Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to the motion put forward by the NDP.
Last year, I sought election as the Liberal. I have attempted, since elected last year, to conduct myself in a way that, first and foremost, honours my constituents and helps them with their issues as much as possible, to the best of my ability. I have also tried to do what I think is in the best interests of the country.
I was elected in June last year and came to Ottawa with great expectations of accomplishing things, working with colleagues from all sides of the House.
I often get asked questions like, “What's it like as to be an MP in Ottawa?” I tell people that when I first came here I was struck by the level of collegiality that existed. Members of all sides seem to get along. Sometimes we get things done in committee and even in the House, until the lights and the cameras are turned on in the House of Commons or the spectre of an election appeared. Then all of a sudden, we conduct ourselves in a way that most in Canada find juvenile. Far too often, the business of the nation is replaced with the business of division and partisanship, where real debate is replaced with parliamentary gamesmanship and political posturing. Clearly, that is where we are today.
I am not a constitutional scholar, and I would not claim to be, nor am I a parliamentary expert. I am, however, somebody who believes that Canadians expect us to do work on their behalf and for the betterment of the country. They expect us to work while we are here.
The motion that we are discussing, even the opposition parties agree, is not a matter of confidence. The motion contains three elements meant to confuse Canadians: first, that the Prime Minister should ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament during the week of January 2, 2006; second, that the Prime Minister should ask the Governor General to set February 13, 2006, as the date of the next election; and last, that the Speaker transmit this resolution to the Governor General.
The opposition parties have characterized today's motion as a common sense compromise. In my view, the motion is senseless and is certainly not a compromise.
We already have an unprecedented compromise, unprecedented in Canadian history, when the Prime Minister of Canada has given up one of the great advantages of power: the opportunity to call an election when he sees fit. He indicated some six or seven months ago when we would have this election, and he has stuck to that ever since that point in time. Today, we have this motion.
Who is attempting to benefit from the motion put forward by the NDP? It will not be the NDP, a party that seems to be confusing its own interests with that of Canadians. Clearly, it would be the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois members who feel they have the most to gain and who have been able to use the NDP for their objectives. They always have wanted an election. Sadly, the NDP has fallen for this tactic. The NDP has become logistical cover for the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois.
In addition to the bizarre nature of today's motion, I have difficulty understanding the approach the opposition are taking in general. On the one hand, they have said that the government has lost the moral authority to govern. If that is the case, why have they not put forward a motion of straight non-confidence today? Instead, they propose a motion that any first year political science student would understand is not the way the parliamentary system works.
Marleau and Montpetit states:
What constitutes a question of confidence in the government varies with the circumstances....It is generally acknowledged, however, that confidence motions may be:
explicitly worded motions which state, in express terms, that the House has, or has not, confidence in the government;
motions expressly declared by the government to be questions of confidence;
implicit motions of confidence, that is, motions traditionally deemed to be questions of confidence, such as motions for the granting of Supply...motions concerning the budgetary policy of the government and motions respecting the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
On the one hand, the opposition parties believe the government has lost the authority to govern. Yet the motion suggests that they want the government to continue to govern for another month and a half, a kind of a time-release capsule of non-confidence.
How can ordinary Canadians not conclude that the motion by the NDP, supported by the other parties, is an attempt to sacrifice hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition at the altar of political opportunism?
They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they want to pass the government's legislation to implement tax reductions and make energy relief payments to vulnerable Canadians and to pass the supplementary estimates, all matters that indicate confidence, and then tell Canadians the government lacks the confidence of the House of Commons.
The confidence convention lies at the heart of our system of responsible government. In fact, it is the basis for the legitimacy of any government in our system of government.
The leader of the official opposition said on May 10 that the confidence of this chamber is the only democratic mandate the government has. If opposition members truly believe that the government has lost the moral authority to govern, they should take responsibility and act on their principles by defeating the government. They should not be playing games and subverting constitutional principles.
This government will continue to have the confidence of the House until such time as it is lost in a real vote on a clear question. Until such time, the government continues to have the right to govern and to implement its agenda.
There is far too much bravado, posturing and testosterone in this House. I do not intend to add to it, but I want to say this. The Prime Minister has made a direct commitment to Canadians to call an election within 30 days of the final report of the Gomery commission. All of us here have known this for months. I think it is a position that most Canadians support and frankly, that most Canadians expect.
Through today's motion the opposition is asking the Prime Minister to break his promise to Canadians. The Prime Minister has recently confirmed that he will stand by his commitment. Canadians have a right to have all the details from Justice Gomery before we go back to the polls. Given that Justice Gomery will submit his final report on February 1, the Prime Minister's commitment means that we will have an election in March or April anyway. It could mean as little as a month's difference from the timing of this motion.
We also know that Canadians do not want a premature election. By contrast, today's motion proposes that the election take place in the dead of winter. In their rush to have an election, are opposition members not concerned that a winter election might lead to significantly lower voter turnout rates, especially among the elderly, those with physical disabilities and those who go elsewhere in the winter?
The last time we had an election in February was in 1980 and voter participation declined considerably. In May 1979 the participation rate in voting was 75.7%. That declined to 69% in February 1980, then rose back up to 75% in the September 1984 election.
What does not help either is what Canadians see every day in the House, the games, the name calling and the public assassination of people's characters. It does not exactly lead Canadians to go out to vote. Each of us needs to accept some of that responsibility as well.
The Prime Minister promised Canadians that an election will be called within approximately three months. We also know a majority of Canadians support that commitment and do not want an early election. This is all about having an election four to eight weeks earlier than what the Prime Minister has promised and what he has stuck to.
The real question is, whose interests are being served? The answer of course is that the opposition members want a premature election to serve their narrow, partisan self-interests. This motion is therefore no compromise at all.
The government has already stated it cannot support the motion. To do so, the Prime Minister would break his promise to Canadians. In the meantime, our government will continue to move forward to implement its agenda on tax cuts, on energy relief, on unanticipated surplus legislation, on wage earners protection, health care, and so on. It is an agenda I have been proud of and will continue to be proud of.
I realize the opposition could and likely will defeat the government in the coming weeks on a vote of non-confidence. That is entirely legitimate in the parliamentary democracy in which we serve, particularly in a minority situation, but if the opposition members decide to defeat the government, that will be their decision. The opposition parties will therefore have the responsibility to justify to Canadians why we are having an election that nobody particularly wants, particularly when we already have a commitment from the Prime Minister that we will have one in the spring.
There will be a responsibility on the opposition as well to justify to Canadians why important measures could not be passed.
On September 9, 2004 before Parliament resumed following the 2004 election, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Bloc Québécois and the leader of the NDP proposed a series of changes to the rules of the House, changes they argued at the time had to be adopted as soon as the House resumed. One of the proposals included ensuring strict adherence to what constitutes confidence, explaining, and I quote from the statement agreed to by the three opposition leaders:
Only the final vote on the Speech from the Throne, the final vote on the Budget, global votes on the Main Estimates and votes explicitly identified as questions of confidence be considered as such.
On September 10, 2004, the Leader of the Opposition further stated:
I would not want the Prime Minister to think he can simply fail in the House of Commons as a route to another general election. That's not the way our system works.
I think most Canadians will see this motion and all of the feigned outrage for what it really is: political opportunism wrapped in sanctimonious language. It is not just government members who feel this way. I want to quote a couple of sources from my hometown paper, The Chronicle Herald in Halifax. An editorial it put out recently referred to this:
For [the leader of the NDP's] sugar-plum motion has all the constitutional force of a letter to Santa Claus.... [The leader of the NDP] doesn't want to wear the downside of a real non-confidence vote in November. But he does want the political upside—the appearance of decisively seizing the moral high ground and bringing down the...government in the wake of the Gomery report.
He wants to have his plum pudding and eat it, too. So he says he has no confidence in the Liberals, while his motion merely wishes them away.
On November 9, speaking about this proposed motion when it was first aired during the break week, The Chronicle Herald , which is a great newspaper but it is not a Liberal newspaper, stated:
In the meantime, [the leader of the NDP] has some explaining to do. His official reasons for triggering a winter election, as opposed to the spring one the Liberals have already promised, are spurious at best. The Liberals are no more corrupt than they were in May, when [the leader of the NDP] stayed their execution in exchange for $4.6 billion more in social spending. In fact, since Justice John Gomery released his findings on the sponsorship scandal, there is less justification to bring down the government over corruption charges...[because] the...Liberals have been [completely] cleared of any wrongdoing.
The Globe and Mail recently referred to this and stated:
Judge Gomery reasonably exonerates [the Prime Minister], who was finance minister during the sponsorship years, of “any blame or carelessness or misconduct”.... Once [he] became Prime Minister two years ago, he behaved honourably and quickly. He shut down the sponsorship program immediately. When the Auditor-General's report became public, he set up the Gomery inquiry and said that those who had broken the rules, the law and the public's trust would pay.
It goes on to say:
[The Prime Minister] deserves great credit for letting Judge Gomery loose on this...affair.
There is way too much political bravado in the House. I do not stand here today daring the opposition to bring us down. I would rather spend Christmas with my family and I think most members feel the same way. I believe most Canadians think that the Prime Minister's timing, which he stated in May and has stuck to ever since, makes sense. The decision of the Prime Minister to forgo his constitutional right and power to call an election and instead committing to one within 30 days of the release of the final Gomery report I think is the biggest compromise in the history of Canadian politics.
This motion is a facade. It is a hoax. It is about one thing: control. The opposition parties are now entrenched. I know some members of the NDP know that as well and do not particularly like where they are headed, but it is where we are all headed right now. Once again, politics trumps policy and the useful work that could be done here will be sacrificed. That is the shame of it.
Let me close by quoting a wonderful Canadian whose wisdom is beyond repute, the great Newfoundlander Rex Murphy who said, “The leader of the NDP calls this a common sense compromise and he is right. It compromises common sense”.