Points of Order – Bill C-38

On Friday, June 8th, 2012 in Points of Order

[Context: This is in response to Elizabeth’s Point of Order of June 4th.]

Nathan Cullen: Mr. Speaker, I rise today with respect to the point of order that was raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands a number of days ago. We have heard from the Liberal Party and the government. New Democrats want to add our voice to the conversation in, hopefully, a timely and brief manner.

I rise in support of the motion by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands with respect to her concerns and the concerns shared by many of us in this place about the manner in which the government has moved Bill C-38, the omnibus budget implementation act. My friend made a number of points. Some of them, we would suggest, are stronger than others for your purview, Mr. Speaker, but on the central theme we find ourselves in agreement.

On many of the concerns that were raised, you have heard from the official opposition New Democrats throughout question period, public commentary and in conversations in the House with you, Mr. Speaker, on the nature and form of the bill and the concerns we share with Canadians of its effect on members of Parliament to do our jobs. This is why I appeal to you directly, Mr. Speaker, in the decision that you have to make because, ultimately, it is your choice in the way we conduct ourselves as members of Parliament and the House conducts itself.

Let me take care of one point right away that the government has raised as a measure of defence of the process that we are engaged in with this more than 400-page budget implementation act, extending over more than 700 clauses, affecting as many as 70 acts of Parliament, either revoking them entirely or modifying them significantly. We have never seen the scale and scope of a bill like this before in parliamentary history, from our purview and the purview of experts who have watched this place over many years. Therefore, let us do away with the idea that the government believes that having a number of hours of debate either here or in committee has somehow satisfied the test that Canadians and parliamentarians understand what is in this act. That is, frankly, not the case. It is almost impossible to understand all of the implications that have been brought in with this act because the government is withholding certain pieces of information, which we will bring to your attention in days to come.

The first point that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands raised was around the fact that there is no central theme to the bill, thereby making it inadmissible or detrimental to Parliament and parliamentary democracy.

The second point raised was that there was little or no link between the budget itself and what the government has called the budget implementation act. In passing conversation with somebody not as familiar with this place as members are, a Canadian would assume that a budget implementation act would be explicitly linked to the budget by its name and form. Yet we find within the budget implementation act many pieces of government policy that are never mentioned at all in the budget. One example is the removal of Canada from the Kyoto protocol. There is no mention of this in the budget whatsoever, no mention of any aspect of climate change policy or anything to do with that particular act of Parliament, and yet in the budget implementation act there are a couple of lines that remove Canada from that international treaty.

Aside from concerns about whether one agrees or disagrees with the government’s intentions with respect to climate change and its lack of actions, the point has to be made that if a government is introducing a budget implementation act with all sorts of measures that have nothing to do with the budget itself, it becomes a budget act in name only. In the actual function, the government is piling in a number of initiatives, policies and new directions for the government that should stand alone and independent for discussion by MPs and the Canadian public.

The intervention by my friend in the corner suggests that for members of Parliament to be able to do our jobs, we need to be able, in good conscience, to hold government to account. Her third point was that the bill is not ready and imperfect and she made a number of interventions on that, which I will not touch on too much.

To your role in this, Mr. Speaker. Ultimately you are the arbitrator of this place and the defender of our privileges and efforts as members of Parliament to do what Canadians send us to Parliament to do, which is to hold government to account. That is not simply the role of opposition members. So too is it the role of government members in this place. They too are encumbered with the effort to hold government to account at all times.

If we remember parliamentary history, there was a time in this country that, when MPs were elected and then needed to be placed in cabinet, they actually had to run in a byelection because their role had fundamentally changed to one in which they were defending the government’s policy, that is in cabinet, as opposed to sitting as a member of Parliament regardless of party affiliation. That role is fundamentally different.

The concern that we have is twofold. We have seen a trend of increasing cynicism from Canadians towards politics in general and towards this—

Bob Zimmer: NDP not Conservatives.

Nathan Cullen: —place in particular. I thank my friend from Prince George—Peace River for his intervention, but it was most unhelpful.

In the growing cynicism that Canadians feel towards our politics, it is—

Bob Zimmer: You are welcome. You are welcome.

The Speaker: Order. I will just ask the member for Prince George—Peace River to let the opposition House leader make his point, and then we can move on to orders of the day.

Nathan Cullen: Mr. Speaker, confirming my concerns about the growing cynicism about politics is that when attempting to make a point in Parliament that is sound and reasoned, it is difficult to do it without being heckled from the government side.

My point is this, that all members of Parliament have a duty to the people we seek to represent as well as we can to hold the government of the day to account. This bill encumbers that ability. It makes it difficult, if not outright impossible, for members to do our job. This, Mr. Speaker, is your role. I do not suggest that this is an easy role for you to perform on a daily basis, not just in question period as we attempt to have some sort of civility and decorum, but also throughout Parliament’s deliberations over important pieces of legislation.

It cannot be understated how critical this legislation is, how wide-sweeping and profoundly impactful this bill will be on the lives of Canadians, from taking $12,000 away from seniors as they attempt to retire after long service to this country and building our economy, to removing and fundamentally altering environmental legislation and gutting the protections, taking environmental assessments of major industrial projects from between 4,000 and 6,000 assessments a year to perhaps as few as 20 or 30 a year.

The role of MPs is to hold the government to account. The role of the Speaker is to defend this place and defend this institution.

If there is no, or little, link between the budget and the budget implementation act, we continue and actually aid that cynical trend Canadians feel towards their politics and their politicians. The break between who we represent and their hopes and visions for the future is more profound when governments enact bills like this.

What signal do we send to them if we say that an omnibus bill of this wide a scope and scale is permissible, acceptable and even favoured? Can we not imagine a day, and I think of Speaker Lamoureux’s point in 1971, where there is no point of return, when governments seek, through omnibus bills, through Trojan horse bills, to move one, two acts of Parliament a year and put absolutely everything into those acts, that Parliament can sit for 20 days, get through 2 bills and that is it? Accountability is impossible under such a scenario, reforms to immigration, reforms to the oversight of the Auditor General, transparency and accountability.

For a Parliament to sit through two omnibus bills a year is perhaps what the government may be seeking, but is fundamentally against the spirit and nature of this place where we come together to discuss bills before the House and try to seek to improve them, amend them.

Know this, the government is suggesting that in those 400-plus pages the bill is perfect incarnate and not a comma, not a period needs to be altered. At three various times, just in this Parliament, the government has had to modify or completely scrap its own legislation when it faced evidence and pressure from Canadians. So three times on separate stand-alone bills, the government has had to fundamentally alter itself.

Last night we had our 25th vote on closure in this place since the government was elected to its majority. We now have the largest and most complex omnibus bill in Canadian history, and the lack of accountability is breathtaking. We believe that there is a very dangerous pattern of language in this. From the beginning of this process, the official opposition has attempted to work with the government to break this bill into its component parts to allow Canadians to see the aspects of the bill and understand what the implications would be, because that is our job.

From the beginning we have reached out to government and said, “Do the right thing. Split this into bills.” We have quoted, and you have heard me, Mr. Speaker, quote back to the Conservative Party their own principles with respect to omnibus bills, to closure motions, to Trojan horse legislation. When they held the seats of opposition, they strongly stood for the principle that this place should be accountable to Canadians, that governments should be accountable to Canadians.

We have used their own arguments and words, not our own. We do not expect the government to be swayed by what I say here today. However, we thought that the words and principles of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages would mean something powerful enough to them that they would pause and be swayed by their own arguments and principles.

What happened to those principles? There is a certain seeking of convenience from the government, that it finds this whole process difficult or annoying.

This process that we engage in as parliamentarians is critical and essential, not an inconvenience.

We feel no remorse for the government, that it will now face as many as 500 to 1,000 amendments on this piece of legislation in the days to come. It built a piece of legislation that allows this to take place. We warned the government of this from day one and gave it an alternative.

The motion from the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands says this bill has serious flaws and contentions and undermines what this place is about. We find that she has sound reasoning in this and that as Speaker and in your role as an impartial observer and arbitrator of this place that we must have pause. We must send signals to the government from time to time that, yes, while it has the votes to do this, it does not have the moral superiority and the grounds on which to stand because Canadians did not give the current government, or any government, a mandate to do this kind of thing. Canadians never vote a government in and say that, “You will govern by fiat. You will disregard the democratic process and the open and transparent need for conversation.” Because, ultimately, that is what Canadians are about: seeking consensus; seeking the middle ground; seeking some sort of way to live together as we have, harmoniously, for so many years.

Mr. Speaker, let us do the right thing. Let us make this thing a proper piece of legislation.

The Speaker: I thank the hon. member for his contributions to this point. I will get back to House in due course.

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