That, in the opinion of the House, the thorough examination and debate of proposed legislation on behalf of Canadians is an essential duty of Members of Parliament, and that the curtailment of such debate limits the ability of Members to carry out this duty and constitutes an affront to Canadian democracy; and, therefore,
that the Speaker undertake a study and make recommendations to amend the Standing Orders with respect to closure and time allocation, such that: (i) a Minister would be required to provide justification for the request for such a curtailment of debate; (ii) the Speaker would be required to refuse such a request in the interest of protecting the duty of Members to examine legislation thoroughly, unless the government’s justification sufficiently outweighs the said duty; (iii) criteria would be set out for assessing the government’s justification, which would provide the Speaker with the basis for a decision to allow for the curtailment of debate;
that the Speaker report to the House no later than February 6, 2012;
that a motion to concur in the said report may be moved during Routine Proceedings, and that only when no Member rises to debate the motion, the Speaker shall interrupt any proceedings then before the House and put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of the motion; and
if no motion to concur in the report has been previously moved and disposed of on the 20th sitting day following the presentation of the report, Standing Orders 57 and 78 shall be deemed to have been deleted.
Mr. Speaker, this motion has been brought before the House at this time because of the government's gross overuse of shutting down debate in the House, whether it is by a formal closure motion, which shuts down debate immediately, or by time allocation motions, which provide extremely limited time for debate on crucial issues facing both the House and the country more generally.
It is important that we recognize the effect of the motion. It is not that you, Mr. Speaker, need a greater workload, but that is the thrust of the motion. The motion would remove a government's unilateral ability to shut down debate in the House and would allow the Speaker, as an independent officer of Parliament, to make the decision as to when it is appropriate to curtail debate and when it is an abuse of the process. Therefore, a request for curtailment of debate could in fact be rejected by the Speaker of the day.
I have done some analysis of other jurisdictions that have similar parliaments to ours, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia. Going back some 20 or 30 years, all of them moved to provide greater authority to the speaker to regulate when debate should be curtailed, limited or ended. In each of those parliaments, it is quite clear that it is the speaker who ultimately makes the decision in that regard.
The authority is different in each of those legislatures but the general wording and conduct of the speaker has always been: Is the request for curtailment or ending debate an abuse? Oftentimes the term “of a minority segment of that parliament” is used. It may be a large official opposition or it may be a small third, fourth or fifth party, but the speaker has the authority in each one of those parliaments to make the determination as to whether the request by the government to end or limit debate is an abuse of the rights of the members of Parliament.
I will move on to the context in which this motion is being put forward.
In less than two months of sitting days, we have had time allocation applied to Bill C-13, the budget bill, which was 640 pages long. We were given extremely limited time to debate it. It is the only time, that we have been able to determine, in the history of this country that such a limited amount of time has been given to a budget bill. I know the government House leader said that we had some debate on this in the previous Parliament. However, we have 100 new members of Parliament who were not here and had no opportunity to debate this in the last Parliament.
It is fundamental to our process that a budget bill be given a full extensive debate. We can go back to any number of the authorities where that is repeated over and over again, and not just in this legislature, but in every legislature that works off the Westminster model.
We then had Bill C-18 dealing with the Canadian Wheat Board. This is an institution that is well over 70 years of age. It is iconic in this country. However, on two occasions, at second reading and report stage, we were again slapped with time allocation.
The Wheat Board and the farmers in western Canada were entitled to that debate. The opposition should have been given time in both the House and in committee to deal with that issue. We were given extremely limited time given the significance of what was going to happen if the bill passed, especially when the majority of farmers in western Canada, who use the Wheat Board to sell their wheat, oppose the bill. However, again we were slapped with time allocation on two occasions.
Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill, is made up of nine former bills brought together. Again the House leader said that we had time to debate this legislation. More than 100 new members did not have time to debate this extremely complex bill because they were not here in the last Parliament.
The Conservatives have accused the opposition of delaying this legislation. On more than one occasion, the NDP has offered to take the part of the bill that deals with crimes against children, sexual predator type crimes, and run it through at all stages. It already passed through the House once before, so we were quite comfortable in having that done. On the more than one occasion that we offered that to the government, it refused and then slapped time allocation on the balance of the bill.
It was the same thing with Bill C-19, the gun control bill. We were given extremely limited time to debate an issue that is topical and very controversial. As the debate has gone on, more and more evidence has come out around reasons to not do away with the long gun registry. There was no opportunity to debate that legislation in the House to any significant degree.
Finally, Bill C-20, the seats bill. The bill proposes to make significant changes to the composition of this Parliament and again we are being limited to a significant degree in our ability to deal with it. I sit on the committee that is looking at the bill and the same thing is happening there. Extreme limitations are being placed at committee with regard to the number of witnesses we are allowed to call.
It just boggles my mind when I try to understand what is going on, and I think I am reasonably intelligent in terms of understanding it. It is a complex process that is being engendered now and it is new. It is not what was here in the last Parliament at all. The bill is a new incarnation of the process. It would make a very significant change and we are being given nowhere near the amount of time that we will need.
If we continue with the practice as it is right now, Bill C-20 will be out of committee and back before the House either by the end of next week or early the week following, when we have limited time to debate it here in the House and limited time in committee. The same can be said about the other four bills that I just mentioned. They all have had limited time in committee.
That is the context that we have. We have a precedent, if we want to put it that way, in other legislatures.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent.
As I said earlier, we have this other precedent. If the bill passes, it will mean more work for the Speaker of this Parliament and subsequent Speakers. However, we need to find a much more proper balance in terms of our ability as opposition members to do our job. Our responsibility here is to determine whether legislation coming from the government is appropriate but we are not able to do that in the amount of time that we are being given at this point. We need to take the government's ability to limit time and place it in the hands of an independent member and, in this case, that would be the Speaker and his successors.