Call in the members.
(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
House of Commons Hansard #7 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was bills.
Reinstatement of Government BillsRoutine Proceedings
Call in the members.
(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)
Reinstatement of Government BillsRoutine Proceedings
The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)
I declare the motion carried.
The House resumed from February 9 consideration of the motion, of the amendment, and of the amendment to the amendment.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Cheryl Gallant Canadian Alliance Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is with considerable interest that I participate in the debate regarding the intention of the government to push to reintroduce all those bills from the last session which died on the Order Paper when the government made the decision to prorogue the second session of the 37th Parliament of Canada.
I find it incredible that the government would even propose this motion. How could the government pretend that it is somehow different from the one led by Jean Chrétien when what we have before us is a motion to reintroduce the same old policies, word for word, without even the pretence of introducing something different?
The government refuses to realize what the Canadian public has understood for years, that a serious democratic deficit exists in Canada. Paying lip service to this shortfall in our political life serves nothing. Canadians are in no mood for games being played by insincere politicians.
In my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke the unemployment lines are getting longer, while the government is bankrupt of ideas other than the usual handouts to friends. Figures of those collecting unemployment insurance in communities in my riding show an increase of 11.6% for claims in Pembroke, a 13.9% increase in Arnprior and a 20.2% increase in unemployment insurance claims in Renfrew this past month. These figures do not include the self-employed farmers and those who have given up looking for work because it simply does not exist.
It really hurts the small businesses in my riding that face an ever increasing tax bill to see the Prime Minister himself avoid $100 million in taxes. He is able to do so because he can afford to hire an army of high-priced tax accountants and lawyers whose sole purpose is to look for ways for unethical businessmen to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
It may be that big business and the friends of the government party can afford tax shelters in offshore locations, but what about the husband and wife who work 60 to 70 hours a week at a corner store just to try to make ends meet? Explain to small businesses that are not only overtaxed but are made to be GST tax collectors on behalf of the government the fairness of certain large corporations not paying their fair share of taxes.
Is it any wonder that one of the bills from the previous session which the government is including in this motion is the one dealing with the ethics commissioner, an idea that was first proposed in the 1993 red book of broken promises. The motion represents another cynical move by the government to try to fool the people regarding its attempts to distance itself from the Chrétien legacy. That bill is seriously flawed. Reintroducing it in its current form is a waste of the House's time.
We in the opposition were expecting a break from the past, such as a new piece of legislation that boldly sets out a plan to stop scandals such as the payoff scandal involving the previous minister of public works.
Canadians are not looking for another inquiry into another government scandal. They want the problems fixed now. At the rate the current government is going, there will be no judges left to conduct investigations. They will all be busy examining cases of government corruption.
Canadians have had their considerable expectations dashed to the ground in short order by a government that is led by a Prime Minister who promises by his actions--and actions always speak louder than words--to be worse than his predecessor, that is, if such a feat is possible when it comes to the numerous conflict of interest scandals that are the legacy of the former prime minister.
Recently I had the opportunity to consult with my constituents regarding their opinion on what they thought was the most important issue facing Canadians today. The list of possible answers was a long one and ranged from taxes, energy, health care and jobs to affordable housing, education, daycare, the armed forces and the environment. However, the number one issue for the people in my riding was honesty in government.
Here are some of the typical responses that I received from ordinary Canadians in my riding: “If we have an honest government, all the rest of the areas will be cared for. Honesty and integrity usually go hand in hand”. Another one said, “First we need honesty in government, something we have never had. All MPs should vote according to their constituents' wishes and not according to the Prime Minister”. Another one said, “All the issues above are important issues, but honesty in government should be a number one priority. The wasting of taxpayers' money is disgraceful. The gun registry should be scrapped and more money given to the armed forces”.
Another one said, “Honesty in government would greatly help all those other areas listed above”. Finally, another one said, “Without honesty in government, how would any of these issues be properly dealt with? Keep up the good work”.
Those were some of the responses with respect to honesty in government. We need to remember that it was the government party that was trying to hold itself as something different to the Canadian public. Members on the government side in the debate on this motion have cited what they call precedents of the practice to reinstate bills from a previous session into a new session. What has not been clearly acknowledged is that in all the other cases that were cited, it was the same government and the same prime minister. Let us be clear with what we have before us. We have a motion to reinstate bills that is unprecedented as far as the House of Commons is concerned.
I have also listened to the members opposite make the argument that we would be rehearing the same testimony. When the former prime minister opportunistically called the 2000 election, many pieces of legislation died on the Order Paper, some dating back to the 35th Parliament. However, the ethics commissioner said it was okay, just like he said it was okay to twist the arm of the president of the Business Development Bank to lend money to a buddy of the former prime minister. That argument is wearing very thin with the Canadian public.
Power Corporation is part owner of CITIC Pacific Limited. Canadian funded research and development is being funnelled to companies like Power Corporation to move its operations to low wage countries at the expense of Canadian jobs. What we are seeing here is another example of opportunistic arguments being put forward by the government members.
I also listened carefully to the member for Scarborough—Rouge River when he talked about efficiency and saving time in the House of Commons. That argument sure was missing in 2000. If the member is concerned about saving time in the House, I am pleased to state for the record that I am prepared to stay sitting in this Parliament doing the job the electors elected me to do straight through December with no breaks, if that is what it takes to get the business of the nation done.
The Canadian public understands that the longer the government sits with its recycled leader, the more mismanagement is exposed.
This is not a question of how the official opposition feels about the individual bills that would be reintroduced to the House at the same stage of debate they were at in the previous session of Parliament. This is not a debate about whether this has been done previously or even about the wording of the motion. The core of this debate is honesty in government. If the government believed in democracy, it would not have introduced this motion to reintroduce previous bills and it would not have moved closure on this motion to cut off the democratic debate on this motion.
Actions speak louder than words. Let the Prime Minister stand in his place and tell Canadians that he is proud of the Chrétien government record. Let him confirm to Canadians that $1 billion spent on a useless gun registry rather than on health care is the direction in which he wants to continue. Let him stop the charade that just because Mr. Chrétien was forced to retire, his policy of neglect for our armed forces moved along with him. Let the government explain to our unemployed softwood lumber workers that the government policy of insulting our largest trading partner is really helpful, especially when people are out of work in a one industry town. If the Prime Minister was prepared to take this action, we in the official opposition understand our duty to provide Canadians with solutions.
Maybe with such a bold declaration, unanimous consent which was sought on this motion would have been given. This is the real issue. Yes, the government will try to explain closure as a procedural matter, that it is really not a serious debate and that a fundamental issue is not at stake in this motion, but honesty in government is what is being called for. Canadians can count on my colleagues on this side of the House and me to continue our roles as guarantors of the public integrity.
The reality is that what we are witnessing is a tired, worn out party that has recycled one of its tired, worn out members into a new leader in the hope that nobody will notice. Recycling old government business or recycling a leader, there is no difference. The government is the slave of a small corporate elite and that will never change.
The decision to have the ethics commissioner continue to report to the Prime Minister is an example of bad legislation that we saw with the previous prime minister. It is clear to Canadians that the government just does not get it when it comes to ethical behaviour. Canadians see a conflict of interest when we have the former leader of the Liberal Party meeting in China with China International Trust and Investment Corporation, CITIC, scarcely two months after being forced out of office. He is having his cake and eating it too, just like this motion to bring back the legislation.
The Prime Minister knows all about this as Canada Steamship Lines would rather have its ships built in Shanghai than employ idle Canadian shipbuilders in Atlantic Canada. He himself is having jobs exported to Shanghai; meanwhile in the Maritimes our shipbuilders are out of work.
The corporate agenda is the democratic deficit. Follow the money to understand what the government is all about.
Canadians should not be surprised by the motion before us today, which looks to carry on just like the previous prime minister.
Let me suggest for a minute, Mr. Speaker, that you were the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, and that you had a potentially embarrassing situation with a former trade official who had been in the Beijing embassy of his country and was privy to details that could be embarrassing to China, and that certain friends in multinational corporations would be embarrassed by these secrets becoming public too; just send him back to his country, a country with a long list of human rights violations, where he would surely be executed. Dead men tell no tales. Is it diplomatic pressure from China that has led to the deportation of this individual? Will Canadians ever know the real reason for Mr. Chrétien's visit to China? Follow the dollar.
What is clear is that as long as the government insists on returning flawed legislation like the old Bill C-34, nothing will ever change. The democratic deficit is real and ongoing. I can certainly see why the government wants to bring back the unfinished legislative agenda from the last session. By carrying on with the old agenda, the Prime Minister has a scapegoat for its flaws, flaws he is only too eager to perpetuate because it is business as usual with the Liberal Party.
The issue before us has nothing to do with whether or not we think all the pieces of legislation that are affected by this motion are good or bad. The Canadian public is not consumed by the procedure in Parliament. What the public does want and what it understands is honesty, the basic sense of right and wrong.
The use of closure is the same argument. I can assure members opposite that the public sees the trampling of democratic rights. Let us be clear. That is what the use of closure is. It is a part of the sickness that is now being diagnosed as the democratic deficit.
In closing, I would like to point out that it was the government, not the official opposition, that prorogued Parliament. If the government now finds itself in a situation that it does not like, let us be clear: this is a situation of its own making.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
February 10th, 2004 / 11:45 a.m.
Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on the motion before us. I listened to part of yesterday afternoon's debate and I found that there were many reasons to oppose the present motion.
I will begin with the issue of the current Prime Minister. I remember that what was behind the unseating of the former prime minister, the current Prime Minister's offensive against the former one, was that there would be a fresh, new wind sweeping through the House, a wind of change. Someone new was needed. And in order to have someone new, a new organization and a new cabinet were needed. And that is what happened. I think about 80% of the cabinet was changed to make the new one.
It was necessary, as well, to prorogue the House. The current Prime Minister probably has some of the best image makers, or spin doctors as they are known, and they tried to put the idea into people's heads that a new prime minister would be good for them. A whole system was developed by these spin doctors to ensure that all the government's actions are geared toward this fresh, new change.
Parliament was prorogued when the former prime minister resigned, to indicate that things would begin on a new foundation, with a new—80% new—cabinet, and a new philosophy.
It is hard to figure out why, in this context of change, we have a motion before us today to bring back all the former bills. Perhaps not all of them. Some people have been arguing since yesterday that the government has to have some flexibility, but flexibility within the list of former bills which died on the Order Paper with the prorogation.
I think there is a basic inconsistency in boasting about having a new prime minister, a new cabinet and a new philosophy, saying that Parliament is being prorogued because they want to start off on a new foot, and at the same time bringing back all these old bills. It is fundamentally illogical. As members of Parliament, it is our responsibility and our duty to evaluate what can and cannot be reinstated. I will get back to that in a moment.
First I would like to address some of the arguments made yesterday. One of these was change, but there is no real wind of change. It is all the same. Depending on one's view, the current wind is the same, if not worse, as the one that was blowing when the former prime minister was here. Personally, I think it is worse, because whether the answer is yes or no, it comes with a smile, whereas before it did not. That is about the only change I can see.
Some have mentioned the fact that considerable time was spent studying these bills and that it would be a waste of time to start everything over. I would like to remind those people that all the bills currently being considered for reinstatement have been subject to time allocation motions.
We have always maintained that time allocation is detrimental to democracy. It cuts short the debate, not all the witnesses are heard, the system or the bill under consideration is not fully considered, and the government immediately puts forward a motion for time allocation. It may take a little longer sometimes, but the result is the same: it puts an end to debate.
The fresh approach that was promised to us, once again, will change nothing. We are already subject to time allocation. Parliament has been back for barely two weeks and already the government House leader is bringing in time allocation.
I would like to remind the House that we in the Bloc Quebecois have always said we would oppose, and have always opposed, time allocation motions in a vote. It is important to us to get to the heart of the bills, to be allowed to consider the bills in their entirety, and to have a full and complete debate.
To do so, members, who represent the public, must not be told, “Ten members having spoken on the issue, to satisfy the Liberal government's political agenda, this debate has now concluded”.
This seems quite consistent with the previous regime. I have not seen many differences over the past two weeks, on matters such as time allocation.
Most of the bills that the government wants to have the flexibility of reinstating were subject to time allocation. Consequently, we are not prepared to give our consent to reinstating everything the government wants.
We have been victims of time allocation. They impose time allocation, now, to tell us to “Move on”, even though these bills must be considered. Yes, they must be considered, because when a decision is made to reinstate them—and we do not want to—we must consider what may be reinstated.
Since the start, there have been bills that we do not necessarily like. I can mention, among others, Bill C-13 on assisted human reproduction. Once again, this is consistent with the previous regime. There is no difference between the current and the former prime ministers with regard to the federal government's capacity to encroach on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.
There is no difference. We saw it in the throne speech. We also see it in the government's intention to reinstate bills that intrude on Quebec's jurisdiction and that encroach on its areas of jurisdiction.
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act contradicts and conflicts with thirteen Quebec laws. We had asked that the bill be split. We were in agreement regarding the prohibition on human cloning. However, the moment they want to establish agencies and tell the provinces what to do in their own jurisdiction, we can no longer agree.
However, with regard to Bill C-13—and I think that the government has already floated some balloons—there was interest in eventually reinstating it. What will be reinstated?
Yesterday, we heard government members says, “We want some flexibility”. They already have too much power with a majority I consider tyrannical, because they are imposing time allocation. Now, they will say, “We will decide which bills to reinstate”. We are afraid that this kind of bill will be reinstated, and once again the areas of jurisdiction belonging to the provinces and Quebec will be trampled on.
Let me tell you about Bill C-17. I believe you are very familiar with that piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker, since you chair the legislative committee studying this issue. As you know, we spoke against some of its provisions, including the incredible powers granted to the intelligence services where passengers are concerned. Some even went as far as saying, “We can even extend that to railway and bus transportation”. Under very little control, these companies would be able to collect information about their passengers and release it to the RCMP and CSIS. This is something that Quebeckers have always feared.
We all remember the 1970 crisis. The RCMP itself burned down barns and then blamed it on somebody else. Granting that kind of power to the RCMP and CSIS, even with a commissioner reviewing the issue once a year, is cold comfort. In fact, knowing that information about passengers is collected and then transferred to the RCMP and CSIS is of no comfort to me at all.
We do not agree with many other provisions found in Bill C-17 that could be reinstated. The new philosophy of the government is to align its policies with those of the United States. We have come to realize that our national defence and foreign policies are being aligned with those of Washington. God knows that public safety is Washington's top priority these days.
I think the bill was drafted to meet the concerns of the U.S. It grants greater power not only to intelligence services, but also to ministers in general, through interim orders. Under this bill, a minister could make an interim order without bothering to check if it is in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the enabling legislation and say, “I am making this decision”.
That puts too much power in the hands of one individual, a minister. Consequently, it is very important for us to say, “You have not listened to what we had to say. You have imposed closure on all these bills.” We cannot tell the government today, “We give you the right to reinstate these bills at the same stage.”
We want to have an indepth debate.
If the government is serious and if it wants to get to the bottom of things, it should reintroduce the bills at first reading. We will take the necessary steps and get to the bottom of things. We will not allow the government to make a selection, say they want to bring back only certain bills and expecting the bills listed to be brought back to the House.
There is also the bill respecting the effective date of the representation order. The Prime Minister said he wanted to see this bill passed. Again, what is the difference with the old regime?
At least before I could say that the current regime is going further and more to the right. It pays less attention to the democratic significance and input of the House, introducing a bill to advance the effective date of the representation order. It is interfering with legislation that should be non-partisan. The electoral officer should be the one setting the standards.
With a piece of legislation, this government wants to tell the chief electoral officer what he should do. In this bill, it says that the new legislation will take effect on April 1, instead of August 26. This is because the Prime Minister wants to call an early election. He knows that, if he does that and the new legislation takes effect of August 26, some Canadians will probably be upset. I think the number of ridings will be increased from 301 to 308. The government and the Prime Minister fear the reaction of Canadians, mainly in western Canada.
What does this bill provide? I do not want to talk at length about Canadian history, but when this federation was born, we had this concept of two nations. We never hear about that, nowadays. All we hear about is the Canadian nation and, sometimes, the aboriginal nations, but the Quebec nation has completely disappeared from the radar screen. The throne speech does not mention this at all. In the past, we had equal representation, because we had two nations. But with the development of western and of Upper Canada over the years, the representation of Quebec has been eroded, and it is still being eroded today.
We used to have 25% of the seats in the Commons. And then, some people tried to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. They told us Quebec had 75 seats and would never have fewer. But they changed the other side of the equation. Instead of reducing the number of members from Quebec, they increased the number of members from the rest of Canada. The net result is a constant erosion of Quebec's representation in the House and its impact. We are aware of that. That is what is provided in the bill the Liberals want to put before us. Originally, both founding nations were equal. Today, there is no longer equality, and not even fairness.
This is a constant dissolution and dilution of the powers of Quebec. We saw it coming for a long time, and we were right. That is, moreover, why we even signed a letter, along with the hon. member for Trois-Rivières, denouncing that attitude. This is just the kind of bill they will be bringing back to us.
We have a number of reasons to be offended, to raise objections. We are not here just so the government can bring back the legislation it decides to select for reinstatement, that same government that brings in time allocation to get it rammed through, often at the end of a session. The government was the one holding all the cards. If it was so keen on these bills, all it had to do was not prorogue, and have us sit in November and December. We were ready to do that.
Why did we not sit in November and December? Perhaps because the new Prime Minister's image makers told him that it was better to keep his halo untarnished, and enjoy his popularity. He did not have to answer questions from members, but could stay in his little cocoon. The image makers could work on polishing up his image, selling him as the man to bring in a wind of change.
Now people in Quebec are beginning to realize that there has been no wind of change, no breath of fresh air, just more of the same. That this federal regime cannot be changed, that no matter who is in the PM's chair, no matter who is in place in Ottawa or Quebec, nothing will change. The system does not work. People are beginning to realize this.
There is no difference between the former Prime Minister and the present one. We see the same political philosophy, the same federal system they are trying to defend. As a result, they are going to react by trying to introduce bills their way, at the same stage they were at before, when they are the ones responsible for prorogation. There is no difference between the old and the new regimes.
The government is still looking to protect the millionaires club. When I hear prime ministers saying that there will be income tax cuts, will anyone but the richest benefit from them? If we look at the behaviour of the current Prime Minister, we can say without doubt that he does not much favour the people in the middle and poorest classes. He has done nothing at all to correct the inequities surrounding the employment insurance fund and has used tax havens to shelter his own companies.
There has been no change. The millionaires-club is still being protected and the democratic deficit still exists. Even if they were to introduce a bill saying they were fixing the democratic deficit, nothing would get changed. Look at the government's attitude as it brings in closure on the item before us.
All that tells us this is still the same old thing. The same political philosophy is still there. The same attitudes are still there. The same muzzling of committees. The standing committees of the House have become very partisan. The Liberal majority controls the committees. The government controls what happens in the House of Commons. It is the government that imposes time allocation motions. It is the government that decides which bills will be reinstated. It is the government that decides when closure will be applied to bills. It is the government that decides when we will vote. It is the government that decides how we will vote, too, because with its often tyrannical majority, it is the government that sets out the whole course for all the bills.
We have many reasons to say that we do not agree with what is going on. Yesterday I listened to the hon. member for Yukon congratulating the Bloc Quebecois, whose members had not yet even spoken, which must mean that, in his opinion, they agreed with the party in power. I am sorry to break his heart, but we cannot agree with the motion now before us.
Moreover, we have expressed our objection to the government's time allocation motion, imposed on the motion to reinstate bills. Certainly, now that we will have a vote on the principle of the matter, we will not surprise anyone by saying that we are not in agreement with the continuity of the old regime.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and debate the question before the House. I do not consider it a complex question. Members opposite have had lots to say about it. I suppose I could compress my remarks into three or four minutes, but the ethic of the House is such today that we might as well have a fulsome debate. The clock is running on a vote. This debate will take us to a vote this evening. In a sense we are, as they sometimes say in sports, running out the clock.
Hopefully, in running out the clock, we will have some interesting things to say. I will do my best to add to the substance of debate, even though the debate itself is not essentially one of substance. It is really a procedural motion. The motion itself would allow the government to reintroduce bills in this session of Parliament, the bills being at the same stage they were in the previous session of Parliament.
To most Canadians that would not seem too out of line, too extraordinary or too undemocratic, but the opposition seems to think there is a problem with this. Even though it is roughly an eight or nine line motion in both official languages, we are probably going to have a few hundred pages of debate on whether or not it is a good motion. Let us keep in mind it is not substance. It is just a procedural mechanism to allow the reintroduction of bills, which in the ordinary course will be debated and dealt with by the House, and by the other place in due course, with lots of debate of course attendant in those procedures.
Why does the government want to introduce this motion and reinstate bills? What is reinstatement? At the risk of repeating a subject that has probably already been discussed in the House, I want to talk about reinstatement. It is not new, but it is not old.
I recall when I was elected to the House in 1988, it took me a couple of years to learn some of the rules and procedures. I recall in 1990-91 rising in this place and speaking about the stupid waste of paper and time, when at a prorogation all of the existing private members' business was trashed and put in the garbage can. Then when all the members came back in the new session of the House, they would have to reintroduce identical bills and they would all be reprinted with new bill numbers.
There were thousands and thousands of pages of private members' business which, as a result of prorogation and tradition, were trashed. All that private members' business was simply put in the garbage. We were just getting into recycling then. What a terrible waste of resources and House time because every one of those private members' bills, and some members had several items, had to be reintroduced in the House. They were normally introduced in the identical form that they were in at the end of the prior session.
I stood in this place, said it was a dumb thing to do, and asked if there was some way we could allow for reintroduction or reinstatement of these private members' bills in the same form that they were. Many members in the House said yes, we could probably do that. It would save us a couple of tonnes of paper and quite a few hours of House time because every time a member introduces a bill there is some House time taken. It ultimately became part of a minor procedural reform which was at first done on an ad hoc basis by the House leaders. Ultimately, the rules were changed to allow individual members to reinstate their bills. That is the concept of reinstatement.
If that logic flowed for the private members' bills, it did not take the House leaders long to figure out that they could do the same thing for government bills, and so there were packages for reinstatement prepared following a prorogation.
This of course differs from what happens when there is an election. When there is an election, of course, all of the parliamentary business ends, the whole legislative agenda washes and Parliament begins afresh in a new Parliament. But just the changeover between sessions is what we are talking about here and that involves a prorogation.
The House leaders then found a way to do this and we changed the rules. This reinstatement procedure, while not a long-standing tradition, is certainly not new and it is used. If it is good for private members' bills, the logic must flow that it is good for government bills. It may be trite these days to say that it saves a whole lot of paper, but it probably does and it saves a whole lot of House time.
I will say that in the past I recall a fair bit of political brokering, shall we call it, at the time the reinstatement motion was introduced. In other words, the opposition parties sometimes would meet with the governing party and negotiate what was reinstated as opposed to just allowing a blanket reinstatement. That seemed to work. There are certain bills, of course, that are not too controversial around here and it seemed to be pretty logical and efficient, if I can use that term, to reintroduce them using that mechanism. So there is nothing unprecedented or inappropriate about this, and I will use the term efficiency. Others may not like the use of that word, but it is good enough for me. It is worth something.
I also want to address a small piece of logic here. If we were to take the position that there should not be a reinstatement, we would also have to recognize that there would be a reintroduction. If the government wished to reintroduce a bill that was not passed in a prior session, it simply would reintroduce it, but not at the same stage it was at when the House prorogued. It would reintroduce it at first reading and bring it through that way.
Just because there is a prorogation does not mean that all the legislation that existed is never going to see the light of day again. It is going to be reintroduced. If members wish to use the term reinstate, they could use that term as well. The bill could be reinstated, but it would be reinstated/reintroduced at first reading.
In terms of logic here, there is nothing wrong or inappropriate about bringing back a bill. The bills that matter are going to get brought back anyway. The only question is whether we will bring a bill back into the House at the same stage it was at when the House prorogued. I never had a big problem with this concept when I was in opposition and I do not have a problem with it now that I am in government.
To be sure, there are bills on the list, which I will go through in a moment, that the opposition does not like or does not want to pass. That is okay. Rarely is there full agreement in this place on bills. The opposition, in objecting to reinstatement, simply is being tactical in doing what it can to slow down, stop or obstruct the passage of bills that it does not like. There is nothing wrong with that either. That is actually the job of the opposition: to test the strength of the government party and to test the integrity of the legislation.
I do not have a problem with the opposition objecting to reinstatement providing there is some logical basis for doing it, and I of course listened for those reasons. It is not logical to object to reinstatement because we do not like the bills that might come back, because if the opposition does not like the bills that come back it is fully capable of debating against those bills and voting against them when they come back.
The one exception to that, and this may be a reasonable position, is a bill that came back to this House after third reading, if I can put it that way. If a bill has already been passed at third reading, it would simply be sent off to the Senate. Where the bill died at prorogation, the House would not have another crack at the bill, but we have to remember that the bill had already been passed by the House fully and sent to the Senate at the time of prorogation.
Anyway, the motion now does not want to deal with each of the bills themselves. It is dealing only with the mechanism of reinstatement and whether the government should have the ability to bring back those bills using the reinstatement mechanism. It is really a simple question. We are now in the situation where the debate was dragging on this very simple question.
Mr. Speaker, you know from the content of the debate here that any number of issues are being debated under the rubric of this reinstatement motion question.
I heard an opposition member yesterday complain about the fact that the government had stolen an element from his private member's bill and used it in a government bill. That is a nice comment, but there is no property in a bill that is public and we all know that.
I know what the member was referring to. There are some good ideas around the House on both sides and occasionally those good ideas get collected, bundled together and put into a bill, which is usually a government bill. Sometimes there are some good opposition bills over there too. That happens. But the theft of the content of a bill, if I can use that term, the borrowing of the content of a bill, is surely not a major issue that should be debated in this motion at this time.
We have the debate sliding around, and because the issue is fairly simple I am pretty comfortable with moving the question to a vote tonight. The mechanism that moves it to a vote tonight is called closure. I am not comfortable with closure happening day in and day out and all over the map. It is a form of bringing a close to debate after a debate, but in this case the question is simple, as I say, and the issue is not unprecedented. I would say it is procedurally routine now and I am happy to deal with it in a vote tonight.
By the way, in that vote there will be votes for and against and that to me looks democratic. If the government succeeds in the vote tonight, the government will bring back bills that have already been here, bills that we have already debated and voted on. They will be brought back here in the same position they were in when the House prorogued.
In case somebody thinks that is just simply a very dumb thing to do, we must keep in mind that this is precisely what we all do with our private members' bills. They come back in the same position they were in when the House prorogued. There are members opposite who may argue strenuously against what the government wants to do in this case but who will bring back their own private members' bills using the virtually identical or analogous mechanism, the mechanism that was established here about 10 years ago for the same purpose. There are some crocodile tears, but they are routine in this place.
What is the list of bills? I thought it would be interesting or helpful to add some meat to the procedural sandwich here. I suppose many Canadians do not notice a lot of the bills that go through this place, but there is an interesting bill to amend the Statistics Act, which had come to this place from the Senate. That is a bit of a sleeper for most Canadians, but it is on the list.
There are bills governing reforms to how our first nations govern themselves. These bills are actually quite controversial. On two occasions in the last session, I stayed up all night when I was in the saddle, as they say, with a committee and was awake and without sleep for 47 hours. The committee did not meet for 47 hours, but I had other duties besides the committee business. On two occasions that happened. Therefore, I as one member--and there were many other members involved in this--have a whole ton of public MP time invested in some of this legislation. Those first nations governance bills were one of the envelopes wherein that time was invested. They may come back. They may not come back. Maybe the government will reconsider. I recall there was some concerted opposition to some of those bills, not all of them but some of them.
There is a citizenship bill for which we have been waiting for a long time, perhaps three years.
There is a bill to amend the Criminal Code for protection of children and other vulnerable persons. I sit on the justice committee. We made special efforts to get that bill through before the House prorogued, to finish our business and get it back to the House. My colleagues and I invested a fair bit of time on the justice committee. This is a good bill. I do not think there was any opposition objection to that bill. I think there was support for it, which is why we got it through the committee so relatively quickly. However, prorogation ended the bill. I think it would be reasonable to bring back the bill and get it through if we can, with the support of members of the House, and through the Senate.
There is an amendment to the family law act.
There is what looks like a technical amendment to the Canada airports act, the transportation amendment act. The Canada airports act is going to need some work. The federal government transferred responsibility for airports to a number of local airport authorities. That was something that had not ever happened and there were a few little gaps and a few procedural niceties that came to light during and after the process. We are remediating those items. It seems reasonable to fix them. It is a repair bill. It seems reasonable to bring the bill back and try to deal with it without putting it back at home plate at first reading.
There is a bill to deal with transfer of offenders. It also went through the justice committee. I do not think there was any significant objection to that bill either. It would improve the effectiveness with which we bring back Canadians from custody or detention outside the country. It would simplify the justice response to circumstances involving many Canadians in many different countries and in many different circumstances. Most Canadians accept that we in many cases are in the best position to deliver the corrections piece of the justice system to Canadians when they get into trouble in other countries. Not everyone agrees with that. Some think we ought to leave Canadians over there to serve their time, but on most occasions it is appropriate to bring Canadians back. That is what the bill would do.
There is an amendment to the Canada Elections Act. We all know about that because in that bill there is a trigger date for the new boundaries for the new ridings. I believe that the current date is sometime in August. The government bill would move that up to April 1, so that any election called after April 1 would be on the new boundaries. Most of us in this place would like to have an election on the new boundaries.
Rather than go through all of that, in short I want to say that there are some good bills, bills that are actually supported on both sides of the House. It is appropriate, logical, effective and efficient to bring them back. Tonight we will have a chance to adopt the motion that will do that. I am going to vote in favour of the motion.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS
Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to speak.
All the gobbledegook we just heard about the bills that will come back means nothing. We are reinstating the bills is for one reason only, and that is to have an early implementation of the Canada elections changes so there can be a quick election, and none of these bills will be debated.
The member knows it is all about that. The government is not doing this to bring back an array of interesting bills about issues affecting Canadians. It is only doing this for one reason: to accommodate the Liberals' election agenda.
I find it all very confusing. When leading up to this, the new Prime Minister said that he would correct the democratic deficit, that he would give MPs new power, empower all of us, and that he would create this new wonderful world for members of Parliament.
I bet this is a world record for closure for a new government, or it calls itself a new government. No government has probably ever moved closure so fast as this one. That is a true sign of circumventing the democratic system. Why is the government moving closure? So it can bring back the old bill. The Liberals are trying to say that they are a new government, but all they want to do is recycle old bills. They want to bring them back at the same stages they were when the House rose.
I do not know how they can say that they want to be a new government and that they want to have democratic reform, when they really are desperately trying to recycle themselves by coming back with old bills. Rather than bringing in new bills that are of interest to and affect Canadians and serve their needs, they are serving their own needs by bringing back a bill so they can then have an early election. It just seems to be completely contradictory to everything they have said.
Yesterday, I raised the issue in question period that the Prime Minister had said on television that his biggest failure was not resolving western alienation. Yet every day the government advertises for jobs in Ottawa and says clearly that these jobs are just for a few postal codes around Ottawa and nobody from the west is allowed to apply for these jobs. I just checked this on Sunday night. There were 20 jobs advertised by the Government of Canada in the nation's capital of Ottawa. Citizens of Canada cannot apply unless they live in this little circle of postal codes around Ottawa. It is just not fair.
People in your riding, Mr. Speaker, cannot apply for a job in the capital city of their country. People in my riding cannot apply for jobs in the own capital city because they have the wrong postal code. It is just wrong. When I raised this yesterday, I was trying to point out that the Prime Minister said that the biggest failure was western alienation. However, every time these jobs are advertised, the Liberals do not want input from the west. They do not want to hear from the west. They do not want ideas from the west. They sure do not want anybody from the west working in Ottawa because those jobs are reserved for special people in this little circle of postal codes around Ottawa.
Even though the people from Newfoundland are citizens of Canada, they cannot apply for the jobs in their own country. People in Nova Scotia cannot apply. That certainly creates western, eastern and northern alienation. I find it offensive that any country would say that its citizens cannot work in their own capital city because they have a postal code that does not suit the government.
It is even worse than that. The ads say that within a postal code area, preference will be given to Canadian citizens. Theoretically, citizens from Chile, or Slovenia or some other country can work in the capital city as long as they have a postal code from around Ottawa and a work permit. However, somebody from Manitoba or Newfoundland, a citizen of Canada, cannot work the nation's capital. The government absolutely guarantees western and eastern alienation as long as it continues to do this.
I move on because I want to talk about the bill. One thing that has not come up or I have not heard much about is the effect of the bill will create a lot of chaos because the whole thing is being driven by the Liberal election agenda. Apparently the Liberals want to have an election call around the 1st of April. To do that they have to change the rules and distort the Election Commission's recommendations. We hired the Election Commission to make a recommendation. It recommended that the ridings be changed as of August 25, 2004, but the government brought in a bill to implement those changes early just to accommodate its election agenda
At the same time the government has introduced a bill to change the names of 38 ridings, including mine. The name of my riding right now is Cumberland--Colchester. However that name could be anyone of three names in the next election, depending on whether we go by Elections Canada commission rules, or by the early implementation rules, which we will talk about later, or by Bill C-53, which is the name change bill. It is really confusing.
We have two bills now that will affect the name of my riding and 37 other ridings. My riding is currently Cumberland--Colchester. The Election Commission says it should be North Nova. Then the government moved a bill last year to change it back to Cumberland--Colchester--Musquodoboit Valley. There are three completely different names for my riding.
If the government calls an election now, it will be Cumberland--Colchester. If it gets the early implementation bill through, but not the name change bill through, it will be called North Nova. If it gets both bills through, it will be Cumberland--Colchester--Musquodoboit Valley. There are 38 ridings like that, and it is causing massive confusion. Elections Canada cannot adapt fast enough. It will be unable to change its election maps if we have an early election.
Again, all this confusion in 38 ridings and extra expense is because the Liberal government wants to have an early election. It should simply calm down, back off, let the Election Commission recommendations go through, as they are supposed to on August 25, and let Bill C-53 go through so there is only one name change. If the government has its way right now, my riding of Cumberland--Colchester will be called North Nova for a couple of months. Then if the Liberals win the election, it will be changed back again to Cumberland--Colchester--Musquodoboit Valley.
Why put everybody through this confusion, not only Elections Canada but the parties and the citizens? People do not know what the names of their riding are. I cannot even refer to the name of my riding now because the name Elections Canada refers to it now is North Nova, even though that name does not take effect until August 25. Then there is a bill to change it after that.
I know it is confusing, but the fact is there are three possible names for my riding and 37 other ridings. Because the government is in a panic to rush this bill through and force closure in record time, it will create a lot of havoc in those 38 ridings. It does not have to. There is no need for this. It needs to calm down and let Elections Canada follow the rules.
Elections Canada has a set of rules it follows and it should be allowed to follow them. Everybody should have a one year notice of the changes recommended by Elections Canada. That is the rule. We should allow everybody to have a one year period to get ready for the changes, to reprint the pamphlets and brochures, and prepare election signs and everything else.
Certainly Elections Canada has to have maps to show where the polls are and the names of the ridings in all the brochures and it has to have voters' lists for the ridings. If it is printing them now as North Nova and the other bill goes through, which I understand is supposed to move parallel to the early implementation act, then it will have to change them again.
In any case my riding will have three names because the Liberals are in a hurry to have an election and rush it through. It is just an extra expense, it causes a great deal of confusion and it does Canadians not one bit of good. It just accommodates the Liberals in their attempt to have an early election.
The Prime Minister has talked about democratic deficit over and over. Now with this motion, in effect we are here to do away with democracy, and not let members speak on the bill or speak about the status of a number of bills. We are going to whisk that opportunity away. We are going to take the opportunity off the board. We are going to deny everybody here the opportunity to speak if they wish to speak. There will be a few speakers, but we will not have much time between now and the time this comes to a vote.
It is all because the government has brought the hammer down. It has said that it does not want to hear the opinions of anybody nor does it want to have any amendments.
The government has done the same thing to the people in the west. It pretends it wants to hear from them, but it does not want them working in Ottawa. Certainly it does not want anyone from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Newfoundland working here either. That is what it says in all its job offers.
My point is that all of this is not in the interest of Canadians. It is only in the interest of the Liberals and their election agenda, and we should stop them from doing this. We should vote against the motion, and I will.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, the reinstatement motion before us is a motion which, of course, does not at all satisfy the Bloc Quebecois, particularly in light of the events that have occurred over the past few months within the government and the Liberal Party of Canada.
This motion would have been totally pointless if, after the election of the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Chrétien, had decided to leave and had allowed the new Prime Minister, assuming he wanted to do so, to keep the session open. Instead, for reasons of politics, they preferred to prorogue, supposedly to allow the new Prime Minister to prepare the Speech from the Throne. However, when we look at the speech that was delivered, we immediately realize that this was an operation simply designed to prepare for the upcoming election.
Similarly, no one is fooled by the reinstatement motion. If we look at the bills that were selected, such as C-17, C-13 and C-49, it is obvious that the motion is only necessary for Bill C-49, because the Prime Minister's stated objective is to call an election as soon as possible once the new electoral map comes into effect.
So, we have this reinstatement motion which, as I mentioned, includes the following bills: C-17, on public safety; C-13, on assisted human reproduction, and C-49, on the effective date of the representation order. However, no mention is made of Bill C-34, on the ethics commissioner. According to this bill, the ethics commissioner should now be accountable to the House and not to the Prime Minister, as was previously the case. In my opinion, the review of this legislation is much more urgent than that of the bills included in the reinstatement motion.
This is particularly true today, considering that the Auditor General's report will be tabled in a few hours, if not a few minutes. I think we really do need an independent ethics commissioner who is accountable to all the members of this House.
Therefore, the Bloc Quebecois will oppose this reinstatement motion. First, as I mentioned, the motion would have been pointless if things had been conducted in a normal fashion, if the new Prime Minister had taken over Mr. Chrétien's duties within a normal timeframe, and not the way it was done, by using that time to avoid having to answer questions in the House.
We will vote against this motion on reinstatement, particularly since we had previously voiced our opposition to Bill C-17 on public safety. We have absolutely no interest in seeing this bill come before the House again. The public safety bill extends the responsibilities of the RCMP and CSIS. In November 2002, the privacy commissioner himself wrote, and I quote:
But my concern is that the RCMP would also be expressly empowered to use this information to seek out persons wanted on warrants for Criminal Code offences that have nothing to do with terrorism, transportation security or national security.
What is the point in reinstating this bill when the privacy commissioner himself considers it problematic.
The same goes for the bill on assisted human reproduction. This bill has been long awaited. Perhaps there is a serious need to adopt various rules on, for instance, cloning, but Bill C-13—true to Liberal government form—encroaches on the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces in terms of health.
On October 7, 2003, Quebec's health minister, Philippe Couillard, expressed concern that Bill C-13 encroached on Quebec's jurisdiction. He said,
We have sent a clear signal to the federal government that we are very concerned about certain aspects of the bill, which we see as a clear encroachment on provincial jurisdictions.
So, why would the Bloc Quebecois support reinstating a bill that, in the opinion of Quebec's own health minister, infringed on Quebec jurisdiction?
Finally, there is Bill C-49. Although our criticisms are known, they deserve repeating. If any area deserves the utmost objectivity and the most transparent neutrality—the need to set aside all partisanship with regard to the Canada Elections Act—if any legislation should be non-partisan, this is it.
These reasons, which are exactly the same as those leading to the fall prorogation, so a new Prime Minister could prepare a throne speech that was ultimately a failure, account for the introduction of Bill C-49. In other words, so that the effective date of the new electoral map could be moved forward, thereby allowing the new Prime Minister to go before voters in short order.
Consequently, as in the case of the last session, which was adjourned, and the reinstatement motion, it is for partisan reasons only that Motion No. 2 is being put forward. This is unacceptable.
It is all the more unacceptable that the strategy of the new Prime Minister and the Liberal government is to put off all the problems that are priorities for Quebeckers and Canadians.
For instance, the Prime Minister does not want to take a stand in the same-sex marriage issue so he asked the Supreme Court a fourth question. The answer will come after the election, of course.
In the Arar affair, the Prime Minister began by saying that the Americans must have had a good reason to deport Mr. Arar to Syria. Afterward, he realized that Canadians and Quebeckers thought this a rather weak response. He then spoke of a possible independent inquiry. Then he said that the Government of Canada had nothing to be ashamed of. Again he realized that public opinion was not with him. His next move was to call a public inquiry, the results of which will be made known after the election.
What came out of the meeting with the provincial premiers is that things are grim with respect to transfer payments to the provinces. Here again, the approach is to put things off. We are told a serious discussion will be held on this issue—which is urgent now, not six months from now, I would even say it was urgent the day before yesterday—but not until next summer, or after the election.
No one is being fooled by this strategy of postponing matters. The Prime Minister wants to keep all his options open and have carte blanche from this House, Canadians and Quebeckers to do what he thinks is best. This will not work because the opposition, the Bloc Quebecois in particular, will require him to provide answers now and during the election campaign.
I bet that with the tabling of the Auditor General's report on the sponsorship scandal, the Prime Minister will try to come up with some trick to postpone the findings and his positions until after the election. An independent inquiry will probably be recommended without any set date, again to ensure that the findings are not made public until after the election.
They said to us, “We have to shut down the House, because we have serious work to do; we have to prepare a Speech from the Throne to set a new direction for this government”, which, it seems, was worn out after its 10 long years in power.
What do we find in the throne speech? Nothing: nothing concerning the priorities of Canadians and Quebeckers. There is absolutely nothing to settle the fiscal imbalance. I remind the House that this is a very serious problem.
We do know that the agreement on health which was signed in February 2003 by the provincial premiers and former Prime Minister Chrétien will expire next year, and that the amounts have gone down considerably.
This year, even with the injection of $475 million for Quebec, which has been announced three times, or the $2 billion ad hoc injection for the health sector by the federal government, even with that, according to the study by Quebec's finance minister, Mr. Séguin, the Government of Quebec will receive 4.5% less in federal transfer payments. Equalization payments will decline by 38%.
We might have expected that the Prime Minister would at least tell us the schedule and what his guidelines would be concerning negotiations on the equalization agreement, which expires very soon, on March 31, in fact. That is not after the election, and so now is the time for answers.
Meanwhile, the provincial finance ministers and premiers have to juggle with speculation about the future of health financing. We know that health financing also determines all kinds of other choices to be made in government policy for the provinces, particularly for Quebec.
I will give the House an example. The Quebec finance minister, Mr. Séguin, told us several months ago that there was a shortfall of $3 billion, and that he did not want to touch either health or education. The Quebec budget, setting aside health and education, amounts to $9 billion. Can the Government of Quebec reasonably be expected to cover this $3 billion shortfall out of this $9 billion?
Because of the unwillingness of the federal Liberal government and the current Prime Minister to provide answers, the Government of Quebec will have no other choice but to reduce its health and education costs. Health and education are priorities for Quebeckers and I am sure for all Canadians.
We would have expected the federal government to tell us, in the throne speech, how it intends to deal with fiscal imbalance, whether it is through equalization, the social transfer for health or other sectors, or even through tax point transfers, which is, as you know, the option preferred by the Bloc Quebecois.
However, the throne speech is silent on this issue. It is not mentioned at all. As I said earlier, the announcement was like a lead balloon. We were told that $2 million would be forthcoming. The former finance minister could have made the announcement in his economic statement, last October 31. It could even have been announced as soon as the agreement with the first ministers was struck in February 2002, if my memory serves me well.
So, there is nothing for health. The throne speech does not even mention the fiscal imbalance as an issue that the government will have to deal with. There is nothing on employment insurance. This is rather odd, particularly considering that, back in June, the Prime Minister himself promised a coalition of community groups and unions called the Sans-chemise in the Charlevoix region that he would settle this issue. Not only is the issue not settled, it was not even mentioned in the throne speech as an issue for which the federal government needs to find a solution quickly.
As we know, seasonal workers will soon be entering the so-called spring gap. These workers will no longer qualify for employment insurance, but they will not have gone back to work yet. There is nothing for these people, who cannot get social benefits, because one must use up a significant amount of his assets before qualifying. So, these people will have to use up their savings, because the federal government cannot find a solution to a problem that it recognizes, since the current Prime Minister had pledged to the Sans-chemise coalition that he would find such a solution.
So, there is nothing on employment insurance and on the fiscal imbalance. As regards our seniors, the hon. member for Champlain conducted an extraordinary campaign on the guaranteed income supplement, and this resulted in thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians getting this supplement, because for years the federal government had been as discreet as possible about the existence of this program. Now, things are easier thanks to the Bloc Quebecois, although this supplement was not made fully retroactive.
Indeed, those who were deprived of the guaranteed income supplement for years and who just found out that they are entitled to it are getting 11 months of retroactive payments, when they should at least get the same retroactive period that the current Prime Minister gave himself with Bill C-28. As we know, Bill C-28 was passed in 1998, but was retroactive to 1995, the year when Canada Steamship Lines International transferred its headquarters from Liberia to Barbados.
Consequently, the Prime Minister gave himself a retroactive measure. However, in the case of the elderly, this retroactive measure would represent too much money for the federal government. Once again, we must say that, even if the surplus is perhaps lower this year, due to economic circumstances, the government will still have quite a major surplus.
Thus, this reinstatement motion is presented to us in this context. I believe that, in this context, the opposition has no choice but to oppose this reinstatement motion, because we would be playing the partisan game of this government and this new Prime Minister, who is absolutely not a champion of change. Indeed, he wants, perhaps through a veneer, to pursue the same type of operations that were taking place when the former prime minister, Mr. Chrétien, was here.
Indeed, let not us delude ourselves. The Liberal Party of Canada is a structure, a machine that has, unfortunately, governed Canada too often and for too long and that has a vision of Canada that in no way reflects Quebecers' interests. The only specific aspects in the throne speech that was presented to us reflect just that.
The Liberal Party of Canada has a centralizing vision of the Canadian federation. It is Ottawa that must make the decisions. For the federal government, the provinces—I said this once in front of mayors, and I will say it one last time to tell you this anecdote—are big municipalities at best. Of course, mayors in my region were shocked. So I then used another expression. Now I say that, for the federal government, the provinces are big regional boards at best. I can say this now that the Liberal government in Quebec City has abolished them. This no longer shocks anyone.
A number of means will be decentralized, but the federal government will still have control over the way the money is spent.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
The Deputy Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member for Joliette. The hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester on a point of order.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This is a very important debate we are having about closure and I do not see a quorum.
And the count having been taken:
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
The Deputy Speaker
Call in the members.
And the bells having rung:
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
The Deputy Speaker
Before resuming debate, I would like to inform the hon. member for Joliette that he has roughly three minutes remaining.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, the opposition cannot be a party to this process that began with the election of the new Prime Minister at the Liberal Party convention.
In this context, we have no choice but to oppose this reinstatement motion not only because the bills being presented are bad, but because the procedure is partisan. In November 2003, we could have very well continued the session and passed or rejected not only the bills before us, but the other equally important ones that were on the Order Paper.
Instead, everything was stopped, allegedly, as I mentioned, to allow the current Prime Minister to prepare a Speech from the Throne, in which, as I also mentioned, there is no solution to the true problems of Quebeckers and Canadians. However, there is a multitude of proposals aimed at interfering in provincial jurisdictions.
As I mentioned before, the federal government considers provinces as huge regional boards to whom money is given, very little at a time, when the pressure gets too much. The provinces are told how to spend the money, despite the fact that it was the federal government who created the problem by cutting transfers to the provinces. The cuts were made by the current Prime Minister when he was finance minister.
However, when we examine the specific issues raised in the throne speech, we realize that they all infringe upon the jurisdictions of Quebec and the other provinces. The issue of education is mentioned, probably for partisan purposes. The government is trying to get the support of young voters. Given all the student loans and scholarship programs it has promised, it will be interfering in an area under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces, even if Quebec already has a student loans and scholarships system that has been working very well for the last several decades.
Why is the government trying to infringe upon that jurisdiction? It is not to help students or to support education, because that could be done by restoring transfers to provinces. No, its goal is to reach out and get young votes in the upcoming election.
Where municipalities are concerned, we all agree on one thing: municipalities are creatures of the provinces. However, it is important to know that one of the few specific measures mentioned by the government and the current Prime Minister in the throne speech has to do with transferring funds to municipalities.
I do not have anything against transferring funds to municipalities, but what I find strange is that the government has money for municipalities but not for the provinces. What the government is trying to do here is to create division between the provinces and the municipalities. Again, they are trying to strike an alliance with the municipalities in time for the upcoming election.
Faced with that kind of masquerade, the Bloc Quebecois and all of the opposition parties are left with one choice only. Not only do we need to vote against this reinstatement motion, but we must also expose the partisanship behind this whole tactic.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add some comments to this debate on the reinstatement motion.
The aspect that members have taken is broadening the debate somewhat and not sticking strictly to this particular motion. I feel that it is part of a bigger issue that we have been dealing with here in the House in the last number of years. Certainly, it gets into the whole issue of democracy, and the lack of it to some degree, in the House of Commons. That has become a rallying cry of the new Prime Minister, but it is something that we have talked about in our party ever since the first member of the Reform Party came to the House in 1988.
We have talked about the lack of democracy and the way that the entire institution is structured, particularly at the committee level, which is structured so that every committee is weighted in favour of the government. We have seen whole ranks of Liberal Party members at a committee being jerked out and replaced by other members who would toe the party line when the Liberal members got too far away from what the minister or the Prime Minister wanted.
That to me is an absolute disgrace. It stifles proper debate. Members who sit on these committees and listen to the debate day after day, who hear Canadians who come forward to offer their expertise, ideas and views, and who have formulated opinions on those debates, are pulled out and replaced by members who have not sat through one minute of any of the debate and do not know what is going on. Most times they do not even know what they are voting on. They are whipped into these committees to take over and make the wish of the government felt.
If we want to talk about the democratic deficit, we are debating this motion under closure. There was quite a discussion by previous speakers about that issue. They claim that in the past, and they name the years, these motions were introduced and passed unanimously in the House. I used to chair a few meetings back in my municipal politician days, and when anything was unanimous one had to start to worry that maybe we were getting into a groupthink type of situation where we needed a naysayer somewhere among the group just to keep everybody honest and to open up people's minds and eyes on other issues.
We are in a situation today where the House was prorogued so that the governing party could elect a new leader and put him in as Prime Minister under the guise that there was going to be this great change, this empowerment of members of Parliament, this great democratic deficit fighter. However, the first thing we find out after the Prime Minister was put in place is that there will not be any free vote on an issue that is of concern to many Canadians. I am talking about funding for the gun registry system.
The first issue that will be brought into the House that would require a free vote, so that a lot of the members on the government side could vote the wishes of their constituents, is going to be a whipped vote. The government can come up with all the reasoning it wants about why it has to be a whipped vote. It does not, and it would be nice to see that somebody who campaigned and talked a lot about restoring democracy to the House of Commons would not let that happen; however, it looks like we are going to let that happen.
Another issue, which ties both democratic reform into western alienation and into a whole lot of other areas, is the reform of the Senate. Quite a while ago now, we elected two senators-in-waiting in Alberta. Bert Brown won that election. He got more votes in that election than all the Liberals in Alberta put together. He is the choice of the people of Alberta. There have been Alberta vacancies in the Senate. The first step to reforming the Senate, or to reforming how this institution works, is to get some elected people in the Senate. This would be one way to do it. We now have other provinces that are talking about electing their senators and putting up a slate from which the Prime Minister could pick.
That is a small step to a Triple-E Senate, but it is the first step. The people who would be in the Senate would be the choice of the people that they are representing. Does that not sound familiar? Is that not what democracy is supposed to be about? We do not have it in the upper house. It can overrule the elected body. This all ties back into this whole democratic deficit issue and gets us back to the fact that we are debating this bill under closure.
I was alluding to the fact that in the past, there were unanimous votes on motions similar to this; however, I do not believe that those situations were the same as this one. We have a new Prime Minister who has worked very hard to distance himself from what he has done in the House for the last 10 years. He campaigned on the fact that he is a new man, this is a new party and that things were going to be different. Well, things are not different and things will not be different.
This whole city, Parliament Hill, the media and the government side, are being briefed by the Auditor General. We are just waiting for this bomb to go off, another scandal exposed, and I can predict what will happen. The Prime Minister will bury this some way so that the truth will never be known to Canadians. A public inquiry has been called into the Maher Arar issue. It has been taken off the table so we cannot talk about it. We have had the definition of marriage, one of the biggest issues to face this country that engaged almost everybody in this country in one way or the other. That was put to the justice committee. They travelled across this country, heard from thousands of Canadians on how they felt, and before the report could be tabled in the House, the government made its own legislation and sent it to the Supreme Court to be vetted.
All of those contributions by Canadians and all of the hundreds of thousands of letters and e-mails and petitions we received are no good. We are going to develop our own legislation. We are going to send it to the Supreme Court to be vetted before the voices of Canadians have a right to be heard. If we want to talk about democracy and changing things here, we are off to a rocky start with the new Prime Minister. It looks like we are going down the same road as the last Prime Minister.
We cannot have it both ways. He wants to distance himself from what has happened around here for the last 10 years and what he did as the finance minister--I certainly do not want to distance myself from my record here or the record of my party--but that cannot be done. He cannot then reintroduce a bunch of bills that the former Prime Minister introduced.
If bills are going to be reintroduced, if he is going to pick and choose which bills should be brought back, if he wants to introduce one, he should reintroduce them all. That is the only fair way to give all Canadians a say on all the issues.
What the government is doing through this motion is saying that it will bring back some bills, and others that are not going the way it wants, it will not bring it back. If one bill is going to be brought back, all of them should be brought back. That would be the fair way to do it.
If he truly wants to distance himself from what has transpired around him for the last 10 years--which he has been a big part of, has been the eye of the needle, and that is the quote from the new Finance Minister, that the Finance Minister is the eye of the needle through which everything else flows in government--then he should scrap those bills and start over again. Certainly it would be a big issue. Certainly it would cause a lot of work for committees, but he would be able to honestly stand up and say that he has tried to distance himself, but he only distances himself when he wants to and he goes back to the old ways when it is convenient.
One of the issues that I find particularly appalling is the fact that last week we saw a statistic that the agricultural industry in this country as a whole is $13 million in the red. Let us just think about what that means to Canada, a country that was created on the back of agriculture. When it is all added up, the amount of product and food that is produced for the world by that entire industry cannot break even. That in itself is a testament to failed government policies, failed government programs and a government that cannot go to the negotiating table when it is dealing with international treaties and get a fair deal for our producers.
Since the BSE issue hit Canada on May 20 last year, some 260-odd days have passed by. The House of Commons, where desperate people are turning to for help, has sat for 55 out of 260 days.
Why was that? We had an extended summer break. The House was prorogued so that the government could get on with the internal issues of the Liberal Party. Now it seems to me that in the middle of this crisis, when our entire agriculture industry cannot make enough money to get into the black, the Prime Minister is going to call an election. That is absolutely irresponsible.
When there are problems of this magnitude in the country, the government should stay here, keep us here until something is resolved. It is turning its tail and going to the people, claiming the government needs a mandate to do its job. Well, the government's job is here. There are some problems that need to be addressed. It should damn well do them and find some solutions. It should go south of the border and get forceful with our American neighbours if that is what is needed, but do not turn tail and go to the people.
I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister does do that, drops the writ on April 4 as everyone is speculating he will do. We do not know in Canada because it is up to the whim of the Prime Minister, but Canadians will hold him responsible for turning tail, for only sitting for 55 out of 260 days, when one whole industry in the country is suffering.
We do not have to go very far to find a sector of our economy that is hurting badly. There is the steel industry. In the middle of all of this, does the Prime Minister still have enough gall to call an election? I hope Canadians remember. I hope they hold him to task and they boot that government out of power, and put one in that will listen to people and will bring some serious democratic reform to the House.
I have talked about a number of issues that have come forward and that tie everything in with this reinstatement motion, where members are trying to distance themselves from what has transpired.
It is interesting that all the ex-ministers and ex-parliamentary secretaries are convened in a few rows near the back door. There is quite a bit of chatter that goes on over there. I was wondering the other day if that was a wise move by the House leader to put them all together.
Another item that was brought up by the House leader from the previous government was that we wanted private members' bills reinstated. He felt that there was some kind of a contradiction here that we would want private members' bills reinstated, but we did not want government bills reinstated.
Most of us who have brought private members' bills forward have not tried to distance ourselves from what we did in the last few years. This is unlike the Prime Minister across the way. When we put a private member's bill forward, we believe in it. We will back it up no matter how many times the government prorogues or how many times it adjourns. It is because it is the right thing to do. We will bring it back. I found it a little offensive to draw that comparison, the fact that we would want private members' bills reintroduced and not support this motion.
The government has the ability to pick and choose. I have talked about that to some degree. The government has put forward a motion and expects it to pass. It then moves closure so it will come to a vote and then its members vote for it and it passes of course. However, when there is a motion that allows a government to pick and choose the bills that it wants returned, think about that for a minute. That means that a lot of the work that has gone on is worthless and means nothing. It means that some of the things that are a priority for the government mean more. It means the government will bring those bills back. It is an interesting issue.
There is a bill that I have concern about that will be brought back. It is one that is causing some controversy. I believe it needs a lot of discussion and work to make it ready for the Canadian people. It is the bill decriminalizing marijuana. There are people on both sides of this issue. My party has a concern and I personally have a concern with this issue.
I spoke to some law enforcement people about this and they have a grave concern that if this thing is not handled right it will feed right into the hands of organized crime. The fact that one aspect of organized crime will be partially legalized or decriminalized which will allow it to get its hooks into that aspect and funnel money to support some of its other illegal functions is something we need to be absolutely clear on. If the government chooses to bring back that particular bill we must ensure that it does not play into the hands of the criminal element in this country. It is of grave concern to the police forces across Canada that it will.
One of the issues in the bill, that young people would be segregated out and treated less harshly if they are caught with marijuana, sends the wrong message. The issue of the amount is a huge concern to our party because the amount that was suggested is too much and is not relative to what could be considered to be personal use. If that amount is put in, it would create a whole problem there.
There is also the issue of driving under the influence of drugs. How do we control that? What do we do at the roadside when someone is stopped and is obviously under the influence of drugs? What does one do with them? How does one test for that? Is there such a thing? That whole debate goes on.
The one issue that really gets my goat is what the government did with the definition of marriage. It even brought in a couple of weeks ago another clause or another statement that it wanted the Supreme Court to vet.
A lot of what the government is doing is taking controversial issues that need to be debated in a campaign and by Canadians and taking them off the table by either shovelling them off to the courts or creating inquiries to have them put aside until after the election. I truly hope that if we go to the polls and are out campaigning during April and part of May that Canadians will remember the history and record of the government on a lot of these issues and hold it to task. I hope Canadians put the blame where it belongs, right there with that party.
I will wrap up by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to do this. The fact is that this debate is going on under closure under a Prime Minister who promised to come back and make a difference. He promised that when he got that chair he would make such a difference in this country that we would not even recognize it.
I suggest to the House and to Canadians that nothing has changed. I think as time goes on it will become more and more evident that it is the same old, same old. It is time for a new and fresh look at how to run this country and we will be reminding Canadians of that in the few months to come.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to address the motion tabled by the government to reinstate bills that have already been passed.
Earlier, I had the opportunity to question the parliamentary leader on the real motives behind this motion. We on this side of the House could not help but come to the conclusion that there is no valid reason to put forward such a motion today, a motion that more or less seeks to gag the opposition and avoid debates on issues that we feel are fundamental.
This strategy is essentially a stalling tactic and a partisan ploy, and the opposition can only condemn it today.
I will read the reinstatement motion for the benefit of those who are listening to us today and who may be trying to understand why, a few days after the beginning of a new parliamentary session in the House of Commons, the government is resorting to such tactics to prevent the opposition from expressing its views on three bills, among others.
The motion reads as follows:
That during the first thirty sitting days of the present session of Parliament, whenever a Minister of the Crown, when proposing a motion for first reading of a public bill, states that the said bill is in the same form as a Government bill in the previous session, if the Speaker is satisfied that the said bill is in the same form as the House of Commons had agreed to at prorogation, notwithstanding Standing Order 71, the said bill shall be deemed in the current session to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation of the previous session.
In our opinion, this motion tabled by the government is nothing more than a tactic to prevent, as I said earlier, the opposition from expressing its views.
Over 80 motions of this type have been tabled by the Liberals since they were elected. One would have thought that, with the coming into office of a new government, the methods and strategies used would change. I should point out that this motion would not have been necessary if the government had not decided, in November 2003, to prorogue the House. If the government had let parliamentarians fulfill their role and carry on with the parliamentary business, as scheduled in the parliamentary calendar, today we would not be debating a motion to reinstate three bills.
As a result, it was possible for the government to avoid this motion, this gag order on three bills. How so? By continuing Parliament in keeping with the parliamentary calendar, not proroguing as they did last year.
On the one hand, the public would have preferred to see their MPs sitting. What can be more fundamental, when people have given a democratic mandate to their elected representatives, than to see them sit in the House and debate? No, here we are again today in a situation where we are debating a motion on bills which would very likely could have already been passed.
Let us review the political motives behind the government's decision to prorogue the House at the end of 2003. It wanted to show clearly to the public that there was now, in Canada, a new government with a new and different vision. That vision was expressed in the Speech from the Throne read on February 2.
When we see what is going on, in the light of our first few days experience of this session, can we honestly conclude that what we have before us is a new government, both in form, tactics and parliamentary strategy, and in its vision as set out in the throne speech? The answer to that is not long in coming.
On the one hand, as far as tactics are concerned, we have a government like the other. It is making use of what I have seen only rarely since I was first elected here in 1997: a fast way to gag parliamentarians on bills which of course, in actual form, are the same as before, but which are much changed in partisan terms.
Taking Bill C-49 on electoral boundaries, for example, when the former government introduced it, it was certainly not in the mind of the former government, that is the Chrétien government, to launch itself quickly into an election campaign. Today, why do they want to step up the process of implementing Bill C-49? Precisely because now the government wants to have an election soon.
Bill C-49 postpones the implementation of the new electoral map to August 26, 2004. That is the date that has been set. Why does the government want to hasten the adoption of this bill? Because it wants to call an early election in the spring, which was not what the previous government, the Chrétien government, intended to do. The political context and perspective in which we would have had to study these bills are different from the situation that exists today.
In terms of parliamentary strategy, we are basically seeing the continuation of the same type of policies from the old government to the new one.
Let us not forget that the prorogation of the House last November was supposed to give the government an opportunity to propose a new vision. However, what can we say about this Speech from the Throne, which is supposed to reflect the spirit and the policies of a self-proclaimed new government? A closer look at the throne speech shows that it is silent on many issues of primary importance to Canadians in their daily lives. There is nothing about what used to be called unemployment insurance and is now called employment insurance, even though everybody agrees that the EI plan and its management are nothing but highway robbery.
There is nothing in the throne speech to look at the integrity of the plan and to see to it that those who pay into the EI fund—whether they are young people, women or seasonal workers—are eligible for benefits.
There is nothing either for the workers affected by the crisis in the softwood lumber industry, for whom the Prime Minister is taking the trouble of travelling to the United States to try to improve their situation. The throne speech contains no vision with regard to solving the softwood lumber crisis in Canada, which is affecting various regions of Quebec particularly hard.
There is nothing for the farmers of Canada and Quebec with regard to the sad situation of the mad cow. In terms of these three priorities—employment insurance, softwood lumber and the mad cow crisis—there is nothing, no vision for the future, no partial or short-term solution to improve the lot of the people.
Neither is there anything to recognize the existence of the Quebec nation, even though this government took pains to prorogue the House and have a throne speech. While the new Prime Minister thinks he needs to establish partnerships with Quebec, closer collaboration with Quebec, there is nothing to recognize our identity as a collectivity and as Quebeckers in this Speech from the Throne. Of course, some nations have been recognized, and we are happy about that. Still there is no mention of the nation of Quebec, although there is a consensus in Quebec that it does exist.
There is nothing about the existence of the fiscal imbalance, which sees the provinces and Quebec losing $50 million a week. With those millions of dollars, Quebec would be able to provide essential care and services in health and education. There is nothing about that in the throne speech.
There is nothing about current issues. The issue of same sex marriage, in principle, could have been covered in the throne speech. But no, it was decided to send a fourth question to the Supreme Court, as if the government did not want to grant any importance to this matter, nor launch any great debates just before the election.
The government could have avoided presenting this motion to reinstate bills by not proroguing the House and continuing consideration of these bills, some of which were before the Senate. It most certainly could have avoided this motion to reinstate three bills: Bill C-17, an act to amend certain Acts of Canada, and to enact measures for implementing the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, in order to enhance public safety; Bill C-13, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act; and finally, the infamous Bill C-49, which the government wants to see passed as quickly as possible in order to call an election quickly.
If that is not a partisan tactic, I do not know what it is. Let us not forget that the election process and the electoral boundaries readjustment process are not supposed to be partisan in Canada. That piece of legislation was supposed to come into effect on August 26, 2004. Bringing forward the effective date of a bill which, in principle, is supposed to be non-partisan is making the process a bit too partisan.
And what about Bill C-13? It deals with assisted reproduction and related research. Its main purpose is to protect the health and safety of our citizens who are using assisted reproduction technologies to start a family, and to ban unacceptable activities like human cloning.
As we know, Bill C-13 is currently before the Senate. I must remind the House that the Bloc Quebecois is against this bill although we support the principle behind it.
What would we have liked to do with Bill C-13, that this motion would reinstate? We would have liked to split it. We believe that Bill C-13 is an example of blatant interference in areas under provincial jurisdiction.
We are, of course, against some unacceptable technologies, especially human cloning; that is very clear in our mind. However, by setting up the assisted human production agency of Canada, the government is clearly interfering in provincial areas of jurisdiction.
At least a dozen acts passed by the National Assembly of Quebec are not in sync with Bill C-13. Sovereignists and Bloc members are not the only ones believing that this bill interferes in our jurisdictions. The new health minister in Quebec, Mr. Philippe Couillard, clearly said that he considers this bill as an encroachment on Quebec's jurisdiction and, on October 7, he added:
We have sent a clear message to the federal government that we are very cned about certain asoncerpects of the bill, which we see as a clear encroachment on provincial jurisdictions.
This statement was made by Quebec's minister of health, not a member of the Parti Quebecois, the Bloc Quebecois, nor a sovereignist. It is a statement by a Liberal minister in Quebec City, a federalist, who is judging a situation and assessing federal legislation, Canadian legislation.
If the government had been more generous and more logical, in order to respect the jurisdictions and establish this cooperation and partnership the new Prime Minister wishes to establish in Quebec, it could have given us an opportunity to split this bill. We could have voted in favour of it, based on its principle alone. The government could also have avoided encroaching on provincial jurisdictions.
Since I have two minutes left, I will come back to Bill C-49, an act respecting the effective date of the representation order of 2003. While the electoral process and representation orders have to be initiated in accordance with the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, it was always believed this entailed the implementation of the new electoral boundaries order, scheduled to take effect on August 26, 2004. It was set out in the order. There is a degree of independence in the electoral process that has been established.
Today, the government is going against this principle of independence and non-partisanship, which was agreed to by parliamentarians, whereby political parties and the government are not to interfere in this process.
What will the government achieve through Bill C-49? It will move up the effective date of the electoral boundaries legislation. This is totally unacceptable. It is a shameless intrusion in a process that has to be independent.
Today, I repeat that the government had a golden opportunity not to use such a motion and apply closure. It could very well not have prorogued the House in November, which would have prevented the need for putting forward this reinstatement motion, which, in our view, is totally unacceptable.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Kelowna.
Earlier today, demonstrating the Prime Minister's truly heroic powers of restraint, the government forced closure on government business No. 2, the reinstatement of bills from the previous session. It took all of six days for the new Prime Minister to use the most blunt instruments in the parliamentary arsenal. Closure and time allocation are not standard procedures of the House. They should be our last resort, not our first response.
This chamber was designed as a place to debate the nation's business for all Canadians, a place to discuss current events and public policy. When we limit that debate, we undermine the institution of Parliament and the purposes for which it stands.
For this reason alone, closure and time allocation should not be used just at the whim of the government House leader. They must be exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. In seeking closure, the government has shown that it will continue to conduct itself as it has for the past 10 years.
In his long career the Prime Minister has personally supported the use of time allocation on 75 different occasions and the use of closure on 10 others. Say what we may, at least he is consistent, I will say that for him.
There is another great irony about the motion for closure the House passed this morning. The purpose of that motion was to limit debate on a motion that would itself limit the debate on bills before the House. By limiting the debate on government business No. 2, the government has limited debate on a series of bills on a wide range of important issues. This motion is one which deserves significant debate. Its only function is to bring back from the dead legislation of the Chrétien government. Its only purpose is to turn back the clock and continue the work the Prime Minister began as minister of finance and the member for LaSalle—Émard.
There are those, perhaps even the Prime Minister himself, who would have us believe that we are in the midst of a new era. They would tell us that there is a new government with a new vision and a new agenda. They would stand here in this great place and say that what has just passed is passed. Yet many of those who would say this and undoubtedly much more, stood today to resurrect the legislation of the last session. Their new vision looks strangely like the old vision.
I think all members of the House will recall the election campaign run by the Prime Minister and his predecessor. I think we all recall with some fondness the television commercial in which Prime Minister Chrétien walked arm in arm with his then minister of finance, our current Prime Minister.
Their joint exploits go back much further. My colleagues will certainly recall that it was the current Prime Minister who was the principal architect of the Liberal red book in 1993. He was then named the second most powerful person in cabinet and was instrumental in putting that policy in place.
When the Sea King replacement was cancelled, this Prime Minister was there. When the funding for health care was slashed, this Prime Minister was there. When the billion dollar boondoggle took place at HRDC, and we are going to hear a whole lot more about that, this Prime Minister was there. When the gun registry went over budget by about a billion dollars, this Prime Minister was there.
The Prime Minister is not just a product of the previous administration, he was the previous administration. He was and clearly remains a loyal servant of the Chrétien government. That record is his record.
With the Liberal legacy left lifeless, the Prime Minister is using every tool he has to bring it back. He is fighting to bring back--and I cannot believe this--a bill that would decriminalize marijuana and put our children at risk. I worked for many years with children to whom a man gave marijuana when they were in high school. I worked to take them out of the alleyway. I got them into the church in which I was working. I bought them hot dogs and pop. I told them not to fight with their moms and dads for money to pay that man in the alleyway, which is what they were doing. In the end, there were 23 children.
Just five years ago on Christmas eve my doorbell rang. A young gentleman standing at the door said, “Hi, Mrs. Wayne, do you remember me?” I said that he looked familiar and asked him if he was Tony. It was Tony. His mom and dad were out in the car. They wanted Tony to thank me that night for taking him out of the alleyway. When I asked him what he was doing he told me he was a draftsman in Toronto and he said that if I had not taken him out of the alleyway, he would still be there, on cocaine.
I have done research in Berkeley University with regard to marijuana. We should not decriminalize marijuana. We should not tell young people it is all right to have five grams. We should not do any of that, because when we do, we are telling them it is all right to use it, and it is not all right to use it.
The Prime Minister is fighting to bring back a bill that would allow embryonic stem cell research. Once again let me say that we have discussed this. It is wrong.
He is fighting to bring back a bill that does not stop the threat of child pornography. I cannot believe we are doing that in Canada.
He is fighting to force changes to our riding boundaries so that he can call another early election. I want to say that we looked into this. There should not be an election until next fall. Those boundaries are not supposed to come into effect until August. Let me say to every member of the Liberal government that when this goes through, every Canadian will be looking at them and asking why they forced this through at this time. They will be saying, “What are the Liberals afraid of in the next election if they wait until the fall?”
In just over 10 years we will have had four elections: in 1993, 1997, 2000 and 2004. On average that is every two and a half years. Look at the cost of it to the taxpayers of this country. In the decade before the 1993 election, there were two elections, in 1984 and in 1988. There were four years between them. The only excuse for having so many elections in such a short period of time would be if we had a series of minority governments.
I am sharing my time with my colleague from Kelowna, Mr. Speaker, but I want to say that when I look at what is happening today, having been here since 1993, I am really shocked and disappointed. I, like many others, was looking for positive change. Positive change is not what we have received. It is not positive change. Bringing back and adopting these bills is not positive change. It is the same bloody thing all over again, which we have had to put up with since 1993. I do not see us doing anything positive for the people of Canada.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
Werner Schmidt Canadian Alliance Kelowna, BC
Mr. Speaker, I wish I could say that I rise with pleasure to debate this motion but I cannot. It is true that I rise with anticipation, but I would far rather not be in this debate because I think it is the wrong subject to debate.
I noticed that the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River called this a procedural debate. He referred to some of the remarks that have been made in opposition to the motion as crocodile tears. He suggested that there were a lot of those in the House. I wonder sometimes whether there is an authenticity of belief on the other side of the House that would in fact commit those members to true democracy in the House. Crocodile tears are usually feigned sorrow about something, being sort of despondent about something sad that has happened but not really feeling that way.
The new Prime Minister, and I put the word “new” into quotation marks, has botched the very thing that he set out to do. I was thrilled when he said that he wanted to take care of the democratic deficit. The illusion was that the previous government had not been as democratic as it ought to have been in the House. The new Prime Minister was going to change all that. I thought, “Good for him”. I also thought that maybe a new wind was blowing. There was a wind blowing all right, but that wind was that he did not really believe in changing the democratic deficit.
One of the first things that happened very shortly after he took the reins as Prime Minister was the whipping into order of the voting pattern of all the members in his government. They had to vote the way he wanted them to vote on the gun registry to get more money into that fund.
There are two insults in that particular behaviour pattern. First, he denied the very thing that he said he was going to make a primary issue and, second, it was already known that an excessive amount of money had been poured into this registry, which really does not work.
We have to be very clear about something else. The motion we are debating today states that bills may be brought forward on the condition that a minister rises and says to the Speaker that they are in exactly the same form as they were at the time of prorogation. The minister has absolute and complete authority to decide which bills are brought forward. So what we have here is absolute power on the part of those people. The government is asking the House of Commons to bring all of those bills back, but the Prime Minister decides, through the minister, what bills will actually be brought forward. If there was ever a concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office, that has to be it.
What we have here is a denial of the very thing that the new Prime Minister was talking about when he was vying for the leadership of the Liberal Party. He said there was too much concentration of power in the Prime Minister's Office. He said he would take some of that power and give it to some of the backbenchers. Lo and behold, one of the first acts in which he is involved is to take that power back into his office and make sure that everybody abides by the wishes that he is going to perpetrate on his members. That is some position to be in.
The new Prime Minister had the opportunity to create for the world and for Canadians an example of how democracy could really be made to work, how he could change the old tradition, and how he could make sure that backbenchers had a real voice. What did he do instead? He appointed a new leader of the House and one of the first things he did was to say that the government has three categories of votes: one-line, two-line and three-line votes. It does not matter whether it is called a one-line vote, a two-line vote, or a three-line vote if in the final analysis the issue becomes one of “the way I want you to vote is the way you shall vote”. That is an empty shell that he has perpetrated on us and on the people on that side of the House.
What I cannot figure out is how intelligent people who have earned the respect of some of their constituents in fact will go for this kind of stuff. They would not do it in their own households, but they will do it here. Why?
The Prime Minister said there was going to be a brand new government, with new bills and new ways of doing things, and guess what? Here we are, not yet at 10 days of sitting in the House, and the motion we are debating is to bring back not new legislation but legislation of the previous government.
What is new about the old? Old is old. I do not want to use the quote that Mr. Mulroney used some time ago about a particular ambassador. We will leave that to another day. Those reading Quorum today will find that it reveals only too accurately what I am referring to. Old is old. I think the House needs to recognize that.
Then we go to the Speech from the Throne. Here was an opportunity to really create something new. What did we find? Did we find a complete statement of how to reform the Senate? We had a complete statement of what we were going to do to make sure that that place would indeed become the place of elected people, that it would be equal and would represent the regions of this country. Did we see a word on reform of the Senate? No.
Did we find anything about the rights of victims of crimes perpetrated upon themselves or their families, victims who are suffering pain and the deprivation of the use of their property, victims who have had their property damaged? Was there any talk in the Speech from the Throne about recognizing their rights and giving them some rights at least equal to those of the criminals? No.
There was a golden opportunity to create a whole new vision for Canada. It did not happen.
One of the bills that is probably going to be brought forward--we do not know but we know that it could be--is the bill on the possibility of the decriminalization of marijuana. I know that there are a lot of people who have smoked marijuana, indeed, who have inhaled marijuana, and who say to this day that it was a wonderful thing to have been involved with. Does that make it true that it is a good thing to decriminalize marijuana?
The debate will rage for a long time, but ultimately we have to make a decision about what is right and what is wrong and we also need to decide how we want our society to live. What kinds of values do we want our young people to have? What kinds of habits should they form? Is marijuana an addictive kind of a drug? I think members will discover that indeed it is, but there are other drugs that are also addictive and that perhaps are even worse and more debilitating, drugs that destroy the body and the brain more effectively than does marijuana. To suggest that these things are totally and completely unrelated is false.
However, one thing that is true in this whole gamut of the consumption of drugs is this business that Canada does not have a national drug strategy. Was there any kind of statement in the Speech from the Throne to give some direction to the people of Canada, to our educators, to our parents, to our young people, as to what constitutes a good life and what constitutes the use of those kinds of medicines and things of entertainment that are useful, rather than the imbibing of drugs?
Virtually every member of the House knows, and if they do not know they ought to, that one of the greatest beneficiaries of the drug trade is organized crime. Do we really want this Parliament to be known as the one that created laws which made it easier for organized crime to have a stronger foothold in our society? I do not think so.
We come to another area, and that is the definition of marriage. Instead of coming to grips with this highly controversial issue, what did the Minister of Justice do? Another question has been referred to the Supreme Court of Canada.
That raises another question. I talked earlier about the democratic deficit, but there is something else going on here. We have a Prime Minister who would give backbenchers more authority, more power and more activity to do the things that matter. By implication, I suppose, although we have not heard him say it, I would draw the conclusion that the Prime Minister actually would like to think that Parliament is making the laws of this land and is indeed determining the direction that legislation should take in this country.
What is the one thing the Prime Minister does in terms of the definition of marriage? We have three reference questions, which were referred to the court by the previous minister of justice, and now a fourth question has been referred to that particular court. It kind of begs the question: Does the Prime Minister really want Parliament to make the laws of this land or is he giving increasing power to the Supreme Court and other judges by telling them that they will be the ones to tell us how the law should go, and that when they have vetted it properly then we will pass the legislation.
The question becomes: Who is really in charge here? Is it Parliament that decides what will happen or is it the courts that will decide what happens?
That raises the immediate next question. During the run up to the leadership of the Prime Minister, he gave clear indication that he would create some kind of mechanism to permit the vetting of possible candidates who should be considered for appointment to the judiciary. What did he do? Shortly after he became the leader and appointed his new cabinet, the Minister of Justice made it very clear that they were not quite ready to do that. They were not quite sure whether a mechanism would ever be put together so that the vetting of candidates for appointment to the judiciary would take place. Where is the sincerity in all of this?
He goes on. The appointment of a new ethics commissioner will take place. Yes, a new ethics commissioner. Indeed, we are going to have an independent ethics commissioner. The one word that has changed here is commissioner. It used to be an ethics counsellor. It probably means the person will be paid more money.
How would the new commissioner actually work? We know that particular commissioner will be appointed by the Prime Minister and report to Parliament. However, who decides what will really happen? I think that becomes the issue here. That may be different ethics but what is new about it? Nothing is new about this at all. We want to be sure that we recognize not only the new ethics in terms of that appointment, but also the new Challenger jets; $100 million.
Mr. Speaker, you are giving me the signal that I should stop talking but we should talk for a long time about this. This is not a new government.
Reinstatement of Government BillsGovernment Orders
The hon. member has had a generous allotment of time for his 10 minutes and I am sure he will want to continue the debate later but at this time it is my duty to interrupt him.
Auditor General's ReportGovernment Orders
I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Auditor General of Canada for the year 2003.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), this report is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
The EnvironmentStatements By Members
Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON
Mr. Speaker, according to Statistics Canada's report “Human Activity in the Environment”, released in 2003, Canada's 1,300 glaciers have lost between 25% and 75% of their mass since 1850.
Glacial stream flow, which peaks in the summer months, provides moisture during dry times, an essential role for the ecological and economic functioning of the prairie provinces.
Along the eastern slope of the Rockies, glacier cover is decreasing rapidly and total cover is now close to its lowest level in 10,000 years. Most of this reduction has taken place over the last 50 years, resulting in a decrease in glacial stream flow during the summer.
These statistics tell us that we have to take strong action in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, otherwise we can expect more droughts, forest fires and negative economic consequences for prairie farmers and western Canadians.
I urge the government to give this excellent report by Statistics Canada attention and priority for policy development.
Democratic DeficitStatements By Members
Jim Abbott Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Columbia, BC
Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister of Canada says that he is going to cure what he calls a democratic deficit. He tells us that he is going to give a voice to his Liberal backbenchers and allow them to vote on behalf of the wishes, desires and direction of their constituents.
Kootenay--Columbia residents know that as their member of Parliament for three terms I have constantly worked to represent their views in this chamber. I have been encouraged and directed by our party policy to give my constituents a voice. I am free to vote according to the wishes of the constituents of Kootenay--Columbia.
Let us contrast that with the Liberals. Last Wednesday the Prime Minister made a big deal about free votes for the Liberal backbenchers. Less than 24 hours later he flipped again and said no free vote on the gun registry. The appearance of the Prime Minister's promise is like a puff of gun smoke. Now we see it, now we don't.
The Prime Minister has extinguished the freedom of Liberal backbenchers and their ability to truly represent their constituents. So much for the PM's cure for the democratic deficit.
Prebudget consultationsStatements By Members
Gilbert Barrette Liberal Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, yesterday, Monday February 9, we had the honour of welcoming to my riding the honourable Minister of State for Financial Institutions, and some of his team.
A round table of prebudget discussions was organized, and about a dozen regional spokespersons took part.
My sincere thanks to the minister for taking the trouble to come and hear what the local people had to say. He listened with a receptive and open mind.
I also wish to extend particular thanks to the participants, who were so quick to cooperate in this venture and so interested in it. Thanks to the quality and appropriateness of their comments, the meeting was an unqualified success.
Senator Marcel Prud'hommeStatements By Members
Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC
Mr. Speaker, Senator Prud'homme is one of the most senior members of this Parliament and a former Liberal member of the House of Commons, elected nine times in a row by those whom he still terms “my people”. Some may hate him, some adore him, but all respect him.
Having been the Liberal member for a Quebec riding such as Saint-Denis for 30 years has given him a depth of experience, the experience of a man who is totally connected with the people.
Right from the time he was first elected on February 10, 1964, he quickly became a speaker in demand all over Canada. For the 10 years that he has been in the other place, he has been regularly able to stir up that upper chamber with his well thought out and often provocative arguments.
Forty uninterrupted years in political life. Good for you, Senator Marcel Prud'homme.
Claude RyanStatements By Members
Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, Claude Ryan is one of those major figures in our contemporary history who leave a deep imprint, both in Quebec and across Canada.
I entered politics at the Quebec national assembly because the Quebec Liberal Party had gained extraordinary momentum and vitality under Mr. Ryan's leadership. His strong belief in individual rights and his call for a Quebec that would include everyone galvanized in a remarkable way the enthusiasm and energy of Quebeckers from all regions and all origins.
Having served under his leadership, both as an opposition member and as a colleague in the cabinet of the Bourassa government, I was able to get a firsthand look at his unique intellectual rigour and at his exceptional power of thinking and reflection.
Claude Ryan was a towering figure who, through his writings, his leadership of the no forces in the 1980 referendum and the inspiration of his integrity and formidable intellect, will leave an enduring historical legacy. We salute his memory.
HealthStatements By Members
John M. Cummins Canadian Alliance Delta—South Richmond, BC
Mr. Speaker, when the government was elected in 1993, Delta, a community of 100,000 people, had a fully operational community hospital with 65 acute care beds.
Today the Delta hospital has no acute care beds at all. All patients with acute care needs must be loaded back into ambulances and driven to a hospital with available acute care beds. Often there is nowhere to send them.
The closure of acute care beds in the Delta hospital followed the unilateral cuts to hospital funding instituted by the Prime Minister when he was finance minister. His attack on medical care has put the Delta hospital and community hospitals like it across the country on life support.
Every Canadian living outside the largest urban areas have been adversely affected by the Prime Minister's cuts to their community hospital and the medical services they provide.
When will the Prime Minister fully reinstate the hospital funding that he took away so that the Delta hospital and community hospitals like it throughout the country can reopen their acute care beds?