Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Kings—Hants.
I am very pleased to rise today to speak on this issue. I submit it is a very important issue that goes right to the heart of our democracy and the role of the executive and Parliament within our democratic system.
I will speak first about the duties, responsibilities and obligations of members of Parliament individually and of the House of Commons, collectively.
There is a fundamental constitutional obligation on us individually and collectively to hold the executive to account. Our job is not to govern, it is to hold to account those who do. Basically members of Parliament have four fundamental roles: approve, amend and negate legislation; approve, amend and negate tax measures in legislation; approve or negate requests from the government for the appropriation of moneys from the public purse through the estimates process; and, most important, to hold the executive to account and ensure they are fulfilling those roles and functions that have been delegated to them.
The last speaker did not mention one word, one sentence, that dealt with this motion. We have lost sight of that very fundamental role. Some members in the House talk about decorum, which is very important, but the more important issue is for members of Parliament to do what they are supposed to do.
Every member of Parliament, government and opposition, has a constitutional duty and obligation to hold the executive to account, and both are to blame in many instances. In some cases, opposition MPs emphasize too much in drumming up scandal, real or perceived. At the same time, MPs from the government side toe the party line and read only the lines that are given to them in the morning by the Prime Minister's Office.
Right now Parliament and democracy are under attack. We have had two prorogations, the long form census travesty, and the current Minister of International Cooperation debacle. As well, we now have a motion before this House on the absolute refusal of the executive to give costing information about crime bills and projections on corporate tax cuts. Again, these are simple costing measures that have always been available to Parliament and should be available to Parliament.
Parliament has certain tools, and this was affirmed in the recent ruling of Speaker Milliken in April of last year. I quote:
--procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents, even those related to national security.
But it must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.
What we are talking about today is a very simple request for the costing, which is available. Deputy ministers have all acknowledged that this is available information. It is in the domain and circulated within the executive. That is one request.
The other request has to do with the corporate tax cost projections. This is very simple financial information. There is no constitutional reason, no legitimate reason, no public interest reason why this information has not been made available to Parliament. I would point out that all constitutional and procedural scholars agree with that premise.
This tool has been around for centuries. This followed the creation of our Westminster system which started in or around the year 1208. It is a tool available to Parliament in fulfilling its constitutional duty to hold government to account, and as I pointed out before, Parliament, at all times has an overriding duty to act responsibly, to act in the public interest.
Now we have a situation where that tool, and I submit democracy itself, is under attack. We have a situation where the Prime Minister will do anything in his power to undermine Parliament. When he was first elected he published a booklet advising Conservative chairs how to stop any progress in committee, to hold up committee meetings, to shut them down, leave, adjourn, anything at all. He prorogued Parliament twice. Any officers or senior public servants who disagree with him are blacklisted: Linda Keen, Paul Kennedy, Kevin Page, the list goes on.
We had the Afghan detainee issue which had to go to the highest office, the office of the Speaker, for a ruling. I just quoted from it.
The situation is very clear. Now we have before us the cost of the crime bills and projections dealing with corporate profits and corporate taxes. Nothing could be simpler. This is information that should be available to members of Parliament and parliamentary committees. To say it is a cabinet confidence is not correct.
However, I should point out that in refusing this to Parliament, Parliament being the people, what the Prime Minister is saying is that Parliament does not count, and he is also saying that the people do not count. He is saying that if he wants to give out this information, he will do it, and if he does not want to do it, he will not and it is none of Parliament's business and, more important, it is not the public's business. He is saying that he will do what he wants to do and it is none of their business.
This is sad. We have a person in power who, I submit, has absolutely no respect for Parliament, the institutions of democracy and the role of Parliament. It is nothing less. The previous speaker talked about tax cuts and seniors' pensions. It is not about that. It is nothing less than a frontal attack on democracy, democratic institutions and the very foundations upon which this country was built and started, in 1867.
This is how countries get themselves in trouble. All it takes is for many people just to shrug their shoulders, do nothing and say, “I'm still getting my pension. The roads are still paved. We still have relative peace. I don't care.” All it takes is for people to do nothing. If Parliament is not functioning properly, this leads to a lesser country, degrades institutional integrity and more constant attacks. It is a vicious cycle.
This is not a partisan issue, it is not a policy issue, it is the institution itself that is under attack and there is an obligation on each and every one of us, individually and collectively, to stand on our feet and protect this institution of Parliament.
My suspicion is the motion will pass, but it will sadden me when I see government MPs who took their oath of office to protect this institution vote against this very motion.
Unless and until we can get every member of Parliament to acknowledge his or her role within this institution, Parliament and all its institutions will continue to degrade and depreciate.
I think I have made my point clear. Members will understand how I am going to vote on this motion. I certainly welcome any questions.