Mr. Speaker, this is the time that members of this House may take part in the debate in reply to the Speech from the Throne.
This is the third throne speech in a year and a half. Why? That is a good question. It is simply because the government, the Prime Minister, decided to take advantage of the royal prerogative delegated by the monarch that put it in power, to suspend the work of Parliament whenever it wants.
In the usual practice, prorogation is used to end a session because the government plans to change its legislative agenda considerably and because it needs to address new facts or new situations facing the public.
However, the current Prime Minister decided to use this privilege conferred by monarchical law as a political and partisan tool. The Prime Minister used prorogation the first time during this Parliament to avoid a vote of confidence in the House. Instead of facing up to his responsibilities and those of his government, and facing the House's vote concerning the confidence it had in its government, the Prime Minister decided to use the prorogation prerogative to suspend the work of Parliament.
More recently, he once again decided to use prorogation to suspend the work of Parliament in order to avoid facing difficult questions, particularly concerning Afghan detainees and allegations of torture involving those detainees.
The Prime Minister used prorogation again, but even worse, he decided to shut down Parliament for several months. The Prime Minister, cabinet ministers and Conservative Party members used every opportunity to try to explain their reasons, the historic nature of prorogation and how it has been used in the past, but no one was fooled by these bogus explanations and comments.
People took to the streets. In Montreal, we protested against prorogation along with many citizens. The public did not understand why Parliament was not sitting, when the parties all agree on the calendar. The calendar ensures that the sitting of the upper chamber is balanced over the course of the year and allows Parliament to do its job properly. It also allows members to return to their ridings to listen and respond more directly to their constituents, and to then share these comments with other parliamentarians.
Prorogation and the new throne speech should have brought us something new. But in reading the March 3, 2010, throne speech, we can clearly see that there is nothing new. It is essentially a carbon copy of the previous throne speech. The government clearly said that the throne speech was the continuation of the legislative agenda from the last session.
We lost all that time, when we could have been debating a very interesting bill like Bill C-6. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Health, and I serve as my party's health critic. A long time ago, we asked for a bill—the Auditor General even called for it in 2006—to protect the public from consumer products that could be subject to a recall and whose parts are unsafe. We waited for this bill for a long time.
Last session, the government said that it was important to pass it quickly. But instead of taking responsibility and having this Parliament and the Governor General pass a bill like Bill C-6, the Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament and start from scratch.
In his throne speech, the Prime Minister indicated that he would introduce this bill again. There was a very strong consensus in favour of this bill, and normally it would have been passed by now. Now we need to start all over again. That reminds me of something that Mr. Duplessis, a former premier of Quebec, used to say. He said that you could win many elections by promising one bridge. Will the Conservative government keep promising us a consumer products bill? How many sessions, parliaments and elections will this last? It makes no sense.
In this Speech from the Throne there was, however, one new thing. The member for Abbotsford was talking about it. The government is patting itself on the back for the performances by the Olympic athletes.
Personally, I would like to congratulate the athletes from Verchères—Les Patriotes who, thanks to their efforts and their willingness to make sacrifices and endure adversity, took part in the winter Olympics. I would like to applaud them and list them. I am thinking about medallists Charles Hamelin, François Hamelin and Tania Vicent as well as figure skaters Jessica Dubé, Bryce Davison and Cynthia Phaneuf. Their journeys were watched closely by the people back home. I thank them. I thank these Olympic athletes for being a wonderful example for anyone who has a dream and is investing all their energy to make it come true.
On page 18 of the Speech from the Throne it says, “We are a country founded on democracy. Our shared values and experiences must be reflected in our national institutions, starting with Parliament.” How ironic. Maybe they should have added, “starting with Parliament, when Parliament thinks like the Conservatives.”
Each time the majority of members of Parliament has decided to oppose the ideological stance of the Conservative Party, the government has decided to ignore it. I am thinking, for example, about the bill that was passed to force the government to ratify the Kyoto protocol. This bill received royal assent. But the government decided not to implement it.
Instead, each time there is an international climate conference, Canada receives a plethora of fossil awards which mark Canada's incredible steps backward in terms of the international commitments it should be making to protect the environment. It has to start dealing with climate change.
I am not the only one saying that the government is not listening to Parliament. This morning in The Telegram, a cartoon shows the Prime Minister's schedule. From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. it says, ”Ignore Parliament.”
Even Canadian journalists and editorial cartoonists agree that the government is not listening to the discussions and debate taking place here in the House or in Parliament in general.
Page 18 of the Speech from the Throne states that Canada is a bilingual country and that:
Building on the recognition that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada, ... our government will take steps to strengthen further Canada’s francophone identity.
It must be in order to strengthen our francophone identity that the government does not want Bill 101 to apply to all institutions and businesses under federal jurisdiction in Quebec.
The government recognizes once again, in writing, that Quebec forms a nation. These are nice words and fine phrases, but it is not taking any action in that regard. It is not allowing Quebec to develop in accordance with the consensus of the National Assembly and some of its own parameters, such as the fact that French is the common language of Quebec. We believe that French should be the language used by all workers in Quebec.
Quebec has a unique way of developing. The National Assembly has called on the government to respect the Autorité des marchés financiers and to recognize its invaluable contribution to that sector. Yet the government, ignoring the various jurisdictions, has decided to go ahead anyway. It is once again proposing the creation of a Canada-wide securities commission.
It is also clear that it does not stop there. More empty rhetoric and more government actions negate the desire to recognize Quebec as a nation. The government wants to increase the number of seats for other Canadian provinces, specifically, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
If they really considered Quebec a nation, they would give Quebec the tools and the representation it needs to demonstrate its distinctive nature.
Some believe that Quebec is important to Canada and that elected members from Quebec act as a counterweight in the House. Based on the results of the last election, there is a certain justification for that claim. Had it not been for the Bloc Québécois members elected, the Conservatives would have had a majority. That is definitely not what the people want especially in view of the direction the government would like to take. It would be disastrous if the Conservative Party were to form a majority government. We were able to prevent that because Quebec is in a rather special position in the House at this time.
Undoubtedly for the very reason I mentioned—in order to secure a majority—the government decided to increase the number of seats in other Canadian provinces and, despite what it has said and committed to paper, to disregard the fact that Quebec is a nation. As we have seen, the nation does not mean much to the government. The Conservatives bragged that they had given Quebec a seat at UNESCO. One person represents Quebec, but if they do not agree with the Canadian delegation, they must stay quiet. As I was saying earlier, when the government writes that Parliament is an important institution for democracy, it is only when Parliament, like Quebec at UNESCO, sees eye to eye with the government.
I was talking about agreeing with the government, which reminds me that in the throne speech the federal government indicated that it will bolster its science and technology strategy launched in 2007, even though the three granting agencies will have to reallocate 5% of their budgets, or $150 million, to government priorities. Researchers and scientists should not be forced to adopt an ideology. They should be allowed to carry out their experiments in order to conduct long-term research and create the tools they need to advance science. The goal must be to benefit the entire population. The government's will cannot dictate the direction that the research will take. The perspective must be broader.
The Speech from the Throne also suggests that the government will not balance the books at the expense of pensioners. Perhaps not, but it will balance the books at the expense of workers and businesses. Starting next year, the government will pilfer $19 billion from the employment insurance fund. When the Conservatives were on this side of the House, they criticized the Liberal government and deplored the fact that it freely dipped into the employment insurance fund to the tune of $57 billion. Now that they form the government, it does not really bother them anymore to hit workers and employers with these sorts of low blows. They are the ones who put money into the employment insurance program so that people who lose their jobs can receive benefits in order to buy the basics. We know full well that the money that goes to the unemployed is used for basic necessities. The unemployed do not invest that money in tax havens. That money is truly used to put bread and butter on the table to feed their families. We have to allow these people to benefit from an employment insurance program that lives up to its name.
I would also have liked to talk about seniors. Currently in Quebec, FADOQ is circulating a petition calling on the government to improve the guaranteed income supplement, which the government still refuses to do, although we know that seniors are the most vulnerable people in our society.