November 17, 2005

?

The Speaker

I note that the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest is really making submissions. He has not really raised a point of order because there is nothing in the rules that prevents the government from waiting until the 45th day if it wishes to answer a question.

If the parliamentary secretary wishes to respond to the representations of the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, I will hear him briefly. Otherwise we will consider the matter closed.

I stress that it is not a point of order at this point because there is nothing for the Chair to rule on. The Chair does not rule on whether or not the government is dragging its feet or whether or not any hon. member is dragging his feet. I would not think of such a thing.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions on the Order Paper
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NDP

Jack Layton

New Democratic Party

Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP)

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, during the week of January 2, 2006, the Prime Minister should ask her Excellency the Governor General of Canada to dissolve the 38th Parliament and to set the date for the 39th general election for Monday, February 13, 2006; and

That the Speaker transmit this resolution to Her Excellency the Governor General.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Roger Gallaway

Liberal

Hon. Roger Gallaway (Sarnia—Lambton, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order concerning the motion before us which you have just read, and I wish to submit to you that it is out of order in that it would ask you as Speaker to do that which is an impossibility. It is a constitutional impossibility because it offends the practice and the constitutional form and design of how the House must properly communicate with Her Excellency the Governor General, because it asks you to transmit a resolution, if passed, of the House to Her Excellency.

I point to Beauchesne's fifth edition at page 37, which outlines the role of Speaker as the representative of members of the House. It lays out the House's relationship to Her Excellency the Governor General. It is enunciated there that there are three times or methods when this occurs: first, upon your election as Speaker, you petition the Governor General for the continuance of the Commons' privileges; second, you personally deliver an engrossed Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne to the Governor General; and third, and the most common example, you lead us when summoned by the Governor General to the other place.

If the House wishes to collectively communicate with Her Excellency, it can only be by address to Her Excellency. That is our constitutional design. That is the form of communication which the House might only engage in with Her Excellency.

I point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that in the same fifth edition of Beauchesne's at page 123, it lays out a form of address for when the House wishes to communicate with Her Excellency. It is a very rare occasion other than the reply in the address to the Speech from the Throne that the House wishes to address or communicate with Her Excellency the Governor General. History will show us that it is a very rare event indeed.

If we go back to the time of William IV in Great Britain just prior to Queen Victoria, there were events when the House of Commons wished to communicate with the king and it was done so by an address. It is a very particular form of communication. To my knowledge, it has never been carried out in this place in a form like that laid out in this motion.

Mr. Speaker, knowing that there is a particular constitutional demand upon how we speak to the Governor General, and knowing that this, if passed, would ask that you transmit this resolution to Her Excellency the Governor General, what is the transmission? Is it an email? Is it a phone call? Is it a courier delivering a resolution of the House? It is a rather peculiar way of doing business knowing that the Crown is the head and the font of power in this place.

Therefore, knowing that this transmission is not defined and knowing that this is an unknown way of communicating with the Crown as represented by Her Excellency the Governor General, I would submit that this is a resolution which is an impossibility from a constitutional point of view. It is also an impossibility from a plain language point of view because we do not know what a transmission is. Therefore, I would ask that you rule it out of order.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order I would like to make a few comments. First of all, it is quite outrageous and flabbergasting to hear this member rise and make this point of order. Clearly what is going on here is a political ploy that is being put forward by this member and presumably other members of his caucus who want to try to ensure that this motion will not be debated today.

I point out to you, Mr. Speaker, that this motion is entirely in order. It is wording that is characterized in a way that an opposition day motion would be characterized: “That, in the opinion of this House...”. It is giving advice to the Prime Minister based on the opinion of this House that would then be transmitted to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the Governor General.

I would point out that for the wording of this motion there were discussions held with the Table to ensure that the wording was appropriate, including the word “transmit”. These discussions have been held.

I think we should make it clear here today that this intervention by the Liberal member is simply political posturing. It is mischievous to try to prevent this getting to the floor. It is a very anti-democratic intervention that has been made. We simply want to have this motion debated by the House, to have the House vote on this motion and to provide this advice.

It would be no different from the procedure used when there is the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne and it is transmitted to the Governor General. It would be no different from that case.

I would urge the Chair not to concede to the point that is being made here. This motion is in order. We hope that this debate on this very important motion will now begin.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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BQ

Michel Gauthier

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Michel Gauthier (Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I must say that the argument raised by the government is absolutely pointless at this time. The resolution introduced by the NDP is absolutely in order under our standing orders.

I will therefore merely make two points in support of my position. It will not take long but should be conclusive.

First, to quote Marleau and Montpetit, page 724:

Members in opposition to the government may propose motions for debate on any matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, as well as on committee reports concerning estimates. The standing orders give members a very wide scope in proposing opposition motions on supply days and, unless the motion is clearly and undoubtedly irregular (e.g., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument), the Chair does not intervene

That strikes me as very clear.

Second, they cannot claim that this motion is unconstitutional. It says that “during the week of January 2, 2006, the Prime Minister should ask her Excellency the Governor General of Canada to dissolve the 38th Parliament .” There have been many similar motions in this House. In fact, according to the Canadian Constitution, it is up to the Prime Minister to designate his cabinet and there is nothing to stop any member of this Parliament from introducing a motion calling on the Prime Minister to require a minister to resign. So, it is not unconstitutional.

Everyone knows that Canada's foreign policy depends on the government and the Prime Minister. Yet there is absolutely nothing unconstitutional about introducing a motion in this House calling upon the Government of Canada to change its position on international policy. That is absolutely not unconstitutional.

All of the powers of the government set out in the Canadian Constitution can be challenged by a resolution of this Parliament. Parliament is free—and this is the very purpose of opposition days—to speak out and suggest actions to the Prime Minister and the government, even within areas that are essentially their responsibility under the Constitution.

The NDP motion fully meets these criteria. It absolutely cannot be judged procedurally out of order. As for its content, it is similar to any proposal that might be made, for instance calling upon the Prime MInister to dismiss members of his Cabinet. That is his responsibility, but it could be done and the government should accept the motion, whether in good faith or not.

I therefore feel we should put an end to this discussion, accept the NDP motion and proceed with the debate.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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CPC

Jay Hill

Conservative

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to unnecessarily delay this any longer because I believe this is a frivolous point of order by my Liberal colleague across the way.

The simple fact of the matter is, as my NDP and Bloc colleagues have stated, that we are just trying to delay getting this on the floor where we can have a good debate.

I would remind you, Mr. Speaker, and I know you do not need to be reminded, that you are a servant of the House and it is my understanding that the House could collectively come to a decision and ask you to do something. That is all this is about.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Paul Szabo

Liberal

Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, I want to add that I believe the rights of the member for Sarnia—Lambton have been impugned by the allegation that the matters raised are politically motivated. It is his right to rise on a point of order. He has made his case, so I raise that.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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?

The Speaker

The Chair has heard the submissions of all hon. members who have made them on this point. I want to thank the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton for raising the issue and the hon. member for Mississauga South for his intervention.

I want to thank as well the hon. members for Vancouver East, Prince George—Peace River and Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean for their important interventions on the matter.

I note that the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton did not mention the first paragraph as the source of his objection in his point of order. It concerned only the second paragraph.

He was arguing that the Speaker has no ability to transmit something to Her Excellency on instructions from the House except an address, and only really the address in reply.

In this respect, I must say I am not sure the hon. member is correct. I note that many transmissions are received by the House from Her Excellency, the Governor General, for example, letters indicating that Her Excellency will be attending in the Senate later in a day to deliver a royal assent, to make a speech or whatever it might be. These matters are transmitted to the House by the Speaker.

Similarly, I could transmit back if I needed to, indicating something else was preventing me from attending the Senate, I suspect, if there was some problem, for example, if the House was not sitting.

However, I am surprised that there would be an argument that the Speaker would have difficulty in transmitting the opinion of the House to Her Excellency as expressed in a resolution of the House. If it were adopted, and I am not making any judgment as to whether or not this is likely to be adopted by the House, but assuming it were, the Speaker would be in a position to have that transmitted.

I admit that the resolution does not say how, but I think I can dream up some method of achieving that goal, perhaps paying a visit to Her Excellency and delivering a copy of the resolution or, alternatively, sending it by letter under my signature. In any event, I think transmission could take place.

In my view, the resolution is one that is within the parameters set out for an opposition day. It does express only the opinion of the House which, in my view, is something that could be expressed in the form of a resolution.

Accordingly, I find the point of order is not well taken. I am not finding it frivolous, as was suggested, but I find it not well taken and we will proceed with the debate on the motion. I believe it is in order.

The hon. leader of the New Democratic Party, then, will be the first speaker.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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NDP

Jack Layton

New Democratic Party

Hon. Jack Layton (Toronto—Danforth, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, this is a historic day in this Chamber in that a proposal is before the House that could bring all parties together in a spirit of compromise in a minority Parliament to achieve a number of key shared objectives. When that happens it is a salutary moment in this chamber. It is one that we need to consider very seriously. We need to examine the arguments why such a course of action is not only sensible, in the sense of being very much a common sense proposition, but also serves the interests of Canadians which is after all why we are here.

The objective is to get things done for Canadians over the next number of weeks and then move into an election after the holiday season in January for a voting day in the middle of February.

Three parties in the House have indicated that spirit of compromise in coming forward with this proposal. The only party so far that has refused to exercise that spirit of compromise, that sense of working together to find a common sense road ahead in order to achieve important objectives for Canadians, sadly is the very party whose unethical conduct has created the situation that we are in today.

The fact is that nothing, but nothing, prevents the Prime Minister from setting an election date on the advice of Parliament. It is, if I may say so, typical Liberal arrogance that a majority vote of Parliament is seen somehow to be irrelevant or an obstacle.

Just because something has not been done before does not mean that it might not be in fact a very good idea. The Prime Minister promised transformative change and suggested that it was required in order to fix the democratic deficit. We agree. However, now he refuses to compromise even though a majority of the House is going to be voting in favour of this advice. In other words, the Prime Minister will not be respecting the will of Parliament.

That does not sound to me, nor do I believe it will sound to Canadians, as though the democratic deficit is being addressed in a positive way. In fact, what it does is it leaves us with a sense that the democratic deficit is growing. We have a political party that received only 37% of the vote wishing to ignore the views of the House as expressed by parties representing almost two-thirds of Canadians. That, I would submit, is not the appropriate conduct for a Prime Minister of this country or for his political party.

Let us examine some of the issues here. First, we have been told by the Prime Minister and members of his party that what we are talking about is “only eight weeks”. In other words, the difference between the date that the Prime Minister has already set. He has already taken the view that there needs to be an election to determine whether his party can carry on in government as a result of the findings and recommendations of a respected justice who has examined a scandal and reported on it.

The Prime Minister has said that Canadians need to have the opportunity to judge on the findings, the recommendations, and the political party about which the investigation was conducted. We agree. The only question is when.

His proposal is on or about March 1. Our proposal, which will be coming from the majority of members in the chamber when we see the vote next week, suggests the beginning of January. Those are the eight weeks that we are speaking about.

What is to happen in those eight weeks? First, the House is not sitting for five of those weeks. In other words, the democratic process of members rising in the House to propose actions on key issues affecting Canadians, the process of questioning the government on its actions and holding it to account, the idea that we should be considering spending or legislation to correct the many unsolved problems that have been left to fester for 12 long years, is simply unable to be conducted during five of those weeks.

Is the Prime Minister suggesting that somehow those five weeks in particular are irrelevant to Canadians? We submit that by having the election in March those weeks are lost as working weeks for parliamentarians to work for Canadians. Therefore, there is no effective and good argument not to be having an election because during those five weeks we are literally shut out of this place in any event.

Of course, there will be something going on during those five weeks. We can be sure that vehicles such as the Challenger will be regularly booked, that there will be a number of press releases and announcements, probably from coast to coast to coast in this country, all paid for, by the way, by the taxpayer. These announcements and spending decisions will already be made by the House of Commons. As a matter of fact, what will be happening during the five weeks that we are talking about is a public relations campaign, not the actions of anything relevant to this particular House.

We will be having a publicly financed public relations campaign. Then the House will return for three more weeks. What is to take place in those three weeks? A budget will be tabled on which a vote will not be able to happen because the Prime Minister has said there will be an election on or about March 1, a budget which will not precipitate or produce any positive action whatsoever and will dominate the three weeks.

Our proposal is simply that this business of the eight weeks being somehow significant or relevant to addressing the issues of Canadians is false. The work that needs to be done by the House should take place between now and the holidays, and that is what we want to see.

There is a solution to the situation confronting Parliament today. It is a matter of common sense.

In the spring, we managed to keep Parliament going because the Liberals agreed to some of our good ideas. This fall, we submitted proposals, but unfortunately the Liberals chose to not work with us to obtain results beneficial to people.

The Liberal Party cannot decide when it will be judged. The people did not elect a majority government, and all parties must be prepared to make compromises.

I believe there is a reasonable solution. There are options other than an election during the holiday period, which no one wants. In addition, no one wants a Liberal Party that thinks it alone can decide when its comportment should be judged.

With this motion, we are requesting an election be called in early January and the vote held in mid-February. This proposal will thus permit Parliament to pass housekeeping legislation, including some very important bills, and will make it possible for the first meeting between first ministers and native leaders to be held. It will also provide an opportunity for the clean-up in Canadian politics that is needed in order to get back to basics, to produce specific results of benefit to the public.

The difference between last spring and this fall is this. In the spring Liberal corruption created a parliamentary crisis. When the NDP offered good ideas to get things done for people, the Liberals were forced to agree. In the fall, Liberal corruption again created a crisis, but this time the Liberals refused to get things done for people, as the NDP suggested, such as protecting public health care in this country.

This minority Parliament is unusual in that the governing party's unethical conduct has hung over it throughout its life, creating an artificial limit to Parliament's life as established by the Prime Minister. Nothing will happen after the holidays except an expensive taxpayer-funded Liberal pre-election campaign. Let us just formalize when the election will begin. It will be underway, at taxpayer expense, so let us have it conducted under the rules of Elections Canada, with a formal initiation of the electoral process in January.

In the meantime, let us get Bill C-55 passed, a bill to protect workers' wages and pensions when there is a bankruptcy, something our party has urged for many years. It is a bill that three straight Liberal majorities did not produce. It only has come forward in the context of a minority Parliament because the NDP gets things done for working people.

Let us get Bill C-66 passed to get energy rebates to people. Parties from all sides have called for action from the government dealing with the energy price crisis.

Let us let the public transit money and energy efficiency money flow. I remind the House that this money is only there because of the NDP proposals with regard to the budget last spring. That is when we took out the corporate tax cuts and replaced them with precisely these investments that people need.

Let us allow the first ministers meeting with the aboriginal leaders to occur. Twelve years of Liberal government have left aboriginal people often living in third world conditions, and it is about time something was done about it.

The culture of entitlement to which Justice Gomery referred is, unfortunately, alive and well. The Liberal Party thinks that 37% of the support of Canadians entitles it to 100% of the power. There is no sense that there is any need to work with the representatives of Canadians from various other parties who, collectively, have the support of 63% of Canadians.

The common sense compromise that we have proposed would allow people to hear the second Justice Gomery report, which will arrive before voting day. This would enable Canadians to incorporate the recommendations in their thinking and parties would be speaking about those recommendations. In fact, some parties already have advanced proposals for reform. I am very proud of the proposals that have been brought forward by the member for Ottawa Centre, just to name an excellent example of what is before us.

However, the proposal from the Liberal Party to set the date on March 1 essentially establishes a timeline that is in the hands of the Liberal Party to be in charge of pretending to fix its own scandal and then graciously allowing people to vote.

It is true that the common sense compromise is exactly as originally promised by the Prime Minister last spring. He was under the impression at the time that Justice Gomery would deliver his final report on December 15. Our proposal would have an election taking place exactly when the Prime Minister promised Canadians it would.

The Prime Minister is taking advantage of the fact that Justice Gomery has asked for some extra time to prepare his recommendations, and the House will not be sitting during this extra time period. This simply would provide a free opportunity for Liberals and their cabinet ministers to fly all over the country, at public expense, and talk about how terrific they are. There would be no work done in that period because the House would not be sitting.

It is shameful. What we call for is the spirit of compromise.

I ask this simple question, and I have asked it in this House before. Why, when three party leaders of the four in the House are willing to compromise, as one should in a minority Parliament situation where no party has a majority of the support, is the fourth party is withholding that consent and sense of compromise?

It is not that the Prime Minister cannot compromise because of some rule that exists. We hear this spurious notion that somehow the motion is not constitutional. Those who would take a look at it now that it is written and before the House will realize it is. I can cite some sources. Members do not have to take my word for it.

Julius Grey, a prominent constitutional lawyer, says that there is nothing that prevents this from happening.

Here are some quotes from Hugo Cyr, a constitutional law professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

I quote:

There is nothing unconstitutional in this motion.

Parliament may be dissolved for a number of reasons following a vote of censure, a vote of non-confidence and a decision by the Governor General, on the advice of the Prime Minister or simply because the end of the five-year period has been reached. In other words, loss of confidence is not the only reason for the dissolution of Parliament.

Since nothing prevents the Prime Minister from announcing ahead of time the date he will ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, something the Prime Minister has done on a number of occasions, nothing prevents him from stating ahead of time in a motion put before the House the date on which the request will be made.

Nothing prevents the House from telling the Prime Minister what it considers the appropriate time to ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.

I also can quote a law professor from the University of Alberta, one who is also the former attorney general of the country, now the Deputy Prime Minister of our country, who indicated that there was no obstacle to the Prime Minister accepting such advice.

I simply draw the attention of the House to the fact that we have an historic opportunity in a minority Parliament to do what Canadians and the Prime Minister have said that they want to see happen: first, get work done during the fall; second, avoid an election over the holidays; and third, have in the hands of voters the findings and recommendations of Justice Gomery about Liberal corruption. All these things are worthwhile objectives.

There is much work that can be done this fall. It would be better for Canadians not to have to participate or pay attention to electioneering in a season where their children are at home and they are able to spend time with family, thinking about values and about the future in ways that are celebratory and important.

The compromise suggestion respectfully submitted in the House would accomplish those objectives. The only objective that would not be accomplished is one that has never been stated publicly. The government has never referenced or submitted the business it would do in the wintertime. This is period of time when the House would not sit and when no meaningful business could be conducted. The only plan we have had is a plan for the fall. We propose that we work on that plan together. The Liberal Party and its leadership has suggest they do not want to participate. They would rather simply be on their own in January to sell themselves at our expense. We will not have it.

We want this compromise adopted and we call upon Canadians to urge the government to abandon its arrogance of 12 years and to begin to work with the members of Parliament whom they elected.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Roy Cullen

Liberal

Hon. Roy Cullen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, the member for Toronto--Danforth began his remarks by citing this as an historic occasion in the House. That is somewhat grandiose. It might be historic because the motion before us is flawed in many respects.

The member for Toronto--Danforth knows full well, or he should know full well, that our government could not possibly accept this motion. The Prime Minister and our government have been profoundly clear that Canadians need an opportunity to see the second and final report of Justice Gomery. On the basis of that Canadians will decide. The government has said that it would call an election within 30 days of that happening.

How could our government now conceivably say that we have reconsidered, that this motion avoids a Christmas election, when we have said, on a matter of principle, that we have to hear the results from Justice Gomery before we call an election?

The member for Toronto--Danforth talks about all the legislation and the good work the House could be doing, which could be forfeited. He knows full well that the government cannot accept the motion, at least he should know that.

A woman cannot be half pregnant. The government either has the confidence of the House or it does not. If those members have the courage of their convictions, they would put a motion before the House asking whether it has confidence in the government. However, they have not done that. They put forward a wishy-washy motion that is an insult and an affront to Canadians and the House.

I ask the member for Toronto--Danforth this. Why should we not wait for the good work of Justice Gomery to be completed so Canadians can judge that fully and then go into an election?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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NDP

Jack Layton

New Democratic Party

Hon. Jack Layton

Madam Speaker, this might surprise some members, but putting aside all the rhetoric that we just heard and coming to the nub of the point, which was why we would not agree that it would be appropriate for Canadians to have the second Gomery report available to them in an election, I agree with the member. Our motion would ensure that happened.

There is one thing the motion would not ensure. The Prime Minister said, and the hon. member has just repeated it, that Canadians needed an opportunity to see the Gomery report before they voted. However, that was not exactly what they meant. What they meant was they needed an opportunity to permit members of the Liberal Party to take a considerable stretch of time, at their expense, to sell themselves, to cleanse themselves, and to offer all kinds of excuses and pretended actions following the Gomery report. They are counting on the fact that Canadians will have largely forgotten about the report before the vote takes place, or distracted. How could Canadians be distracted?

One way would be to send out a phalanx of cabinet members, at taxpayer expense, with their various assistants and staff on planes provided by Canadians. They would cross the land at a time when the House was not sitting and when members of the opposition parties would be unable to rise in the House and call the government to account for this behaviour. The Liberals would be unfettered in their capacity to spend the public's money during that period. That is what is being sought here, and it is wrong.

It is right that Canadians should have the Gomery report. It is wrong that the Liberal Party should be given a blank cheque advertising budget to sell itself. We have seen what happens when the Liberal Party begins to sell itself with our money. It is called the sponsorship scandal, the very one that the Gomery report is talking about and the very reason we are having this discussion.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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CPC

Jay Hill

Conservative

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I want to say at the outset of my remarks, before I get to my question, that I want to make sure that we are on the record that the Conservative Party of Canada's preference always has been since mid-April to have an election last spring or early this fall, any time since the revelations coming out of the Gomery inquiry have been so damning of this corrupt government. I want that to be on the record.

We are now talking about this particular issue. I was intrigued by the parliamentary secretary's response, this whole red herring about wait until the Gomery report. The reality is what we are really dealing with here is the arrogance of a government that thinks it still has a majority.

Under our parliamentary system when there is a minority government it means the Canadian people have sent a message to all political parties to work together. Canadians have sent a message to all political parties that on every given day the Prime Minister must be able to prove that he has the confidence of the majority of this place. That is how our system works. Yet that is not what we are seeing from the Prime Minister. He arrogantly has said that he alone will determine when the next election is. That is not his right. It would have been his right if he had been elected with a majority government, but he has not been.

This ridiculous statement that somehow the Liberal government has fixed an election date, the Liberals do not even believe in fixed election dates. The Liberals have never supported fixed election dates, but somehow because they have chosen a date, it has become fixed.

Even under those parties, such as our party, that do believe in fixed election dates, the reality is that under a minority government it is recognized that even a fixed election date policy or provision would fall under a minority government if the government did not continue to have the confidence of this chamber.

Perhaps the member for Toronto—Danforth would care to comment on this. The reality under the Prime Minister's scenario is that even if Justice Gomery's second report is not delayed further and it does come down on February 1, the Prime Minister could wait 30 days, which would be until about March 3 before he called the election and there would be 35 more days for an election campaign. That would basically bring it to Monday, April 10 at least before we had an election and that is if Justice Gomery's report is not delayed even further. That is almost five months from now.

After the damning indictment by Justice Gomery's report on November 1, does the Prime Minister expect that this Parliament and the Canadian people should wait to pass judgment for at least another five months?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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NDP

Jack Layton

New Democratic Party

Hon. Jack Layton

Madam Speaker, it is true that there is a difference in approach. As the member mentioned, he wanted on the record the desire of his party to have an election sooner rather than later and that is a difference of opinion.

What we have done here is to bring forward a proposal in the spirit of compromise. I think that is a concept that should find its way more frequently into the operations in the chamber, particularly in a minority Parliament.

If we think back to the promise that was made to Canadians by the Prime Minister, the fact is that Canadians rebuked the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party and denied that party a majority of seats in this House, having heard his so-called promise to Canadians. Canadians constructed a different kind of House, one that would require that the government party would have to work with other parties in order to get things done in the interest of Canadians. Canadian voters did not trust the Liberal Party to do this on its own. They did not want to bestow the trust of the Canadian people exclusively on the Liberal Party. That is what the election results said.

The problem has been that the Liberal Party will not accept this judgment. The Liberals will not embrace it, except at the very moment that their possibility of continuing is threatened. We saw that last spring.

The proposition we have laid before this House suggests that there is a compromise that can achieve all of our collective goals. The member is right when he adds the further uncertainty of a possible delay in the Gomery report. Is the Prime Minister suggesting to us that if the Gomery report happens to be delayed beyond February 1 he is going to continue his position that there should not be an election?

The Prime Minister has said to Canadians that they should have the right to judge the Liberal Party. He, as the Prime Minister, has proposed that this Parliament come to an end. The Prime Minister has indicated that he believes it is quite possible that Canadians do not have confidence in his own government and he wants to take that issue to Canadians. The Prime Minister has proposed a timeline of March 1.

Why should the Prime Minister be the only one who can consider a possible election date? We urge him to join with us in a reasonable compromise and let us do something right for a change here in this House for Canadians.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Tony Valeri

Liberal

Hon. Tony Valeri (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I suggest there are a number of fundamental problems with today's opposition motion. I will point to a few of them.

First, it is fundamentally inconsistent with the basic principles of a parliamentary democracy which in fact have guided us throughout the history of this institution. It is a serious matter to change long-standing principles and practices with no consideration to the future members of the House of Commons.

The opposition parties essentially are willing to play some political and partisan games with our constitutional conventions. We can hear them laughing across the way. It is exactly what Canadians expect from the opposition parties when talking about our Constitution, nothing more than heckling and laughing. Those parties have proven they do not have any respect for the Constitution.

I want to make a few points and then during the question and answer period we can allow the members opposite to stand and rant and rave, as we expect they will. Nonetheless, I would like the opportunity to make a few points.

We have seen a time when members have worked quite well and quite cooperatively in the House, even in the face of challenges with what the opposition parties were looking to do. Canadians ultimately want to see a House that works on behalf of their initiatives. The House of Commons needs to work on behalf of the citizens.

Canadians want their members of Parliament to work on public business, not the private ambitions of any one party leader. Canadians want parliamentarians to debate the issues that are important Canadians, to address their daily concerns and what they are worried about. In fact, Canadians have not been getting legislation or policy that might make their lives better, more prosperous perhaps, and secure. What they are getting from the opposition parties is endless partisan posturing, political games and positioning for electoral advantage, quite frankly.

Members opposite always quote Canadians to suit their particular position. I have talked to Canadians and they have said that things in Parliament are not going well and members are yelling and screaming at each other all the time. I continue to make the point that we put forward and passed what I believe are important initiatives. But we have a situation now where the opposition parties, in particular the leader of the NDP, has put forward a motion that in fact does not fit with the constitutional requirements of this country.

I have to say that it is not only I who might say that. I am not alone in asserting that today's motion is a violation of long-standing democratic principles and practices of Parliament. The official opposition has said, and I believe the opposition House leader just said that the government needs to have the confidence of the House. That is absolutely correct. That is the way our system works. It is based on long-standing democratic principles.

The opposition parties collectively, since they are all supporting this particular motion, through the leader of the NDP are saying they want to vote non-confidence in the government today, but they want to have the consequences essentially some time in January because it suits their political purpose. They are saying they do not want an election during Christmas, but they want to vote non-confidence today and have the election later on. In the meantime, while the House remains in session, the House presumably would be passing important initiatives for Canadians that we put forward as a government and they would be voting confidence in the government, all the while indicating that they have no confidence in the government. The opposition wants to defeat the government, but not for another month and a half or so.

Parliament does not work that way and Canadians understand that. We cannot divide confidence. Confidence is not divisible. It cannot be cut up into little pieces and apportioned over different periods of time saying, “It is okay to pass this piece of legislation which is a confidence bill and we understand that. We will pass that bill, but we do not have confidence in the government. The government should not be allowed to put forward programs that expend Canadian taxpayer money because we do not have confidence, but we will hang around while the government does that and then we will come back and say we do not have confidence in the government again in January”.

The government very clearly either needs to have the confidence of the House or not. It is very simple. It is the way the system has worked for a long time. It is very clear to Canadians that the government must have an ability to make decisions that have an impact on Canadians going forward and it must be able to do that knowing that it has the confidence of the House, or at least the confidence of the majority in the House. Even if there are people who do not have confidence in the government, if the government does not have the confidence of the majority of the House, then it is unable to function as a government.

The opposition parties, in what they are saying and what they are reporting in the media, are essentially saying that they do not have confidence in the government, but what they are afraid to do is to take responsibility for what that may cause.

When a motion of non-confidence is put on the floor of the House of Commons, when the opposition parties vote for that and the motion passes, there is an election. The opposition parties have to take responsibility for that. They should be able to say, “We are causing an election. It will be during Christmas. We are dragging Canadians back to the polls even though two-thirds of Canadians agree with what the Prime Minister is saying and his call for an election in the spring, within 30 days of Justice Gomery's report”.

The hon. member opposite said that we should wait another five months for that. He is perfectly free to say that, and I am not going to argue that position because that is the position the opposition parties have taken, but what they must do in that instance is put forward a motion of non-confidence, not a motion that suggests they do not have confidence now but the effect will take place some time in the future because they do not want to have an election at Christmas. They are trying to position themselves as not having to take responsibility for a Christmas election, but Canadians will know that is where the responsibility will lie.

The opposition parties have had an opportunity to put forward a motion of non-confidence. While they go out and speak to the media and say they do not have confidence, in the House, in this chamber, they had an opportunity to do that today and they did not. They had an opportunity to do it this past Tuesday and the opposition parties did not. They will have an opportunity to put forward that motion either next Tuesday or next Thursday. They have an opportunity to express no confidence in the government by voting down confidence bills or important bills to the government. They have an opportunity to express non-confidence and vote down the government's spending estimates which provide moneys for ongoing programs.

The fact that the opposition parties have sought not to do so clearly shows to Canadians that it is not just an issue of confidence that is truly at stake here, there are some partisan political considerations.

The leader of the New Democratic Party has cited a couple of constitutional experts, but the majority of constitutional experts have sided with the government's approach on this motion. The opposition parties continue to say that even in this minority government, the Prime Minister does not have the right to set the election date.

I will quote Ned Franks, a professor at Queen's University who said:

It is the Prime Minister's right and prerogative to go to the Governor General and ask for a dissolution of the House. It is not Parliament's. That's very clear.

David Docherty has said:

[The opposition's] saying, “We like the things you've done but unless you let the opposition decide when there's an election, we will pull the plug and not only not get things done that we think are important, but quite frankly, not get things done our supporters think are important”. In short, they simply can't do it. Parliamentary non-confidence is very specific. It's non-confidence when there is a vote of non-confidence. If it's a money bill, a speech from the throne, a matter the government says is confidence or there is a motion of non-confidence, those are the times that it's clear.

That is what we are saying. Canadians should not be fooled. There is a lot of political rhetoric that is swirling around this place, but the government either has the confidence or does not have the confidence of the House and it is up to the opposition parties to express that.

When Canadians elected their first minority government in 25 years they expected their representatives to work together. They still expect that. They also indicated they wanted us to continue working on their priorities, Canadian priorities, not the political priorities of opposition parties.

The Prime Minister made a commitment to Canadians. He went on national television and said that he would call an election within 30 days of the second Gomery report. He made that commitment and he wants to adhere to it.

I would say that Canadians want their government and their Parliament to deliver results and that is exactly what I have been trying to do and what the government has been doing. We have almost 90 bills before this Parliament.

The opposition parties have indicated that the House of Commons has no confidence in the government but the government has successfully met more than 40 confidence challenges and has been able to continue.

We have a strong record with respect to legislation passed on health care, equalization, a new deal for cities and communities, the offshore accords, climate change and early learning and child care. It is a strong record that we will take to the Canadian people and the Canadian people will decide.

We know Canadians want government and Parliament to focus on their priorities. They do not want a premature election. They do not want their representatives to be focused on political gamesmanship. They want the government and Parliament to deliver results, which is exactly what we are doing.

We are continuing to move forward with these priorities. The Minister of Finance has presented his fall economic and fiscal update that proposes further tax reductions for Canadians, a prosperity plan for Canada's future and it delivers more than $30 billion in tax relief in the current year and the next five years. Over 95% of that tax relief will be delivered through personal income tax.

Sadly, on the one opposition day available to the NDP in this supply cycle, it has chosen to focus on tearing this House down rather than building up this country. I have to say that the opposition day motion is an attempt by the opposition parties to demonstrate no confidence by not putting a motion before the House of Commons and saying that they have no confidence, but having that effect happen some time in January, is pretty convoluted. There has not been an expert out there who has been able to understand it.

We go back to the point of Gomery and when Gomery reports a second time. I know the opposition parties are arguing that can happen anyway and that this is all about some strategy.

The Prime Minister, when making that commitment to Canadians on national television, said that Canadians had the right to all of the facts of the Gomery Commission and all of his recommendations. However they also have a right to hear the response of the government and the response of the opposition parties before they cast their ballots. The opposition should be able to tell Canadians why they are afraid to wait for the final Gomery report before an election is called. If the opposition parties are not afraid, then they should be able to say that.

The commitment made by the Prime Minister was very clear. He said that within 30 days of the final report he would make that call. Obviously, it is not good enough for the opposition. They want an election to take place some time in February, which is four to eight weeks earlier than the Prime Minister's commitment to Canadians, but that is the choice they can make. What they should not do is try to hide behind some muddy motion that is not clear to Canadians.

We are talking about four to eight weeks and, if they want an election earlier than four to eight weeks, then they should stand in their place, put down their motion and have this place work the way it is supposed to work. If there is no confidence in the government, then drag Canadians back to the polls during the holiday season and have Canadians ultimately decide. That is the way it works.

The opposition parties are insisting that if we do not accept today's motion, then they will vote non-confidence in the government. They either have the confidence or not. We are focused on moving forward important government initiatives, not spending this day debating a motion that really has no effect.

As I have said, it is the opposition's right to defeat the government if they do not have confidence in the government, but let us consider for a moment the cost of defeating the government before we get through this legislative agenda.

We have Bill C-67, the unanticipated surplus bill; Bill C-68, the Canada Pacific gateway bill; the whistleblower bill in the Senate, which is essentially a bill that has come out of committee with a number of amendments that all parliamentarians provided; and Bill C-37, the do not call list, which is also before the Senate.

By defeating the government from passing its supplementary estimates, it would prevents $1.1 billion for the Department of National Defence, nearly $200 million for investments in public infrastructure and nearly $120 million to promote peace and stability in fragile states.

The opposition parties also jeopardize the possibility of real concrete action stemming from the first ministers' meeting with aboriginal leaders in Kelowna next week. Phil Fontaine, Chief of the Assembly of First Nations who is opposed to Mr. Layton's motion, said that Mr. Layton's pledge to defeat the government could erase “all of the good work that we've done”.

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The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

I would remind the hon. member not to use the name of an individual member.

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LIB

Tony Valeri

Liberal

Hon. Tony Valeri

I apologize, Madam Speaker. It is the leader of the NDP's motion that Phil Fontaine is opposed to.

Mr. Fontaine clearly said in The Globe and Mail , “This is a non-partisan declaration”. He goes on to say:

I can only speak to first-nations citizens, but it is clear we all want to make progress to turn poverty into prosperity and to build a stronger federation. The well-being of our citizens living on reserves and those moving away from their communities should be above partisan politics.

Mr. Fontaine has told me directly that it was not enough for people just to meet if no action can come from it. He said that government must be able to implement outcomes from that meeting and, to do so, the government needs the clear authority, not a pending question of non-confidence.

The leader of the official opposition has already indicated that he will put forward a motion of non-confidence on November 24, at the beginning of the meeting of the first ministers. If that is the case, we really do not have the ability to take the discussion and translate that into action and ultimately do what Mr. Fontaine is asking of us because the opposition parties are preventing that from happening.

Furthermore, if the opposition chooses to defeat the government, the confidence of the parties to the Kyoto protocol in Montreal next month, a forum for Canada to demonstrate its leadership, will be jeopardized. It was reported on the radio what Elizabeth May was saying, going into that where we actually are chairing that conference, that we need a functioning government, not one in the middle of an election campaign or one with a motion of non-confidence before it.

I believe Canadians want the answers from the second report of Justice Gomery before going back to the polls. They want to see the response of the government and the opposition parties. Until that time, I think Canadians want their political leaders to use the House of Commons to debate Canadian priorities, not the timing of the next election.

The government will continue to advance its agenda for as long as it can until the opposition parties do put a non-confidence motion on the floor and vote for it. In the meantime, I would hope that the opposition parties will put aside their narrow partisan interests, work to move forward government legislation and, ultimately, at the end of this debate see that the motion in front of us cannot be accepted. It is not a motion that has any credibility with respect to the Constitution nor is it a motion that can in fact support the way the House works.

The government requires the confidence of the House and, if it does not have that, then it is incumbent upon the opposition parties to stand in their place, to show Canadians that they want to drag them back to the polls for their own partisan interests and that they want this Parliament dissolved. We do not need this sort of muddy motion that suggests we want to show no confidence today but have the effect later because the opposition parties are afraid to face Canadians and say that they are taking them back to the polls during the Christmas season because they could not wait four to eight weeks, which is what the Prime Minister committed to do, and to have the election in the spring.

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CPC

Jay Hill

Conservative

Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I know colleagues from all parties probably would like to ask the government House leader some questions so I will endeavour to keep this short, although I could probably go on for an hour in response to what we just heard.

He said that there was an expectation on the part of Canadians that we work together and yet what we have seen from the government over the lifetime of this Parliament is that it continues to behave as though it has a majority government.

The Liberals say that Canadians want us to work together and to pass their legislation. What Canadians want is an ethical government of integrity. They want to be able to trust their government to protect their tax dollars, not steal from them.

He raised the issue about working together. I checked the record and found that for roughly 72 of the bills that have been voted on at various stages and then passed through the House, I think we, the Conservative Party of Canada, supported about 60% of them. That is working together.

Now let us look at what the government has done. Of something like 17 opposition motions that have been before the House in a year and a half, the government has voted for 3 of them, about 13%. That is its idea of working together. Of the ones that have been passed, the majority of representatives in this chamber have passed those opposition motions because they were in the best interests of Canadians.

The member talked about governing in the best interests of Canadians. Of those motions that did pass, the government ignored them and the will of the chamber, and now it is about to do it again. There is nothing in our system that prevents the government from responding to this compromise motion.

I have already said on the record that the Conservative Party of Canada's preference would be that we would have already had the election and Canadians would have already had the opportunity to pass judgment on this corrupt government.

However, in the spirit of cooperation and compromise, we are accepting the fact that the Prime Minister does have the power to set the date for an election. He could choose to do it, according to this motion. There is nothing preventing that. He could signal that today. He does not even have to wait for the vote. I wonder if the government House leader would respond to this fact.

He can come up with all sorts of excuses why his government wants to continue to spend money and travel across the nation on its jets for the next number of months at taxpayer expense but he cannot refute the fact that Canadians want an election. They want a chance to pass judgment on the corrupt, unethical government.

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LIB

Tony Valeri

Liberal

Hon. Tony Valeri

Madam Speaker, yes, there are examples of where this Parliament has worked together. I go back to the first week in Parliament when amendments were made to the Address and the Speech from the Throne. There were other times when there has been compromise in committee. One can point to many examples.

I would have to say that the cooperation has not always come from the official opposition party, that other parties have cooperated from time to time, and we have passed very important legislation for Canadians. Even if the official opposition disagreed with the legislation, we were able to find support for it in this House.

However, the key is that we have to find majority support for our initiatives in this House of Commons and we have to ensure that we maintain confidence.

The hon. member, on the one hand, talks about this motion and that the Prime Minister has the ability to do what has been asked of him. His question indicates that he has no confidence in the Prime Minister but he let an opposition day pass on Tuesday where the official opposition had an opportunity to put forward a no confidence motion. Why did he not put that motion forward on Tuesday?

If he is going to reflect what Canadians are saying, he should know that two-thirds of Canadians are prepared to have a spring election and not a Christmas election.

While the populace across the way like to often say that they are here to represent Canadians, in this particular instance, they are representing their own political partisan interests, and that is what needs to be clear here. If they are going to vote no confidence in the government, then they should have the courage to do so in their place and take responsibility for what happens when they vote no confidence in the government: the number of bills that would be lost and the fact that Canadians would be dragged to the polls during the holiday season.

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NDP

Charlie Angus

New Democratic Party

Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP)

Madam Speaker, considering the climate we are in here, I found the member's comments surprising when he talked about the need to work together and get majority support if we are going to work in a minority Parliament. We came to this minority Parliament fully believing that election talk would be put to the side so that we could get down to pragmatic compromise positions and move forward with legislation for Canadians.

I would say that in my region there are two issues that are paramount. One is how we stop the ongoing system of patronage, corruption and cronyism that has been exemplified by this government and which created this minority situation in the first place. People were fed up with it. Our party came forward with very clear proposals brought forward by probably one of the most eminent parliamentarians in the last generation. He came forward with proposals so that we could work together as a Parliament in order to end the system of patronage and corruption, but that was just blown off by the Liberal Party. The Liberals did not want to hear that.

The second issue that is very important for us is health care. Canadians identify it as their number one issue. We went to the government and said, “Let us work together. We will try to bring forward some very clear, simple proposals to protect public health care”. Again we were blown off.

I would ask the hon. member how he thinks there has even been a discussion about working with Parliament to move forward when his party continually refuses to compromise and work with the other parties.

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LIB

Tony Valeri

Liberal

Hon. Tony Valeri

Madam Speaker, we have heard a lot this morning with the opposition parties talking about how government is not willing to compromise, but I would have to point to the number of things that have in fact passed this House because there was compromise. I just go back to the amount of legislation that has been passed in this House. In order to do that, we had to have the majority. In order to get that majority in this House of Commons, there had to be some element of compromise. I have worked with the hon. member's House leader on a number of initiatives that we were able to move forward with in this House because there was compromise.

On the issue of the protection of public health care, certainly the critic for the NDP and the Minister of Health met and discussed. There was a proposal put on the table that the NDP walked away from. We are very committed to public health care. In fact, we have had a $41 billion investment in health care. We are committed to wait times on health care. We know that it is the number one issue for Canadians. We are the defenders of health care and we will continue to be. Whether the NDP decides to join with us or not, we will move forward on that particular initiative because it is important to Canadians.

There has been compromise, but what the hon. member fails to understand is that when something is incorrect, such as the motion in front of us today, it is not supportable. We do not support it on principle, not because we do not want a compromise, but because it is wrong.

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November 17, 2005