Monday, September 26, 2005 Page A5
With a report from John Ibbitson
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Paul Martin called for a kinder, gentler House of Commons as members of Parliament return to their seats in Ottawa today for a fall session the Conservatives predict will be every bit as raucous and nasty as the spring.
Speaking in Prince Edward Island last week, Mr. Martin said the last session of Parliament was at times "a pretty unsavoury spectacle" and that MPs should now strive for a higher standard.
"We have to foster a higher level of debate, we have to foster greater decorum, more respect for one another, and to be quite honest, more respect for Parliament as an institution," the Prime Minister said. "Parliament should not be turned into a screaming match where people say things in the House of Commons that would be unacceptable [elsewhere]."
But Conservative House Leader Jay Hill said it is the Prime Minister and his government who have poisoned the atmosphere by failing to work constructively with the opposition parties throughout the year-and-a-half-old minority Parliament.
Mr. Hill said he sees no hope of sudden political harmony on the eve of a federal election campaign.
"Unfortunately, and I mean that sincerely, this last session this fall will be as raucous and divisive and tumultuous as the spring session," said the MP for Prince George-Peace River.
Mr. Hill also said the timing of Mr. Justice John Gomery's reports on the sponsorship scandal, especially the second report, would not have a major influence on whether the Conservatives attempt to defeat the government. He said the first report is expected to assign blame and the second to recommend ways to prevent the mistakes from reoccurring. The first is due Nov. 1 and the second has been delayed until Feb. 1.
The Liberal and NDP House leaders countered that the conduct of Mr. Hill and his colleagues would determine the level of civility.
"If it is as nasty and raucous, it's because the Conservative Party wants it to be that way, and that's unfortunate," Government House Leader Tony Valeri said.
NDP House Leader Libby Davies said that her party would consider matters on an issue-by-issue basis and that it is too early to say how long the government will survive.
For their part, Bloc Quebecois MPs have been playing down their eagerness for an election.
The focus in the Commons will be justice issues, measures to better open the Pacific Coast to trade and the fall fiscal update.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler spoke candidly during the summer about the government's legislative plans. A proposed bill on "lawful access," which would give police and national security agencies new powers to eavesdrop on cellphone calls and monitor the Internet activities of Canadians, has already generated significant controversy.
Mr. Cotler said he would introduce variations of two bills to impose stiffer penalties for street racing and auto theft.
The Commons justice committee still has six government bills to consider, including two dealing with marijuana laws that were first introduced when Jean Chretien was prime minister.
Other legislation expected this fall includes a bill regulating bulk imports to Internet pharmacies, a bill to grant foreign-born adopted children automatic Canadian citizenship and a proposed new Access to Information Act from Information Commissioner John Reid.