Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand here and debate some of my more learned colleagues on the motion we have before us, which is of course to extend debate until midnight over the course of the next two weeks.
Standing Order 27 is the standing order we are talking about here. I should say that this standing order, of course, has been utilized many times in the past. In fact I recall when we first formed government in 2006. I believe the first opportunity we had to utilize Standing Order 27 and extend debate was in 2007. Since that time we have not had extended debate.
We have not had extended sitting hours for the last two weeks of a Parliament, but that is due to a number of different factors. For a couple of years, 2008, 2009, I believe it was just an agreement made between parties that it would not be required. I also believe there was an implied threat from members of the opposition during those minority government years that, in fact, if our government had brought the motion forward it would have been defeated.
There is a reason why Standing Order 27 was incorporated to begin with, and that is to allow the government of the day to bring forward pieces of legislation in an attempt to get them passed before that Parliament rose for the summer. It is always in the last two weeks of a parliamentary session, heading into the summer months, that this ability of a government to bring forward a motion for extended sitting hours is there.
I find it interesting that members of the opposition, particularly members of the official opposition, the NDP, have stated that they will be opposing our motion for extended sitting hours. In fact I always find that disingenuous on behalf of the opposition members, because they have consistently stated that they want more debate time. On almost every single piece of legislation we have introduced in this Parliament and previous parliaments, the NDP has consistently stated it wants more debate time.
We are now offering more debate time on several bills that are on our legislative calendar, yet faced with the opportunity for increased debate, enhanced scrutiny, the NDP says no. The NDP members do not want to sit the extra hours each and every night to debate bills.
I do not know if we have heard nothing but loose lips talking in previous months and previous years, from the NDP, if in fact it really did not want increased debate all these years, or if the NDP is actually telling the truth right now when it says it opposes the increased debate because it disagrees fundamentally with the government on Bill C-38.
I find it strange that the NDP uses that argument when we in fact have been debating Bill C-38. The opposition obviously has seen enough of the bill to be able to introduce more than 1,000 amendments originally, pared down to 871 amendments.
On one hand, again, we see this disconnect between reality and what the official opposition is stating publicly, and that is simply this: if it did not have enough information about Bill C-38 to begin with, how in the world could it have then brought forward 1,000 amendments? It does not seem to make sense to me that it would have a lack of information about what is contained in Bill C-38 but still have the ability to bring forward more than 1,000 amendments. It must have some knowledge of what is contained in Bill C-38, or else how could it have brought forward any amendments?
We know, of course, that the reality is simply this: opposition members, both on the NDP benches and the Liberal benches, are not looking for more reasoned debate on any piece of legislation that our government has brought forward. They are simply trying to delay implementation of each and every piece of legislation we bring forward.
That is readily apparent, and not only on Bill C-38 but on some of the other pieces of legislation in which we wish to engage the opposition in debate over the course of the next two weeks. There is Canada-Jordan free trade, Canada-Panama free trade and the modernization of the Copyright Act.
All these legislative initiatives were brought forward not only a few weeks ago but, in some cases, years ago. We have been engaging the opposition in debate on some of these matters for literally years, but to no avail. Something I find very troubling is that I hear members of the opposition state that they wish to have meaningful debate and they want to have co-operation with all parties in this place, yet they consistently go out of their way to try to inhibit legislation from passing.
I understand. I get what an opposition does, and I certainly agree that it is there to hold the government to account. I understand that the opposition members' primary function is to oppose government legislation. However, they cannot then say they want to work with the government to bring legislation to fruition if in fact their primary motive is simply to kill the bill, with apologies to Quentin Tarantino.
The government is attempting to bring forward legislation in a timely fashion and to ensure we have adequate debate. However, members of the opposition have consistently demonstrated that they wish nothing more than to delay, obfuscate and do anything in their power, through procedural tactics like hoist bills and other delaying tactics, to prevent our government from passing legislation. That is okay. If that is what they consider to be their primary function in this place, we will deal with that.
However, that is the reason, more than anything else, that we have brought forward time allocation on a number of occasions now. I will also point out to those who may be paying attention to this debate, who are not completely familiar with parliamentary procedures, that time allocation is a function used by many governments in previous years. It is a part of our Standing Order package that allows the government of the day to put a certain time allocation on a respective bill before it comes forward for debate at either second reading, report stage or third reading.
However, I will point out differences between our approach and those of governments in past years, particularly the previous Liberal governments who used time allocation and closure far more frequently than our government and used to have a standard one day of debate on bills that they used to time allocate. Members of this place will know, if they have been paying attention, that is not the approach we have been taking. When we have brought forward time allocation, we have done so in a fashion that would allow for several days of debate after the time allocation motion has been brought forward. Again, contrast that with the previous Liberal government, which would bring forward time allocation motions and restrict the debate to one day and sometimes, as the record would show, to as few as three hours in some cases.
So the only reason we have been bringing forward time allocation on a number of bills is that the opposition members have demonstrated that they will do everything within their powers to delay implementation. If any government is faced with a situation where it has been demonstrated that the opposition will delay and obfuscate to the point of never allowing any legislation to pass, then the government has no recourse and no other option but to bring forward time allocation motions, and that is what we have been doing.
Of course, from a political standpoint the narrative that the opposition members, particularly the NDP, have been trying to weave is that if they can force our government into bringing forward time allocation motions it benefits them politically, by allowing them to stand up in this House and to go to political meetings and say, “This government is restricting debate; look at all the time allocation motions it brought forward”. However, what the opposition members are trying to do is run up the score. They are trying to force our government to bring forward time allocation motions on almost every piece of legislation because it feeds their narrative. That is the reality. Is it good politics? Perhaps. We will find that out.
What Canadians expect of any government is that legislation be passed and that it be passed in a timely fashion. That is what we are doing, more than anything else.
If we look at the number of days of debate, the number of hours of debate, the number of speeches presented in this House on debate with various pieces of legislation that we have time allocated, we would find on average that there has been more debate on a bill-by-bill basis than with any government in the last 20 years. The opposition members do not like that because it is the truth, but if they took the time to actually research what I am saying, they will find it is absolutely true.
We have many new members in this place, so I do not expect them to know all of the parliamentary history, but I would encourage them to please go back and look at legislation that previous Liberal governments brought forward and look not only at how many times time allocation was used but also at closure. I am assuming that the members opposite know the distinction between time allocation and closure.
The reality is simply this, that Canadians expect governments of the day, regardless of their political stripe, to pass legislation, because without that ability, no government can function.
One of the problems in a minority government, which we all saw from time to time, is parliamentary gridlock. We reached an impasse where legislation simply would not pass because of the combined forces of the opposition blocking any attempt by this government to pass legislation in a timely fashion.
Obviously the dynamics have now changed: we have a majority government we are getting legislation through. Yet more needs to be done.
I will give four quick examples of what I consider to be critical pieces of legislation that Canadians would like to see our government act upon. I have mentioned them previously. One is the copyright modernization act, an act that has not been modernized for far too many years. We are on the cusp of finally passing that bill, but we need additional time to do so.
We have two more free trade agreements, one with Jordan and one with Panama, that will greatly enhance our economic ability to create jobs, to create wealth within our country. We need time, however, over the course of the next two weeks to get those bills properly debated and, hopefully, passed.
Of course, we have the pooled registered pension plans act that will provide, for the first time, to Canadians who are self-employed and do not currently have pensions the ability to opt into a pension plan, which will affect hundreds of thousands and actually millions of Canadians.
These are all extremely important pieces of legislation that Canadians want to see passed, which is all that we are trying to do, to ensure that over the course of the next two weeks before we rise for the summer, that at minimum these four pieces of critical legislation are passed.
Do we expect to get cooperation from the opposition? I will not prejudge that; I simply will not do that. I hope that the members opposite who have been speaking today in this debate, stating that they wish to cooperate with the government, are sincere in their comments, but time will tell.
I do want to mention the relationship, as I mentioned to my colleague, my friend from Winnipeg North, that should exist among House leaders. I, too, have been involved with the House leaders management team for the past number of years. In fact, I have been the parliamentary secretary to five different House leaders since we were first elected to government in 2006, and I can assure the members opposite, all members, that from time to time, while there may be acrimony and some hard feelings, I believe that on most occasions the House leaders of all parties, opposition and government together, do work together in a fairly collegial atmosphere.
There will also be times when all opposition parties and the government, through their House leaders and their House management teams, can agree on certain pieces of legislation that can be passed.
I will not tell any stories out of school, or break any confidential pact, because House leaders meetings of course are in camera and are confidential, but I can assure members opposite that I have been involved in previous years in negotiating when sessions end.
I do not want to give the impression to any Canadian that parliamentarians want to get out of here early and do not want to do the work they have been elected to do. However, from time to time, as we get close to an end of a parliamentary session, there is the opportunity for all parties to come together to try to agree on what legislation might be available for quick passage.
It is not uncommon, for example, for opposition parties to come forward during House leaders' discussions and ask what priority pieces of legislation the government has on its agenda. That is code of sorts, quite frankly, for what pieces of legislation the government wants passed before we get out of here for the summer. Maybe we could have some discussion; maybe we could find some common ground, some agreement. It has always worked well and I anticipate, or at least I certainly hope, that this opportunity over the course of two weeks will not disappoint me and that we will find common ground again.
I particularly want to point out that I agree with a comment by my friend from Winnipeg North a little earlier, that surely to goodness there could be the type of relationship among House leaders that allows for some legitimate debate on the length of time that bills need to be debated. I have had this conversation with the House leaders of both the Liberals and the NDP in months and years past. In a perfect world I would love to see a situation or the type of dynamic in play where on a relatively normal bill, a non-controversial bill, we could agree on an average length of debate. If we could agree, whether it is five days or ten days or so many hours, that would be the standard we would try to hold ourselves to.
Obviously there would be times where legislation that any government introduced would be opposed vigorously by the members of the opposition. We have clearly seen some of those in this session of Parliament, such as on the long gun registry and the Wheat Board, and there will be others. I can understand that, and I believe that the opposition members understand that those are the types of legislative initiatives where the opposition and the government will never find common ground. That is okay. That is the nature of democracy; that is the nature of Parliament. In those cases though, I still think that we could find some common ground to agree that if we are going to encounter vehement opposition, then what is a legitimate timeframe we can put on that debate. Perhaps it would not be as short as some of the more non-controversial pieces of legislation, but can we at least find some agreement to limit debate after a certain period of time, if we know that we will never find agreement between the opposite sides of the House?
That has been attempted. At times it has proven to be successful. I would like to see more of that type of dialogue between parties. However, where we cannot bridge that impasse, then we will find that the government has to use the levers at its disposal. We have been doing that, but I believe we have been doing that in a judicious manner.
I invite comments from opposition members to see if there are ways they would suggest for us to find even more enhanced co-operation between all parties in this place.