Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the NDP to participate in this debate which is about extending the hours of the House.
We heard the government House leader rise earlier and move a motion under Standing Order 27(1) to extend the hours of the House for the remaining 10 sitting days of the House, although he excluded the Fridays. So that is what we are here debating today.
Certainly, first off, I will be the first to acknowledge that the government has an opportunity to do this. We know that on the calendar, as the government House leader pointed out, there is a series of dates where this is a permissible and enabling thing that can be brought forward under the House rules to extend the hours of the House.
However, it has to be done by the will of the House. It cannot be unilaterally imposed by the government unless it is in a majority and it can get something through, but certainly in a minority Parliament situation, which is what we face today, that opportunity to extend the hours of the House has to be done with the co-operation and with the support of the opposition, or at least part of the opposition.
Therefore, what we are really debating today is whether or not there is merit in the government's motion to extend those hours. I have to say that listening to the speeches today both from the government and from the opposition members, there is a genuine reflection and a voice about whether or not there is merit, whether or not those operating hours should be extended.
It is not something that should be done lightly. The government House leader, in his remarks earlier at the beginning of the debate, said that the purpose of seeking the extension of the hours was “to set a goal each day of what we”, and that means the government, “want to accomplish”.
Then he talked about it as being a management tool. On the surface, using that very sort of diplomatic language of setting a goal each day of what the government wants to accomplish, we have to examine that and decide whether or not it is a legitimate thing that the government is requesting.
I think one has to look at that in the context of what has actually taken place in the House in this second session of the 40th Parliament, and whether or not the government has actually used the management tools that it has wisely and properly, and whether now that we are down to the last 10 days, it should be granted that opportunity to extend the hours of the House.
In speaking to that, I am looking at the merit of that request that the government has put forward this day. I want to point out some of the numbers of what we have actually dealt with. I think it is important in deciding whether or not we are now in a situation where we should be looking at extended hours.
We have seen something like 38 bills introduced by the government in this second session. If we take away the bills that have special rules, like the supply bills, then we are down to about 34 bills. Of those 34 bills, 22 have actually passed through the House of Commons. That works out to about 65%.
In actual fact, the government has accomplished a lot of its agenda already and there has been the passage of a fair amount of legislation that it has introduced.
What is also interesting is that of the bills that have been approved, about 20% of them were actually done in a fast tracked way. Some went through in a few moments, all stages of a bill; some went through in one day; some went through multiple stages in a day; about 20%.
I think that is very significant. That happened because there was discussion among the House leaders at our regular meetings and there was a sense of co-operation about what it was we thought we could take on, what matters were urgent, or they were basically things that we agreed with and we could agree that they should go through in a much faster way.
That is a significant thing. Twenty per cent of the government's bills have actually gone through the House in that kind of fast tracked way.
We know that now with the remaining 10 sitting days there are seven bills that are still in the House. Actually six of them are justice or public safety bills and probably five of them require not an extensive debate.
There are a couple of bills, some of which have been noted here today, that are very problematic certainly for the NDP and other opposition parties. If those bills come forward, we in the NDP are going to do everything we can to ensure that they are fully debated. In fact, we will try to defeat them.
The reality is that with 10 sitting days left, the hours we have for debate and what is on the legislative agenda, and as my colleague from the Bloc just pointed out a few moments it is actually a pretty thin legislative agenda, it is very likely that most of the bills that remain will go through the House and there will not be any kind of holdup.
There are other pieces of legislation that are very problematic. Certainly for us in the NDP, one of the bills that we are most concerned about and will do everything we can to defeat it is the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, Bill C-23. In fact, we were very disappointed when Bill C-24, regarding the free trade agreement between Canada and Peru, received approval, with the NDP voting against it, just a few days ago.
I will mention, in the last day or two, the violence that has taken place in Peru against indigenous people, where people have been oppressed and murdered by government forces. It has been absolutely horrific. Yet, that bill went through.
I want to put on the record that if the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement bill comes forward, which the government to this point has held back and put at the bottom of its agenda, the NDP caucus will be fighting it tooth and nail. Every single one of our members will stand to debate that bill to point out and expose what a bad trade agreement it is. We take that very seriously.
However, those are the exceptions. Most of the bills before us are bills that will not be contentious but will require debate.
I want to make the point that I find it very ironic that time and time again we have heard the government House leader or other ministers stand and allege that particularly the NDP is holding up legislation. This has really floored me. I have spoken to some of the exceptions, but on most of those occasions we were talking about debating a bill at, say, third reading for a day. Even debating a bill for a day is somehow now characterized as holding up legislation and a delaying tactic. I find this quite astounding.
In parliamentary history, in terms of the business we do, we are here to debate legislation. We are here to go through it in a serious fashion and decide whether we support it in principle, whether it requires amendments, to take it through committee, and bring it back to the House. To debate a piece of legislation at second reading, third reading or report stage for a day or less than that is certainly not a delaying tactic.
I feel very offended that the government has chosen to take the line that anything debated more than a couple of hours is somehow a stalling and delaying tactic. That is what we are sent here to do, to represent our constituents, provide the opinions and perspectives of the people of Canada, and debate legislation that has enormous impacts on the lives of not only Canadians but sometimes globally, as we saw with the Canada-Peru agreement.
NDP members are not about to forfeit their duty and responsibility to debate that legislation in a fulsome way and make sure that all of the issues we believe are important are put forward in the House of Commons, in the Canadian Parliament. That is what we were elected to do and we take it very seriously.
I will go back to the issue of the government saying that this is a management tool and that it is being ever so thorough in using it. The government says that it wants to set a goal each day to do what it wants to accomplish. It really is a blank cheque. The government wants to have its cake and eat it too, instead of using the practice we have used continually, a practice that has worked relatively well.
The government House leader acknowledged in his opening remarks that there had been co-operation with the opposition parties, that there had been agreement on any number of items. Now we see this blank cheque approach. The government will make a unilateral decision and on any given day over the next 10 days, we will discuss this bill and that bill. The government will keep the debate going until 10 o'clock at night and we will not have any input into that. It will be a government decision.
If the Conservatives see that as a management tool, then it begs the question as to how they have managed their political and legislative agenda overall. If we look at the way they manage their business, we see quite a different picture.
We are talking about a government that prorogued the House on two occasions and killed its own legislation because of short-term political expediency. We saw it just before December. The government shut down Parliament in reaction to the opposition parties working together to represent the public interest with respect to what we needed to do with regard to the recession. That was very undemocratic. From the Conservative point of view, that was an incredibly successful management tool, but it was not in the interests of Parliament or the Canadian people.
At what is now the eleventh hour in the second session of the 40th Parliament, the Conservatives need to have extended hours for debate. They have to make their case for it. In listening to the government House leader today, I do not think they have done that. They have shown us that they want to go into overdrive by using this so-called management tool to suit their own purposes. They need to recognize that they are in a minority Parliament, where co-operation should be sought and where discussion can produce a positive result.
The NDP reacts very negatively to the idea that extended hours are needed at this time, not that at some other occasion they might be needed, but that opportunity is there.
The government has failed to make the case that it needs extended hours for the next 10 days to get through the very few bills that are left. If the Conservatives are thinking of bringing back some of the other bills like the Canada-Colombia free trade bill or the matrimonial real property bill, the NDP will fight them tooth and nail on those bills. We are not prepared to let those bills come forward. They have the choice of what they want to put on the order of business each day, but they know we will fight them.
We have come to the conclusion that the motion is simply not warranted. It is that straightforward. The business we have before us can be conducted. A number of these bills deal with justice and public safety issues. The government has been trotting out these little boutique bills one Criminal Code clause at a time. There has probably been a dozen of these bills. If there had been discussion, a number of those bills could have been brought forward in an omnibus bill. The government decided, again based on its political agenda, to bring in one bill at a time, so it could make a little showcase. This is really all the government has.
The Conservatives have completely broken down when it comes to dealing with the recession. They have even failed getting their economic stimulus package into local communities. They have completely denied the will of Parliament by refusing to act on motions on EI, which came from the NDP, or on credit cards and consumers protection.
Instead, what have the Conservatives done? Their management tools, their agenda has been to move bills out one at a time to take up an inordinate amount of time in debating them. If they had wanted to, they could have had some serious discussion about how to package some of them. I know our justice critic would have been open to such a suggestion and we would have taken it seriously.
If we consider that five of the six remaining bills could have been dealt with in a different way, then we can begin to see the government really does not have a case at all. It makes one wonder why the Conservatives would even bring forward this motion.
At the meeting of the House leaders we discussed it and I think the Conservatives had an inkling it probably would not be approved. Obviously they have some kind of political agenda. Either they want to bring something forward and try to ram it through or maybe they just think it is the political optics. However, we have to examine the motion in its real substance.
As I pointed out today, if we seriously look at the legislative agenda that remains, it is very clear the Conservatives are in a good position to receive support and to get the remaining bills through in the House. Therefore, why would we consider the extension of hours?
The New Democrat members of the House take our work very seriously. Whenever there have been motions in the House to rise early or to adjourn early, we have been the party to always oppose that. For us, this is not about saying that we do not want to be here. We are here in our seats and we are in committees.
If we look at the members of the House and the activity that goes on, we will not find a harder working caucus, even though we only have one member on each parliamentary committee. Our members work hard to bring forward initiatives. Whether it is on EI, or on arts and culture, or agriculture, or food safety, the NDP members initiate those items. This issue is not about whether we are here or not. We are here. We dedicate ourselves 100% to doing our public business, working for constituents and raising these very important issues about the economy, about what is hitting working people, about the unemployment, pensions and the travesty of the EI system. We do that here day after day, whether it is in question period, or in committees, or in meetings with delegations.
We have no problem with the principle of sitting late. Whether it is for take note debates or emergency debates, we participate in all of that and we do so fully and with a great measure of substance.
However, that does not escape the need to examine the motion for extended hours. We have come to the conclusion that it is a vacuous motion. It is not built on a rationale based on the business before us. The government simply has not made the case. If it had and if there was that imperative, that rationale, we would probably see a different response.
The practice of looking at each piece of legislation brought forward at the House leaders' meeting, involving our critics, and discussing whether there is agreement to move more quickly has worked. Why would we not continue to do that in the last 10 sitting days?
We see no reason to extend the hours, so we will vote against the motion.