Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on the motion on the reinstatement of government bills.
Finally, we are discussing the fact that, in November 2003, to the surprise of everyone, the government decided to suspend the deliberations of the House and to resume them in February, because there was a new Prime Minister of Canada and he would have new initiatives and new bills to present to us.
Today, the Liberals, and the member for Lac-Saint-Louis just did so, are asking why the opposition does not agree that all bills be reinstated immediately. Why does it not cooperate automatically to ensure that the bills that were discussed last fall can be revived, at the same stage that they were at, without any questions asked and by simply agreeing to this?
I would like to remind government members that they are the ones who suspended the deliberations of the House. They are the ones who decided that all the bills that were on the Order Paper were no longer urgent enough to be debated. They decided to suspend the deliberations of the House.
This is true for the bill that would make it possible to provide drugs to southern countries, particularly for the treatment of AIDS. In this regard, the Bloc Quebecois gave its support to deal with this bill as soon as possible so that people in developing countries could receive the services quickly. We will not oppose the reinstatement of this bill, of course.
However, the motion before us would also allow us to reinstate other bills, particularly one that is totally unacceptable to the Bloc Quebecois, that is Bill C-49, whose purpose is to move up the effective date of the 2003 representation order.
To make this clear, it should be mentioned that the Election Act provides for the review of electoral boundaries after a number of years to reflect population movements. Ridings are redefined. Following the necessary consultations, non-partisan commissions determine the reallocation of boundaries. The new redistribution takes effect one year after these commissions have submitted their report.
Last fall, the Liberal government set aside the important principle of a non-partisan Election Act by asking that the effective date be April 1, 2004 instead of August 2004, as provided for in the Election Act.
Today, this is posing many problems. Since the government wants to move up the implementation date, we have problems with the fact that the bill is changing the names of some ridings and we also have problems with the enforcement of the new political party financing act. There is a lot of improvisation in all this as well and all that has negative consequences.
Why would we allow Bill C-49—and in this regard the amendment to the amendment presented by the Conservative Party of Canada is interesting—to be automatically reinstated when it is not at all in the interest of democracy in Quebec and in Canada and when it blatantly rejects the important principle of a non-partisan Election Act.
With the changes proposed in Bill C-49 being implemented at the beginning of April, the Prime minister will be able to call an election for early May, while the initial legislation would have given all political parties a whole year to get ready and would have given Canadian citizens the time to get to know what riding they will now belong to. It would be a much more reasonable period.
Today, when the government tells us that we have to reintroduce the bills at the stage they were before prorogation, it is the opposition's prerogative to object, particularly when we know that this will be detrimental to the quality of democracy, as can be seen with Bill C-49.
The Bloc Quebecois denounces the flagrant absence of integrity on the part of the federal government in connection with this bill as it prepares to advance the Prime Minister's personal agenda.
Today, on this black day for the parliamentary process and for Canada since the beginning of its history, the Auditor General has unveiled a situation that is totally unacceptable.
Indeed, a government sponsorship program was used to divert funds to advertising agencies. The money was also used to carry out polls that only served political purposes.
We have yet to find a solution to this problem. On the other side, there are still a lot of members who were sitting here during all that time. We even have a Prime Minister who was finance minister at the time. We are not talking about just any department or just any member of Parliament, but rather about the second most senior cabinet member after the Prime Minister. He complacently told us, in a press conference, that he was not aware of the situation.
Today, we have a good reason not to want Bill C-49 to be reinstated at the stage it had reached at the time of prorogation. Where that bill is concerned, if there is one thing we must to do in the months to come it is to take whatever time is needed to shed some light on this sponsorship fiasco.
It made a mockery of our democracy. We need to go to the bottom of the issue. For instance, are the advertising agencies who illegally pocketed the money not friends of the Liberal Party of Canada and did they not use some of the money to make contributions to that party?
It is a whole patronage scheme that was brought to light here. The auditor general said today that she has never seen such a thing before. We are faced with an extremely serious situation that needs to be dealt with.
As for Bill C-49, the Bloc Quebecois has yet another reason to turn it down. It would reduce Quebec's weight within the Canadian Confederation. Quebec is guaranteed at least 75 seats, but with the population movements that have occurred, we would end up with 75 seats out of 308. For the first time, less than 25% of the members would be representing Quebec in this House. This is totally unacceptable. It is certainly not what the Fathers of Confederation had in mind when they talked about Canada being a country with two founding nations.
Now, Quebec is becoming a minority, as we saw in the Speech from the Throne. The government is talking about the anglophones, the francophones and people of other origins, without any reference to the historical aspect, to the role that Quebec has played, which can be seen on the very coat of arms of Canada.
We do not believe that the government should be allowed to reinstate any bill at the same stage, as it intends to do with its motion. If it has bills that it absolutely wants to introduce, the government and the opposition parties should come to an agreement in the House on the list of bills to be reinstated.
There are bills on which a consensus could be reached. I talked earlier about the bill that will provide drugs, anti-HIV/AIDS drugs in particular, to African countries. I am sure, and I have seen this during debates in this House, that there is a general goodwill among all parties to ensure that this bill can be reinstated at the stage where it was before prorogation. There will be no problem in this regard.
I mentioned another bill, Bill C-49. Major difficulties should be expected in that case. There is also a set of other bills on which we should negotiate with the government to determine whether they should be reinstated. For example, there is the assisted human reproduction bill and related research. We are in favour of the bill in principle, but there are jurisdictional problems.
During the whole debate on this issue, the Bloc Quebecois told the federal government that it had to reach a compromise that would allow Quebec to maintain its jurisdiction without any federal interference. Today, as we debate a bill or a motion to allow the reinstatement of certain bills, it would be only normal that we, as an opposition party, have the opportunity to say that, among these bills that the government wants to bring back, there are some that we do not think appropriate to reinstate. Let us find a compromise on a list of bills that should be reinstated. Then we will be able to reconsider the situation.
There is also the former 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. We are against this bill that would allow any air carrier or operator of an airline reservation system to divulge certain information about a person, such as their name, date of birth, ticket number, and itinerary.
Over the past few months, now that the panic resulting from the events of September 11, 2001 is subsiding, we have seen that in order to strike a balance between the protection of personal information and the thirst for information of security services, we must make sure there are enough watchdogs. In this regard, the bill does not introduce the elements we might have expected.
Today, a time allocation motion has been put forward. The government had months to decide on how to reinstate bills. It did not find a way to avoid a time allocation motion.
It is pretty bad when in the first few days back in the House a time allocation motion has to be used. This type of motion limits the right to speak of parliamentarians who were elected to represent the public in this House. The government should be judged on how many times it uses this kind of motion and for which bills.
In this case, it is completely unacceptable that at the beginning of the session this type of time allocation motion is already being imposed for bills that should be debated over the next few months.
A bill was introduced on electronic piracy. Again, there was consensus on most of the clauses in the bill. Thus, we would not be opposed in a debate. Yet, in the bills for which there is opposition, it is important to make sure that things are done properly and that we do not debate issues that were put on the back burner, simply because of a strategic decision made by the Liberal Party.
The government decided to prorogue the session in the middle of November. The main reason, as we have seen today, was that the Auditor General was to table her report in November. Because of the importance of the report that was to be presented, the government felt compelled to put off dealing with the problem until now. It tried to create a new era that would allow them to say that all this was the way the former government operated and that they were completely different. I do not think that Canadians will buy that.
The situation being condemned today has to do with the fact that the government in place since the last election is composed of all the Liberal members in the House and that several current ministers have been part of the cabinet for years.
We remember former Prime Minister Chrétien saying that this was a program aimed at national unity and that a few millions lost were not a big deal.
When a prime minister sends such a message and the members of the cabinet say nothing, that means they feel the same way. Nobody from the Liberal benches got up to say that the Prime Minister's statement made no sense.
As a matter of fact, the Auditor General had a scathing remark to that effect, saying that the end does not always justify any means. In this case, the end did not justify the means.
It is understandable that federalists would want to promote Canada's unity. Wanting to do so legally can be defended. However, nothing can justify the fact that funds were misappropriated, and for the benefit of their own party.
This was a flagrant misappropriation. We need to get to the bottom of this. This is another factor that has to be taken into consideration during the negotiations between the government party and the opposition.
If the government feels that some of its projects are important, we need to have guarantees. We will need something tangible if we are to debate the content of the Auditor General's report with some urgency, thereby ensuring that the commission of inquiry will be made up of people above suspicion.
In our opinion, we have not yet had any guarantees from the Prime Minister. He appears to be sitting on the fence on this issue, as he does on many others.
For the Bloc Quebecois there are many reasons why the motion, as presented by the Liberal government, should be rejected. Interesting amendments have been submitted by the Conservative Party. It will be up to the people to decide whether the government acted responsibly in suspending the deliberations of the House in November 2003, and resuming them in February 2004, claiming that we should be able to continue with business as usual, because nothing special had happened during that interval.
The government must find out there is a price to be paid for this decision. If there were a difference between the former government and the new one, it should have been apparent in the way of going about things, and today's motion shows this is not the case. The new Prime Minister made a promise to reform Parliament but today we are in exactly the same situation as we were in the past.
The bills they want to reinstate today are bills that had already been brought in under the former government of Mr. Chrétien. The main problem, in my opinion, is that democracy is being hijacked by using a non-partisan bill like the one to modify the Elections Act, to move up the date for calling an election.
Nevertheless, as of today, with what we have seen in the Auditor General's report, there may be reasons for the Prime Minister to reassess the situation. I am sure that most people in Quebec and in Canada are thinking this evening that we cannot give this party another mandate to govern this country, and that its members need some contemplative time in opposition. There is ample evidence that this government should not be re-elected.
There has not been enough change. There is nothing that indicates clearly that another way of doing things is coming. Almost all the actors who are here today were involved in this government in the past.
For all these reasons, we shall vote against the government's motion and ask once more that there be established a list of bills that truly deserve reinstatement before this House and on which the parties agree.