Mr. Speaker, I want to begin this debate by reading from one of our national newspapers some words of Chantal Hébert:
[The Prime Minister] does not much like the House of Commons and the feeling is mutual....[The Prime Minister] rarely engages with the opposition in a meaningful way. For the most part he speaks past his critics’ arguments. The attentive hearing he affords those who challenge him in town halls does not extend to opposition parliamentarians. When not on his feet, [the Prime Minister] can be the picture of adolescent boredom....All of which brings one to the wide-ranging House reforms the Liberals have recently brought forward under the guise of what they call a discussion paper.
For the four opposition parties the proposals add up to a heavy-handed bid to erode their already limited capacity to hold a majority government to account.
This resonated with me and it resonated with my very Liberal father, who was embarrassed to see a journalist he admired speaking in such a way of the party he used to support.
The reason we are in this debate today is that on March 22, two members of Parliament were blocked from accessing the House of Commons by the Prime Minister's motorcade. That is quite an emblem, the privilege of being in the Prime Minister's limousine blocking those of use who come to work using the parliamentary public transit. These members of Parliament were unable to fulfill their principal role as parliamentarians, which was to come to the House to represent their constituents in a vote of this Parliament.
When the member for Milton raised this question of privilege in the House, the government made the decision to end debate, to shut it down, and the Speaker of the House ruled this decision to be “unprecedented”. The Speaker of the House ruled that no other government, Liberal or Conservative, had gone so far as to end debate in this fashion on a reasonable question of privilege.
The actions of the government members on March 22 to me speak volumes about their level of disrespect for members of Parliament and for the work we do in Parliament. By shutting down debate in the way they did, the government acted in blatant disregard for the way some members were treated, that they were prevented from getting here by the physical transportation logistics outside, and that then the government did not want to debate the fact that they were unable to do the very thing they were elected to do in the House.
The government's so-called modernization of the House has proved to be much more of a power consolidation process, drastically reducing the resources available to the opposition to hold it to account. I am very much reminded of the Prime Minister's invitation and welcome to new parliamentarians, and 215 of us in the House are new parliamentarians. My colleague, the member of Parliament for Kootenay—Columbia, reminded us of that invitation, that reminder from the Prime Minister to new parliamentarians that the opposition's job was to hold the government to account. For the government to now have tried, I believe, three times to remove those tools from the opposition is in stark contrast to the Prime Minister's sunny ways message to us just a year and a half ago.
I am afraid these government actions set precedent, whether they are refusing to allow debate on a question of privilege or whether the government is unilaterally pushing through changes to the Standing Orders, thereby changing the very process for establishing these rules. This long-standing convention of securing all-party approval before overhauling the Standing Orders of the House of Commons must be preserved. That all-party consensus is the tradition that includes Harper and Chrétien.
Consensus is something we have talked about quite a bit in the House on other matters, and it is confusing for all of us. The government says that consensus is not needed to change the House rules, although that has been the parliamentary tradition. The government says, though, that consensus was needed in order to change the voting system, although the promise the Liberals made to Canadians was to make every vote count, which in every case is interpreted as proportional representation, if we follow Fair Vote and some of the other NGOs that have been holding this light up for so long to bring democratic reform to Canadians.
There was nothing in the Liberal platform that said we needed a consensus of parliamentarians. This was a solemn promise, repeated more than 1,000 times, apparently, by the Prime Minister to change the voting system. However, once he got here and did not like the way the committee recommendation was going and the consensus of Canadians, he said we needed consensus in this House.
We do not need consensus to change the Standing Rules of the House, but we did need consensus to change the voting system.
Then consensus was, again, not needed when it came to approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline and its associated oil tanker traffic. The government's campaign platform was that the pipeline approval would not be forced through without revamping and redoing the regulatory process that had been so undermined by the Harper Conservative government. That was a solemn promise again, with hand on heart, that they would change the regulatory review process before pushing through the pipeline, but then, in the end, consensus was not needed, although we will find virtually every coastal community, especially around the hub of transportation, having opposed the pipeline; municipal government bodies like the Union of BC Municipalities, and a significant number of first nations opposed the pipeline approval, particularly in my area, coastal British Columbia, where our $8-billion maritime marine industry is threatened by the potential of an oil spill.
Again, no consensus was needed there, and that very much feels like a broken promise, I must say.
Women rely on public transit, such as buses, to get to and from work. If they do not have access to that public transit, their employment is put in jeopardy. Not only that, but tragedies like the Highway of Tears show that women's safety is put at risk when they do not have access to proper transportation. We are hearing about this right now at the status of women committee. Jane Stinson, who is a research associate with the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, said:
If you think about it, it's particularly people who have lower incomes who use public transit, because they can't afford their own cars. Women have lower incomes, so it's not surprising....
[Public transportation] is a big issue, for some of the reasons that you mentioned....
...the absence of public transit in northern communities is a major problem. It puts women at risk, as you mentioned. The Highway of Tears is perhaps the most shocking example, but I'm sure it's not alone; it's just better known. In lots of cases in the north women have to hitchhike, as do others, to get around.
In urban locations, our research in Ottawa showed that it was very serious. It was accessibility, and that meant cost—the cost was too high for people—and also lack of schedules, and sometimes where the routes went.
Again, there's a responsibility with the federal government, even in local transportation. It's a question of transfers.
We also heard testimony from United Steelworkers. Meg Gingrich said:
We call on the government to invest in social infrastructure, such as affordable housing and public transportation, and...for procurement provisions and policies that meet gender and equity standards with clear enforcement mechanisms and that do not simply continue occupational segregation.
I am hearing this in my own riding, as well. Lack of public transit, again and again, is a barrier to women accepting jobs and being able to carry out their responsibilities.
Disappointments about implementation of such promises are epitomized by the government's current approach. Sunny ways and hope and hard work seem to be election promises that have now been abandoned. We have had time allocation imposed in the midst of very emotional, vital debates, such as physician-assisted dying. Three times, I was ready to give my speech, trying to convey constituent concerns. Three times, I was unable to deliver it. I never could stand to debate that vital issue for Canada because of time allocation imposed by the government. Motion No. 6 last year seemed designed to neuter the opposition, and so did the so-called discussion paper that we have been debating these last few weeks.
Again, it is so out of step with the promise of the present government. I ask the government, in every way, to return to being co-operative, collegial, recognizing it can use its majority, recognizing the opposition has a job to do as well.