Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege concerning the government House leader's tabling on the March 1 Notice Paper of a motion that threatens the rights and privileges of the House.
I will explain. Motion No. 8 introduced by the government House leader and published in the Notice Paper yesterday could, if deemed in order, threaten the rights and privileges of parliamentarians, of the House and, worse still, of the Chair. If this motion were deemed in order, it would show contempt for parliamentary democracy. It would unilaterally—and I emphasize the word unilaterally—change the rules of the parliamentary game.
Usually, when the standing orders are amended—and this is the practice, or has been since I have been here—the parties consult each other and hold discussions, which has not been the case this time around. This motion would muzzle the opposition by limiting its right to introduce amendments to the government's bill. It would allow only one amendment per member, but this limit would not apply to ministers.
This would be unfair because the motion would thus create intolerable discrimination among parliamentarians. It would allow members of the government party—but not all—to introduce an unlimited number of amendments, but would place outrageous limitations on the right of opposition members and of members of the government party not in cabinet to do likewise.
This motion strikes me as out of order because it makes a distinction between the rights of the constituents of a minister and those of opposition members, by giving more rights to one group than to the other. This motion is an illustration of how democracy is eroding in the hands of the Liberals, who want to gag not only the people of Quebec, but also the House of Commons, and all parliamentarians sitting in this House.
This is a government of secrecy, as we have seen with the HRDC scandal, with the APEC summit, and with the multitude of gag orders this government has made use of since it came in. This motion will again give more prerogatives to the government, which is already assured of a dominant position as far as all the business of this House is concerned.
This motion is out of order because it would impose unreasonable and unprecedented limits on any and all criticism, when that is precisely the role of an opposition in a British style parliamentary system. It is the role of the opposition to question the government party, which has an obligation to be answerable to parliament for its actions.
This motion would constitute an attack on the right of parliamentarians and members of parliament to speak, a right that goes back to the very origins of democracy. This motion is out of order because it would limit the freedom of the Chair to decide undisturbed and fully independently the status of the amendments we in the opposition might submit to the House.
This motion is out of order because it would break with the age old tradition preventing the Chair from becoming the executor of the wishes of the executive. It is out of order, Mr. Speaker, because it would deprive you of your role, which is to deal in total impartiality with all parliamentarians, from the highest of ministers to the lowest of MPs.
This motion is out of order because it would strike at the very heart of an institution whose role it is to maintain and preserve a space and a forum for public debate.
The government has raised the issue of the cost of debate here in this House. That is serious. Has the government reached the point where it raises the question of money when the opposition wants to debate an issue? How to explain the government's criticism of the Bloc Quebecois' opposition to committees travelling outside Ottawa and the country, as in the case of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, which would like to visit the Caucasus? Perhaps there would be no cost involved? How can they spend money in one instance and in another say it is a terrible thing?
Democracy has a cost. It is far preferable to places where there is no democracy.
When I hear the argument that the government side is going to win the vote in any case, I say we know the morning after an election that one party has a majority. Is the government telling us that there should be no opposition parties because it is a matter of fact that the party with the majority will win the vote? That is not valid.
More importantly, Mr. Speaker, your role is at stake. You must have the trust of all parliamentarians and all parties. That presupposes that the Chair is absolutely neutral and perfectly impartial. This motion would make you an instrument of the government. You cannot assume such status without losing the trust of this House.
Accordingly, I ask you to recognize that the action by the government House leader infringes the rights and privileges not only of parliamentarians but of the House and, more seriously, of the Chair, without which there would be no democratic debates here in the House of Commons.