Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I was a bit surprised this morning to learn the subject of today's debate.
A few weeks ago in the committee which I have the honour to chair, a number of Conservative MPs created a spectacle by complaining that they were not getting what they judged to be a sufficient number of opposition days. At that time, the committee decided it would report the issue to the House in its 35th report. The Conservatives then argued that not only did they need more opposition days, but they wanted them right away because they wanted to debate opposition issues.
Today is one of those days. Instead of debating their own opposition day, in which they should indicate their perceived failings in the way the government administers the business of the nation, opposition members have decided to filibuster by discussing a concurrence motion in a committee report. I guess they have been unable to find anything wrong with the government.
They claim that is not the case, but I challenge them to this. The next time they have an opposition day, what would happen if a Liberal moved concurrence in a committee report thereby displacing their opposition day? Presumably this would be perfectly okay because after all that is what they are doing to themselves. If they are doing this to themselves, presumably somebody else doing it to them would be similarly correct. Otherwise why would they be doing it now?
You are truly objective in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and non-partisan so you have probably fairly evaluated at this point the fact that the Conservative opposition does not know what it is doing, at least this morning. I will let others decide about other occasions. Clearly this morning those members do not want to debate their own opposition day.
What is the purpose of an opposition day? It is historically and constitutionally a process by which the Sovereign is not granted supply until the grievances of the people have been heard. That is very clear in our rules. The grievances of the people are manifested, in parliamentary terms, by way of opposition days and listening to the debates. Once all opposition days are exhausted, we vote on supply, which we will be doing tonight. Once we start with the supply bill, there is no more debate on the bill because debate was held prior to the bill's introduction on the floor of the House. That is the way the process works.
Today we were supposed to listen to the grievances of the people as manifested by the opposition days. This morning opposition members are saying that they have no grievance. They do not want to debate the grievance they said they had when they tabled their opposition motions. That itself is very indecisive on the part of the opposition. They cannot make up their minds what they want to grieve because they have tabled half a dozen opposition motions. They then have to decide whether one of them has any legitimacy for debate in the House of Commons.
I guess this morning they looked at the list of their so-called grievances and concluded that none of them had any merit. Having done that, the only thing left for them to do was to move concurrence in a committee report. Concurrence in the committee report in question has to do with reappointing an officer of the House, not a government official.
We are talking, here about the hon. John Reid, who is the Information Commissioner of Canada. I am somewhat familiar with Mr. Reid's file because I was the one who moved the motion a few years ago that he be appointed to this position. At that time, another candidate had expressed interest but he failed to receive the unanimous support of the House. Mr. Reid had not officially submitted his name. Some members of the House, even some members of the opposition, suggested that the government consider appointing or officially submitting his name as a candidate, if he was interested. He was. The hon. John Reid, a former minister, expressed interest in this appointment. Prior to this, he had co-sponsored the Access to Information Act. He was well known in the field and continues to be today, since his appointment. In my opinion, he has done an excellent job.
John Reid's name was put forward for this position. He appeared before a parliamentary committee, and his appointment was approved by a unanimous vote in the House, as we all recall. This happened during the previous Parliament, some five years ago, I believe.
Today, some members feel Mr. Reid ought to be reappointed. I do not know if this is possible under the rules. He is certainly highly competent. The government will decide whether it wants to propose him again as a candidate.
A parliamentary committee is of course absolutely free to congratulate an officer of Parliament on his work. This is evidently what the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics concluded in tabling its fifth report. That is all very well and I have no objection to the process or to the fact that the committee made that statement, and that it is submitted to this House.
What I do have trouble with is that the opposition made such a fuss a few weeks ago about not having its quota of opposition days. In fact, the committee I have the honour to chair was asked to table a report in this House setting out this shortcoming. Today those same members who were demanding their opposition days are in the process of holding a filibuster on the opposition day they themselves asked for. I just do not get it.
I have been in this House for some time, and I find this parliamentary strategy a bit hard to understand. Normally, MPs, particularly those in opposition, consider these opposition days something sacred in a way. They are, to some extent, because they are part of our constitutional conventions to which I have already referred, which require that the grievances of the people must be heard before we vote on supply.
That is what we are doing, or at least what we should be doing today. The members opposite have the opportunity to debate this or that government policy, be it agriculture, foreign affairs or what have you. They have a chance to say that it is not to their liking and that the policy should contain more of this or less of that. They can fault the government for not having done as much as it ought to in connection with this or that issue, or for having done too much in connection with some other. These subjects of debate are totally legitimate. That is why we are here. That is the reason the opposition itself raised in demanding that the 35th report be tabled.
I will summarize that report, on the off chance that some members may have forgotten some points in the text.
The 35th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which I have the honour of chairing, need I point out, said:
Pursuant to its mandate under Standing Order 108(3)(a)(iii), the Committee has considered a change to the Standing Orders.
The Committee recommends that Standing Order 81(10) be amended by adding the following:
(d) For the Supply period ending no later than June 23, 2005—
That is the supply period ending this evening, the deadline being June 23. So we will decide tonight, and this is the last opposition day.
—if the government has not designated any of the remaining six allotted days so that an opposition motion can be considered—
This is oddly like what could have happened today, had the opposition chosen to exercise its mandate. According to the Constitution, the opposition must want, by definition, to make the grievances known. The leader of the opposition calls himself the leader of the government in waiting. So, the leader of the opposition wants, rightly or wrongly—this time, I think, wrongly—to replace the Prime Minister. To do so, he must explain to the Canadian public as forcefully as he can, why his ideas are better than those of the government, using the opposition days.
That is not at all what is happening. That is not at all what the opposition is trying to do this morning.
I will continue to read this motion because I know the hon. members find it interesting:
—that May 19, 2005 shall be so designated—
What they wanted the other day was to get as many opposition days possible as quickly as possible. They did not want to miss out on any before the end. However, we are now coming to the end and the opposition finds, believe it or not, they have one opposition day too many. They no longer want it.
I have a question for the New Democrats. If they were offered an additional opposition day, would they take it? I think they would. There are, no doubt, issues the New Democrats would want to raise in this House if they had an extra opposition day. I am sure of it. How is it that the New Democrats would have an issue to raise and the Conservatives seem not to? Do they not have any more matters to address, nothing more to do or to ask? They feel the government is doing a good enough job that there is no need to question it during the last day reserved for that purpose. As a parliamentary strategy, it is nothing to write home about.
I will continue to read the motion from the report I tabled on behalf of the committee that I chair:
—the vote shall not be deferred beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on that day.
According to the opposition members, it was so urgent to have opposition days that the vote could not even be deferred until the next day. They had to have as many opposition days as possible as soon as possible and the votes had to be held the very same evening, such was their need to denounce the government.
Now what do we have? The opposition has a day left over. It ran out of things to ask the government. It put a number of motions on the order paper for supply. It should only be putting one in any event. That was the intent of the first modernization report which I chaired, but that is another matter. Then it looked at all of them and guessed that none were legitimate. None of these so-called grievances were worthwhile raising, so the opposition moved concurrence in a committee report instead of debating an opposition day motion on the last opposition day and the last opportunity that we have to do so before the summer adjournment.
Therefore, I ask all my colleagues sitting on this side of the House, is this what an opposition party should be doing? I know my colleague from Scarborough--Rouge River sat with me in opposition. When we were in opposition, and I was there for a long time, we never ran out of things to ask Brian Mulroney. We never ran out of subjects to raise on opposition days. We know of course that when the Conservatives were in government, they had a number of shortcomings.
Given all the shortcomings that the Conservatives had at the time, we had lots of things to ask of them on the floor of the House. We never ran out of subjects to ask. We never filibustered our own opposition day in order not to get to orders of the day because we wanted to debate our opposition day motion. We wanted to keep the Prime Minister of the day accountable. First, because that particular government had many shortcomings; and second, we saw it as our duty as a government in waiting because that is what we were. We waited very patiently, particularly from 1988 to 1993, as my colleague from Scarborough-- Rouge River will recognize, and then in 1993 having duly waited as the government in waiting, we became the government.
Why did we become the government? It was because the previous government was not very good. As a matter of fact, it was bad. We held it accountable which was our duty and then the Liberals were elected. That is what happened in 1993.
The spectacle we have before us is an opposition day with the opposition having run out of subjects to ask the government. It is filibustering its own opposition day to avoid holding the government accountable. If that makes sense, I guess I will have to eat my hat.