Mr. John Nater (Perth—Wellington, CPC)
|| That the question of privilege regarding the free movement of Members of Parliament within the Parliamentary Precinct raised on Wednesday, March 22, 2017, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
He said: Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying that your ruling today is truly a testament to your position as Speaker, and to the Speakers who have gone before you. Truly, the role of the Speaker is one of the utmost principles in our parliamentary democracy, and I think today, in the long line of Speakers who have gone before, you have found the appropriate ruling.
After all, often the role of the Speaker is determined to be one of a referee, and we often hear that referred to in tour groups and among university lecturers. However, the role of the Speaker is so much more than that. The Speaker is truly the defender of the rights and privileges of this place.
I am reminded from time to time of the words of a great English Speaker, William Lenthall, who said with great conviction to the King in his place in his time, when met with King Charles I, the executive of the day:
|| ...I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am....
Today the Speaker made such a ruling and stood up to the face of opposition from the government ministers.
Let me begin my remarks by saying that I will be splitting my time today with the hon. member for Battle River—Crowfoot.
It is in a way unfortunate that we have to have a redo of this debate. This debate was properly started last week when the Speaker did rightly find a prima facie case of privilege, and it is troubling in two manners: first, the nature of the incident itself, that two members of Parliament were prevented from undertaking their duties of voting in this House; and second, by the unfortunate actions that were undertaken by the government in preventing this matter from coming to a vote.
As the Speaker rightly found in his ruling, this is unprecedented. Never before in the history of this place has a matter of privilege been dealt with in such a way. Never before in this place has the government shut down and prevented all 338 members of this House from voting on a matter of the privileges of us as parliamentarians. Every other case of privilege has been dealt with one way or another through a vote, either in the affirmative or in the negative, but not in this case.
This is most unfortunate. It is unfortunate for so many reasons. If, as members in this House noted before, the government is allowed to proceed in this manner on this case, how many times going forward will votes on questions of privilege be prevented from coming to a vote in this House by the duly elected members of this House?
I want to state the great respect I have for this institution and for those who serve this institution. I want to state as well the respect I have, specifically, for the parliamentary protective service, in whom I have the utmost of confidence for defending us and keeping us safe as parliamentarians.
In my short time as a parliamentarian—I have only been elected for about a year and a half—I have always felt safe in the exercising of my duties here in this place, and indeed, another speaker in last week's debate, quoted from the back of our ID badges, and I think it is worthwhile to reread that into the record:
|| Under the law of parliamentary privilege, the bearer has free and open access at all times, without obstruction or interference to the precincts of the House of Parliament of which the bearer is a member.
In fact, the law of parliamentary privilege is enshrined constitutionally in section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, also more commonly known to us in its original title, the British North America Act, 1867.
Let us remember exactly what took place on budget day. Two members of Parliament, at least, were affected. We know of at least two. There could have been others as well. There was indication from the Speaker's original ruling that there were others potentially on the buses who were also denied access. However, at least two members, the members from Milton and Beauce, were unable to attend a vote in this House, in this place.
The outcome of that particular vote is not relevant. The fact is that they were prevented from doing their duty, the duty that they as elected members of this place are entrusted to do on behalf of their constituents. All of us have that duty to the constituents we are honoured and privileged to represent.
Let us imagine for just a moment how this could have played out differently. Imagine there had been a vote of confidence and members were prevented by one way or another from attending this place to vote. Certainly in this case there is a majority government and one or two members not exercising their vote may not seem like a significant matter. Let us think back into the not-so-distant past to May 2005. There was a budget vote, a confidence vote in this very House. The Paul Martin Liberals were on the ropes. It looked as if they could be defeated. A couple of lucky floor crossings and the support of an independent member of Parliament meant that it ended up in a tie vote. Mr. Speaker Milliken at the time was forced into the position of breaking that tie vote in the affirmative. One vote would have made the difference, in that case, of an election, the dissolution of Parliament, or the continuation of that government. It would have been one vote.
In fact, in this Parliament not too long ago on Bill C-10, on a Monday morning, or afternoon by the time we voted, we had a tie vote in this House on a piece of government legislation. One vote would have made the difference between that piece of legislation moving on to third reading and that piece of legislation being defeated in this place. The Speaker at the time was forced to once again break a tie. Interestingly, in a majority government, that does not happen very often, but it happened in that case. I would point out that it is somewhat ironic that the government is currently proposing changes, and one of the changes it has mentioned is perhaps sitting earlier in the morning, but if we use the example of Bill C-10, that vote was in the early afternoon, so I would be surprised how many members might be in this House at that time.
We are faced with the question now of where we go from here, where we move forward in the appropriate manner. As my motion clearly states, it is appropriate at this point that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as it is the appropriate location. I know there have been flimsy procedural efforts for the committee to self-direct to undertake its own study of privilege, but as we know, the Standing Orders clearly state that matters of privilege do not fall under the mandate of the procedure and House affairs committee, and it falls on the House to direct the appropriate committee to undertake a study of the privilege. After all, the rights and privileges of this House are a matter for this House to undertake.
I do feel a bit like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day; we are redoing the same battle again and again, the same debate that has been undertaken. I have been told I am better looking than Bill Murray. I am not so sure about that, but I will say this. On a matter as important as the privileges of this House, a procedurally flimsy effort by the government to shut down the debate is truly unfortunate. Two members were denied the right to vote and now, by the Liberals' efforts, the attempt was to deny 338 members the right to vote. That is truly unfortunate.
It is unfortunate that it is being done at the same time that the procedure and House affairs committee is undertaking a Standing Order change, a change that would be done unilaterally without the support of opposition parties. The government states that it wants to have a discussion on the matter. A discussion can only happen if both sides are listening and discussing. The privileges of this House are of the utmost importance to each and every member of this House. It is not a matter for the government to decide. Rather, it is a matter for this House to decide by way of a vote.
Hon. Kevin Sorenson (Battle River—Crowfoot, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this question of privilege. I also want to commend the Speaker for the precedent-setting decision today, in which he recognized that, yes, debate had been shut down by the government on the question of privilege, which prevented the House from having a vote, taking the next step, allowing every member to stand to voice his or her yea or nay on the subject of the question of privilege and the next process.
I have been a member of Parliament for 17 years and I have seen many questions of privilege come before the House. The question of privilege that was brought forward was on budget day, and that was unusual. When the member for Milton brought forward her question of privilege and spoke to it, and she said it again on April 6, she quoted former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau saying that 50 yards from the parliamentary precinct the MPs were nobodies. I think what Prime Minister Trudeau was saying at that time was that although we were involved in the running of government and bringing forward legislation on the Hill, when we were away from Parliament, we were really just average Joes, that we were really just, as he said, nobodies.
When members of Parliament go back to their constituencies, they understand they need to earn the respect of their constituents. They cannot believe that respect will be afforded to them until they earn it. They earn it during the election, but they need to earn it between elections. The Speaker knows the work we do as members of Parliament. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau may have believed that we were nobodies away from Parliament, but make no mistake, there are certain privileges given to members of Parliament in the parliamentary precinct.
There are certain privileges we are afforded because of our position. For example, members have immunity in the House. We can say pretty well anything we want to say in the House with complete immunity. It may not be in order and the Speaker may cut us off, but we are given immunity for the things we say in the House. Many times one member will tell another member to say something outside of the House, because members know that outside of the House they do not have that privilege. In the House there is privilege.
When a prima facie case of breach of privilege has been found, it is a very serious thing. On budget day, there was another ruling. The member for Don Valley East, though she has been in the House for a long time and ran for Speaker, was snapping pictures in the House. The Speaker rightfully said that was not in order and shut it down. Also, that very same day, the budget was handed out early. The Liberal Party received the budget early. We know that was out of order as well.
However, when two members are on their way to the House of Commons to vote and are prevented from doing that, this becomes, as my colleague said, a very serious matter. It is typically a matter that is then studied and if there are certain reasons it occurred, it is prevented from happening again.
On budget day, when the prima facie case was brought forward, the member for Beauce said that he had missed the vote, as did the member for Milton, because they were holding the buses on account of the empty motorcade, or the cars for the Prime Minister, needing to return in order for them to be brought to the House of Commons.
He said that when he was on the bus, they were being stalled. He got out and asked security why they were being held up. The security guards, who were using walkie-talkies and radios, said that it was because the Prime Minister's empty motorcade was waiting. The members had to wait and, consequently, missed the vote.
There are a couple of other times where we have seen this happen. I remember a former colleague, as will some of my colleagues here, Yvon Godin. We remember him well. In 2014, on the day the German president or chancellor was here, he tried to get to the Hill and was prevented from that. Mr. Godin said that he was a member of Parliament, that he had to get on to the Hill. The security officials, at the time, the RCMP, said that they did not care whether he was a member of Parliament. Members in the House cared. Mr. Godin cared. He stood in the House and the old temperature was rising. His face was getting redder and he passionately spoke about the privileges of a member of Parliament. It made us all feel pretty good that he was defending our rights as members of Parliament.
What happened? The Speaker found there was a prima facie case. It went to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and proper measures were put in place so security realized the importance of members getting to this place.
In 2012, again, the access of members to the House was impeded when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was on the Hill. I think all of us would understand that massive security measures had to be in place when he was here. Again, a number of members of Parliament were impeded from getting up to the Hill and, again, the Speaker found a prima facie case of a breach of the privileges of members.
Why? Because we are here not only to collect a paycheque, but to do the business of the people of Canada. We are here to represent our constituents. We are here to stand up and make a difference. We are here to hold the government to account. We are here to ensure we bring things forward that are in the best interests of Canadians.
The other day the government prevented this from going to PROC. It prevented us from having a vote to ensure this went to the committee.
Why? Right now PROC is taken up by a government that is trying to push through changes to the Standing Orders that give opposition members privileges, that lay out the rules and groundwork for those privileges. For these types of changes, historically, prime ministers, whether it be Prime Minister Harper, or Prime Minister Chrétien, or other prime ministers, have said that we need unanimity to do this. Because we are elected members of Parliament, we cannot unilaterally change everything in the House. Again, members are expected to represent their constituents and to hold the government to account, a government in waiting on this side and the government in power on that side. However, that does allow the current government the privilege of changing, unilaterally, the Standing Orders in the House.
Again, we know the Prime Minister would like to show up and answer questions in question period for one day instead of throughout the week. We know he wants to shut down Fridays so members of Parliament are not here holding the government to account. The more we carry on with this Parliament, the more we see it is really just an inconvenience to the Prime Minister. He would like to go on without being slowed down in any manner.
Before I conclude my speech, I move:
|| That the motion be amended by adding the following: “and that the committee make this matter a priority over all other business including its review of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees.”
Mr. Matthew Dubé (Beloeil—Chambly, NDP):
Madam Speaker, as you pointed out, this motion is before us again because, last week, the Liberals decided to shut down debate on a question of privilege concerning MPs' access to Parliament Hill.
I also want to remind everyone that the Chair made it clear this was unprecedented. We have a government that not only decided to shut down debate on a question of privilege about MPs' access to Parliament Hill, but did so cavalierly.
The Chair ruled on the matter and emphasized that it is of utmost importance. As our Standing Orders clearly state, questions of privilege take precedence over everything else, not because we like to spend time talking about ourselves, but because privilege is what enables us to do our job. Access to the Hill and our presence in the House of Commons are central to our ability to do our job.
Once again, recognizing what the Speaker has rightly highlighted about being on topic, I think these issues start to get a bit mixed up. The reason they do is that we have a government that has decided to end the debate on the question of privilege that is now before this House. Why? What is happening over on the government side, on the Liberal benches, that it would decide to do something that is unprecedented, that has never been done before, and end the debate on a question of privilege, which, as our rules say, is the core issue with which the House should be seized?
That is a question that, unfortunately, despite our attempts, we did not get an answer to from the Liberal speaker who just rose, I assume on behalf of the government. That is problematic.
I think the government decided to put an end to this discussion because it could not take the heat. It is starting to have a hard time reconciling the things it said during the election campaign and the way it treats Parliament. This is directly affecting our ability to do our job.
I want to stick to the issue of access to the Hill, which we have talked about at length, because I need to express my deep frustration. In a few weeks, it will be six years since I became a member of Parliament. I have seen this matter come up time and time again, and I still do not understand why a solution cannot be found, although I am well aware that these things are never perfect.
Before I go any further, I think it is extremely important to recognize the work done by the RCMP and the parliamentary security officers in Centre Block and everywhere on the Hill. This is not about pointing the finger at anyone, and that is precisely why we have a motion that calls on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study the matter.
That is why my Conservative colleague moved an amendment for this to be the first item on the committee's agenda. It is because this issue comes up too often and is causing a lot of problems. This could affect new members, who may not be very familiar with our privileges despite the best efforts of the people who provide us with training when we arrive here. As my colleague said earlier, it feels quite strange when security officers know what we look like and know our names. That is quite impressive and can take us by surprise.
A new member who arrives at the bottom of the Hill before a vote when a foreign dignitary is on the Hill, or when the Prime Minister's vehicles are blocking the way, may not necessarily boldly invoke his privilege as a member and go ahead in order to get to his seat. He would not say it out of a sense of self-importance, but because he represents his constituents by voting, giving a speech, or carrying out any of his duties in the House.
It reminds me of a story involving one of my former colleagues, Jean Crowder. She and I were participating in, not a protest but a gathering, on the Hill. Some folks were here on the Hill to represent an issue. There were members from all parties at this gathering. Speeches were made by representatives of all parties.
We went back up the steps, and the security guard did not recognize me. I had only been a member for two months, and I did not have my pin. Sometimes I do not have it now. Sometimes I forget it on another suit jacket. I have had that issue before, so I always keep my ID card handy. That is the alternative.
That being said, even if a member has the pin, there is a jacket over it. Ottawa, with its lovely tropical climate, can get to a balmy -40 in the winter. We nonetheless have these gatherings, because some groups are courageous enough, and issues cannot wait until June. Sometimes these folks who are coming to the Hill to represent and lobby for issues they hold dear have to be here in January.
We walked up the steps, and the security guard did not recognize me. I said, “Oh, I am sorry”. I was fiddling, looking for my pass. Jean Crowder, who was a person I had never seen be curt with people said, “No. This is a member of Parliament. He has the right to pass”. The security guard said, “Okay”, and backed off.
Again, as my Conservative colleague so rightly pointed out, it is not a lack of humility that leads us to have this instinct, which we certainly do not have as new members. It is a question of being able to come here to do our jobs and represent Canadians.
That is why we call it privilege. That is why the government ending the discussion of that very privilege, and the Speaker stating that it is unprecedented, should say a lot about what the government is doing.
The Liberals shut down debate on our ability to do our work. Our privilege is our ability to do our work, which is to represent our constituents. The fact that the government shut down debate on protecting these privileges tells the House and the people listening a lot about this government's priorities.
That is the link to the discussion we are having right now. That is the government's approach. It wants to talk about privilege and the ability of members to do their job. The government wants to hear their ideas, but it does not want to provide them with a proper process that would let them have their say. As I said earlier, it is a dialogue of the deaf.
It is very problematic because something very important is being called into question. We were given examples of what happens in Great Britain under the Westminster system.
Without straying too far off topic, I just want to add that during debate on Bill C-22 and in the committee that analyzes and studies matters of national security, we said that we could elect the chair the same way they do in Great Britain. The government said that we must not move too quickly, that Canada was new to the idea, while Great Britain had several years to figure out how it would work. The hypocrisy is pathetic.
It is disappointing to see that when it works in the government's favour the government provides examples from around the world, but when it does not suit the narrative, the government ignores other examples. That is why it is important to have a structured process that allows the opposition parties to have their say.
This is not something new. This is how it has always been done, whether it was Stephen Harper, Paul Martin, Jean Chrétien, or anyone who came before them. This is how we have always changed the rules of the game. That is what they are. I know that game analogies are something we might chafe under. It is not always the best example to use, because what we do is not a game, but these are the rules that govern this place.
The Liberals now might feel that this is a good thing and that they can do it unilaterally and ram it through. What happens, after they create that precedent, when it is a Conservative prime minister, or, being an eternal optimist, a New Democrat prime minister or another Liberal prime minister with whom these members may not necessarily agree? Many of them, I have no doubt, ran because they appreciated the approach of this Prime Minister, but maybe another Liberal leader not so much.
As I saw in The Hill Times earlier today, a former Liberal MP was on the Hill today saying that this filibuster is a waste of time. That sounded like a criticism of the opposition, but it was not. He said he did not understand why his party created a toxic environment that is now leading the opposition to this recourse. That is the problem. They are trying to paint the opposition as the bad guys here, but we are just using the limited tools we have at our disposal, which they are trying to take away. They tried to do it with this question of privilege we are debating today by cutting off debate. That says a lot about their approach.
That debate, at its very core, is about our ability to do our jobs. It is not “Let us move to government orders, because we are here to be efficient and to pass legislation.” I am here to defend my privilege, because my privilege is not my privilege; it is the ability of my constituents to be heard, and ending that debate ends my ability to defend their ability to be heard in this place, and that is simply unacceptable.
The Liberals keeps using words like “modernization” and “discussion”, but those are just words. We cannot have a discussion until parameters are set for that discussion. A union would not have conversations with the employer in the hallway. There is a process and guidelines for collective bargaining. Similarly, teachers cannot teach their students whatever they want. They have to follow a curriculum. Every discussion on fundamental issues is structured.
Why does the government fail to see that this is not about the substance, but the process that we will use to get to our findings? Every other prime minister recognized that the process was the cornerstone of all this. Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin recognized it, and despite our considerable political differences, I will even acknowledge that Stephen Harper recognized it.
There are a lot of new members on the other side of the House, and I have had the opportunity to meet many of them either at functions on Parliament Hill or in committee. Most of them have told me that they ran as Liberals to do politics differently because their country and their Parliament was suffering. I told them they were exacerbating the problem they were meant to fix.
Everyone here is to blame for the toxic environment that currently exists, but the fault lies primarily with the government, which is unilaterally imposing sweeping changes. The government claims it is only acting to keep its election promises, but it never promised to impose anything on the opposition. The government promised to make Parliament work better. It lights fires and blames the opposition, and then cuts short debates on questions of privilege and the workings of Parliament. That is the opposite of making Parliament work better. That is the opposite of what motivated most of the Liberal members to go into politics, many of them for the first time.
What message is the government sending to those who really want to support us so that we can improve Parliament? It is not the same message that the Liberals were sending during the election campaign. It is not the same message as the one the government is trying to send with its supposed discussions. It is the very opposite.
I want to look at a great example south of the border, because the government seems intent on looking at the examples from other countries, whether they be Westminster models or otherwise. I look at what happened last week when the U.S. Senate was approving a Supreme Court nominee, which, dare I say, is probably one of the most fundamental responsibilities of a legislative body, given the importance that the Supreme Court has both here in Canada but also, looking at that example, in the United States.
What happened when there was a risk that Democrats in the Senate might engage in a filibuster, might use procedural tactics to delay the approval of a Supreme Court nominee where the consensus did not seem to be unanimous? I do not want to get into that debate, because that is not my business. What happened was that Republicans decided to use what they called the nuclear option. Instead of having the super majority that is normally required—60 votes to approve a Supreme Court nominee—they used their majority to change the rules of the game and make it so that it only required a simple majority of 50% plus one, 51% in that case.
What happened then? Respected senators like John McCain said that whoever thought of that idea was an idiot. Why did he say that? He said that because when he dealt with Democrats in the Senate on a nominee from President Obama, Republicans were very disappointed that the Democrats did the same thing. There were two parties changing the rules of the game to suit their political agenda, and in both cases, they chafed under that. Why? It is because it sets a precedent and creates a problem. Down the line, they can say it is how they will always solve their problems.
Coming back to Canada, what the government does not seem to understand is that changing the rules of the game might suit it this time, but it might not suit it next time when it loses an election after the broken promises start to pile up and people finally start getting fed up with the snake oil that they have been sold. That becomes a problem because it sets a precedent.
Instead of looking farther back and saying that Jean Chrétien sought Parliamentary consensus before making changes in the early 2000s, the next Conservative, Liberal, or NDP government can use this precedent and tell everyone not to worry because the government of the current Prime Minister, the member for Papineau, decided that a simple majority was enough to change the rules of the House.
I mentioned the United States because if the Liberals want to follow examples set elsewhere, they should look to respected individuals. For example, John McCain said it was idiotic to think that changing the rules was a good short-term solution to a problem that, in this case, does not exist. We have to think of the long-term consequences.
The long-term consequences have to do with the fact that we have to make a decision about a recurring question of privilege related to access to Parliament Hill. Precedent is not what worries me. I said at the outset that I was worried about the fact that we keep coming back to this issue of access to Parliament Hill, as several of our colleagues pointed out. I am concerned about the precedent the Speaker referred to, the precedent of shutting down debate. This is a problem. It is unacceptable, and it will cause problems for future generations of members of Parliament.
The government is using various tools. It forces votes in the House when, for example, we are debating motions that it does not like, since the government seems to think it is here to get its agenda passed as quickly as possible. If we read between the lines, this means imposing its will without debate using time allocation motions. The government wants to cut the debate short. The reason we are using these tactics and having this debate, which has been going on for three weeks at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, is closely linked to the debate we are having today on the question of privilege. These are the tools we have to call on the government to seriously rethink the process. We have fundamentally different ideas on the substance of the issue. We could debate that. What unites the opposition is that we refuse to debate it until we know that this will not be dealt with unilaterally. This is central to parliamentary privilege. This is central to what is driving us here today, that is, questions related to access to the Hill, the length of the debate, and the fact that the government cut the debate short. Why? Because the privilege of the member for Beloeil—Chambly is not my privilege; it is the privilege of the people of Beloeil—Chambly. This goes for all of my colleagues and their respective ridings. This is crucial, and the opposition is united in saying no.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to lend my voice to this very important debate. May I ask you to remind me when there is just about a minute left in my presentation as I have an amendment to the current amendment to the motion which I want to bring forward.
Before I begin my remarks on privilege and how it affects each and every one of the members of this place, I want to go back to a few words that my colleague, my friend from Perth—Wellington, mentioned when he brought forward the motion, seeking a Speaker's ruling on the prima facie case of privilege. That is when he applauded the Speaker's ruling that came down, saying that yes, in the Speaker's opinion, there was a prima facie case of privilege when the government of the day prevented a vote on two members' privileges being impugned by not being allowed to vote, by being denied access to this place.
That ruling within the last hour has been called by some as historic. I would concur in that. I think some would also perhaps suggest it would be courageous. I will stop short of calling it that, but I believe this ruling today underscores and reaffirms in the eyes and the minds of many Canadians the total impartiality of the Speaker.
I think most Canadians understand when a Speaker is elected to the chair in this place, he comes with a background of partisanship. He comes obviously from a political background and represents a political party, not necessarily in the chair but back in his home constituency.
I believe there is a tendency for some Canadians to believe that because of the background of political partisanship, that a Speaker, once elected to the chair, would find it almost impossible to separate his political allegiance to his duties to be impartial to all members.
I must applaud the Speaker of this Parliament because he did exactly that. He made a difficult ruling, but he underscored the fact that his role was to be impartial, to represent all members of Parliament. He did that today, and for that ruling, I applaud him, and I applaud him mightily.
We are here to talk about this motion and the fact that the initial motion of privilege, the debate on the privilege brought forward from two of my Conservative colleagues, was in fact not only delayed, but it was snuffed out by the government of the day. That in itself was unprecedented.
It is so ironic that the privilege debate was being conducted because two members were prevented from voting in this place. What was the response of the government, the great irony? It prevented 338 members from voting on the privilege. It is truly something I have never seen before, and I sincerely hope I will never see again.
Madam Speaker, you have also admonished some of us, very slightly, very gently, to try to speak to the motion before us today and not get off track with what is happening in procedure and House affairs, with the filibuster over the government's attempt to unilaterally change the Standing Orders of this place. I would suggest that there is a lot of commonality between what is happening in procedure and House affairs and what we saw the government do just a few days ago by shutting down debate on privilege.
The commonality obviously is the fact that the government is acting in such a ham-handed, heavy-handed, mean-spirited way that it is disallowing and disenfranchising members of this place to exercise their ability, not only to debate but to vote. That is a very dangerous precedent.
For the benefit of members who may perhaps be minor historians on procedures of this place, I would like to point out something as an example of why this is so dangerous. I do not believe many Canadians and perhaps many parliamentarians understand the history of time allocation and when time allocation was actually introduced into the Standing Orders in this place. I believe it happened in the mid-1960s, although I do not know the exact year. It was brought in unilaterally by a Liberal government.
Now we consider time allocation to be a normal procedural tactic used by governments of the day to ensure that legislation is debated and passed speedily. However, because time allocation was brought in unilaterally, without the consent of opposition parties in the 1960s, it was almost entirely not used until at least two decades later.
Why was that? It was because Parliament itself recognized it as being almost illegitimate. Since the rules of this place, the rules that govern us all, were brought in unilaterally, without the agreement of other parliamentarians, Parliament itself did not utilize the provision of time allocation for at least two decades. Why? It was because Parliament knew that it was wrong to bring in any change to a standing order in that fashion.
That is what the present government is trying to do right now. It has shown its unwillingness to co-operate with members of the opposition. Despite the government's utterances to the opposite, its actions have proved that it is absolutely unwilling to co-operate or even discuss issues of fundamental importance to all of us. I find that to be not only disappointing, but a very dangerous course of action and path that the government is taking.
As was exhibited by my example of time allocation not being recognized as a legitimate standing order or parliamentary tactic for at least two decades, what the government is attempting to do now by unilaterally changing the Standing Orders would have the same effect. It would poison the well, in other words. Members of the government may not recognize that now, but as surely as time allocation was recognized as such over half a century ago, any changes that the government wants to bring down without the co-operation and consent of members on the opposition benches will be viewed similarly. I do not want to see that happen. I simply do not want to see that happen.
I made reference to the fact that in the last Parliament I chaired an all-party committee on proposed changes to the Standing Orders. My friend and my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, was a member of that committee. In fact, he was vice-chair of that committee.
I will get back to the privilege connection in just a moment, but my final point on that for now is that the member who is now arguing that the government should have the right to unilaterally change the Standing Orders was an unabashed and enthusiastic supporter in the last Parliament of the idea that unanimous consent should be a requirement before any change is made. That—
Mr. Tom Lukiwski:
Madam Speaker, I take your advice and I will follow it to the best of my ability, but of course if this matter is presented to the procedure and House affairs committee and if the amendment is accepted by the House, then this privilege motion would take precedence over the filibuster that is taking place in the procedure and House affairs committee currently. That is the interconnection.
As a former member of the procedure and House affairs committee, when I was the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, I sat through three distinct discussions in PROC dealing with privilege and the rights of all members to have unfettered access to this place. This is not new. Unfortunately, this happened too many times in the past when, for whatever reasons, certain members from time to time were prevented from attending votes in this place because they were denied access to this place. Mainly they were denied access by security forces. Whether they be the RCMP, municipal police officers, or the security forces that take care of all of us here, members were prevented from having access in the past.
We have had many discussions and many witnesses come forward in the procedure and House affairs committee. We had the commissioner of the RCMP the last time privilege was discussed at procedure and House affairs. We had videotapes of all of the evidence of why certain members were not able to get to the House in time for a vote. I can say this about the members of the RCMP from the top leadership down to the rank and file members who protect us on the premises. None of them, in my opinion, wants to see any member prevented from attending this place to do the work that members were elected to do. Unfortunately, from time to time, circumstances happen where members are prevented.
I want to go back a few years and discuss some of the elements that caused that prevention of members from getting to this place. Normally it is when special events occur, for example, if we have visiting dignitaries attending Parliament or there is a motorcade of some sort where security forces must provide adequate protection for those visiting dignitaries to come into this place. Some members who perhaps have not tried to get to the House in an early fashion have been prevented from gaining access because of the motorcade. We talked on many occasions with members of the RCMP about how we could prevent that from happening in the future. They have shown a true willingness, in my opinion, to try to do whatever they need to do to make sure that these types of situations do not occur, but it has occurred once again.
My colleague moved an amendment to the original motion asking that the procedure and House affairs committee deal with this issue of privilege immediately. I think that is quite a fair amendment and I would appeal to all members of this place to vote in favour of that amendment when the time comes. Right now, as members know, there is a filibuster in the committee. It has been going on now for well over a week and shows no signs of abating. If that filibuster continues, and continues, and continues, there is a real chance that we may adjourn this Parliament for the summer without dealing with this question of privilege. That would negatively impact every member of this place. To not have the ability to deal with an issue that so fundamentally affects all of us would be a shame, but I would suggest it would be far more than that. I would suggest it would be almost unconscionable.
What we will have is a question that only the government will be able to answer, and that is on the amendment to the motion before us today. Will the government support that amendment and then suggest to the procedure and House affairs committee that it deal with this issue of privilege immediately, or will they vote against it and allow the filibuster to continue?
If the government votes against the amended motion, in effect it will be saying to all parliamentarians that the Liberals are putting their own political interests ahead of a matter of privilege of fellow members. They will be sending a clear and distinct message that they wish a filibuster on an action that is absolutely, fundamentally, and profoundly opposed by every member of the opposition benches to be put ahead of a discussion on privilege of parliamentarians. I hope it does not come to that, but it appears that it might.
If we cannot ensure that all of us have the ability to do our jobs, the jobs that Canadians in each one of our ridings elected us to do, then we have problems and issues far larger than probable changes to the Standing Orders.
I believe that the amendment calling for this issue of privilege to be referred immediately to the procedure and House affairs committee and for that committee to deal with it in an expeditious manner, to deal with it as a matter of precedence and priority, is absolutely fundamental to each and every member in this place.
We have heard much about privilege and parliamentary privilege. I recall a seminal 1982 publication by Joseph Maingot on parliamentary privilege in Great Britain and Canada. He spoke mainly of privilege as freedom of expression and freedom of speech within this place. More fundamental than that, even though that is an important tenet of privilege for all parliamentarians, far more important than that, in my view, is a privilege which says that members of Parliament should not be impugned in any way from conducting their business and doing their job. They should not be prevented from having unfettered access to this place to do the most fundamental job for which their constituents elected them, and that is to vote both on behalf of their constituents and on behalf of all Canadians.
It appears the government does not feel that this discussion and that privilege are important. The Liberals have shown that. They have demonstrated that by shutting down the initial debate on privilege. They tried to ensure that the procedure and House affairs committee would not deal with the two specific examples of members being prevented from attending a vote. It is only because of the wisdom of our current Speaker that this debate is back on in Parliament.
I call upon members opposite. I beseech them to think about the precedent they will be setting if they do not allow this motion, as amended, to pass. Once again, they will be saying to all members of this place and to all Canadians who may be listening to this debate that they believe their own political partisan interests are more important than the privileges of members of Parliament. If it comes to that, and if they vote against the amended motion, it would allow the filibuster to then have precedence over a matter of privilege. All I would be able to say, through you, Mr. Speaker, to each and every member of the government is shame on them.
I truly hope that there can be a resolution to the impasse that is seemingly never-ending in the procedure and House affairs committee, but it would take a willingness from both sides to come together and try to ensure, as others before me have said in this debate, that Parliament is the place it is intended to be, a place of rational and reasoned debate, a place where, although there may be differences, we all have one motivation at heart, and that is to represent our constituents and represent all Canadians.
Having said that, I now move:
|| That the amendment be amended by adding the following: “provided that the committee report back no later than June 19, 2017”.
Mr. Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that I will be sharing my time.
Earlier, my hon. colleague from Beloeil—Chambly reminded us that as elected members we are sometimes invited to elementary or secondary schools to answer questions and explain what we do. I must admit that I am having a hard time these days explaining what we do in the House and why it is important, but it is.
Our work is important because it shows the “true nature of Bernadette”. It shows what the Liberal government is made of. Just scratching the surface reveals that Liberal arrogance we know so well. Despite its fine speeches and rejuvenated and renewed image, the Liberal government just wants to impose its views, change the rules unilaterally, and grab as much power as possible by crushing the opposition and ensuring that it is the only skipper on board. The Liberals want to make sure that the democratically elected opposition shrivels up and is hamstrung from doing its work effectively.
Why are we having this debate right now? There was a breach of privileges, which is not nothing. There is nothing more important than the rights and privileges of the 338 people who sit in Parliament. Two official opposition members, for many reasons that are yet to be explored and verified, were prevented from entering the House to exercise their right to vote on government legislation. One hon. member rose on a point of order and the Speaker had to rule on whether or not there was a breach of privilege. The answer was yes and that we should debate the breach of privilege.
I do not want to describe the context in which that happened, but members can imagine what would happen if preventing members who are here in Ottawa from voting were to become a habit or even systematic.
The Speaker of the House of Commons initiated a debate on the breach of privilege, and he said that we should debate it to find out what happened.
That is where things got interesting. The Liberal government used its majority to try to put an end to the debate. It used a false parliamentary majority based on 39% of the votes to put an end to a discussion among parliamentarians about a breach of the privileges of two of our colleagues. Another point of order was raised. The Liberals no longer wanted to talk about this issue, and they used their majority to put an end to the debate. Another point of order was raised.
Fortunately, Mr. Speaker, in your wisdom, you said that this was indeed a second breach of privilege, that the government should not have done that, and that we should resume debate on the original breach of the privileges of the two members who were unable to get to the House to vote.
This shows the character of the Liberal government, which is trying to sweep the debates and discussions it does not want to have under the rug. To make matters worse for the Liberals, the debate did not stop. Instead, it started up again. Rather than looking foolish once, the Liberals have made themselves look foolish twice. Since it is their own fault, they will have to live with the consequences.
I want to make sure the people tuning in understand the context of this debate.
This is not the first time the Liberal government has tried to prevent parliamentarians from doing their job, from expressing themselves freely, and from debating issues that matter to them. Who could forget Motion No. 6, which was withdrawn at the last minute? That caused an uproar. Another important element is the debate the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is having right now. In committee, all of the opposition parties are united because we are all extremely concerned about the proposed changes the Liberal government wants to make in the name of modernization.
The Liberals want nothing less than to strip committee members of the opportunity to do their work, work that involves putting pressure on the committee and the government to ensure a relative balance of power, thereby making negotiation possible and enabling opposition parties to wrest compromise from the government. That is pretty much the issue here.
What is happening is the opposite of what the Liberals said during the election campaign. The Liberals said they wanted to put an end to a Parliament where the government makes all the decisions, where democracy is silenced, and where parliamentarians cannot work.
It is funny, because since the Liberals won the election and came to power, they have been doing exactly the opposite. That is why the opposition members and the opposition parties unanimously disagree with the government. Indeed, we think that if the Liberals want to change the ground rules in the House, regarding parliamentarians' ability to exert pressure on the government and to do their job properly, they cannot do so unilaterally. The Liberals must seek a consensus with the opposition parties.
I do not understand why the Liberal government insists on completely ignoring this and bullying us, why it is being so heavy-handed and using its majority to impose its viewpoint. That is what is most troubling right now.
I will soon hand the floor over to my colleague from Sherbrooke who will continue this important discussion and this debate much more eloquently and in a more scientific way.
Let me give another example of this Liberal arrogance, which could be characterized as “do as I say and not as I do” and “I'm the boss and I will do as I please”.
In the Liberal Party platform, it is written in black and white that the Liberals wanted to put an end to turning budget implementation bills into omnibus bills. The budget implementation bill was introduced today and guess what? It is an omnibus bill. Oops. We get the same old Liberal arrogance and another broken promise. There are financial aspects to the budget implementation bill, but there are also some rather fascinating things. The bill would amend labour laws, drug laws, and the Judges Act. This bill takes all the bills that were not passed and crams them in the middle of a budget implementation bill.
Again, the Liberals have this extraordinary ability to take people for a ride and have them believe that they are going to do politics differently and that they will govern differently. However, the Liberals systematically and successively do everything they can to crush the opposition, undermine Parliament, attack democracy, and ensure that they have more and more power that is more and more concentrated, with no regard for the rules of the House, no regard for democracy, and no regard for the people we have the honour of representing.
Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today. I thank my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie for sharing his valuable time with me so that I may have a turn at speaking to the issue before us today, which is to refer the question of privilege to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
This question of privilege was raised by two of our colleagues who, on the day that the budget was tabled, March 22, were held up when they were heading to a vote in the House. They raised this question of privilege, which was accepted by the Speaker.
Now, we must come back to this question after briefly getting off topic. I will explain why we stopped talking about it and why we are coming back to it now. For those watching at home, I will give a brief overview of the question of privilege. I find this subject to be quite interesting and quite important, especially as a parliamentarian. However, it is important for people at home to understand the privileges of the House and why it is important for us to debate them today and for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to be involved in this matter later in the course of the debate.
Questions of privilege are extremely important. I can give some examples of the House's privileges. MPs have privileges as elected members of the House, but the House as a whole has privileges too. MPs' rights and immunities include freedom of speech. My colleague talked about this earlier. We also have freedom from arrest in civil action, exemption from jury duty, and exemption from attendance as a witness in court. One of the most important privileges, especially in the context of today's debate, is freedom from obstruction, interference, intimidation, and molestation.
The matter before us today specifically concerns protection from obstruction. Nobody can obstruct an MP who is attempting to attend the House to represent his or her constituents. That is exactly what happened to our two colleagues who raised this question of privilege. When I say that is exactly what happened, that is not my personal opinion. It is the opinion of the Speaker of the House. In preparing his ruling, he spoke to several individuals involved in the incidents. After analyzing the facts and the situation, and probably after looking at surveillance camera footage, he found that, on the basis of the evidence before him, there was a prima facie breach of the parliamentary privilege not to be obstructed when attempting to attend the House.
When the Speaker rules that, first of all, there has been a breach of privilege, he is then ready to hear a motion for the House to be seized of the question. This has happened many times in the history of this place, without naming any specific examples. On several occasions, we have been seized with questions of privilege, and the Speaker has sometimes ruled that a breach of privilege did in fact occur. In other instances there was not enough evidence to rule that a breach of privilege occurred. Ultimately, however, it is up to the House to vote on the matter, but we were deprived of that because of the government's actions, and that is why we are all here today.
When my colleagues raised the question of privilege, the appropriate motion was moved so that the matter could be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which would have been seized with the matter. The debate began last week, I think. Arguments on both sides were heard. The committee even heard from some government members who disagreed. They felt that a breach of privilege did not necessarily occur. Naturally, the members on this side believed that a breach did occur and that the matter needed to be referred to the committee.
What happened during that debate is unprecedented in the history of this place. The government moved a motion to proceed to orders of the day, and that motion, moved by my colleague from Brossard—Saint-Lambert, was adopted. She did not seem to realize the consequences it would have. Indeed, it set a precedent in the House.
While the House was seized with a question of privilege, the government decided to cut the debate short and proceed to orders of the day. That meant that the debate was over, and the House never voted on the question of privilege to refer it to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Even the Conservatives never went this far, and that is something that we cannot often say. I was here in the House from 2011 to 2015, and I saw many surprising things from the Conservative government. However, this time the Liberals went even further. At least the Conservatives had the decency to simply vote against motions to refer matters to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. When questions of privilege were raised, we debated them and voted on them.
Even though it is difficult for us, we sometimes have to accept that a certain party holds more than half the seats. We therefore have to accept the democratic decisions of the House, even though they may not always be the decisions we want. At least the matter was brought before the House and voted on. That is the least we should be able to expect.
Under the Conservatives, we would vote. The motion would not be adopted and the matter would not be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. At least we could say that the House had expressed its opinion on the matter. A government does not automatically win all the votes just because it holds a majority. There are many members of the House who are independent enough to vote according to their conscience, particularly when it comes to questions of privilege.
We could at least have voted on it. However, in an unprecedented move, the government decided to quite simply interrupt the debate. That is why we are still talking about it today. The Speaker ruled that the interruption of the debate was completely inappropriate, and that this question must return to the House so that we may continue debating it. The matter was to be revived, as I recall it was put, because we had not really finished discussing it.
Thus, I applaud the ruling by the Speaker, who agreed to again recognize that there was a prima facie case of privilege and who again allowed a member to move a motion to refer to committee the same question of privilege raised last week concerning members who were prevented from coming to vote in the House. It goes without saying that it is now up to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a committee of parliamentarians, to study the matter and to hear from witnesses, as it has in other cases.
The case of Yvon Godin was mentioned earlier. He, too, was prevented from voting and, like others, he testified before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The committee, which is made up of MPs, will look into the matter, hear from witnesses, try to shed light on what happened that day, and make recommendations to correct the situation. It is important to note that this is not the first time that a question of privilege concerning members' access to the House has been brought before this chamber, and I have the feeling that it will not be the last. That is why the government must absolutely support the Conservatives' motion to refer this matter to the committee.
We must identify permanent solutions, and it is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs that will be able to do that. I encourage all my colleagues to support this motion.
Mr. Bernard Généreux (Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is kind of you to clarify that debate will be interrupted at 6:30 this evening and not tomorrow morning. I would be filibustering if I were to speak for 12 hours. My colleague opposite would not like that.
I would like to give an introductory course to the people of my riding; those in the galleries; and the Canadians who watch us every day on CPAC, the television station that broadcasts the proceedings of the House of Commons.
Heaven knows that the House of Commons is an esteemed place in Canada. It is a very important place for our democracy. This democracy is guided by a book entitled House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which is our bible. The book is updated any time changes are made by Parliament and its parliamentarians, not by a political party. There is a fundamental difference between the two because, historically, any changes to the way the House of Commons operates were made unanimously by all of the parties.
Earlier, I was pleased to hear my colleagues say that the Conservatives never went as far as the Liberals. I do not know if it is because the Liberals were the third party in the last Parliament and they were insulted or frustrated to have been left out in the cold for four years. It seems that their frustration is causing them to treat all members in an extremely disrespectful manner.
Once again, the NDP criticized the Harper government a great deal. I will not speak to all their criticism, but I can say that, clearly, most of it was not founded. I will say that their criticism of the government today is even more severe. We have the right to say that the Liberals are much more disrespectful than the Conservatives were in the last Parliament.
It is important to understand that the question of privilege that we are discussing today is very important. We need to tell Canadians that the privileges we have as parliamentarians are important.
It is almost as though we are in a bubble here on Parliament Hill. Canadians do not necessarily see everything that happens every day here, but we are the ones, as parliamentarians, who look after the Canadian Constitution and the business of Parliament so that the country can be properly administered, despite the fact that we have some serious reservations at this time. We can come back to that.
We are in this situation today because the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should examine an issue. Indeed, the government moved a motion to implement some fundamental changes regarding how the House of Commons operates. Obviously, some elements of the changes are debatable, but at the same time, some elements require discussion and openness on the part of all parliamentarians.
The reason the Liberals say they want to change all this is to bring Parliament into the 21st century. We take no issue with that, but it has to be done in a way that is respectful to all members of the House, by giving them the chance to vote and make a decision together. We have to be able reach a consensus. That is not happening.
The Liberal Party is literally trying to shove down our throats new ways of running Parliament, including having the Prime Minister come here only one day a week. We would no longer sit on Friday. There is a whole slew of fundamental changes on the horizon. It is important for all parliamentarians to be able to express their opinion. We need to have an open and frank discussion. We have not had that, and are not seeing that in committee.
Several people have mentioned that even during the Liberal years of the Chrétien government, all the changes made in the House of Commons were made unanimously. It is fundamentally important.
This is a fundamental issue. As the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has not tired of repeating for the past several weeks, she wants to have a discussion, a conversation. Those are important words.
I am in business. If I had the kind of discussions and conversations that the member wants to have with us or says she wants to have with us, then I am sorry, but I would be in business alone. No doubt about it. I would not be able to have a conversation with someone who does not want to listen to what I have to say and does not want me to participate in making decisions. It is like a company with a number of shareholders. People have to talk to each other and understand each other. They have to make a decision and vote on it. The same general principle applies here.
It is of vital and fundamental importance that all parliamentarians have a chance to speak. This is not the kind of thing I say often, but once again, I would like to thank my NDP colleagues for recognizing that the Conservatives never tried to go as far as the Liberals are going now. This is utterly indefensible. Those of us on this side of the House, along with the Green Party member, are unanimous in saying that consensus in the House of Commons is the only way to change the Standing Orders.