Thank you, Madam Speaker. I know they do not want to hear that but this is a very serious issue. This is about the rights of Canadians through their elected representatives.
I know on that side of the House, we have seen how the government has operated, and previous speakers have spoken about this, about how organizations that question the government have their funding cut and how farm organizations that challenge the government have the door slammed in their face, never to see the minister again. I know for Conservative backbenchers there is a lot of fear and intimidation from the PMO but, for Heaven's sake, they were elected to represent Canadians, to represent their constituents, and it is time that they stood up to their leader who is attempting to run roughshod over this place. His actions, in so doing, are undermining democracy.
After Canadians exercised their democratic right and prevented the Prime Minister from gaining a majority, he first broke his election promise of fixed elections and then he prorogued Parliament and basically tried to put a padlock on democracy. Members will remember that at the time he said that it was to recalculate. Recalculate their legislation, I guess, but we have not seen much recalculation. When Parliament opened a considerable time later, what came forward from the government was the weakest and shallowest legislation agenda in Canadian history.
In fact, in a Canadian Press story, it stated:
Parliamentary expert Ned Franks says he can't recall another legislative sitting that has accomplished so little.
He went on to say:
This parliament isn't functioning like a normal parliament.
He blames a government that "views Parliament as the enemy"....
That is a fairly serious comment from a well-known expert on parliaments and democracies and how they work. Backbench members over there should be very concerned.
To sum this up on this end, the Prime Minister sees Parliament as the enemy. He does not want debates or discussions. This motion lays down some rules around how any prorogation would work.
I think part of the problem here is that the Prime Minister has failed to understand that respect for this place is not a matter of convenience. This is a government that when confronted on an issue of the rights of Parliament, in this case, the right of Parliament now confirmed by the Speaker, to have access to the documents related to the detainee issue that the Speaker had to rule on and challenge the government, we did get into negotiations and got, we think but we will see, a reasonable settlement for the moment.
The consequences of all that was clearly a failed legislative agenda. Only really two substantive bills have passed this place. That is probably the worst record in history.
However, it goes further than that. It is not just the Prime Minister and how he tries to shut this place down. It is how he tries to challenge the rights of committees, and that is a very serious issue. The Prime Minister has instructed his ministers to follow his example and deny committees the witnesses they have asked for.
I am on one of those committees and I want to background this so that people understand how serious this matter is. At committees, we need to be able to do our job. If we are going to represent the Canadians who sent us here to hold the government to account, we need to be able to see and question the witnesses who we believe have answers.
When the committee started its hearings on access to information, Mr. Togneri was to appear as a witness. He had named some others who we should maybe investigate as well. We also wanted to hear from Mr. Soudas, the Prime Minister's chief spokesman. However, all of a sudden the House leader stood in the House and there was a new rule around this town, which was that certain witnesses would not be able to appear.
In fact, I have a letter from the Prime Minister directed to the clerk of the committee, which states:
The purpose of this letter is to inform the Committee of my instruction to Mr. Soudas that he will not appear before the Committee.
The Prime Minister did go on a little further to say:
Next week I will be present in Question Period on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Questions about these matters can be directed to me there.
However, when a member stood to ask a question on June 10 about Mr. Soudas, the Prime Minister did not answer. Is the Prime Minister's word worth the paper it is written on? He said that he would answer and he did not, but he would not allow Mr. Soudas to appear before the committee. That is a very serious matter.
As well, the legislative law clerk appeared before the committee, Mr. Rob Walsh. Committee members were questioning him this week on the authority that the Prime Minister may or may not have and this is what he had to say in response. We were talking about the authority of committees to call witnesses. Mr. Walsh stated, ”the Prime Minister and any minister has no authority to prevent someone from appearing in front of a committee”.
He went on to say, “but everyone has a duty--apart from members of Parliament, senators, and the Governor General--to show up when summoned before a committee”.
Mr. Walsh, who is the expert in this town, clearly believes that committees have the right to call witnesses. This is a very serious issue.
I do not know what the government is trying to cover up. I do not know what it was thinking in terms of its action in not allowing Parliament to work by proroguing it, then not re-calibrating and bringing in, as I said, the weakest legislative performance we have ever seen in government, and now monkeying around with committees and preventing them from doing their work. I see this motion as extremely important. We need to put some rules around what the Prime Minister can and cannot do.
This Parliament is the people's Parliament. It is here so that we as elected representatives can do our jobs on behalf of Canadians. We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship, and, in a democracy, parliamentarians need to be able to do their job but we cannot do our job if this place is closed down on the whim of the Prime Minister or if ministers and the Prime Minister order others not to appear before committee. That is unacceptable.
I encourage everyone, especially the backbenchers in the Conservative Party, to develop some backbone and stand up for Canadians for a change.