Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this issue.
Prorogation became a bit of a household word in Canada this year. It was not a term that was familiar to a great many Canadians, but this year it became familiar to them. They made a point of understanding what was going on.
My colleague, who just spoke, mentioned two prorogations in the last two years. In fact, we have had three in three years. However, the one in 2007 was what one might call a normal prorogation, where toward the end of the summer, the government decided that instead of coming back in September, we would come back in October. Oppositions do not like that, but they understand that this happens on occasion. However, this year and last year, there were two very controversial uses of this blunt instrument. Canadians were outraged. There was a positive side effect to this, which was that Canadians became engaged.
I am splitting my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for York West.
Canadians became very outraged and that is a good thing. They became involved. We had rallies around the country. I can recall a very cold day in Halifax, being at a rally with other members of Parliament, labour unions and people who were interested. There was a huge crowd that came out to express their concerns. It generated a lot of interest and a lot of anger. This is an issue about democracy.
Canadians may not love their politicians. We know, in general, they do not, but they do expect them to go to work both at home and in Ottawa. We all know there is work to be done at home. There is no question about that, but we follow a schedule that demands that members of Parliament be in Ottawa. This is where the elected voice of Canadians have a chance to impact on public policy, on the comings and goings of the nation, and it is important.
We had heard from some people on the government's side that the prorogation was a normal course of events. We know it was not. I have already referenced Nelson Wiseman from the University of Toronto, who has said that no Canadian prime minister had abused this prorogation power to the extent that the current Prime Minister has. He quoted Senator Eugene Forsey, whom I quoted earlier, who had said:
—an unwanted and uncalled-for prorogation a usurpation of the rights of the House of Commons, a travesty of democracy and a subversion of the constitution.
Another great Canadian, whom I do not always agree with but I always read, is Jeffrey Simpson, and he wrote, on January 25:
A prime minister has his forums, of which Parliament is only one. He has cabinet, caucus, and a public platform each and every time he speaks, here and abroad. Parliament, however, is the platform of every point of view from those who have been elected, and the place where, however imperfectly, the government is held to account.
That makes a lot of sense.
There is no question of why Parliament was prorogued. It was a difficult time for the government. The issue of the Afghan detainees was to be studied in committees and the government wanted to shut it down. We know that.
Arthur Kent, who is the brother of a member of the Prime Minister's cabinet, was quoted as saying:
—there has been an unwritten fatwa maintained by the Prime Minister’s Office against discussion of any and all controversial aspects of the Afghan debacle...if [the Prime Minister] is uncomfortable with democracy, he should quit his job.
That is good advice and his brother ought to listen to him.
Tom Flanagan, a former campaign manager, said on TV, “Everybody knows that Parliament was prorogued in order to shut down the Afghan inquiry”.
The reason this was done this year was to shut down something that was uncomfortable for the government. The year before, it was to avoid a vote of non-confidence. Canadians have voiced their concerns about that.
Why does it really matter? It matters because it is about democracy. It is about a country like Canada, the traditions that make Canada great, that listens to opposition. I contend that the government not only does not want to listen to them, but does not want them to even speak, to even have a voice.
The Prime Minister has been compared on occasion to former president George Bush. I do not think that is accurate. He is more likely and favourably compared to Richard Nixon, where politics trumps everywhere and politics is all that matters. Richard Nixon had his famous enemies list. Dangerous people such as Paul Newman and Mickey Mouse were put on this enemies list and other people had their taxes audited and everything else. In Canada we have an enemies list too of the Prime Minister. I could name all the people who have been shut out by the government, but I only have 10, so I will mention a couple of them.
I want to talk about KAIROS, CCIC and CCL. KAIROS and CCIC are two great voices of international development that for many years have represented a Canadian view on international development, sometimes agreeing with governments, sometimes not.
KAIROS and the rebel organizations that are affiliated with it, like the Catholic Church and Presbyterian Church, were defunded in December, totally caught off guard for no reason whatsoever. CCIC and Gerry Barr, who was very highly regarded nationally as well as internationally, have been told they are also in peril.
The Canadian Council on Learning was set up in 2004 to be the voice of Canada when it came to evaluating how we were doing on educating our citizens, a five year program, easily renewable. The government and the Minister of Human Resources have even indicated in committee and in a letter to CCL that CCL is doing great work. The minister speaks often about the need for us to do an inventory of skills in Canada.
How are we doing on post-secondary education? How are we doing on early learning and child care? How are we doing on adult literacy and workplace training? These are very important issues. This was what CCL did. CCL did this with all of the provinces in Canada. CCL had the respect of all international partners. It had the respect of the universities, the community colleges, the students groups, the professors and the researchers in Canada. It was told its funding would not continue. It makes no sense whatsoever.
The government has said that it needs more information, yet it has shut down an organization that provides the very information it says it needs and has left nothing in its place. It said that it would get rid of CCL because it made two mistakes. It was originally funded by a Liberal government and it was doing good work, which is unacceptable to the government. It shut it down, but said that it needed the work CCL had done, but it needed a bit of time to get it going. Does that make any sense? I do not think so. It could not even continue the funding that it had.
Prime ministers leave legacies whether they want to or not. Pierre Trudeau brought us the Constitution Act of 1982. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms brought Canada to a very important place internationally. We are respected in this world and understood for the values we project abroad.
Brian Mulroney did work on apartheid in South Africa. He brought us free trade and the GST. Some may like it and some may not, but in many ways, it transformed the Canadian economy. Mr. Mulroney was a respected international leader.
Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin got the books of Canada in order after a generation or more of them being out of order. They brought Canadians together. They made commitments to Africa. The G20 exists today in large part because of Paul Martin, supported Jean Chrétien.
Those are legacies that people leave.
The current Prime Minister is working on his legacy. When we look back on the work of the government, we will say that the government took one of the world's great democracies and ripped it apart. It is dismantling our social infrastructure, shutting out dissent, shutting out voices and shutting down Parliament.
I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Democracy is the worst form of government in the world, except for all the rest”. It is a messy process. When we encourage people to come in and when we listen to people, that is important and that is democracy. Governments in the past, whether it was Mr. Mulroney's or Mr. Chrétien's, had all kinds of non-governmental organizations and lots of civil society organizations who they did not agree with and who spoke out loud and clear against government policy.
We did not defund them or shut them down. Whether one agrees with a government or not, those voices need to be heard. Democracy is about those voices. This is part of the same continuum that allows the Prime Minister to shut down Parliament when it becomes inconvenient. In many ways, it is the Prime Minister's inconvenient truth that he does not like democracy. He loves power, but he hates government.
In order to have government and democracy, we need voices. We need voices outside Parliament and inside Parliament. When we shut down those voices, we shut down the ability of Canadians to have input into their government. In my view, what the government has done is wrong and it needs to be fixed.