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House of Commons Hansard #65 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prorogation.

Topics

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Before moving to questions and comments, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Hull—Aylmer, Government Accountability; the hon. member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, Aboriginal Affairs.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, my colleague went into great detail about the technical machinations of the separation of powers, the Constitution and all things pertaining to Parliament and our country. However, I want to bring up an issue about prorogation itself and from some of the very same people whom he quoted in his speech.

The majority of them talk about the very spirit of prorogation in the sense that the legislature needs to be refreshed because the agenda has been exhausted. Therefore, the grand master plan that was established by the government to get that mandate has exhausted itself to the point where now it must renew. It had over 35 pieces of legislation, most of which were promised by it under elements of crime fighting and the life that were never enacted, Yet when they were delayed before, the government blamed the Liberal-dominated Senate, which I believe has reversed itself and is now the Conservative-dominated Senate.

First, why did the government feel prorogation was so necessary?

Second, if the committee is so busy, as he explains, would an offshoot, another committee being set up, not ease the pressure of the work involved and get to the crux of the matter, simply to raise the bar?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I always enjoy being in the House with him because it is always a great time to listen to his thought process.

To answer his second question first, I do not think I said at any time that we were too busy. I said we were seized with the opportunity to study what we were already working on.

Under the guise of three members of his party, and I am sure he knows them as occasionally they must talk, the whip, the deputy House leader and the deputy whip sit on that committee. At no time during any of the committee functions did they ever say that we had too much work, or that they would like to study this someplace else so they could have a Liberal chair of that committee and somehow run it a different way.

The answer for him is we have moved forward and studied each of the issues on prorogation. Yes, I did get technical because that is truly what we have been learning. We have to study the process of prorogation along with what happens when it is used. The committee has been seized with that at all party levels. All four parties in the House have participated at that committee at length, with great questioning and getting great answers from the scholars around our country. We would like the opportunity not to waste that.

He talks about wasting opportunities in the House. Here is the chance to not waste three months of work by a hard-working committee that, while it may be different than some other committees in the House, works together, respects one another, talks openly and honestly with it members and its witnesses, gathers facts and is ready to report back to the House on an issue that it thought was important too.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I heard two parts to the remarks of the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London.

On the parts where he gave his opinion on prorogation and what it ought to be and ought not to be, I disagree with just about every word of that, which he would expect and it is part of the dynamics of this place.

On the other half, however, I want to affirm that, as the chair of the committee, I believe the hon. member has done an excellent job. He bends over backwards to be fair. He brings humour to the role, to deal with tensions, so it really is a good committee doing good work. The tough stuff is going to come when we get in camera and start battling out the report, but we are not there yet. The whole point is the committee is alive and well and doing the work that it was charged to do by this place.

The time frames the Liberals have put forward, both the ridiculous one of June 23 in their original motion, would mean this committee would have to be up and running, do its work, finish and deliver the report in six days. Now they amended date of November 2. However, some of us on the committee have said that the odds of us being done in time to meet a November 2 deadline are just ridiculous.

Recognizing we are having a partisan debate, nonetheless, would the chair give his opinion on whether the newly amended date of November 2 would actually solve the problem? Is that a workable date as opposed to June 23 date, which clearly is not?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, first, I congratulate the member for Hamilton Centre for the hard work he does on that committee, usually rushing from another committee to get to it. He is a hard-working member of the House and often asks an extra round of questions of some of the more technical witnesses we have in order to get the answers that the committee needs.

The real answer to his question concerns the phony date of next Wednesday that was originally in this motion. I am not certain what happened to the clown show over there this morning, trying to figure out if they could do the work by that time. We have spent some two and a half to three months just getting to this point.

I would suggest that if we carried on and they allowed us to finish our work, we would certainly have a report back to the House by that November 2 date. I think it would be possible if that were the case, but if he is asking me if we could start a new committee, a committee chaired by the opposition party, the Liberals, and get it done by that time, I would suggest that after what we have seen today in just getting the motion moved, I do not think it is likely the organization is there.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London for being the strong working member that he is, but obviously he has the appreciation of all members on the committee for his leadership as chair.

I am, quite honestly, trying to figure out what is happening here today. It would seem to me that the Leader of the Opposition has become so insecure in his leadership that he does not trust the abilities of his deputy House leader, his whip or his deputy whip to have fruitful input into a committee that has spent, as we have heard, three months getting to a point of bringing together some of the detailed and in-depth discussion around prorogation.

I have my own thoughts on what this motion is about, but I would like to ask the chair, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, what he thinks the reasons are for this unprepared motion coming forward at this time.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, far be it from me to try to think of what evil lurks in the hearts of men. The true answer is that the committee, collectively, has worked together and has collectively done its work.

The member mentioned that the whip of the Liberal Party sits on the committee, as does the deputy whip and the deputy House leader. We have been pretty proud of the work we have been doing and, collectively, we are proud of it.

I may be in trouble for breaking confidence from an in camera meeting but I will give it a shot anyway. The whip of the Liberal Party has made me chair of the month for every month that we have sat during this process because I think we have done a fairly good job and have moved the issue forward, but in a way where Canadians can understand what we are doing.

It is fairly dry material and I do try to keep my humour about me and keep the committee non-partisan, not talking to each other but talking to witnesses and talking through the chair so that we can actually accomplish what we set out to accomplish.

However, if the hon. member is asking me to understand how Liberals arrive at motions, I have not got there yet.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Papineau.

I am pleased to speak to this motion. I think it is a very good one. I would hope that all members in the House support it. I hear some laughing on the other side, but I would say to those Conservative backbenchers sitting over there not to allow their whip to whip them into line, as he always does, because this is not about--

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. I regret to interrupt the hon. member. I will recognize for questions and comments only those members who are not heckling.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

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.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Madam Speaker, I just heard my colleague on the other side talking about this being a democracy, not a dictatorship, and talking about prorogation.

The question I want to put to him concerns the long gun registry. Will he exercise his democratic right to vote to end the long gun registry or will he bow down to the dictatorship of his leader, the Leader of the Opposition, who will force him to vote against the wishes of his people?

This is important because his people want him to vote against the long gun registry. He said that he would vote against it. Will he do it?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, of course I am going to exercise my democratic right. Maybe that member knows something I do not. He claims that my constituents oppose the long gun registry. A majority of my constituents do not.

In terms of my original motion, I wanted the government to show some leadership in terms of finding a compromise that would work. The government has failed. The Prime Minister has failed to bring in a government bill. It is a backbencher's bill.

When I turned to the leader of the Liberal Party, the Leader of the Opposition, he worked with rural Canadians, he worked with urban Canadians, and he found a compromise that works. That is leadership that is coming from this side of the House where we see none over there. I will vote—

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, trying to bait the member on the long gun registry is totally out of order and irrelevant to the debate at hand.

The government has already taken its lumps on prorogation. It was hitting 40% in the polls at the end of December. After it prorogued the House, its numbers plummeted and have not recovered since. The government has taken its lumps on this issue. It knows not to do it again. I would be surprised if it would try it a third time.

The Conservatives are really not sure whether they want minority government to work. I think many of them feel that if they make minority government work, the voters will not give them the majority they want. They could make it work if they wanted to. If they studied other cases like Gary Filmon in Manitoba or Bill Davis in Ontario, they could see situations where minority governments did work.

Look at the Liberal minority governments of the 1960s and all the great things that the Pearson government brought in to prove that minority governments can work. I do not think the Conservatives have resolved that within their own caucus.

The Liberal Party has made a misstep here in bringing forward this resolution. They had a resolution on MS which was a very smart move on their part, and they killed it sometime last night and ended up coming in with what is essentially a redundant motion, and giving the Conservatives the opportunity to make fun of them.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I would like to give the hon. member for Malpeque the opportunity to respond.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I am glad to respond to those comments. It really comes back to leadership. The government does not have a majority. A minority Parliament is a place of compromise, debate and compromise, and looking at the issues.

As I said on the gun issue, our leader showed leadership. Their side has not. We have not even seen a bill from the government on that issue.

On many of the committees, we see leadership coming from the opposition side. On the citizenship and immigration committee, it was my seatmate who provided the leadership on that issue to find the compromises to make the bill work. That is what we see coming forward from the opposition.

The member talked about previous governments, the Pearson government that brought in so much of what is the foundation of social policy in this country. That was during a minority government because Liberal leaders are willing to develop the compromises and show the leadership to do what is best for Canadians.

The problem is the Prime Minister is on a one-track agenda. It is his way or the highway and that is not the way democracy is supposed to work.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Madam Speaker, on what appears to be the last day of the spring session we have the opportunity to look back on what we have learned during this session and look at how we might avoid making the same mistakes next time.

This motion here today gives us an opportunity to look back at prorogation and all that it is a symptom of, and ask ourselves some serious questions about what we are doing here in this chamber.

This chamber holds 308 people who come from every corner of this country and from every conceivable background and identity. We represent, individually and collectively, all the extraordinary diversity: the different voices, viewpoints, faiths, beliefs and creeds of this country. Our job is to come together to figure out the best path forward.

Whether we sit on this side of the House or that side of the House, we are all Canadian and we all share a core set of beliefs that together we can have a fair, more prosperous, better country to leave to our children and grandchildren. This is the spirit that imbibes the public service. This is why we spend so many days of the year away from our families, our homes and our communities to come and build a sense of compromise and a sense of moving forward in ways we can all agree with.

That is why it is so troubling to have seen over the past four years a culture of division, cynicism, secrecy and lack of accountability permeate the House in its entirety. There were two prorogations in two years, the first to avoid a vote of non-confidence that would have surely brought the government down, the second to avoid difficult questions on how much the government allowed to happen around the torture of Afghan citizens. That is not the kind of presentation we need to be putting to Canadians.

We have a House in which the winner of question period is the one who can shout loudest and where the points are made to disrupt and distract people.

It becomes a game of scoring points, finding the right word to put others on the spot, trying to find a strategy that will please our grassroots and not giving a fig about what others might say, especially when they are not going to vote for us anyway. We are impoverishing this House and the very principles we are here to defend.

The government has understood. It was elected a few seats shy of a majority by just 5.2 million Canadians. Of the 33 million citizens of this country, roughly two-thirds of them are voters. A little over 5 million votes could almost give it a majority. The government realized that it was a climate in which it could promote cynicism and disengagement, suppress voter turnout, and suppress people's feelings that government can be a force for good and a place that gets things done.

Instead, it pushed this idea of dysfunctional parliaments by demonstrating how dysfunctional it can be under a government that does not believe in government. It does not believe that we have a duty to work together to build a better country and a better future.

We are meandering aimlessly at a time when we are faced with tremendous challenges with regard to the environment, human rights and poverty, both here at home on our native reserves and throughout the world.

As Canadians, we have an obligation to face up to our duties and responsibilities and the opportunities that present themselves because we live in an extraordinary and prosperous country where everyone is entitled to express their opinions.

That is why there is this desire to shut down debate, to quash democratic instincts, to marginalize voices that come forward with differing points of views, whether they be Richard Colvins or Linda Keens, or any women's group who speaks out against them and are told they need to be quiet or else their funding will be cut. Anyone who disagrees with this government gets pushed aside and that unfortunately applies as well to the opposition when the government thinks it can get away with it.

That is what this past prorogation was about. It was about making sure that Parliament, that government, that Stephen Harper could use, sorry, I apologize, that the hon. Prime Minister--

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

The right hon.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

The right hon. Prime Minister, although I wonder whether he has really earned that title from time to time.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

An hon. member

The right.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

But the right part, yes, perhaps very far right. I will leave that there.

The challenge becomes that the Prime Minister gets to use every tribune he can use, all the media, all the voices, all the attention, and gets to further marginalize people who disagree with him.

That is why we are talking about prorogation today. That is why we want Canadians to go into this summer remembering that the government does not value its voices. It is not a government that accepts easily the legitimacy that exists in every member sitting in this House who was duly elected by the people they strive to represent.

I completely disagree with the philosophy of my friends in the Bloc Québécois on the future of Quebec and Canada, but they are here legitimately. As for the NDP socialists, as the government likes to refer to them, I do not agree with many of their ideas, but they legitimately represent their voters and they share their voices and concerns. That is the foundation of our democracy. Quashing this legitimacy and reducing this possibility is quite worrisome to me.

I work as the official critic for multiculturalism and youth for the Liberal Party, and as such I got--

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake is rising on a point of order.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to point out that my hon. colleague spoke ill of the Prime Minister. First of all he mentioned his name and second, he made a disrespectful comment. Standing Order 18 states:

No Member shall speak disrespectfully of the Sovereign, nor of any of the Royal Family, nor of the Governor General or the person administering the Government of Canada; nor use offensive words against either House, or against any Member thereof. No Member may reflect upon any vote--

I then turn to O'Brien and Bosc to chapter 3, page 99, and I note the Speaker's ruling in 2003:

Speakers discourage members of Parliament from using names in speeches if they are speaking ill of some other person because, with parliamentary privilege applying to what they say, anything said that is damaging to the reputation or to the individual...is then liable to be published with the cover of parliamentary privilege and the person is unable to bring any action in respect of those claims.

It has been ruled in the past that these comments are definitely out of order and that these comments are a contempt. I would ask that you, Madam Speaker, rope in the member for making these types of scandalous and scurrilous comments.