Madam Speaker, as you pointed out, this motion is before us again because, last week, the Liberals decided to shut down debate on a question of privilege concerning MPs' access to Parliament Hill.
I also want to remind everyone that the Chair made it clear this was unprecedented. We have a government that not only decided to shut down debate on a question of privilege about MPs' access to Parliament Hill, but did so cavalierly.
The Chair ruled on the matter and emphasized that it is of utmost importance. As our Standing Orders clearly state, questions of privilege take precedence over everything else, not because we like to spend time talking about ourselves, but because privilege is what enables us to do our job. Access to the Hill and our presence in the House of Commons are central to our ability to do our job.
Once again, recognizing what the Speaker has rightly highlighted about being on topic, I think these issues start to get a bit mixed up. The reason they do is that we have a government that has decided to end the debate on the question of privilege that is now before this House. Why? What is happening over on the government side, on the Liberal benches, that it would decide to do something that is unprecedented, that has never been done before, and end the debate on a question of privilege, which, as our rules say, is the core issue with which the House should be seized?
That is a question that, unfortunately, despite our attempts, we did not get an answer to from the Liberal speaker who just rose, I assume on behalf of the government. That is problematic.
I think the government decided to put an end to this discussion because it could not take the heat. It is starting to have a hard time reconciling the things it said during the election campaign and the way it treats Parliament. This is directly affecting our ability to do our job.
I want to stick to the issue of access to the Hill, which we have talked about at length, because I need to express my deep frustration. In a few weeks, it will be six years since I became a member of Parliament. I have seen this matter come up time and time again, and I still do not understand why a solution cannot be found, although I am well aware that these things are never perfect.
Before I go any further, I think it is extremely important to recognize the work done by the RCMP and the parliamentary security officers in Centre Block and everywhere on the Hill. This is not about pointing the finger at anyone, and that is precisely why we have a motion that calls on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study the matter.
That is why my Conservative colleague moved an amendment for this to be the first item on the committee's agenda. It is because this issue comes up too often and is causing a lot of problems. This could affect new members, who may not be very familiar with our privileges despite the best efforts of the people who provide us with training when we arrive here. As my colleague said earlier, it feels quite strange when security officers know what we look like and know our names. That is quite impressive and can take us by surprise.
A new member who arrives at the bottom of the Hill before a vote when a foreign dignitary is on the Hill, or when the Prime Minister's vehicles are blocking the way, may not necessarily boldly invoke his privilege as a member and go ahead in order to get to his seat. He would not say it out of a sense of self-importance, but because he represents his constituents by voting, giving a speech, or carrying out any of his duties in the House.
It reminds me of a story involving one of my former colleagues, Jean Crowder. She and I were participating in, not a protest but a gathering, on the Hill. Some folks were here on the Hill to represent an issue. There were members from all parties at this gathering. Speeches were made by representatives of all parties.
We went back up the steps, and the security guard did not recognize me. I had only been a member for two months, and I did not have my pin. Sometimes I do not have it now. Sometimes I forget it on another suit jacket. I have had that issue before, so I always keep my ID card handy. That is the alternative.
That being said, even if a member has the pin, there is a jacket over it. Ottawa, with its lovely tropical climate, can get to a balmy -40 in the winter. We nonetheless have these gatherings, because some groups are courageous enough, and issues cannot wait until June. Sometimes these folks who are coming to the Hill to represent and lobby for issues they hold dear have to be here in January.
We walked up the steps, and the security guard did not recognize me. I said, “Oh, I am sorry”. I was fiddling, looking for my pass. Jean Crowder, who was a person I had never seen be curt with people said, “No. This is a member of Parliament. He has the right to pass”. The security guard said, “Okay”, and backed off.
Again, as my Conservative colleague so rightly pointed out, it is not a lack of humility that leads us to have this instinct, which we certainly do not have as new members. It is a question of being able to come here to do our jobs and represent Canadians.
That is why we call it privilege. That is why the government ending the discussion of that very privilege, and the Speaker stating that it is unprecedented, should say a lot about what the government is doing.
The Liberals shut down debate on our ability to do our work. Our privilege is our ability to do our work, which is to represent our constituents. The fact that the government shut down debate on protecting these privileges tells the House and the people listening a lot about this government's priorities.
That is the link to the discussion we are having right now. That is the government's approach. It wants to talk about privilege and the ability of members to do their job. The government wants to hear their ideas, but it does not want to provide them with a proper process that would let them have their say. As I said earlier, it is a dialogue of the deaf.
It is very problematic because something very important is being called into question. We were given examples of what happens in Great Britain under the Westminster system.
Without straying too far off topic, I just want to add that during debate on Bill C-22 and in the committee that analyzes and studies matters of national security, we said that we could elect the chair the same way they do in Great Britain. The government said that we must not move too quickly, that Canada was new to the idea, while Great Britain had several years to figure out how it would work. The hypocrisy is pathetic.
It is disappointing to see that when it works in the government's favour the government provides examples from around the world, but when it does not suit the narrative, the government ignores other examples. That is why it is important to have a structured process that allows the opposition parties to have their say.
This is not something new. This is how it has always been done, whether it was Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien, or anyone who came before them. This is how we have always changed the rules of the game. That is what they are. I know that game analogies are something we might chafe under. It is not always the best example to use, because what we do is not a game, but these are the rules that govern this place.
The Liberals now might feel that this is a good thing and that they can do it unilaterally and ram it through. What happens, after they create that precedent, when it is a Conservative prime minister, or, being an eternal optimist, a New Democrat prime minister or another Liberal prime minister with whom these members may not necessarily agree? Many of them, I have no doubt, ran because they appreciated the approach of this Prime Minister, but maybe another Liberal leader not so much.
As I saw in The Hill Times earlier today, a former Liberal MP was on the Hill today saying that this filibuster is a waste of time. That sounded like a criticism of the opposition, but it was not. He said he did not understand why his party created a toxic environment that is now leading the opposition to this recourse. That is the problem. They are trying to paint the opposition as the bad guys here, but we are just using the limited tools we have at our disposal, which they are trying to take away. They tried to do it with this question of privilege we are debating today by cutting off debate. That says a lot about their approach.
That debate, at its very core, is about our ability to do our jobs. It is not “Let us move to government orders, because we are here to be efficient and to pass legislation.” I am here to defend my privilege, because my privilege is not my privilege; it is the ability of my constituents to be heard, and ending that debate ends my ability to defend their ability to be heard in this place, and that is simply unacceptable.
The Liberals keeps using words like “modernization” and “discussion”, but those are just words. We cannot have a discussion until parameters are set for that discussion. A union would not have conversations with the employer in the hallway. There is a process and guidelines for collective bargaining. Similarly, teachers cannot teach their students whatever they want. They have to follow a curriculum. Every discussion on fundamental issues is structured.
Why does the government fail to see that this is not about the substance, but the process that we will use to get to our findings? Every other prime minister recognized that the process was the cornerstone of all this. Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin recognized it, and despite our considerable political differences, I will even acknowledge that Stephen Harper recognized it.
There are a lot of new members on the other side of the House, and I have had the opportunity to meet many of them either at functions on Parliament Hill or in committee. Most of them have told me that they ran as Liberals to do politics differently because their country and their Parliament was suffering. I told them they were exacerbating the problem they were meant to fix.
Everyone here is to blame for the toxic environment that currently exists, but the fault lies primarily with the government, which is unilaterally imposing sweeping changes. The government claims it is only acting to keep its election promises, but it never promised to impose anything on the opposition. The government promised to make Parliament work better. It lights fires and blames the opposition, and then cuts short debates on questions of privilege and the workings of Parliament. That is the opposite of making Parliament work better. That is the opposite of what motivated most of the Liberal members to go into politics, many of them for the first time.
What message is the government sending to those who really want to support us so that we can improve Parliament? It is not the same message that the Liberals were sending during the election campaign. It is not the same message as the one the government is trying to send with its supposed discussions. It is the very opposite.
I want to look at a great example south of the border, because the government seems intent on looking at the examples from other countries, whether they be Westminster models or otherwise. I look at what happened last week when the U.S. Senate was approving a Supreme Court nominee, which, dare I say, is probably one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a legislative body, given the importance that the Supreme Court has both here in Canada but also, looking at that example, in the United States.
What happened when there was a risk that Democrats in the Senate might engage in a filibuster, might use procedural tactics to delay the approval of a Supreme Court nominee where the consensus did not seem to be unanimous? I do not want to get into that debate, because that is not my business. What happened was that Republicans decided to use what they called the nuclear option. Instead of having the super majority that is normally required—60 votes to approve a Supreme Court nominee—they used their majority to change the rules of the game and make it so that it only required a simple majority of 50% plus one, 51% in that case.
What happened then? Respected senators like John McCain said that whoever thought of that idea was an idiot. Why did he say that? He said that because when he dealt with Democrats in the Senate on a nominee from President Obama, Republicans were very disappointed that the Democrats did the same thing. There were two parties changing the rules of the game to suit their political agenda, and in both cases, they chafed under that. Why? It is because it sets a precedent and creates a problem. Down the line, they can say it is how they will always solve their problems.
Coming back to Canada, what the government does not seem to understand is that changing the rules of the game might suit it this time, but it might not suit it next time when it loses an election after the broken promises start to pile up and people finally start getting fed up with the snake oil that they have been sold. That becomes a problem because it sets a precedent.
Instead of looking farther back and saying that Jean Chrétien sought Parliamentary consensus before making changes in the early 2000s, the next Conservative, Liberal, or NDP government can use this precedent and tell everyone not to worry because the government of the current Prime Minister, the member for Papineau, decided that a simple majority was enough to change the rules of the House.
I mentioned the United States because if the Liberals want to follow examples set elsewhere, they should look to respected individuals. For example, John McCain said it was idiotic to think that changing the rules was a good short-term solution to a problem that, in this case, does not exist. We have to think of the long-term consequences.
The long-term consequences have to do with the fact that we have to make a decision about a recurring question of privilege related to access to Parliament Hill. Precedent is not what worries me. I said at the outset that I was worried about the fact that we keep coming back to this issue of access to Parliament Hill, as several of our colleagues pointed out. I am concerned about the precedent the Speaker referred to, the precedent of shutting down debate. This is a problem. It is unacceptable, and it will cause problems for future generations of members of Parliament.
The government is using various tools. It forces votes in the House when, for example, we are debating motions that it does not like, since the government seems to think it is here to get its agenda passed as quickly as possible. If we read between the lines, this means imposing its will without debate using time allocation motions. The government wants to cut the debate short. The reason we are using these tactics and having this debate, which has been going on for three weeks at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, is closely linked to the debate we are having today on the question of privilege. These are the tools we have to call on the government to seriously rethink the process. We have fundamentally different ideas on the substance of the issue. We could debate that. What unites the opposition is that we refuse to debate it until we know that this will not be dealt with unilaterally. This is central to parliamentary privilege. This is central to what is driving us here today, that is, questions related to access to the Hill, the length of the debate, and the fact that the government cut the debate short. Why? Because the privilege of the member for Beloeil—Chambly is not my privilege; it is the privilege of the people of Beloeil—Chambly. This goes for all of my colleagues and their respective ridings. This is crucial, and the opposition is united in saying no.