Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Smackdown: Goodale vs Van Loan

You've probably heard the news that the Conservatives' power-grab of an immigration bill (or rather, amendments within the budget bill) passed in the house on Monday. The Liberals ran scared - again - because they're still not ready to trigger an election. First it was that Canadians didn't want a winter election. Then it was that we didn't want a spring election. Now they're saying we don't want a summer election.

I can tell you that, as far as this Canadian is concerned, they're wrong.

Meanwhile, there was a little noticed vote in the house earlier today. Peter Van Loan Gasbag (aka the other failed "animated blob of grease") called for parliament to sit extra hours for the remaining 10 days of this session (until 11 pm each nite) and tried to shame those who would oppose such a motion (which has basically always been approved since its inception in the early 1980s) as being lazy, money-grubbing, do nothings. After some debate, that motion failed. And so it should have. The vote tally was 114 yeas - 139 nays.

Following Van Loan's speechifying about why MPs should be guilted into spending extra time now on the Cons' agenda, which all of a sudden seems so crucially important, Liberal MP Ralph Goodale explained exactly why what Van Loan was asking for was an absolute farce.

I'm reprinting the first part of Goodale's debate here. It's well worth reading. You can read the rest of the debate in Hansard which I linked to above:

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Wascana, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in this debate on the government's request to extend the sitting hours in the House of Commons for the last 10 sitting days before the summer adjournment.

The government is exercising an option that exists under the Standing Orders, particularly Standing Order 27, and it is, in effect, asking the House to sit every sitting day until 11 p.m. from now until June 19. That is the substance of the motion.

What the government House leader has tried to do in the last few minutes is to offer some justification for those extended hours. The government says, in effect, that it is necessary to have these additional hours for the next two weeks to somehow speed up its legislation, that list that is found on the order paper, but I suggest that the real reason and the main goal for this motion, on the part of the government, is to hide its own patent mismanagement of the House calendar over the last many months.

Let us look at the facts. In 2006, out of 365 days, the House sat for only 97 days. That, of course, was the year that was interrupted at the beginning of the year by the election, but in 2006, the House sat for 97 days. In 2007, the House sat for only 74 days before the government prorogued the first session of this Parliament and then instead of coming back promptly, it delayed the beginning of the second session until well into October, October 16, 2007, to be exact.

This conscious delay, this delay by the government, was its prerogative. It exercised it, so it is the Conservatives' responsibility. They effectively eliminated 16 sitting days in last fall's House calendar, not to mention all of the time that was wasted on a vacuous throne speech debate since many of the bills that remain on the order paper today were simply reinstated from the previous session. In other words, prorogation and a Speech from the Throne produced precious little that was actually new. They were just recycling the same drivel from before.

The Conservative minority government is now asking for the cooperation of opposition parties to adopt this motion to extend hours in order to help it advance an agenda that largely consists of old business, despite the fact that the government itself has squandered a great deal of time and goodwill over the course of the last two years.

I would like to take a moment to remind members of this House of the words spoken by the now Prime Minister when he was leader of the opposition on the topic of how to make a minority Parliament work. That is one very important factor to bear in mind in the context of this motion, that we are operating in a minority situation. I am quoting the Prime Minister's own words that are found in Hansard for October 6, 2004:

"I believe that even when a government holds a majority it is not relieved of its obligation to consult with the opposition, with the House and with the people on important matters. That obligation is surely even more imperative when a minority government situation exists. It is the government's obligation to craft a working majority to advance its agenda by taking into account the policies and priorities expressed by the three opposition parties in the House."

In other words, a great call for cooperation in the House of Commons. I agree with what the Prime Minister said when he was the leader of the opposition. Unfortunately, the minority government has demonstrated no commitment to those principles that were described by the Prime Minister when he was leader of the opposition. The minority government has no idea what it means to consult the opposition parties, not to mention no idea what it means to take into account their priorities.

The modus operandi of the government is one of bitter partisanship all the time, running roughshod over everything and everybody in its path, no matter what. Let us take a look at its track record.

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The Conservative leadership across the way prepared and distributed, just about a year ago now, a 200-page handbook on dirty tricks, instructing its members on how to obstruct the work of Parliament should things not be going happily in its direction.

Several Conservative committee chairs have actually followed that manual on dirty tricks very carefully. One example is the justice committee, which has just been referred to, where the chair repeatedly, just as soon as the meeting gets going, gets an urgent call of nature and rushes from the room. He does this at every single meeting. Is that accidental? No. It is a conspiracy to destroy the effectiveness of that committee.

We can see the same pattern being followed at the procedure and House affairs committee, the operations committee, and the ethics committee. All of this is an effort on the part of Conservative members to hide from the truth about a seemingly never-ending series of Conservative ethical difficulties, and parliamentary committees have been sacrificed to Conservative political expediency.

The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration has refused to appear before standing committees to defend her supplementary estimates. The minister responsible for official languages refuses to appear before the standing committee to defend her government's action, or lack of action, on official languages. It is obvious that in the Conservative government, transparency and accountability are not principles that ministers are prepared to respect.

That creates an atmosphere in the House where it is, indeed, difficult to get the kind of cooperation that the government House leader has asked for today. What is the genesis of that problem? What is the root cause? The government House leader need only look in the mirror.

I will give the House another example. The government agreed to a compromise resolution earlier in this session about Afghanistan, and particularly Canada's role in that very difficult mission. The motion was comprehensive. It involved a good deal of give and take, back and forth, across the floor. But specifically, it included the creation of a special committee to oversee that mission, to provide a greater degree of transparency and accountability back to Canadians.

After the adoption of the resolution, which occurred on March 13 of this year, a full month went by and the government had not bothered to consult with anybody with respect to the creation of that very important special committee. In fact, the Liberal official opposition had to use an opposition day to force a debate that resulted in the motion in the creation of that special committee. The government would not have taken action if the opposition had not moved to force it to do so.

With respect to consultations, I should point out that the Conservative government has a great deal of difficulty sharing information with opposition parties, especially when it concerns the proposed calendar of House business. Members will be very familiar with the vacuous speeches that always appear here in the House of Commons on the Thursday of every week in response to questions about the future agenda for the House.

The government, one would think, would take advantage of official and unofficial meetings of House leaders to share plans and priorities about how the business of the House is going to flow. The fact of the matter is that information is rarely forthcoming.

When the Conservatives were the official opposition, they demanded and they received from the government of the day a calendar outlining the government's intentions for House business for three weeks in advance. Today, we are lucky if the government can provide five days of advance notice of proposed House business from time to time.

None of that contributes to the kind of atmosphere where there is a sense of cooperation or where the government can make a convincing argument that there is a sense of urgency that justifies the motion that it has presented.

On other matters, there have been simple requests from opposition parties for things like take note debates, for example, which are no burden on the government whatsoever but they do deal with important topics like Darfur and foreign aid, and other matters of public interest where members strive, for the better part, to set aside the intense partisanship of this place and take note of a matter of important public interest.

On several occasions, House leaders have asked for the government House leader to make an occasion available for various take note debates and the government House leader's response has been simply “no”. We asked why, his answer was “No reason. My answer is just no”. He said, “I can be arbitrary so I am being arbitrary”. That again does not contribute to a good working relationship in the House.

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On another item that we have seen very recently, something like advanced notice and consultation for solemn occasions, like the recent visit by the President of Ukraine and the apology on residential schools, somehow the government, rather than treating these with the dignity and the solemnity they deserve, they somehow get twisted into partisan arguments that repel other members of the House from even trying to accede to government requests.

The government has also been quite strange in managing, or mismanaging, what it says are its priorities in the House. On the election campaign, the Conservatives have repeatedly said that their priorities include things like gun control and killing the Canadian Wheat Board, and both of those things have been on the order paper. However, they have only been called for debate in the most symbolic and trivial of ways.

The legislation on firearms, for example, has been on the order paper, in my recollection, since June 2006, and it has been called for debate in the House on one occasion for one hour. Similarly, the bill on the Canadian Wheat Board has been sitting on the order paper since March of this year, and the first time the government even mentioned it was today in response to a question during question period and then on a motion after question period.

If these things were such priorities, the debates would have been called on these items months and months ago, and not just brought up at the last minute and the government saying that now they are a priority.

When we asked the government, as we have done both in the House leaders meetings and on the floor of the House, to specify the priorities it has for things that simply must be passed before the summer adjournment in a couple of weeks, all it did was simply recite in total the entire order paper.

When the government claims that everything is a priority, then clearly nothing is a priority, and the government cannot, on that basis, make a compelling argument for extended hours.

The government has tried its very best to portray the opposition as the villains who are in some way delaying the work of this Parliament as it appears on the order paper, but the fact of the matter is, when we look at the government's own delays in bringing legislation forward, when we look at its disrespect for Parliament and for the committee process, when we look at the ways that it has failed in the mandate expressed in the Prime Minister's own words; that is, to consult and show respect for others in this place, then it is little wonder that when it makes a motion of this kind, the opposition is skeptical.

I would inform you, Mr. Speaker, that the official opposition will oppose this motion.


We've had enough of control-freak Steve and his twisted band of misfits avoiding questions, acting like attack-dogs, behaving like school-yard bullies, being oblivious to those little things called "facts", obfuscating genuine efforts at responsibility and accountability, shaming Canada on the world stage, enthusiastically acting like Bush sockpuppets, trampling on the human rights of Canadians imprisoned abroad, spending money on defence like there's no tomorrow, ignoring laid-off workers, pushing legitimate immigrants to the back of the line, trying to sneak in their anti-women agenda through the back door, bowing to Steve's every whim, claiming to stand for national security while they provide cover for a foreign affairs minister who mishandled classified documents, ripping people off in the income trust fiasco, trying to fool everybody into thinking that the Cadman tape was doctored, covering up for Brian Mulroney, paying lip service to environmental protections while protecting big oil...

The list goes on and on and on.

Enough is enough.

And they expect members of the opposition to sit extra hours on their behalf after all of that?


The end to this regime can't come soon enough.

(Make an effort to read the rest of the debate. Really. You won't be disappointed.)

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