Mr. Speaker, my first observation on the Speech from the Throne, which is what we are debating today, is that it contains a lot of words. It reminds me of the opening line in Joseph Conrad's novel Under Western Eyes , when he says “Words...are the...foes of reality”.
Those are sobering words for us here in the Chamber because a lot of words come out of this Chamber. In fact, if the words are not backed with appropriate action, then the words that are uttered here actually become the foe of reality.
I listened carefully to the Speech from the Throne and I read the document. As I was listening in the august corridors outside the Senate chamber, it first struck me that whoever wrote it, although we understand that it has to be ascribed to and responsibility goes to the Prime Minister and the government, but those who joined together to write it had, what appeared to me, an utter disregard for the constitutional jurisdictions upon which this country should run.
Mr. Speaker, you have heard a lot of responses to Speeches from the Throne and responses to things that the government has done. When the Speech from the Throne was read, I listened carefully, took some notes and read the document, and only then did I respond to various media outlets that wanted a response, as they do from all members of the opposition.
I went out on a limb. I knew what it was like, having been in government at the provincial level, to produce a document, maybe a speech from the throne or maybe a budget, and then having to listen to opposition members dismiss the entire work as having nothing of value or believing the whole thing was a farce.
I thought to myself at those times that if I ever became a member of an opposition party, and I guess one must be careful what they wish for, although I certainly did not wish for it, that I would try to find something positive to say about what the government does with a particular piece of legislation, a document, a speech from the throne or a budget.
I therefore did look through this Speech from the Throne and found some things in it that I felt I could fairly comment on to the media, some positive things that were said, some positive direction. At some risk to my colleagues here who might get upset with me, I will admit that I publicly declared that I had found some positive things in the Speech from the Throne. My remarks were published in some national and local media. However when we say those things we become accountable and our constituents look to us to take some kind of responsibility for the things we have said.
However, one of the first items out of the four or five items that I found in the Speech from the Throne that I thought was positive was totally contradicted within 24 hours by the Prime Minister. I had gone to bat for him. I had named an item in the throne speech that was a good thing and said that we should give credit to the Prime Minister for it. I stuck my chin out for him. I have not received a thank you card yet, but I did stick my chin out for him. Within 24 hours and certainly in the days following, one after another, those positive elements that I saw in the Speech from the Throne began to come crashing down around us.
The first reflection I would like to make is related to the utter disregard or misunderstanding of why we have a Constitution and why we have this separation of powers and duties in the Constitution. This is very important. Constitutional jurisdictions are boring for people to listen to but they have a huge impact on our lives.
I would encourage the seven or eight people across the country who usually tune in to what is going on in the Chamber at this time in the afternoon not to leave us now just because we are talking about constitutional jurisdiction. It is very important.
In the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister invaded countless areas of provincial jurisdiction. That means there will be federal government programming going into provincial areas of jurisdiction. If the government has the money to do things in provincial areas of jurisdiction, there is a constitutional process that it could follow.
It is in the Constitution that the government can, through a series of transfers, transfer money to the provinces, as the federal government should, and as it should do more often than it does. It should transfer the funds, but transfer them without the programs, without the incumbent bureaucracy, without the redundancy, and without the lack of efficiency that would erode the programs. And, ironically, without robbing the people in the provinces who desperately need those funds because they have been deflected through a series of federal programs. Instead of the money just going straight to the provinces, to those areas of need, the government is cutting through the constitutional transfer process.
My friends from Quebec, the citizens of la belle province, have known for a long time why the government is bent on interfering in provincial jurisdictions. My constituents do not always understand why Quebeckers are sometimes not pleased with the federal government. It is because, most of the time, the government does not understand the Constitution and does not respect provincial jurisdictions.
It creates the problem through its lack of understanding and through its wilful intervention into provincial areas.
There was a court ruling in Quebec only a few days ago which ruled as unconstitutional the provision of a federal program into Quebec in a provincial area of jurisdiction. I happen to believe that the court was right. The government is creating huge problems and creating a giant waste, and a depletion of resources badly needed by people in the provinces.
There is another area of concern when the government invades provincial areas of jurisdiction. When our framework of democracy was set up, a framework was developed. There was an understanding coming from some of the initial thinkers in this area in the 1500s and 1600s in Great Britain, and later on in France and in the colonies which later became the United States. In all of these jurisdictions there was a distinct and a proper distrust for individuals as they became imbued with power. They knew, and we should know, if we give somebody power we must put in place a balance to that power or the power will first invade their hearts and then start to effect their heads.
That is why there are distinct separations of power in what we call the British parliamentary model under which we operate. There is a legislative area of jurisdiction. It is the House or the legislatures in the provinces. There is an executive. There has to be a government, a cabinet that makes the decisions. There has to be a judiciary which is also separate. It is designed purposely to balance off these areas of power which, if unbalanced, can go to a person's head and democracy could turn authoritarian. The Prime Minister has neglected, ignored or not understood the importance of these separations of power.
I was looking forward to one of the areas the Prime Minister was suggesting to put in check and that is the area of the courts, especially the Supreme Court. The courts wade into areas in which they should not. He understood that. Part of this division of powers is that elected people must be accountable for the decisions they make.
The public needs the opportunity to look at the laws we make and if it does not like the laws then it can throw us out and bring in people who will either make good laws or repeal bad ones. However, the Supreme Court, which should be independent and which should not be interfered with politically, has an increasing tendency--and this is not just a Canadian phenomenon, we know it is international--to wade into areas in which members of Parliament or members of legislatures should be the ones accountable.
It would do us well to go back to the words of Montesquieu who said “Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers”.
The courts should judge on the law and the intent with which it was written. Members of Parliament should be responsible for the laws. When we start to allow that transfer of power, it is just as dangerous as allowing a legislature or the House of Commons to be sitting in a court of judgment and telling people they are guilty or not and sending them off to jail. We would not want that to happen. We could think of some people spoken about today who maybe should be headed to that place, but that is a dangerous power to give to elected people. I am not talking about the legislature invading the area of the judiciary; however, the judiciary has gone too far in too many cases.
A few years ago, an honourable and esteemed judge made this comment to his colleagues on the various benches across the country. He said that if judges want to make laws they should step down from their bench and run for office. He said judges were privateering on the sea lanes of democracy.
We would do well to listen to the words of the English Parliament of 1641 regarding the King's Court of Star Chamber, as it was called. That is where the term comes from. It is an ominous term today. Any star chamber reference has sent shivers up our collective spines, and so it should. It actually came in 1641. The Parliament of the day was fed up with the King's Court of Star Chamber continually invading legislative areas. It passed a statute and closed it down.
The statutes stated:
—but the said Judges have not kept themselves to the points limited by the said statute, but have undertaken to punish where no law doth warrant, and to make decrees for things having no such authority--
They finally had to take things into their own hands.
We have that ability in our Constitution. We have the ability to respectfully say to the court, without drawing our swords, “Notwithstanding what has been said, honourable judges, we are not going to do that.” That covers a variety of areas, not all areas, but it covers a variety of areas.
We have the ability to have a respectful dialogue, and that is what the chief justice has called it. The notwithstanding clause is a dialogue. It has somehow taken on this air of being thermonuclear, “Oh, do not touch the notwithstanding clause. My goodness, it would be devastating to anything that we value as good or right.” No, it was put there very clearly and very specifically.
It is something that could be used if people had the desire to do it, for instance, on the question of marriage. The question of marriage should not be defined or redefined by three judges in a provincial Ontario court, as happened last year. If it is to be changed, it should be done here in this chamber. Members of Parliament, accountable to the people, should change a definition which happens to predate government, churches and synagogues. It was wrong for the courts to stray into that area.
In the Speech from the Throne the Prime Minister said he was going to put some kind of check in place by taking our idea, from this side of the House, of vetting people who want to go to the bench. We would vet them in some kind of public way, not a shredding process as we see in the United States, but through a process where we would have an indication if a hopeful judge would be an activist or was going to take a proper view of ruling based on how the laws were written.
Within days or even hours after the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister was already backing away from that commitment. It became more difficult to support the things that the Prime Minister had been saying. He will get away from the question of marriage by avoiding it during an election by coming up with what he thinks might be all right. Before we even get to debate it here, he tosses it to the Supreme Court. It is turning the democratic process on its head.
MPs should stand and speak up for whatever their view of marriage or whatever the issue is. They should be accountable to their electorate. If people want to take a law to the Supreme Court because they think it has violated the Constitution, then so be it.
This will continue and exacerbate a process. What will happen? Will it be that for everything we want to do here? Will we have to write a reference and fire it off to a group of non-elected people first? I do not think that is appropriate. The Prime Minister backed away. I was congratulating him and he backed away, and he did it quickly.
The Prime Minister said he would allow MPs to vote freely in the House of Commons. I spoke with a number of media representatives after he said that in the Speech from the Throne. I was quoted publicly as saying that it was a good thing and I supported the Prime Minister for that. Allowing MPs to vote freely is basic and academic, but it has rarely happened in the House.
The next day, within 24 hours of the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister backed away. He said his MPs would not be allowed to vote freely on this disastrous issue of the billion dollar failure of the gun registry. Whatever people feel about the gun registry, there was a commitment that we would be able to debate it freely in the House of Commons. We, as the official opposition, clearly said that we would not view this as a confidence motion. We were very clear about that.
However, he used that excuse. He browbeat his MPs. The brand new Prime Minister, looking to set a fresh record on the democratic deficit, browbeat his own MPs into saying that they would lose the government if this went down.
No, they would not. We would not make it a confidence vote. All they would lose is a sinkhole of another billion dollars which is a disaster for this country. He backed away from that one.
The Prime Minister had an opportunity, when he talked about democratic deficit, to look at the Senate. He does not have to go to the Constitution. He continues to use that as an excuse. We have one province where 500,000 people--10 times almost more than ever voted for the Prime Minister--elected a person to be in the Senate and the Prime Minister says no. When an opening comes up for Alberta in the Senate, he will not put an elected person there. This would not require any constitutional change. All he would have to do is respect democracy. He says that he will not respect democracy.
My colleague who spoke before me already referred to the promise. We had a vote in the House to let a bigger portion of the GST and the federal taxes that we pump into our tanks and vehicles every day come home to the taxpayers that sent it there.
He made a commitment to do that. Now we find out how hollow it is. At one point, as my colleague pointed out, half of that money used to come back to the needs of municipalities and perhaps now 8¢ on every dollar and along with it a whole mess of federal programming. There will be federal brass plaques to present. There will be big documents and other layers of bureaucracy set up. The money that is so badly needed for infrastructure by our growing municipalities will not come. I had to retract another area where I said that is a good thing and I gave him credit for doing it.
When a government focuses on areas which it should not even be focusing on, which are none of its business, it loses its ability to focus on the main areas, such as national defence. People ask why does the government not get involved in national defence and properly fund our armed forces. Because it is focused on too many other things, too much minutia that does not even belong to it in the Constitution.
Why has the government not negotiated with any kind of strength on the softwood lumber deal? International treaties are the purview of the federal government, but it is so scattered on running around trying to invade other areas to buy quick votes with its plaques and its pictures in areas of provincial jurisdiction that it neglects and does not have the dynamic force, the intellectual force or the moral force to really involve itself in the area where it should be, such as international treaties. The softwood lumber file has been a disaster. Communities in my constituency, Merritt, Keremeos and in Princeton still have not received the community funding that was promised by the federal government to help them absorb the impact of its own failed negotiations.
Area after area that the federal government should be involved in it abandons. The areas that it should not be involved in it gets into and we continue to lose out.
Our foreign affairs policy continues to be deficient. This country does not have a foreign affairs policy which simply states that our government will support democracies and stand against and resist dictatorships. We see that acted out all the time. Our government, whether it is giving strong statements in support of Taiwan, when 400 missiles in mainland communist China are lined up on the border aimed at Taiwan right now and why? Because it wants to have a referendum and our government will not speak about that.
When the foreign affairs minister from Taiwan wants to visit here, we will not even let him in the country, but when the mainland Chinese communist minister of defence wants to come to the country the government lets him in, and we should let him. We should have dialogue. When the foreign affairs minister of the democratic jurisdiction of Taiwan wants to come here, we send him home. It is all upside down because the government is not focused on the things it should be focused on.
The government is too involved in the minutia. With the money that it says it has that is surplus for all these federal programs and the intrusions into provincial affairs, we could use that transfer of money into our area.
In Westbank in my constituency a bridge needs to be built. There is a commitment to do that but we need sufficient federal funds. We still have not seen the funds come home. He starts the Speech from the Throne with this, but we have not seen the funds to repair the devastation of the forest fires that happened. I have a sneaking suspicion that just before the election we are going to see the big Liberal trucks rolling into town with dollar bills, plaques and pictures of federal ministers. Our people need the funds now.
Health care institutions and post-secondary institutions, yes, they all need money. Transfer the funds but get the federal programming out of it. Get rid of the redundancy. Get rid of that.
As I close my remarks I want to comment on the billion dollar sponsorship scandal. For a number of years I sat around tables with finance ministers and with the Prime Minister when he was a finance minister. He knew in great detail the money he was taking out of provincial programs, but the money that he shovelled into this federal program he says of which he knows not.
I cannot support the initiatives in the Speech from the Throne as I did at the outset, gamely, bravely and giving the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt. He has now proven me and all Canadians wrong by backing away from almost every commitment he has made in the Speech from the Throne. We need a government that will not back away from its commitments.