Thursday, October 30, 2014

'We are opponents, but we are never enemies' ... we're not fools either

I gave the following 10-minute speech on Bill C-43, the Budget Implementation Act (A Second Act to Implement Certain Provisions of the Budget Tabled in Parliament on Feb. 11, 2014 and Other
Measures) on Thursday, Oct. 30th in the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker,                                                                                    

This is my first opportunity to speak in this House since the events of last week.
I am proud of how this House conducted itself in the wake of such terror, such atrocity, such shocking tragedy.

It was good for Canada that we resumed sitting the very next morning.

Good for Canada to stand strong.

Good for Canada for our leaders to address Canadians, and to embrace - for the nation to embrace.
I’ve been here three years, Mr. Speaker, and last week was the first time as a Member of Parliament that I felt partisan lines dissolve.

I felt that somewhat after Jack Layton died, and after the passing of Jim Flaherty, but not to the degree that I felt here a week ago today.

This House came together as one.
It’s not every day I stand up and applaud the Conservative Prime Minister.

It’s not every day the Prime Minister stands up and applauds the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, the New Democratic Party of Canada, or the Third Party Liberals.
It’s not every day I personally compliment the Prime Minister.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, it never happened - until last week.  
The Prime Minister made a statement in this House last Thursday that I’ve since repeated, a number of times, because it struck a chord … because I agreed with the statement.

The Prime Minister said, "that in our system, in our country, we are opponents but we are never enemies."

Mr. Speaker, we are united in this House by the desire to better our country.
As opponents we disagree on how to get there, but we all strive for a better Canada, for this country to be the best that we can be.

We are opponents, but we are never enemies.
That’s why, Mr. Speaker, it is so infuriating to see this government introduce – yet again – an absolutely massive, anti-democratic omnibus bill.

A bill that amounts to an affront to the principles and spirit of this precious institution.
The Prime Minister said, we are opponents, but we are never enemies.
I say, we are Canadians, but we are never fools.

We are Members of Parliament, we are not puppets.
We are elected to serve, to stand on guard for the Canadian way, to stand on guard for democracy, our communities and our constituents.

But omnibus bills such as this are an attack on Parliament - omnibus bills undermine parliament.
In the words of former Auditor General Sheila Fraser, “Parliament has become so undermined it is almost unable to do the job that people expect of it.”

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-43 is a budget bill.
But it’s so much more than that.

It’s an omnibus bill, meaning it’s a proposed law that covers a number of diverse or unrelated topics.
A number, in this case, Mr. Speaker, is a truck load - it could fill a boat to the gunnels.

This bill is 450 pages long; it has more than 400 clauses; it amends dozens of acts; it contains a host of measures that weren’t even mentioned in the original budget.
Mr. Speaker, this is the Conservatives’ sixth straight omnibus bill.

This is too much for one bill, Mr. Speaker.

There are some things we like - like ending pay-to pay billing so that Canadians are not forced to pay for a paper copy of their bill.
Although even that doesn’t go far enough – this bill onlybans pay-to-pay for telecom and broadcasting companies.

What about banks, Mr. Speaker - why should they still be allowed to gouge Canadians.
There are some things we outright disagree with in this omnibus bill, Mr. Speaker.

Like denying access to social assistance for refugee claimants.
This attack on the most vulnerable comes on the heels of Conservative cuts to refugee health care, a move that the federal court called "cruel and unusual."

Mr. Speaker, denying access to social assistance for refugee claimants was a backbench private member’s bill that was rammed into this omnibus bill after the media and anti-poverty and labour groups tore it apart.
So Mr. Speaker, there are parts of this omnibus bill we like, and more parts that we don’t like, and still more parts that I won’t even get to.

It’s not possible.
In the end, there is no way that a parliamentarian, that I, as member of Parliament for St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, can critique this omnibus bill, let alone analysis detail of over 400 clauses, given such limited debate and limited time.

Here’s how one parliamentarian described the use of omnibus bills, and I got this from a column by Russell Wangersky today’s Telegram, the daily newspaper in east coast Newfoundland:

“In the interest of democracy I ask: how can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and such concerns? … I would argue that the subject matter of the bill is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles.”

Who was the Parliamentarian who was so outraged at the Liberal blockbuster omnibus bill?

Who, Mr. Speaker?

None other than the Prime Minister himself, when he was in opposition in March, 1994.

Mr. Speaker, when this Conservative government, and Liberal governments before it, ram so much legislation in an omnibus bill it leads to mistakes,

And who pays for those mistakes, Mr. Speaker?

Canadians pay for those mistakes; Newfoundlanders and Labradorians pay for those mistakes.

This Conservative government used a 2012 omnibus budget bill to create the new Social Security Tribunal, which hears appeals related to the Canada Pension Plan, disability benefits and Employment Insurance and Old Age Security.

Officially, my constituency office has been told that the backlog of cases is one year.

Unofficially, we’ve been told the backlog is three years.

That 2012 omnibus bill capped the size of the tribunal at 74 full-time staff.

It also removed limits on the number of hours part-time staff can work.

Thus the back log.

Now the Conservative government is using this latest budget bill to expand the Social Security Tribunal.

This government says the change will allow it to add employees to respond to a backlog of nearly 11,000 cases across the country related to CPP and OAS.

Mr. Speaker, that mistake likely wouldn’t have happened if that piece of legislation wasn’t lost in an omnibus bill, if Members of Parliament were given an opportunity to better scrutinize the bill.

But we weren’t, and Canadians paid the price.

Mr. Speaker, we are Canadians, but we are never fools.
We are Members of Parliament, we are not puppets.
The journalist Michael Harris is well known in Newfoundland and Labrador for his work with the Sunday Express newspaper and books such as Unholy Orders and Lament for an Ocean.

Has a new book out - Party of one, Reflections on a Prime Minister.

Mr. Speaker, the book quotes Peter Milliken, former speaker of the House of Commons:

"Parliament can hardly be weaken any more than it already is … (the Prime Minister) can’t go much further without making the institution dysfunctional"
Michael Harris also quotes the late Canadian author Farley Mowatt, who said this prime minister is "the most dangerous human being ever elevated to power in Canada.”

Mr. Speaker, we are opponents, we are never enemies.
We are opponents, Mr. Speaker.

But this Prime Minister has to stop treating us with contempt.
This Prime Minister has to stop treating us like fools.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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