Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I thank my opposition colleagues for the warm applause.
Let me start by making a few comments on the motion and what it means. Although many words have been spoken in previous days about government Motion No. 2, particularly by my colleague, the hon. government House leader, I think it is important for those people who may be watching for the first time that I try to explain what government Motion No. 2 is actually about.
Quite simply, government Motion No. 2 purports that all unfinished parliamentary business, which we left when we rose for the summer recess back in June, would return in the same state in which it was before we recessed. In other words, to use the vernacular, we simply want to pick up where we left off.
That in itself is not unusual. Many times before governments have, after prorogation, brought forward similar motions that allowed unfinished legislative initiatives, in other words government bills, to be brought back to Parliament in the same state that they were pre-prorogation. That is what we are doing with approximately seven bills that were still being debated when we rose for the summer and prior to prorogation.
However, we go far beyond that, because although it is normal for governments, previously, to bring back similar motions to try to start the debate on these important bills, we decided not only to just have government legislation brought back but all parliamentary work should be brought back in the same state that it was before we adjourned.
Why is that important? It is important because in committee work there are two, in particular, very important parliamentary studies being conducted by committees. These two studies, I should add, are supported wholeheartedly by members of the opposition.
We appointed a special legislative committee to study the issue of missing aboriginal women. Now, opposition members have been calling for such a study to be enacted for many months, in fact, I think over the course of the last two or three parliamentary sessions. We have agreed to that. We installed a special legislative committee that would allow for such a study to occur. However, if we do not pass Motion No. 2, that committee would be disbanded. That study would be halted.
We think it is incumbent upon us as a government to observe the hard work that parliamentarians did on all sides of the House on that committee, and bring the study to fruition. The only way we can do that is to pass Motion No. 2.
Failing that, what would happen is that there would have to be another legislative committee struck, membership presented and the committee would basically go back to square one on the analysis and study of that very important issue. Why do that? Why should we waste the valuable time that has already been spent on that very important issue? Motion No. 2 would take care of that.
The other study that is ongoing and quite frankly has just started is the study being conducted by the procedure and House affairs committee on members' expenses. I will speak about that in a little more detail in a few moments.
Let me now turn my attention to why the opposition apparently has a problem with Motion No. 2. What the official opposition has stated in its opposition to government Motion No. 2 is that it feels by lumping together government bills and committee studies somehow we are prejudicing the entire motion. They are saying we are somehow playing politics with the facts, because if the opposition wants to approve the continuation of committee studies, it is forced to vote in favour of the motion, which includes government bills.
Not only is that nonsensical, it really defies description to believe that we would even attempt to play politics with such important issues as the study on missing aboriginal women and children. I think any opposition it has to our attempt to pass government Motion No. 2 has now been allayed, because the Speaker's ruling of last Friday said we will now have two votes on the same motion.
The first vote will deal with government legislation. We will vote on whether or not to bring back all government bills in the same state they were in prior to prorogation. We are talking about bills such as the not criminally responsible reform act, the tackling contraband tobacco act, bills that had reached various stages of progression in this Parliament. Some had reached and gone through second reading. Some had reached report stage. Some had even passed third reading. Many of the government bills that we want to bring back had the full support of the entire Parliament, yet the NDP, primarily, wants to see us refuse to bring these bills back, and in effect, reintroduce them and start the debate all over again.
I ask if there is any sensibly thinking Canadian who would look at this opposition and say that this is the way we should go. Rather than continuing on and getting these bills passed, which all parliamentarians support, would anyone say they want to start all over again, have the same debate again, waste Parliament's time and waste taxpayers' time? No. No one would agree to that, except, it appears, the opposition.
Because of the ruling of the Chair, we are now going to be dealing with government bills in a separate vote. If members of the opposition vote in favour of our motion, that is not to say that they are voting in favour of each individual bill. It would merely be to say that they are voting in favour of bringing these bills back to Parliament in the same state that they were before we adjourned in June. To me, it seems like a common sense approach because most of the bills, as I said before, have been approved. Some of them have passed second reading debate. Some of them have passed third reading debate. Many have the approval of the entire Parliament. Why in the world would we want to discard all of that hard work and start over again? It does not make sense.
However, if the opposition was only concerned with the lumping of the committee studies and the government bills, now they should not have a problem with it, because we will have a second vote. That vote will be to bring back other parliamentarian work, specifically committee studies, and restore them to the same state they were in before. Clearly, it gives the opposition an opportunity to make their views known on government legislation and on committee work. If the opposition wants to vote against Motion No. 2 with respect to government bills, it can do so. If it wants to vote in favour of bringing back committee studies, it can do so. However, it will be government Motion No. 2 that we are voting on. Even though it is split into two votes, the motion, I predict, will carry, hopefully with the support of all parliamentarians.
Again, on the legislative initiatives, on the government bills, it does not mean that if the opposition members vote in favour of it, they are voting in favour of each of those seven bills. It just means that we return those bills to the Order Paper at the same point they were before we recessed for the summer. It is a common sense approach. It saves parliamentary time. It rewards the hard efforts of all the parliamentarians who debated these very important bills for several hours last spring. That seems to be a common sense approach.
Let me spend a few moments on one of the other committee studies. I want to point out what appears to me to be an apparent contradiction and the blatant hypocrisy of the NDP when it comes to the second study that I mentioned, which is the procedure and House affairs' study into MP expenses.
Only a couple of months ago, we had a special meeting. It was held in the summer, when most parliamentarians were not in Ottawa, and initiated by the NDP for the sole purpose of trying to initiate some rules, practices and procedures surrounding this ongoing study into MP expenses, trying to increase transparency so that all Canadians would feel assured that their taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and appropriately. At the time, the NDP went to great lengths to talk to the media and try to convince the media that it was the only party that truly wanted a transparent approach to member of Parliament expenses. New Democrats talked for many days and many hours, trying to convince the media that the other parties in the House, the Liberals and the Conservatives, really did not want transparency, while the NDP, of course, did.
Since that time, interestingly enough, there are only two parties in the House that have voluntarily agreed to post their MP expenses online: the Liberal Party and our party. We are doing this voluntarily.
Our position, quite clearly, is that we would like to see a procedure and a system set up, hopefully approved through the Board of Internal Economy, that all parties could agree to. In other words, we would have a common approach to posting our expenses. However, in the interim, because that may take some time to develop, our party has agreed to have our MPs post hospitality and travel expenses voluntarily on a go-forward basis. The Liberals have also agreed to that. There is only party that has not agreed: the NDP.
On one hand, the NDP is trying to convince the media and Canadians that it is the only party in favour of transparency. On the other hand, it is the only party that does not want to post its expenses online. Let us think about that for moment. Think about the hypocrisy of the NDP. All of this time when its members were talking about their attempts and desire for transparency, it was nothing more than a political stunt.
There is a saying where I come from, and many Canadians share it. It is “put your money where your mouth is”. If NDP members truly believe in transparency, I challenge them to stand up today in questions and comments following my presentation and agree that their MPs should post their expenses online. It is a simple thing. One can do it voluntarily. Some members may be doing it individually, and I applaud them for doing that, but as a party they have refused to make their MPs accountable to Canadians. They have refused, as a party, to agree to posting MP expenses online. Let them stand up today and say that they will. I would be the first to applaud them and say they have taken a positive step. However, I cannot sit here, and I certainly cannot stand here during this presentation, and admit that they are in favour of transparency when they have not proven it.
Let us vote in favour of government Motion No. 2 this evening so that we can bring back all of the legislative initiatives of this government to the same state in which they were in order to allow further debate and allow those bills to go to a vote. Some may pass and some may be defeated, but at least we should bring them back without any undue delay.
Also, let us vote in favour of bringing other parliamentary business back in the same state it was, specifically committee studies. Let the committees continue their hard valuable work, the work that Canadians have been asking for.
Finally, let the NDP members today stand in their places and say they will join us in posting MP expenses online. If they do not, it only says one thing: that they are not interested in transparency. They are not interested in allowing Canadians to see their expenses but only in political stunts, and that is something we cannot abide.
Mrs. Sadia Groguhé (Saint-Lambert, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, thank you for recognizing me to speak to Motion No. 2 moved by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.
The implications of this motion, both for the parliamentary process and for the conditions surrounding the members' work, are quite significant and therefore require meaningful debate in this chamber.
True to form, the Conservatives again introduced an omnibus measure that thoroughly confuses the debate and changes the discussion on the most controversial parts.
As it did with the mammoth bills, the government is using questionable tactics to try to push its agenda and bury the contentious measures within a whole raft of technical items.
The motion by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons deals with so many items that it becomes difficult to focus the discussion.
It addresses legislative proceedings, the parliamentary calendar, the Board of Internal Economy, committees and the hearings conducted by those committees.
It goes from themes such as expenditure management to topics like missing and murdered aboriginal girls and women.
Accordingly, in one single vote, we are to take a position on the motion's numerous components, which do not really have anything in common other than being the direct result of the Conservatives' tactics.
This makes no sense, but more than that, it is a denial of democracy, as well as yet another example of the Conservatives' flagrant lack of respect for parliamentary institutions.
In short, the Conservatives are continuing to demonstrate their contempt for Canada's parliamentary institutions.
Fortunately, last week the House leader of the official opposition rose on a point of order, and rightly so. I commend the Speaker for his fairness in agreeing to separate the vote on the motion.
In addition to considering the fact that this is an omnibus motion, we need to look at the content. The first part is undoubtedly the most questionable.
In part (a) of the motion, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is proposing that a bill introduced within 30 sitting days of this motion being passed will be deemed in the current session to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation of the previous session.
Of course, it must be identical in form to the version introduced in the previous session. Consequently, the government could reinstate legislation at the stage it was at before the House was prorogued.
However, before I delve further into the content of part (a), I think it is important to understand the context of this aspect of the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons's motion.
First, it is important to remember that the government had parliamentarians sit until midnight at the end of the last session and then hastily adjourned the proceedings on June 19.
After forcing members to work overtime, the Conservatives then robbed parliamentarians of precious hours of debate, which makes no sense. It would be like a company forcing its employees to work overtime to then lay them off before the end of a contract.
Second, it is important to point out that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said this on May 22:
||...we are seeking to allow debate to continue until midnight every night so we can get more done, have more debate, have more democracy...
That is an interesting paradox, because despite what his House leader says, on September 13, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to prorogue proceedings until October 16, 2013.
That was the fourth prorogation since 2006. Coming from a government that claims to want more democracy, this leaves something to be desired .
By doing so, the government is responsible for many negative effects, the impact of which is already being felt and will continue to be felt.
First of all, five weeks of parliamentary work were lost because of the Prime Minister's partisan recklessness.
We lost five weeks during which we could have moved committee work forward; five weeks during which we could have debated various pieces of legislation; five weeks during which opposition members could have asked nearly 1,000 questions in the House of Commons.
This decision also blocked the process surrounding the legislative error in Bill C-60 regarding tax hikes on credit unions. This measure will have a direct impact on institutions like Desjardins, whose taxes will double.
At the same time, the savings accounts and debt levels of Canadians who use those services will be affected. The additional delays caused by prorogation will only add to the uncertainty surrounding this error in Bill C-60.
Similarly, prorogation also created some stumbling blocks in the passing of legislation to stop discrimination against transgendered people, as well as the creation of a special committee to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women. These groups within our population really deserve our full support, along with quick and effective action.
While the government is putting its own partisan interests first, victims will just have to wait. Behind the Prime Minister's decision are the real victims who need us.
Finally, environmental studies on habitat conservation, the Great Lakes, the groundwater near the oil sands and the impact of climate change on northern fish populations were all dropped because Parliament was shut down. That is what we have to remember. Can the environment really wait until it fits the Prime Minister's agenda? I sincerely doubt it.
Clearly, the decision to prorogue Parliament—the main goal of which was to merely serve the partisan interests of this government—had very serious consequences.
Did we need to lose five weeks of parliamentary activity to do that? No. Did we need to miss out on all the work that could have been accomplished? No. Did we need to disrupt the legislative processes that were under way only to come back to most of them in the end? No. This whole situation is ridiculous.
Today, what the House leader is trying to do by moving an omnibus motion is to clean up the mess that his political party made. The Conservatives want to solve a problem that they caused. Let us face it. It does not make much sense.
Rather than acting in the interests of Canadians from the outset, the government has gotten caught up in trying to fix the mess it made with its own actions. Rather than taking action and holding debates in September, the Conservatives simply decided to shut Parliament down.
This series of positions and actions taken by the government demonstrates the Conservatives' ambivalence toward managing parliamentary procedure, something which—let us not forget—they have been doing in an authoritarian, questionable and anti-democratic way. Their management style is the hallmark of an old party that has lost all interest in parliamentary affairs.
On the one hand, they are setting an overloaded schedule and forcing members to hastily debate bills, as they did last spring. On the other hand, they are limiting the time for debate by moving countless time allocation motions and even rising early.
Recently, they completely bypassed the parliamentary process by proroguing the previous session. Now, a few weeks later, they are trying to bring it back by introducing a measure to that effect in an omnibus motion. This is déjà vu.
The government's piecemeal management style has consequences and brings Canada's democratic institutions and the Conservative Party as a whole into disrepute.
Getting back to the motion, we believe that we should pick up where we left off with some pieces of legislation. However, did the legislative process really have to be delayed by five weeks? Definitely not. What we are most critical of is not the proposed measure but its operationalization and, above all, the reasons why we are having this debate.
Regardless of the reasons why the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons introduced Motion No. 2, we have the right to question which specific bills will be fully brought back in their previous versions. We could also ask about the number of pieces of legislation that will be introduced again and then the pertinence of a new throne speech if the government has the same agenda.
Yesterday, there were absolutely no new ideas or any sign of a plan that would bring people together and provide a formal direction. The throne speech's lack of substance makes me seriously wonder about the real reason for the prorogation. All this time and the potential for action were lost simply for partisan reasons. Why prevent parliamentarians from doing their job by closing Parliament if the Prime Minister has nothing new to offer? Why limit the work done by the opposition if the Conservative Party claims to be championing accountability?
It is up to the government to respond.
In theory, a throne speech must set somewhat of a new course and bring something new to the legislative landscape. Restoring the bulk of the bills from the last session would demonstrate that this is a public relations exercise intended to muzzle the opposition and cover up the Conservative scandals.
In short, with respect to section (a) of Motion No. 2, it is obvious that the leader is trying to hide the Prime Minister's lack of vision regarding the prorogation of Parliament. The government wanted to clear the legislative agenda and then fully restore it. This validates the criticism that prorogation and the throne speech were just a smokescreen used to draw attention away from the scandals in which the Conservatives are mired.
That said, there are some parts of the government House leader's omnibus motion that our party agrees with, for example, the proposal to hold public hearings regarding replacing the Board of Internal Economy with an independent body. More specifically, it suggests that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be responsible for holding the hearings, and the Auditor General, the Clerk and the Chief Financial Officer of the House of Commons would participate. This in-depth study could result in some proposed changes to the Parliament of Canada Act, the Financial Administration Act, the Auditor General Act and any other acts as deemed necessary.
Historically, the NDP has always favoured more transparent and effective management of taxpayers' dollars, whether we are talking about government programs management or spending oversight parameters.
We believe in accountability. We believe in transparency. We are therefore open to the idea of closely examining the issue of MPs' spending and particularly the issue of an independent body overseeing this spending. We think this study deserves special attention and that the witnesses invited could be in a position to make relevant, proactive suggestions.
However, we must remember that such changes require co-operation among the different political parties as well as everyone involved. If we can work together, we can be sure to get the best possible reform that adequately reflects reality. We must absolutely come to a consensus on creating an independent structure that would oversee and control MPs' spending.
Yet another measure in this omnibus motion is the creation of a special committee to conduct hearings on the critical matter of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, and to propose solutions to address the root causes of violence against indigenous women.
I am especially interested in this matter and I met many of these women during a demonstration on Parliament Hill last year, so I firmly believe that we have already waited far too long to act. These women and girls are waiting and they want government authorities to intervene quickly and investigate these too easily forgotten cases. They want the government to do something to stop these attacks on human dignity. That is what the NDP has been calling for for years, and that is what the government has refused to do.
Obviously, those five lost weeks will just make the process even slower than it already was and exacerbate tensions on the ground. It is pretty easy for the government to blame the official opposition, but the government created the situation itself. Had the Conservatives not made a partisan choice to prorogue Parliament, we would already be working on this issue. Unfortunately for these aboriginal women and girls, who did not choose to become victims of this scourge and government inaction, we have not been able to work on it yet.
In conclusion, the motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is nothing but a cover for the real reason the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament. We have identified countless paradoxes that indicate this government is worn out, drowning in scandal and unable to give Canadians a real vision for their society. Rather than work in Canadians' interest, the Conservatives chose to engage in pathological partisanship, and that is something the NDP has always opposed.
The motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons does address some important concerns, but unfortunately for the people we represent, it makes about as much sense as a pyromaniac firefighter.
Mr. Bob Dechert (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of the motion to reinstate the not criminally responsible reform act.
As you know, former Bill C-54 was awaiting second reading debate in the Senate when it died on the Order Paper. I urge the members of the House to support this motion to reinstate the bill to permit the Senate to continue its study of this important piece of legislation.
It is my view that the reinstatement of the bill to second reading debate in the Senate would avoid duplication of the considerable amount of work already undertaken by the House and by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with respect to the study of this bill.
Members of the House will undoubtedly remember that former Bill C-54 was considered and debated by the House for 15 hours between February 8 and June 18 of this year. All parties had a significant opportunity to present their views and be heard on this issue. It would seem to me to be an inefficient use of resources to repeat this process on the exact same issue.
In addition to the vigorous debate in the House, the bill was exhaustively studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights this past June. Over a period of five days, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from more than 30 witnesses with a wide variety of backgrounds and professional experience.
The committee heard testimony from the former minister of justice and his officials. Victims' advocates, such as the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, also testified, as did representatives of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and representatives from other major mental health organizations.
Review board members from two jurisdictions were able to attend, as well as a psychiatrist from one of Canada's busiest forensic institutions. Several members of the legal profession and major non-governmental organizations also testified.
All of these witnesses presented valuable viewpoints on former Bill C-54. This greatly enriched the study of the not criminally responsible reform act. The justice committee was well served by their participation.
Furthermore, the committee also had the benefit of hearing directly from a number of victims who had become involved in the criminal justice system as a result of having lost a family member in an incident involving a mentally disordered accused.
It took great courage and strength for them to speak to the committee about their loss and express how the justice system can be improved. We are grateful for their participation and for the perspective that they brought to the study of this bill.
The committee heard all of these concerns and proceeded to return the bill to the House with two substantive amendments to improve it further. Reinstating the bill at second reading in the Senate would avoid unnecessary duplication of all the valuable work done by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights just this past spring.
In support of this position, I would like to take a few minutes to remind hon. members what exactly is included in the bill and why it is so important that the parliamentary review of these proposed reforms be able to continue as expeditiously as possible.
The not criminally responsible reform act seeks to amend both the mental disorder regime of the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act to enhance the protection of the public and improve the involvement of victims in the process.
The mental disorder regime in both statutes sets out the powers and procedures that govern an accused who has been found either unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible.
Individuals who fall under the mental disorder regime are supervised by provincial administrative tribunals that are referred to as review boards. These review boards are made up of legal and psychiatric experts whose task is to monitor the progress of accused persons and evaluate their potential risk to the public. They review each case on an annual basis, although in certain circumstances it could be every two years, until the individual no longer poses a significant threat to the safety of the public.
Issues of criminal responsibility for individuals who suffer from mental illness have been a vexing issue for policy-makers and lawmakers for centuries. These issues are complex and challenging from both a technical legal perspective and a societal perspective.
The not criminally responsible reform act is a targeted and reasonable response to the concern about high-risk, not criminally responsible accused who pose a higher risk to the public.
The not criminally responsible reform act has three main elements. First, it seeks to ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration when decisions are made about not criminally responsible and unfit accused. This element is intended to add clarity to an area of the mental disorder regime that has presented some confusion.
Although the Supreme Court of Canada has stated on more than one occasion that public safety is the paramount consideration in determining the proper disposition with respect to a not criminally responsible accused, there remained some concern that this interpretation was not being reflected in practice.
In fact, various witnesses who testified before the justice committee had varying views as to whether public safety was truly the paramount consideration or simply one of four listed factors to take into consideration. By clarifying that public safety is the paramount consideration in decisions regarding the mentally disordered accused person, the government is ensuring that public safety is the primary consideration of decision-makers.
Second, the bill proposes a new scheme to designate some not criminally responsible accused as high-risk accused. This scheme is intended to apply to only the small number of not criminally responsible accused who are found by a court to represent an elevated risk to society so that they would be subject to the extra protection provided through this designation.
The high-risk designation would ensure that a not criminally responsible accused would be held in custody in a hospital and could not be considered for any kind of release until the high-risk designation was revoked by the court. High-risk not criminally responsible accused would not be eligible to receive unescorted passes into the community and would only receive escorted passes in narrow circumstances, such as for medical reasons. This designation would operate to protect the public by ensuring that the not criminally responsible accused who posed the highest risk would not have unsupervised access to our communities and neighbourhoods.
Another outcome of the high-risk designation would be that the review board would be able to extend the time period between reviews. As I mentioned, the review board usually reviews each case on an annual basis, which can be extended up to two years in certain circumstances under the current law. This bill proposes to provide the review board with the discretion to increase the period of time between reviews to up to three years if the accused has been designated a high-risk not criminally responsible accused. The review boards would be able to extend the length of time in two circumstances: if the accused consents to the extension; and if the review board is satisfied, on the basis of relevant information, that the accused's condition is not likely to improve and that detention remains necessary for the period of the extension.
Finally, the bill also proposes significant changes to the victim-related provisions of the mental disorder regime to improve information-sharing and victim participation in the mental disorder regime.
The government is very committed to addressing the concerns of all victims of crime, not just those impacted through the mental disorder regime. In fact, over the summer, the minister travelled to many parts of Canada to engage in consultations with stakeholders on developing a federal victims' bill of rights that would provide victims with a more effective voice for victims in the criminal justice and corrections systems.
Our government is taking action to ensure that our streets and communities are safe. This includes enhancing the rights of victims so that they know that they have a voice in the criminal justice system. One of the key themes that emerged from these consultations was the desire for victims of crime to be kept informed and involved at every stage of the justice process. The victim-related reforms in the not criminally responsible reform act are a step in that direction. They address this concern by increasing the information that would be made available to victims and by ensuring that their safety was considered when decisions were made. For example, the bill would require courts and review boards to specifically consider the safety of the victim when determining whether a not criminally responsible accused remained a significant threat to the safety of the public.
Another improvement to the victim-related provisions in the mental disorder regime would be a requirement that review boards consider in every case whether to make a non-communication order between the victim and the mentally disordered accused. The review board would also have to consider whether to issue an order preventing an accused from going to a certain place. These elements would be in place to both increase the safety of the victims and to ensure their peace of mind.
Victims who have become involved in the mental disorder regime have also expressed concern that they have no way of knowing when a not criminally responsible accused is going to be released or discharged into the community. They expressed apprehension about encountering the accused in their neighbourhoods or communities with no warning.
In response to this concern, the bill proposes that for victims who want to be notified, the review board would be required to notify them when a not criminally responsible accused was being discharged into the community. This provision was amended by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights during its deliberations to increase the amount of information the victim would receive. Specifically, the amendment would provide that a victim could receive information regarding the intended place of residence of the accused upon discharge. This amendment was intended to ensure that interested victims were made aware if the accused was going to be located in their community upon release. The committee felt that this amendment would be a positive addition to the victim-related components of the not criminally responsible reform act, and I agree with them.
It is important to note that the victim-related reforms were supported by every witness who testified at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. All of the witnesses who commented on these elements were very supportive.
There are a few final things I would like to emphasize with respect to this legislation. The bill should not be interpreted as implying that people with mental illness are presumptively dangerous. That is not what the bill does. I can assure all hon. members that the proposed reforms are consistent with the government's efforts regarding mental illness and the criminal justice system. In addition to seeking to protect the public, it also seeks to ensure that the mentally disordered accused receive fair and appropriate treatment. I am confident that the not criminally responsible reform act would not have a negative impact on the broader issue of mental illness in the criminal justice system, nor is it intended to fuel stigma against the mentally ill.
Before I conclude my discussion on the substance of the bill, I would like to bring to the attention of the House one other amendment made to the bill by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This other amendment provides for a parliamentary review of the mental disorder provisions five years following royal assent. The committee members unanimously agreed that it would be beneficial to review the amendments to ensure that they were having the intended effect. Given the highly technical nature of this area of criminal law, I think hon. members would agree with me that the amendment is a welcome one and would likely provide Parliament with valuable information as to the impact of the proposed reforms.
I would like to return now to the issue at hand, the motion currently before the House to reinstate Bill C-54 at the stage it was at in the Senate. I encourage all members to vote in favour of the motion to avoid significant duplication of effort, and most importantly, to ensure that this important legislation, whose main focus is aimed at protecting the public and addressing the concerns of victims, can quickly become law.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I think it would be helpful to those watching, and certainly to some members of Parliament who are here and have already participated in the debate, to set the context of why we are having this conversation.
Various members seem to have connected this to one piece of legislation or another, or the government's intention on one bill or item in the throne speech. It has nothing to do with any of that. All of this has been created. It is a manufactured crisis and a manufactured inability of the majority Conservative government of the day to simply negotiate in basic common sense and good faith.
A prorogation, which I will remind my colleagues across the way of the Conservatives own making, bears a small parenthetical moment because the prorogation was for what again? Right, it was to help the government reset the channel. It was in desperate straits.
If we cast our memories back to the end of the last parliamentary session, it was Whack-a-Mole on scandal with the Conservative government. Every day we woke up to another scandal by either a member getting accused by Elections Canada of fraudulently running the last campaign or another senator perhaps having stolen money from the Canadian taxpayer, all of which was associated to the Prime Minister and going right into the very heart of the Prime Minister's inner circle, his chief of staff and directors of this and that.
We find out today that the scandal was at an even deeper level, a more rotten level, because the Prime Minister assured all Canadians at the time, in the spring, that it was the grassy knoll theory, it was a rogue chief of staff, as if those two things go together for a prime minister like this that he would hire a chief of staff who would suddenly one day just go rogue and keep him in the dark of something that was dominating the news of the day.
Now what the government came back with after its attempt to reset the channel to change the conversation was a throne speech with a number of items borrowed from the NDP's last platform. The Conservatives are welcome, and I hope they actually do them.
The second set of things is to protect consumers, which is nice. I know the Minister of Finance may have had a bit of an itch watching these various announcements come out because so much for the invisible hand of the marketplace. The Conservatives with their deep-founded ideology that the market solves all in all cases now find themselves a finance minister in charge of measures that come out of a social democratic party's previous election platform to help on credit card fees potentially, maybe moving from voluntary, which is very nice. Perhaps the Minister of Finance would like to have voluntary tax measures for Canadians such that, “You can pay your taxes. We would like you to, but if you don't want to pay your taxes, we'll have a cuddly relationship like we do with the banks and they can voluntarily reduce those fees for Canadians, or not, without any consequences”.
Also, they would see their Minister of Finance having to be responsible, and maybe even interfering in the marketplace, for the cellphone rates that Canadians pay. Members will remember that the Conservatives went out on a very high horse and said that they were going to bring in competition for the Canadian cellphone market.
How has that been going so far? It is an absolute disaster. The Conservatives have created uncertainty in the telco market. There has been absolutely no new entrance into the cellphone market and the Minister of Finance laughs at those very consumers he now pretends to care about. One wonders about the authenticity of those words in that throne speech.
However, I will come back to why we are here, which is another closure motion. It is another motion to shut down debate.
I do not know if the Minister of Finance is paid per heckle, but I wonder if he could, for the next 18 minutes, contain his enthusiasm for my remarks and then he and I can have an exchange of ideas through what we call the question part of this debate. Apparently he cannot contain himself nor have any ideas.
The political loans bill is legislation that the minister and his party supported through the process. It is a political loans bill that was meant to catch those members of Parliament, or generally Canadians, who ran for political office, ran for the leadership of their parties, and allow for Elections Canada, as it simply did not have the ability, to go after those who had not repaid after a certain time. Now the Conservatives wrote this bill, with the support of the NDP in principle, but they then brought in a bill that was so ultimately flawed that Elections Canada said that it was utterly unworkable. The Conservative members on the committee said that it could not be rewritten. Now we have a motion—
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Nathan Cullen: Mr. Speaker, if only a moment could go by where I could perhaps string a sentence or two together without having the parliamentary secretary feeling that I need the aid and assistance of his wise and deeply provoking comments.
The idea is the bill was so flawed the Conservatives now want to introduce it and tell the opposition that it will put this into a super motion.
In fact, in this omnibus motion to reintroduce all the legislation, good and bad, that it killed through prorogation, the government is also attaching two fundamentally critical studies that the House was engaged in at the time it shut down Parliament.
The first study was on MPs expenses, the procedure and a motion that the NDP introduced to allow the procedure and House affairs committee to get to the bottom of a battered system for members of Parliament to report their expenses to Canadians, not a voluntary measure as the Liberals have done with vague lines and some reporting and some not, not as the Conservatives have promised to do, which is to follow suit into that epic vagueness that does not actually bring accountability. It was universal, one-size-fits-all enforceable measures that all MPs, whatever their political background, report their expenses on behalf of Canadians. This would be audited and absolutely clarified by House staff rather than internally by themselves.
The second study that was going on is one that is extremely important to me and to many Canadians. It was a study that looked at missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The New Democrats supported this study. I represent an area in northwestern British Columbia that has borne the brunt of much of this violence. Successive governments simply will not call for an inquest and inquiry that so many families of those victims want.
The Conservative government continually talks about standing up for victims. My friends have been deeply scarred by the tragedy of particularly young aboriginal women going missing and ending up murdered and yet governments time and time again have simply said that an inquiry is not enough. I have talked to RCMP officers, friends of mine, who have had to sit with those families. They tell them that they can only do what they can with the resources they have. They tell them that until they have the full scope of an investigation that would be done by an inquiry, they cannot do much more.
The government is asking Canadians to trust it when it does not trust Canadians. This could have been an easy fix. We do not need to be having this debate. We could have absolutely moved certain legislation forward. Other legislation that were clearly walking disasters would not be reintroduced and we would not waste more parliamentary time. We could have had a stand-alone vote on these two independent studies on MPs expenses and missing and murdered aboriginal women.
We offered that to the government. We told the government that it should not put these things together because there was a principle in the House of Commons that every vote should be free and fair and that people should be able to vote with a clear conscience. The Conservatives used to believe in that as well. Thankfully, the Speaker was able to intervene after we asked him to separate the votes. That was all. The government argued against it, saying there was no need to have two votes on two completely different things. What sense would that make?
I remember the Conservative government being elected in 2006 as the good sheriff coming in to clean up corrupt and entitled Ottawa. While the Prime Minister came to change Ottawa, I am wondering if Ottawa did not change him in the end.
I will quote from the right hon. Prime Minister in 2005:
|| There's going to be a new code on Parliament Hill: bend the rules, you will be punished; break the law, you will be charged; abuse the public trust, you will go to prison...
Reflect that upon the scandals that have been going on in the very same Prime Minister's own office with people he chose, people he hand selected, people he laid hands on to go to the Senate and represent the Conservatives. I am talking of Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin and Patrick Brazeau.
The Prime Minister chose his chief of staff, probably the most important appointment a prime minister can make because the individual has so much influence over the direction of the prime minister, who said that it was ethically correct to pay a senator $90,000 to stay quiet. Today we found out today he conducted the speaking notes for this under siege senator to go out and say s was the plan, that he was covered. The Prime Minister stood up day after day and said that it was just one lone wolf in the Prime Minister's Office, that there could not have possibly been anybody else.
Let me quote the Right Hon. Prime Minister again:
|| We must clean up corruption and lift up the veils of secrecy that have allowed it to flourish. We must replace the culture of entitlement with a culture of accountability.
We could talk to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the old one or the new one, about what it is like to actually have accountability from the Conservative government. It is just numbers. These individuals just want the stats, the figures, the money being spent or not being spent on programs. They could not get it. They had to go to court.
Ask the Auditor General, the Ethics Commissioner or the information commissioner what the government is like when it comes to accountability. Every watchdog that we have established over many hard years of debate to hold government to account has said that the most transparent government in history is not here, that the current government has thrown more of a cover over what is going on within its office than any government in Canadian history.
The RCMP raided the Conservative Party headquarters in 2008. One small note of helpfulness is that the government has kept the RCMP busy. Unfortunately, it is because of all these bad things going on. As well there is Elections Canada, the in and out scandal and laundering money through the central offices to make sure it could spend well above the limit, thereby not playing fairly.
Let us not forget Peter Penashue, who sat in that chair. My friends will remember that day after day we would ask questions of the good minister, who was being well paid, provided with a limo and had lots of staff. We would ask devastatingly difficult questions, like what the minister's mandate is, and he would stay seated. We would ask the minister what his plans were and he would stay quiet. We would ask him where he has visited and what communities he has consulted with. He was the intergovernmental affairs minister, and he spent all of his time in Labrador. That is not intergovernmental affairs. Lo and behold, he broke the election law and had to return a whole bunch of money because he spent over the limit.
There is the Senate scandal, Bruce Carson, Arthur Porter, and the former spokesperson for the Prime Minister, the member of Parliament for Peterborough, who was also being taken to court by Elections Canada. There were robocalls, and the Wright-Duffy affair that I mentioned.
It seems amazing to me, and perhaps a culture. One cannot string all of these things together and say there is not a patterned language within the government. Time and time again, it simply says the rules do not apply to it, that somehow the democratic institutions that we have established, the watchdogs and the checks on power, do not apply to them. That is a level of arrogance that is dangerous in a free and fair society. It always catches up.
The government has used closure to shut down debate and discussion and avoid having to justify its policies. Here is the real danger with all of these closure motions. This is how it typically happens now. We get a motion like we did a couple of days ago, and the debate may not even have started and the government brings in closure. It does not matter whether the opposition agrees with the legislation or not, the government shuts down debate.
The challenge, risk, and difficulty is that these bills mean something sometimes and can have devastating effects if they are done badly. The government stacks witness lists at committee and limits the amount of time that government or opposition members can move amendments on legislation. Some of the pieces of legislation are incredibly complex. Any time we touch the justice system one has to be aware of unintended consequences, trying to go after one issue and not realizing it is doing more harm on another. These are things that the Conservative government has not been able to rectify.
What happens is that the government rams a list of pieces of legislation through Parliament by invoking closure and shutting down debate and then has to abandon them because they are illegal or unconstitutional. Or, it has the audacity to pass it all the way through the so-called chamber of sober second thought. Then it becomes law and we find out that the government's constitutional lawyers warned the government that its new bill was against the charter. Someone brings a charter challenge in the real world and wins, and the Canadian government and taxpayers spend millions of dollars defending a political photo op for some minister to say he was doing something. In effect, he was doing worse than nothing; he was doing harm because he gave people hope that something was going to change. The government writes a bad piece of legislation, rams it through and does not listen to anybody else.
However, never mind the opposition, what if the government members listened to themselves? This is what the current Minister of Industry said regarding these closure motions that we are under today. He stated:
|| Mr. Speaker, here we go again. This is a very important public policy question that is very complex and we have the arrogance of the government in invoking closure again. When we look at the Liberal Party on arrogance it is like looking at the Grand Canyon. It is this big fact of nature that we cannot help but stare at.
That was the current industry minister arguing against the Liberals using closure inappropriately, but at not even half the pace that the Conservatives now do.
I have quotes from the whole front bench. It is incredible. Essentially, anybody who sat in opposition in the Conservative Party at some point detested this act. In particular I remember when the Reform Party came in. It not only wanted to clean up the corruption and entitlement that had grown under the Liberals for years, but also the basic fundamental democratic values that we hold, that Parliament should be the sacred place in which we come together and debate those issues as hard as we want, but that we debate and offer evidence: point and counterpoint.
Closure sends the absolute wrong message to Canadians about the health of our democracy.
The use of closure is another symptom from a government that does not only attempt to muzzle Parliament and the opposition. We saw the little fiasco in the dust-up with the media the other day where the government did not want reporters in, and heaven help any journalist, or the PBO, the Auditor General, government scientists, and even its own backbench, who asks the Prime Minister a question that is not scripted.
This is an interesting one for me because there is a unifying quality with these different folks, from the media to the watchdogs of Parliament to the government's own backbench from time to time. The unifying quality is that we do not accept every utterance that comes from the Prime Minister's Office as gospel. We do not treat what the government introduces as perfect and sacrosanct. The making of legislation is a difficult thing. It is hard. One should not be so arrogant as to think that when one writes it the first time one gets it right. A student writing a paper in high school does not believe that. Why would a government writing a 300-page justice bill think that every utterance, comma and period in that bill is perfect before it has heard from anybody else?
Now, the muzzling of the Conservative backbench is an interesting phenomenon. It bubbles up and simmers down and bubbles up and simmers down. It seems to be very much connected. The job description of somebody sitting in the so-called backbench is to hold the government to account. That is their main role: to hold the government to account.
I will quote from the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, who said:
|| I joined the Reform/conservative movements because I thought we were somehow different, a band of Ottawa outsiders riding into town to clean the place up, promoting open government and accountability. I barely recognize ourselves, and worse I fear that we have morphed into what we once mocked.
The reason he was upset was not because he did not get a softball question that the government throws out every once in a while; it was because the government refused to support his bill on transparency. He dug in his heels and showed some conviction.
For my colleagues on the Conservative benches, I wonder if that was not a signal. When the MP from British Columbia dared to bring up the issue that his constituents wanted to talk about, the issues surrounding a woman's right to choose about abortion services in Canada, the amount of pressure put on him to not even raise the issue was extraordinary. We end up with these very bizarre scenarios in which we, the opposition, go to the public to defend his right to represent his constituents, while his own party, his own government, suppresses that freedom to make a 60-second statement in the House of Commons on what he chooses. That is what we have come to.
For my colleagues on the backbench of the Conservative Party, it seems that there must come a point where enough is enough, as it was for our friend from Edmonton. There is the carrot-and-stick approach of the current Prime Minister the dangling of certain opportunities and trips, and maybe one day making it into cabinet so they can be shown what to say and do, versus the ability to actually represent people.
I can remember my first nomination race and the speeches we gave, or the private conversations we have had with supporters, saying, “I want to do things differently. I want to restore the faith. I want to diminish the cynicism. I want to take further power away from the guys within the PMO”. Remember when we used to say it is who one knows in the PMO? Well, who one knows in this PMO can get one thrown in jail it seems. This is a dangerous place that we have come to, where the federal police of our country are investigating the highest levels of power in the Prime Minister's Office.
Here we are today with a government that is so arrogant as to say that whatever it suggests should be decreed in law, regardless what Parliament thinks and regardless of how Canadians voted in the last election. It is that rot, that growing entitlement and arrogance, that moves so far away from the original intention of what that party may have once stood for. It will eventually, and of course, be its undermining, yet it cannot see that when it comes to these omnibus motions and shutting down debate more than any government in history.
This is a government that has refused to look at the evidence as it is. The evidence is that this place can function. Parliament can be a place where we engage with one another with our best ideas, our best thoughts, and the best voices we can have on behalf of the constituents we seek to represent. It need not be this place of acrimony, of a government abusing the tools available to it, of constant scandal, police investigations and Elections Canada investigations.
It can be a better place, where ideas from the right and the left can form a better and more perfect country. That is what Parliament is built to do, not what it is doing here with the government. In 2015, we will rectify that.
Mr. Rick Dykstra:
Mr. Speaker, I think the key word in your decision was the word “affect”. The fact is that what we are presenting very cautiously but very consistently is the whole reason around what we would like to see reintroduced in the House. I happen to represent and speak to a piece of legislation, Bill C-49, that we would like to have reintroduced in the House. I thank you for your decision and judgment on that and I will continue.
As we have mentioned in past debates, the children's museum will continue to be an integral part of the new museum, as will the Grand Hall and the First Peoples Hall, which present chapters of our story and our history that are of immense importance, the history of Canada's first peoples.
However, more than just the name of the museum would change; so too would the mandate and the exhibits. Canadians living from coast to coast should be able to benefit from the 3.5 million items currently in the collection at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. That is why we are building and encouraging partnerships between the new Canadian museum of history and over 2,500 museums, including one in my riding of St. Catharines, which just opened up an exhibit regarding 1812 and the role that Sir Isaac Brock and the Niagara region played in the War of 1812.
The partners will have access to the new museum's collection which, as I mentioned, numbers some 3.5 million artifacts. As is the case with most museums, the vast majority of the new museum's collection has been in storage. With that goal in mind, the future Canadian museum of history is signing partnership agreements with a number of museums to establish a nationwide museum network. The agreements being negotiated with the largest institutions that have a mandate to cover the history of Canada will play a key role in moving this collection across the country and making it accessible to more Canadians.
In fact, I would like to update the House that there are currently three such partnership agreements, one with the Royal B.C. Museum, another with the Manitoba Museum and a third with Calgary's Glenbow Museum, and there will be others right across our country.
The Canadian history museum network will enhance the production and the reach of exhibitions focusing on Canadian history. By helping museums throughout Canada provide more opportunities for us to learn about our history, the Canadian museum of history's partnerships with other museums will serve as a tremendous resource in the future.
I would like my colleagues in the House to know that this project has received support from prominent Canadian historians, such as Jack Granatstein, Charlotte Gray, and many others. Michael Bliss, Canadian historian and award-winning author, said that it is very exciting that Canada's major museum will now be explicitly focused on Canada's history.
Organizations such as the Canadian Museums Association, Canada's History, and the Historica-Dominion Institute have also expressed their support. Yves Fortier, member of the Historica-Dominion Institute board of directors, said, “...the Historica-Dominion Institute enthusiastically supports the creation of the Canadian museum of history.”
Historians and historical associations across the country see tremendous value in promoting Canadian history, and so does our government. John McAvity, executive director of the Canadian Museums Association, stated, “The Canadian Museums Association welcomes these improvements to one of Canada's flagship national museums.”
We are creating the Canadian museum of history, but it does not stop there. We are also taking other steps to protect and promote Canada's history. For example, we have created the Canada history fund, which will provide awards to outstanding students and teachers of history. As well, we are providing supporting for the Historica-Dominion Institute to create two new Heritage Minutes each year between now and 2017, when Canadians will celebrate this country's 150th birthday.
We are also increasing support for projects like the Memory Project Speakers Bureau, which makes it possible for thousands of young students to meet Canadian veterans and active members of the Canadian Armed Forces right in their own classrooms. This project is a fantastic way for all of us to pay tribute to our veterans and to learn more about this very important part of our country's history and our country's heritage.
Our government will also increase our present funding for reference sources, such as the Dictionary of Canadian Biography and The Canadian Encyclopedia. These are extremely valuable tools that help teachers in the classroom, and because they are online, they are available to anyone who has an interest in exploring these fascinating entries.
As I mentioned, the Canadian museum of history's partnerships will encourage museums big and small, and from all parts of the country, to share more exhibits and more artifacts from one side of the country to the other. This is not something that people are going to have to come to Ottawa to see; this is something that Ottawa is going to ensure spreads out across this entire country.
Moving exhibits and artifacts does cost money, though, so the Canadian Heritage museums assistance program will now support travel costs associated with moving materials from the Canadian museum of history to local museums right across our country. To ensure more local history circulates, we have also changed the program to support museums that want to circulate history exhibits within their own province or their own territory.
Ours is a fascinating history that dates back long before the first European settlers arrived on these shores. It tells of people from around the world coming here to seek a better life for themselves and for their families, and how, bringing with them different languages, different religions, and different customs, they learned to live together in mutual respect and be an example as a country to the rest of the world. Together our ancestors built a country that is the envy of many people throughout the world. What an incredibly proud heritage we have.
With the approach of Canada's 150th birthday in 2017, we have a golden opportunity to learn more about our past. What a wonderful time to discover the perseverance, innovation, and creativity of great Canadians who have been instrumental in building our communities and our country and to pay tribute to the dedicated men and women who brought distinction to Canada in so many different areas of endeavour.
Over the course of 150 years of nationhood, we have earned an international reputation for excellence in many fields, including the arts, sports, and literature. In fact, I want to congratulate Canadian Alice Munro for recently winning the Nobel Prize for literacy. It is just another example of the role that she and other Canadians play and their role in history that we will see in the Canadian museum.
This is a perfect opportunity to celebrate the people, places, and events that have made Canada the incredible country that it is, events such as Canada's first Arctic expedition. This year marks the 100th anniversary. It was 100 years ago that it took place.
In 2015 we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the flag of Canada with our much-loved red maple leaf. As well, over the next few years, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the births of Sir George-Étienne Cartier and Sir John A. Macdonald's, as well as the 175th anniversary of Sir Wilfrid Laurier's birth.
These people and events that helped establish our nation are critical to understanding where we came from and where we are going. In learning more about them, we can discover much about how we got to where we are now: democratic, proud, and free, a strong country that is building on its past to pursue excellence today and to pursue excellence tomorrow.
Our government believes all children in this country—indeed, all people in this country—should have the opportunity to learn about our rich heritage. In so doing, we hope they will be inspired to make their own contributions to this great country.
That is why I am very pleased that our government is investing in the initiatives that I have outlined and is creating the new Canadian museum of history. A new national history museum will allow us to learn more about our past and by doing so inspire us to even greater achievements in the future. As members know, we as a country and as peoples continue to write history.
Bill C-49 was introduced and received first reading last year on November 27. It would make a number of changes to the Museums Act in relation to the current Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation that would allow it to evolve into the Canadian museum of history.
As the bill made its way through the House, there was a great deal of discussion. Although sometimes the opposition is not always thrilled to hear this, in fact it was debated for more than 14 hours in this chamber. During second reading, many members had the opportunity to express any concerns they may have had or to speak about why they consider the Canadian museum of history to be significant.
When the legislation was referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, the minister at that time, as well as many other individuals and associations and organizations, was invited to speak about the bill.
For example, committee members heard from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, through its president and chief executive officer, Mark O'Neill, and from the Canadian Museums Association, through its executive director and CEO, John McAvity. Anthony Wilson-Smith, the president of the Historica Canada, appeared before the committee as well. These are just a few examples, but there were many others who came to the table at the heritage committee to express their thoughts, their vision, and their belief in why we should move forward with this piece of legislation, but more importantly, with this new piece of history.
It is also important to point out that at report stage last June, Bill C-49 was debated a further six hours, for a total of 20 hours of debate in the House of Commons on our new Canadian museum of history. All the debates that took place during the last session of Parliament are still applicable today, because the bill we want to reinstate is exactly the same.
A good deal of the House's time, energy, and effort has been invested in studying this legislation, and the government sees no further value to be gained in repeating what has been an extensive review so far. For that reason, we ask, respectfully and humbly, that the said bill be deemed, in the current session, as being considered and approved at all stages completed, at the time of prorogation, in the previous session.
As we approach Canada's 150th birthday, it is an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate our history and those achievements that define us as Canadian. The establishment of the Canadian museum of history would provide Canadians with the opportunity to learn, appreciate, and understand the richness of Canadian history. I hope all members will join me in supporting the reinstatement of Bill C-49 at third reading. The opening of the Canadian museum of history in 2016 is going to be one of the highlights leading up to 2017.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I thank the House for the opportunity to join in a debate that I find increasingly difficult to stay out of. The more I listen to some of the diversionary tactics being put forward by my Conservative colleagues as they try to obscure the depth and the breadth of the real substance of the issue that we are debating today, the more increasingly uncomfortable I get. They either do not get it or they are deliberately trying to avoid the reality of what they are doing today to undermine, sabotage and diminish our parliamentary democracy as we see it today.
I agree with my colleague from St. John's and also my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley who made the point that there is nothing untoward, nothing particularly unconstitutional about prorogation. However, when that legitimate parliamentary procedural tactic is abused in a systematic way, it undermines and diminishes the integrity of the parliamentary democracy that both sides of the House dedicate ourselves to.
Maybe the masterminds, the architects of their strategy, realize it, but I am not sure some of the backbenchers realize what a fragile construct we enjoy in our Westminster parliamentary democracy. It requires the two requisite parts to play their roles, to effectively debate and test the merits of legislation put before us. Our strict and rigid guidelines with which to do that are being systematically undermined as we speak because there is nothing normal about using prorogation to avoid being accountable to members of the House of Commons, and by extension to the people of Canada that those members of the House of Commons represent.
By the same reasoning it is completely an affront to democracy to bypass after prorogation the normal negotiations that often take place in order to put certain pieces of legislation of particular merit and virtue back where they were before prorogation.
What is happening today and what my colleague from St. John's was trying to point out is that the government is trying to do an end run on all of that. The Conservatives are trying to have it both ways. They prorogued Parliament to avoid accountability for the increasingly embarrassing Senate scandals. They delayed for an extra six weeks because they said they needed more time to craft a new legislative agenda for the fall session. That is what they told the general public, yet when we have taken this extra six weeks off so that they can presumably recalibrate their legislative agenda, the first item of business, Motion No. 2, would reinstate everything that happened before. Everything would start exactly where it left off as if prorogation never happened. The Conservatives cannot have it both ways. They should not be able to have it both ways. I would argue that it is an affront and it should offend the sensibilities of any member of Parliament who considers himself or herself a democrat.
The Senate scandals are perhaps deeper and more fundamental than we even realize. I am sure Conservative members are reeling with shock and horror at every revelation that comes forward. It now becomes apparent that the good senator currently at the eye of the hurricane is not going to go gently into that good night. In fact, he is going to go down kicking and screaming, and he fully intends to take a lot of people down with him.
The Conservatives have not done a very good job of avoiding the very reason that I believe they prorogued Parliament, but let us put it in context.
The whole idea of prorogation and a new Speech from the Throne is to put forward a new vision for where the government wants to take the country. A Speech from the Throne should not simply tweak existing programs or make minor alterations to what had already been under way. We did not hear anything of substance in the Speech from the Throne to deal with what I believe is the biggest problem that Canada has right now, and that is the fact that it has now become increasingly obvious and declared by the courts that the 2011 federal election was decided by widespread electoral fraud.
One would think that the ruling party, the government in power, would be concerned by this now that the courts have ruled that in 246 ridings, by their count and they are not finished their examination, there was widespread fraud that sought to undermine the democratic process and deny Canadians the right to cast their ballot in a free and fair election, free of intimidation, harassment and molestation. In fact, people systematically tried to deny Canadians the right to vote. That should horrify every person in this room, yet the Speech from the Throne is silent on it and there is nothing in the legislative agenda to correct it in the 18 months or two years that we have before we go to the polls again in another federal election. We are just as vulnerable to those who would seek to defraud the electoral system and steal another federal election by cheating. It concerns me that not a single word in the Speech from the Throne deals with this, whether it is robocalls or widespread electoral fraud. As I have said, people should be horrified by this.
The Conservatives have made reference to the loophole loans bill. In fact, we used to call it the Mazda bill because it was the Conservative member for Mississauga—Streetsville who used his own Mazda dealership to loan himself a quarter of a million dollars to run his election campaign. Of course, when is a loan not a loan? If one never pays it back it is not really a loan, it is a gift or a donation. This is what gave cause to bring in some kind of a loophole bill to plug this loophole. We are not going to have any satisfaction in that either.
We have a problem. We have a serious democratic deficit. We have a democracy that is really only a facsimile of a democracy. I mean, our democracy today in 2013 reminds me of one of those California strawberries or those tomatoes from the supermarket that taste like cardboard. It looks like a tomato but it does not taste anything like a tomato. That is kind of what the public sees. They see us going through the motions of a democracy here, but in actual fact the people across the aisle with their logic that the end justifies the means in every single case have been sabotaging and undermining this fragile democratic structure that we call the Westminster parliamentary system in every way imaginable.
Going back to the widespread electoral fraud, one has to look to motive and opportunity I suppose any time one looks for who committed an offence. The courts have been very helpful to us, but failed to point out specifically, or could not say specifically, that it was the Conservative Party of Canada that orchestrated this widespread electoral fraud. However, the courts did say that it was the Conservative Party of Canada's CIMS database that was used to orchestrate this widespread electoral fraud. One looks to who would benefit from cheating at this level. I mean, why would all the NDP and Liberal voters be phoned in a riding and lied to that their polling station had moved? I do not think we would do that ourselves.
These are some of the concerns that I have as I listen to this debate about what is really red herrings and smoke screens. We are debating the relative merits and virtues of having a museum change its name, when the big picture here is that we have a democratic deficit that is severely problematic. I do not know how we can continue unless that is dealt with. Therefore, if one is going to prorogue Parliament and come back with a Speech from the Throne, one is either negligent or demonstrating wilful blindness if one does not talk about what I think is the most serious thing facing us today as members of Parliament.
I have mentioned the political loans bill, but I would also like to point out some of the things that are happening in Parliament today, never mind political loans and electoral fraud. There is the whole notion of omnibus bills. We are dealing with an omnibus bill now. Essentially this motion is omnibus by nature in that it affects however many pieces of legislation introduced in the 41st Parliament.
However, there are two things I would like to point out about what is problematic in the period of time leading up to the situation in which we find ourselves. This whole notion of omnibus bills is, by its very nature, undemocratic and has to be challenged. We have 60 or 70 pieces of legislation rolled into one with a few hours of debate and a few hours of committee hearings. Some of the things that happened within those omnibus bills are wide, sweeping and deserve a great deal of national attention and scrutiny. How much time did we really spend in the House of Commons on the issue of changing the age of retirement from 65 to 67? How much time were we allowed? How much time at committee could we call witnesses to ask them about the need to change the age of retirement to 67 years old?
There were pieces of legislation affected by these omnibus bills that had huge impacts on industrial sectors where not a word was spoken. It was by accident that we stumbled across one bill that was repealed and was called the construction fair wage and hours of work act. It set minimum wages in the construction industry. Then the same omnibus bill has changes to temporary foreign workers legislation where people can get a temporary foreign worker in 10 days. In one step, they would eliminate the minimum wage laws for construction workers to where people can pay them the provincial minimum wage, and in the second step they invite contractors to bring in temporary foreign workers within 10 days. How is a fair contractor in this country who hires construction workers at a living wage ever going to compete on another job if contractors can now pay a minimum wage on a federal construction project and bring in temporary foreign workers? These things would have come up if we had the opportunity to test the merits of their arguments with rigorous, robust debate as was intended by the very structure of the House of Commons.
Then these things go to committee stage where they also gerrymander the type of witnesses we can hear. Committees used to be the last bastion of some non-partisan co-operation, where we would leave our political baggage at the door and do what is right for the country. I have been a member of Parliament for awhile here. I was here when the Liberals had a majority government and I was the only NDP member on that committee. I used to move amendments to pieces of legislation and have them succeed. That sounds like pie in the sky today, it sounds like a fantasy.
Mr. Speaker, do you know how many amendments have been passed? You probably do, or the table can help us.
Not a single amendment to a single piece of legislation in the entire 41st Parliament has been allowed. Does that mean the Conservatives have a monopoly on all good ideas? Does that mean they would not benefit from any suggestion from anyone? Amendments are being denied and declined on the basis of where they come from, not the merits of the language.
This is what I mean about undermining some of the most fundamental principles of our parliamentary democracy. It is almost absurd when we think about it. The Conservatives will not allow any controversial subjects to ever be debated anymore. We used to have some really interesting exchanges. Studies that I think elevated the standard of political discourse in the whole country occurred at parliamentary committees once upon a time, but not anymore. If we suggest a study that is any more challenging than pablum, we will not get it through. The Conservatives will deny it. They want to tie us up with busy work for 18 months, studying nothing and producing reports that go nowhere and gather dust. That is the state of the nation.
I am not proud of it and in fact I think we are wasting our time. In actual fact, our democracy is in tatters. We are getting these omnibus pieces of legislation so there is no scrutiny, no oversight, no due diligence, pieces of legislation flying past us. We hardly even get a chance to read them by the time this guy, the House leader for the Conservatives moves closure. He sometimes moves closure on the same day that he introduces legislation. There is nothing unconstitutional about time allocation or closure. It is permitted by our rules, but it is supposed to be the exception, not the rule. When I asked how many amendments were allowed into legislation, I could pose the same question about how many pieces of legislation had time allocation applied to them. The answer is easy: all of them, every single bill, every stage of every single bill. Time allocation and time allocation, it is absurd.
I would not have believed 10 years ago that this would be the state of the House of Commons and that our parliamentary democracy would have been so undermined, so eroded and so diminished that we find ourselves in this almost embarrassing situation. That is what I mean when I say we have a mere facsimile of a democracy. It is enough, perhaps, to fool an, unfortunately, quite unengaged public, but for those of us who are locked into this situation, it is depressing. I have talked about the parliamentary committees that used to be a last bastion for some semblance of co-operation. They, too, are gone.
The Conservatives seem to have the attitude that the winner takes it all. In actual fact, when a party wins a razor thin majority, with 39% of the popular vote, the system is such that there is an obligation to take into consideration some of the points of view put forward by the majority of Canadians who, quite frankly, did not vote for the Conservatives. They voted for the people on this side, and they are putting their ideas through their representatives to have them added to the mix and to make good legislation that is for the whole country. That is the way it is supposed to work. However, again, it sounds like some distant fantasy dream now, because I have not seen any evidence of that kind of responsibility whatsoever.
I have a real concern that there are fundamental changes going on in society. There is an agenda going on. There might be two parallel legislative agendas going on. One on the face of it and another, far more sinister, situation going on behind the scenes. I am concerned that the Conservatives have essentially launched a war on the middle class. I saw a bumper sticker the last time I was in Washington that said “at least the war on the middle class is going well”. The same could be applied to this country.
The Conservatives are consistently trying to undermine the influence of unions. There is going to be an attack on labour. They are running out of red meat issues and hot button issues that they can raise funds for their base with. I am surprised they gave away the gun registry and that they finally did do away with it because that was the real money-maker for them, was it not? They were fundraising on the gun registry for years. That has gone.
The Conservatives do not have the Wheat Board to raise funds on anymore, so how are they going to excite their base? They could pick on the public service pension plans, they could pick on unions and they could try to pit worker against worker. It is easy pickings. It is the last refuge of the scoundrel to start picking on the public service and blame workers' pensions for the deficit hole that they have dug for other reasons. We can almost predict that is coming down the pipe.
The Conservatives are going to declare war on what they call “legacy costs”. They have already done away with the minimum wage laws associated with construction workers, the largest employer and the largest industrial sector in the country. Now the Conservatives are going to pick on public servants and say that their pensions are too fat. They will get into the Sun Media newspaper chain and try to convince other working people that the public servants have big, fat pensions.
It is one of these mug's games that is offensive, but it is effective. I can almost guarantee that the Conservatives will be fundraising on that.
I would like to go back, if I can, to another element of what I believe is widespread electoral fraud and some of the examples. I have an example of one guy who phoned me during the federal election, Gerald McIvor, who is an aboriginal man who lives in my riding. He received a phone call on election day, telling him that his voting station had moved across town. He replied that it could not be across town as he and his wife had just voted right across the street. He could see the voting station from his window. They had just got back from voting, so the caller was wrong. He demanded to know who it was, but the caller refused to say and hung up.
This is the kind of thing that went on right across the country and nobody is talking about it. We have been waiting for legislation to fix this since God knows when. We would think that if the Speech from the Throne would create a new vision for Canada, there would at least be some recognition of the problem that took place in the last election, so we could go with some confidence into the next federal election, knowing that our forefathers went to war to fight for democracy and that it is still alive and well in our country.
I put it to the House that it is not. It is sick, it is tattered and it desperately needs attention.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North, Lib.):
Everything is in the timing, Mr. Speaker.
I always appreciate the opportunity to express a few thoughts with regard to important issues, and this is an important issue before the House today. I would like to put everything in a proper perspective.
I would like to give a couple of doses of reality, if I could put it that way, because there is no doubt that it has been an interesting process. Should a government be able to prorogue a session? Is it proper to prorogue a session? Why do we find ourselves in this situation today where we have what appears to be a divided House on an important matter?
Ultimately it is in the best interests of Canadians that we move forward and continue to apply pressure where it needs to be applied, and that is right to the Prime Minister's Office. Let there be no doubt whatsoever that is ultimately the reason we are where we are today on the legislative agenda.
New Democrats often talk about the Senate and issues relating to the Senate and so forth. There are all sorts of issues. We are concerned about the Senate. As a member of an opposition party and of the House of Commons, I do not want to lose focus on what this is really all about. It is about the Prime Minister's Office and the unethical behaviour that has come from that office
We need to remember that when we were sitting in this place in June a great deal of pressure was applied to the Prime Minister, as the public were demanding answers with regard to a $90,000 cheque. That $90,000 cheque appeared to have originated somewhere out of the Prime Minister's Office. We have been challenging the Prime Minister to be straightforward with us, to tell us what actually took place, but there has been a great deal of disappointment.
I asked a question earlier in question period today. I have had the opportunity to talk to residents in Provencher, Brandon, and Souris, many of my own constituents, and other Canadians. There is a credibility issue here. Even the Prime Minister's own Conservative members are starting to seriously doubt him. He is losing the confidence of Canadians in a rapid fashion. I believe we are witnessing a Prime Minister who wants to avoid accountability, and at the end of the day he cannot do that.
The Prime Minister successfully came up with an idea on how to prevent the House from resuming on September 16, the day it was supposed to resume. We were supposed to be here on September 16, and in mid-September we found out that the Prime Minister did not want to return to the House. We found out he wanted to come back on October 16 as opposed to September 16. Why? He found the tool that he could use. He prorogued the session. Because he prorogued the session, that meant to could pick the date to return, and he chose October 16. We lost 20 sitting days.
What would likely have happened during those 20 sitting days? I suspect that the Prime Minister would have been on his feet answering questions with regard to the Prime Minister's Office and the behaviour of not one but many within his office in relation to the $90,000 cheque that was used in essence to pay off Senator Duffy. The Prime Minister was concerned about that to the degree that he felt he would just prorogue.
I also believe that he chose October 16 intentionally, because he had a sense of what was going to be happening on the following few days. He picked a day for the throne speech, and then in the days that followed, he was in Europe talking about a free trade agreement in the hope that the free trade deal would ultimately make Canadians forget about the scandal taking place that appears to be well rooted within the Prime Minister's Office.
It is a growing scandal, as we heard this morning at a press conference with Mr. Duffy's lawyers. It is really starting to open up. It does not look good for the Prime Minister. Where was he the day after the throne speech? He was nowhere to be found and was only to resurface after he had a tentative deal with the European Union. Yes, the free trade agreement is very important and will be given due diligence in the chamber and will ultimately be voted on, but that is not the issue we should be talking about.
I believe that we should be talking about the Prime Minister's Office and what has taken place there. There are very serious allegations of illegal activity. Before we broke last June, the Prime Minister said he knew nothing about the $90,000 cheque and what took place inside his office. He only found out about it after the fact, once it became public through the media. That is what he was proclaiming to anyone who listened.
Mr. Scott Andrews He fired him right away.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: No, I do not believe that he fired him right away. He hung around for a little while, and then I understand that it was Mr. Wright who took the initiative to do the right thing.
The Prime Minister chose to try to give the impression to Canadians that he had no idea whatsoever that there was anything behind this $90,000 payoff to the senator. Granted, I have only been around the House for a few years. I have had an opportunity to get a sense of how much of a hands-on individual the Prime Minister is. I have seen the disciplinary action taken for those who decide within that caucus to challenge the Prime Minister. There is no doubt in my mind that this is an individual who insists on having control within his office.
If we take the Prime Minister at his word when he said that he did not know and that it was only the one person, that is a stretch. It is hard for a lot of people to believe that. Over the summer, we had court filings from the RCMP and found out that it was not just Nigel Wright but that other individuals were involved, individuals the Prime Minister knows well. This is, in fact, his inner circle. These are the individuals who carry a great deal of clout. We are not talking about deputy ministers or high-end civil servants working for different departments. This is the inner circle, individuals such as the chief of staff and his legal advisers. They are individuals he confers with on a weekly basis. The Prime Minister wants Canadians to believe that he knew nothing about this.
He had an excellent opportunity to stand in his place today. We had a matter of privilege that challenged whether the House has been misled on this issue. Whenever I have seen that sort of challenge before, often we will get the minister in question wanting to address that matter of privilege to ensure that his or her side is being heard, but not this Prime Minister.
He has chosen not to answer the questions straightforwardly and honestly. How many questions did we ask today? I think there were eight questions on this issue. We are only given nine questions, but we asked eight of those nine questions on this very important issue. What did we get in terms of response? We got some very vague comments, and they were completely off the mark, in terms of relevance, in 85% of the responses to the questions we brought forward.
The Prime Minister continues to want to hide from the truth. It seems that he does not want Canadians to know what he knows and to what degree the Prime Minister's Office is directly involved in the Senate and that $90,000 cheque. Why cannot Canadians see the actual cheque that was written? Why cannot Canadians get a straightforward, honest, transparent answer on this important issue? One would think this is something on which the Prime Minister would want to provide clarity. Even if he does not want to provide it directly to the House, he could have a press conference and convey it directly to Canadians. They have a right to know.
I will tell members that the Liberal Party will continue to hound the Prime Minister on this issue until we get to the truth on it. It is only a question of time. This issue is not going to disappear, no matter how the Conservatives try to change the channel. That is what they have been trying to do: change the channel. They would love to see this as nothing more than a Senate issue, where we have some rogue Prime Minister-appointed senators who have apparently inappropriately spent taxpayer dollars. That is a serious issue. There is no doubt that we will get more clarity on that issue.
Now motions are being brought forward, all in an attempt to try to change the channel, I would argue. However, the more important issue has to be what the Prime Minister knew, when he is going to come clean with Canadians on that issue, and when he knew the information. Very importantly, did the Prime Minister not tell the truth to Canadians when he responded, whether inside or outside the House, as to the level of his understanding of what took place with that $90,000 cheque and how his office attempted to influence what was taking place with Senator Duffy? I believe that it will only be a question of time before we see that this issue has been resolved.
Even though we talk about the proroguing of the session, we in the Liberal Party recognize the value of such work as the committee on the 600 missing and murdered women and young girls. We see that as a positive initiative. There are a number of initiatives that are very positive. We want to see that work continue on, such as the work in terms of transparency and accountability, which is something the leader of the Liberal Party started in June. We do see some momentum on that. The Conservatives are now onside. We want to see that continue on along with some of the legislation.
With those few words, I am sure people can appreciate the concerns that we have within our party. Ultimately, we believe that we will get to the truth in one fashion or another.