Madam Speaker, all Canadians want Parliament to function properly. All Canadians care about what is going on with health care. All Canadians, particularly folks in Quebec and Ontario, are seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases. We need measured, worthwhile, relevant action, but we believe that must happen through healthy democratic debate. What we are seeing now is anything but.
The government is about to introduce legislation that will result in $57 billion in spending, and it is reducing the time parliamentarians have to speak on the bill to barely four and a half hours.
This is anything but parliamentary democracy. As elected officials, we have a duty to hold the government accountable. We were elected to ask the government what it is doing, how it is doing it and why. With four and a half hours of debate, we cannot hope to understand where the $57 billion is going. Unfortunately, that is what the government is forcing us to do, and we condemn it in the strongest terms.
Why are we here today? We are here because we are concerned about the health situation of Canadians. We are concerned about the survival of Canadian businesses. We are concerned about Canadian workers who are out of jobs because of the pandemic. We are concerned because the Liberal government tabled some ideas, proposals and policies that created a lack of manpower and businesses were forced to close.
In my riding, many restaurants and other businesses closed their doors because they needed workers but instead people preferred not to work and to use what we call in French the PCU.
The debate is serious, which is why we must take the necessary time to study the measures the government is proposing.
All of us on this side want to help Canadians. All of us on this side want to help the business community. All of us on this side are concerned about the health of Canadians and want to help everybody on that issue. All of us on this side want to work hand in hand with the provinces. On this side, we are not going to say what is good for the provinces but rather ask how we can help them. That is the Conservative view, not the Liberal one.
What we have today in front of us is a government that acted at the last minute. The government decided to have just four and a half hours of debate for $50 billion in taxpayers' money. This is unparliamentary, and we strongly disagree with the approach of the government.
We are here today because the government has acted in an unfortunate way in recent weeks. We should remember that when the pandemic broke out, we had urgent action to take. We worked with the government, but we also took the government to task on a number of occasions. I will come back to that later. We wanted to work together. That is why we agreed to have the hybrid Parliament and why we agreed to have committees. We were doing our job, which is really relevant.
Some senior members in our party, including the hon. member for Carleton, the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles and the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton, just to name a few, asked questions that were very relevant to the WE scandal, but awkward for the government. The government had decided to give $900 million to friends of the regime without a call for tenders. Once it started really feeling the heat, the Liberal government decided to kill parliamentary democracy by proroguing the session.
Let's keep in mind that, in 2015, these paragons of virtue said that they would never use prorogation and that they would never prevent parliamentarians from expressing themselves, but they did at the first opportunity.
We would not be where we are today had the government allowed parliamentarians to continue doing their job, yet that is exactly what the government is encouraging us to do. For six weeks, we were unable to do our job as parliamentarians, a necessary job.
The government recalled the House with a throne speech last week. The very next day, it introduced Bill C-2, which includes budgetary measures to help Canadians.
We understand that time is running out because of the sunset clauses on government measures. Because of these sunset clauses, the House has to vote on certain issues before October 1, but the government is the one in charge of the calendar. It is the government that decided to shut down committees and close Parliament six weeks ago. It is the government that decided to recall the House last week when it could have easily done so earlier. The government could have easily allowed Parliament to do its work in committee, but no.
These people who really enjoy controlling Parliament and the situation have made it so that we have just a few hours before the sunset clauses take effect. They bear all the responsibility for that.
It is very funny to hear the government House leader saying that Liberals want to walk together and work together and that there is no time for political games. This is exactly what they are doing. We are not working together. They want to work all by themselves. They say they do not want to play political games. That is exactly what they are doing right now. We have $50 billion in front of us that we have to debate and they are letting parliamentarians talk about it for only four and a half hours. This is a big joke. This is everything but parliamentary democracy. We need to work together, obviously, but we need the tools to do that and what the government is tabling today does everything but give parliamentarians the right tools to do the work.
Conservatives are here for Canadians. I can assure everyone that we will stand by our guns in this situation because we need to work correctly, and that is exactly what we intend to do.
Last week the government introduced Bill C-2. We saw millions of dollars' worth of spending on the horizon. After question period last Thursday, the government House leader told us that Monday and Tuesday, so today and tomorrow, would be dedicated to Bill C-2, which was fine.
Even then we realized that we might not have enough time to really get to the bottom of things. Acting in good faith and to avoid partisan games, we proposed something that we thought was entirely fair and appropriate and that, above all, would mean that we could get the work done. We proposed meeting on Sunday in committee of the whole for over six hours to allow four ministers to appear before us and answer questions from the opposition and the government, in order to get to the bottom of the matter in relation to Bill C-2. That is our job as parliamentarians.
That is the way Conservatives are working. We have to hold the government to account. We are here to ask questions and the ministers are here to answer questions.
Being in cabinet is a privilege. If the gods and my leader are willing, maybe one day I myself will be in cabinet. Who knows? At any rate, being a minister is certainly something.
The ministers we hoped would answer questions before this committee were serious ministers, senior ministers who are responsible for billions of dollars. We wanted to hear from the Minister of Finance. We wanted to hear from the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, as well as the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of Labour. These four ministers played a central part in the discussions surrounding Bill C-2, which represents more than $50 billion in spending. They could have answered the committee's questions. However, our proposal was declined. We were fine with that, because it is part of the democratic process.
A few hours later, however, we found out that the government and the NDP had hammered out an agreement on Bill C-2. That agreement was negotiated in a proper democratic fashion. We are not going to raise a fuss over it.
We will see how the debates go. What points will people raise about the bill that is about to be introduced? What are members going to be able to say in a mere four and a half hours about $57 billion in proposed spending?
This is the key element of this debate today. The government is asking taxpayers to spend $57 billion and we, the representatives of Canadians, will only have four and a half hours of discussion and debate. That is absolutely not enough, and there is no partisanship in that. Those are the facts. Technically speaking, we need to go deeply into this bill. We need to know exactly what the intention of the government is. We have a job to do, but the government, which killed the parliamentary process this summer and dodged the responsibility it had to work with other parties, decided to kill our responsibility to go deeply into the bill.
When the Liberals are attacking us on that, they are not attacking us; they are attacking Canadians. Canadians deserve answers. Canadians have elected us to ask tough questions. I know them. I know they are ready to answer that. Let us do our jobs. The government is not doing that right now.
It might come as a surprise to some of us that the government would treat parliamentary procedure so grievously.
I have had the privilege of representing the people of Louis-Saint-Laurent for almost five years now. I cannot thank them enough for electing me twice. This is not the first time in the past five years that this government's approach to the rights, privileges and responsibilities of all parliamentarians, including those in opposition, has been a little too authoritarian.
Members will recall the infamous Motion No. 6 tabled in May 2016. It gave the government extraordinary powers to ram through bills that should have been given more serious attention.
Sadly, we all remember how that led to a deeply unfortunate and disgraceful incident: the Prime Minister left his seat, grabbed an opposition member—our party whip—by the arm and marched him across the chamber like a crook.
This was called “elbowgate”. The Prime Minister crossed the floor, grabbing a political adversary and using it just like that. That was everything but good. That was a shame. I have never seen an act so disgraceful, and it was coming from the top, the Prime Minister. Why? Because we were asking to have a friendly debate, and Motion No. 6 was anything but that. The Prime Minister was not happy with our position and he did something very wrong. Obviously, he excused himself the day after. He did what he had to do.
We were then able to proceed. However, the government's main intention with Motion No. 6 was to hinder the work of parliamentarians, especially opposition members.
A year later in May 2017, the government did exactly the same thing. It once again proposed measures aimed at limiting parliamentary work, especially that of the opposition and particularly in committee. Thanks to a vigilant opposition and our tireless work at committee trying to block this measure, the government realized that it made no sense.
A number of bills were introduced in May 2019. The government wanted them to pass after just minutes, never mind hours, of debate. It was unacceptable.
Hon. members will also recall that in the winter of 2019, when another Liberal scandal, the SNC-Lavalin one, had just erupted, the government decided to put an end to the parliamentary committee's work. That was also unacceptable.
This Liberal government's first Parliament ended with 63 time allocation motions. Yes, the current government imposed 63 gag orders. That was also unacceptable.
As I said earlier, during the campaign, the Liberals said that they would be very frank and very honest with all parliamentarians, that they would make Parliament work, that they would not prorogue the House. However, that is what they did. They also adopted 63 time allocation motions. This is anything but parliamentary freedom and this is everything but good parliamentary attitude.
We ended up with this new Parliament following the election. When the COVID-19 crisis began, all members from all parties worked in good faith for the good of Canadians. Obviously we had to give the government certain powers, as the situation was unforeseen. Nevertheless, the Liberals gave themselves powers that were excessive, to say the least.
Let's not forget that the first version of Bill C-13 would have allowed the government to take measures and write cheques at will until the end of 2021. They were very ambitious, not to mention greedy. That was not what needed to be done. Our vigilance, and that of the other parties, ensured that the government backed down.
That was a good indication that the government was very ambitious. When it came time to say that this was an extraordinary situation and that Parliament could not sit in its usual fashion, the government decided to give itself all sorts of powers until December 2021.
How could we accept the fact that the government was ready to have full power for more than a year and a half? That is not parliamentary democracy. Canada deserves better. We understand and recognize that we to address some situations if some emergency arises, but we shall respect the responsibility of parliamentarians. Again, this morning the government is so happy to shut down the parliamentary system and this is unacceptable to us.
We are very sad to see that the government wants to muzzle parliamentarians once again. The Conservatives are well aware that we need proper measures for Canadians and that these measures have to correspond to the needs of Canadian families, that we must take into account Canadian businesses that are facing tough challenges, that we must take into account Canadian workers who lost their jobs, and that we must take into account the men and women with children who are worried.
Indeed, we have measures to bring in. Indeed, we must work together. Indeed, we must put partisanship aside in order to act for the good of Canadians. However, we have a job to do, and when the government is getting ready to spend $57 billion, we think parliamentarians should do their job. Four and a half hours does not leave enough time for us to do our job properly.
Therefore, I move the following amendment:
That the motion be amended:
(a) in paragraph (b), by replacing the words “not be deferred”, with the words “be deferred until the expiry of time provided for Oral Questions at the next sitting day which is not a Friday”; and
(b) by replacing paragraphs (c) to (e) with the following:
“(c) if the bill is adopted at second reading, it shall be referred to a committee of the whole and the House shall, when the orders of the day are next called after the bill has been read the second time, resolve itself into a committee of the whole on the said bill, provided that:
(i) the committee be subject to the provisions relating to virtual sittings of the House,
(ii) the Speaker may preside,
(iii) the Chair may preside from the Speaker’s chair,
(iv) the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, and the Minister of Labour be invited to appear,
(v) each minister shall be questioned for 95 minutes, provided that:
(A) the chair shall call members from all recognized parties and one member who does not belong to a recognized party in a fashion consistent with the proportions observed during Oral Questions, following the rotation used for question by the former Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic;
(B) no member shall be recognized for more than five minutes at a time which may be used for posing questions;
(C) members may be permitted to spilt their time with one or more members by so indicating to the chair, and
(D) questions shall be answered by the minister or another minister acting on her or his behalf,
(vi) notices of amendments to the bill to be considered in committee of the whole may be deposited with the Clerk of the House at any time following the adoption of this order until the conclusion of the second hour of debate in committee of the whole,
(vii) at the conclusion of time provided for questioning ministers, or when no member rises to speak, whichever is earlier, the Chair shall put forthwith and successively every question necessary to dispose of the committee stage of the bill, including each amendment deposited with the Clerk of the House pursuant to subparagraph (vi);
(d) once the bill has been reported from the committee of the whole, the Speaker shall put forthwith and successively every question necessary to dispose of the report and third reading stages of the bill, provided that no recorded division shall be deferred; and
(e) the Standing Orders relating to the ordinary hour of daily adjournment shall be suspended while the bill is being considered under the provisions of this order”.