Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House to take part in this important debate on the Speech from the Throne.
I am tempted to go there and suggest that not only was the Minister of Transport playing footsie, he was actually under the covers. We do not know what happened under the covers in his flirtation with separatism.
It is interesting to note his new-found enthusiasm. There is nothing like the enthusiasm of a recent convert. Yet, a few years ago, he would have been quite comfortable sitting with the Bloc, so the suggestion that somehow there is something improper about opposition parties trying to cooperate at this time runs completely contrary to the signals and the lip service that have been given by the government to the issue of cooperation.
Speaking of that, we are here to talk about the throne speech and the reasoned, measured attempts by all opposition parties to enhance, to add substance to, to in fact prop up what is otherwise a very vacuous throne speech. This particular document is so lacking in detail and so completely devoid of any real direction that it is difficult to know where to start. What we do know is that much of it is completely recycled. We know that at least 43 of the promises outlined in this document are regurgitated from a previous throne speech of 2002.
It is particularly easy to note the promise of a national day care program, which dates back to 1993. We have the 1993 red book, the 1993 throne speech, budget promises and election promises, so much of which is simply recycled.
This particular reference to the Citizenship Act is a project that goes back to the previous government as well. Promised legislation with respect to child pornography also dates back to previous legislation. We have seen it all before and the real question now becomes one of credibility.
The opposition parties are trying legitimately to improve this document. We are putting forward very measured, consistent amendments meant to add substance to what we see before us.
I listened to the speech of the government with respect to the 38th general election. The House leader, in reference to the throne speech, said just the other day, “We are working as if we have a minority government”. Well, maybe that was just a slip of the lip, but they do have a minority government.
The government has to explain. While it had all summer to prepare, to consult, and to do what it is now trying to do at the last minute in scrambling around, what is clear is that the government has lost its majority but it certainly has not lost its arrogance. Sixty-three per cent of Canadians voted against this government in the last election. That has not quite penetrated the skulls of some of the members opposite.
Despite the message of the electorate, the Prime Minister and his cabinet are simply saying, carte blanche, “Just trust us. Just believe us”. They have had 11 years to implement legislation to work on many of these very important issues, yet these programs have not been delivered. In fact, the promises that have been laid out have been laid out time and time again over the last 11 years, over four elections, and the government is saying, “Just allow us to manage affairs in the Commons in the way we always have”. That is, ineffectually, with no action, with no particular plan.
What we are seeing here where the opposition parties are now putting forward a spirit of cooperation is that it is being rejected. The posturing that is going on now in saying the government can absolutely not support an opposition amendment because somehow this would derogate from their throne speech is nonsense.
Let us look specifically at the subamendment that we will be voting on this evening. It is permissive. It speaks directly about including in the throne speech references to respecting provincial jurisdiction. It speaks of consequences from the fiscal imbalance that are currently being carried by the provinces. Why would the government reject an opportunity to embrace the opportunity to address this specifically with its throne speech?
It is there. It is a measured response, and not a response but a request for the government to actually follow through on this. It is coming not only from the province of Quebec. It is coming from all the premiers in the country. All the premiers are looking for this particular initiative.
Mr. Speaker, I neglected to mention at the outset that I will be splitting my time with my friend and colleague from Medicine Hat, the critic in the area of finance. I am sure he is going to be able to lay out in some very specific detail the shortcomings that he sees in the throne speech.
I also note that some of the more disturbing action that has been taken in the past number of days with respect to the throne speech has left many Canadians wondering how this Parliament itself is going to function if this is in fact the government's attitude. The throne speech left a lot of questions in the areas of environment, education, how the economy will be run, and particularly how we are going to continue to function vis-à-vis the United States of America and our trade relations with it and the concerns it has expressed over security.
Canadians have become quite skeptical not only of the government but of the political process itself. Many of the initiatives that we in the official opposition want to see take place are meant to enhance and build upon the concerns of all members regarding how we renew some of the credibility of this place itself, and how we establish arm's-length bodies that are meant to work collaboratively and in a non-partisan fashion to fix the EI system.
We want to ensure that we remove some of the politicization that takes place at committee level, the fiscal forecast, the way in which budget projections are laid out, and the way in which we currently examine supplementary and main estimates. There is a great deal of work to do. In the past, Mr. Speaker, you have expressed concerns over this particular subject.
This attempt by all members of the opposition is about building upon the initiative that the government is putting forward in its throne speech, about ensuring that the House of Commons will have votes on important issues of international significance, including a proposed missile defence system for North America. It is about ways in which the public, citizen assemblies, could examine the issue of electoral reform, and about ways in which we can lower taxes, particularly for lower and middle income Canadians.
The government is playing a dangerous game by suggesting that this amendment as well as the subamendment will derogate from the direction it is taking. To suggest that if the opposition were to vote in this particular area then the government would be in a position to fall and then visit the Governor General is simply not the case. That is pure poppycock.
Many on the other side were big fans of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. We learned from him. He engineered his own minority government's defeat in 1974 by introducing a budget that he knew would fall. This has been documented by cabinet documents that have been made public. This type of strategy is not beyond the realm of possibility. The government, while accusing others of playing games, knows it is very precarious if it goes down that road.
The throne speech promises accountability, and yet Canadians are still waiting for openness and transparency with respect to what took place with regard to the sponsorship scandal. Last February the Prime Minister talked about how he was going to ensure that no stone would go unturned and that every effort would be made to disclose information. We know in fact that is not the case. That is simply not true.
We are seeing disclosure daily at the Gomery commission that was not available to the public accounts committee and was not available to the public before the election. It is very curious that these documents are now readily available.
At the outset of the federal campaign last spring the Clerk of the Privy Council allowed Canada Post to delay the release of the findings of an audit which showed that André Ouellet, another famous Liberal, had directed contracts to firms that the Liberal government had chosen, hired relatives, ran up expenses of $2 million, and did not submit receipts. The average Canadian should try telling Revenue Canada that receipts are not available. I suggest there would be somebody knocking at the door pretty quickly. Where was the Prime Minister's outrage when the Clerk of the Privy Council failed to shed light in this area of the sponsorship scandal?
The throne speech makes promise after promise. The government was going to involve parliamentarians in the key review of appointments but that did not happen.
We know that the Minister of National Revenue appointed Gordon Feeney against those guidelines and the new chairman of Canada Post was put in his position without any consultation. Similarly, the process that was set up for parliamentary input into the appointment of Supreme Court judges was again a farcical, after the fact, consultation.