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House of Commons Hansard #162 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was omnibus.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Ted Hsu Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker. That is why I addressed my speech to the students at Frontenac Secondary School, in my riding, since what we fail to do today will affect them in the future.

As far as I am concerned, there is a cost to this. I would call it the omnibus bill tax, which means that if we are ignoring problems or not thinking legislation through carefully today, we are going to be imposing costs on future generations. I would call it the omnibus tax-on-everything bill.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the Liberal opposition day motion today.

It should come as no surprise to members in this House that I certainly can confirm that our government will not be supporting the motion. I think other speakers before me have mentioned the same thing.

However, I do want to talk about the motion a bit before I get into the reasons that we oppose it.

As every member of this place knows, each opposition party, throughout the course of a parliamentary session, has a limited amount of days in which it can bring forward opposition motions, also known as supply days or opposition days, and the motions that the opposition parties can bring forward can be of their own choosing.

The reason I mention that is because this is the Liberals' last opposition day for the fall session. As a subject, they could have chosen a number of different topics that would be more relevant and more important than what they have done here. They could have, for example, brought forward a motion to discuss the recent EI changes that our government made. They could have brought forward a motion to discuss the government's plan to change the age for old age security payments. They could have even brought forward a motion to discuss MP pensions because this is a subject that all the Liberal members over the past few weeks have talked about quite frequently. They have stated that they wanted to bring forward some suggestions, some ideas, about changes to MP pensions. I am sure that would have had the attention of every member of this House. Instead, however, they brought forward an opposition day motion dealing with a quote of nearly 20 years ago.

Why did they do that? Clearly, they did it for one reason. They wanted to try to create mischief. They wanted to try to bring forward a motion that they felt would, in some small way, embarrass the government or perhaps embarrass the Prime Minister.

However, it has no real importance in the day-to-day lives of Canadians. It has no real importance in terms of what we do in this institution because it does not bring forward any policy positions that the Liberals may want to advance. That is a sad commentary on the state of the Liberal Party today.

Rather than bringing forward something of substance, perhaps a new policy idea that the Liberals wish to advance or perhaps they wanted to critique or criticize the government on some of the policy positions that we have taken, but they did not do that. By their own choosing, they decided to bring forward a motion simply for political partisan purposes to try to embarrass the government. That is not what this place is for. At least in my opinion, that is not what this place is for.

I give credit to the official opposition. Even though I fundamentally and profoundly disagree with it on most of its policy positions, at least I will give it full credit for bringing forward, during its opposition days, ideas and policy initiatives that it would like to see debated. We, during the course of those opposition days, have vigorous and sometimes very passionate debates, but at least they were, in most part, debates that were worth having in this place.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, the motion put forward by the Liberal Party today is beneath the level of discussion that this place should have.

I would also point out, as members opposite well know, that, from a procedural standpoint, omnibus bills have been procedurally proven to be in order. Many Speakers over the last number of decades have made this ruling, from Speaker Lamoureux to Speaker Fraser. They have stated that omnibus bills are procedurally in order and that governments can bring forward omnibus bills, packaging a number of related pieces of legislation under one bill, and they can debate them and bring them forward for passage.

One of the most ardent supporter and defender of omnibus bills was former Speaker Peter Milliken. Before Mr. Milliken became Speaker of this House, he was parliamentary secretary to the government House leader of the Liberal government of the day. I mention Mr. Milliken because I think most members in this place would consider former Speaker Milliken to be one of the most, if not the most, knowledgeable Speakers in terms of the procedures and practices of Parliament.

I had very good discussions with former Speaker Milliken a number of times and he always impressed me with his complete grasp and knowledge of parliamentary procedures, procedures that he defended to the hilt.

I will quote what Peter Milliken said in 1994 about omnibus bills. When the debate was ensuing in 1994, Mr. Milliken said:

The issues are exactly the same as those raised by the minister in his budget address.... I do not think there is anything unusual about lumping these together for the purposes of debate. The hon. member suggests they are totally disjointed and I suggest they are not. They are part of the overall economic plan of the government as announced in the budget.

That quote was referring to an omnibus bill brought forward by the then Liberal government which brought together a number of pieces of legislation under one bill. However, all of the items brought forward in that omnibus bill had been items that were discussed and proposed in the Liberal budget that was tabled several months prior.

I would suggest that there is no difference between what happened in 1994 and the argument that Mr. Milliken raised and what is happening now. It has been proven to be procedurally in order for any government, regardless of political affiliation, to bring forward omnibus bills in this fashion. In fact, I would argue that it is the absolute right and prerogative of governments to bring forward legislation in whatever form they think is proper. That is what we have done. There can be no question that, from a procedural standpoint, we have followed the proper procedure in bringing forward the omnibus bill that we saw in the last session of Parliament.

I do not know what will happen in the future. I do not have a crystal ball. I have not seen the next budget implementation act, which, I am sure, will be introduced in due course, but even if that bill is considered to be omnibus, as was the previous BIA, it will be procedurally in order.

I understand that members of the opposition may not like it. They may feel that it does not give them an opportunity to fully debate pieces of legislation contained under the omnibus bill. However, I would point out that, in my opinion, the purpose and the objective of the opposition parties is not to debate legislation but rather to delay and obstruct legislation. I understand that. I understand the role of opposition members far more so perhaps than some of my newer colleagues to this place. I understand that they believe their purpose in this place is to try to delay and obstruct all government legislation because they are in opposition.

I give them full credit for trying to do what they can but it seems to be somewhat disingenuous, to say the least, to then stand up in this place, as they have done frequently, and say that they want to work with the government to better improve pieces of legislation, to hone and craft legislation that would be palatable to all Canadians.

I will point out that we have been back roughly a month in this fall session of Parliament and we have actually passed one piece of government legislation through the second reading stage. Why? It is because the opposition parties do not want to see legislation passed quickly. They want to delay and obstruct our government's economic plan as much as they possibly can because it would benefit them politically.

I understand all of that. That is the way this place works. The opposition parties are not unique in using that tactic. All opposition parties over time have done exactly the same thing. However, it is because of those actions that governments feel compelled from time to time to bring forward omnibus bills.

This government is no different. We have a plan that was outlined quite clearly in budget 2012. Our economic plan is to create jobs, continue to grow the economy and to ensure the long-term prosperity of the economy and of all Canadians. However, at all turns we find vehement and vociferous opposition from members in this place.

I hear a common cry from members opposite saying that they need more time to debate, that they want to debate the bill because Canadians want to know more about the legislation. I would point out to members in this place that when we introduced budget 2012 and then the budget implementation act that followed, there were well over 200 speakers who stood to discuss and debate the budget we brought forward. I do not know what the opposition feels is adequate in terms of the time of debate, but most Canadians believe that having over 200 members of Parliament stand to make comments and, in some cases, pass judgment on our budget is more than adequate. Did that satisfy members of the opposition? Of course not.

As I said earlier, the opposition parties' objective is not to fully debate and discuss legislation. Their objective is to delay and obstruct legislation. That is something, as responsible government, we certainly do not abide by. We know that Canadians elected us for one primary reason. They felt that our government, our party and our Prime Minister were best suited to deal with difficult economic times.

Ever since the worldwide recession hit in 2009, Canada has been punching well above its weight in terms of economic performance. There is one reason for that. It is because of our government's handling of the economy. We are the envy of the industrialized world when it comes to the economic performance of our country and it is because of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the initiatives brought forward by our government that we have that reputation which is unparalleled in the world today. Every country in the industrialized world would trade places with Canada willingly if they only had that chance.

We are envied and admired by countries around the world because of our economic performance. When we bring forward budgets, and subsequently budget implementation acts, we are doing so to continue the economic performance that we have proven.

However, the opposition members do not wish to see Canada's economic performance enhanced. They truly do not want to see Canada continue on its economic progress path. Why? It is because it does not suit their political agenda. They would rather see our government fail miserably in terms of economics and economic performance because then and only then would they be able to go to the Canadian people and say that it is time for a change and we need a new caretaker or curator for the Canadian economy.

That is the reason for this motion today from the Liberal Party. It is trying to use this motion as yet another feeble attempt to embarrass the government and to try, in some small way, to make some political points by bringing forward close to a 20-year-old quote to convince Canadians that there is a need to change the way in which this Parliament deals with omnibus legislation. It is a sad commentary on the Liberal Party of today.

The reality is that we will continue to work on behalf of all Canadians. We will continue to bring forward legislation that strengthens the Canadian economy and strengthens Canada's ability to lead the world in terms of economic performance.

I should also take this time to contrast from an economic standpoint some of the policies of the parties opposite, because that is what Canadians really want to know. Where is the choice? Canadians made their choice in the 2011 election by electing a majority Conservative government, primarily because they were confident in our ability to provide good economic stewardship. However, let us just imagine for a moment what kind of economic policies we would see if the official opposition were in power.

There is one thing that we have consistently stated over the past number of weeks. Here I start hearing the caterwauling and complaining opposite when I begin to talk about the NDP plan to impose a carbon tax. I see the smiles of some of my colleagues on the opposition benches right now. Therefore, I would point out to those Canadians who are watching a common political tactic that all parties use when they are being rightfully criticized. Their tactic is to laugh and to be dismissive, to imply that what one is saying makes no sense and does not really ring true. That is what the New Democrats do every time we bring forward the fact that in their 2011 election platform they stated in writing, in black and white, that they would impose a cap and trade program that would cost Canadian taxpayers $21.5 billion.

To repeat, in their 2011 election platform, the New Democrats proposed a cap and trade program that would generate $21.5 billion in revenues. Over the past number of weeks, we have heard the NDP members consistently say they do not have a policy or plan for a carbon tax, that the Conservatives are lying. I only point out what we know to be true. The fact is that the NDP called for a $21.5 billion tax on consumers in its 2011 election platform.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands is rising on a point of order.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I regret to raise this, but I am grievously concerned that a motion dealing with parliamentary practice and procedure around omnibus legislation has been reduced once again to the level of irrelevant debate.

Goodness, as leader of the Green Party, I think any discussion of the climate crisis is relevant. However, it is not relevant to accuse the NDP of having a carbon tax in the context of the motion before us.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, the member made an earlier intervention this morning, which was ruled upon and latitude was given to us to continue, and so I will continue with my comments.

My question for the NDP is simply this.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The parliamentary secretary has the right to go ahead. It is a bit of a stretch, but obviously most of the time that has been used has been directly related to the topic before us. Go ahead.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will go back to the actual motion again, but to complete my thoughts I will ask members of the NDP this question.

The New Democrats say they are not supportive of a carbon tax and that in fact they did not purport to be in favour of a carbon tax in the 2011 election campaign. If generating $21.5 billion in revenues from Canadian taxpayers is not a tax, then what is it? We have not heard any member of the NDP stand and give an answer to that very simple question. If generating $21.5 billion through a cap and trade program is not a tax, then what is it?

Back to the motion again, I will reiterate a couple of points that I made in my earlier intervention. The Liberal Party had an opportunity to bring forward something of substance today, such as new policy ideas or initiatives. God knows, but the Liberals should probably be trying to do that since they will soon be entering a leadership race and will be trying to convince Canadians they are worthy of their support come the next election. Therefore, one would think the Liberals would want to bring forward something that is substantive in nature, but instead we get this feeble political posturing. Quite frankly, that is beneath any political party, let alone the Liberal Party of Canada.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have three questions, not 72 but only three.

I would first ask my colleague if he does not see any difference between a bill of 21 pages dealing with budgetary issues, which Mr. Milliken spoke about at that time, and the budget bill this year of more than 400 pages amending 72 laws. Is there no difference in his mind between those?

Second, there is no rush to change old age security eligibility to age 67. My colleague may think it is an important thing to do. I think it is a mistake. Why did we not have the time to debate this in a specific bill dealing with this issue? Is it because it would be embarrassing for the government to tell Canadians that it was doing that when it never said in the last election that it would do so?

Finally, I would like his advice on the next mammoth omnibus bill. If there is something in it that would decrease my pension, I would agree with that part of the bill because it would be good to make a sacrifice for Canadians. However, what am I supposed to do if I disagree with the other measures in this big omnibus bill? What are members supposed to do when they think that provision A is good in a mammoth bill, but provisions B through Z are bad?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am sorry that my hon. friend was not listening when I made my intervention. I pointed out on several occasions that the practice of introducing omnibus bills, regardless of size, has been ruled on by various Speakers as procedurally in order. I would invite my hon. colleague to go back to Hansard over the last three or four decades to find those rulings by the Speakers. They are in order. All Speakers have said that as long as there is a common thread among the pieces of legislation brought forward under the umbrella of an omnibus bill, in this case that of economic performance and economic generation, there is nothing wrong with any government bringing forward an omnibus bill.

I am glad he asked why we are not debating changes to the old age security program. I would love to do that. I thought that perhaps today, it being the last day for a Liberal opposition motion, the Liberals would debate that for an entire day in Parliament. Did they? No, they did not. They brought forward a 20-year old quote and tried to embarrass the government. Rather than bringing forward substantive issues for sincere debate and discussion in this place, they chose to avoid that. They chose to make some inane political posture, an excuse to try to embarrass the government instead of a legitimate policy debate. Shame on the Liberals.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government keeps on steamrolling democracy by not allowing debate on the real issues. Instead of looking at issues one by one, we are steamrolled and Canadians are not benefiting from a full debate on matters. The government keeps throwing out untruths and half-truths and a series of questionable statements that tend to misdirect the Canadian population.

Here I would quote Don Martin from September 18, in an article entitled “Truth dies when political warfare begins”, in which he stated:

Conservative stormtroopers have rolled out a welcome mat of sensational untruths.

There are enough cheap shots, personal swipes and fertilized lines of fact in the partisan parliamentary arsenal without unleashing outright fabrications to spread fear where it doesn’t exist....

[W]hen political warfare turns bloody, truth becomes the first casualty and lies live on in the public record.

When will the government stop treating Canadians with such disrespect and actually have a serious debate in the House on the real issues that matter to Canadians?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, let us make one thing clear: the member opposite is quoting an editorial writer, a columnist, an opinion-seeker. I quote from his party's platform. It is all right for Don Martin or any other columnist for that matter to give an opinion, but it is not fact, simply an opinion. I am quoting facts.

In its 2011 election campaign platform, the NDP said that the cap and trade program it would implement if it were elected would generate $21.5 billion in revenue. That is a tax. If we want to talk about half-truths and mistruths, the NDP members say they are not planning on bringing forward a carbon tax when their own election platform says they are. If someone wants to stand up here and correct the record, it should be the member opposite, not this government.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeMinister of State (Transport)

Mr. Speaker, the member is an experienced parliamentarian and has been here for a while in opposition and government. What does he feel about how the opposition has been pursuing the government? I was really struck by his comments that the NDP would rather see Canadians hurt by bad economics than see us succeed as a nation working together, because the former would be in their partisan interests. That is of concern. I wonder if the member could expand on that.

He also asked us to imagine what an NDP government would look like. That takes me to a very dark place. I know it will probably never happen but I wonder if he could just help me imagine what kind of country that would be.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, to answer the first question by the Minister of State for Transport, all opposition parties, regardless of political affiliation, from time to time use tactics to try to delay the legislation of the government of the day. That is just what they do. That is why they are in opposition. They believe that is the role of opposition. Most Canadians would disagree with that type of approach. However, all governments and all opposition parties have engaged in that sort of dance over decades. It is unfortunate. It should not happen. All parties should attempt to try to craft legislation that would work for the betterment of the Canadian people.

What is most disturbing to me is the rhetoric that we hear primarily from the official opposition, the NDP. That party continues to say that it wants to work with the government but it does not. Those members have proven that. All they want to do is to obstruct and delay. I gave an example. In this parliamentary session one piece of legislation has passed second reading and gone to committee. We have been here for a month and only one piece of legislation has passed second reading. The opposition keeps saying collectively that we have a majority and can pass legislation when we want, so let us just debate it. Tactically, procedurally that is not quite true: the opposition can use tactics and procedural processes to delay government legislation.

With respect to my hon. colleague's last question about trying to envision what this country would be like if there were ever an NDP government, all I can say is that Halloween is coming and even in one's worst nightmare I do not think I could find a scarier sight than an NDP government, regardless of what kind of costumes those members wear.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

October 16th, 2012 / 4 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my very distinguished colleague, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.

I could not help but listen to the comments of the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, giving us advice as to which motions we should actually be drafting for discussion in opposition day motions and which other ones would be better than the one we are putting forward. He believes this is such a trivial technical subject that no one could possibly be interested in it.

In fact, the Canadian public is very interested in it. It is interested when a majority government systematically abuses its power and takes a decision of 20 years ago to use as justification for having a 450 page piece of legislation that we have to swallow whole, forcing the House to vote on amendment after amendment, moving closure after closure and making a farce of ministerial accountability. It put pensions in with environmental legislation, with all kinds of other measures that were added into the bill, then it realized in its own administration that it had to amend the law because it had made mistakes because the bill was so mammoth in terms of what it represented.

Therefore, the notion that this is somehow a technical question, a tiny issue with respect to how Parliament operates, is completely false.

Also is the Conservatives' adulation of various Speakers' decisions of the past. The House is master of its own regulations, of its own rules and every Speaker has an obligation to be the defender of the rules of Parliament. However, it is up to Parliament to change its rules when it sees the way the rules are abused by the government of the day. The House needs to change its Standing Orders so members are able to do their jobs, so we are able to hold the government accountable and so we are able, as a Parliament, to do what our constituents expect us to do.

This government loves to tell us that we voted against the measures in Bill S-3, against employment measures and against important government investments.

When the Prime Minister was in the opposition, he said the same things and asked why that was the case and why it was difficult. When so many elements are included in a single measure, the opposition has no choice but to vote against it.

That is why the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville clearly said that we were prepared for changes to the MP pension plan. We have no problem with that. However, we must insist that, as members of Parliament, we have the right to vote on a measure that changes legislation. But the government's mindset and actions do not allow for that.

The government has taken a tiny exceptional provision, in which governments for purposes of consolidating a discussion on issues that came together but which in fact affected different legislation, which is one thing, to justify wholesale changes to every piece of legislation in the name of saying that it is all part of its economic action plan.

This is the triumph of propaganda over truth. This is the triumph of twisting words and interpretations to justify the unjustifiable. That is why Parliament has no choice but to debate this question. Yes, of course we are going to debate it in a way that demonstrates how two-faced the government is being. When it was in opposition it recognized the impossible position that these kinds of bills could put members of the opposition into. We were asked to consider not one piece of legislation that dealt with one particular matter, but an entire book of laws and amendments and changes that flowed from the overall economic plan of the government. It in fact demolished environmental regulation, changed entirely rules with respect to how many aspects of government legislation would work and brought it all together in the name of one simple, single matter.

This is what happens when governments abuse their power. When the Prime Minister was in opposition, he spoke up against what he saw as an abuse. Since he has become Prime Minister, he has taken zero action to limit the power of the executive in the ways in which he wanted to do. His government has attacked the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The Conservatives failed to listen to the Auditor General of Canada when he criticized their behaviour. The Prime Minister has shown a singular lack of respect for the rule of law outside the purview of executive diktat. He forced the House last session to vote in favour of one bill which should have taken many different bills and the House to have serious discussion on all the matters that were put before us.

Now we know the son of omnibus is about to come before us. We wanted the House to have one opportunity to say to the government, “enough is enough”. When the editorial writers of every major national newspaper and other commentators independent of Parliament say that parliamentary rights and privileges are being abused and that these are terrible practices in which to carry out accountability and transparency, we in this party are going to continue to push this point. If it means embarrassing the government by forcing Conservatives to swallow the words of their leader whole, fine, let them swallow the words and let them understand how two-faced their standards have become as they moved from opposition to government.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague for his very valid comments, and I assure him that he has my support for this motion.

There have been some preposterous instances, such as when the members opposite recently combined laws dealing with young offenders and laws dealing with pedophiles. But the ultimate was when fathers such as myself were told that we were siding with pedophiles. There is no need to explain how furious I was when I heard that.

I would like to hear what my hon. colleague has to say. How does this kind of conduct undermine people's respect for the work we do in the House?

I am even going to take a little jab at him: his own party introduced omnibus bills in the past. Why the about-face?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I must say that we now have the opportunity to change the Standing Orders of this House.

We are suggesting changes because, as I said earlier, there is a difference. When there is a theme or a single objective that affects many laws, then an omnibus bill can be introduced. Is that not different from the situation that occurred in the spring? I would like to make it clear to the hon. member that, in my opinion, there is a difference.

We should have continued to discuss the issue, but the government turned down any opportunity to hold this candid and clear discussion. In committee, the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie proposed amendments and studies in order to discuss ways of accomplishing this goal. Unfortunately, since the Conservatives have a majority, they were not prepared to agree to that.

The second problem is that this gives the government the opportunity to attack members who vote against a measure because it is part of the legislation introduced by the government. However, the bill cannot be divided to show how different our opinions are.

Interestingly enough, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest said exactly the same thing when he was a member of the opposition. He said that it was not fair to insist that members take a position on a comprehensive measure, an omnibus bill, without having the opportunity to voice their opinions on the aspects of the bill with which they agreed.

What the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville clearly stated was that we want to vote in favour of the measures proposed by the government some but not all of the time. However, the government puts us in a difficult position. The Conservatives do this for political, partisan and propaganda reasons.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, when the omnibus bill was introduced, 625 Canadian scientists and scientists from all over the world protested the government's use of a budget bill to amend the Fisheries Act. Does that not say something when 625 scientists get involved on a budget bill? Does that not tell us that maybe the bill was not just about the budget?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we have reached the point now where, if the government continues in the way it is going, at the beginning of a session, it may introduce one bill, one law, one big fat bill on every conceivable subject and tell members to go ahead and discuss it.

One of the great members of the House, Stanley Knowles, the member for Winnipeg North Centre when I was first elected to the House, pointed this out to the government 20 years ago. He said that we had to understand the implication of what was taking place.

Now we are seeing it go from a 20-page omnibus bill to a 500 to 600-page omnibus bill. Surely at some point the thread is lost and what we have is something that we can all recognize and identify when we see it: the abuse of power. That is what we are seeing.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal opposition motion urges us to put an end to the abusive and unprecedented use of omnibus legislation. It is a fact that bills to implement certain provisions of the budget have ballooned in size. They have grown at a spectacular rate since the Conservative government came to power.

A Maclean's analysis on budget implementation bills found that between 1994 and 2005, these bills averaged the length of just under 75 pages. However, from 2006 to today, they have averaged well over 300 pages.

And, as we know, this year, Bill C-38 was 452 pages long. However, it is not just the length of the bills that is in question; it is also the number of unrelated topics that are being crammed into one bill. Back in budget 2010, the government used the same scheme to amend no fewer than 24 laws, but this time, the government is smashing its own record. Bill C-38 amended no fewer than 72 laws. In almost every case, these amendments had little to do with the budget or any financial issues in general.

The government defends itself by saying that it has to act quickly because of the worrisome economic conditions. This argument would be more credible if the 452 pages of Bill C-38 actually had anything to do with fiscal measures. Such is not the case. Only 30 pages had anything to do with fiscal measures. In fact, no fewer than 151 pages amended laws concerning the protection of the environment.

The Standing Committee on Finance had to review a mishmash of issues as crucial as the weakening of many environmental laws and regulations, the end of protecting fish habit, the power given to the government to reverse decisions by the National Energy Board, the weakening of the Food and Drugs Act, the gradual change in the age of eligibility for old age security benefits to 67, the cancellation of thousands of immigration applications, the weakening of the Governor General's mandate, and so on.

Now the government plans to restart this fall with a new omnibus bill that would go in all directions. Some likely topics would be pension changes for public servants, pension changes for parliamentarians, a new mandate for the National Research Council and new oil tanker regulations. The Minister of Natural Resources repeatedly said that these changes were somewhere in Bill C-38, but no one was able to find them. It would also likely include the Rouge Valley national urban park and the renewal of the hiring credit for small business and so forth.

This is how the Conservative government transformed budget implementation bills into a steamroller that allows it to push through important measures that deserve a thorough review, without any serious, careful examination. Today's motion urges us to put an end to this suspect way of doing things, which is dangerous to the health and safety of Canadians.

Is it not as though there is no solution to this problem. In a recent communication, professor Louis Massicotte looked more closely at the practice in the United States.

He found a list of 42 U.S. states that have provisions that prohibit omnibus bills. For example, the Arkansas constitution states:

The general appropriation bill shall embrace nothing but appropriations for the ordinary expense of the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the State; all other appropriations shall be made by separate bills, each embracing but one subject.

I am not sure we need to go as far as that. I am just saying that it is possible, if we have goodwill, to find solutions to the problem we are facing today.

Professor Massicotte notes that on January 23, 2012, representative Tom Marino, a Republican from Pennsylvania, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, the One Subject at a Time Act that goes to “end the practice of including more than one subject in a single bill”.

I repeat that, with good will, we could put an end to this contempt for parliamentary democracy, which is being criticized by Canadians everywhere.

For example, Professor Ned Frank said:

These omnibus budget implementation bills subvert and evade the normal principles of parliamentary review of legislation.

However, the most sincere criticism comes from one of our colleagues opposite, who was at the time, and remains to this day, the member for Calgary Southwest, the current Prime Minister. On March 25, 1994—as we have heard repeatedly here today—regarding a budget bill that was only 21 pages long and included only measures that were clearly budget related, that member said the following in this House:

...I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles.

So why is the Prime Minister now putting us in a clear conflict with our own principles? Again quoting the Prime Minister:

...In the interest of democracy, I ask: How can members represent their constituents...when they are forced to vote in a block...? ...Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.

So, in the interest of democracy, why will the Prime Minister not divide his gigantic bill? He went on to say:

...only one committee...will inevitably lack the breadth of expertise required for consideration of a bill of this scope.

Why does the Prime Minister no longer feel the need to call on several committees instead of just one? If he will not listen to anyone else, the Prime Minister should at least take his own advice in the interest of democracy and simple common sense, so that we as legislators can do our job in service to Canadians.

I urge all of my colleagues to support this Liberal motion.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his speech and his party for bringing this matter forward.

I note that the member noted the speech by the then member for Calgary Southwest, now the Prime Minister of this country. If I could just reiterate, the Prime Minister at that time said that the omnibus bill, which was a little over 20 pages, was of a matter so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles. He further said:

...in the interest of democracy I ask: How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?

I would ask the hon. member, who has been in this House for some time, if he recalls the mantra of the Reform Party, which was open, transparent, participatory democracy?

I noted earlier that one of the members of the Conservative Party opposite said, well, Canadians voted for them, so essentially they should be able to do whatever they want.

They have taken the “progressive” out of the Conservative Party. Perhaps it should be the regressive Conservative Party. They no longer believe in participatory democracy.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, to the member opposite and all my colleagues, I would suggest they look at the contents of Bill C-17 in 1994.

It set the salaries of public servants, judges and parliamentarians. It set the new limit for the Canada Assistance Plan. It adjusted Ottawa's payments to railways. It allowed the CBC to borrow money as a crown corporation. It made some changes to employment insurance.

Arguably, some may say it should have been split. That is what the Prime Minister was saying at that time, and the Speaker ruled in favour of the government. I think it was a fair argument.

Today, with 450 pages, 72 bills, we are in another world. It is complete nonsense to pretend the government is doing it only because of the economic difficulties of our time. There were also difficulties in 1994.

I fail to understand why there was a rush to impose on all Canadians the age of 67 for old age benefit eligibility, and why it was decided now without a specific bill for this very important issue.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day NDP Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, not so long ago, the government gave a speech about the omnibus bill that we will support, a speech about the carbon tax. That has nothing to do with today's debate.

An omnibus bill is a catch-all that allows the government to deal with a number of issues at the same time. Often, we cannot morally support them. That is why we often vote against an omnibus bill. It is sometimes disgraceful, and we cannot move forward.

Does the member believe that introducing an omnibus bill is another means of reducing the amount of time members have to speak in order to represent their constituents and to voice their opinions on matters of importance in their daily lives, such as old age security or the environment?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the government wanted to introduce many measures, some of which are not popular, so it decided to bury them in a budget in order to avoid or at least limit controversy. That is the reason.

Let us go back to the very scandalous decision to increase the eligibility age for federal benefits to 67, something the government never mentioned during the election campaign. The government knows that this is a very unpopular measure, but it wants to implement this measure without Canadians noticing. So, it buried this measure in a huge budget and made sure that we would not have time to discuss it, and that this very serious issue would not be covered by a specific bill.

If the government believes that it is making such a good decision, why is it afraid to openly debate this?

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Order. Pursuant to Standing Order 38, I must inform the House of the matters it will be addressing at the time of adjournment this evening: the hon. member for Churchill, Aboriginal Affairs; the hon. member for Ahuntsic, Justice; the hon. member for London—Fanshawe, Employment.

Opposition Motion--Omnibus LegislationBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hamilton-Centre.

We are here to debate the democratic validity of so-called omnibus bills. The term is already an old one. Many important omnibus bills have been introduced in the House over the years, as a quick search of Hansard will show. There are numerous precedents. What that search also shows is that, on every occasion, the opposition reacted as though it had been programmed in 1867 to repeat the same thing every time: omnibus bills are undemocratic.

They all claim their rights are being violated. All of them have said it over and over and over again. All of them. The Reform Party said it through the current Prime Minister, the former Progressive Conservative Party said it as well, and, it goes without saying, the Liberals have sung it in every possible octave many, many times.

In 150 years of parliamentary activity, people have expressed indignation, but no one has ever made a genuine attempt to block omnibus bills. That is why we still have them. Omnibus bills are designed, drafted, tabled and passed, and they become law.

As I noted in passing, everyone has expressed indignation. Everyone has accused the government of behaving unethically. They have also announced the death of democracy and appealed to parliamentarianism on moral grounds. Great!

The result is that life goes on; the country votes, voters punish or reward, and a new omnibus bill is ultimately introduced. And the whole rigmarole starts again.

Let us call that the march of history, or legislative bad habits, as you will, except that sometimes surprising and unpredictable consequences arise even here, in Ottawa, on what is generally rather quiet Anishnabe land.

True to their beloved excess, inspired by the tyrants of the Old Testament, the Conservatives have not skimped on the omnes reibus sub sole, orbi et urbi, all things under the sun, in the earthly city and the heavenly city.

Bill C-38, the budget implementation act, which was tabled in the spring and which I have previously discussed in the House, ran to 421 pages, contained 753 provisions and amended a series of more or less related acts.

I compared reading Bill C-38 to reading War and Peace. I apologize because I strongly recommend War and Peace to everyone. However, neo-conservative-style omnibus bills inspired solely by a raging desire to shift everything to the right without listening to or understanding anything do not make for good reading. I want to warn my colleagues because a second budget bill will of course be tabled shortly.

This time, however, we can see the theatrics coming. This document will have no fewer than 800 pages. It will be heavier than the Code of Hammurabi itself and no doubt just as modern. And why not? From now on, there will be an upward spiral. The next one may have 1,000 pages, the following 2,000 pages, and we will no doubt wind up with omnibus bills of 5,000 pages written in Sumerian cuneiform hieroglyphics on granite tablets. Dead languages are all the rage, so why not?

Of course, no consideration is given to the Canadian people in those 800 pages. They may wonder what motivates the Conservatives to act like this. It is very simple. As in everything they undertake, they are deeply convinced that they are taking action to restore Canadian society, which was languishing in perdition.

Have they asked any questions to challenge their ideas? Of course not. When you believe you have a mission, you only talk to people who tell you what you want to hear.

Knowing that they have only one majority mandate and that their days as a government are numbered, they are rushing to change things they do not like. And by “things”, I mean “everything”.

After all, the world could end next week. How will we look to St. Peter if the country is too concerned about people who do not deserve that concern? Success at any price: that is the measure of salvation.

This could be characterized as an typically medieval attitude, but that would be to overlook the fact that Europe's cathedrals were built during the Middle Ages. Apart from vandalizing and renaming museums built by others, however, the Conservatives are not doing much.

What am I getting at with all these comparisons? I am simply saying that what took 150 years to build cannot be changed in four years.

Whoever thinks that is simply a despot. However, 800-page omnibus bills are outward signs of that kind of folly.

The citizens of this country feel there is a problem with changing 1,000 acts in one fell swoop.

When we ask why, we are told that we should ask no questions and that if we object, that means we want to condemn Canada to misery.

When we resist, someone on the other side rises and unleashes a whole string of epithets: communist, separatist, terrorist or Esperantist.

Once they have calmed down, the Conservatives tell us they are doing this out of diligence. However, that is false, and everyone knows it. They are not really acting this way for my good or that of Canadians.

No, they are doing it first and foremost for their friends, the big corporations, for the cash, and to transform Canada's economy into a profit-making machine, without any scruples or long-term vision.

If you are too big a slouch to get close to the sources of prosperity, the government can do nothing for you. You can eat your shirt. But let us take a look at what we can do today to try to solve this problem.

First, I would like to put things in perspective. The gigantic omnibus bills rushed through the Standing Committee on Finance appear to be a Conservative affectation that will surely not survive them. Consequently, I will not be one of those people announcing the death of democracy. The Westminster system is built too solidly for a single government to do enough to cause it irreparable damage.

It is also obvious that no one will ever question whether the NDP, when it comes to power, will at any time act as the Conservatives are doing. We do not feel we have a mission inspired by apocalyptic revelations, and Canadians know that. We also believe in dialogue and in compromise and fairness, but we especially trust in the intelligence of Canadians. To the NDP, the Conservatives’ at-any-cost attitude is above all an obvious sign of weakness.

The Conservatives are going to keep introducing 30-pound paving stones in this House and saying, “Out of the way, coming through.” If the block falls on somebody’s head, they will not even slow down. Certainly, I will keep objecting to these kinds of crude political manoeuvres, but I can also wait them out. I will be watching and waiting, because I know this is a dangerous game. I know Canadians see what is going on and will not put up with being toyed with for very long. The public knows very well that these omnibus bills conceal low blows and schemes. There is a very real risk that the Conservatives' world will end in 2015. I will not have made them get out their Latin textbooks for nothing. Oro pro vobis—I am praying for you.

The Liberals’ solution is to use the opportunity they have today to give the impression they are doing something. They really have no other choice, stuck away as they are at the back of the House by the broom closet and the fuse box. I will give them the benefit of the doubt. They are also shocked by the legislative gall of the government, and they too want to cool its autocratic jets.

The NDP therefore has no problem supporting the motion by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie. It will be beneficial to the conduct of parliamentary proceedings to find a way to stave off any future paving stones. And what a good opportunity, when the NDP is the official opposition and can make sure the review process is carried out with the public interest in mind.

I have no illusions, however. The Liberals are so full of a sense of self-entitlement that they are only angry because they have been outwitted by people who are stronger and bolder than them. Their indignation today is out of self-interest only. They will be happy to cite the legal precedent of the Conservatives’ 800-page omnibus bills, but as soon as they get a bit of power, it will be their great pleasure to mimic their old enemy. This motion, which seems to reflect a new-found awareness, is of course no more than the never-ending squabbling between the Liberals and the Conservatives. The sole purpose of this schoolyard quarrel is to select and crown the one that excels at enraging the other in the most underhanded way, at the expense, and to the tacit exclusion, of the Canadian public, of course.

The purpose of a Parliament is for us to talk, not just among ourselves, and not just so we can dig in our heels. It is, first and foremost, a place for dialogue with the experts who are invited to testify in committee, so that by hearing opposing opinions, parliamentarians can make informed decisions. Committees exist for that reason. A bill that amends all sorts of laws covering all different areas should not exist. Subjects and bills should be dealt with individually, so they can be examined in the proper committees. That is why we are here. We must not go on blind belief; we must understand and decide. If they do not agree with that really very simple premise, I can show them the way to North Korea.

It is crucially important that elected representatives have access to the most accurate information in order to legislate, but they must also have a minimum of intellectual curiosity, and that is unfortunately not always the case. That does not concern me excessively either, since the system is sufficiently well designed that even the biggest idiot could not do too much harm.

There is a big difference between an occasional idiot who does a bad job—and of course I am speaking hypothetically—and a party that decides in advance what is true and what is false. An 800-page omnibus bill is a case in point. It is a decree. It is a [member spoke in a foreign language], as I said last time. The czar decides and the subjects obey. All discussion is derided as a waste of time and a misplaced tendency to play the bleeding heart.

Today, we have a chance to send a message to the people who aspire to authoritarianism above all. It is plain to Canadians that decimating the machinery of government will not save them any money and will condemn them to living in a country where the guardrails have collapsed under the pressure, and Canadians will not forgive them for that.