Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise this evening and speak to this bill, but I have to say that I am really getting tired. It has nothing to do with the hour of the evening, but rather listening to the lobotomized government on the other side talking to us about process.
Let us talk about process. In its previous iteration in 2007, this bill died on the order paper. Why was that? The government prorogued this place. That is why it died on the order paper. If the government wants to continue talking about process, then let us talk about process. In 2008 it died again. Why did it die again? The government closed the shutters on this place. It broke its own fixed election laws in 2008 and that is why it died then.
What about 2011 and Bill C-41? That died too because the government fell, in part due to contempt of Parliament. At such a late hour of the evening, clearly I have woken up the sleeping hyenas. It is too bad that the Conservatives cannot actually defend their government in a fulsome way. What do they do? They throw out these pithy remarks about process.
However, we ask a lot of our soldiers, our men and women in uniform. I would like to ask the members on the other side if they think that the kind of remarks and the questions that they are bringing forward tonight are suitable within the context of the conversation we are having. What we are talking about tonight is how we support our men and women in uniform and how we project the image of Canada to the world through our men and women in uniform. If we cannot guarantee for them the kinds of rights in terms of due process that we expect for everyday, ordinary Canadians, then we are doing them a disservice.
Too often, we hear the government using our men and women in uniform as cover for the egregious decisions and laws that it is foisting upon the Canadian public in the guise of a majority in the last election. Thirty-eight percent is not a majority. It has a parliamentary majority here, but we will leave that aside. I may need it a little later in my 20 minutes.
We have a situation here where the government has let down our men and women in uniform far too often. For example, in my hometown in Toronto we have homeless veterans. How can we ask the men and women in the Canadian Forces to do the most extraordinary things on behalf of the rest of us when the government refuses to properly look after our veterans when they are finished their service?
We have a tax on veterans' benefits. There is an inability for many men and women veterans to get the kind of treatment they need for post-traumatic stress disorder. We have a government that tables legislation that strips out of the legislation some of the wise counsel, the wisdom and the compromises that were hashed out in previous Parliaments.
I would like to echo my colleague from Saint-Jean's comment earlier in this debate where he questioned the government's wisdom and decisions in this regard as a waste of taxpayer money because we have debated and put together some very sensible amendments.
Members opposite say to bring it to committee and we will study the amendments. I sat on the committee looking into the copyright legislation, Bill C-11, where a member on the opposite side said, “I'll bet you $10,000 we're going to move amendments”. Every single amendment that we brought forward was rejected, including an amendment that would have enabled those with perceptual disabilities, those who are deaf, those who have vision impairments, to access works that they otherwise would not be able to access. Even an amendment like that was voted down.
Therefore we have no trust in the government's interest in looking at reasoned amendments from our side.
The issue of process is really a concerning question for us here on this side because we see, time and time again, the government playing games with the process, in fact gaming the process, actually.
Tonight is a perfect example. We have seen the government go through time allocation, limiting debate throughout this year that we have been here in this Parliament, time and time again. In fact, with its pooled pension Ponzi scheme, the debate was limited to an hour or two. Then it says, “Okay, we've limited debate. Now, we're going to extend Parliament because we're going to ram all this stuff through in the last minute”.
That is the kind of respect the government has for process in this place.
Now, I will go back to Bill C-15.
We believe there are elements of Bill C-15 that are a step in the right direction. However, unlike the member from the corner party there who asked us, “If there are some things that you agree with, why don't you just vote for them?” I think he wanted to go home early, which is the kind of culture to which his party subscribes. We cannot swallow that.
As my hon. and esteemed colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, commented earlier, we are not going to vote for a bill that does not support the men and women in our armed forces.
I have sat and listened to the debate, and it is an honour to do that, I have to say. It really is, because I have a chance to listen to some of the acquired wisdom of some of the members here. I started to think, as I was listening to the debate tonight, about some young people I had the good fortune to interview many years ago in Toronto. These were high school students who had decided to sign up for a high school co-op course. The co-op course was, essentially, to join the reserves. That was part of the course. Now, these were young kids. They were 16- and 17-year-olds. They told me they had decided to join this co-op program to get into the reserves, for a variety of reasons. Some of them just did not like school. Some of them had a tough time at home. Some of them were from families where the socio-economic situation was such that they could not see where the future was going to lead them. They thought that maybe the military was an option, and so they joined. They were young kids.
We have a situation where, not too much further down the road, these individuals, 20 years old, 21 years old, could be full members of the Canadian Forces. Maybe they get into a dust-up one night and they get a reprimand or they go before their commanding officer in a summary trial and end up with some kind of criminal record for which, depending on the infraction, it could take them 10 years down the road to clear their name.
The fact is that they would have no recourse to representation. There would not even be transcripts of the procedure. On our side, we see this as a huge problem. It is a judicial issue, but it is also an issue of morale, and we take this issue of morale seriously. That is why we advocate tirelessly on behalf of veterans of the forces, because if we do not do that, then we set up a culture where we are saying that we want the forces to do all this stuff, but then when we are done with them, we do not want to hear from them again.
We adamantly oppose the creation of that kind of culture within the military, and we believe that it is paramount, as parliamentarians, to ensure that kind of culture does not creep in.
We see that time and time again with the government. The Conservatives like to wrap themselves in the flag, but when veterans come to them in need of help, too often there are roadblocks put up in their way.
When I start to think about these kids who I interviewed, they were fresh-faced but a little confused. They were young, and one could see that, depending on how luck went, they could get into trouble. We want to make sure that, in those situations, they are accorded the same rights, the same access that any other Canadian citizen would expect. It is amazing that many Canadians, and we heard tonight that many members of the military and lawyers, are surprised to know that members of the forces do not and cannot access some of these.
We have heard as well that the bill has gone through several different iterations and that some of these amendments have been kept in, and there are some that we can support, but like so many bills that the government puts before this House, we cannot swallow this bill whole. We simply cannot.
It needs to be noted that over the last year the government has, as a way of excusing this anti-democratic practice of serial use of time allocation to shut down debate in this place, tried to say that since we have debated some of these issues in previous Parliaments, we do not need to give them full airing here. Yet this is a case where the Conservatives had a bill ready to go, and as my colleague earlier attested, they could have passed it in March if they had wanted to, but they chose to let it fly, and here we are again.
People must be wondering why the Conservatives would strip out some of these amendments. Why would they reduce the numbers of minor infractions that would potentially lead to criminal records?
We have heard overheated rhetoric from that side too often that they want to use the issue of crime and criminality as something with which to beat people over the head. One has to wonder when we look at the bill whether this is part of a piece of the government. This is about locking things down. This is about crime and about punishment. That is what we are seeing here.
It is really hard to understand why the government would not have retained the amendments proposed by the NDP, which passed at the committee stage last spring after long hours of debate and seemed to have resulted in positive steps forward. By failing to include those amendments in Bill C-15, the Conservatives are undermining the important work of all members in the national defence committee and the recommendations of Canadian Forces representatives during the last session of Parliament.
In other words, the government is not building on the work of past Parliaments. It is not taking best practices or wise counsel. It is not looking at the ways in which parliamentarians have come to mutual consensus. That is what Canadians want to see from this Parliament. They want to see mutual consensus, not dictatorial edicts from a parliamentary majority masquerading as a majority of Canadians who support it, which as we know, is not the case.
Retired Colonel Michel Drapeau has been quoted before in this debate, but I am going to quote him again:
I strongly believe that the summary trial issue must be addressed by this committee. There is currently nothing more important for Parliament to focus on than fixing a system that affects the legal rights of a significant number of Canadian citizens every year.
That is very interesting, because he particularly calls out those of us in Parliament. Nothing is more important than for Parliament to focus on fixing a broken system as opposed to breaking it even further. This is what we are called on to do in Parliament. This is our job.
In fact, Canadians do not understand the amount of time that has been spent stripping away and undermining the work of Parliament in order to push flawed legislation through. There was an example earlier this year of a piece of legislation on which the government refused to acknowledge any amendments, but then it realized at the final minute that maybe it had better introduce some of the amendments. It missed the deadline and the Speaker ruled that the amendments were inadmissible. This is the kind of government we in the House and Canadians are faced with.
Unfortunately those in the military are also faced with a government that does not like to listen. It is the government's way or the highway, even if the highway is a highway to hell. That is the problem with the government. It is obstinate in its refusal to listen to wise counsel. It would rather drive the bus over the cliff than gear down, look at the map and maybe even ask someone it is driving with if there is a better way forward. That is what New Democrats are saying.
Members on this side of the House have spent years engaged in issues of Canadian justice and fairness within the military. It is fair to say and I think members on the government side would acknowledge that we are reasonable in our issues and our demands. What we are asking the government to do and what all Canadians are expecting is for the government to be reasonable too. That is the Canadian way, and we would like the government behave the way Canadians expect it to behave and Parliament to work.