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.