Mr. Speaker, I really do not know where to begin. I think you would agree with me, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. House leader of the official opposition seems to be making the Thursday question longer and longer. In fact, he is ending up making speeches as opposed to just asking a question about future government business. Let me just add some points as briefly as possible, in response to some of the questions he posed.
First, on the issue of prorogation, I think I did reply at some length last week when his deputy House leader asked the question, because he was unfortunately detained, I am sure, somewhere and not able to ask the question himself last Thursday. I would not suggest, as he has, that he was AWOL, of course. At any rate, on the issue of prorogation, very clearly this is a mechanism that governments have used from the very beginning of Confederation. We have said this repeatedly. On average, it has been about once a year that prorogation has been used to end a session of Parliament and begin a new one.
I would point out to my hon. colleague that under a previous Liberal administration, it was used a couple of times and 15 sitting days were lost. He would be able to do the math. He alleged during his remarks that prorogation was actually from December to March. In fact, we only lost 22 sitting days and, of those, 10 have been restored. With the acceptance of all parties in the House, we have agreed to set aside two of the constituency break weeks and instead do the business of the House here in Ottawa. Therefore, in reality, we have lost 12 sitting days during this prorogation, unlike the Liberal Party in past parliaments that on more than one occasion lost 15 sitting days, and they did not think there was anything wrong with that. They thought that was the way they would go about doing their business.
As I said last week, very clearly what they are upset about is that prorogation was used once before to prevent Canadians from facing an illicit, and immoral, I would add, coalition of the three opposition parties to seize power just weeks after Canadians had gone to the polls and re-elected the Conservative government with an increased mandate. We want to be very clear about that use of prorogation.
I will get to the order of business, but first, we will continue today with our very important address in reply to the Speech from the Throne. I note that the hon. House leader for the official opposition, even though his own leader spoke at some length this morning, does not think, obviously, that those remarks were worthwhile, because he questions whether we should in fact be debating the Speech from the Throne. However, we will continue with debate on the Speech from the Throne. There are many members, I am sure, on both sides of the chamber who want to make some points about that great speech.
Tomorrow we will debate Bill C-2, the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week shall be opposition allotted days. I am looking forward with bated breath as to what the opposition parties think should seize the nation, what issues they will bring forward. I hope it is not to discuss things like prorogation, but rather some substantive issues with some policy suggestions of how they want to see Canada go forward. It will be interesting.
To the very point about allotted opposition days, the opposition House leader knows very well that he and his colleagues in the opposition parties got together and deemed it necessary to impose upon me as government House leader certain parameters where I have to allot certain opposition days in a certain timeframe. Hence, his allegations that he would not like to see opposition days are pretty ill-founded, when it was his idea that he cooked up to begin with.
To the other point on how to go about fixing the present situation where, because of the Standing Orders, we see that we should have begun the supply cycle on March 1, I would like to make the following statement, because we do, as he points out quite correctly, eventually need to fix the supply cycle with a special order.
As background I refer to pages 881 and 882 of O'Brien and Bosc where it states:
From time to time, circumstances may require a deviation from the normal supply process and cycle. For example, because of an unscheduled adjournment or a prorogation or dissolution of Parliament, the main estimates might not be tabled and referred to standing committees before the March 1 deadline, or the interim supply or the main estimates might not be concurred in by the June 23 deadline. In those cases, the Standing Order provisions relating to the business of supply (such as those respecting the timetable for the tabling of estimates, their reference to standing committees and their return to the House, the concurrence motions and the appropriation bills) no longer apply.
This is the exact situation that we find ourselves in today. We currently have no mechanism to vote on the main estimates and supply. O'Brien and Bosc offers a solution on page 882:
Such situations may be dealt with by temporarily suspending the relevant Standing Orders. There may be an arrangement worked out between the government and the opposition parties to finalize supply as expeditiously as possible. Typically, this involves adopting a special order--
We have a typical problem with a typical solution. It has always been worked out in the past. I am sure it will be again.
If the NDP, for example, is tempted to deny consent for a special order to protest against prorogation, I point out that prorogation is a legitimate constitutional right, as I have said, exercised by Conservative and Liberal governments at the federal level and, in addition, by NDP and PQ governments at the provincial level.
The average duration in fact of a session of the NDP government in Manitoba has been 9.7 months. Yes, members heard me right: 9.7 months on average. René Lévesque's record was 10 months. Both of those governments had six sessions in one legislature, meaning they prorogued five times in a single legislature.
None of the members of the coalition of the prorogation outrage could even meet their own standard, I would submit.