Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to our motion.
The most pivotal word in the motion is “abuse”. We are not talking about denying a prime minister the right to prorogue. As my leader has pointed out, we accept that it is an important part of parliamentary democracy and it is used quite often in appropriate ways. In fact, in my own home province of Ontario there recently was a prorogation. I suspect there was a plan for a little longer one earlier and it was changed but I am no longer in the Ontario legislature and I do not want to inject myself into its politics. However, my point is that it was a four day prorogation, which is consistent with what we are talking about.
I did not hear a single constituent or anyone else where I went complaining about what happened at Queen's Park. There were the usual gripes. People were mad at the government for doing this, that and the other, but there was not a peep about it being unfair, undemocratic or unacceptable.
As to other governments, I was part of one too that prorogued for an awfully long time. However, under our change here, there should at the very least have been a motion on the floor. We should not kid ourselves. A majority government will win a vote 10 times out of 10. It would really be a pro forma matter in terms of informing the public through bringing it to the House by a majority government.
More important, at a time like this, when the Prime Minister has a minority government and has considerably less than 40% of the support of Canadian people, he feels that he is entitled to wield 100% of the power 100% of the time. That is not on.
We would not have prevented the Prime Minister from exercising his prerogative under the Constitution. I would liken this to an idea the government itself has been floating around for some time in terms of the Senate. I am not saying that this plan would work but it is what the government has been looking at and talking about. Rather than changing the Constitution, which we know would be all but impossible, the attempt was to change the rules underneath, what happens prior to the Prime Minister going to the Governor General.
Right now the Prime Minister can consult with whomever he wants or no one. He is not required to consult with anyone. The Prime Minister gives his Senate suggestions to the Governor General and asks for them to be considered in the polite fashion that we do around here. What the Prime Minister wants the Prime Minister gets.
We are talking about the same thing when it comes to prorogation. Prior to the prime minister of the day going to the Governor General, if it is going to be more than seven calendar days, we in this House who run our own House on behalf of the people, the supreme House with supreme power, would have an opportunity to deliberate. In a minority, a government might win but in a majority it would always win.
This does not affect the Constitution because the Constitution kicks in when we talk about the prime minister's prerogative to visit the Governor General and give whatever advice he or she wishes. What happens before then is pretty much silent. We are saying that we must build the silence because we have an abusive situation. If anyone doubts whether it was abusive or what the purpose was, we should remember what Mr. Tom Flanagan, a close confidant to the Prime Minister, said:
I think his problem is that the government's talking points really don't have much credibility. Everybody knows that Parliament was prorogued in order to shut down the Afghan inquiry and the trouble is that the government doesn't want to explain why that was necessary.
To be fair to Mr. Flanagan, he did go on to say that he thought it was defensible, but publicly he said that the reason for the prorogation was “to shut down the Afghan inquiry”. That is exactly the allegation that our leader has made from day one when prorogation was announced, which is that the government was hiding from Parliament and hiding from the Canadian people. Did the people respond?
We held a rally in Gore Park in my hometown of Hamilton and it was packed. What was really instructional was the number of young people who got this in one. They were not going to accept that this was some kind of parliamentary nicety or that they should mind their business and not worry because the Prime Minister and his folks would take care of everything. No, the young people understood that the government was running away and that it was abusing power, particularly in a minority situation.
All we are saying, which is totally non-radical, is that a prorogation should be no longer than seven calendar days. If it were, as Premier McGuinty did, a legitimate prorogation to shut down the House for a few days to provide a gap between the original session and the new one and to tee things up for a throne speech, that would make perfect sense. Nothing would encumber the prime minister of the day from continuing to do exactly that. The only difference would be that if it were to be more than seven days, it would need to be brought to the House, and, as my leader has pointed out, the House would decide whether that door gets padlocked, not one person unilaterally who does not even have a majority mandate.
We have not heard from the other opposition parties in terms of their positions. I know they had some other thinking about flipping it around and saying that the prime minister must come to the House under certain circumstances. However, that gets awfully convoluted and detailed and sets itself up for further loopholes and abuse down the road, which is why we have gone about it this way.
We are not trying to take away the prime minister's power or to change the Constitution through the back door. All we are trying to do is to ensure this House gets its rightful role in a decision that is so imperative, because, quite frankly, if the House is not sitting, then the people's representatives are not doing the job that they were elected to do, which is to meet as a House of Commons to consider the people's business.
When we know, as we do from Mr. Flanagan and others, that the government was just running and hiding, then we need to do something. We need to put in place a rule that makes it very clear that if it is more than one calendar week, it needs to come back to the House. We must remember that the government played games with this around a year ago.
Under our system, the people do not directly elect the prime minister or the government. They elect their representative in their riding. When we all meet, we decide by a confidence vote who the prime minister will be and, once that person has achieved the confidence of the House, then he or she can act as the prime minister. However, that authority did not directly come from the ballot box. The authority to set up house at 24 Sussex is decided by the MPs in the House.
The reason we do not see that so often is that when we are in a majority, it is a given who will win every vote, so there is no big buildup to the confidence question. It looks as if there was a direct election of the executive council but there was not.
This House is supreme and we are asking all members, but particularly our opposition colleagues, to join with us in making a significant but relatively simple change that would bring democracy to this place that the Canadian people demand. That is why we have this motion here and hopefully it will carry.