Hon. Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to speak to a question of privilege. Before question period today, I finished my remarks by talking about how the subamendment that has been moved in this House is to address this question of privilege by having it take precedence at PROC. I would like to spend the remainder of my time trying to persuade some of my colleagues here on the import of supporting this particular subamendment.
Right now, I believe PROC is looking at an issue that should definitely be punted to the side in terms of the importance of this particular motion of privilege. What is PROC looking at right now? As I mentioned earlier, the government House leader has introduced some marching orders on behalf of the Prime Minister to unilaterally change the rules of Parliament. The proposed changes would effectively and permanently shut down Parliament on Fridays, allow the Prime Minister to be accountable to this place for only 45 minutes per week, and also permanently curtail my voice and the voice of others who are sitting here, in terms of the amount of time and the different mechanisms at our disposal to raise the issues that our constituents bring to us.
I believe that PROC started looking at this particular issue on March 22, and that meeting has extended until today because, regardless of political stripe in this House, we feel that nobody should be able to change the rules such that they make it more convenient for the Prime Minister to push an agenda forward. My colleague from Chilliwack earlier today talked about how these seats do not belong to us but rather to the people of Canada, and our role here is to hold the government to account in its legislation. That of course means that many of us are not going to agree with government legislation. Sometimes we might. However, our purpose here is to come up with policy instruments that are in the best interests of all Canadians, which is why this place exists. This is why debate exists. Each of us is elected by people to stand here and debate legislation. What these marching orders from the government House leader would do is permanently curtail our ability to do that, because the Prime Minister sees this place as an inconvenience.
Earlier today, I noted that the key difference between us and dictatorships like China is that we actually have the ability to push back and hold the government to account. This place here is Canadian democracy, and if they take away our ability to utilize the rules of democracy, they are actually fundamentally changing the tenets of Canadian democracy, which we do not support.
PROC has become a tool of the Prime Minister's Office, so instead of the committee itself becoming a master of its own domain, it is taking orders from the Prime Minister's Office. Some of the things that are in here are very Orwellian newspeak. The term “modernizing the Standing Orders” I find hilarious. Basically, what the Liberals are trying to do is to permanently take away my right to speak for my constituents, and even Liberal backbenchers would lose their ability to hold the government to account. That is not modernization.
Ms. Rachael Harder: That is called a dictatorship.
Hon. Michelle Rempel: That is called a dictatorship. My colleague from Lethbridge filled in the blank for me on that one.
Mr. Speaker, here are some of the things that I find absolutely crazy. Listen to this line: “...decisions must be made after a reasonable amount of debate.” The government does not get to decide what a reasonable amount of debate is. The people of Canada get to decide what a reasonable amount of debate is, by electing us. The Prime Minister cannot unilaterally change the rules of Parliament to decide what that is. That is a function of Parliament.
It also states, “Societal changes have also brought about the need to ensure greater predictability in the House...to ensure Members have a better balance; and, to encourage under-represented segments of society to seek elected office.” I do not understand how curtailing the amount of debate time that each of us who has been elected here has would achieve better “balance”. I take that as meaning that the Prime Minister wants to work less. That is better balance to me. Taking Fridays off seems a little crazy. As for “to encourage under-represented segments of society to seek elected office”, I am not sure who would want to seek elected office after we have all had the ability to rise and speak, per the rules of this House, taken away. This is why what is happening at PROC is so ridiculous.
Even under previous Liberal governments, former prime minister Jean Chrétien utilized a mechanism by which all parties had to have consensus on any rule change, because we realized that while we may disagree vociferously on matters of public policy, we all agree that Canadian democracy has to function by some standard framework of rules that cannot be unilaterally changed by the dictator who is the current Prime Minister.
The other thing that I found in here was that the Prime Minister's Office said that the ringing of bells and taking of recorded divisions is a time-consuming exercise.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Hon. Michelle Rempel: My colleagues are laughing. What the Liberals are saying in this paper is that being summoned to vote on legislation is somehow an inconvenience. For anyone who might be watching this debate, that is our job. That is what we get paid to do. When the bell rings, we get to stand up and vote. However, they want to change that somehow.
The Liberals want the House to agree to sit beyond the dates of adjournment, and to sit longer days. I am just reading through this, and every time I look through this craziness, I wonder why the government is doing this.
I have just had a note passed to me suggesting I explain what PROC means, for the people who are listening. This is the procedure and House affairs committee that examines these types of changes. This committee is also tasked with looking at motions of privilege.
The Liberals tried to do this last year. We all remember the infamous Motion No. 6, where the government tried to change the Standing Orders unilaterally. The only reason that motion failed was that the House of Commons got so heated over our rule changes that the Prime Minister elbowed somebody in a fist fight here in the House of Commons. What I am wondering is why, instead of wasting all of this time trying to change the rules to make Parliament less democratic, the government cannot just get on with the business of governing this country. Canadians must be watching the Prime Minister trying to make his job easier and saying he should just do his job; that is what they are paying him to do. However, no, here we are today.
One of my many colleagues here today who sit on the PROC committee told me that—I think it was last night—one of the Liberal members on the committee stood up and professed not to understand why members were doing this, saying it is just such a waste of time. For the Liberal Party of Canada, Parliament is a waste of time. What we do here when we stand up and oppose the tax hikes or the justice legislation that waters down the rights of victims to seek justice, and all of these sorts of things, the Liberals feel is a waste of time because they just want to push their agenda through.
My colleagues opposite will not agree with my position on many issues, as I don't agree with them, but what we do here matters. This debate matters. That is why we will see members from the NDP, the Bloc, and the Green Party all stand up and say in unison that this is important.
In fact, the member for Malpeque, who is a Liberal member, said the same thing in debate. I do not have time read the whole quote, but he said:
|| 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.
He is recognizing the fact that Liberal members who are not part of the executive, who are not cabinet ministers, have to have the right to stand up and oppose or hold the government to account. This is not a partisan issue; this is Canadian democracy. When this motion comes forward, when the subamendment comes forward, anybody who votes against it is voting against that principle, that fundamental principle that there should be unanimity among parties before we change the rules, because they are checks and balances on us.
Going back to the comment made by the member for Chilliwack—Hope, these are not our chairs, they are the chairs of the people of Canada, ergo we cannot unilaterally change the rules of Parliament without the consent of the people of Canada, which the government does not have. That is why this motion of privilege should take precedence at the PROC committee.
I want to make this point. Some people have said that the Conservative Party invoked time allocation on so many bills, and we did. I take responsibility for that. However, Canadians held us to account for that in the last election. It was an election issue. People said, “You guys invoked time allocation on many bills.” For those people who are listening, time allocation is allowed in the Standing Orders to put a time limit on debate. However, there is a political cost to doing that.
What the Liberals want to do here is unilaterally change the rules so they do not have to be held to account by Canadians for curtailing debate on bills. The Liberals should have to stand every single time they invoke time allocation and say, “This is why we are invoking time allocation.” Every single time we did that, we were able to say, “This budget bill needs to pass. We feel that debate has been done.” The opposition was able to stand, and the media, and say, “No, it is not done”, and that discussion occurred.
Even in this marching-orders paper the House leader has talked about, there is actually a quote that says that somehow the discussion by the opposition parties and media about invoking time allocation being a bad thing should be taken out. No. That is democracy. What happens here, we should all be held to account for.
Every single person in this place, cabinet minister or not, should first and foremost prioritize the rights of Canadians to have their voices heard through elected members of Parliament. That is why this discussion is so important here today.
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak about this important privilege motion and to share some of my thoughts with the government, other members, and those watching at home.
Because there are many issues that are alive in this conversation, it is important to set the stage a little in what we are discussing and why it is so critically important.
We are in the midst of this pitched battle between the government and the opposition in this place. It is not a partisan fight. It is a battle between government and a united opposition, united on the issues with respect to procedure. That includes not just the Conservatives and the New Democrats, but also the Bloc and the Green Party.
The four opposition parties do not always agree, but when we are talking about the fundamental rights of the opposition and the integrity of our parliamentary institutions, then there are times when we do come together to challenge the abuses being proposed by the government, especially by the Prime Minister and government House leader.
The context of this discussion is a particular privilege motion. Here is what happened.
We had an important vote taking place in the House of Commons on budget day. A number of members were trying to get here for the budget vote. They were prevented from doing so because of some issues with security. They were told that it had to do with the Prime Minister's motorcade, and thus they were unable to vote.
It is a very important principle of this institution that members of Parliament ought to have unfettered access to the parliamentary precincts. It is so fundamental to our job that we be able to be here to vote, but in general that we be able to access Parliament in order to do our job. When things happen to prevent members from accessing parliamentary precincts, therefore preventing them from doing their job, that is by definition an issue of privilege.
This issue was raised and it was recognized by the Speaker to be a prima facie case of privilege. That then opens a debate on the question of privilege, which is supposed to then lead to a vote and then a referral to the procedure and House affairs committee. However, another piece of context is that the procedure and House affairs committee is in the midst of a discussion about the government's desire to unilaterally impose Standing Order changes on the House of Commons.
The government House leader put forward a discussion paper which contained a variety of different ideas, most of which marshalled in the direction of strengthening the relative power of the government in the House, not just the power of the government over the opposition but also the power of the government relative to individual members of Parliament, be they on the government backbenches or on the opposition side.
This was proposed as an issue to study at PROC. Quite wisely, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston put forward a motion to have a requirement in the context of that study that there be unanimity on changes that went forward, the principle being that if we were to change the underlying substructure of democracy, the rules that shape how decisions were made, then it was important that all parties agree on them.
We do not want to set a precedent where the government gets to make unilateral changes to the way our democracy works to their advantage. I think government members can understand that this would be a problem, because they are not going to be in government forever. One day, hopefully after the next election, they will be in the opposition, and we, or perhaps somebody else, will be in government.
It is not in their interest or in the interest of this institution to establish a precedent by which a government, any government, could make unilateral changes to the way our system works that would work to its own advantage.
This was the context in terms of the study that was happening at PROC, and the ongoing discussion about the Conservative amendment. It was an amendment that was supported by all opposition parties. As the rules allow for us to do, we are doing the important work of talking that amendment out to ensure the government is not in a position to rush forward with unilateral changes.
While we raise these concerns about the government making unilateral changes, we see continuing actions of the government which contribute to, unfortunately, bad faith. We had this discussion going on about the question of privilege in the House. Then the government realized it did not want the question of privilege going to PROC directly in a way that was envisioned by the amendment put forward, because if it were to do so, this would supersede the discussion on the Standing Orders.
The government is eager to make unilateral changes to the Standing Orders without allowing a meaningful voice for the opposition. It does not want this question of privilege to go to the committee in a way that supersedes the existing piece of committee business being discussed.
The Liberals came up with what they thought was an ingenious strategy to circumvent the way privilege motions were supposed to work. They did something that the Speaker acknowledged in a subsequent ruling was without precedent. They tried to adjourn or end the debate on the question of privilege without a vote on it. They wanted to simply remove the discussion of this important question of members having access to the House of Commons without even voting on it.
At the same time, the Liberals had a member at the procedure and House affairs committee move a motion to say we would do a study of this question of privilege from the House, but we would do it at some point in the future. This was their way of taking the heat off them in the House and then also, in the context of that committee, continue to try to force through the changes they wanted to the Standing Orders.
There are a few important points to recognize about this. One is that this is a failed strategy. It assumes that at some point the opposition will give up with respect to the resistance we are providing at the committee. I can say quite confidently that no member on this side of the House has any interest in giving up that important fight for the integrity of our institution. We have had a number of members speak so far at the committee, but many members have many things to say, have not yet spoken and are eager to speak.
Ironically, this is in the midst of a discussion that has gone on for so long one would expect us to run out of speakers. However, the Conservatives, the New Democrats, and other members in the opposition are eager to continue to bring forward these arguments. Last night and this morning I spoke for about six hours and I have many more things to say. I look forward to bringing those forward at committee. I know other members are in the same situation. We are not backing down on this point of the integrity of our democratic institutions and the way in which Standing Order changes are made.
Nonetheless, the government members thought they were clever by doing something totally without precedent, which was to adjourn a debate on a privilege motion without a vote. This further has contributed to the bad faith that exists here, the concern we have that the government simply cannot be trusted when it comes to preserving our institutions.
What happened after that is what brought us into this subsequent discussion of a question of privilege raised by another member, pointing out what had happened, saying that it was inappropriate and a violation of privilege for the government to end the debate on the previous question of privilege in the manner it did without a vote. The Speaker, quite wisely, ruled that it was not appropriate for the debate to simply end at that point and the possibility of a motion discussing this brought forward at committee did not replace the very important discussion that was happening, that needed to happen in the House of Commons followed by a vote in the House of Commons, which then would go to the procedure and House affairs committee.
Now we are back to this point of discussing this important privilege issue. Yes, it speaks to the issue of members having unfettered access to the House. In principle and in theory, everyone says yes, members of Parliament should have unfettered access to the parliamentary precinct, that they should be able to vote. However, what is happening is that we have a government that is more interested in pushing aside these vital points of discussion because it wants to take advantage of the opportunity it thinks it has to make unilateral changes to the Standing Orders, which would work to the advantage of the government.
We are very saying very clearly, through this motion and also through the amendment we put forward, that this privilege motion is vital. It needs to be addressed here in the House. After that, it needs to go to the procedure and House affairs committee to be studied, and it needs to take priority. This is an urgent question. We are voting quite often in this place because of the current circumstances with, unfortunately, the failure of the government House leader to work constructively with the opposition around the Standing Orders. We are in a situation of having frequent and relatively unpredictable votes.
It is very important in the present time that we ensure members have the access they need to the House of Commons. We take that position very seriously.
There can be a discussion on changes to the Standing Orders. In the context of my remarks thus far at the procedure and House affairs committee, where I have talked for a total of about 16 hours, I have barely scratched the surface of the kinds of prospective changes I think could be made to the Standing Orders. I have actually put out a lot of different ideas for the kinds of changes we might see. The discussion of those changes has to happen in the context of an acceptance of the principle of consensus, that we would work together among parties to identify things that would actually improve the functioning of our institutions. We could bring those forward, they would then get support, and we could get them done.
First, we need to deal with the privilege question. Then we need to have an amendment pass, the amendment we proposed, which has the agreement of all the opposition, to ensure the government does not make unilateral changes that undermine the health of our institutions and put all of the power in the hands of the small group on the front bench of the government.
These are the things we need to do. We need to address this privilege question. We need to support it and move it to committee. At the same time, we need to move to a framework in which political parties are co-operating. We are all better off when parties can work together, but that can only happen if we have serious responses from the government with regard to our concerns about unilateral action. We do not see the kinds of efforts the government has put forward to change our institutions. We also have heard the very disingenuous arguments the Liberals have brought forward for them.
It is hard to make sense of the arguments coming from the government on Standing Orders issues. The Liberals reference a mandate from Canadians and they reference the platform they ran on in the last election. Of course, the platform has not been an impediment for them to do things that they had previously said they would not do. It is interesting how selectively they apply it.
Nonetheless, two things in the platform dealt with things that may in some sense have had a relationship to the Standing Orders. One was this idea of having a prime minister's question period where the prime minister would answer all the questions. The other dealt with omnibus bills.
As we have seen, it is not outside the scope of the Standing Orders as they presently exist for the Prime Minister to at least stand after every opposition question is posed. I did not say to answer or respond to, but certainly to stand. There is nothing to prevent that. In fact, there is nothing in the Standing Orders to prescribe which member of the cabinet responds to which question.
Today, we had questions about the legalization of marijuana that were answered by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. I am not aware of what the impact of marijuana use has on climate change. Maybe there is something I do not know about the carbon footprint there. There is nothing in the Standing Orders to say that the minister responsible for a particular file has to answer the question. A member of the government is seen as speaking for the government in response to the question. Therefore, it would actually be quite unusual for the Standing Orders to prescribe that a particular member of the government respond to questions.
If we put in the Standing Orders that the Prime Minister has to answer questions every Wednesday, it actually creates some problems. We on this side of the House would accept that there would be certain times when the Prime Minister, because of international travel meetings, could not be in the House for, let us say, a week at a time. Perhaps there would be a situation where he could not get back here for legitimate reasons. Let us say he is stuck on an island somewhere and there is no commercial travel available. How would he get back? These are the kinds of situations that may arise if the Standing Orders narrowly prescribe exactly who must answer what questions when. If the Prime Minister wants to answer all of the questions posed every Wednesday, he is welcome to do. Although we have not seen that yet, he can stand after every question on Wednesday if he wants. That does not require Standing Orders changes.
Regarding omnibus legislation, again it is entirely within the purview of the government to decide what kind of legislation it brings forward. The Liberals brought forward a budget implementation act that is over 300 pages and would make amendments to over 20 statutes.
The discussion paper no longer says what the Liberals previously said. It no longer says that the Liberals would cease to bring in omnibus bills. It only says that they would end the inappropriate use of omnibus legislation. It is hard to understand what principal difference there is between their version of the appropriate use and what they described as inappropriate use at previous times.
I said in committee earlier today that omnibus legislation should be used conservatively, in both senses of the term. The government is using omnibus legislation liberally, in both senses of the term. It has not in any way offered a clear way of distinguishing between the two.
In any event, if we are going to talk about prospective standing order changes that have some relationship to the commitments that the Liberals made in and before the election, those are the two we could talk about, that being prime minister's questions, which in some sense the government has started to implement and clearly without requiring changes to the Standing Orders, and—
Mr. Matthew Dubé (Beloeil—Chambly, NDP):
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.
Mr. David Christopherson: That's right. People get it.
Mr. Adam Vaughan: How's provincial auto insurance going, David?
Mr. Matthew Dubé: Mr. Speaker, I am being heckled by an MP from Toronto about provincial politics. That shows just how seriously he takes how this place works right now.
He was elected on a commitment to make this place work better, but he stood earlier in this place and said it was about making sure the executive could pass its agenda. I hope his constituents will remember that his priority here is the executive passing its agenda, and not making sure that he has the ability, both in committee and in this place, to protect his privilege.
We are not just standing for our privilege. It is for the privilege of Liberal members as well, who have unfortunately, at least in this place, been silent on this. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall during their caucus meetings and other meetings that they have.
Not only were many of them elected in the 2015 election for the first time, but many of them also ran for the first time. I have no doubt, as I said in my speech on Tuesday on this very issue, that many of them ran because the leader of their party, who is now the Prime Minister, said that we had been going through a horrendous 10 years with a dictator in Parliament, with Stephen Harper, who does not respect the way Parliament works, who tables omnibus legislation, oops, who got elected with 38% of the vote, a so-called majority, in a system that is unfair, oops, who decides that it is more important to make announcements outside of Parliament than in Parliament, in town halls, not doing them here, oops.
All these people ran because that person, the member for Papineau who is now the Prime Minister, the man from Papineau as my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley called him, said that he would be better. He inspired literally over 100 people to run in politics, in some cases for the first time, who are here now. What does he do to thank them? He takes away their ability to participate in debate in this place and its committees. So much for real change.
The Liberal government was elected on the strength of its firm commitment to do things differently, to be different from the government of Stephen Harper and those of the other Liberal prime ministers, be it on the issue of access to Parliament Hill or invoking closure on debate and discussion, the advance distribution of the budget or a member taking photos in the House for publication on social media with negative comments about the opposition, which is simply fighting for its right to do its job, or Motion No. 6. The Prime Minister has often said he would do a better job.
The Liberal Party has to change.
He made that statement often during the last election campaign, and indeed, the Liberals have changed. Not only are they as bad as the others in some respects, but they are worse when it comes to safeguarding the importance of Parliament.
When we look at the proposed subamendments asking that the procedure and House affairs committee do better and make this issue a priority, I think that there are two things the government can do if it really believes protecting members’ privilege to be a priority. First, it can support the amendments moved by our Conservative colleagues and support the motion as a whole. In addition and above all, it can support the amendment moved by the Conservatives and guarantee that it will not go off on its own, whether on the issue of privilege or the committee's debate.
This must happen not for the members of the House, but for the people whom we represent. Personally, I want to be able to go door-to-door in my riding without every other citizen telling me that they wanted to get involved in politics because they believed in real change yet again, only to be treated with contempt and told that it was no big deal for the government to break its promises on electoral reform or on making Parliament work better.
This is why I am prepared to work with the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, and also the Liberals. In the interest of democracy, all I ask of them is a guarantee they will engage with us and not impose their way unilaterally.
Mr. Alupa Clarke (Beauport—Limoilou, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take the floor today. I want to congratulate the hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly on his very fine speech. His bilingualism is second to none. There is no question that he honours the forefathers of the two founding peoples of Canada.
My colleague from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan has quite clearly explained the matter that I am addressing today. He has provided a good history of the last three weeks, laying out each successive question of privilege. I do not intend to repeat that exercise. Although I plan to speak to the importance of a question of privilege in my introduction, my main intention is to analyze the discussion paper on House reforms, while remaining grounded in the subject at hand.
For three weeks I have been awaiting the opportunity to address my colleagues in the House on the debate before us, whether on the issue of privilege or the reforms debated in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Although some members are trying to differentiate the debates and separate their elements, they constitute a whole. Whether we are dealing with the question of privilege or the Liberal government's proposed reforms, which are meant to modernise Parliament, the issue remains the same, namely the inalienable rights of parliamentarians, and indirectly, every Canadian’s right to representation.
Over the last three weeks, I have tried to speak before the committee by getting my name on the list. I did not succeed. I also tried to speak in the House last Friday. I was here to take part in the debate, like my colleagues on the other side. I am happy to be able to speak at last, and perhaps bring a French Canadian perspective to this debate.
Many of my colleagues on this side of the House have tried to demonstrate that questions of privilege are of critical importance to members of the House of Commons as well as to the members of Westminster-style parliaments worldwide.
Questions of privilege have been centuries in the making. I think it was my hon. colleague from Yorkton—Melville who aptly explained how, centuries ago in England, kings attempted certain manoeuvres to prevent the lords or members of the bourgeoisie, who were elected members or senators at the time, lords of the upper chamber, from entering the House to vote in due course on a given bill.
Over the centuries, the respective English chambers acquired certain means of protection, the most important of which pertained to the issue of privilege which we are debating today.
The foremost purpose of the question of privilege is to ensure that access to this democratic precinct is never impaired by any particular situation, the behaviour of an individual, or laws or changes to House procedures and affairs. It is no small matter to say that the question of privilege took centuries to adequately protect.
Two weeks ago, two of my Conservative colleagues were unable to vote because they were delayed by a bus which had itself been delayed by the vehicles transporting our right honourable Prime Minister. The privilege of these two members here today to represent and speak on behalf of their constituents has, in effect, been breached, as has the privilege of all members. Every member of Parliament represents approximately 100,000 citizens.
This is a very serious issue for all members of the House, simply because of what could happen. Let us turn the tables. Imagine that this was a confidence vote and that some 30 or 40 Liberal members were unable to reach the House. The government could fall and an election could be called.
That is why we must ensure that access to the House is never restricted in any way. That is extremely important. That is why we should not hesitate to debate this for as long as we must. The breach of a parliamentary privilege could have disastrous consequences. This is a very serious matter.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, directly or indirectly, willingly or not, is trying to manage this debate on the question of privilege. Last Friday, I was here when he tried to manage the debate and call into question the pertinence of debating a question of privilege in the House. He also tried to do something like that today, in my humble analysis of the situation, context, and dynamics in the House. We can see that this is a habit of our Liberal government colleagues and the parliamentary secretary. It is the Liberal habit of wanting to manage, control, dominate, and supervise the elected members of this very honourable democratic chamber.
It would be useful to read the definition of the word “manage”. To manage means to administer. To administer what? According to the dictionary I am reading from, to manage means to administer the interests and affairs of another.
Only I can manage my interests in the House. I read the definition of the word “manage” so that we can refer to it when we read the discussion paper presented by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons entitled Modernization of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. I invite you to go to page 2, where it states:
|| Therefore, the themes of the proposed reforms are three-fold in addressing the aforementioned issues. They include: (1) the management of the House and its sittings; (2) management of debate; and (3) management of committees.
Management is the act of managing. I can hardly believe that none of the professionals in the government ever told the House leader not to put those words in the paper. Those words, along with several other words, do not belong there. I will talk about that later.
It is not up to the government to manage the House. The government manages affairs of state. It manages Canada. Fine. The government's job is to manage the interests of Canadians, not the House of Commons. Nevertheless, that is what it says here in the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons's paper on reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
The Canadian Constitution is my bible; I refer to it constantly, though I like the Bible too. If we look at the part about legislative powers, it talks about privileges. The word “privileges” is in the Canadian Constitution, right there in the British North America Act of 1867, but there is no mention of the word “manage” in the part about the House of Commons.
Of course, the Fathers of Confederation never planned, anticipated, or intended for the government or members to manage the House. On the contrary, emphasis is put on the question of privilege.
Let us look at what is happening with the government's proposed changes, which are in fact at the heart of the current debate, although we are now debating the subamendment to the question of privilege relating to issue of privilege. As I said, I will not get into the entire back story, as my colleague from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan explained it all so very well.
In fact, the debate is on the opposition members' current frustration with a disingenuous attempt by the Liberal government and especially the Prime Minister to substantially and significantly reduce the right to speak, the right to vote, and the right of all hon. members to act as they see fit in the House. It is hard to see what the government hopes to achieve exactly. I do not wish to impugn their motives. I will leave it to everyone to come up with their own interpretation. However, one thing is clear, the government's discursive arguments are deeply flawed.
Many things bother me about the discussion paper on reforming the Standing Orders. On page one, we read that Parliament “should respond to demands of greater accountability, transparency and relevance“. The Fathers of Confederation, constitutional conventions, and parliamentary conventions have never been concerned with relevance. The only thing that is very much relevant to all members and all Canadians is the election that is now held every four years under the new law. The only thing that is very much relevant is the result of the election which then translates into the division of political powers in the House of Commons. The only matter of relevance in the House is the representation of citizens and the representation of the different interests and different political forces in Canadian society.
In the second paragraph, we read that the impetus of the reforms is “to balance the desire of the minority's right to be heard with the majority's duty to pass its legislative agenda.” That is incredible. For a political minority to be heard is more than just a desire; it is a right. I was shocked to read such a thing in a text produced by the Canadian government. Is this an essay by a student at Cégep or is it a government document? It is really hard to tell.
In the third paragraph, we read that debates need to be more effective so that they are reasonable in length. Good heavens. Today I will be speaking for 20 minutes, although most of the time, I have only 10 minutes to speak. That is already unreasonable, because that is not a long time.
In my office I have a book called Canada's Founding Debates. Our predecessors in the House used to speak for two, three, four, or five hours. They would talk all night. Now we speak for 10 or 20 minutes, and we are being told that that is unreasonable. I was shocked to read those things in a government document.
The document also indicates that it is time “to re-evaluate the role of members and examine ways to increase their influence in the legislative process.” It is not easy to move forward with these kinds of reforms. In that regard, I have two very simple solutions I would like propose to the government, and I say this in all seriousness.
I have two very simple solutions to propose to the government, and I am confident that they will have the support of the House. I, for one, would champion this my entire life. If the Liberals really want to return true legislative authority to all members of the House of Commons, two things need to happen. First of all, the Prime Minister's Office needs to go. It has only been around since the 1970s anyway. Before that time, many prime ministers were both prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. They were able to pull that off without the benefit of the PMO's 700 employees. I know what I am talking about, because I myself was an intern at the PMO, which has about 200 political staffers and 500 public servants.
Then, we need to put an end to party discipline. It does not exist in England, and that is the real Westminster parliamentary system. The concept of a majority and minority is actually an illusion. In a real Westminster parliamentary system where there is a majority and a minority, the majority is constantly changing, at every moment and for every vote. That is how it is in England.
A real prime minister, in the British parliamentary system, must have the pride, conviction, and strength to convince all members of the House of Commons to take his side. In England, David Cameron has lost I do not know how many votes. Sometimes 80 of his Conservative colleagues do not vote the same way he does, but he wins the vote anyway because some democratic liberals and members of the workers' party vote with him. That is the strength of a real parliamentary majority. It is always changing.
To give power back to members, all we need to do is close the Prime Minister's Office and put and end to party discipline. If he were to do so, the Prime Minister would be acting with incredible audacity and remembered for thousands of years to come.
On page 4, the government says that the reforms will provide a greater degree of flexibility, which will “calm the acrimonious proceedings leading up to the summer and winter adjournments.”
Once again, when a person knows how liberal constitutionalism works in a Westminster parliamentary system, acrimony is welcome. Our founding fathers wanted political acrimony. The United States uses a system of checks and balances because they have a strict, airtight division of power. Here the division of power is not strict or airtight. You know that better than I do, Mr. Speaker, since you have served in this great chamber for many years.
Acrimony provides checks and balances in the House. What is more, works written by political scientists Baker, Morton, and Knopff, from the University of Calgary, and Manfredi, from McGill University in Montreal, teach us that there is acrimony among the three powers, or in other words the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. That acrimony is what allows us to come up with the best solutions for Canadians following a strong and vigorous debate.
I want to emphasize that the government's reforms, which are at the root of the question of privilege we are talking about today, and which are the subject of two more questions of privilege, would take away our rights as opposition MPs. If the Liberals really want to give members more legislative power, all they have to do is get rid of the PMO, which would be great, and put an end to party discipline.