Mr. Speaker, it is certainly my pleasure to speak to the motion and to highlight a few of the reasons for our opposition to what the government now takes as daily routine, to use closure and shut down debate on pretty much any topic.
Having listened to question period today, I can understand why the government may want to talk about some other things and not talk about the issues with which Canadians are concerned. The people in my riding would like us to talk about some quite different issues than what the government has its emphasis on and I will talk about some of those.
Let me first deal with the closure motion and talk about it specifically. On May 2, 2000 during a discussion of the rules curtailing debate at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the former clerk of the House of Commons, Robert Marleau, responded to a question regarding the Speaker's authority to protect the minority in the event of an abuse. The former clerk said:
It exists intrinsically in the role of the speakership... all the time, where there can be tyranny on either side. It could be the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the minority.
At a subsequent meeting on May 4, the former clerk suggested that with motions of time allocation or closure the Speaker is less likely to intervene. There is a reference to this on page 570 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice . However, the clerk stopped short of suggesting that the Speaker would never intervene. He used an extreme example that if the government time allocated every bill at every stage, the Speaker might intervene.
My interpretation of what the clerk said is that there exists a limit to what a majority government can do with respect to closure and time allocation. The clerk used the extreme example in his response because he knows it is not up to him to establish this limit.
If we were to consider the current Prime Minister in the context of the former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, a prime minister who was not known to be progressive in the democratic deficit file, we see the shocking excess, an excess the Speaker should take note of, an excess that should give the Speaker reason to disallow notice and look the other way when the motion for closure is moved. On only his sixth day in the House of Commons, the current Prime Minister has given notice of closure on debate to reinstate bills from his predecessor, Jean Chrétien.
So much for that new vision. So much for that new parliamentary reform. So much for the parliamentary deficit. We have a Prime Minister who does not even know where he wants to go. He simply wants to bring back a bunch of bills from the previous government. There is no new hope there for Canadians. There is no new government dealing with the issues that the people on the streets are talking about.
Mr. Chrétien was flexible in comparison. It was five months before he could bring himself to move time allocation on debate in the House. His first full-fledged closure motion did not come until he had been at 24 Sussex for a year and a half. Add to that excess the excess of the sheer number of motions moved by the government calls for an intervention from the Speaker. The 75 time allocation motions and 10 closure motions total 85 motions.
It used to be that calling one closure motion in a term might well have brought down the government. Canadians wonder why the government does not let debate go on. If debate does not happen in the House, where is it supposed to happen? The government has demonstrated by its actions 85 times that it has shut down debate.
The current Prime Minister, six days into being in the House, has shut down debate. That is not democracy and leads people out there to ask what we are running here. Are we running a dictatorship where the PMO runs the show and where the Prime Minister is afraid to allow debate in the House?
The third excess to be considered by the Speaker is the fact that through the reinstatement motion the Prime Minister is recycling Chrétien legislation from the previous session. There is nothing new and nothing of his own. How can Canadians know where he wants to go when he simply recycles all of the legislation from the previous administration?
The Speaker has already ruled on that point. I suppose the Speaker's ruling confirms that the government is actually the old, tired government of Jean Chrétien. Otherwise, how could this procedure today even be possible?
I think the Speaker should reconsider this point in view of the fact that the debate on the motion is being closed off. If it is procedurally correct, it certainly is not morally correct. Our ability as the opposition to solicit public support for this point of view is being hampered. We simply do not have the time. We have only been here six days and we are already shutting down debate.
The naval aid bill of 1913 represented the first time in Canadian parliamentary history that closure was ever used. The proposed legislation was introduced by the Conservative government of Robert Borden and, if adopted, would have authorized a cash donation of $35 million to Great Britain for the construction of the Dreadnought class warships for the navy.
Sir Wilfrid Laurier strongly opposed the bill. The Liberals filibustered throughout second reading and committee of the whole. At one point in committee of the whole they kept the House virtually in continuous session for as long as two weeks. The House sat from 3 p.m. on Monday, March 3 until Saturday at midnight, and then again from 3 p.m. on Monday, March 10 to Saturday late in the evening. The naval bill was eventually defeated in the Liberal dominated Senate. The good old days when government actually allowed debate.
Closure was used again to close off the famous pipeline debate in 1956. Debate on the omnibus energy security act of 1982 was made famous because the opposition caused the bells to ring from 4:20 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2 until 2:28 p.m. on Wednesday, March 17, at which point Bill C-94 was dropped from the agenda as a result of an agreement having been reached to split the bill into eight smaller bills. There was the GST filibuster organized by the Liberal Party in the House which turned the Senate into a real sideshow.
The point is to allow debate and filibusters to occur in the House. I would refer to the story of Kyoto and the dilemma that I was faced with as the chief environment critic. I had just watched the Grey Cup game and I saw a $250,000 ad for Kyoto during the game. I then knew that $23 million was to be spent advertising Kyoto in the next six weeks. I said to myself as the chief critic for the environment, “How will I get our position out on Kyoto? How will that be possible?”
On the plane ride back that Sunday night, I decided that maybe there was a way and that maybe I would talk in the House for a while. Talking to our leader the next morning and then to the Speaker, I found that there was a rule that allowed that to happen. If a member was the first speaker after the minister who proposed the bill, there was unlimited time to talk about the issue.
There were certain rules pointed out to me by the Speaker: I could not stray from my area, I could not go off topic, I could not read the telephone book, I must not repeat myself, and I must stay on topic. That was a challenge. Members know how that worked out.
The point is that by being able to debate that in the House and being able to get that point of view out over that period of time, we ended up by Wednesday night of that same week being on the front page of every newspaper across the country, being on many talk shows and even going to Toronto to be on Mike Bullard.
By having that opportunity in the House to express our point of view, we were able to accomplish what we needed to because we did not have $23 million to push a particular point of view as the government did. We can see the value then of having an open ability to speak in the House. I am sure that possibly the environment minister cannot see the value of that, but certainly many Canadians could and we were able to get our point of view across.
When a party uses closure and shuts down debate, that then ends discussion of the issues that Canadians should hear about and want to hear about. The government then shuts down any opportunity for debate. These debates are part of history. They are part of being opposition. They are part of what should go on in the House of Commons. They are part of that democratic deficit that obviously our new Prime Minister does not understand because if he did, he would not be using closure six days into his first session in Parliament. Obviously he does not mean what he says when he gets to that.
In 1988 Speaker Fraser 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.
We started debate on Friday and we were given a half a day yesterday. Is that a reasonable time? We are talking about a motion that has the potential to reinstate the entire agenda of the former Prime Minister, a Prime Minister who had obviously worn out his welcome, was not popular within his own party, and who was ousted from his position by the very person who is now Prime Minister.
This agenda is being advanced by using closure and shutting off debate and then using a whipped vote to make it happen. It is unconscionable to let that sort of thing happen in a democracy. How can Liberals even say it is a democracy, when they use that sort of tactic for the 86th time?
How do we explain that to people back home when they ask, why do Liberals keep using closure? It is because they do not want debate. People believe that we are in a democracy where we can debate. Try to explain that one even to a grade five class that asks those questions when it is studying the Canadian Parliament.
I know the Speaker respects this institution and would want to protect it from abuses. In his first two weeks the Prime Minister has contributed more to the democratic deficit and has done it quicker than any other Prime Minister. He has denied a free vote on the funding of the gun registry and has allowed an undemocratic closure motion introduced at undemocratic speed to adopt an undemocratic motion, shattering an undemocratic closure record.
Before we allow such excess to become a precedent, the Speaker should intervene and rule the notice of closure out of order. The former clerk indicated that the Speaker can intervene in an extreme circumstance. This is such a circumstance, Mr. Speaker. Standing Order 57 was not intended to usurp the constitutional duty of the opposition. It was not intended to upset the important balance between the government and the opposition. This was the legacy of the former Prime Minister and it will now become the legacy of the new Prime Minister.
One must start asking questions because these are the questions that I know I will get asked at home when I return there on weekends. Constituents are going to ask, what does that closure really mean? It means that we bring back the agenda--some of it, the ones we choose--of the former Prime Minister. It means that we will have something to deal with in the House that suits the government.
It means that the government can cover up things like the Auditor General's report that we heard today. It means that it does not have to deal with issues like the throne speech where there is no mention of agriculture.
I have young farmers, husbands and wives, come before me in my office and say they are desperate, they do not know what to do, they are not able to pay their bills and this is destroying them. Having a 30 year old young fellow cry in one's office is not something that any of us should be put through.
We need to talk about that here. We need to talk about the solutions. All parties need to deal with issues like that. It is critical. It is literally career and life-threatening to many of these people, yet here we are reintroducing things that are not necessarily the key issues that people out on the street are talking about.
Today we have an Auditor General's report that says we had $250 million funnelled away and used by Liberal hacks who supported the party. People then say that they have to send in their cheque at the end of April to the tax department. They are senior citizens who earn $8,000 a year and can hardly buy groceries.
Students who are in university are saying that they worked all summer at three jobs, and guess what? They have a tax bill. My own daughter went to school, got a scholarship in Holland and received her Ph.D. there. She also got a tax bill from the Canadian government. Do members know how embarrassing that was for her, when she went to her professor and said she had to pay taxes on that scholarship? I sent the cheque for her because I was pretty shocked too.
The president of the university wrote to me and said that my daughter was one of the best students. That made me pretty proud, but he also said that as a member of Parliament, I should be disgraced that my government was sending a tax bill to a student who was going to school on a scholarship. We are taxing her. Why would she ever come back to this country? What about the brain drain? That is the kind of thing we should be talking about in the House. That is the kind of stuff we should be ending.
The Auditor General's report states that $250 million just went out to patronage. Well, that $250 million would go a long way to helping seniors who are earning $8,000 a year and paying tax; to helping those students who are working their butts off all summer and are paying tax; to helping that single mom out there; and to helping that husband and wife who are trying to get their kids to go to hockey practice and dance lessons, and trying to make a living and hopefully taking a week's holiday somewhere. That is what Canadians want to talk about. The young farm family who is losing the farm because of BSE is the issue we need to talk about in the House.
The government thinks that it can simply hold a general review, a public inquiry. I have been here a long time now, 11 years, and I have been through the public inquiry routine before. I remind members of the Somalia report, the Krever report, and the APEC report. All of those were inquiries. Why did we have them? What did they accomplish? They accomplished having ministers over there say that they could not answer questions about it and could not debate it in the House because there was a public inquiry going on.
Then the inquiry goes on and on. Millions and millions of dollars are spent on those inquiries, and what is the end result? They are dropped. Think about the taxpayer sending in that cheque at the end of April for those millions more dollars that are going to be spent. That is what we should be talking about in the House.
The government should have its own agenda. It should not have to bring back the old one and it sure as hell should not have to use closure.