Mr. Speaker, I will start by saying that the debate has evolved since the last time I spoke about the question of privilege that is before us. However, one element has persisted, and that is the fact that the government does not seem to understand one thing about this question of privilege concerning access to Parliament Hill and more specifically access of the members for Milton and Beauceto the House of Commons.
If we are stuck in this debate and the Liberals are frustrated that we are still talking about this, it is their own fault. They decided to take unprecedented action, namely, to end debate without a vote and to simply move to orders of the day when the House of Commons had before it a question of privilege, which is the most fundamental issue, according to the existing rules, at least before a change is imposed by the government.
Shutting down debate on a question of privilege and moving on to the orders of the day set by the executive, as the government seems to want to do in every aspect of our work, is unprecedented. The government does not seem to understand that the reason we are still seized with this question goes beyond simple access to Parliament Hill. Access to the Hill is a very important issue that we are addressing today, but the problem is that the government unilaterally decided, as has been their style for several months now, to put an end to this debate, which sends the message that the members' privilege is not important enough and that we have to move on to one bill or another that they want to debate. That is a problem.
We are debating privilege and I will repeat what I said in my speech earlier this week. Privilege is a word that can have a negative connotation. For example, we might associate privilege with the Prime Minister's vacation on a billionaire's privately owned island. However, when we are talking about our privilege as members, we truly mean our ability to represent our constituents here in the House. That is why this is a critical issue.
On the question of privilege, there is a link that needs to be made. Whether it is access to Parliament Hill and to this building here in Centre Block or whether it is the debate on privilege, which, as our Standing Orders say, is supposed to be the issue that seizes the House when it is brought forward and when the Speaker rules that there is a prima facie breach of that privilege, that then becomes another question of privilege when the government ends that debate, despite the Speaker's ruling.
The Speaker qualified that as unprecedented. To me it is inherently linked with the behaviour of the government for over a year now. It started with Motion No. 6, when the previous government House leader decided that he was too good for members of Parliament's privilege, he and the Prime Minister. Let us face it: we know where this agenda is coming from, and with all due respect to the government House leader, it certainly is unlikely to be coming from her.
The Prime Minister and the then-government House leader decided that they were going to change the rules of the House in order to limit opposition MPs' ability to do their jobs, which is to speak on behalf of the people who elect us.
What happened then was that this whole place became chaos. The government, realizing that it and only it had driven this whole place off the rails and had delayed its own legislative agenda because of its own belligerence and its complete contradiction of its own electoral commitment to make this place work better, decided, wisely, to withdraw. Then the temperature cooled and things went a little better.
Unfortunately, the consideration given to Motion. No. 6 over the summer did not produce any results. When we returned in the fall, the government began to abuse time allocation once again. The Liberals are quickly catching up to the previous government's record number of time allocation motions, despite the clear promises that they made during the election campaign.
The government presented this discussion, this conversation, or this plan for modernization to cause confusion about its real intentions, which are to find a way to make Parliament work better for the executive branch, or cabinet, not for members in general.
The substantive issues that the government wants to discuss are very important, but we are not prepared to talk about them as long as we do not have the simple guarantee from the government that it will not proceed unilaterally, since doing so would go against a tradition that has existed in the House of Commons for over 100 years and that has always been respected by both Liberal and Conservative prime ministers.
That is the essential issue, and I do not know why the government cannot understand that. The Liberals keep asking the House why we do not want to discuss this. The reason is that it is not a discussion. It is a dialogue of the deaf, as I said in my last speech on this subject.
This government is looking in the mirror and congratulating itself for its great ideas, but it is not prepared to reach out to us and establish a concrete, formal process that will give Canadians, through their MPs, including opposition members and Liberal backbenchers, the assurance that the government will not proceed unilaterally. It is such an easy commitment to make, except, it seems, for the government House leader and, of course, the Prime Minister.
I want to come back to access to the parliamentary precinct and the question of the Liberals' true intention and ability to respect their own commitment to make this place work better. I want to look at why this problem persists. In some ways, it is getting worse when it comes to access on the Hill.
I want to preface my comments by saying once again, and on this point we can all certainly agree, anything we say criticizing the structure of how things work in this place is always in recognition of the fact that the work both the PPS, the parliamentary protective services, and the RCMP do is second to none. Certainly, it is something I have no ability to be up to the task on. Therefore, we thank them for that. We always recognize that it is a very difficult job.
However, following the events of October 22, 2014, many may have forgotten that a fundamental change was brought to how security operated on Parliament Hill. I want to remind folks of the debate. It was something the New Democrats opposed, but the Liberals and Conservatives supported giving more power to the RCMP for security. On the surface, that is something seemingly benign. However, the key is how parliamentary privilege operates in this place. When we look at the expertise of different security agencies and groups that operate security on Parliament Hill, it is a complicated thing.
The priorities of RCMP officers and their training is not the same as that of the parliamentary protective services people, who fundamentally understand what parliamentary privilege is. It is part of their training to understand the importance of allowing me, or any of my colleagues as members of Parliament, and consequently the people they represent, to get here unimpeded. It is certainly symbolic through the interventions we make representing them. The priority of the RCMP, as we saw with the events on budget day which prevented the members from Milton and Beauce in particular from getting to the Hill on time for a vote, is to protect the Prime Minister and other aspects of protection. That is fine. That is its mandate.
However, it causes confusion. We have to really wonder if the Liberals truly understand the need to really look at these fundamental questions. In the last Parliament, as on many issues that were brought forward by the previous government, they did not ask those tough questions. They just rolled over and said that they would let that change happen because of whatever reason. Unlike the New Democrats, they were not asking the questions on how this would change how this place worked.
That is important, because once again, it seems that the Liberals are doing the same thing, but on the other side now. They expect us to roll over and fundamentally change how this place works and not have a process in place that allows us to ask those questions so the work opposition MPs and Liberal backbenchers need to do can be done properly.
If we take a closer look at the overall debate on this question of privilege, the debate we are having today and have been having all week, it is interesting to note that parliamentary secretaries are pretty much the only members speaking to this issue. They represent the executive. We do not hear backbenchers say what they really think. We did hear from one backbencher, but he is very experienced and very respected by all parties in the House. The person I am talking about is the member for Malpeque, and I would like to share what he said about the opposition:
However, 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.
I could not have said it better, whether it is a question of access to Parliament Hill or a member moving to cut this same debate short, a debate on a question which the Speaker of the House, who also protects the rights of all members, has deemed critical, or when this debate is cut short or a motion is tabled in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in lieu of discussion, even though a unilateral attempt is being made to acquire more power over the same executive.
We are in full agreement when we hear such quotes. It is not in fact for the government or the executive to dictate the agenda of the House of Commons. As the Conservative colleague who preceded me said so well, it is Parliament that has to table its legislative agenda in the periods prescribed in the House. There are certain ways of doing this. There are prescribed periods and routine practices that exist. The whole way that the House works is structured, be it the duration of questions and answers during oral question period or the right to table opposition motions. These procedures have always been established with the support, consensus and consent of all the parties, all the members. This is how we preserve the sanctity and the essential functions of the House in our democracy.
For the first time in a great many years, in over 100 years, we have a government that was elected almost solely on its claim to do a better job of respecting democracy than the previous government, and yet, its actions with regard to the operation of Parliament are worse than those of all the governments that came before—not just its immediate predecessor, but every government, ever.
I do not want to exaggerate. I am not the one who is claiming this: the Speaker himself stated that the act of shutting down debate on a question of privilege is unprecedented. Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, all the prime ministers have always sought the consensus of the opposition parties before making fundamental changes to the way that the House of Commons operates. A few minutes of research is all it takes to know that this is not the opposition's claim, but rather a historical fact.
That is why I cannot understand why the government is not simply willing to stand up and say that it will formally commit to not proceeding without consensus.
It is even more baffling when we consider that a fundamental piece of the Liberals' last election campaign, the platform they supposedly are seeking ways to unilaterally adopt, and the reason they are even doing this move in the first place, was electoral reform. However, there was no consensus on that. I suppose consensus is just about as good as everything else in the Liberals' platform; it is only when it suits them. That is unfortunate.
That is a fundamental problem with the way of operating, because if the Liberals really want to make Parliament work, it is not about cherry-picking from their election platform and deciding that consensus is only good when it is good for the Liberal Party of Canada and the front bench of the Liberal government.