Mr. Speaker, as I address the question of the time extension, I want Canadians and the residents of my riding of Calgary Centre-North to be clear on what is happening here.
We have had a motion of closure, which has been addressed, and a decision is now before us to extend the sitting hours of the House. The effect of the closure, coupled with this extension of the sitting time of the House, is to permit the Liberal government to ram through several pieces of legislation. I predict that this is the first in a series of closure motions that will happen beneath the umbrella of this time extension that Canadians will see over the course of the next seven days.
The underlying purpose of what the Liberal government is attempting to do is to override Standing Order 28(2), the Standing Orders that provide for the operation of this House, and to do so in circumstances where there is no emergency. There is no emergency in this country and there is no necessity for this time extension.
What is being proposed is that the government sacrifice the parliamentary calendar, which is constructed into Standing Order 28(2,) and to do so for its own political expediency and its own political purposes, rather than for any national purpose or national emergency, which is required.
At this time there are two controversial pieces of legislation before this House: Bill C-48, which I have referred to as the NDP budget bill; and Bill C-38, the marriage bill. Both of these are important pieces of legislation. I will turn to them in more detail as I proceed, but I think it would be fair to say on behalf of all members of the House that both of these pieces of legislation have attracted considerable attention and considerable controversy. They are bills in respect of which there are many differing opinions in this House and many parliamentarians who wish to speak on behalf of their constituents with respect to both of those issues.
The question that is before us this afternoon is why the government has found it necessary to invoke closure to force the extension of the sitting hours of the House of Commons to deal so quickly with these two pieces of legislation that have been before the House for some time.
As I begin, I note, parenthetically, that this is not the government's calendar which it seeks to change, it is the calendar of the House of Commons. It is the calendar that was arrived at and negotiated with considerable care on behalf of all Canadians. In fact there was a Standing Orders committee that grappled with the whole question of the parliamentary calendar. This parliamentary calendar that we have today was adopted after considerable thought. Two different committees at two different points in time studied this Standing Order, and the purpose of the Standing Order, frankly, was to bring some order to the calendar of the House of Commons and to ensure that we were able to balance the difficult schedules of members of Parliament with the business of the House of Commons.
The Standing Orders were arrived at, as I understand it, with an all party consensus, and they should not be changed lightly.
Earlier today the Liberal member for Sarnia--Lambton objected to what the government was attempting to do here, which is to railroad through these two pieces of legislation. He referred to is as “legislation by exhaustion”. I might add to that terminology, legislation by closure because the use of the closure motion is an essential part of the strategy that the government is pursuing.
I would like to discuss the hypocrisy of the government in proceeding in such an undemocratic way to deal with two pieces of legislation that are very controversial and in respect of which there are a wide range of opinions in this House. I think we can all agree that, by definition, the invocation of closure, coupled with the extension of the sitting hours, involves steps that are undemocratic because the House will not have adequate time to deal with the legislation that is before it.
One only has to examine a handful of documents to fully appreciate the duplicity and the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister and his government House leader.
I would like to take members, first, to the Prime Minister's swearing in. The Prime Minister was sworn in on December 12, 2003, and any analysis of failed expectations and hypocrisy must, by definition, begin on that date.
At that time the Prime Minister said, “We are going to change the way things work in Ottawa...to re-engage Canadians in the political process”. He stated that this would be his number one priority or at least one of his many number one priorities.
Nothing was said at that time about invoking closure. Nothing was said at that time about ramming through legislation at the close of session under the cover of night. Nothing was said at that time about limiting the debate of the elected representatives of the Canadian people.
The only thing we heard was the hypocritical statement, which we now know was hypocritical because there was no intent to honour it, “We are going to change the way that things work in Ottawa”.
We are certainly doing that but to no avail and not to the benefit of Canadians.
The throne speech followed shortly after that. If people want to understand what the government is doing with Bill C-48 and Bill C-38, they need only go back and look at the throne speech of February 2, 2004 where the government said:
We must re-engage citizens in Canada’s political life. And this has to begin in the place where it should mean the most -- in Parliament -- by making Parliament work better.
Further on in the speech it states:
The Government of Canada is determined to return Parliament to the centre of national debate and decision making....
The speech contained references to more free votes and to enhanced roles for members of Parliament to shape laws. It then states:
Significantly enhancing the role of all MPs will make Parliament what it was intended to be -- a place where Canadians can see and hear their views debated and their interests heard. In short, a place where they can have an influence on the policies that affect their lives.
Later in the same throne speech it states:
Canadians expect government to respect their tax dollars. They want to have the confidence that public money -- their money -- is wisely spent.
Is that not curious? There is nothing in the throne speech about invoking closure. There is nothing in the throne speech about closure coupled with extension of sitting times to ram through two pieces of legislation that Canadians consider to be important. There is nothing about closure, nothing about shortening debate and nothing about truncating public discussion.
Perhaps someone from that side of the House, someone with a shred of integrity, would be able to explain how to reconcile what the government promised in the throne speech in February 2004, with the conduct that we have seed from the government over the last several days.
However it gets better from there. On February 4, 2004, two days after the throne speech, the government put forward a document entitled “An Action Plan for Democratic Reform”. The document talks about the three pillars of democracy that the Prime Minister values. The second pillar is about restoring the representative and deliberative role of members of Parliament.
The report goes on to state that “Democratic reform will reconnect parliamentarians with Canadians by giving MPs greater freedom to voice the views and concerns of their constituents.
The document continues on to say:
What this means for individual Canadians is that the people they elect will be able to better reflect their views in the process of government. It also means increased responsibilities for individual Members of Parliament to ensure that these reforms result in real change.
The action plan for democratic reform says nothing about closure, nothing about the extension of time coupled with closure, nothing about eliminating the rights that the members of Parliament in this House have to participate in debate, and nothing about limiting the parliamentary freedom of our constituents by pushing forth two pieces of legislation without having a full and adequate opportunity in this House to carry on with the debate during the regular sitting of the House.
If one looks at the action plan for democratic reform itself, entitled “Ethics, Responsibility and Accountability”, we see that in this document there is of course a letter from the Prime Minister himself, in which he states:
Parliament should be the centre of national debate on policy...Members [of Parliament] should have greater freedom to voice their views and those of their constituents, reinforcing the role of House Committees...
I do not see anything in the letter from the Prime Minister about what the government is attempting to do in this case with Bill C-48, which I will come to in a few moments. I see nothing about that in the letter from the Prime Minister or in the letter from the House leader that accompanies this same document, in which he says:
Secondly, we must restore Parliamentarians' role in generating authentic, thoughtful, and constructive debate.
If the government believes in this, if it has any sincerity in believing in this, why is it not prepared to take Bill C-48 in particular, bring it forward and continue with debate according to the parliamentary calendar? If this means that third reading of this bill is secured when the fall session resumes, then so be it. What is the urgency of proceeding with closure, coupled with an extension of time, to ram this piece of legislation through the House of Commons at this point in time?
If we carry on and read this document it is breathtaking to appreciate what this government has said and how it just does not measure up with its conduct in terms of democratic reform in this country.
On page 1 of the February 2004 document, “An Action Plan for Democratic Reform”, we have the following statement:
Democratic institutions must constantly adapt and change in order to ensure that the process continues to work the way it was intended. Individuals, through their elected representatives, must have a strong voice in the great debates facing the nation. There needs to be real exchanges of opinion and constructive dialogue between Members of Parliament, reflecting the views of the people they represent.
In a statement of general principles that follows, we have item 3:
Parliament should be a national forum for debating and shaping national policies and legislation and for considering regional concerns and issues.
Principle 4 states:
Members of the House should have more opportunity to express their own views and those of their constituents.
Principle 5 states:
House Committees should have the resources and mechanisms necessary to become a central focus of debate, and to shape and modify legislation.
What is astounding is that none of these principles are being followed by this government in its conduct in dealing with Bill C-48, the NDP budget legislation.
Carrying forward from there, just this week we have had this government table in the House of Commons a document dated June 22, 2005, the first annual “Report on Democratic Reform”. It has such a noble title, but it is a litany of hypocrisy to read because this is a government that is not committed to the implementation of the ideas and the concepts that are set out in this report on democratic reform.
Once again there is a letter from the Prime Minister. He says that “Parliament must have greater ability to hold the government to account. Responsibility for democratic renewal rests with all parliamentarians. Democratic renewal must be an ongoing process”.
If the Prime Minister sincerely believes in that, why have they brought forward a closure motion coupled with an extension of time in an effort to ram through Bill C-48, the NDP-Liberal budget, which has flaws that we will talk about in a few moments and which should be carefully scrutinized by Parliament?
The government House leader, who has had the temerity to stand in this House and strong-arm the House with the closure motion, coupled with the motion which is currently before the House, has had the audacity, in the June 22, 2005 annual report, to author several invitations, saying that he looks forward to working with parliamentarians because, in his view, “enhancing the ability of Parliamentarians to represent their constituents and to shape public policy is essential in building public confidence in Canada's political institutions”.
If he believes that, why is he not prepared to have a full, complete and fulsome debate on Bill C-48 in the fullness of time, according to the parliamentary calendar?
He said later in the letter that he looks forward to working with all of his colleagues. The government carries on. The importance of restoring the representative and deliberate role of members of Parliament is discussed, as are the key principles of democratic reform. It is all here, but there is nothing in this document that talks about closure. There is nothing in this document about democratic reform, which talks about abrogating the parliamentary calendar and forcing Parliament to deal with legislation on a shortened process, on what the member for Sarnia--Lambton has referred to as “legislation by exhaustion”.
Paradoxically, there is nothing about that in any of the documents I have referred to, all of which come from the Prime Minister and the government, nothing which talks about that sort of a truncated parliamentary process that we are seeing from the government.
That brings me to Bill C-48, the so-called second budget bill, the NDP budget, which is one of the pieces of legislation which the government seeks to ram through under its current strategy.
I continue to believe that the bill is an abomination which violates the parliamentary expenditure process and which subjects Canadians to overtaxation and to expenditure without representation. I abhor it and I oppose this legislation.
It carries the rather hopeful title of “An Act to authorize the Minister of Finance to make certain payments”. The certain payments total $4.5 billion, and the net effect of this legislation is to create a fund of surplus taxes from which the Liberals have purchased 19 NDP votes in the House of Commons. This is a bill that is two pages in length, has no details whatsoever and authorizes the expenditure of $4.5 billion of public money.
How can that possibly be reconciled with the first annual report on democratic reform from the Prime Minister, where he says that he wants to see a deliberative role for the House of Commons and he wishes to see the House of Commons more carefully scrutinize the public expenditure process?
This, in fact, is not a budget at all. It is nothing more than a vague set of promises made to the NDP with the hard-earned tax dollars of Canadians.
It is only within the context of this Liberal government that we could even have something like Bill C-48, because this is a government which confuses the money of Canadians with its own money. This is a government which is spending future surpluses.
Let us stop for a moment and consider that. The government would need to accumulate $8.5 billion in surplus taxes--effectively overtaxation of $8.5 billion--to drive the expenditures which are promised in Bill C-48. In effect, the bill creates a political slush fund which will be financed from surpluses in 2005-06 and 2006-07 and will be spent by the government.
On behalf of the citizens of my riding, I note that this is one of a number of very curious things which have been happening in the House. The bill contains no details as to how these moneys will be spent and what they will be spent on, other than in the vaguest of details.
Let us examine the bill. It is less than two pages in length. It is about 900 words in total, and it is $4.5 billion, and the strategy that the government has embarked on is to limit the debate on this legislation.
Who then will be reviewing these expenditures on behalf of the citizens of Canada? Clearly the way the government is proceeding, it will not be this Parliament. The bill compromises the public finances of Canada. And since when did the citizens of Canada agree to be governed in this fashion? The legislation is entirely inconsistent with our traditional of fiscal responsibility. It is entirely inconsistent with the commitments that were made to Canadians in the last election.
No one, certainly no one in my riding, has ever consented to pay taxes at a level which would cover the cost of administering the Government of Canada and in addition to that the cost of creating a $4.5 billion fund of surplus taxes which the Liberal government can spend on matters sought by the NDP.
This is fiscal irresponsibility. It is good governance stood on its head. It is tantamount to a legislative commitment to $4.5 billion in overtaxation. It requires thorough debate and it requires debate according to the Parliamentary calendar. There is no reason to abrogate that calendar and rush this legislation through.