Mr. Speaker, we in Canada are living in a period of unprecedented challenges to the very foundations of our democracy and parliamentary institutions. The Prime Minister has by his actions and rhetoric undermined our national traditions of fairness, dialogue and unity.
He has used tactics and strategies that are beyond confrontational. Discourse and challenge are part of our parliamentary system, but the Prime Minister has gone beyond that. He has tried to undermine the sustainability of the opposition parties. He has adopted a style of governance not before seen in Canadian history and he has nurtured a rancorous style of governing that is completely inconsistent with our Canadian values.
Canada is in a period of significant economic and political uncertainty. Across the world, nations and their citizens are contending with unprecedented economic challenges. As a result, unique political challenges require bold and innovative solutions. We are at a profoundly significant turning point in our nation's history. People in nations around the globe are looking to their governments for assistance, direction and assurance that in times of uncertainty and need, their voices will be heard.
I understand the Prime Minister has a particular historic interest in the Punic Wars. This may account for the actions he has taken in recent weeks, but we must all remember that the Punic Wars were the largest in the history of the ancient world and lasted over 100 years. They were costly and were in essence about only one issue, power between Rome and Carthage, and their goal was unchallenged dominance. Is this what the goal of the Prime Minister is, unchallenged dominance? He needs to remember that we are living in a democratic society, not in the ancient world.
We have only to look at the recent presidential election in the United States to understand the desire of people to have a better future for a change. The election of president-elect Barrack Obama was about change, as we have so often heard. It was about choosing a government that was prepared to be activist when times called for it and supportive when the people needs such assistance.
The finance minister and the Conservative government had a unique opportunity last week to embrace the goodwill of the opposition in this Parliament when the fiscal update was delivered. For weeks, opposition members posed questions and made statements in the House reflecting the voices of their constituents, calling for real, meaningful action with respect to our economy. Simply put, the Prime Minister had every opportunity, as he had promised, to take the high road and to bring a greater measure of civility to the way in which his government operated in the House.
Instead, he chose to bring forward an unseemly partisan document that was more a political testament than in instrument to address the business of Canadians.
The fiscal update was a political document that contained almost no financial measures, but rather sought to undermine the fiscal viability of the opposition parties. This is hardly a demonstration of parliamentary civility and it is certainly inconsistent with Canadians values.
In addition to this measure, there was also the attempt to remove the right to strike for three years for public servants, which was a red herring simply because the collective agreements did not expire for three more years. Add to this was the undermining of the pay equity process, which was a clear assault on equal pay for equal work within the public sector.
From these attempts to its cancellation of the court challenges program, the government has consistently taken the wrong course. Despite all the rhetoric from the Prime Minister and his government members, the reality is the current situation is absolutely of his own making.
It is still somewhat incomprehensible to any rational person that the government could be so oblivious to the needs of Canadians while pursuing its own narrow political agenda. Canada is not about that. Time Magazine, in describing Canada, once published this statement, “Canada is one of the planet's most comfortable and caring societies”. This is the kind of country we should strive to build, and it is for this reason that we on this side of the House have chosen to act.
The decisions taken by the opposition parties subsequent to the delivery of the fiscal update are the actions of those who recognize that our country is in need of help during this troubled time. Action had to be taken.
It was Winston Churchill who once said, “It is not enough that we do our best: sometimes we have to do what's required”.
What is required is directly relational to what is going on in our economy outside the walls of this Parliament. It was reported yesterday that the November employment report would likely show upwards of 40,000 lost jobs in Canada. Behind that statistic are thousands of families that will now have to determine not how they will celebrate Christmas, but how they will simply meet their bills and put food on their tables.
The automotive sector is facing unprecedented pressure. As the United States government prepares to directly assist them during this time, there is little but indirect and uncertain assurances from the government. Words will not save auto industry jobs in Canada, only action will.
We hear of the loss of jobs within the arts community, from ballet companies in British Columbia to festivals right in the nation's capital. Manufacturing jobs in a variety of industries are being lost almost every day, as employers struggle to contend with new economic realities.
The truth is Canadians and the business community are under pressure. In countries like the United Kingdom and a variety of European nations stimulus packages have already been launched with more to follow.
However, in Canada the government maintains Canadians must wait for the budget originally slated for February, or March, and now, under pressure, moved to the end of January. Clearly even this decision demonstrates the government is not prepared to act.
In the absence of clear and meaningful action, the opposition parties have done what is required of them. The agreement announced on Monday to create a coalition government was a decision taken not out of opportunity but rather of necessity.
I would also point out that the Prime Minister's position is entirely inconsistent with what he maintained only four years ago when he wrote to the Governor General stating, “We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority”.
The “we” the Prime Minister was referring to was his party, the New Democratic party and the Bloc Québécois.
In resorting to the creation of a coalition government, the opposition parties have acted in a manner that is completely consistent with history and operation of a parliamentary democracy.
We have also clearly demonstrated the fact that no election is required. We are prepared to govern.
I would point out that constitutional experts have said that the Governor General's primary responsibility is to determine, with or without a vote, whether the current government retains the confidence of the House.
Based on the documents signed on Monday, based on the public comments of members of the opposition and in the view of the conduct of the government, it is quite clear the government does not in fact enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons.
Constitutional experts further agree that should the government lose the confidence of the House of Commons in a vote, either on a confidence motion or a financial matter, that it would be inconsistent with constitutional practice for the Governor General to grant a request for dissolution.
This is based on the fact that an election took place in the country less than two months ago and therefore constitutional practice would dictate that the Governor General would invite the Leader of the Opposition to form a government if he had the confidence of the House.
Clearly, in this instance, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has the support of the majority of the members of the House to form a government.
This is standard constitutional practice within our parliamentary system. The decision of the Prime Minister and the members of the government does not change the fact that under our system the eventuality I have just laid out is fully consistent with our laws, our precedents and our parliamentary traditions.
In the past four years I have contested three elections. I can assure the House that, like the Canadian people, I do not want or believe we need another election.
Indeed the reference we have heard mentioned around Parliament over the past few days is that of the situation in 1926 when the then Governor General of Canada refused the dissolution request of Prime Minister Mackenzie King. We need to remember that the basis of the decision was not that the government had been in power only a short number of weeks, but that the previous election was eight months prior to the request. Clearly the precedent would support the notion that calling an election now, so soon after the one we just had in October, would be inconceivable and imprudent.
This is most especially the case in view of the fact that we have an alternative government ready to assume office with the guaranteed support of the majority of the members of the House.
The government must remember that in our system we do not elect governments, we elect Parliaments from which governments are formed. Governments are required to secure the support of the majority of the members of Parliament, and clearly the government has lost the confidence of the Parliament.
It should also be remembered that it is not the role of the Governor General to determine the viability of a government, but rather to allow Parliament to make such a determination. Should the Leader of the Opposition inform the Governor General that he has the majority support of the House that should then result in an invitation to form a government.
This would then be followed by the confirmation of support in a vote of confidence in the new government in the House of Commons.
The questioning of the viability of the coalition governments nothing new. In fact, the coalition government of Prime Minister Robert Borden in 1917 met with many questions about its ability to survive. That coalition government operated for several years and was a pivotal point.
Coalition governments in Canada pre-date our nation's Confederation. From 1864 to 1867, the then province of Canada was governed by a coalition government that would ultimately lead to Confederation in 1867. It was known as “the great coalition” and it included the Conservative Party, the Clear Grits of Canada west, and the Parti Bleu of Canada east. This coalition of what we now know as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec brought together the various political parties and interests in a common cause to break the legislative deadlock that had overcome the legislature.
Similarly, from 1917 to 1920, we had the Union coalition which included the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and independents.
We have also seen multiple coalition governments at the provincial level in this country, including in my home province of Ontario in 1985.
In the United Kingdom, upon which our parliamentary system is based, coalition governments are often referred to as “national governments” and governed from 1931-40. That government had three different prime ministers from 1931-40. Coalition governments served as well during both world wars, in other words, in times of great necessity and challenges. In the case of the British coalition government of 1931, this was the direct result of the economic turmoil that had lingered since the 1929 financial crash, and the need for united and effective action by a government.
The current financial situation across the world has been described by many economists and political leaders as being even more perilous than the situation in 1929. Although the economies of the world are more complicated than in 1929, the reality is that ordinary Canadians are losing their jobs, find it hard to manage financially, and they are clearly concerned about the future.
By taking the position of waiting to see what other governments are going to do, the government is adopting a shortsighted and completely unacceptable position. Leadership is about taking action for the best interests of our citizens and if there were ever a time for decisive leadership, this would be the time.
The coalition government we are proposing to the Governor General is one that is committed to act to address the very real and pressing needs of Canadians and one that will take action where the current government was clearly unwilling.
Among other things, the coalition would commit to a $30 billion stimulus package with assistance to the auto industry and the forestry sectors, two areas of our economy under enormous pressure. The coalition agreement is reflective of a genuine desire to make Parliament work in the best interests of Canadians, and to provide them with assistance they need and deserve in these difficult times. What this proposed coalition government is committed to do is simply the same kinds of policies that governments across the world have undertaken in order to assist their citizens in these difficult economic times.
Governing is about choosing and the choices made by the current government have necessitated this action by the majority of the members of this Parliament.
The terms of our agreement mark a new spirit of co-operation and dedication to the needs of Canadians that have been absent from the Government of Canada for too long. The time to act is now and the action needed is bold and unique to the times.
As former Prime Minister Lester Pearson once said, “No other country is in a better position than Canada to go ahead with the evolution of a national purpose devoted to all that is good and noble and excellent in the human spirit”. Let us embrace this noble concept and move forward to build a better Canada.