Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure and a privilege to rise in the House to speak on behalf of the people of Chilliwack—Hope and to represent them in the House of Commons. That is what this debate really is about. It is about our ability, as members of Parliament, to represent our constituents here. When people see the title that rolls across the bottom of the television screen say “Privilege Motion”, I think they already believe members of Parliament are already privileged and probably wonder why we are fighting about our privileges.
The reason we are talking about privileges as members of Parliament is this. Essentially it infers that our constituents have privileges in this place. I represent 92,000 people. When I come here to vote in the House of Commons, I represent my electoral district to the best of my ability.
To bring people up to speed, two members of Parliament were denied their right to vote by being denied access to the precinct, by being denied access to this place for a vote on budget day. What does that mean? It means the constituents of the member for Milton and the member for Beauce were prevented from being heard through their MPs during that vote. That is a very serious violation.
At first, we thought all members of Parliament would take this matter seriously and we could deal with it in a serious way. However, it quickly became evident that the Liberal members, the Liberal government, had no intention of treating this as a serious matter. In the first day of debate, the member for Winnipeg Centre blamed the member of Parliament from Milton and the member of Parliament for Beauce for having poorly planned their day and not being able to enter this place for a vote.
The Speaker made it clear that there was an unacceptable delay on the buses due to motorcades, due to security, due to a media bus, but it did not really matter to the two members who were forced to miss the vote. For nine minutes, they were held up by security and were unable to proceed here. The member for Winnipeg Centre said that he planned his day better than that. Therefore, it was the fault of the members for having their privileges violated. That was what Liberal members said in the debate.
It reminds me of another question of privilege this fall in the same type of atmosphere in this place. Motion No. 6 was before the House. It was a motion in which the government was looking to strip the opposition of all our tools, all the means at our disposal to hold the government accountable and to do our jobs. I remember it well. At that time, I was sitting a little closer to the Speaker. The Prime Minister walked down the aisle, grabbed the Chief Opposition Whip, and bumped into another member. He created disorder in the House. What did we see from Liberal members? They blamed the Chief Opposition Whip and the member from the NDP for getting in the way of thePrime Minister. In any other workplace that would have been an assault. However, the opposition was blamed, just as the government is doing now.
When we were having a debate about privileges, when we were having a debate about whether members of Parliament could exercise their right to vote on behalf of their constituents, the Liberal members would not even allow members of Parliament to vote on whether that should be sent to the procedure and House affairs committee. That is the height of irony. Our rights to vote have been violated. When the rights of one member are violated, the rights of all of us are violated. That is why we take this seriously, but not seriously enough.
For the first time in the history of Parliament, the government took the step of ending the debate before a vote could be called on it. It did not allow the question of privilege to be decided on by the members of the House. It was an unprecedented attack on the members of Parliament, so much so that the member for Perth—Wellington had to raise a question of privilege on the fact that the question of privilege was not voted on, and he was successful in bringing that motion forward. I thank him for standing up for the rights of all members of Parliament, something the government is increasingly attacking.
This motion of privilege calls for this matter to be studied at the procedure and House affairs committee. A further amendment to that motion says that this should take priority over all other matters currently before the procedure and House affairs committee, which is where MPs from all recognized parties talk about the rules of the House and violations of the rules and rights of members of Parliament.
Why have we had to take that step? Why has the official opposition proposed that this matter be referred to the procedure and House affairs committee and that it be given precedence? We have done that because it is clear that the procedure and House affairs committee of the House of Commons has been hijacked by the Prime Minister's Office.
Currently, the Prime Minister's Office is pulling the strings of the Liberal side of that committee. The Liberals have brought forward what we call a guillotine motion. There is this guillotine hanging over our heads, figuratively. The Liberals have said that they want to make some changes and that we should talk about it. They want to take away our right to debate at committee. They want to cut off debate in the House of Commons, pre-emptively. They want to invoke time allocation, which means they will cut off the debate before it even starts.
The Liberals are saying that they are going to eliminate our ability to discuss committee reports in the House of Commons. They are going to eliminate the ability of everyday members of Parliament to move procedural motions to do things like adjourn the debate or move “that a member be now heard”. Any of the tools we have at our disposal as members of Parliament the Liberals are looking to take away. That is what is happening at the procedure and House affairs committee right now. The government has shown no willingness to withdraw that motion and work with the opposition to come up with solutions that will benefit all of us.
It was quite something that at the end of the so-called discussion paper, which is being jammed down the throats of opposition members, it says, “A key consideration in the reform of the Standing Orders is to ensure that the scheme operates equally effectively in a majority and minority context.” There is no word about it working for the majority and the minority of members of Parliament, simply that it always works for the government. The changes must always work for the government, no matter what forum we find ourselves in, either a minority or a majority.
As the Speaker has said, it is unprecedented for the government to cut off a debate on privilege. It is also unprecedented for the government to try to jam down the throats of the opposition rule changes that will only benefit the government. We have seen what that looks like.
There is an easy solution to all of this, and that is to withdraw the guillotine motion that threatens the rights of opposition members. We have ideas on how to make this place work better. Many have already been implemented, and I have spoken on that before. However, for the bully to stand over us and say that we are about to get it and that we should talk about how it will be fed to us is not a way for the House to work well, and we will not accept it. We are obligated on behalf of all members of Parliament to fight for the rights of members of Parliament.
I thought this was telling. A member of the Liberal Party, who is one of the few Liberal members of Parliament, realized he was not a member of the Liberal government if he was not in cabinet. If members do not sit in the cabinet, they are not a member of the Liberal government. They are members of Parliament who happen to be Liberal. If the members on that side realize that fact, they should be standing with us to defend the rights of all members of Parliament who are not members of the cabinet.
The member for Malpeque, who has sat in opposition, who has sat in government, who has sat in cabinet, and who now sits outside of cabinet, said:
...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.
Bravo to the member for Malpeque for knowing what his role is as a member of Parliament, for knowing that he is not a member of cabinet and therefore not a member of the government. There are a few members like him who have played on both sides of this aisle, who have gone from opposition to government, and back again. They understand that what we are seeing here is not only the unprecedented attack on the rights of members of Parliament to determine whether a breach of privilege has occurred, but on the rights of members of Parliament in the opposition to do their job. They know that Prime Minister Chrétien would never have attempted this kind of stunt. Prime Minister Martin would never have tried to silence the opposition. Prime Minister Harper never tried to manipulate the rules of the House to take away the tools of the opposition.
However, we now have a Prime Minister who has complete disregard for the rights of members of Parliament, and quite frankly for this place. We saw it when he was the leader of the third party and would show up just enough to get his questions in. This is not his priority. His priority is taking speaking fees of $20,000 to $25,000 a pop from charities and non-profit organizations to supplement his meagre $170,000 income. This was not, and still is not, a priority for him. This is an inconvenience for the Prime Minister, who, as we have seen, treats it unlike any prime minister in Canadian history, with unprecedented attacks on the privileges of members of Parliament.
Now the Liberals want to formalize it going forward. They want to make the House more predictable. Would it not be nice if the House were more predictable for the government? It is not the role of the opposition to make the House more predictable. As I have said previously, the Prime Minister and the government have now moved to the point where they get very upset when an opposition is actually presented to them because they prefer an audience. That is what they are trying to make all members of Parliament into, an audience for this grand play that is the Prime Minister's life in the House of Commons. When they take away the rights and privileges of members of Parliament, both through fighting against the rights of my colleagues from Milton and Beauce to be heard at the PROC committee, and by denying us the right to vote on that, to send it to committee, and to make it a priority, they show how seriously they take this matter, and they deny the rights of all members of Parliament to represent our constituents. We cannot stand for it.
This is the reason I call upon my colleagues in the Liberal Party. Even the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader is not a member of the Liberal government. He is a Liberal MP who happens to be on the same side. He has been down at this end of the House. He has been in opposition. He has utilized the tools that were available to him as a member of Parliament, as an opposition member. For the Liberals to try to now take that away, they need to take the words of the member for Malpeque to heart.
I know there are a lot of new members of Parliament who were elected in 2015. However, we are just temporary residents in the House of Commons. These seats do not belong to us. They belong to Canadians. They belong to our constituents. As members of Parliament, we have a sacred duty to protect the rights of our constituents when we do our job.
When members of Parliament are denied the right to vote on whether that was a violation of privilege, we see the arrogance of the government, and it is unprecedented. I keep using that term because the Speaker used it himself on Thursday.
We talk about why we need to make this a priority. That is what the amendment of the member for Battle River—Crowfoot says, that we need to make this a priority at the procedure and House affairs committee. We need to do that because, while the Prime Minister's office directs traffic there, the House of Commons is actually the body that is supposed to advise the committees on what they should study. We do it all the time. When we refer bills to committee, they take precedence.
I would argue that there is no greater issue that the procedure and House affairs committee should study than whether we are able to do our jobs as members of Parliament. The government did not show good faith. It said that this should be studied at committee but it is not going to allow a vote that says that, and that we should take its word that the government will get to it eventually and move its own motion at committee, and that the House does not need to worry itself with this sort of thing. This is exactly what we need to worry ourselves with, because the government has shown that it does not care about the rights of the opposition, that they are very inconvenient, in fact.
I remember the member of Parliament who represents Vegreville standing up for her constituents in committee and questioning John McCallum, the then minister of immigration. She questioned him for the full length of his time there, with the member for Calgary Nose Hill helping her out. The government said it was really inconvenient to have a member of Parliament standing up for her constituents when it wants to shut down a case processing centre in her riding; it did not think she should be able to do that anymore in committee; and it was going to take away the right of that member to hold the minister and the government accountable. It said it was very inconvenient and it was going to strip that away.
This week, debates have taken place in the House on things like gender parity, gender equality, the House rules, and how we can make this place better, all brought forward by the opposition after bringing forward committee reports. That is very inconvenient for the government, so it wants to strip away that right. That is what is being talked about in PROC right now.
It is very inconvenient when members of Parliament are able to speak in the House for 10 minutes, so the government wants to reduce that to maybe five minutes. It is very inconvenient to have to listen to members of the opposition.
It actually says in the supposed discussion paper being discussed in PROC ahead of the issue right now that the ringing of the bells for votes is very inconvenient. It is saying the bells that call us here to do our jobs, to represent our constituents, to vote on matters that are before the House, are all a grand inconvenience. We represent millions of Canadians on this side of the House. In fact, those of us on this side of the House represent over 60% of Canadians, and the rules of the House are there to protect the minority. They are not there to make this place more predictable and convenient for the government. When members are denied the right to vote, we do not expect the government to take action against members of Parliament by cutting off their rights to debate or vote; we expect the rights of the minority to be protected. That is what the House rules do. That is what we are doing here when we talk about privilege.
The level of attack that the government has taken against the members of Parliament whose privileges were found to be violated in a prima facie case is unprecedented. We urge the government and Liberals members who are not in the government to vote in favour of these motions, to deal with this matter seriously, and to stop their unprecedented attack on members of the opposition.