Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his extremely pertinent remarks, considering what is happening this morning in this House.
I know that the word “hypocrite” is not parliamentary, and I am certainly not going to use it, but I believe that the word “Pharisee” is.
Still, it is rather unbelievable to witness such a situation this morning. When the Conservatives were in opposition — remember that this took place in the post-Gomery period — they wanted Parliament to be more transparent, for parliamentarians to be more efficient, more accountable, and they wanted to enhance the role of every member. They wanted to put parliamentary business at the centre of this reform.
We know that members spend a great deal of time in committee. I remember when I was elected in 1993, the leader of the Bloc Québécois at the time, Lucien Bouchard, told us that question period was important and made it possible to exercise some control on the actions of the government, but that it was in committee work that a member reached his true worth. It was there that a member’s knowledge of an issue could be seen, it was there that in-depth examination was carried out and it was there that bills could be improved.
We were looking for a revision of the Standing Orders and the adoption of these new rules, which were one of the demands of the Conservatives. I recall even some aspects that were not contained in the new Standing Orders. For example, when they were in opposition, the Conservatives wanted all private members bills brought to a vote. They said that whenever there is a debate, reports or bills, there should be an exchange between parliamentarians.
What a government of Pharisees we have there! What hypocrisy; what a shame after the promise given for the government to back track! The current prime minister, who was then the leader of the opposition, had made demands for an amendment to the Speech from the Throne. All political parties, all the party leaders were agreed on a reform of the Standing Orders. Today, a government that receives 17% of the projected vote in Quebec, and almost 30% nationally, is acting like those traditional parties who lose the confidence and respect of our fellow Canadians. Why? Because they say one thing when they are in opposition and do the opposite when they are in government.
Thankfully, this is not a majority government and, God and the voters willing, it will never be. This is a government that is unable to follow through on promises. Members in this House may have differing convictions. We can lean toward the left or the right. We can believe in government intervention or have greater faith in private enterprise. We may have a different vision of the social contract by which we exist and interact. But, in a Parliament, you cannot behave in such a way as to do the opposite of what you said when in opposition. That is unacceptable and, once again, it goes to show that the Conservatives are an immature party, unable to govern the state respectfully.
Let us get into a bit more detail. What did the reformed Standing Orders provide? First was the matter of opposition days. Members know that, for each parliamentary calendar, opposition parties may submit to the table officer a list of topics of current interest for the consideration of the House, which will be votable. Understandably, the number of opposition days is proportionate to the respective number of seats of the various political parties.
This means that the official opposition has more opposition days than the Bloc, and the Bloc has more than the NDP. Opposition days are an important mechanism whereby political parties can draw attention to problems. For example, the Bloc Québécois had opposition days on the POWA, the lack of control over gasoline prices, the missile defence shield and lumber. When they were in opposition, the Conservatives maintained that all opposition day motions ought to be votable. Now, they want to backtrack on that. They do not want all opposition day motions to be votable.
Again, how can we expect Canadians and Quebeckers to respect this party when it is unable to follow a guideline, and its principles, sense of honour and commitment keep changing depending on which side of the House it is sitting? That is unacceptable.
Another aspect of the Standing Orders that was a major improvement, an operating procedure that was to the benefit of all parties, is this ability to convene parliamentary committees on shorter notice. Before the amended Standing Orders were adopted, we could not convene a parliamentary committee without giving 10 days’ notice, whether it was the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities or the Standing Committee on Finance. Parliamentary committees could be convened on 10 days’ notice. Now, if the request is signed by a certain number of permanent members, a parliamentary committee can be convened on five days’ notice. This is important, because even when the House is not sitting, parliamentary committees may have to make decisions.
When our colleague, the member for Joliette, was the Bloc Québécois international trade critic, he asked that the committee be convened in the middle of the summer because of the softwood lumber agreement. At the time when my colleague from Joliette asked that the committee be convened, the softwood lumber agreement was causing the forest industry some concern. As a result of the questions asked by the Bloc Québécois, the government was of course persuaded to improve the agreement. There are therefore times when parliamentary committees have to be convened.
I would note the excellent work done by my colleague the foreign affairs critic in the last few years, and wish her a prompt recovery; she should be back with us in the near future, or at least that is what we hope for her. Our colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île had to ask that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade be convened because of the crisis taking place in the Middle East, the Lebanon crisis.
I do not understand this double talk, this holier than thou attitude, this hypocritical attitude, which makes people incapable of keeping their word and makes them say one thing when they are in opposition and another when they are in power. What point is there in having a minister responsible for democratic reform? What point is there in talking about recognizing the role of members of Parliament? How can we think that the public will respect their elected representatives if the government zigs and zags and is incapable of keeping its word?
What a disappointment! God and our fellow citizens willing this government will never get a majority. I am convinced that our fellow citizens will sit up and realize how unworthy this government is of being given another term.