named Jean I, who presided over a castle surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge. The inhabitants of his castle were divided into two classes: lords and ladies who occupied the front benches of the royal throne room on state occasions and the peasants who occupied the backbenches.

One day a group of peasants, or backbenchers as they were called, went out to toil in the fields. As they crossed the moat and started down the road they passed a cave from which emerged a great dragon breathing fire and smoke. The fire consumed 50 of the backbenchers and sent the rest scurrying back into the castle.

When King Jean was told of this terrible tragedy he resolved to investigate it himself. To help him he took along two of his most trusted knights. They included Lord Bob, the keeper of the royal whip, and Lord Boudriavere who had once been a bus boy in the castle cafeteria but had risen to high rank through his faithful service to King Jean.

As they surveyed the scene of the tragedy they observed three things. They saw the 50 fried backbenchers and said that was too bad. They saw the dragon lying dead from overexertion. They also noticed that the dragon's fire had ignited a seam of coal in the cave from which smoke continued to billow. Lord Bob, who was a straightforward fellow, and had been a sword fight referee in another life, said the obvious “The dragon is dead. This is good news. Let's go tell the backbenchers”. But Lord Boudriavere, who had once been a bus boy in the castle cafeteria and had risen to high rank through faithful service to the king, said “Not so fast”. Turning to King John he said “I see an opportunity here to maintain and increase our control over the peasants. Let us imply, indirectly of course, that the fiery dragon still lives. We can point to the smoke belching from the cave as evidence of this. Let us tell the backbenchers that henceforth they can only go out of the castle with royal permission and under the supervision of myself and Lord Bob, for the safety and protection, of course, of themselves and the castle”.

King Jean thought this was a splendid idea and thus the myth of the fiery dragon was established. It was used to coerce and control the backbenchers of the kingdom until King Jean was defeated in battle by a knight from the west which is another story I will tell on some other occasion.

There is a myth in the House that lurking out there somewhere is the fiery dragon of the confidence convention, the erroneous belief studiously cultivated by the government that if a government bill or motion is defeated, or an opposition bill, motion or amendment is passed, this obliges the government to resign. This myth is used to coerce government members, especially backbenchers, to vote for government bills and motions with which they and their constituents disagree and to vote against opposition bills, motions and amendments with which they substantially agree.

The reality is that the fiery dragon of the confidence convention in its traditional form is dead. The sooner the House officially recognizes that fact, the better for all. It is true that there was a time when the rules supported the traditional confidence convention but that is not the current situation.

The Leader of the Opposition then quoted from Beauchesne's sixth edition, which outlined our existing practice:

The determination of the issue of confidence in the government is not a question of procedure or order, and does not involve the interpretive responsibilities of the Speaker.

I will stop reading from his speech, but he goes on to point out that the use of confidence is totally a tool of the government and that it is not for the Speaker of the House to determine.

I need to talk about this because it is very important to the motion today. We are being told that because the government controls the committees no amendments can be dealt with rationally, reasonably and honestly there.

As opposition members we have all had the experience of deciding not to bring up an amendment in committee because we know that the government will defeat it and no one will even know about it. We decide rationally to bring it in at report stage so that at least we can get a bit of debate on it and make our point to the people of Canada, who usually pay more attention to this place than they do to committees in the House.

This is what the Leader of the Opposition was talking about when he spoke about the dragon of confidence. He was referring to the fact that if government members should somehow vote for a bill or a motion or an amendment that came from the opposition side, it would necessitate calling an election. That has been one of the huge frustrations to me over the years in this place. We can be voting on anything, whereas what we are really voting on every time is whether there will be an election. It does not matter what the issue is.

Backbenchers on the government side, currently the Liberals but whatever party is in power, have their hands tied. They cannot vote against a bad motion or for a good motion if one or the other of them has come from the wrong side of the House. That is a huge handicap to our effectiveness in parliament.

Let me relate to members that in my previous life, among other things, I was involved in a lot of voluntary work. For seven years I was the chairman of a school board. We had about 15 or 20 members on the school board. It was a very interesting and democratic place. Most of the people on the board were parents of the children in our school. They were there to represent the wishes of their children and also the well-being of the school. As the chairman for seven years it gave me the opportunity to serve the people of my community.

I have been thinking about this in retrospect now that I have been here for seven years. I spent seven years on the school board and I have spent seven years here in parliament.

In the seven years I was on the school board I have no idea how many motions were defeated. Maybe a parent, a teacher or a student would come up with an idea and one of the board members would pick up on it and take it to the board. To adhere to Roberts Rules of Order , I had a little rule that we would not discuss things until there was a motion. If someone was willing to make a motion and someone was willing to second it we would start debating it.

Let us say a motion was made and we would start debating it. One or two members would speak in favour of it because on the surface it sounded like a good idea. Then one of the people on the board would wonder what would happen if we passed it. He would begin thinking about the law of unintended consequences and, even though our intentions may have been good, that something detrimental could happen.

Another member may think of another reason the motion should not be adopted. In about 10 or 15 minutes of debate on the issue our board would clearly develop a consensus that the motion would be good for our school, our students, our staff, our parents and maybe the community.

What happens? Well, I am the chairman. When the debate is finished and everyone has had their say, I would call for a vote. Only one person would vote for the motion: the guy who made it, because he somehow feels obliged to. The other 14 or 15 members vote against it.

We have effectively done exactly what parliamentarians are supposed to do. They are supposed to pass good laws and to prevent bad laws from being passed. Here was a motion that was bad, and in our wisdom we were able to detect that and defeat it.

Did I, as chairman of the board, ask the board members not to vote against the motion because one of our guys made it and if we defeat it we will have to resign and call for the election of a new school board? It would be the height of stupidity if a school board acted like that.

When there is a motion we debate the motion. When the vote is called we vote on the motion. If the motion is good we pass it and go to the next item of business. If the motion is bad, dumb or stupid we defeat it. We congratulate ourselves for having defeated a motion that should never have been brought in and we go on to the next order of business.

What do we do in this place? There is a motion in front of the House to amend a bill. A lot of members think the amendment will improve it. We have motions that sometimes stand alone as very good motions but they come from this side of the House.

Are members on the other side free to vote for it because it is a good idea? Are they free to vote for it because I and some of my members were able to articulate a solid argument in favour of the idea? No. The Prime Minister tells them that this is a confidence motion. There is the dragon. He tells them that if they vote for it and the government falls, an election will have to be called.

While those of us on this side are proposing a motion that would be good for Canada and for its people, the other side is voting on whether we should have an election.

No wonder it is totally dysfunctional. No wonder government members must now bring in a mallet to beat down the gnat. They cannot get it into their heads that the changes were necessary considerably previous to the issue that is before the House today.

It is not whether the House does not work in report stage. It is because we are not able to deal honestly, openly and forthrightly with amendments in committee with free votes. That is really the question.

It has been a distress to me to have to deal with issues like this one over the last seven years, but I am not the only one. I have observed that other members have had the same frustrations and difficulties.

For example, our House leader, who recently gave a very important speech about invoking closure, made an appeal to the Speaker not to allow time allocation because sufficient time had not been given. In that particular case the issue was not allowed. The vote went forward and it proceeded anyway.

My colleagues and I and other members of the opposition, including the Liberals when they were in opposition, have had frustrations over the years with the problems that arise from a dysfunctional parliament.

I would like to quote some important comments on the topic of closure. That is really what we are talking about here. We are talking about the way we deal with parliamentary debates. When the Liberals were in opposition and closure was proposed, it was one Lloyd Axworthy, whose name we can now say since he is no longer a member of the House, who said “It displays the utter disdain with which this government treats the Canadian people”. That is how he spoke about not being able to debate.

My whole thesis today is that the motion is necessary because we are not permitted to debate or to have free votes in committee. We are not permitted to debate and to have free votes in the House to get the best rules. What do we do then if there is a detrimental and negative bill or a motion before the House?

A small group of people make the decisions. They do not even hear the arguments. They are busy in their offices while we are discussing these bills and motions. They just blindly and bullheadedly push forward and say that it will go through the way it was first devised, no ifs, ands or buts. They say that if we do not vote for it they will have to call an election. It is total control and total lack of respect for parliament.

The person who is now the government House leader said in 1992 that he was shocked. He said it was just terrible. He said “Shame on those Tories across the way”. That is when the now government House leader was sitting on this side in opposition. He was speaking to members of the Tory government on the other side. They were trying to talk about a major piece of legislation and they would not let them talk about it.

I have a couple of other quotes which are available in Hansard . I have a quotation from a person whose name I will not mention. How do I identify this person? I will be brutal. He is the present Speaker of the House. We all remember him fondly. When our present Speaker was a member on the government's side he had a way of giving some really great oratorical diatribes against the party on this side.

Those of us who have been here since 1993 remember when he used to read from the little green book of quotations or something like that. He had so much fun with that. We are very glad that he has now progressed to a high degree of impartiality and has taken on the job of the Speaker as an impartial judge of how things are done here.

Here are some of his quotes. I quote him simply because he is an honourable, respectable member, who spoke of the limitations of the freedoms of members of parliament to adequately debate when he was on this side. He said:

What we have here is an absolute scandal in terms of the government's unwillingness to listen to the representatives of the people in the House. Never before has the government been so reluctant to engage in public debate.

That is the point exactly. We chose to have four days of stand up votes because we said to the government that this issue was so important that one way or another we would be spending a week of parliament on it. It should have been more but we would be spending at least a week.

If the government did not comply and allow us to talk, we would be doing this. The advance notice was given. It was the government leader who made the decision for us to stand up on four days of standing and sitting down. Then he has the audacity to stand on the other side and say we are wasting time. The same time could have been used for debates if he would have permitted it but he chose not to do so. No wonder we are where we are.

I also need to say something else about the debate. The debate is not only about parliament, the place of speaking and the place of many words. I guess I am guilty of many words today. Actually I do not think I am guilty of anything. I am merely participating in that rare occasion when I am not limited to 10, 20 or 40 minutes and can actually speak my mind. Today I am doing that.

I will go back to my earlier statement about the consent of the government. It is important when we deal with issues that are important to the country like the Nisga'a agreement and others that we give time in the House to debate them. Then we could give time to our parliamentarians to go back to their ridings to discuss the issues with the people we represent.

It is unconscionable that we should rush head long into some of these agreements, treaties and other matters without bringing the people together. We do not achieve unity or harmony by simply taking these people who presumably are feuding and bumping their heads together. No, we get them talking to each other and compromising. We get them to talk and work out the problems.

When I think of some of the issues that have been brought to the House of Commons through our people out in the field via our members of parliament, it is really too bad that we do not have the opportunity to debate those issues, to persuade our fellow parliamentarians and to allow them the opportunity to respond to a rational argument rather than just an emotional response because we are on the wrong side or a response of blind obedience to a party system which is no longer a workable model in modern society.

It is time that we start to look at what it means to have a representative in parliament. If members of parliament come here and have their hands totally tied and duct tape over their mouths, what is the point of sending them here? We could save money. Let us have a king over there that rules the land and forget about having a parliament.

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

We already do.

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1:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

We already do. The Prime Minister was in China. I do not know what Liberal members think about it, but I was incensed when it was reported that he said he would like to have stone statues in parliament because they could stand up and vote. He could set the statues in place of the chairs and they would be standing all the time. He thinks that would be a good thing.

If I were a Liberal member of parliament and my leader said that I probably would not criticize him publicly, but I would take him aside and ask him if that was really the way he felt about me. If that is the way he feels I would wonder why I joined his party, why I ran under this platform and label, and why I even came here. According to his philosophy of parliament I would be totally useless. That is how I would respond, and I would talk to him privately about that.

I suggest that the government's approach to legislating is a disgrace. It cuts back the time the House is available to sit and then it applies closure to cut off the debate.

I do not know if anyone in the House has noticed, but the government has very seldom invoked closure. Instead, it uses the clause in the standing orders called time allocation.

I suppose that in the House just as the Canadian flag is a prop so too are the standing orders. I have to keep them hidden but I have the standing orders on time allocation and closure. Mr. Speaker, you are very familiar with them, but perhaps some of the thousands of listeners out there in CPAC world are not. I will give a very brief description on the difference between closure and time allocation and why the government has chosen time allocation over and above closure about 99% of the time. I think we may have had a couple of closures, but it has almost always been time allocation.

The difference between time allocation and closure is simply that under closure, the motion is that the House do not adjourn until the debate collapses. That is basically it. We have in the House 301 members of parliament. Under closure, theoretically, members could stand up one after the other and keep on talking and we could debate. Instead of standing up and voting during all hours of the night, to the next morning, to the next noon, to the next evening and right through the night, we could actually be debating at those times. That is what closure is as I understand it.

What is time allocation? Time allocation says that no more than one sitting day be allocated, and that is it.

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1:25 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My understanding is that we are only debating this until 2 o'clock. I wonder whether the member who is so against closure is imposing his own kind of closure on members of other parties by going on so long.

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1:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Respectfully, the intervention by the member for Winnipeg—Transcona is not a point of order and certainly the member for Elk Island has unlimited time as the rules are today.

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1:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I recognize that and I think we should debate this longer. I do not think we should quit at 2 o'clock today. It is up to the government to bring this back and then everybody will have their say?

This is such an important issue that I think I am well within my means to debate. It is the first time in my whole career that I have been able to speak without a time limit. I do not mean to take it out on my other colleagues, especially those on this side of the House but also on the other side. If any of them want to speak, I would urge them to make sure that the House leader brings this issue to the House again. Let us debate it. Let us have the procedure and house affairs committee debate these things and get down to the root of the cause and not deal with how we can handle the hammer here.

It is very important for us to deal with these issues in a rational way. Instead of the government allowing debates and free votes in committee and debates and free votes here, which would solve the problem, it is saying that it will not permit us to bring in amendments that it thinks are frivolous. In other words, if the only purpose of it is to try to draw the attention of the public to the issue, then that is not a proper use of parliament.

I happen to disagree with the government. If we had not done what we did on the Nisga'a agreement there would not have been as many people informed about the issues as there are now. It did serve a purpose, albeit a secondary purpose, because the primary purpose was totally derailed by the government House leader and a government that would not listen to our reasoned debates.

We hear occasionally from the other side that we on this side are obstructionists. I know the words have been applied to Bloc members. They are called obstructionists when they want to discuss the Young Offenders Act. We have been labelled that way too.

I want the people listening to know and I want all members here to know that we are a responsible official opposition. We oppose things which we believe need opposing. We stand in favour of things which we think should be supported. I am not sure about this, but I think the present official opposition is unique in that it has voted for more government bills and motions than other oppositions before us.

We have supported around 50% of government measures. I am talking, for example, about Bill C-8, the new bank bill. Primarily we support it. There are some small areas where we wish there would be some amendments, but we are not an opposition that is here merely for the sake of being in opposition. We want to be and we are a constructive opposition pointing out to the government where motions need correction and offering positive solutions for correction.

If there were a free vote over there and we failed to persuade them intellectually or by debate or parley, and they voted against it, I would say that I guess we lost that battle. However if I am able to persuade them and they say to me individually that they are persuaded but then vote against it, I am frustrated. I feel the purpose of parliament is being thwarted by that kind of basic philosophy of the way parliament works.

I have a lot to say. I do not feel like ending. I know that I have spoken about an hour now. Whereas some other members would have to stop for a lunch break, since I have a reasonable bank account on which to draw I do not really need to do that. It is only 1.30 p.m. so I think I will just say a few more things which are on my mind.

I want to point out something of greatest importance. How do I say this without it coming back to me? I do not like to use the word arrogant because when we call someone arrogant somehow just saying it reflects back on us. I do not mean it as a pejorative term. I use the word arrogant to describe government members in the sense that they are isolating themselves from the people and discounting the necessity of being responsible to the people who sent them here. They do not believe in the basic elements of democracy and of representative government. That is the whole reason for this.

If I could very frankly summarize what I have been trying to say in the last little while, I would put it this way: A mallet is being used to kill a microscopic gnat because we are not willing to look at the source of the gnat. The source is that the government will not permit true, open, free debate and votes, especially in committee.

Committees should have the freedom to work through a bill or a motion and to improve it on behalf of Canadians. If by debate I can persuade my fellow members, I am incensed that the system here prevents them from supporting it with their vote. I really am. That needs to be corrected. That is the nub of the issue.

Furthermore, the government has used time allocation in the House over 70 times now. It is a record breaker. The government uses it routinely. As I said earlier, it brings in time allocation before a stage of a bill has even been introduced. It announces time allocation in advance so it can do it on the first day. I use the word arrogance in an intellectual meaning, not a pejorative meaning, when it ignores the rights of parliamentarians to debate the issues.

The Liberal minister of public works agrees with the principle of the amendment. He recommended in the 81st report of the House management committee in 1993 a change to the standing orders. I am talking about our present minister of public works.

He supported the motion recommending that time allocation and closure motions could be moved unless it appeared to the Speaker that such motions were an abuse of the standing orders of the House or an infringement of the rights of the minority.

If we look at the actual amendment which was read into the record earlier, and much to the joy of my colleagues I will not read it again, basically it says that if we use a means that is available to make our voices heard when the government in its arrogance will not hear, then the Speaker, according to the government House leader, will have the ability to disallow the amendments.

It is the position of the Chair of this place to ensure that parliamentarians have the opportunity to represent their constituents in vote and in debate. The task of the Speaker is being changed by the motion. That will bring the Speaker into the realm of the government side to control the debate further than it is now.

In 1993 the minister of public works supported the motion, with this provision: “unless it shall appear to the Chair that such motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority”. It is the job of the Speaker to ensure that members of the opposition have their full rights in this place to represent their constituents and like-minded constituents across the country who perhaps do not have a member of the opposition in parliament.

We get thousands of letters from people across the country who write to the official opposition because the government is doing things that they believe are wrong. They want us to draw attention to those things and to correct them. We represent those people as well.

If the government invokes time allocation on the legislation and we are forced to stop speaking to it, the people of the country will be ill served by this motion. I appeal to all Liberal members sitting in their places, real or imaginary, to think carefully when they vote. Undoubtedly they will be told by the Prime Minister and his minions that it is a confidence vote. He will tell them that an election will be required if it is not passed. I assure those members that is garbage. It is not true.

Let them think the issue through. Let them vote with their conscience. Let them vote with their heads. Let them vote freely. Let them throw off the shackles that have prevented them from being effective parliamentarians ever since they were elected. We ask them to vote against the motion.

In closing, I am going on the assumption that the bill will be rammed through by the majority government. In my attempt to improve it so that it is less unpalatable and less offensive, I propose the following amendment:

That the motion be amended by adding:

“and for even greater clarity, the Speaker may select for debate all motions, regardless of their nature, if in his or her opinion the rights of the minority have been infringed upon in any way.

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1:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Debate is on the amendment.

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1:40 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would not like to be in your shoes at this moment, but even more so after the government motion is adopted by the House, because this motion will presumably be adopted quite swiftly given the large number of members the government can count on. This is the whole problem.

I listened to the government leader, who said that we are going to import from the British parliament an interesting feature for the conduct of our debates. To begin with, I would like to explain that, unless we want this parliament to end up looking like a circus, we cannot picked out rules here and there in other parliaments and other standing orders.

We must understand that the standing orders governing the debates of the House of Commons, be it here or in another parliament, are a set of rules which, taken individually, probably do not make much sense, but if taken as a whole complete one another. They allow us to preserve what has to be preserved in a parliamentary system, namely a fair distribution of powers and the capacity to influence the decisions brought to the attention of the House.

I have personally warned the government leader about the danger of upsetting a balance which is already too fragile in this parliament. I warned him about the danger of weakening even more the power relationship between opposition members and government members.

Unless we absolutely want to bring Canadians to the conclusion that it is no longer useful to elect members to parliament, unless this is our goal, we must not upset the balance between parliamentarians. Most of all, we must not change the rules a piece at a time, thinking that small changes here and there will have no consequence.

The parliamentary rules and the functioning of this House are like a huge block set or a house of cards. It works. It may even be pleasant to look at in some ways; it can be artistic. Changing a single piece in the middle of the structure can only result in the collapse of the whole structure. Such are the rules of the House of Commons.

Yes, this sounds simple, very simple. The government House leader's motion states:

For greater clarity, the Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at the report stage and, in exercising this power of selection, the Speaker shall be guided by the practice followed in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

Anyone who reads that or who is listening to us today must wonder who could be against the Speaker having the right to exclude repetitive, frivolous and vexatious motions.

A second question comes to mind. This would give a great deal of power to the Speaker of the House, whose responsibility is to ensure that all members, particularly those who do not benefit from the protection of the governing party, get to express themselves, to express the opinion of their constituents and to influence the debates that we have in this House.

What is a frivolous amendment, in the opinion of the Speaker of the House of Commons? Can we say today that all the Speakers, Deputy Speakers and all those who occupy the chair will use the same arguments to say that an amendment is frivolous? How many amendments among the 200 that were moved by the government on its young offenders bill will be judged frivolous? Can we say instead that it is the government that is frivolous because it did not present a well thought out bill in the House, a bill that respects the rules and the will of the people?

If by moving 200 amendments we are accused of trying to hold up debate, of using delaying tactics, I want to say today, and the people must know this, that the Government of Canada is its own worst enemy. It is using its own delaying tactics.

The reason it does so is this: the government is targeting only amendments moved by the opposition. It is clear that in today's motion, the government House leader has not thought for one minute that that the Chair would rule that 25, 50, or 75 amendments, among the 200 it moved to amend its own bill, were frivolous amendments.

I am sure that the government House leader would have an absolute fit if the Chair said that a government amendment was frivolous and used only as a delaying tactic. It is only the amendments moved by the members of the opposition that are at issue here, therefore.

Are we about to acknowledge that only the Liberals in this House can come up with well thought out motions? Is everything coming out of the Alliance, the Bloc, the NDP or the Conservatives frivolous or of a nature that would serve merely to filibuster?

Bloc members stand up to defend the youth justice system in force in Quebec, because that system has been yielding incredible and outstanding results, well above those in the rest of Canada. Is the Bloc frivolous?

Everyone in Quebec, whether they are Liberal, Bloc or Conservative, agrees that the system is in jeopardy. Is it frivolous for the Bloc to defend that system? Is it frivolous to bring forward amendments to a bill that was flawed right from the beginning and completely out of touch with reality.

Time has proven us right, because the work of the Bloc Quebecois, especially the amendments brought forward by my hon. colleague from Berthier—Montcalm, got the government to reconsider and bring more than 200 changes to its bill.

This is exactly what they want to avoid. The government does not want to relive that situation. The opinion of the opposition is no longer significant. It is frivolous. Our debates are frivolous. My colleague from the government has unfortunately said more than once that the time we use in parliament to debate such frivolous issues in his view and to vote for hours on end on all kinds of amendments costs $27,000 an hour.

I have a suggestion to make. If he really wants to save money, he should eliminate the other House, which costs $50 million a year. That would be a start.

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1:50 p.m.


Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

We could use the money for more useful things such as giving the right to speak to those who represent the public, who were democratically elected on the strength of political platforms and who have something to say. As far as the $27,000 an hour argument is concerned, I suggest that the leader of the government first abolish the other House where nobody is elected and where members only represent themselves or the government.

Time allocation motions were first introduced in the House of Commons in 1971. At that time, the government said that they would only be used exceptionally, on occasion, that they would simplify the procedure, allow the government to govern and keep the opposition from stopping government initiatives thoughtlessly. Although rarely, there would be times when the government would resort to time allocation motions. Unfortunately, things have evolved and the leader is an expert in this regard.

From 1984 to 1993, under the Tory government, there were 49 time allocation motions in the House, and a total of 519 bills. These are the real statistics; I did not invent them, they are the figures of the House of commons. These 49 gag orders were all vehemently condemned and the opposition of the day gave some solid arguments against them, but that opposition is now our government and now it resorts to gag orders. Therefore, under the Tories, we had 49 gag orders for a total of 519 bills; that means 9.4%. During the Tory regime, over a seven-year period, 9.4% of bills ended with a gag order.

Yet this government presented over 60 closure motions in the case of some 350 bills introduced in the House, a ratio of 17.4%.

The Conservatives in the previous government were criticized for being undemocratic, because 9.4% of parliamentary initiatives ended through closure. The figure for the current government of 17.4% is nearly double that. It is a cause for some concern when the government to all intents and purposes doubles the number of closure motions in order to settle bills and debates in the House and when this same government today wants to prevent the opposition from introducing amendments or at least to give the Speaker the right to decide whether an amendment is valid or not.

Mr. Speaker, I contend that this government is trying to transfer to you the responsibility that is ours here, namely that of voting on and deciding at some point whether what has been submitted to parliament is valid or not, must be selected or rejected, especially in the context of the passage of a bill.

We will never agree to let the Speaker of the House assume the power given its members by their electors to express their points of view, exercise their judgement and decide whether an amendment or a bill should be approved or rejected.

We will never agree to let the Speaker of the House of Commons be invested with such power by the government, not because the Speaker wants this power, but because the government in its laxity wants to divest itself of its responsibilities by giving the Chair the duty and obligation to impose closure on the members of the opposition, on amendments and on debates in this House.

Earlier, when the debate was going on, my colleague told me that in today's parliament our debates are merely a way of passing time until it is time to pass a bill. This is a far cry from what parliament was at the beginning. We are passing time until the bill is passed. It is indeed how things now work.

This is far from those great debates when openness and human intelligence prevailed in this House, when the government would listen to the opposition, including third parties, express its views as to how things could be done. This is far from the days when people truly believed that they were mandating members to represent them here and work in their best interests.

Now, all too often, government orders are initiated by teams of public servants who are out of touch with reality and they are sponsored by ministers who lack independent thought. Bills are introduced in this House, but the government does not want openness.

The Minister of Justice should have shown some openness toward the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm, who proposed very significant and interesting amendments to improve this bill, a bill drafted behind closed doors by the minister's officials. But no. As is the case with all the debates, the Minister of Justice listened to us, but it was difficult for her to do so. It was already taking too long.

Even though the debates are just a way of using up the time while waiting for the government to pass its bills, it has become too much to bear. It is hard for the minister to have to listen day after day to opposition members using strong arguments and logic to show that her bill is not a good one.

It is extremely difficult, but the government has reached the point where it does not even want to assume its responsibility to listen to the representatives of those who did not elect a Liberal candidate, but a candidate from the Bloc Quebecois, the Canadian Alliance, the NDP or the Progressive Conservative Party.

Samuel De ChamplainStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.


Denis Paradis Liberal Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, courage, leadership, tenacity, devotion—all great qualities found in Samuel de Champlain, who became the famous explorer and founder of colonies we know today.

Samuel de Champlain was a man of many talents.

Historian Samuel Eliot Morison notes that Champlain was an artist, an illustrator, an engineer, a military inventor, a cartographer and a gifted writer, whose book, Les voyages en Nouvelle-France , is a rich documentary source of Canadian history.

In addition, Champlain left us wonderful descriptions of the life of the aboriginal peoples he met, of nature and of the landscapes of New France.

I like to think that we as a people have inherited his determination, his courage and his conquering spirit.

Together, we have built a country that is the focus of admiration and whose quality of life is one of the world's best. All of this is thanks to our will, our fighting and inventive spirit and our dynamism, attributes mirroring those of the people who colonized our country.

Aboriginal AffairsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, in an outrageous decision the Ontario Court of Appeal has further entrenched race based rights in our country.

This time the recipients of racially privileged hunting and fishing are the Metis of Ontario. This court ruling has opened the door to exploitation of natural resources and further extortion of concessions from Canadians on the basis of race.

Meanwhile, the Government of Canada continues to sink billions of taxpayer money into Indian and Metis programs that have developed a track record for corruption and incompetence. Cruises, kickbacks, nepotism and administrative largesse are taking their toll on the generosity of taxpaying Canadians.

Sanctimonious posturing by the Liberal government cannot hide this fact. The Indian Act is an abject failure and the court's racialist approach is making a mockery of the equality of all Canadians.

Natural ResourcesStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the member for the great region of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, I say we must all act together to bring out the presence and the action of the Government of Canada in regions whose resources are having difficulty adapting in the context of the new economy.

The rules of existing programs should be relaxed, and we should ensure they are used. Also, a program to provide financial assistance for thin capitalization mines should be set up for the juniors.

CurlingStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, what a finish this weekend at the Canadian Curling Championships, the Scott Tournament of Hearts, and what a comeback by Team Nova Scotia, led by skip Colleen Jones, her teammates Kim Kelly, Mary-Anne Waye and Nancy Delahunt, who came from behind from a 5-2 deficit to win in an extra end at the national championships in Sudbury.

Colleen Jones and her Halifax foursome from the Mayflower Curling Curb will represent Canada in Lausanne, Switzerland, next month at the world championships.

On behalf of all Nova Scotians and all parliamentarians, who I know join me, I congratulate the team on its success and wish it great success at the world championships.

CurlingStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Diane Marleau Liberal Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, the 20th anniversary of the Scott Tournament of Hearts, held this past weekend in Sudbury, showcased the finest curlers in Canada and brought together 20 years of past champions to watch the incredible final game.

We saw the creation of the Sandra Schmirler Foundation in memory of our 1998 Olympic gold medal winner. As well, Hearts of Fire , the new Scott Tournament of Hearts song written by Sudbury composer Tom Hewlett, is being heard today across Canada.

The Scott Tournament of Hearts is a world class event, with women competing from every province and territory. I want all Canadians to know how truly proud Sudburians are of the participants and of the organizers of this year's event.

I congratulate the 2001 champions, the Colleen Jones rink from Nova Scotia, and I thank Sudbury for hosting such a fine event.

JusticeStatements By Members

February 26th, 2001 / 2 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Cadman Canadian Alliance Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, once again I wish to draw attention to the injustice of our conditional sentencing laws.

Conditional sentencing for violent offenders has been raised in this place many times in the past. The latest example of this fallacy concerns 20 year old Veronique Lauzon, who was recently sentenced to serve 21 months in the community.

Just what did she do to warrant such favourable treatment? She was convicted of armed robbery, escaping lawful custody, stealing a car and dangerous driving causing injury, injury to the police officer who she dragged for several blocks with the stolen car.

Her lawyer said that Lauzon had been traumatized by the unexpected and sudden death of her father. While I empathize, I would suggest that there are many Canadians every day who are traumatized by the sudden loss of a loved one and who do not resort to serious violent crime in order to cope. Such an excuse is an insult.

Since the government seems to have little intention of protecting our communities from dangerous and violent criminals, will it at least stand up for our police who risk life and limb daily in attempting to control the crime in our streets?

TradeStatements By Members

2 p.m.


Andy Savoy Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, McCain Foods is going to China. Announced on the heels of a highly successful team Canada 2001 trade mission, the New Brunswick based conglomerate recently announced plans to build a $90 million potato processing plant in the northeastern region of China.

McCain Foods began production with one small plant in Florenceville in 1957. Today the company is the largest producer of French fries in the world, with more than 50 plants in 13 countries on 5 different continents.

As an exporting nation, every day of the week Canada does $2.2 billion worth of business with the rest of the world. This government's strong commitment to improving international trade is facilitating market access for Canadian companies such as McCain Foods.

I congratulate not only all the successful participants on this year's trade mission but also the government on its hard work on and commitment to creating jobs for Canadians.