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House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was hours.

Topics

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to cut off the hon. member there. More members would like to ask questions. I will go first to the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, as a backbencher I am confused as to why there would not have been some kind of discussion and agreement between the parties at the House leaders' meetings, which happen once a week, eyeball to eyeball, across an oak table upstairs. I have been there in a previous incarnation. I have witnessed the walkout of the Conservative chair of the justice committee. I have been there.

I do not really understand why these things are not working. The government now is seriously at risk of not getting this motion in the absence of any kind of negotiation.

I will put it to the Liberal House leader that 20 years ago, and the member for Egmont will remember this, this type of motion used to pass in the House. We used to sit one, two or three nights just before the June break to try to get work done, but it was all through negotiation. When the Progressive Conservative Party had a majority, it still negotiated.

Does the Liberal House leader not think there is a misunderstanding or lack of comprehension somewhere in the system when we, as four parties sitting around a table, cannot even come to some agreement on what bills should get to what point and pass before the summer break? What is broken here?

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am sure it is a very frustrating situation, particularly for members who have been here for some considerable period of time and have seen the House function in different ways.

There has been a unique style established by the current government in its management of House business. There is not, unfortunately, that spirit of collaboration, give and take, consultation and respect around the table that used to be a hallmark of how the institution would function.

Instead, time and time again, opposition parties are simply told that their views do not matter, that they do not matter, that “it is our way or the highway” and that they can just shove it. That is the attitude. Quite frankly, with that kind of attitude, it is very difficult to work out those collaborative arrangements. We try very hard, as we did at last week's meeting. When the question was asked of the government House leader what the priorities were and what must get done, he would not give an answer.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

We have time for a brief question or comment. The hon. member for Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry there is only a brief moment for a question, because there is much I would like to say.

Quite frankly, what I find more amazing than anything else is that when the motion was first introduced about 35 minutes ago and we had a voice vote, all opposition parties voiced “no”, when of course this could have been passed by unanimous consent, as everyone in this place knows.

In fact, as the government House leader stated, each and every year since 1982 there have been extended sitting hours before previous Parliaments rose for the summer. The reason for doing that is quite simple. It is to spend as much time as required to try to finish any unfinished business.

I would simply ask the opposition House leader, when does he expect now to deal with government business before us? It appears from his remarks that the opposition is going to be denying consent to extended sitting hours. When, then, does the opposition House leader feel we will actually get to attend to government business, as is the responsibility of that member and every member in this place?

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would remind the hon. gentleman that there are two full sitting weeks remaining between now and June 20. As far as I know, the only day that will be treated in an unusual way, and quite rightly so, will be Wednesday, to deal with the aboriginal apology. Otherwise, it will be the normal flow of business for the remaining nine days.

The government has all of that time to advance its agenda. Maybe it should not have wasted the 16 days at the beginning of this session, or advanced all the other ways in which it has squandered the hours, so that this Parliament could have achieved something more.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

June 9th, 2008 / 4 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by saying that the Bloc Québécois, like the official opposition, and like—I believe—the NDP, will opposed the motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to extend the sitting hours, for a number of reasons.

First, it is important to remember—and this was mentioned by the House leader of the official opposition—that the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons have been completely unwilling to negotiate and cooperate. Usually, when Parliament is running smoothly, the leaders meet and agree on some priorities, some items and some ways of getting them done. But since the start of this session, or at least since September, House leaders' meetings on Tuesday afternoons have simply been meetings where we hear about a legislative agenda, which, within hours after we leave the meeting, is completely changed.

That is not how we move forward. Now the government can see that its way of doing things does not produce results. In fact, I think that this is what the government wanted in recent weeks, to prevent Parliament, the House of Commons and the various committees from working efficiently and effectively.

As I was saying, usually such motions are born out of cooperation, and are negotiated in good faith between the government and the opposition parties. But we were simply told that today a motion would be moved to extend the sitting hours, but with no information forthcoming about what the government's priorities would be through the end of this session, until June 20.

This was a very cavalier way to treat the opposition parties. And today, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Conservative government are reaping the consequences of their haughty attitude. As the saying goes, he who sows the wind, reaps the whirlwind. That is exactly what has happened to the Conservatives after many weeks of acting in bad faith and failing to cooperate with the opposition parties.

In this case, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons—and earlier I mentioned his arrogance, which, to me, has reached its peak today with the way the motion was moved—gave us no indication as to his government's priorities from now until the end of the session, despite the fact that he was pointedly questioned about that matter. What we did receive was a grocery list with no order, no priorities. As the leader of the official opposition said earlier, when everything is a priority, it means that nothing is.

That is the current situation: they gave us a list of bills which, in fact, included almost all of the bills on the order paper. Not only were things not prioritized, but in addition, as I mentioned before, it showed a disregard for the opposition parties. There is a price to pay for that today—we do not see why the government needs to extend the sitting hours.

Not only was the grocery list not realistic, but also it showed that the government has absolutely no priorities set. The list includes almost all of the bills, but week after week, despite what was said during the leaders' meetings, the order of business changed. If the order of business changes at the drop of a hat, with no rhyme or reason, it means that the government does not really have priorities.

I am thinking about Bill C-50, a bill to implement the budget, which we waited on for a long time. The government is surprised that we are coming up to the end of the session and that it will be adopted in the coming hours. However, we have to remember that between the budget speech and the introduction of Bill C-50, many weeks passed that could have been spent working on the bill.

As I mentioned, the list presented to us is unrealistic. It shows the arrogance of this government, and furthermore, the order of the bills on the list is constantly changing. We feel this is a clear demonstration of this government's lack of priority.

In light of that, we can reach only one conclusion: if the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform cannot present us with his government's legislative priorities as we near the end of this session, in effect, it means that his government has no legislative priorities. It has no long-term vision. Its management is short sighted, very short sighted indeed. I would even say it is managing from one day to the next. From my perspective, this can mean only one thing: it has no legislative agenda. When we have before us bills dealing with only minor issues, this is what that means.

Proof of this lack of legislative agenda is easy to see, considering the current state of this government's agenda. An abnormally small number of bills for this time of year are currently before the House at the report stage and at third reading. Usually, if the government had planned, if it had been working in good faith and had cooperated with the opposition parties, in these last two weeks remaining before the summer recess, we should have been completing the work on any number of bills.

Overall, as we speak there are just five government bills that are ready to be debated at these stages, in other words, report stage or third reading stage. Among those, we note that Bill C-7, which is now at third reading stage, reached report stage during the first session of the 39th Parliament, in other words in June 2007. It has been brought back to us a year later. And that is a priority? What happened between June 2007 and June 2008 to prevent Bill C-7 from getting through third reading stage? In my opinion, we should indeed finish the work on Bill C-7, but this truly illustrates the government's lack of planning and organization.

As far as Bill C-5 is concerned, it was reported on by the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on December 12, 2007, and voted on at report stage on May 6, 2008. Again, a great deal of time, nearly six months, went by between the tabling of the report and the vote at this stage, which was held on May 6, 2008, while the report was tabled on December 12, 2007.

Finally, Bills C-29 and C-16 were both reported on by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs roughly six months ago.

All these delays of six months to a year force us to conclude that these bills are not legislative priorities to this government.

It would be great to finish the work on these four or five bills, but let us admit that we could have finished it much sooner.

This lack of legislative priority was even more apparent before question period when the House was debating second reading of Bill C-51 on food and drugs. Next on the agenda is second reading of Bill C-53 on auto theft.

If these five bills were a priority, we would finish the work. But no, what we are being presented with are bills that are only at second reading stage. This only delays further the report stage or third reading of the bills I have already mentioned. If we were serious about this, we would finish the work on bills at third reading and then move on to bills that are at second reading.

Furthermore, if its legislative agenda has moved forward at a snail's pace, the government is responsible for that and has only itself to blame, since it paralyzed the work of important committees, including the justice committee and the procedure and House affairs committee, to which several bills had been referred. And then they dare make some sort of bogus Conservative moral claim, saying that we are refusing to extend sitting hours because we do not want to work. For months and months now, opposition members, especially the Bloc Québécois, have been trying to work in committee, but the government, for partisan reasons, in order to avoid talking about the Conservative Party's problems, has been obstructing committee work.

Earlier, the NDP whip spoke about take note debates.

Once again, it is not the opposition that is refusing to work on issues that are important to Canadians and Quebeckers. Rather, it is the government that refuses to allow take note debates, because of partisan obstinacy. In that regard, we clearly see that the argument presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform is mere tautology or a false argument. In fact, it was the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, that slowed down the work of the House and obstructed the work of several committees.

Not only is the government incapable of planning, vision, cooperation and good faith, but furthermore, its legislative agenda is very meagre and does not in any way warrant extending the sitting hours. In addition, the Bloc Québécois sees many of the bills that are now at the bottom of the list as problematic, but if we extend the sitting hours, we will end up having to examine them.

Take Bill C-14, for example, which would permit the privatization of certain Canada Post activities. Do they really think that sitting hours will be extended to hasten debate on a bill that threatens jobs and the quality of a public service as essential as that provided by the Canada Post Corporation? That demonstrates just how detrimental the Conservatives' right-wing ideology is, not just to public services but to the economy. Everyone knows very well—there are a large number of very convincing examples globally—that privatizing postal services leads to significant price increases for consumers and a deterioration in service, particularly in rural areas.

I will give another example, that of Bill C-24, which would abolish the long gun registry even though police forces want to keep it. Once again, we have an utter contradiction. Although the government boasts of an agenda that will increase security, they are dismantling a preventtive tool welcomed by all stakeholders. They are indirectly contributing to an increase in the crime rate.

These are two examples of matters that are not in step with the government's message. It is quite clear that we are not interested in extending sitting hours to move more quickly to a debate on Bill C-24.

I must also mention bills concerning democratic reform—or pseudo-reform. In my opinion, they are the best example of the hypocrisy of this government, which introduces bills and then, in the end, makes proposals that run counter to the interests of Quebec in particular.

Take Bill C-20, for example, on the consultation of voters with respect to the pool of candidates from which the Prime Minister should choose senators. Almost all the constitutional experts who appeared before the committee currently studying Bill C-20 said that the bill would do indirectly what cannot be done directly. We know that the basic characteristics of the Senate cannot be changed without the agreement of the provinces or, at the very least, without following the rule of the majority for constitutional amendments, which requires approval by seven provinces representing 50% of the population.

Since the government knows very well that it cannot move forward with its Senate reforms, it introduced a bill that would change the essential characteristics of the Senate, something prohibited by the Constitution, on the basis of some technicalities.

It is interesting to note that even a constitutional expert who told the committee that he did not think the way the government had manipulated the bill was unconstitutional admitted that the bill would indirectly allow the government to do what it could not do directly.

They are playing with the most important democratic institutions.

A country's Constitution—and we want Quebec to have its own Constitution soon—is the fundamental text. We currently have a government, a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Government in the House of Commons who are manipulating this fundamental text— the Canadian Constitution—in favour of reforms that would satisfy their supporters in western Canada.

We do not want to rush this bill through the House by extending the sitting hours. It is the same thing for Bill C-19, which, I remind members, limits a Senator's tenure to eight years.

These two bills, Bill C-19 and Bill C-20, in their previous form, meaning before the session was prorogued in the summer of 2007, were unanimously denounced by the Quebec National Assembly, which asked that they be withdrawn. It is rather ironic that the federal government recognized the Quebec nation and then decided to introduce two bills that were denounced by the Quebec National Assembly.

I must say that the two opposition parties are opposed to Bill C-20, albeit for different reasons. Thus, I do not think it would be in the best interests of the House to rush these bills through, since we are far from reaching a consensus on them.

I have one last example, that is, Bill C-22, which aims to change the make-up of the House of Commons. If passed, it would increase the number of members in Ontario and in western Canada, which would reduce the political weight of the 75 members from Quebec, since their representation in this House would drop from 24.4% to 22.7%. It is not that we are against changing the distribution of seats based on the changing demographics of the various regions of Canada. We would like to ensure, however, that the Quebec nation, which was recognized by the House of Commons, has a voice that is strong enough to be heard.

The way things are going today, it is clear that in 10, 15 or 20 years, Quebec will no longer be able to make its voice heard in this House. We therefore believe we must guarantee the Quebec nation a percentage of the members in this House. We propose that it be 25%. If people want more members in Ontario and in the west, that is not a problem. We will simply have to increase the number of members from Quebec to maintain a proportion of 25%. There are a number of possible solutions to this.

Once again, I would like to point out that we introduced a whole series of bills to formalize the recognition of the Quebec nation, including Bill C-482, sponsored by my colleague from Drummond. That bill sought to apply the Charter of the French Language to federally regulated organizations working in Quebec. That was for organizations working in Quebec, of course. At no time did we seek to control what happens elsewhere in Canada. The bill would have given employees of federally regulated organizations the same rights as all employees in Quebec, that is, the right to work in French.

Unfortunately, the bill was defeated, but we will try again. Once again, the fact that Bill C-482 was defeated does not mean we are about to throw in the towel and let Bills C-22, C-19, and C-20 pass just like that. As I said earlier, we will certainly not make things easy for the government by rushing debate on these bills here.

And now to my fourth point. I started out talking about the government's lack of cooperation, vision and planning, not to mention its bad faith. Next, I talked about its poor excuse for a legislative agenda. Then I talked about the fact that we find certain bills extremely problematic. We will certainly not be giving the government carte blanche to bring those bills back here in a big hurry before the end of the session on June 20. Our fourth reason is the government's hypocrisy, in a general sense.

This has been apparent in many ways, such as the government's attitude to certain bills. I would like to mention some of them, such as Bill C-20. I cannot help but mention Bills C-50 and C-10 as well.

Bill C-50, the budget implementation bill, makes changes to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's powers, but that is not what the debate is about. Bill C-10, which introduces elements that allow the Conservative government—

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I once again appreciate the good work of our interpreters so that I could understand every word that the hon. member opposite was saying. He addressed a number of things on this issue, but I would like to respond to just a few of them.

The first is he claimed that the bill which proposes that senators be elected is doing indirectly what cannot be done directly. I would like to point out to all members and anybody who happens to be watching that this is not true. The fact of the matter is that the prime minister of the day recommends and appoints senators. He chooses from a list.

I remember when I was on that side of the House I asked many times the prime minister of the day, Monsieur Chrétien, why it was that the list he got from Liberal Party hacks was a more legitimate list than the one given to him by the provinces of people they elected. In both cases, he would choose a senator from a list. That is the response to that point.

The member accused us of pandering to our western roots. I would like to increase the level of respect on that. All of us are elected to represent our constituents. I do not think I am pandering to my people when I properly represent them here. He said that he represents Quebec. Members of the Bloc use that phrase more often than anybody in this place, that the Bloc members are here to represent Quebec.

The difference between Bloc members and me is that I also think globally in terms of Canada and its role in the world. Certainly I think of Canada as a whole when I debate and vote on issues here, whereas he is focused on Quebec only and as such, I think he is doing only part of a job as a federal member of Parliament. I say that respectfully.

I can assure the House that if the shoe were on the other foot, the member would be saying a lot more a lot louder about representation. He indicated that 75% of the seats must come from Quebec regardless of population. That is what the Constitution says and I do not have any particular issue with that, but what about the people in the parts of the country where, because of the demographics, their vote in the House of Commons represents maybe 120,000 people whereas in other areas, it represents less than 100,000?

We should work toward equality for people around the country. That would be a really good nation building thing to do.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the Senate, I am not the one who is saying that. Of the constitutional experts who testified, 80% said that Bill C-20 was unconstitutional, and the other 20% agreed that the government and the Prime Minister were doing indirectly what they could not do directly. Opinion was unanimous, and that was condemned by many of the experts who appeared.

Still with regard to the Senate, not only is the Conservative government paralyzing the work of the House, but it is also paralyzing the Senate. In fact, since the Conservatives came to power, they have not replaced any senators who have retired or died. The Senate currently has 15 vacancies. Last week, Christian Dufour, a political scientist at ENAP, said that at this rate, the Senate would also be paralyzed.

So we are not the ones who are bringing things to a standstill. It is the Conservative government. Moreover, its reform is not at all consistent with what is written in constitution. We have reached the point where it is the Bloc Québécois that is trying to uphold the Canadian Constitution of 1982. That is pretty amazing.

I will conclude by answering the member's last question. We agree that the regions of Canada are entitled to fair representation in this House. But we need to recognize that if Canada is shared by at least two nations, the nation of Canada and the nation of Quebec, then the nation of Quebec must have a political weight in this House that remains unchanged at 25%. We have had 75 members, guaranteed by the Constitution, but 75 out of 308 is not the same as 75 out of 350. It does not give the same political weight. What we are asking is that Quebec, which has been recognized as a nation, maintain its political weight within federal institutions as long as Quebec remains part of them.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member may have forgotten about the first nations. We will probably hear more about that on Wednesday. It is an honest mistake, I know.

I want to recommend to the member that he consider my suggestion that one of the problems here is the issue of respect, that would be the respect between the political parties here and respect for the institution.

He will recall that almost every Thursday right after question period the official opposition House leader asks what we call the Thursday question. The purpose of that is to allow formally on the floor of the House the government to outline to all members of Parliament what the business of the House is likely to be for the next five days.

What has happened in this Parliament is the government House leader makes a speech. It is a show and tell exercise. He outlines everything that has happened for the last month. Then he says what the theme for the week will be and then he outlines about 20 different things.

If the House thinks I am just making this up, I want members to look at the projected order of business. The project order of business allows us to know what business is likely to be dealt with in the House today. Do you know how many government bills there are on that list, Mr. Speaker? There are 18 government bills listed on the projected order of business for the House today. That is not respect for members. That is just putting everything into the suitcase and saying, “Here, do that”. As the government suggests to us that we should be sitting an extra 35 hours or so over the next eight or so sitting days, I think it should at least have enough respect to outline exactly what it wants, not the entire inventory. The government should just tell us what it wants and negotiate something that would allow us to make progress in getting that done.

What does the hon. member think about that?

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to clarify something. It may have escaped my colleague's attention, but I did say that there are at least two nations within the Canadian political landscape. I recognize that the first nations are part of the Canadian political landscape, but we must also recognize that they are nations of a different type because, really, what is important for aboriginals is bloodline. They are nations based on ethnicity. The difference is that in Quebec, as in the Canadian nation, we are trying to build a civic nation, one based on land occupancy. Just a brief aside.

I completely agree with the member's remark: presenting 18 bills as priorities is not only disrespectful of the opposition, but it is also shows a blatant lack of respect for democratic institutions. In my mind, the government lacks respect for democratic institutions when it stalls committee work or when the Prime Minister, the Minister of Public Safety and the member for Beauce refuse to appear in front of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to explain their actions in the Couillard affair.

This government lacks all respect for democratic institutions; it wants to use them for partisan reasons. And it is completely legitimate that the opposition is not giving the government a blank cheque by voting for the sitting hours to be extended.

If the government is serious, let it tell us which four, five or six bills they wish to wrap up by the end of the session, and I am sure that the three opposition parties will cooperate. However, this is not the path that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons laid out for us today.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, when we look at today's orders of the day, we notice a slew of bills that seem to have appeared out of the blue.

I too attend the weekly House leaders and whips meetings. How many times have we met and asked the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons what legislation would be brought in? There might have been two or three bills on the list, and nothing concerning the following week to allow members to prepare, nothing at all.

How can one take the joke so far as to say, with this many bills now up for consideration at the last minute, that they could all be passed when some of them are merely at the second reading stage?

Even if we agreed to extend the hours of sitting of the House, can one realistically think that we would be able to pass these bills with debate? Or could this be done only the Conservative way, “my way or the highway”, where they introduce a bill, put it to a vote and then tell us to live with what they have decided? The problem is that the Conservatives act as if they were a majority government.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are 30 seconds remaining to the hon. member for Joliette.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see that, on the opposition side, we are unanimous in denouncing the disrespectful and somewhat contemptuous attitude of the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. Let us hope that the lesson will stick and that, in the future, the government and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons will show some willingness to work in good faith, in cooperation with the opposition parties. I am convinced that the three opposition parties are prepared to sit down and have serious discussions, but the other side must first stop laughing in our faces.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Davenport, Omar Khadr; the hon. member for Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Tibet; the hon. member for Richmond Hill, Afghanistan.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about the Conservative motion, which states: “That, pursuant to Standing Order 27(1), commencing on Monday, June 9, 2008,—that is today—and concluding on Thursday, June 19, 2008, the House shall continue to sit until 11:00 p.m.”

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.

Steven Blaney

Agreed.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I heard the member for Lévis—Bellechasse say “agreed”. It would be fine to sit, but what has happened over the months that have gone by? What has happened in Parliament under the Conservative minority government? What will happen in the coming months?

If the bills are so important, as the Conservatives are saying, the government can guarantee that, if the motion is not passed, the House of Commons will not be prorogued. That means that in September we will come back to the House and continue to work. The Conservatives would not prorogue until October or November, as they have done before: a young government that came to power prorogued the House of Commons when we could have been debating bills.

This session, after the May break, our calendar shows four more weeks of work. Of these four weeks, two are reserved for the possibility of extended sitting hours here in the House of Commons. I cannot accept that the Conservatives are saying that we are a bunch of lazy people, and that we do not want to work, when this government has done everything possible since last August to ensure that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could not operate.

It has been at least two or three months now since the committee last sat because the Conservatives have refused to appoint someone to chair it. The Conservatives decided that the matter submitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was partisan, and that is why they are not replacing the chair.

I remember that we appointed a new chair, we voted for a new chair, but the chair never did call a meeting of the committee. The chair is being paid to carry that title, but he met with the members once, and then, it was only to adjourn. Is that not partisanship? When a party refuses to hold a public debate on things going on in Parliament or with political parties, that is partisanship.

As I recall, during the sponsorship scandal, it was fine for the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was chaired at the time by an opposition Conservative member, to hold hearings and discuss the sponsorship scandal.

But now that the Conservatives are the ones who spent $18 million during the last election and shuffled money around to spend another $1.5 million on top of that, well, they do not want to talk about it. They will not talk about it. When the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was about to discuss another case, it was shut down again.

To this day, there are bills that have not been debated in committee. The Conservatives think that democracy should happen nowhere but in the House, and certainly not in committee. Parliamentary committees are an important part of our political system, our parliamentary system, our democracy. We were elected by the people in our ridings to come here and pass bills.

We cannot invite a member of the public to testify in the House of Commons, for example. We do not hear witnesses in the House of Commons. We have parliamentary committees where we can invite constituents or people from any part of the country to explain how a bill will affect them and to suggest ways to improve the bill.

For the Conservatives, the most important committee is the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. All they want to do is create justice bills. They would rather build prisons and put everyone in jail than adopt sound social programs to help people work and give them a fair chance in life. For the Conservatives, you either follow the straight and narrow path or you go to jail. These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in.

These are the sorts of bills they are most interested in, yet they brought the work of this committee to a standstill. The chair left the committee and said there would be no more meetings. Experts and members of the public are being prevented from talking to us about important justice bills. This evening, the Conservatives are asking to extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons until June 20 in order to discuss and pass these bills, because they are important. If we do not vote for these bills, then we are not good Canadians. That is in essence what they are saying. They do not want any debate.

They would have us believe that if we extend the sitting hours of the House of Commons every evening until June 20, there will be a terrific debate. We will debate these bills. We will have the opportunity to see democracy in action. At the same time, they have brought the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to a standstill. I have never seen such a thing in the 11 years I have been in the House of Commons. I have never seen such a thing.

I would go so far as to say that it has become a dictatorship. Everything originates from the Prime Minister's Office. So much so that, last week, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons complained that he was tired of rising in the House of Commons. He is the only one to stand up; the ministers do not even have the right to rise to answer questions. It is always the government House leader who answers questions. He was so tired one day last week that he knocked over his glass and spilled water on the Prime Minister. They should have thrown water on him to wake him up because he was tired. He himself told the House that he was tired.

That shows the extent to which the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons as well as the Prime Minister's Office, and not the elected Conservative MPs, control the government's agenda. The MPs have nothing to say. There are also the little tricks of the Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip who told members how to behave in parliamentary committee meetings, which witnesses to invite and how to control them. If they are unable to control them they interrupt the meeting. I have never seen anything like it in the 11 years that I have been an MP.

I have been a member of the Standing Committee on Official Languages since 1998. We invited the minister to appear in order to help us with our work and she refused. She refused. She was asked in the House why she refused and she replied that she did not refuse. The committee was studying the Conservatives' action plan. If they wish to make an important contribution to communities throughout the country, there is an action plan to help Canada's official language minority communities—anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the rest of the country.

The action plan was being studied. We asked the minister to speak to us about the action plan so we could work with her. She refused and said she would appear after the plan was tabled. We will invite her again. I have never seen a minister refuse to help a committee.

We invited her again to the Standing Committee on Official Languages concerning the 2010 Olympic Games. The francophone community will not be able to watch the Olympic Games in French anywhere in the country because the contract, which was bid on by CTV, TQS and RDS, was awarded to CTV. We asked the minister to come to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Instead she said that it was not important for this country's francophones, and she declined. The communities have questions. This all happened in the fall.

This spring, at budget time, the Conservatives declared that money for the action plan or for official languages would come later. We are used to that. We receive an article in English and are told that the French will come later. That is what the budget reminded us of. The money will come later.

But people are waiting. They are wondering what will happen to their communities. People from Newfoundland and Labrador even came to speak to the committee. They told us that currently, minority language communities are having to use lines of credit or even credit cards to help the community. It would be interesting to hear the minister explain why the Conservatives are not giving that money to communities, as they should. They promised to help minority language communities.

I would like to come back to the environment. When we were supposed to be working on environmental issues, the Conservatives systematically obstructed this work for days. They said they had the right to do so. Indeed, they did have the right; that is no problem. We have done the same thing, we will admit. That is part of debate.

Someone came and asked me how we could stop this obstruction. I told that person that it was their right to obstruct and that, if they wanted to talk until the next day, they could. However, when that happens, the chair must not take sides.

Yet that is what happened at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. We had to ask for the chair of the committee to step down. In fact, when we arrived at the committee meeting at 11 a.m., the Conservatives took the floor in order to filibuster and if one of them had to go to the bathroom, the chair adjourned the meeting for 10 minutes. That is no longer obstruction. When we asked the chair if it was going to continue after 1 p.m., he told us to wait until 1 p.m. to find out. Then, at 1 p.m., he decided to adjourn the meeting.

We have been trying since August to discuss the problem of the Conservatives, who had exceeded the $1.5 million spending limit allowed during the last election campaign. The problem with the Conservatives is that they want to hide everything from Canadians. They spoke of transparency, but they wanted to hide from Canadians all their misdeeds. When they were on the opposition benches, they counted on this, especially during the Liberal sponsorship scandal. I remember that and the questions they asked in the House of Commons and in parliamentary committee. They did not hold back.

But they do not want that to happen to them. And if it does, they try to hide it. That is why they did not allow a parliamentary committee to discuss the problems they had created, such as the story with Cadman, our former colleague. His wife said today that her husband told her that he was promised $1 million if he voted with the Conservatives. She never said that was not true; she said that was what in fact was said. Her own daughter said the same thing, that promises had been made. The Conservatives are saying that no one has the right to speak about that. Only they had that right when they were in the opposition, but not us. They are acting like gods and we have to listen to everything they say.

Today, they are moving a motion asking us to listen to them. And yet, when the House leaders and the whips met in committee there was nothing on the agenda. I have never seen the like. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was even asked if there was anything else on the agenda. He just smirked. He was mocking us and today he wants us to cooperate with him. The Conservatives are saying that they are here to work, but they have blocked all the work of the House of Commons for the past six months.

And they are lecturing us?

When the House leader of the Conservative Party tries to give us a lesson and says that we do not want to work, but they are here to work, I cannot believe it.

We have a committee that does not even sit right now. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has not sat for the last two or three months. The Conservatives do not want to hear what they perhaps have done wrong. If they have nothing to hide, they should have let it go ahead.

The Conservatives said that if they were to be investigated by Elections Canada, they wanted all parties to be investigated. Elections Canada did not say that all the parties were wrong. It said that the Conservative Party had broken the rules of Elections Canada by spending over the limit of $18 million. It was the Conservative Party that did that. Right away the Conservatives filed a lawsuit against Elections Canada. Now they say we should not talk about that in the House of Commons.

Every time we went to the House leader meeting and the whip meeting, they had nothing on the agenda. The Conservatives say that they are very democratic. They want a big debate in the House of Commons on bills. BillC-54, Bill C-56, Bill C-19, Bill C-43, Bill C-14, Bill C-32, Bill C-45, Bill C-46, Bill C-39, Bill C-57 and Bill C-22 are all at second reading.

I will not go into detail about what each and every bill is, but even if we say yes to the government, we will be unable to get through those bills. If we want to get through those bills, it will be the PMO and the Prime Minister's way. The Conservatives bring bills to the House and say that members opposite should vote with them. If we do not vote, they say that we are against them. That is the way they do it, no debate.

The debate, as I said in French, should not only take place in the House of Commons; it should to take place in parliamentary committees. That is the only place where Canadians have the right to come before the committees to express themselves. That is the only place people who are experts can come before us to talk about bills, so we can make the bills better.

When a bill is put in place, it may not be such a good bill, but maybe it is a bill that could go in the right direction if all parties work on it. If we put our hands to it, perhaps it can become a good bill. We could talk to experts, who could change our minds, and maybe we could put some new stuff in the bill.

However, no, the Conservatives got rid of the most important committee that would deal with the bills in which they were interested, and that was the justice committee.

I may as well use the words I have heard from the Conservatives. They say that we are lazy. How many times did we say at committee that we would look after the agenda, that there were certain things we wanted to talk about, for example, Election Canada and the in and out scheme? At the same time, we said we were ready to meet on Wednesdays and we could meet on other days as well to discuss bills.

We proposed all kinds of agenda, and I dare any colleague from the Conservative Party to say we did not do that. We have proposed an agenda where we could meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and the Conservatives refused.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

You threw the chairman out.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

My colleague said that we threw the chair out. Yes, because he was partisan. The reason for that is because he allowed the same member to talk only until 1 o'clock and he should have been allowed to talk until 2 o'clock the next day. That is what filibustering is.

However, the Conservatives have a different definition of filibustering. Their way of filibustering is when a person needs to go to the washroom, they let him go. If he is hungry, they let them have his sandwich. When it comes time to go to question period, they let him go and then they let him go home to have a break. That is not filibustering. That is why he was thrown out. It was not the way the PMO wanted it. It was not the way the Conservative whip wanted it.

The way the PMO runs this place is unacceptable to us. We will not vote with the Conservatives to extend the hours when they sat on their bums for the last six months and did nothing.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, I only wish I could have the amount of passion the member for Acadie—Bathurst has shown. He is well known for his passion. The people back home will want to know that it is warm here in Ottawa today, but that is the member's natural colour. I will see if I can get worked up to the same level.

I must correct a couple of things the member mentioned during his speech. In his passion he may have overstepped where the truth ends and something else begins.

From a filibuster point of view, we were ready, willing and able. The member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre filibustered for many hours at the procedure and House affairs committee. The member for Acadie—Bathurst seems to think that what is good for one is only good for the other if it matches the same thing. When the NDP filibusters, that is fine, but when we want to state our point, then we are somehow going beyond the rules.

The member for Cambridge, who was the chair of the procedure and House affairs committee, in my opinion, bent over backward to keep things on an even keel and to keep things going in the proper manner. The member spoke about that committee no longer functioning. I will tell him why. The member for Acadie—Bathurst and other members of the opposition threw the chair out.

They talk about democracy. At that same meeting the member for Acadie—Bathurst stood up and challenged for democracy. He and other members voted to put another member in as chair, and I know that member well. It was me. They did this over my own objections. I told them that I did not want to be chair because we had a perfectly good chair. Apparently in this place even when one does not want a job, for example, if a member does not want to be chair of a committee, opposition members can gang up and appoint the member anyway. Then those members wonder why committees come to a halt with that kind of performance.

Is that democracy?

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question, if he had a question.

If we want to look at democracy, we were a committee, and according to the rules, committees are their own masters. After we put our confidence in the member, he did not have confidence in himself. That was not our fault. One thing he did though is he took the job and he took the pay as chair of a committee.

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I believe that is the second time the member has said that. I did not take money for being chair of that committee. I think that is a huge injustice to me--

Extension of Sitting HoursRoutine Proceedings

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order. There is quite a lot of noise going back and forth. The hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London wants to make a point of order.