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.


Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.


Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, prorogation is part of a much larger trend of the Conservative government trying to silence the opposition. The government has a record and a history of attacking what it calls fringe groups. Clearly, for the government, women's organizations are part of these fringe groups.

One only has to look at the fact that the very first act of the Conservative government in 2006 was to cut the funding to the court challenges program, a program that was specifically designed to provide financial assistance for important court cases that advanced equality rights and language rights guaranteed under the Canadian Constitution. Then, on April 1, 2006, it closed down 12 of the 16 Status of Women Canada offices. Today, only four regional offices exist.

Meanwhile, while all of this is happening, Canadian women only earn 71¢ on the dollar earned by males. Yet the government says that it does not need to help women's groups. Funding has been cut to women's groups and those groups and their voices are being smothered by the government. That is the first terrible step in eroding democracy.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there are very few occasions that I actually agree with anything members from the New Democratic Party say in this place. However, in this case, I have to agree and totally concur with a comment made offline just a few moments ago by my colleague from Hamilton Centre, when he spoke from his seat and said that the motion brought forward today from the opposition was a joke, and it is a joke.

The motion stated quite clearly, when it was put on the order paper, that a special committee of Parliament be struck to examine prorogation and report back to the House in four sitting days. Who could take a look at that and not laugh out loud? It is absolutely ridiculous?

I know the official opposition House leader and the opposition deputy House leader have tried to put their best spin on things by saying that this will be different, that this will be a better version of what is already occurring in procedure and House affairs. However, it is just an attempt by the official opposition members to make good on something that is a complete embarrassment to them. They are trying to justify this opposition day motion, which is absolutely ridiculous. I have never seen anything like it in my six years in Parliament.

Opposition days are supposed to be taken up with matters of major concern to not only the opposition party, but to Parliament. As has been heard on several occasions today, there already is a study on prorogation under way. It has been ongoing for the last two and a half to three months, being studied by the procedure and House affairs committee. We have heard excellent testimony in those committee hearings from a wide variety of constitutional experts and experts on parliamentary procedure and conventions. That committee is going to be producing a report, I would suggest, sometime this fall, and I believe it will be a well reasoned, well founded and well intentioned report on prorogation.

What do we have here today? We have an opposition day motion that was put on the order paper about two months ago. Then the opposition did not even read its contents before it put it forward for debate today. When the Liberals finally realized how ridiculous this was, I am sure they had a couple of moments of utter panic about how to put the best spin possible on it.

The opposition House leader, whose name was on the original motion, tried to convince members of the House that the motion is a good one because it goes far beyond the study of prorogation being currently conducted by procedure and House affairs. Then the deputy House leader of the opposition moved an amendment that said the June 23 deadline for the committee report should now be extended until November.

Notwithstanding the fact that this amendment would result in $10,000 for the Liberal chair of a new special committee, because the Liberals are suggesting that an official opposition member chair the special committee and there is a monetary compensation for that chair, one could argue they are looking at setting up a special committee to pad one of their friends' bank accounts in the Liberal ranks. However, I think it goes far beyond that. I think it is far more basic than that.

What has happened today and what we are seeing first-hand is the opposition party screwed up and it screwed up royally. The Liberals did not know what was contained in their own opposition day motion until it was placed on the order paper and then they were stuck with it. When they finally realized that this made them look like a bunch of fools, they had to come in here today and try to convince people that it was part of their master plan. They really wanted to discuss prorogation, but in a different light, with a different committee, and extend the deadline from June 23 to November.

This was absolutely embarrassing and it was an insult to members of this place and to the members of the procedure and House affairs committee. For two and a half to three months, those members have been doing exemplary work, conducting a study of prorogation. I had to stifle a laugh when the deputy House leader said that they were going to expand the terms of reference.

Everyone in this place knows that committees are the masters of their own fate. They can expand the terms of reference if they wish. There is no need for a special committee to discuss and study prorogation when the current committee studying prorogation could expand its terms of reference if it wanted. If, at the end of its initial foray into the examination of prorogation, it decided it wanted to go a bit further and take a look at a couple of other areas which were affected by prorogation, the committee has the full right to do so. There was no time limit given to the committee on when it had to conclude its study on prorogation. There were no constraints put on the committee as to what it was restricted to study.

All we have heard today from members of the official opposition is just a smokescreen to try to convince Canadians that they are not as incompetent as it obviously appears to everyone in this place, but they have done a very poor job of that.

In effect, what the Liberals are saying is that they made a mistake and what they meant by their opposition day motion was this. However, this is not the first time we have seen mistakes like this from the ranks of the official opposition. Time and time again in this session we have seen them trying to explain away embarrassing moments within their own party, particularly within their own leader's office.

I have heard the leader of the official opposition say that what he meant when he said that the Canadian flag looked like a cheap imitation of a beer label was really meant something else. I have heard the official opposition leader say that when he said the Liberals would have to raise taxes, what he really meant was this and he went on to try to make up for his gaffs and misspeaks and his obviously incapable leadership aspirations.

What we have seen is a pattern, particularly from the leader's office of the official opposition, but more important, a pattern from the entire Liberal Party of Canada of saying one thing and then having to explain what was said because it proved to be embarrassing. I can only suppose that if this conduct continues, we could quite conceivably see in any kind of election campaign, the Liberals putting things in their platform and afterwards saying that they kind of made a mistake there. They know they said this, but they meant to say something else.

God forbid the Liberals ever win an election. I can just imagine what their conversation with Canadians would be. They would say that they knew in their election campaign platform they said they would reduce taxes, but what they meant was they would increase the GST by two points and slap a carbon tax on everything. What they said in their election campaign platform was that they were tough on crime, but what they meant was not so much.

This is an embarrassment. Worse than that, it is an insult to members of this place. This motion, on the last opposition day of the session, is one that is not only redundant, but it is embarrassing to the sponsoring party and it is an insult to the members of the procedure and House affairs committee.

I sit on that committee and the discussion has been, quite frankly for the most part, very respectful. We have had some excellent testimony. We have had some eminent scholars and constitutional experts like Ned Franks, Benoît Pelletier, Peter Russell and others come and speak to us. I found much of the conversation fascinating.

I obviously have a difference of opinion from many of the other members of the opposition, but during all the discussion we have had, it has been respectful, detailed and, I believe we have collectively asked questions that were probing, timely and necessary. The information we are getting back is such that I would believe the substance of the report, when we finally deliver that report to Parliament, would be something for all committee members to be proud.

Yet, what do we have here? We have an opposition day motion that basically says that the Liberals do not care about the work we have done for the last two and a half or three months. The reason they give is because they do not think we have done anything that is basically relevant. They do not believe that the work that we have done or the report that we will be submitting to Parliament is worth the paper it is going to be printed on.

The official opposition thinks that we need a special committee to study prorogation to the level of what has already been studied. I cannot for the life of me think what other witnesses this special committee could call that the procedure and House affairs committee has not already called. I cannot for the life of me think of what other areas that this special committee could delve into that the procedure and House affairs committee studying prorogation could not delve into itself.

This is nothing more than a shameless attempt to cover up a big mistake made by the official opposition. Those members are embarrassed. They were caught in a web of their own incompetence and now they are trying to convince members of this place that it was all part of a plan, that they really wanted to put this opposition day motion forward and then amend it on site.

We all know how this works. The official opposition knew at least a week ago that today was going to be its last opposition day. The official opposition did have a few potential motions for discussion on the order paper. If those members wanted to change it they had lots of time to amend or reword the current motion into a form that they agreed upon and wanted to present for discussion. They did not do so. Why? Because they were negligent. They were absolutely negligent in their duties.

I am sure it was a staffer who asked the House leader if he knew what the motion says. Then the Liberals realized they had to do something to try to get away from the obvious embarrassment they were going to face by debating a motion that is absolutely ridiculous.

The Liberals come here today and speak before Parliament, and try to convince members of this place that it was all part of their plan, it was all part of a motion that was going to come together and expand the terms of reference of their original motion.

I heartily concur with my colleague from Hamilton Centre when he said this is a joke. One would think that the official opposition that purports to be a government-in-waiting could make better use of its final opposition day of this session than this. Is there nothing else worthy of discussion on an opposition day?

Could the Liberals not talk about the G8 or G20? They seem to be fixated on that topic in question period. Could they not talk about pensions for Canadians? Discussions have been held between many members of this House about pensions and the need for pension reform. The Liberals did not want to talk about that. Instead, they come in with a motion that duplicates the efforts of a standing committee that is already studying the very issue that they put forward here today. It is absolutely ridiculous and it is a waste of the House's time.

That is why every member of this place should be thoroughly and totally insulted by what is happening here today. There are other members of this place who are far more experienced than I and have more seniority than I. I would ask if any one of them could stand in this place and think of another example during an opposition day motion where this type of situation occurred, where a motion was brought forward to create a special parliamentary committee to conduct a study on an issue that was already being studied by a standing committee of Parliament. I defy anyone in this place to give me one example of this ever happening before in the history of Parliament. This is a major embarrassment for the Liberal Party. Those members are merely trying to put a good spin on it, but they are failing miserably.

I will only say this in conclusion. If this is the best that the official opposition can do on its final opposition day of this session, then those members are not fit to govern. If they cannot handle a simple task like bringing forward a relevant motion to discuss on their opposition day, then they are not fit to govern.

I think we have already seen evidence that they understand that themselves. The fact that their leader is openly musing about perhaps forming a coalition with the New Democratic Party is an admission of defeat in itself, and I think they have admitted to Canadians, and I think Canadians understand, that they cannot govern, so perhaps the only way that they might be able to form a government is with the assistance of the New Democratic Party.

I am not a big believer in polls, but I do believe that at certain times, in the snapshots of time that we all say polls are, that they are an accurate reflection of what Canadians are thinking. I noticed with great interest, over the course of the last six to eight months, that the approval rating of the Leader of the Opposition is close to single digits.

There is no wonder why members of his own party are openly musing about getting a new leader in before an election. There is no wonder when members of their party are talking about perhaps forming a coalition with other members of this place. There is no wonder that other members of their party are talking about a merger.

They have admitted in their words and, today, their actions that they are not fit to govern. They do not have the ability to govern. They should not be trusted with the reins of government.

I am absolutely offended as a member of the procedure and House affairs committee to be subjected to this type of motion, which is a direct slap in the face to myself, to my good friend and my colleague from Hamilton Centre, and every other member of the procedure and House affairs committee. This is a sham, this is an insult, and every Canadian should be aware of it.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, when I listen to the hon. member, I realize how scared the Conservative Party is, absolutely, totally scared.

It is scared of an election. Why are the Conservatives scared of an election? It is because they have created humongous boondoggles. Every minister has been found to be unaccountable. These new sheriffs in town talking about accountability are totally unaccountable.

The Minister of Industry, the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and the Minister of Natural Resources who then had to be put down to another ministry, all of them are totally unaccountable. They do not think Parliament is supreme. The Prime Minister has absolute contempt for Parliament.

This is important. Every time somebody does not agree with the Conservatives, prorogation. It is important for Canadians to be aware that the government, that is so hypocritical, will stand up and say, “Well, guess what, we have such a good agenda” when only two bills have been passed. Where is the agenda? Where is the intelligence? Where is the thought process?

This is how intelligent it is. The government has wasted and blown $13.2 billion and created a $54 billion deficit. It is incompetent, unaccountable and undemocratic. I can now see why it is so scared of an election, and so scared of its own shadow.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I just want to quote a line that a political leader spoke not too many months ago.

The line was, and I know I cannot say indirectly what I can say directly, but I do want to make this quote, so forgive me if I name a member here. The quote was from a member who I am sure my colleague across the floor knows well. The quote was:

Mr. Harper, your time is up.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. Questions and comments.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, I heard the word hypocritical over there a minute ago, and I said, “Oh my goodness”.

I will pause for a second. I cannot believe that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons actually agreed with us. That is something for the books.

When members talk about hypocrisy here in this place, they talk about how the government has failed repeatedly and the abysmal record it has, but over 100 times that party either abstained or supported the government. Now they have this opportunity to bring something of substance forward in this place, and they are looking to form a committee when they have a committee already doing the work. It is ridiculous.

I will counter that with what the NDP chose to do with two of its opposition days. The first one was on the seniors charter, when we talked about their needs and a plan for their future. Last June, retirement security for seniors was the NDP opposition day motion. We did not go searching for other committees. I am just getting carried away here. It is so unbelievable.

I recall last year, on employment insurance, someone was talking about drawing a line in the sand. If he keeps drawing those lines, he will not have many toes left.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, this is very scary because for the second time in less than half an hour I agree with the comments of another member of the NDP. Before I was cut off by the Chair, I did misuse language. I named a member. I was going to point out to my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party a quotation made by someone she is familiar with: “Mr. Prime Minister, your time is up”.

Of course, that was delivered a few months ago by the Leader of the Opposition. The context was that he was going to force an election. The member opposite said that the Conservatives are afraid of an election. It seems to me that it is that party that is somewhat fearful of going to the polls. It is no wonder, with a leader of a party that is almost in single digits, or perhaps at single digits.

However, that is not the point. An election will come whenever it is held, but what we are talking about here is an abuse of Parliament's time. We have an opposition day motion that should be discussing something that is at least relevant and new. Whatever the topic is, I do not really care. We have opposition days so that the opposition can pick a topic it wants to discuss, a topic that is important to its party and perhaps that it feels is important to Canadians.

However, the Liberals have brought a topic forward that is absolutely useless, redundant, insulting, and embarrassing for the last opposition day of a session, and then they are trying to justify it. I am not only offended but embarrassed to be sitting in a place where I have to put up with this kind of drivel. It is embarrassing.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader's speech outlined, passionately and on the mark, just how bad the Liberals have dropped the ball today. They could have brought in some very substantive motion today, talking about major policy issues, but I guess nothing came out of the thinkers conference they had this past winter. They have nothing to discuss and no policy propositions to bring forward on behalf of Canadians.

Instead, they are trying to diminish the work of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It is embarrassing that they would use their last opposition day to deal with something that has already been dealt with. The work at committee has been substantive. The discussion has been good on this whole issue of prorogation.

There is one thing that the parliamentary secretary did not touch on. In this time of fiscal constraint, perhaps we should not be looking at adding more administrative burdens on the House. We have been talking about all of the expenses surrounding the operations of Parliament. The Liberals want to set up another special committee that would put a Liberal in the chair and have to pay out an additional salary for a chairmanship that would cost $11,165. Is that appropriate use of parliamentary time, parliamentary resources and taxpayers' money?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned in my remarks a little while ago that the Liberal chair, because the Liberals are suggesting of course that the chair of the special committee be a Liberal member, would receive $10,000 in additional salary for those duties. My hon. colleague is correct. The exact amount was $11,165.

Beyond that, the special committee would incur additional costs for flying in, in some cases, or arranging for witnesses to come before the committee. These would be the same witnesses that the procedure and House affairs committee has already brought in for discussion and analysis.

It is not only an insult and inappropriate. It is an absolute, complete waste of taxpayers' dollars, all done for one reason: to try and mask the fact that this opposition day motion was a mistake. They dropped the ball. They did not realize what they had put on the order paper until it was too late. Everything we have heard today from the opposition party's benches is trying to justify and spin the fact that they dropped the ball big time.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can appreciate the member's lack of belief with respect to the strange coalition with the NDP. I am looking at the record with respect to the leader of the NDP and on numerous occasions he has said that the NDP would bring forward a similar resolution with respect to this issue of prorogation.

When a poll was taken after prorogation, 78% of Canadians said that the Prime Minister had abused his office with respect to the democratic principles of Parliament being supreme. Is the member holding in contempt 78% of Canadians who believe that this is the kind of resolution and the kind of direction that should come forward and that it is the responsibility of Parliament to bring that forward? Is he saying that it is the opposition now that is abusing that right?

I would suggest that it is the opposition motion that gives credibility to those Canadians who felt that the Prime Minister and the government were abusing parliamentary privilege when it prorogued. I think that is what Canadians are watching and I think they expected more than they got from that speech, I would suggest with great respect.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member for York South—Weston is, quite frankly, one of my favourite members in the House. He represents his constituents well and represents all Parliament well in his place.

However, with great respect, whether the member opposite feels that there was an abuse of the power of prorogation is irrelevant in this context because we are already conducting a study to determine that very thing. That was my point, that was the point from the member for Hamilton Centre and that was the point from every other member in this place.

It is an inappropriate, irrelevant, unnecessary motion to be brought forward here. All the Liberals are doing is trying to cover up their own incompetence.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal opposition day motion covers some things that are already being done. A legislative committee is working on the prorogation issue. Still, the main advantage of this motion is that it gives us the opportunity to discuss the December prorogation again. The government realized that that was a serious mistake, and it is trying to make us forget about it. As this session comes to a close, I believe it is not a bad idea to look at the Conservative government's overall behaviour by means of this motion, which I must say is not the most original motion I have ever heard.

That said, though, I do think the motion gives us a chance to take stock of the anti-democratic behaviour of the Conservative government and the Prime Minister. Of course, we will not vote for this motion if the amendment is not passed, because it would be pretty odd to vote to set up a special committee that would have to report next Wednesday. We reserve our decision on this. The motion is an opportunity to take stock of how this government has behaved in the House since 2006.

Things would have been different if last December had been the first time the government had used prorogation, a perfectly legitimate mechanism in the British parliamentary tradition whereby the Governor General is asked to prorogue the session. We would have understood if the government had asked for a prorogation for the first time because it had nearly completed its legislative agenda and the bills it had introduced over the months had been debated, amended, passed, defeated or what have you.

But December was the second time the government and the Prime Minister used prorogation to avoid answering the opposition's questions and facing up to their responsibilities. So we are completely within our right to criticize and challenge the government's actions, because the only purpose of last December's prorogation was to suppress allegations that Afghan detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces to the Afghan authorities were tortured. We all know about it now, so the government's tactic did not work. But the fact that it did not work is not why it was the wrong thing to do.

Earlier the parliamentary secretary talked about what a waste it would be to create a new committee. Was there any bigger waste this year, in 2010, than the month of parliamentary work the Conservatives made us lose? They supposedly tried to make up for lost time by getting rid of break weeks. That was the biggest waste there ever was.

The money spent on the G8 and the G20, the fake lake and the virtual decor is one thing but this is on an entirely different plane. We are talking here about a month of parliamentary work that could have prevented what happened yesterday when the government pulled out of its hat a bill that was introduced in mid-May. The government did not bring the bill back to the House until June 6 or 7 and told us, a few days before the end of the session, that the bill was absolutely necessary for preventing a notorious criminal, Ms. Homolka, from applying for a pardon.

Why did the government not wake up sooner? In part because we lost a month of parliamentary work as a result of this unnecessary prorogation. And then the government tried, as it has many times before, to push through a bill that we are not prepared to accept without amendments. We voted to refer Bill C-23 to committee in order to study it seriously and to amend it. The government wanted to impose its agenda on us.

The Bloc Québécois stood firm. I am pleased to note that the other opposition parties did so as well. The Liberal Party in particular stood firm for once. We forced the government to accept a compromise that everyone could agree on. The bulk of Bill C-23 will be studied in committee and we will take the time to amend it in order to change what we dislike about it.

Our experience yesterday with the drama invented by the Minister of Public Safety and the Conservative government could have been avoided had we used the month of February to examine bills already introduced and if the government had better planned its work.

I will give an example. Why was it urgent to pass Bill C-2 on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement? Was it really urgent that it pass? The government devoted all kinds of time, effort and resources to try to ram the bill down the throat of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, even though our trade with Colombia is very limited. Furthermore, the human rights situation and democratic rights in Colombia are cause for a great deal of concern.

We could have used the parliamentary time to examine Bill C-23 earlier. However, the government decided otherwise. It is its right and responsibility, but it did not make responsible choices. This is all the result of the Prime Minister's decision of December 30, 2009 to prorogue the session until early March.

There is another negative aspect. Thirty-six bills died on the order paper, including 19 justice bills. That is an indication of the hypocrisy of the Conservative's rhetoric on justice. Once again, the government told us that it was proroguing to recalibrate its political and legislative agenda. Perhaps it understood that a number of its bills were not acceptable to Quebeckers and many Canadians. It told us it was proroguing in order to come back refreshed in March.

So, what happened? Two days after the start of the session, the government proposed a budget that was completely unacceptable to Quebec. There was nothing in the budget to meet the needs of the regions or the forestry and aerospace sectors. Nor was there anything for the unemployed in Quebec or in Canada. The government spent one and a half months to present the same, unacceptable budget that it presented in spring 2009.

During that month, no work was done. I wonder what the Conservatives were doing. They probably travelled around handing out cheques. In Quebec, that has led to the Conservatives dropping below 16% in the polls. The fact remains that they acted under false pretences.

That was the latest prorogation. With the other one, just a few weeks after the election, a few days after Parliament returned in November 2008, the Minister of Finance presented an economic statement that was nothing more than an ideological statement. No concrete measures were announced to combat the looming financial and economic crisis. Instead, it was an attack on the opposition parties, and on women's rights in particular. This attack was totally unacceptable to the three opposition parties and to a good number, if not the majority, of Canadians. I can assure you that the majority of Quebeckers were opposed to this dogmatic, ideological and provocative approach.

The government sparked a political crisis a few weeks after the October 2008 election. It should have realized that it was a minority government and that Canadians had given it a minority in the House, especially Quebeckers, who sent a majority of Bloc Québécois members to represent them in Ottawa. The Prime Minister should have realized that a minority government has to work with the opposition parties.

That is not what he did. Instead, he sparked a political crisis and the opposition parties reacted by proposing an NDP-Liberal coalition, supported by the Bloc, on certain conditions that we announced and that were respected by the NDP-Liberal coalition at that time.

A confidence vote was scheduled, and instead of submitting to the decision of the House, the Prime Minister chose to pay another visit to the Governor General to request prorogation and avoid being held accountable. His request was granted, but only after two hours of discussions I must point out.

I suspect that her attitude and the fact that she had the nerve to question the Prime Minister cost Michaëlle Jean her job as Governor General. Of course, we do not know exactly what they talked about, but the conversation took long enough to suggest that she did not say yes right away, which is what often happens, and may have asked for an explanation. At any rate, the House was prorogued once again at the Prime Minister's request to avoid a confidence vote.

The very same thing happened during the September 2008 election. The government built up expectations. We have seen some of that during this session too, particularly in the spring when they paralyzed the committees. Mao Zedong gave us the Little Red Book, and then the Prime Minister gave us a blue book about how any good, self-respecting Conservative can sabotage a committee's work. The government created an artificial paralysis in the committees. The Prime Minister and his Conservative members and ministers, with their sorrowful and utterly false statements, have apparently tried to convince Canadians and Quebeckers that opposition parties were to blame for this paralysis because they blocked committee work on legitimate government bills passed in the House.

After this buildup, the Prime Minister simply triggered an election in an attempt to not have to answer the opposition's questions on a number of issues and, in particular, to not have to respond to the allegations of torture in Afghanistan.

There again, this way of doing things seems fine according to British parliamentary tradition, but it is very questionable in terms of democratic legitimacy. Finally, the government is using all sort of tactics to not have to answer for its actions, to try and impose its backwards, conservative agenda on policy, economic, social and cultural fronts. And if that is not suitable, it provokes the opposition and tries, with measures that are, again, fully legal, to short-circuit the work of Parliament.

I think that it is important to use this opportunity provided to us by the Liberals to remind the public of that. At the same time, I must say that the Conservatives' provocative approach, which is extremely negative and undemocratic, has been encouraged by the Liberals' weakness because the government knew in advance that not all of the Liberal members would be in the House to vote against the budget implementation bill, Bill C-9. Again tonight, we will be voting on supply and it will be interesting to count the number of Liberal members in the House.

Benefiting from this weakness, the Conservatives try to impose their agenda on the opposition—on the Liberal Party in particular—and we have seen this throughout the session.

Another example of extremely questionable Conservative behaviour is the issue of the documents concerning allegations of torture in Afghanistan. A motion had to be passed in the House on December 10, ordering the government to produce a series of relevant documents that would reflect the work done by the Afghanistan committee concerning allegations of torture. The House adopted the motion by only a slight majority. A number of weeks after prorogation, we had to raise this issue and demand these documents again. Each time, the government tried to deflect the question by tabling highly censored documents that showed nothing that would lead us to believe that it was responding to the motion passed on December 10 requiring them to produce documents.

The fact that the requests for the production of documents do not die on the order paper following a prorogation, as government bills do, might come as a surprise for the Prime Minister and the Conservatives. Perhaps the Prime Minister had been misinformed and believed that by proroguing Parliament, the order to produce documents concerning allegations of torture in Afghanistan would disappear. That was not the case.

The opposition did not give up, and questions of privilege had to be raised so that the Speaker could intervene in the matter.

The Speaker's historic decision of April 27, 2010, was very clear: the documents must be handed over, while protecting all information related to national security, defence and international relations, and the opposition has always agreed with that. However, we had to pressure the government further to reach an agreement in principle. We also had to constantly brandish the sword of Damocles—contempt of Parliament—so as to obtain the compromises needed from the government in order to finally implement the mechanism. We only hope that it will be implemented quickly.

This shows how we had to push the government to the wall in order to obtain results that, theoretically, should not have posed a problem, since there had been a democratic majority vote in the House. The government should have simply obeyed the order of the House, yet each time we had to use every means at our disposal to force the government to respect the democratic decision made in the House.

We are still in the same situation today. The House is about to rise for the summer break and we will be in exactly the same position when we come back around September 20.

The government has decided not to let political staff appear before committees anymore. The Prime Minister no longer allows his press secretary and director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, to appear before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. The committee therefore gave Mr. Soudas an ultimatum: he must appear. But he is hiding. There is bound to be a new children's game called Where's Dimitri? after Where's Waldo? The bailiffs tried to serve him with a subpoena, but he followed the Prime Minister to Europe to avoid it.

The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics legitimately and legally said that Mr. Soudas had to be aware of the subpoena requiring him to testify before the committee, because the newspapers had written about it. But perhaps Dimitri does not read the papers, which would be an unusual thing for the press secretary and director of communications with the Prime Minister's Office. Dimitri Soudas is well aware he has to testify before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and the deadline was yesterday.

Today, the committee is starting to write a report that will be tabled in the House. It may be tabled tomorrow, next week or when Parliament resumes. This report will serve as the basis for a new question of privilege and for making a case for contempt of Parliament.

We are leaving off at the same point as where we were at the beginning of this session. The atmosphere in Parliament is rotten, poisoned by the Conservatives' anti-democratic attitude, which has nearly reached the point of provocation a number of times.

Again, what happened yesterday was quite something. At the beginning of the day, the Minister of Public Safety, accompanied by the ineffable Senator Boisvenu, came to tell us that it was Bill C-23 or nothing. At noon, we were told it was Bill C-23 or nothing. Finally, they had to fold.

Instead of trying to get Bill C-23 passed with all its poison pills, it would have been much simpler for the government to tell the opposition parties that it wanted to prevent Ms. Homolka from being able to apply for a pardon, given that she was released from prison five years ago.

The government could have asked that, in light of the seriousness of the acts she committed, we amend the current pardon legislation—that is not actually the title—to change the period of time before an individual is eligible for a pardon to 10 years from the current five years. We would have been open to discussing that, but again, there was a pseudo political crisis provoked by the Conservatives.

I will close by saying that an anti-democratic attitude is poisoning the atmosphere. The government also has an anti-Quebec attitude that is supported more often than not by all Canadian parliamentarians and sometimes by MPs from Quebec in parties other than the Bloc.

I am thinking about the Canada-wide securities commission and Bill C-12 to reduce Quebec's political weight in the House, the GST and QST harmonization, where the government is not just dragging its feet, it has shut the door. I am thinking about the government's attitude with regard to climate change and culture, which is extremely important to Quebec's identity.

There are also the issues of equalization, employment insurance and the guaranteed income supplement. Not only is this government anti-democratic in the way it does things, but it is not meeting the needs of Quebec and the people.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am not necessarily sure about my hon. colleague's comment that other members of the House might not understand or respect Quebec in the way those members do. I lived in Montreal for five years, coming from Newfoundland and Labrador. I found Quebec to be absolutely stunning and its people and I never regret going there.

I will ask him a question about the level of brinkmanship in the House. Because we are in a minority situation, time and time again we find ourselves on a wedge issue where we pull ourselves to the extreme. The art of compromise is something that is a beautiful thing once it is attained. The problem with this House is we try to play to the polls to which we accede. I know other members of the House, including the Conservatives, brought up the polling figures.

In the examples he has given, when it comes to the pardon issue or the Afghan detainee issue, what would he provide as a solution for the House to avoid this brinkmanship? Could he couch his words around the idea of the prorogation as an example of how the power that vests in the government of the day to push us into a corner should not be within its power and that Parliament should be the supreme power in that nature?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question. I am pleased that he enjoyed his time in Montreal.

I agree completely with him on this point. If we want a minority government to work, the government in power—in this case the Conservative government—must recognize that it is in a minority position and must therefore work with the opposition. It must have the support of at least one of the opposition parties or, better yet, all these parties in order to pass its bills. In that context, I am convinced that this Parliament could be extremely productive.

I am thinking about the era of Liberal minority governments. With the support of the NDP, very interesting bills were introduced. When Mr. Pearson formed a minority government, Quebec made extraordinary gains. The Quebec pension plan and the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec were established. A minority government does not necessarily mean an ineffective or unproductive government. That is what happens when a minority government conducts itself as though it had a majority.

Unfortunately, we cannot count on the Conservatives to change their attitude. All too often they have made promises and not kept them. I remember that, after the October 2008 election, the Prime Minister said that he would tour Canada and Quebec to listen to the people and to recalibrate his way of doing things. They tabled the Minister of Finance's ideological statement around November 24, 2008, which, if my memory serves me well, caused the crisis we are familiar with.

Therefore, new structures and new rules must be put in place to force the government, especially a minority government, to respect the parliamentary rules. That also applies to a majority government. The rules under which the Prime Minister can ask for prorogation must be changed. The leader of the official opposition has made some suggestions. That could also have consequences.

I will close with an example. A government that asks for prorogation and obtains it without consulting the House could see its bills that died on the order paper blocked for two or three months before being reintroduced. There has to be a price to pay for such undemocratic actions.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this motion.

Let me first make it crystal clear lest there be any doubt on anyone's part, that we on this side of the House, the NDP members, feel just as strongly as anybody about prorogation and the abuse of it by the current government. We are totally outraged.

There were demonstrations in my riding, downtown in Gore Park. People went out into the cold, frigid Canadian winter to protest their anger at the government's shutting down their Parliament. Every one of my colleagues attended rallies and committee meetings. They met with people and talked about this with local media. It was the main focus for weeks and weeks at the beginning of this year.

In fact, the NDP felt so strongly against what the government was doing in its abuse of prorogation that when we finally got back into this place, on March 17 the leader of the NDP, the member for Toronto—Danforth, placed a motion before the House, which was approved by this House, which states the following:

That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister shall not advise the Governor General to prorogue any session of any Parliament for longer than seven calendar days without a specific resolution of this House of Commons to support such a prorogation.

I would note parenthetically that following that motion carrying in the House, the committee met a mere 10 days after the Liberals first tabled their original motion.

That motion was debated in the House, passed, and went to the appropriate committee, that being the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. As the democratic reform critic, I substitute in whenever this comes up and the committee has been dealing with that since April 22, which is exactly what the motion before us says.

The opening words of the unamended motion, because it has to be amended to make it fit today, states:

That a special committee of the House be hereby established to undertake an immediate study of all relevant issues pertaining to prorogation, including the circumstances in which a request that Parliament be prorogued would be appropriate or inappropriate, and the nature of any rule changes (either by way of the Standing Orders or legislation or both) that may be necessary to avoid any future misuse of prorogation.

It goes on, but those are the basic instructions. The problem is that those basic instructions are exactly the mandate of the committee that is now seized of the motion that was passed by the House earlier, having been moved by the leader of my party, the member for Toronto—Danforth.

I am all for kicking the government every chance I get regarding prorogation, absolutely, let us go for it, but we did that writ large. Canadians did a pretty good job of making sure that prorogation is now as well known as any other political term might be in this country whereas before it was hardly known at all. There are a lot of Canadians who are still angry. That is why we have the committee.

I understand the official opposition wanted a vehicle to kick the government regarding prorogation. Fair enough, if that is the most burning issue, given the fact that the incident in question happened six months ago and a committee is already dealing with this issue, and I will get into the work it has already done in a moment, but if that is what the Liberals want to do, if they feel that is the burning issue, okay.

However, one really would think that with all the supports the official opposition has, it could have come up with something a little more imaginative. At the very least, it could have come up with something that does not so obviously duplicate something we have done in the past.

It really does look like the official opposition, after having made a big deal of wanting its opposition days, realized it had one on the last day and thought about what it would do. It panicked, grabbed it off the shelf, brushed off the dust, submitted it and said it will spend the afternoon kicking around prorogation. Since it is the last day of the House, nobody is paying attention anyway and it does not need to do too much with it.

That seems to be the approach the official opposition takes on opposition days. It was not that long ago the official opposition moved a motion and it failed, in part because it did not have all its members on side. It had not talked to its members to see how they would vote.

This is one of the few opportunities where the opposition gets to control the floor of the House of Commons. Usually, under the normal rules, the government calls the shots. That is just the way the system works. We rarely get these opportunities. On the last opposition day we would have thought the official opposition would want to go out with a bang, or at least go out looking clever. Now it is not even going to go out looking competent.

I want to say a couple of words about the committee and then I want to speak very directly to the amendment because there are points to be made.

First, for anyone who is watching, the motion before us by the Liberals calls for a special committee to be struck and then it goes into great length about the details of who will be on it, who will chair it, all those details and so on.

The problem is that we already have a committee that is dealing with that issue and dealing with an NDP motion that passed the House. The committee started meeting on April 22. We have had 10 meetings. We have met for 15 committee hours. We have heard from 16 presenters. So 10 meetings, 15 hours, 16 presenters, and what? Do we throw that away? Will we just say it does not matter, throw that away and call it a practice run?

The Liberal House leader during one of his famous Regina monologues went on to tell us all about how the amendments make everything wonderful. Do not worry. The original motion was kind of stale-dated but the amendments today fix that and make everything relevant. So the Liberals are exactly where they need to be.

Let us have a look at some of these amendments:

that the special committee also take into account any report on prorogation that may be forthcoming from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and provide an analysis of the consequences of the use of prorogation as a device to avoid accountability or to silence voices that may wish to express disagreement with the government;

That is what the committee is doing. The committee is going to be holding hearings. We have heard from 16 experts, some of the leading constitutional lawyers, professors and political scientists in the country, people who are designated as advisers to the Governor General on constitutional matters.

Our plan is at the end of that, we will start writing a report. Will we agree on the report? I doubt it. Is it going to be fascinating to see where we end up? Yes. Is it loaded with all kinds of partisan politics? Yes. Is it important and affects the future of how we operate this place? Yes again.

The amendment does not add anything new. It just duplicates what we have already done. It makes it sound as though there is a process that the Liberals have really thought through.

It drives us crazy when the Liberals will not admit when they have screwed up. They have to dig themselves further and further into a hole. They leave the impression that the committee can do its work and then they will take the report, and will do what? Real committee work? Will they somehow do the finished product? It does not make any sense at all. One need not to have been here for too many years or to know much about politics to figure out that it does not make a whole lot of sense to start up a special committee to do work that is already being done by a committee.

These amendments are an attempt to make the official opposition look fresh and to make it look relevant and it is not.

A colleague from another party mentioned something interesting to me so I do not take ownership of this, but on that side of the House there is a fake lake, and on this side of the House there is a fake motion. Really, what we are dealing with here is a fake motion that does not mean anything.

If the Liberal members want to rant against the government regarding prorogation, okay. If that is their political priority, I do not quite get it, but that is fine. They have that right. But why not do something imaginative, come up with something relevant, something that furthers the issue?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Something real.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague said, “something real”.

I do not agree with the government on too much with regard to prorogation. However, on the specific narrow issue of whether or not this is a redundant, ridiculous, unnecessary motion, I agree wholeheartedly. It is a shame that the official opposition gives us this motion as its homework. Any teachers in the room I suspect would be giving the official opposition an F.

Let us go back to the amendments that are supposed to make this motion relevant and make it all fresh and okay and actually mean something, “that the committee consist of”, and there are the details of what the new super spiffy committee would look like. The Liberals have outlined who would be on it.

It goes on, “that the committee have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders”. That is a great idea. It really is. If we are going to look at something this serious, we want to make sure that we have all the powers of a standing committee to do the job properly. Therefore, the House, in its wisdom, sent this motion to, oh, yes, a standing committee. Come on, how lame.

Let us go on to the spiffiness, “that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party's members of the committee no later than June 23, 2010”. That is really important.

It goes on, “that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2)”. That would be kind of like what we can do in standing committees. We want to ensure the special committee has all the powers of a standing committee because the current standing committee does not have, well, see what happens when we try to do Liberal think? It does not work. It does not take us anywhere.

Here is the best. This is my favourite, by far. This is the one I love. It is the last amendment, the spiffying-up amendment, “by deleting the words 'June 23, 2010' and substituting the following: 'November 2, 2010'.”. Why is that there? If the Liberals had not put that in there, this new spiffy special committee would have to report in six days.

Granted, it made a whole lot of sense back in April when the Liberals originally tabled the motion. However, the fact that this special committee would be due to report in six days and they have had to amend the reporting date really underscores just how laughable and sad state of affairs the official opposition has presented itself today.

Again, I appreciated the remarks of the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader who sits on the committee as a regular member, as do some other members who are here today. I thought the Liberals would have a good point if it ever came out that the committee was not working right. That would be the best argument they would have, if the committee were log-jammed and we were into political partisan fighting, as is occurring in some of the other committees. I thought, boy, if that came out they might have a bit of an argument. The problem is it is not true.

The committee is working fine. It really is. We have not gotten into the deliberations of what we want to do about changes. That is where the real sparks are going to fly, and that will happen in due course, just like we do with everything else around here.

However, the committee members right now are respectful, as my colleague the parliamentary secretary said. At this stage, we are trying to learn. Most of us here, while we are privileged and honoured to cast the votes that decide the laws of Canada, are not all constitutional experts and that is good. We need constitutional experts but we also need people who take that expertise and apply it to law-making in a way that benefits the majority of people. That is where elected representatives come into it. We are the interface between the people in our ridings and this place. However, the member would have us start that all over again.

We have 16 of the smartest, most patriotic, probably high priced, constitutional advisers in the entire country and the debates in question are not acrimonious. We are legitimately trying to get up to speed, members from all three caucuses. We listen, we ask questions, we read and assimilate the information and we bring in the next presenters. We pose questions to them based on some of the arguments of others, because they do not always agree, which is what makes it so fascinating.

My point is the committee is doing exactly what it should do. When some questions come out, the government looks better or worse depending on the issue, but we are not doing like I am doing now, into full flight debate and going at each other. That is not going on.

The official opposition cannot even say the committee is not working right and therefore we need this other committee. There are three relevant points of the debate today. First is the government's abuse of prorogation has to stop. Second, the House has already been seized with the issue and passed a motion by the member for Toronto—Danforth expressing one formula. That was sent to the committee and the committee is now having its deliberations. Third, this is an absolute waste of an official opposition day, period, let alone the official opposition bringing in a motion that calls for a committee to deliver a report due in six days from the day we debate it.

Some might say if it were the Bloc and the NDP, they do not have the same resources, what they do is not as important as the official opposition and that is the reality of this place. However, that is not the case. The Liberals purport to be a government in waiting. We keep waiting to see where the government is going to be. It sure is not in this motion and it is not around whatever little thinking went into it. I guess that is really the point. There does not seem to have been any thought. It is as if we are getting toward the end of the game and we can just slack off. It looks like slacking off, like it is the last day, it does not matter so why do we not put that forward and debate it for awhile?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


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

It's like dinner theatre.

At least dinner theatre is entertaining unlike the motion which is not even that. It is just a plain waste of time, a waste of this place to talk about a motion to create a committee when we already have the committee doing the work. If Liberals wanted to advance the issue of prorogation and have a legitimate reason to speak, then that is fine. I would question their priorities at this point, but do something creative. Bring in something that actually advances the cause rather than just being so flippant about it. They just take any old motion and not to worry. We will rant away the last day. It all seems like it is more important to think about getting out of here than the business at hand. It is still important just because it is the last day. Therefore, the official opposition undermines the importance of going after the government for its abuse of prorogation by bringing in something that is so flimsy.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the work that has already been done in the standing committee. Would my colleague talk about having an additional committee doing the same thing? What kind of resources does that take and what kind of staffing does it need? During these times, when we are trying to be very respectful of taxpayer dollars, could the member talk about what the impact of this committee might be?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is definitely a cost and if we are duplicating work, it is a waste. When special committees need to be struck, the money is not really the issue. If it is important work that needs to be done. That is why there are budgets to do the work. I think the member's point is very well taken. In this case, it is a waste.

As I read this and, like the hon. member, I was struggling to figure out what the thinking was. If I follow this correctly, we are supposed to finish our work at the committee and then after that this new committee gets struck. It takes our work and then I am not sure what it does. Our work is meant to finalize the issue and make recommendations back to the House.

I am not sure what the committee would do. In that regard, it is a total waste of money and time. It is also a waste of intellectual opportunity to bring in something like this today. I agree with the member. It is waste all around.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, during the period the member for Hamilton Centre referred to, I remember I went to a rally in Toronto, downtown at Yonge and Dundas. I really wanted to participate, not as a Liberal, a Conservative or New Democrat, but as a Canadian taxpayer and express my frustration. I was disappointed.

I was pleased with the people who showed up, young, old and everybody in between. However, as the rally moved on, it was hijacked by the NDP. It was not a Canadian rally. It was an NDP rally. I left because it was not a true expression of all Canadians, but more so politically motivated.

I do not know why the member is upset with the motion. We are trying to enhance what those members are supposedly concerned about, and that is how we address prorogation. The NDP members cannot speak and chew at the same time. They have to get their story straight. We are co-operating to pass the free trade agreement with Colombia. They do not agree. We have co-operated to pass crime legislation. They do not agree. They do not agree on anything. No wonder Canadians do not support them.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that detailed, succinct analysis of what is going on here today. I can appreciate the fact that the member is upset. Those members were hijacked. They are the second party. They are the official opposition. It was the fourth party, the NDP, that had its motion passed through the House. That is what they are upset about. They are trying to regain a little ground.

The hon. member used the word “enhance”. I dissected the Liberals' amendment and motion line by line and I defy the official opposition to stand and show me or anyone else where their motion is an enhancement as opposed to a duplication of the work that is being done.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Daniel Paillé Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have no words to express the appreciation I have for the NDP member and his idea of a “fake motion”, which is so appropriate. I would like to hear his comments on the fact that the motion was amended, and that the last amendment talks about November 1. Is that not the day after Halloween? Does that inspire him?

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member probably found the only way we could have managed to get the word “inspire” into this debate. I congratulate him on that.

Again, it is the date. If I can pick up on the hon. member's comments, I believe the new date in the amendment is November 2. However, it is unlikely that our committee will be done its work. If we follow this nonsensical thinking, it would suggest that once we are done our work, then this new committee would pick up and go from there. It would be responsible for getting a report back to us by November 2 of this year.

We are not going to be done by then. If we were, it would only be by a matter of weeks. It would be virtually impossible for that deadline to be met. Not only do the Liberals' have a stale-dated delivery date in the original motion, but their spiffy, spanking new shiny amendment, which is meant to fix everything, still does not fix it.

It reminds me of Mike Harris when he brought in a planning act and it took seven further bills to amend each of the mistakes he made in the preceding one. That is what I am seeing here, with these kinds of dates moving around. They still have not been thought through.

Opposition Motion—ProrogationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think people watching today would probably like to get an update as to what is happening with the committee. I was interested to know when it would report, but the member has just indicated it probably would not be until November. People may be asking if it will be reporting before a possible fall election. That is an important thing to consider as well.