Mr. Chair, the message that we have all just received from Paul Grod, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which was just read into the record by the member for Ottawa Centre, certainly drives home the crucial nature of the situation in Kiev and across Ukraine tonight. It drives home further the point that having a debate on this subject is necessary, but translating our sentiments into concrete action is even more necessary.
I wonder again whether Canada would be prepared to take a diplomatic initiative with other countries around the world. I am thinking of several in Europe and of the United States. These countries could develop a set of specific sanctions aimed not at Ukraine as a country and not at the Ukrainian people, but at Yanukovych and his government, his henchmen, and the oligarchs who support him. The sanctions would curtail their ability to use their assets, curtail their ability to travel and enjoy the fruits of their behaviour, and say very clearly on behalf of the world that what is happening in the Maidan tonight is not acceptable. The trampling on human rights and freedoms is not acceptable, and there will be consequences for doing so.
Canada could not take that initiative on its own, but we could in concert with other countries. We could lead the effort to bring other countries together to focus attention on this issue and to make it clear to those who are perpetrating this violence that the world is watching this behaviour very closely and that the world deplores it.
I wonder if the government is prepared to at least consider that kind of initiative to help to translate our sentiments into concrete action.
Mr. Chair, before I make remarks and comments to my colleague from Parkdale—High Park, I would like to say that the Government of Canada's aspiration, desire and goal for the people of Ukraine is the same as for everywhere else in the world. We want to see peace, prosperity, and most importantly, freedom. These are incredibly important values, Canadian values, that we want to promote around the world.
I just want to make a brief intervention on behalf of the government and on behalf of myself about the Ukraine. They are facing some real and significant challenges.
I listened with great respect to my friend from Parkdale—High Park, the member opposite, to her advice and her intervention. I want to say this. She is a true friend of the people of Ukraine. She should talk more to her friend, my friend, her foreign affairs critic, the member for Ottawa Centre.
I should say we all seek a peaceful resolution to the current conflict. We want to see the government dial down its rhetoric. We want to see an engagement with the opposition. If we could encourage anything to happen, it would be for the government to engage the opposition to look at the current conflict, to dial back its rhetoric and to look at its association with the European Union. That is exactly what I did on my recent visit to Ukraine.
I would be remiss if I did not say at the outset that I appreciate the strong commitment and leadership of the member for Parkdale—High Park on these issues. I am sure she will use this in her election pamphlets. I do appreciate it. She is a strong advocate for the people of Ukraine, and I want to thank her for her very thoughtful speech.
Mr. Chair, I am honoured to rise this evening to participate in this debate on the situation in Ukraine, which is incredibly troubling and urgent as Ukrainians live through this crisis. The world is clearly engaged and watching what is happening in Ukraine and I am very thankful that we are having this debate tonight.
I want to first say, as firmly as I can, working closely with my colleague from Ottawa Centre who is the NDP official opposition critic on international issues, that New Democrats stand firmly with the people of Ukraine in their hour of need. We are with them, we are here in solidarity and we support them in their struggle.
I want to pick up on what others have said here tonight. I believe all parties in the House are of one mind and one voice when it comes to support for the people of Ukraine in the situation they are in this evening. We are very concerned about the current crisis, the use of force against protesters, the denial of free speech and the increasingly eastward drift of Ukraine, turning away from the west and increasingly, we believe, turning away from democratic engagement.
I am very fortunate, as the member of Parliament for Parkdale—High Park, that I represent a very large Ukrainian Canadian diaspora and I am very proud that this community has stayed together so tightly and has such a strong culture. People have preserved their language, their art, their community and their engagement with what is happening in Ukraine, as well as contributing for generations to the building of our country, Canada.
I am very honoured that I have had the opportunity to work with the Ukrainian Canadian community and have come to understand the difficult, troubled history that Ukrainians have faced in their country, everything from dictatorship and the suppression of rights to the ultimate horror of the Holodomor in 1932-33, the famine genocide. It is absolutely unbelievable what the Ukrainian community has had to suffer and I am very proud that it is our country, Canada, that was the first to recognize the Holodomor as a genocide and has worked so closely with the Ukrainian community.
Because of the experience I have had in Parkdale—High Park, I have used that opportunity to engage with Ukrainian people. I first went to Ukraine as an election observer in 2004 during the Orange Revolution. Yes, I was in the Maidan square and it was this time of year. It was very cold, but the energy, emotion and passion of Ukrainians as they jammed into that square was absolutely palpable.
Of course, we were neutral election observers. We were there to observe, but I was sent to Zaporizhia, which was an all-night train ride into the central eastern part of Ukraine. We arrived exactly at 6 a.m. on December 25. It was an incredible experience. The reason we were there was that the presidential elections were deemed fraudulent and were being rerun. There had been a huge initiative undertaken to train all of those who were participating as staff in the election and the people who volunteered. I saw first-hand how passionately Ukrainians wanted the democratic process to work. I believe in that case it did work, because the results were overturned. They elected a different president and there was so much hope in the aftermath of those elections.
I had the opportunity to return to Ukraine twice after that to be part of subsequent elections, most recently in 2012 for the parliamentary election. There are some re-runoffs of those elections taking place in the near future.
I have seen first-hand the passion of the Ukrainian people, who want what they have described to me as a normal country, a normal society and a normal democracy. Normal means that opposition leaders do not get jailed right before an election. They do not get hauled off to trial on trumped up charges and then thrown in jail so they cannot participate in elections. Normal means the media does not get completely controlled in the months running up to an election. It means that people have the opportunity to freely and peacefully demonstrate and engage in their society.
I want to thank the many colleagues in the House who have been part of these observer missions and who have worked on the Canada-Ukraine parliamentary friendship committee. This is so important. I also want to thank those involved in the internship program. Through this program, I have seen first-hand, in my office here in Ottawa, smart, educated, talented young people from Ukraine, full of hope, who want to learn, who want to build their country.
I have so much hope for the future of Ukraine, yet here we are in these dark times right now debating the situation, all because the Ukraine government turned its back on its negotiations and its long-standing opportunity to form a trade partnership with the EU after years of negotiations. President Yanukovych turned his back on this and instead, when protestors start filling the streets in Kiev, he cracked down on them. He sent in the armed police who threw people in jail and beat people. That is not the way a democracy ought to function. Young people know better and that is why they are standing up against this brutality.
We are all here tonight with Ukraine. We have to ensure that whatever actions we or the international community take, there is engagement. We need not do anything that further isolates Ukraine.
I want to commend the Minister of Foreign Affairs for his recent trip to Ukraine and meeting with the protestors and engaging with the government. I believe we cannot just criticize Ukraine. We have to engage with it, but exert pressure as we engage also with civil society. With all of the work we have done, sending more election observers than any other country, we have the opportunity and we have the obligation to engage with Ukraine and advocate for it on the international stage.
We do have to call on the president of Ukraine to respect the rights of the citizens of Ukraine, to respect democratic assembly, to respect free speech, to respect the right of people to have fair and free elections and to respect their desire when the majority of Ukrainians want to have engagement with the west. We want to urge the government to allow that to happen.
We support the engagement of Ukraine with the European Union. We think that is a positive development. We also need to put pressure on Russia because we believe its undue meddling in Ukraine's affairs is really behind what is happening. We believe this is in violation of treaties that Russia has committed to in terms of submitting Ukraine to economic pressure. It needs to cease and desist from doing that.
There are many other measures that we support. We support the Ukrainian Canadian Congress's demands for a crackdown on money laundering and corrupt business practices. We support the desire of Ukrainians who come to Canada to have greater access to visas and an accelerated process.
I see my time is just about up, but just let me say:
[Member spoke in Ukrainian]
Before we go to questions and comments, I just remind hon. members, that take note debates are rather less formal affairs. Members are encouraged, if they wish, to sit anywhere in the chamber it becomes appropriate to have a good exchange across the aisle.
Questions and comments, the hon. member for Ottawa Centre.
My colleague from Ottawa Centre knows that it is a big fat goose egg. It is zero. If the Conservatives would walk the talk and put their money where their mouth is and do a favour for small businesses, they would eliminate the small business tax.
It is another illusion. It is a facade.
My colleague from Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, I think, supports the idea of eliminating the small business tax. He has seen the benefit in the province of Manitoba, which we call home.
The Conservatives are cutting, hacking, and slashing the big corporate tax rate for businesses that do not need a tax break. The banks and the big oil companies are the only ones that really benefit. It is only profitable businesses that would benefit from having their income tax lowered. A business that is not showing any income and that needs the support gets nothing from it, yet the Conservatives do nothing for the small businessperson.
We could have celebrated. If the Conservatives had wanted to put a 71st detail into this budget implementation act to eliminate the business tax, they would have had the support of the NDP. However, it is disingenuous and it is misleading to lump fiscal details in with non-fiscal details in a bill that is supposed to be limited to just that.
How did we end up dealing with the selection of Supreme Court justices in the context of the budget implementation act? That alone is a subject that warrants a great deal of consideration by Parliament and by committee. We would want to deal with that at great length.
What about the selection process for new economic immigrants? We have an immigration issue finding its way into this bill. There is simply no time.
The Mackenzie gas project impacts fund act is the name of the bill that I was groping for earlier.
I see that I am almost out of time. That will be the whole sum total of time that I am going to have, as the member for Winnipeg Centre, representing 100,000-some Canadians, to comment on or provide scrutiny of, or oversight to, over 70 pieces of legislation. It is a travesty.
I do not want anybody in Canada who might be watching this to think that this is normal. There is nothing normal about this abuse of the democratic process that has found its way into these so-called omnibus bills. It is completely undemocratic and contrary to all of the principles of democracy. It offends the very sensibilities of anyone who considers themselves a democrat.
The New Democratic Party will allow proper oversight and scrutiny of the legislation that we introduce in 2015.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Ottawa Centre for a very respectful speech in regard to this very serious issue of cyberbullying. A couple of our NDP colleagues have already moved legislation forward in this regard in order to discuss and combat the scourge of cyberbullying that is affecting our country.
When I was a little kid growing up, we always heard the expression “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. Now it is “gigs and bytes you may not like”. That is what I heard the other day.
The reality is that this is a new era now, one in which our young people are communicating back and forth at lightning speed, in many cases with people they do not even know. In many cases, these are people who prey upon them.
For years now, I have had legislation on the books that came from former MP Chris Axworthy on Internet child pornography. In it we were basically trying to get the Internet service providers to have some responsibility to monitor the sites and, when something of that nature came forward, to inform the police and make sure that appropriate action was being taken.
There is no question that this legislation is a good start. We hope to get it to committee in order to get it split and be able to move it very quickly, as my colleagues on both sides have said very clearly.
However, I want to focus on something that is a little more personal in terms of the family.
We can have all the legislation that we want. We can have all the enforcement, punishment, and everything else that we could have in terms of this issue, and yes, it would deter and possibly stop some people from doing it, but it will not be the end of it all.
If we look at drunk driving, we see tough measures against it across the country, but people still drink and drive. The United States has the death penalty in certain states, but the reality is that murders are still happening. The reality is that we can have the toughest cyberbullying legislation in the world, but it will not eliminate it completely. It would deter it and reduce it, but it would not eliminate it.
However, what may assist these young men and women when they feel the effects of cyberbullying is the conversation with their parents and their peers.
I have two daughters, aged 25 and 22, who grew up with the Internet and all of that kind of technology, but my wife was very clear and careful to ensure that a conversation took place on a regular basis about being very careful of what they typed into computer and being very careful about what they looked at on Facebook, and now the tweets and so on.
That conversation has to take place. The government or opposition members cannot be the sole source of remedying this situation. This has to be a national conversation across the country. I encourage all families, all legal guardians, and everyone else to have that national conversation with their children so that they understand the dangers and the threats of the Internet and what happens on Facebook when they post pictures or say certain things that can be interpreted in the wrong way.
When I grew up in Vancouver, I grew up in a group home. My parents had over 400 children come to our home over 23 years. Some stayed with us for a few hours, some for a few weeks, a few days, or a few months. Some even stayed for a couple of years.
The one thread that connected each and every one of those kids was love and respect. All these kids did not feel the love and they did not feel they had any respect. They did not feel they were contributing members to our society. They all felt that it was their fault. They all felt that it was a burden. When a 10-year-old tells my parents, “I can make more money on Davie Street in 20 minutes than I can working at home for a week”, there is a serious problem.
These kids are vulnerable and subject to anyone out there that will prey upon them. This is how cyberbullying works. Just as it was in the old days, they prey upon those who may be vulnerable. They prey upon those who may be a bit curious as to what is going on. Then the children get into that vortex or trap, and the next thing is they become victims.
Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons from Nova Scotia, and Jamie Hubley in Ottawa were three beautiful young people who had a tremendous amount to offer. They had the opportunity to become great citizens of our country. Who know what they may have been able to have done with their lives? Unfortunately, with the pressures they felt, they felt they had no other way out, for lack of a better term, than to end their own lives.
When a young child commits suicide, it affects not just their own family, and again my condolences and thoughts and prayers go out to all those families and friends; when a young child commits suicide, it should affect every single Canadian citizen. As my colleague from Ottawa Centre said so clearly, “What were we all doing?” What responsibility did we have when these kids were starting to look for help? What responsibility do we have, not just as politicians but as friends, as neighbours, as family members?
We cannot just avoid it and say that it is the school's responsibility or the government's responsibility. It is our collective community responsibility to reach out to the disenfranchised in our society.
The LGBT society, for years and years, has advocated just to have normal relationships with the rest of society. For years, society has put them down because they were different.
I represent one the largest Black communities in Canada, the original Black community of Preston. For years and years, the racism that community had to face was unconscionable. In many cases, in certain areas, it still exists.
We have a long way to go. I go to many schools, and we always hear the word “tolerant”. We hear that we are tolerant of each other. I am asking all parliamentarians and all Canadians to throw that word out. We should get the Webster dictionary to throw that word away. We should be celebrating our diversity. Whether someone is from Asia, Africa, Europe, or elsewhere, and whether someone is aboriginal, gay, straight, lesbian, or transgender, it should not matter.
We should all be equal under God's eyes. We, as parliamentarians, should set the example of equality for all. Whether one is disabled, young, man or woman, child or senior, it does not matter: we should all be treated equally in this regard. We should respect one another. We can disagree, but we do not have to be disagreeable.
I am hoping that that national conversation will take place so that no more Amanda Todds and no more Rehteah Parsons have to happen, and that when these young children feel they are under a tremendous amount of pressure, they can not only go to their parents but should be able to reach out to the general society, and we should be there with open arms, saying “We know you have a concern and a problem, and we are going to help you walk through this.”
This legislation is important. It is critical that we get it done right. Apparently there are 37 provisions in this bill that have nothing to do with cyberbullying, so I am hopeful that when the bill gets to committee, the committee members can agree with expert advice to ensure that we get it right the first time.
I am sure not one parliamentarian in this House wants to make a mistake on this one. It is too critical to get it right. However, even if it is the gold-plated model and it gets sent through and it is done, it may not prevent future cyberbullying. What may do it is going back to the personal responsibility that we all have in our community, right across this country and for that matter internationally, to ensure that when someone feels pressure and feels there is no other way out except to commit suicide, we are able to help them.
A friend of mine works at the Kids Help Phone. Even though she is not permitted to tell me the specific nature of the call or the names, when these kids call that number, I know that my friend goes home literally a changed person every night because of some of the calls she takes. She volunteers for that. These kids are reaching out for help.
I am hopeful that we get the legislation right. The government will have our support when it is done correctly, and we will get it to the committee, but on top of that, we need to ensure that all of us—family, friends, parents, and community members right across this country—work together collectively to ensure that we all take responsibility in the raising and the future and the care of our children.
Mr. Chair, I am very pleased to participate in this debate. I completely agree with my colleague that we should also extend our sympathies to the Filipinos here in Canada, not only to those in the Philippines.
My colleague expressed very well the depth of our sorrow and our condolences on the occasion of this tragedy. I would like to address what one might call more practical or more concrete issues.
As has been said by others, we do think that the government has provided a reasonably good reaction in the short term. It is a reasonably good reaction in terms of direct contributions and matching contributions. As a former defence minister, I was also pleased to see the quick deployment of the DART and of the helicopters.
However, I do not think it is enough to look at the short term; we must also look at the long term. The tragedy the Philippines has experienced is so big that it will take five years, even 10 years, to rebuild the affected areas. The danger is that, once the media are no longer there, governments might lose interest in the situation and stop sending assistance to the Philippines after a short while, whereas the needs will last for a very long time.
My point is that while we can in general support the government for its short-term action, we have to be equally concerned about the long run, which will last for at least five years or ten. After the media attention has gone away and the television cameras are no longer on, will the government still be there, providing the necessary assistance for the longer term reconstruction of those devastated islands, which we have seen so graphically on television but which will not remain on television for that much longer?
I combine these long-term concerns for reconstruction with the long-term concern mentioned by my NDP colleague from Ottawa Centre regarding climate change. While I commend overall the government for short-term reaction, I believe as well that we must not lose sight of the longer term, neither in terms of the dollar needs for reconstruction and health care nor on the issue of climate change.
That was my first point. I will wear my immigration critic hat to talk about the second point. Once again, the government has good intentions. However, as the saying goes, the devil is often in the details. If we look at the details, we cannot be at all sure that their intentions will really help the situation.
For instance, in terms of immigration, the government intends to take speedy action in sending assistance to those in significantly affected regions and to prioritize their cases.
However, this is where the devil could be in the details. For individuals in significantly affected areas, their cases will be prioritized. That sounds good, but what does it mean?
Let me put on the table the waiting times today for parents and grandparents from the Philippines is 99 months. For children, it is 15 months. For skilled workers, it is 18 months. For provincial program people, it is 12 months. For family live-in caregivers, many from the Philippines, it is 39 months. These are very long times. For people from the affected areas, does that mean they will be prioritized to the extent that wait times will be reduced from 39 months to 38 months or to 10 months, or to two months?
While the ideas put forward by the immigration department are laudable, I think we need more meat. We need to know before too long how many extra people will be let into Canada from these so-called prioritized areas.
We in the Liberal Party, and I as the immigration critic, will certainly be wanting to get more meat in coming weeks. I know it cannot happen overnight. How many more Filipinos will be allowed to come into this country as a consequence of this new policy, and what does their prioritization mean in terms of actual wait times for people from affected areas?
Mr. Chair, I want to thank my colleague from Ottawa Centre for his intervention tonight and how important this debate is. It is to show and demonstrate that members in Parliament are standing in unison with Canadians across the country, especially with the Filipino Canadian community in so many urban centres and across Canada in rural communities like mine in Selkirk—Interlake. These are fantastic people and they are very concerned about their loved ones back home.
Again, I appreciate the words of support coming from the opposition, knowing full well that the government is going to match all private donations, dollar for dollar, until December 8. Money that has been flowing into all sorts of charities at this point in time and any donation that has been made by Canadians to those charitable organizations, those NGOs are the best route to deliver aid on the ground and work through other agencies, which are specialists in humanitarian crises.
I would ask my colleague to talk about that and encourage Canadians to continue to give and donate. Those matching funds can be used to double those donations and essentially make a difference because the Philippines has been so badly devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.
Mr. Speaker, we have obviously been spending a lot of time on this here in the House of Commons. As I said in my opening question to the deputy leader of the Liberal Party, it seems that we have come to a point where the Liberals themselves are in agreement with the fact that their leader is in way over his head.
Last week we were in the House, and the Liberals were accusing the NDP of bringing forward a silly motion that showed how amateur the NDP was and so on and so forth. Now we have the Liberal Party basically admitting to Canadians that the new leader of the Liberal Party will be the member for Avalon. He is the person they trust more than their own leader to get to the bottom of issues.
Where are we with respect to the Senate? It is important that we look back and see where we are and what has happened.
On February 13, as I have said in the House on a number of occasions, Senator Duffy approached the Prime Minister to try to justify his inappropriate expenses. He approached the Prime Minister, who was very clear: if Senator Duffy had inappropriate expenses or expenses that he did not earn, he had to pay those back. The Prime Minister was very clear.
I do not think any of us, at least on this side of the House, would disagree with that statement. If someone has accepted a payment that he or she is not entitled to, it must be paid back.
The Prime Minister made quite clear to all of us, in a caucus meeting with senators and members of Parliament in attendance, the standard he expected from members of Parliament and each of us who is entrusted with taxpayers' money. He told all of us that if members have something inappropriate, they had better make it right. If they do not, they cannot expect their caucus to stand up for them. At the conclusion of that meeting, as I have said, Senator Duffy approached the Prime Minister to try to justify those expenses. The Prime Minister was very clear that he had to repay those expenses.
We then learned, along with all Canadians and all members of the House, that Senator Duffy had taken out a mortgage or a loan from the Royal Bank of Canada on one of his homes, and with that loan, he paid back the expenses. That is what we were told. Obviously, that was not true. There is no disputing the fact that Senator Duffy, at this point, had not paid back a penny of the inappropriate expenses he accepted.
We learned subsequently, when it was reported on May 15, that Nigel Wright had, in fact, repaid Senator Duffy's expenses. Nigel Wright, of course, understands that it was inappropriate. Nigel Wright is prepared to accept the consequences of that decision. Nigel Wright, as far as we understand, is working with the authorities in providing whatever information they ask for. We also subsequently learned that there were other individuals whom Mr. Wright had brought into his confidence with respect to his repayment of Senator Duffy's expenses. That was, of course, addressed by the Prime Minister in the summer.
Let us talk a bit further about what has been happening in the House for a number of months, because that is really at the heart of what this Liberal motion is all about. Since this came out, we have had the audit. Canadians I have spoken to, the ones who are contacting my office, want to learn more about how the Senate operates. They understand that there are two houses of Parliament, but they do not always appreciate the independence the Senate has with respect to the House of Commons. They understand that we have certain rules we follow over here with respect to how we submit and receive our expenses, but they do not understand how this was able to go on in the Senate for so long, and they want accountability.
Canadians also know that one of the ways they can extract accountability from their members of Parliament is by throwing them out of office at the time of the next election. It frustrates them that they do not have that exact same ability with senators. It frustrates them that there is no way to remove a senator from office until that senator reaches the age of 75.
The member opposite, from the NDP caucus, asked a question in which he talked about former Liberal senator Andy Thompson. Canadians remember this. Here was a Liberal senator, the former leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, who I think was appointed in 1967, I suppose by Pierre Trudeau or by Lester Pearson. I assume it was Pierre Trudeau, because it was late 1967.
By 1997 people were wondering who the heck this senator was. People started to look into it. He appeared once or twice a session to collect his paycheque, but then he was gone. We subsequently found that the senator had actually been living in Mexico. However, for years he still collected a paycheque from the people of Canada as a senator. It never dawned on the Liberal Party that that was somehow inappropriate for the taxpayers of Canada to be paying for a senator to live in Mexico, come up to Canada, show his face in the Senate once or twice a session, collect his paycheque, collect credits toward his pension, and in no way participate in any of the debates that were so important to Canadians at that time.
Debates such as those on the GST and free trade were very important, and so was the repatriation of the constitution. This senator did not participate in any of it, because he was busy tanning in Mexico. No one in the Liberal Party ever thought that was a problem and they had better do something about it until members of the Reform Party at the time brought this out and asked how appropriate it was. Then all of a sudden the Liberals decided he needed to be removed from the Senate, his salary stripped, and so on. Thirty years later, they finally got around to it.
Canadians also remember, sadly, Senator Raymond Lavigne. This was brought up by my NDP colleague, the member for Nickel Belt. Senator Lavigne, if I recall correctly, was having one of his assistants clean his cottage and chop down some trees. He was getting paid to do that. Senator Lavigne was on the public payroll for years while he was going to court, where he was subsequently found guilty.
Canadians look at this and say they cannot throw them out through an election. When they abuse their expenses, unlike the case in the private sector, where they would be fired, in the Senate they are told not to show up for work. They keep all of their privileges, continue to get paid, and receive credits toward their pension. Canadians know that is unacceptable and, rightly, it frustrates them.
The same goes for these senators right now, Senators Brazeau, Wallin, and Duffy, and recently retired and disgraced Liberal Senator Mac Harb. Here is another case. Mac Harb is a former Liberal member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre. He lived in Ottawa, became a senator for Ottawa, but then found a way to manipulate the rules so that he could claim a housing allowance by buying a home 120 kilometres away from Ottawa, just outside the area, and then pretending to live there. He collected an allowance, year after year, as someone living away from Ottawa.
We all have the opportunity in this place to decide where our principal residence will be. There are a lot of members who, for travel reasons or because they are cabinet ministers or for whatever reason, choose to declare that their principal residence will be in Ottawa, even though they have a home elsewhere. My principal residence is in Stouffville. I declare that as my principal residence when I am asked. However, other members who are here more often and perhaps have extraordinary flight challenges getting back and forth may decide to make their residence here. We understand what that means in relation to our expenses. It is not a confusion to any of us, so it should not be a confusion to the senators either.
As we have been saying right from the beginning, just because somebody can figure out a way to abuse the system and then try to go back and say, “Well, the rules are the rules, and I was able to figure out a way around them“ does not mean that the person should be protected. As the Prime Minister said, it is not only about following the letter of the law, it is about following the spirit of the law.
The vast majority of us in this place, on both sides of the House, have never violated that trust. We understand it. We get it.
We know that there were some members of the Liberal Party who did not quite get it. I think two of its sitting members abused that trust. I hope that they have subsequently paid the money back. I am not sure. I have never seen any copies of cheques showing they have repaid the hundreds of thousands of dollars in residence claims to which they were not entitled.
However, I will take them at their word. If they say they have paid it back, I guess they did, although I have not seen any copies of the cheques suggesting that they have.
However, that does not make it right. Just because someone can figure out a way around the rules does not make it right.
What are Canadians asking? They are saying they understand there are challenges and they are asking us to make it right, so they want us to look at the Senate and find ways that we can reform it. As a result, we have a package of reforms that we have put forward to the Supreme Court of Canada to find out ways in which we can actually reform the Senate.
Canadians have also been clear that they do not want to get into a big, long-drawn-out constitutional battle. They do not want us fighting with our provincial partners regarding the Senate. One of the things that Canadians have most talked about as well is how well the provinces and the federal government have worked together during the great recession to benefit the Canadian people. They do not want to turn back the pages to a time when the federal government was fighting with the provincial governments on everything. However, they do want change.
We have asked the Supreme Court of Canada to help us, to give us a road map to show us how we can change the Senate so that it better reflects Canadian values of the 21st century in order that Canadians can once again be proud of that institution, but in such a way that Canadians can be consulted so that there are term limits for these senators and so that Canadians' voices with respect to accountability can be heard. We are waiting for the Supreme Court to give us that advice so that we can bring it forward and make some changes.
What we said in our throne speech is that if we cannot change it, then it has to be abolished. I think it is quite clear that Canadians will no longer tolerate a Senate that has zero accountability.
In relation to this motion, I get to answer a lot of questions in question period. I know that often my colleagues on the NDP benches are not happy with how I answer the questions, and that is fine. I get it. I understand. I am not always happy with the way they ask the question and they are not happy with the way I answer the question, but at least they actually ask questions on something that they think is important. Their leader gets up in the House and asks those questions. I might not like it and I might want to talk about other things. I think it is important we talk about other things, such as the economy, and I think it is important we talk about health care, trade, and natural resources, as was already mentioned. I think these are also very important things we should talk about
However, this issue is obviously important to the members of the official opposition. This is a priority for them. They are asking those questions, and we are obliged to answer them.
However, they do it from the floor of the House of Commons, unlike the third party, which has clearly been left leaderless. The Liberals have clearly been left embarrassed by their own leader's inability to do anything of any significance or importance within this House of Commons.
The Liberals could start by having their leader's stage handlers pull out a copy of Hansard from May so that he could be brought back up to speed on what we have been talking about since then, as opposed to turning over the reins to the new or presumptive Liberal leader, the member for Avalon, and telling the member for Avalon that it is now his responsibility to do the job because the Liberal leader has so miserably failed in his duties.
What do they want? This is something that at least one opposition has been seized with. The Liberals have tried in their silly way to gain some traction, but it has been quite clear that when it comes to this issue, the leader of the NDP has taken the spotlight, and it is killing the Liberal leader. It is killing the Liberal leader that somebody has stolen his spotlight. What is more evident is just how irrelevant the Liberals have become on matters of any importance to the Canadian people. They are completely irrelevant.
The Liberal leader was elected in April and was going to bring so much hope to the Liberal Party. Liberals waited and waited and waited. Canadians waited with bated breath. Then, how was his first policy formulated? He was having a dinner party at his house with his friends and maybe his advisers; I do not know. They pulled out a joint and started talking about things, and the idea that maybe they should legalize marijuana came up. Now, there was a good policy.
The member for Richmond Hill told me he has a lot of dinner parties at his house. He said that usually people bring wine and they share a bottle of wine, but nobody has ever pulled out a joint and formulated policy on it. Liberals waited and waited and waited, and is that what he had?
Now he is saying he does not have what it takes in the House of Commons, so he is going to cede everything over to the member for Avalon, three hours in front of a committee is enough, and it will be put to bed.
I know why the Liberals want to do this. As we are learning today, the Liberal leader is actually instructing his senators to abstain from voting on these motions. He is actually telling them to abstain. It is being reported in the media, the same media that the Liberals have believed 100% of the time throughout this controversy. They do not care about any of the facts, but if something is reported by a certain person, it has to be true. That same person is now reporting that the Liberal leader has instructed his senators to abstain from voting on this matter.
As the member for Trinity—Spadina just said, the Liberals have lots of practice in abstaining. They do. It is very rare that Liberals will ever come forward with any options.
We have heard this before. I remember that when I was a bit younger, the Liberals said in 1993 that they were going to get rid of the GST and get rid of free trade. Well, the GST and free trade are still here, and then they tried to take credit for how the economy grew because of free trade.
One of the reasons I got involved in politics was that I remembered the debates between John Turner and Brian Mulroney on the free trade issue. I remember those debates. Former prime minister Turner, who was also the leader of the opposition, was passionate every day in the House about what he believed, and he fought for those beliefs. Ultimately, was he wrong? Yes, he was wrong, but he had a belief and he fought for it day in and day out. He stood in this place and fought for it.
I know all members in the House would agree with me that they cannot even begin to imagine that same level of debate from the current Liberal leader, who thinks it is more important to smile for a camera than to be in this place every single day and debate the issues that are important to Canadians.
No matter where we fall on this issue, we cannot help but see it as a desperate attempt by the Liberals to steal some of the spotlight away from the NDP and to do their best to make sure their leader never has to speak on this issue, because he has nothing to say. Other than protecting the status quo, they are terrified that he might actually speak on any substantive issue, anything of importance, because what he says changes from area to area. Unless his stage handlers have put something right in front of him, Liberals are terrified, so they have now told the member for Avalon that he is the new presumptive leader of the Liberal Party. He is the person Liberals trust on this issue. He has three hours to get it done and not do anything to upset the status quo in the Senate.
I think Canadians understand that. When it comes to fighting the status quo in the Senate, there are some people they can trust, and it is certainly not the Liberal Party of Canada.
The electoral district of Ottawa Centre (Ontario) has a population of 109,336 with 92,877 registered voters and 252 polling divisions.
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