Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the question of privilege currently before the House, and perhaps most importantly the ability of members of Parliament to properly and effectively represent their constituents.
I have learned a lot since coming to Ottawa after being elected by the people of Hamilton Mountain. Much of this has been good and exciting. However, some of it has not been so good, and at times disheartening. One of the things that has not been so good is learning that Liberal promises made during an election are not worth the paper they are printed on. It turns out that the real definition of “sunny ways” is to not keep one's promises if one does not have to. Actually, sometimes I think sunny ways is a code or a signal to the Prime Minister's team to forget what was said during the election, because now it has a majority and it does not have to care about what it said.
I will speak more about broken promises later, but now I want to speak about one of the other things I have learned since getting elected, and that is the importance of members of Parliament being able to speak on behalf of, and to truly represent, their constituents. After all, that is the reason we are here. That right, that privilege, is what we are talking about today. It seems to me that, for the most part, the rules of this place put that above all else.
However, what I have learned is that there are many in this House who are willing to use process, who are willing to play games with the rules in order to hamper the ability of members to effectively represent the people who sent them here. This takes away the ability of all members to work together to bring about change that could be meaningful and make a difference in the lives of their constituents and all Canadians. People did not send us here to play games. When I get away from this Ottawa bubble and go home to talk to the people of Hamilton, they do not care about procedural manoeuvring, game playing, and who outdid who at committee. They care about what meaningful work we are doing to make their lives a bit better.
One prime example of this gamesmanship happened at committee with the government's legislation to change the Canada pension plan. During the committee process, we discovered a major flaw with the legislation that would negatively affect women and those people living with disabilities. The minister agreed that it was a problem, as did many members in this House on both sides. All the members at committee recognized the problem and agreed it should be fixed. I worked with legislative staff to develop the wording required to fix the problem in the bill and presented a number of amendments at committee. These amendments would have solved the problem, and millions of Canadians would be spared significant hardship. It seemed like an easy and routine matter.
However, the problem did not get fixed. Instead, some minister's office became involved. What followed was a whole series of procedural manoeuvres and game playing, which resulted in the amendments being ruled out of order on a questionable technicality. Then we watched the government members close down any further debate by calling for adjournment. It was a shameful display of arrogance that I found shocking and disheartening.
That brings me back to the present question of privilege before the House. It is my understanding that this matter had to be brought back to the floor a second time, because the government shut down debate when it was first brought up in the House. The question before us is important, namely the right of a member of Parliament to access the chamber in order to vote. That is a fundamental right and a responsibility of each member of Parliament. However, what is important in this discussion of the government's decision to shut down debate on a question of privilege, which happened in this House on April 6, is when the matter was superseded by the adoption of a motion to proceed to orders of the day. Apparently, this had never happened before. In the long history of debate in this House of Commons, this was unprecedented.
The ability of members of Parliament to represent their constituents in this chamber and at committee is the most important fundamental right of all of us who sit in this House. On April 6, the Liberal government tried to change that. This question is not just a debate about a member's access to the Hill or the House, it is also a question about a majority government's decision to take away the rights of members of Parliament and their constituents, simply so it can push through its own agenda. .
This is from a party that promised during the election to make government more open, accessible, and accountable to the people. This is from a party that promised to end the practices of a previous government that prevented the meaningful participation of members of Parliament. This is from a party that promised to restore the integrity of the institution and the ability of members to represent their constituents.
As with many of the Liberal election promises, we got something totally different, but I guess we should not be surprised about another broken promise from the government. I do not have time here to address all of them, but the promise it made to 20,000 pensioners and former Stelco employees is a good example. When the current Prime Minister visited Hamilton during the last election, he said income insecurity for retirees across Canada “is extremely concerning to us.”
He also said, on the U.S. Steel mess:
Unfortunately, we have a government that, over the past years seems to have made decisions around foreign investment based on case-by-case, back-of-the-napkin political concerns rather than what truly is in the best interest of Canadians.
That is what the Prime Minister said.
His candidates at the same event detailed the Liberal position:
A Liberal government will use all legal tools at its disposal to ensure that U.S. Steel lives up to all of its obligations, whether that be full pension rights/benefits or providing the employment in Hamilton that it promised to do.
That was according to Flamborough-Glanbrook Liberal candidate Jennifer Stebbing.
The candidate and present member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek is quoted that day as saying that the Conservative record on standing up for Canadian workers is abysmal. He said the Conservative government's lack of action to protect pensioners in the Statutory Review of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act was completely unacceptable, and yet another example of ignoring the concerns of Canadian pensioners. He said that “unlike the Harper Conservatives, Liberals believe in the principle that employers must honour the commitments made to retirees and that pensioners must be included in any consultation and planning process to make changes to their existing plans. We have a collective legacy of valuing the long-term pension security of Canadians, a belief upheld in both word and deed.”
After the election the Liberal government has done nothing with the mess of U.S. Steel and Stelco, or for the workers and pensioners who are facing hardship as a result. In a year and a half, it has said and done nothing. This also includes Essar up in Sault Ste. Marie. Nothing has been done to help those people, who going through the same hardships as the people in Hamilton.
Talk about a government with an abysmal record. It should take a good look at itself. This is just another broken promise from a government with a long list of broken promises. We should not be surprised that the government is trying to unilaterally ram through changes to how the House of Commons works instead of working with all members to develop a consensus on those changes, and I just want to highlight some of the things that were addressed in the House today.
We talked about how Liberals want to put time allocation in now, something that the present government was so critical of the previous government for doing. The Liberals said at election time that they were going to fix this. Now, today, they are saying that they are going to change their promise and are going to use time allocation even more. That is another broken promise.
Electoral reform is another broken promise. When will the Liberals live up to something they agreed to, something they said to Canadians? I know that in Hamilton people are expressing frustration. They basically want me to use some kind of steelworker language in here to tell Liberals where to go. I know I cannot do that, so fuddle duddle.
One of the things I was really shocked about today is that the government House leader is warning in her letter that “without those reforms the government will be forced instead to impose time allocation to limit debate and get legislation passed.” She said:
Canadians elected us to deliver an ambitious agenda, so it is with regret, but full transparency, that I want to inform you that, under the circumstances, the government will need to use time allocation more often in order to implement the real change we promised.
It should say “to implement the promises that we are changing now”, not the change they promised, because all the promises the Liberals made are being reneged on.
Another point mentioned, and I do not know why this was even a proposal put forward on the reforms, was having the Prime Minister answer all questions in one question period each week. That is unbelievable. That can happen now. The Liberals do not need our permission. They do not need anybody's permission. They can just do it. However, I want to give them a piece of advice. We have witnessed it twice now and they may want to take a good look at what the Prime Minister has been saying on TV. It would maybe educate them a bit and update them on the issues.
The Liberals should be embarrassed. What they have done is absolutely phenomenal. Today in the House, when the Prime Minister was answering questions, several of the questions were on the Minister of National Defence. It was a very important issue. The Prime Minister gave a short answer that basically said nothing, and he repeated himself seven or eight times. I suggest the Liberals should get a new CD or record that does not skip over and over again. There has to be some type of logic in the answers, not just the Prime Minister thinking that whatever he says people will believe.
I am getting quite frustrated because the Liberal government has done so much reneguing. The Liberals say that there is so much they want to do, that they are ambitious, that they want to fulfill their promises, and they say how they want to do it. So far, they have failed on Canada Post, the steel industry, softwood lumber, electoral reform, pay equity. The list goes on.
As I said, we should not be surprised that the government trying to unilaterally ram through changes to how the House of Commons works instead of working with all members to develop a consensus on those changes. It is consistent with how it has operated for the last year and a half. It is, however, disappointing to many members and Canadians, especially after the Liberal election promise to make positive changes to how the House of Commons functioned and to do it in a way that would benefit all members and all Canadians. It seems the only changes the Liberals want to make are the ones that benefit themselves. So much for the sunny ways.