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House of Commons Hansard #164 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debate.

Topics

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

April 11th, 2017 / 4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Madam Speaker, we will indeed be dealing with this issue when this motion is passed. That is when we will deal with it, not based on this ridiculous idea that the Liberals developed of killing the motion here and then introducing a parallel motion in the committee. I will not repeat my objections to that. I did that last week for about 40 minutes.

I just want to say this, though. With regard to the issue of how to have an intelligent debate when, and this is one of the most objectionable of the Liberals' suggestions, we have little 10-minute chunks in which to present an opinion, there are some issues where it is impossible to present a reasoned argument with all supporting facts in 10 minutes. The member is right. Assuming they enact the rules and permit multiple interventions, which is no sure thing, we could have this sort of disjointed thing where if someone intervenes, we would get a fresh start, and so on. I am not sure what purpose this would serve if that is the case.

However, with regard to the suggestion that somehow someone gets the floor and no one else can speak, I will just point out that in the procedure and House affairs committee right now, the practice we have established is that when someone has the floor, with the unanimous consent of the committee, which is something permitted under the current rules, anybody else can intervene to make a comment. This is permitted. We have found a way of working with this. In other words, there is no monopolization of the conversation and we can actually have a dialogue. That is despite the fact that we are in the midst of a very dysfunctional, record-setting filibuster. The need to come up with some 10-minute garrotte on how much we are allowed to say is just stuff and nonsense.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I respect the member's opinion, and I would hope he would respect mine. When I sat in the third party inside this chamber, and I would be in a committee room listening to someone speak for hours on end and not have the opportunity to contribute to the discussion, because one member wanted to consume all the time, I had a difficult time with that.

Maybe it is 15 minutes, maybe it is 20 minutes, or maybe it is a half hour. What is wrong with having that discussion, because maybe we can find a compromise? Maybe it is not 10 minutes, as I think it should be, but I do not think it needs to be four hours. Maybe it is somewhere in between, hopefully closer to the 10 minutes.

As members across the way know, I am not shy to speak, but I recognize that there are ways we can improve the system, and I think that is what this discussion paper is all about. Why the fear to have that dialogue in committee? I do not understand that.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Spadina—Fort York Ontario

Liberal

Adam Vaughan LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families

Madam Speaker, I understand that there is a great deal of apprehension and opposition to a conversation about changes to the rules, and I understand entirely that it is coming from a place where the opposition is trying to explore how it can be effective. I do not think we begrudge them the debate at all. I think that is part of what we are trying to stimulate with the letter.

What I find odd is that in the House we can speak once to an issue and we have a time limit, and that seems reasonable, but in a committee the same rules are suddenly unreasonable.

Before I served in the House, I was a city councillor in Toronto, and the structure in our committees was that we could question once and speak once to motions. Why is trying to frame the work of the committee so unparliamentary, when in fact we frame the work in the House?

The most unfair thing, in the previous term, was when an omnibus bill was presented, and we could speak for only 10 minutes when there were 50, 60, or 70 pieces of legislation to address.

Why is framing the work seen as so troublesome?

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, to that point, let me maybe take a different line. We can think of our mother Parliament, in England. I would ask members across the way what it is within this legislation, or this discussion, or anything related to the Standing Orders, that is so offensive that is not necessarily taking place in England, in the mother of our Parliament.

Processing times or time limits are all things other parliaments have put in place. I would argue that Canada is, in fact, falling behind. In the past, all we dealt with was the low-hanging fruit. We finally have an opportunity to see how we can modernize our Parliament.

For the life of me, I do not understand this type of resistance to it. This is an opportunity. Point out within that discussion paper where this is a great offence against parliamentary tradition, based on our mother Parliament. At least let us have that talk.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Before I go to the next speaker, I want to remind the members of the motion before the House, and that is to refer the motion that was presented to the committee, and again, that the committee make this the priority. I know that there is some leeway, but now the discussion seems to be more about the current item that is before that committee, so I just want to remind members to keep it to the issue before the House right now.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

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.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I have been watching some of this debate, and it has certainly strayed away from the question that is on the table today. My question, simply put, for the member is this. What has to be done to move past this point and get Parliament working again? That is the key question. I have watched this for a number of days. I do not speak in the House lately very much, but I see all sides talking past each other, taking shots at each other. We know that the proposal that is on the deck is not for the Prime Minister to be here just one day a week. We know different from that, but that is what has been said. We know some of the things said to the opposition are not quite 100% either.

However, this place is called the House of Commons for a reason. It is not the House of cabinet or the House of PMO. Protecting the rights of members in this place, whether it is the opposition members in terms of the stance they are taking, is also protecting the rights of the other members here who are not members of cabinet or the government. We talk about government as if this whole side is the government. The government is the executive branch. We do need to protect these rights.

What I am saying for all sides is this. Let us get this place working again. We need to get to the budget implementation act. We need a number of things done. Can everyone step back, take a break, look at this again, and table something that will protect our rights and get the business of government done?

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right that it is not just our privilege in the opposition; it is also the privilege of the members of the Liberal caucus who are not in cabinet.

The member asked the key question, and the answer is quite simple. Once again, we have not had a chance to discuss these substantive issues because the government has been unable, whether through the government House leader or the Prime Minister, to stand and tell us the one simple thing that opposition parties want, and I dare say Canadians want, and that is that it will not proceed with changing the rules on this, as the member so eloquently put it, House of Commons and how it functions, without consensus, which seemed so important when it came to reforming the way we vote. I dare say it should be equally as important for the way we work in this very place.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I was not going to make an intervention, only because I am going to be speaking on this point of privilege in just a few moments from now, but I must respond to a comment from my good friend from the island, whom I respect very much, who has been a parliamentarian of some distinction in this place for many years.

However, I have to take some umbrage at his suggestion that unilateral changes to the Standing Orders really are something that we should not be discussing. In fact, he made his specific point that having a prime minister's question period does not prevent the Prime Minister from attending other question periods throughout the week, and criticizes opposition members for suggesting that the Prime Minister will then have an out, and only have to appear in this place to answer questions once a week.

I want to ask my colleague from the NDP, who made his presentation, if he agrees that if those changes are made, even if we take the Liberals today in good faith, over time the consequence, whether intended or unintended, will be that prime ministers in the future will feel no obligation to attend question period except for one day a week.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Before I acknowledge the hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly, I just want to say I hope he will bring it back to the question of privilege that is before the House.

The hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Madam Speaker, with regard to the manner in which we operate, I understand that people are frustrated because the question of privilege is monopolizing the debate and taking up a lot of time, whether we are talking about the question of privilege regarding access to Parliament Hill or the Speaker's ruling regarding the fact that the government put an end to the debate last week on the same question of privilege.

As my colleague from Malpeque said, if I am not mistaken, we can move on to other things. However, like my Conservative colleague who just asked a question, I would say that the problem is the precedent that will be set. Something that is codified could work well now, but it might not work with another party or another prime minister. If members want to move on to something else, we simply need the assurance that the government will not go off on its own and impose things unilaterally. It is that simple. If the government would make a formal commitment in that regard, we could move on to other things, but it refuses to do so.

About what you said, Madam Speaker, this ties into the question of privilege because of the recurring theme of Liberals refusing to address these issues, whether access to Parliament Hill or any other question of privilege. That is extremely frustrating for the opposition and it prevents us from having the sort of the atmosphere in Parliament that Canadians want us to have. In this case, unfortunately, the burden lies on the shoulders of the government.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Madam Speaker, I actually want to thank the member for Malpeque for his question and his intervention. It shows there is a spirit amongst all members here to do something that is positive, without putting words into the mouth of member for Malpeque, who has served in cabinet and who has served many years. I think he was elected in 1993 or 1997.

It seems he understands, although we have so many new Liberal members of Parliament, and indeed a brand new government House leader, who is kind of the one who is carrying this ball as she tries to ram it through PROC and the House here, that members of Parliament need to take a look at this from an unbiased side.

The thing I appreciate about my colleague's speech is this point that he made. If the Conservatives win the next election, will they be allowed to just come and ram these secret Standing Orders that give them certain rights down the throats of the Liberals? What about the next governing party?

Maybe the member wants to build on that a little. We have a two-week break coming up. That may well be a time when we can take a pause and reflect on some of this, and then come back to work together, with all parties.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

For the young students I see on my school speaking tours, especially primary school students, the concept of a political party can seem quite strange.

I often compare the House of Commons to a hockey game. We might hit one another hard, not literally of course, but afterwards we will all go out together for a beer. This comparison is appropriate because it is obvious from the questions posed by the members for Battle River—Crowfoot and Malpeque that we all agree on the importance of members' privileges. In fact, as I mentioned in my speech, a member's privilege is first and foremost to express the opinions of our constituents.

Therefore, I think that whether it is with respect to the changes to the Standing Orders being imposed unilaterally by the government, whether it is access to the Hill, or whether it is cutting off the debate on access to the Hill, all of these things fundamentally should unite all parliamentarians, and, hopefully, at their weekly caucus meeting tomorrow, or at another meeting—because it seems it has not gotten through yet—some of these Liberals who are not in cabinet will recognize that what the opposition is fighting right now affects not only them in this Parliament but, as my colleague rightly pointed out, could affect them in another parliament when they might be sitting on this side, and maybe they will suddenly realize that what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to lend my voice to this very important debate. May I ask you to remind me when there is just about a minute left in my presentation as I have an amendment to the current amendment to the motion which I want to bring forward.

Before I begin my remarks on privilege and how it affects each and every one of the members of this place, I want to go back to a few words that my colleague, my friend from Perth—Wellington, mentioned when he brought forward the motion, seeking a Speaker's ruling on the prima facie case of privilege. That is when he applauded the Speaker's ruling that came down, saying that yes, in the Speaker's opinion, there was a prima facie case of privilege when the government of the day prevented a vote on two members' privileges being impugned by not being allowed to vote, by being denied access to this place.

That ruling within the last hour has been called by some as historic. I would concur in that. I think some would also perhaps suggest it would be courageous. I will stop short of calling it that, but I believe this ruling today underscores and reaffirms in the eyes and the minds of many Canadians the total impartiality of the Speaker.

I think most Canadians understand when a Speaker is elected to the chair in this place, he comes with a background of partisanship. He comes obviously from a political background and represents a political party, not necessarily in the chair but back in his home constituency.

I believe there is a tendency for some Canadians to believe that because of the background of political partisanship, that a Speaker, once elected to the chair, would find it almost impossible to separate his political allegiance to his duties to be impartial to all members.

I must applaud the Speaker of this Parliament because he did exactly that. He made a difficult ruling, but he underscored the fact that his role was to be impartial, to represent all members of Parliament. He did that today, and for that ruling, I applaud him, and I applaud him mightily.

We are here to talk about this motion and the fact that the initial motion of privilege, the debate on the privilege brought forward from two of my Conservative colleagues, was in fact not only delayed, but it was snuffed out by the government of the day. That in itself was unprecedented.

It is so ironic that the privilege debate was being conducted because two members were prevented from voting in this place. What was the response of the government, the great irony? It prevented 338 members from voting on the privilege. It is truly something I have never seen before, and I sincerely hope I will never see again.

Madam Speaker, you have also admonished some of us, very slightly, very gently, to try to speak to the motion before us today and not get off track with what is happening in procedure and House affairs, with the filibuster over the government's attempt to unilaterally change the Standing Orders of this place. I would suggest that there is a lot of commonality between what is happening in procedure and House affairs and what we saw the government do just a few days ago by shutting down debate on privilege.

The commonality obviously is the fact that the government is acting in such a ham-handed, heavy-handed, mean-spirited way that it is disallowing and disenfranchising members of this place to exercise their ability, not only to debate but to vote. That is a very dangerous precedent.

For the benefit of members who may perhaps be minor historians on procedures of this place, I would like to point out something as an example of why this is so dangerous. I do not believe many Canadians and perhaps many parliamentarians understand the history of time allocation and when time allocation was actually introduced into the Standing Orders in this place. I believe it happened in the mid-1960s, although I do not know the exact year. It was brought in unilaterally by a Liberal government.

Now we consider time allocation to be a normal procedural tactic used by governments of the day to ensure that legislation is debated and passed speedily. However, because time allocation was brought in unilaterally, without the consent of opposition parties in the 1960s, it was almost entirely not used until at least two decades later.

Why was that? It was because Parliament itself recognized it as being almost illegitimate. Since the rules of this place, the rules that govern us all, were brought in unilaterally, without the agreement of other parliamentarians, Parliament itself did not utilize the provision of time allocation for at least two decades. Why? It was because Parliament knew that it was wrong to bring in any change to a standing order in that fashion.

That is what the present government is trying to do right now. It has shown its unwillingness to co-operate with members of the opposition. Despite the government's utterances to the opposite, its actions have proved that it is absolutely unwilling to co-operate or even discuss issues of fundamental importance to all of us. I find that to be not only disappointing, but a very dangerous course of action and path that the government is taking.

As was exhibited by my example of time allocation not being recognized as a legitimate standing order or parliamentary tactic for at least two decades, what the government is attempting to do now by unilaterally changing the Standing Orders would have the same effect. It would poison the well, in other words. Members of the government may not recognize that now, but as surely as time allocation was recognized as such over half a century ago, any changes that the government wants to bring down without the co-operation and consent of members on the opposition benches will be viewed similarly. I do not want to see that happen. I simply do not want to see that happen.

I made reference to the fact that in the last Parliament I chaired an all-party committee on proposed changes to the Standing Orders. My friend and my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, was a member of that committee. In fact, he was vice-chair of that committee.

I will get back to the privilege connection in just a moment, but my final point on that for now is that the member who is now arguing that the government should have the right to unilaterally change the Standing Orders was an unabashed and enthusiastic supporter in the last Parliament of the idea that unanimous consent should be a requirement before any change is made. That—

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5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I want to remind the member, because I reminded other members, of the subject of the discussion. There is some leeway; however, the discussion is on the privilege motion about members not being able to come to the House to vote, and the amendment touches on the work that is currently being done by saying that they want this issue to be at the forefront of the committee.

I want to remind members that the discussion is on the privilege motion about not being able to have access to the Hill to come to vote.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I take your advice and I will follow it to the best of my ability, but of course if this matter is presented to the procedure and House affairs committee and if the amendment is accepted by the House, then this privilege motion would take precedence over the filibuster that is taking place in the procedure and House affairs committee currently. That is the interconnection.

As a former member of the procedure and House affairs committee, when I was the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, I sat through three distinct discussions in PROC dealing with privilege and the rights of all members to have unfettered access to this place. This is not new. Unfortunately, this happened too many times in the past when, for whatever reasons, certain members from time to time were prevented from attending votes in this place because they were denied access to this place. Mainly they were denied access by security forces. Whether they be the RCMP, municipal police officers, or the security forces that take care of all of us here, members were prevented from having access in the past.

We have had many discussions and many witnesses come forward in the procedure and House affairs committee. We had the commissioner of the RCMP the last time privilege was discussed at procedure and House affairs. We had videotapes of all of the evidence of why certain members were not able to get to the House in time for a vote. I can say this about the members of the RCMP from the top leadership down to the rank and file members who protect us on the premises. None of them, in my opinion, wants to see any member prevented from attending this place to do the work that members were elected to do. Unfortunately, from time to time, circumstances happen where members are prevented.

I want to go back a few years and discuss some of the elements that caused that prevention of members from getting to this place. Normally it is when special events occur, for example, if we have visiting dignitaries attending Parliament or there is a motorcade of some sort where security forces must provide adequate protection for those visiting dignitaries to come into this place. Some members who perhaps have not tried to get to the House in an early fashion have been prevented from gaining access because of the motorcade. We talked on many occasions with members of the RCMP about how we could prevent that from happening in the future. They have shown a true willingness, in my opinion, to try to do whatever they need to do to make sure that these types of situations do not occur, but it has occurred once again.

My colleague moved an amendment to the original motion asking that the procedure and House affairs committee deal with this issue of privilege immediately. I think that is quite a fair amendment and I would appeal to all members of this place to vote in favour of that amendment when the time comes. Right now, as members know, there is a filibuster in the committee. It has been going on now for well over a week and shows no signs of abating. If that filibuster continues, and continues, and continues, there is a real chance that we may adjourn this Parliament for the summer without dealing with this question of privilege. That would negatively impact every member of this place. To not have the ability to deal with an issue that so fundamentally affects all of us would be a shame, but I would suggest it would be far more than that. I would suggest it would be almost unconscionable.

What we will have is a question that only the government will be able to answer, and that is on the amendment to the motion before us today. Will the government support that amendment and then suggest to the procedure and House affairs committee that it deal with this issue of privilege immediately, or will they vote against it and allow the filibuster to continue?

If the government votes against the amended motion, in effect it will be saying to all parliamentarians that the Liberals are putting their own political interests ahead of a matter of privilege of fellow members. They will be sending a clear and distinct message that they wish a filibuster on an action that is absolutely, fundamentally, and profoundly opposed by every member of the opposition benches to be put ahead of a discussion on privilege of parliamentarians. I hope it does not come to that, but it appears that it might.

If we cannot ensure that all of us have the ability to do our jobs, the jobs that Canadians in each one of our ridings elected us to do, then we have problems and issues far larger than probable changes to the Standing Orders.

I believe that the amendment calling for this issue of privilege to be referred immediately to the procedure and House affairs committee and for that committee to deal with it in an expeditious manner, to deal with it as a matter of precedence and priority, is absolutely fundamental to each and every member in this place.

We have heard much about privilege and parliamentary privilege. I recall a seminal 1982 publication by Joseph Maingot on parliamentary privilege in Great Britain and Canada. He spoke mainly of privilege as freedom of expression and freedom of speech within this place. More fundamental than that, even though that is an important tenet of privilege for all parliamentarians, far more important than that, in my view, is a privilege which says that members of Parliament should not be impugned in any way from conducting their business and doing their job. They should not be prevented from having unfettered access to this place to do the most fundamental job for which their constituents elected them, and that is to vote both on behalf of their constituents and on behalf of all Canadians.

It appears the government does not feel that this discussion and that privilege are important. The Liberals have shown that. They have demonstrated that by shutting down the initial debate on privilege. They tried to ensure that the procedure and House affairs committee would not deal with the two specific examples of members being prevented from attending a vote. It is only because of the wisdom of our current Speaker that this debate is back on in Parliament.

I call upon members opposite. I beseech them to think about the precedent they will be setting if they do not allow this motion, as amended, to pass. Once again, they will be saying to all members of this place and to all Canadians who may be listening to this debate that they believe their own political partisan interests are more important than the privileges of members of Parliament. If it comes to that, and if they vote against the amended motion, it would allow the filibuster to then have precedence over a matter of privilege. All I would be able to say, through you, Mr. Speaker, to each and every member of the government is shame on them.

I truly hope that there can be a resolution to the impasse that is seemingly never-ending in the procedure and House affairs committee, but it would take a willingness from both sides to come together and try to ensure, as others before me have said in this debate, that Parliament is the place it is intended to be, a place of rational and reasoned debate, a place where, although there may be differences, we all have one motivation at heart, and that is to represent our constituents and represent all Canadians.

Having said that, I now move:

That the amendment be amended by adding the following: “provided that the committee report back no later than June 19, 2017”.

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5:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The amendment is in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

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5:40 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, during the debate the Assistant Deputy Speaker was dealing with relevancy at times, and if we were to take a look at previous privileges that were referred to by the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, as an example, and looked at the debate that took place in those questions of privilege and compared them to what is taking place in questions of privilege today, we would see that all three of them deal with unfettered access.

I sat with the hon. member across the way at committee, where we looked at changes. I would ask him to reflect on how the changes that we passed were taken into consideration. What were those strong, progressive changes that we made in PROC, where unanimous consent was required?

I am not talking about the change in relation to the Speaker or about electronic petitions, because those were private members' business. Could the member list the types of changes that were actually achieved? If a government wanted to modernize Parliament, would the member not acknowledge that if opposition parties did not want to modernize Parliament, it could pose a problem?

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5:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would simply point out to my hon. colleague opposite that he was part of the committee that enthusiastically supported the concept of unanimity. He agreed with all members of that all-party committee examining the Standing Orders that unless we had unanimous consent, a standing order would not even be debated. He was a part of the decision-making process that agreed that unanimity was a prerequisite, a requirement.

Why the change of heart? I can tell members why the change of heart occurred. Unfortunately, it is because now the government does not feel that members of the opposition need to be consulted. The Liberals are trying to use bullying, ham-handed tactics, mean-spirited tactics, to be able to unilaterally impose their will on the opposition.

The last time I checked, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition had a role to play, as did all opposition members in this place, whether they represented a recognized party or were independents or not. We recognized that fact when we were in government. As the member well knows, I was the one who suggested we have unanimous consent, and if any proposed changes to the Standing Orders were not universally accepted, the standing order was taken off the table. It was not even discussed. The member wanted to make sure that we did that.

There were some minor changes made. We were interrupted before the final, completed version of our study took place, but all of the changes that were made—and there were several, as the member well knows—were unanimously passed. That has been the long-standing tradition in this place. The member fails to recognize that.

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5:45 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a point and a question following my colleague's good speech.

My first point is that just because we are calling it “modernizing” does not mean it is modernizing. Let us just call it “changing” the Standing Orders. Let us not call it “modernizing” the Standing Orders, because that is not what we are talking about here. The government wants to change the Standing Orders. In the government's mind it is modernizing, but that is only one perspective.

We also hear about this being a discussion paper, but there will be a concurrence at the end of this report, which is in effect a vote, so it is not really a discussion paper. There is a vote on the Standing Orders, and they will be changed in the House. I am wondering if my colleague, who has great experience in this, could elaborate on what we are actually facing here. It is not really a discussion paper.

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5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is quite correct. It is most certainly not simply a discussion paper. The government is attempting to have the procedure and house affairs committee table a report in this place recommending changes that it wants to the Standing Orders. We know that because the government has a majority in this place electorally, it also has a majority on the committee.

Despite the opposition's best efforts to reason with the government, if a report from the procedure and House affairs committee were tabled in this place, it would undoubtedly recommend the changes the government wants to ram through. That would then allow the government to fall back on the committee report and say that it did not do it unilaterally but just accepted the recommendations of an all-party standing committee. We all know that this would be a sham, because the government, unfortunately, is using the procedure and House affairs committee as political cover.

The government well knows, and I do not have to give it any lessons on procedure, because it has its own procedural experts, that if it wanted to unilaterally impose changes to the Standing Orders, it could do so without having to go through the procedure and House affairs committee. Any one of its members could simply introduce a motion introducing changes, and once the vote was held in this place and the motion was agreed to, the changes would happen automatically. The reason the government does not want to do that is that it does not want to appear to be heavy handed and mean-spirited.

It is trying to use the procedure and House affairs committee as political cover. That subterfuge will not sit well with Canadians and will not disguise the fact that the Liberals are trying to do what we know they are trying to do, which is impose changes to the Standing Orders that do not benefit all parliamentarians but only Liberal themselves.

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5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Gérard Deltell Conservative Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I deeply appreciate the speech made by my hon. colleague, who has a lot of experience. It is very important to emphasize the fact that when we want to change something in the House, we should do it with consensus. This is the key word we must keep in mind.

Without giving away any caucus secrets, I would nonetheless like to inform the House that my colleague was our coach, as they would say in hockey, for question period. He explained to us, the 33 new opposition parliamentarians, how to properly ask questions. I have to say that he was an excellent teacher.

My question for my colleague is this. Based on his experience, can he explain the arrogance of the Liberal government?

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5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wish I could explain it, other than the fact that I think it is in the Liberals' DNA to believe that they are entitled to their entitlements.

All kidding aside, we know that partisanship plays a big role in this place, too much, from time to time. I find that the longer I sit in this place, the less partisan I become, and that is why what the Liberal government is trying to do is so distressing to me.

I believe in the Standing Orders. I believe in the rules that govern us all, and I believe that as parliamentarians, we should have the ability to conduct ourselves in a mature, adult fashion and understand that when changes are made, they have consequences. Any changes made to the Standing Orders must be made, in my view, in a way that benefits all parliamentarians, not just one political party. That is, unfortunately, the reality we are faced with. We are protecting the rights of all parliamentarians, not just the Liberal Party, and I would ask it to please think forward a few years, because, as has been said before, governments change over time.

One day, perhaps sooner rather than later, in view of the current government, Liberals will be sitting on this side of the floor, and I can guarantee one thing. Even if they were sitting on this side of the floor now, and the Conservatives were in government or the NDP happened to be in government and were trying to do what the Liberal government is trying to do with its ham-handed attempt to change the Standing Orders, there would be holy hell to pay. The Liberal government knows that, but it is still trying to ram through changes in the short term. That is unconscionable.

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5:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will be sharing my time.

Earlier, my hon. colleague from Beloeil—Chambly reminded us that as elected members we are sometimes invited to elementary or secondary schools to answer questions and explain what we do. I must admit that I am having a hard time these days explaining what we do in the House and why it is important, but it is.

Our work is important because it shows the “true nature of Bernadette”. It shows what the Liberal government is made of. Just scratching the surface reveals that Liberal arrogance we know so well. Despite its fine speeches and rejuvenated and renewed image, the Liberal government just wants to impose its views, change the rules unilaterally, and grab as much power as possible by crushing the opposition and ensuring that it is the only skipper on board. The Liberals want to make sure that the democratically elected opposition shrivels up and is hamstrung from doing its work effectively.

Why are we having this debate right now? There was a breach of privileges, which is not nothing. There is nothing more important than the rights and privileges of the 338 people who sit in Parliament. Two official opposition members, for many reasons that are yet to be explored and verified, were prevented from entering the House to exercise their right to vote on government legislation. One hon. member rose on a point of order and the Speaker had to rule on whether or not there was a breach of privilege. The answer was yes and that we should debate the breach of privilege.

I do not want to describe the context in which that happened, but members can imagine what would happen if preventing members who are here in Ottawa from voting were to become a habit or even systematic.

The Speaker of the House of Commons initiated a debate on the breach of privilege, and he said that we should debate it to find out what happened.

That is where things got interesting. The Liberal government used its majority to try to put an end to the debate. It used a false parliamentary majority based on 39% of the votes to put an end to a discussion among parliamentarians about a breach of the privileges of two of our colleagues. Another point of order was raised. The Liberals no longer wanted to talk about this issue, and they used their majority to put an end to the debate. Another point of order was raised.

Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, you said that this was indeed a second breach of privilege, that the government should not have done that, and that we should resume debate on the original breach of the privileges of the two members who were unable to get to the House to vote.

This shows the character of the Liberal government, which is trying to sweep the debates and discussions it does not want to have under the rug. To make matters worse for the Liberals, the debate did not stop. Instead, it started up again. Rather than looking foolish once, the Liberals have made themselves look foolish twice. Since it is their own fault, they will have to live with the consequences.

I want to make sure the people tuning in understand the context of this debate.

This is not the first time the Liberal government has tried to prevent parliamentarians from doing their job, from expressing themselves freely, and from debating issues that matter to them. Who could forget Motion No. 6, which was withdrawn at the last minute? That caused an uproar. Another important element is the debate the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is having right now. In committee, all of the opposition parties are united because we are all extremely concerned about the proposed changes the Liberal government wants to make in the name of modernization.

The Liberals want nothing less than to strip committee members of the opportunity to do their work, work that involves putting pressure on the committee and the government to ensure a relative balance of power, thereby making negotiation possible and enabling opposition parties to wrest compromise from the government. That is pretty much the issue here.

What is happening is the opposite of what the Liberals said during the election campaign. The Liberals said they wanted to put an end to a Parliament where the government makes all the decisions, where democracy is silenced, and where parliamentarians cannot work.

It is funny, because since the Liberals won the election and came to power, they have been doing exactly the opposite. That is why the opposition members and the opposition parties unanimously disagree with the government. Indeed, we think that if the Liberals want to change the ground rules in the House, regarding parliamentarians' ability to exert pressure on the government and to do their job properly, they cannot do so unilaterally. The Liberals must seek a consensus with the opposition parties.

I do not understand why the Liberal government insists on completely ignoring this and bullying us, why it is being so heavy-handed and using its majority to impose its viewpoint. That is what is most troubling right now.

I will soon hand the floor over to my colleague from Sherbrooke who will continue this important discussion and this debate much more eloquently and in a more scientific way.

Let me give another example of this Liberal arrogance, which could be characterized as “do as I say and not as I do” and “I'm the boss and I will do as I please”.

In the Liberal Party platform, it is written in black and white that the Liberals wanted to put an end to turning budget implementation bills into omnibus bills. The budget implementation bill was introduced today and guess what? It is an omnibus bill. Oops. We get the same old Liberal arrogance and another broken promise. There are financial aspects to the budget implementation bill, but there are also some rather fascinating things. The bill would amend labour laws, drug laws, and the Judges Act. This bill takes all the bills that were not passed and crams them in the middle of a budget implementation bill.

Again, the Liberals have this extraordinary ability to take people for a ride and have them believe that they are going to do politics differently and that they will govern differently. However, the Liberals systematically and successively do everything they can to crush the opposition, undermine Parliament, attack democracy, and ensure that they have more and more power that is more and more concentrated, with no regard for the rules of the House, no regard for democracy, and no regard for the people we have the honour of representing.

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6 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is important for Canadians who follow what is happening in the House to understand the significance of what we are doing. This question of privilege about access to the House is of utmost importance, but it is going to bump something else we are talking about out of PROC. Canadians may not really understand that connection.

I wonder if my hon. colleague could explain, as he does when he goes into schools to explain the parliamentary process, the importance of what is being sought here with respect to the decisions of government making changes to our Standing Orders, that they be made unanimously rather than unilateral. Perhaps he could explain why that matters in the House of Commons and why that matters to privilege.