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Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development



Tuesday, April 29, 2008

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]



     We're going to proceed now with committee business, and we're going to go to Mr. Dewar.
    Mr. Chairman, I'd like to put forward a motion to ask the foreign affairs minister to come to committee. I'd ask for that motion to be dealt with first and then to deal with the motion if that is accepted.
    All right.
    Mr. Obhrai.
    Mr. Chair, I have put a motion that is far more important. It's the one where the Minister of Foreign Affairs is going to come based upon the Standing Order 81(4). He has to come in front of the committee before May 31 to talk on the estimates. That's already written into the Standing Orders. And the minister is very keen to come in front of us to talk about that.
     I suggest that my motion, which is there, be moved first so we can meet the deadline of the Standing Orders for the estimates. At that time, should Mr. Dewar like to talk about his motion, he can address it. The main point is to have the Minister of Foreign Affairs come in front of the committee, and during the estimates members will have an opportunity to ask their questions of interest. We need to fulfill that.
     You can't have the Minister of Foreign Affairs come here at every drop of a coin. Everybody wants to call him, as there are so many motions. Considering his own time--
    One moment, Mr. Obhrai. We already have a motion on the floor.
    Now, the reason I'm listening to Mr. Obhrai is that he is saying that the estimates--the timelines--make it time sensitive as well.
    We can't move your motion forward now.
    I am putting an argument against his motion by saying that this motion topples that, so when I'm talking, I would appreciate it if you would let me do it.
     I'm saying to the committee, and hopefully there's some sense on the committee to do this.... The Minister of Foreign Affairs has to come in front of this committee. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will be here, and he does want to talk. We have to fulfill that requirement. Then I'm saying that Mr. Dewar can do whatever he wants with his little political game that he wants to play at that given time. He can ask those questions that he wants to of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
    But there are two things. It is not possible for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to come for everything. This is within that period of time. The Minister of Foreign Affairs may not be able to schedule an appearance with that motion, but the Standing Orders commit him to come by May 31. By May 31 he has to appear in front of the committee, by request. That is there. So he will come. He has to come.
    I am saying--and the foreign affairs minister has indicated this to me very clearly--that he's very amicable to come in front of the committee. He wants to talk about issues, and he has nothing to hide. He is more than happy to come here.
    Okay, we'll go back to Mr. Dewar.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    I'm not finished.
    I think I've been recognized by the chairman. Thank you.
    But I am not finished.
    I think Mr. Obhrai has actually provided all of us with the arguments for my motion--the need and the cooperation that we'll receive. I simply wanted to make sure that we could get to both my motion and Mr. Obhrai's, which I see follows mine. We can coordinate this in terms of calendars and schedules with the minister. These are two separate requests, but I think we need to at least pass the motion so that both of them can be considered. Notwithstanding the calendar concerns that Mr. Obhrai has put forward on the estimates--we all agree--we still have to pass the motion to bring these motions to the committee.
    I think we are all interested in hearing from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, obviously on the estimates, but there is also expressed interest, as I'm putting forward in a motion, in recent concerns with the minister. We'll have a debate, I'm sure, about the motion, but we believe it's the role of the committee to have the minister here to talk about his role in Foreign Affairs. That's separate from the estimates process.
     Actually, I'd like to get to the vote on bringing those two motions forward, both mine and Mr. Obhrai's, so that we could actually schedule the minister to appear before committee.
    Madame Barbot is up next. I'll let her speak, and then--
    You cut me short.
    No, I didn't cut you short. I'll let you back on.
    Madame Barbot.


    I concur with Mr. Dewar. These are two completely different issues and the availability of the minister has nothing to do with the tabling of motions. So then, I would like us to deal with Mr. Dewar's motion.


    All right, let me just ask Mr. Dewar first. Because it sounds as if the minister is willing to come on the estimates, does this mean that if we submitted a request for both appearances, he could choose the estimates first? Are we limiting him to come on the estimates, based on his appearance for you first?
    No, I won't get ahead of the game here. My motion has a date on it so that we can report back to the House. So no, it's about bringing him forward, and let's deal with the motion. Let's get to the vote and then we can decide that. I think the committee has to give him direction.
    On this point, let me tell you this. My intentions are that we will shut off committee business at 5:15. There are no votes after that. These are motions where there's unlimited debate, just so we're aware of that.
    All right, Mr. Obhrai on a point of order.
    Can I have confirmation from the clerk that this motion--talking about confidence in a minister from a committee--is in order to report it back to the House? Does that follow any standing orders? Is this in order or not?


    It's in order. Are you sure?
    The committee reports on the mandate of the department. The minister is part of the department, and his performance is something the committee looks at. The committee is the master of its own decisions, so if it decides to report on something, then it can report on it.
    All right. I'll carry on with my questions. Who's next in the speaking order?
    Mr. Khan and Mr. Obhrai.
    Mr. Chair, I'm a little dismayed that there are motions, and one of mine--and this is in response to my colleague there--has been languishing. It is of a very significant nature. We talk about security in relation to Afghanistan--my colleague wants the foreign minister to come here--yet the most important and significant and major change that has taken place in that region has been the February 18 election in Pakistan. There are issues of FATA that will be discussed there. There will be issues as to how the current government is going to handle the circumstances going forward with the domestic fundamentalism or terrorism, how they're going to react to the changes we bring about--
    We have a point of order.
    On a point of order, we seem to be getting into debate around the motion as opposed to whether or not we're going to bring this motion forward.
    I think the motion is not of such a critical nature that it has to jump ahead of every other motion.
    But we're debating motions. That's my point of order.
    I'm answering your question.
    I'm sorry, the way parliamentary procedure works--
    The motion is not of such special importance--
    Chair, I'm asking you to rule on my point of order. It's simple.
    Mr. Khan, I'll encourage you to stay to the substance.
    Thank you. That's all I'm asking.
    Is this motion worthy of leapfrogging to the front of the--
    I'm just trying to tell you why it is not, Mr. Chair. I'm trying to tell you about the significance--
    Okay, without getting into the substance of the motion.
    No, I'm saying this motion of mine is far more significant and important to issues relating to our country, our deployment in Afghanistan, and the region. So this is a motion that I do not want to have leapfrogged by another motion.
    You'll bring your motion--
    Yes, that's right, sir. Just to bring the foreign minister to ask a question, which he's made a public statement about on Afghanistan--which is answered--that can be done at a later date. The question is, why are we not going to this motion? Everybody on this committee recognizes the importance of Canadian deployment and the changes that have occurred in the region and to our national security, which is being impacted. I can tell you, sir, there have been huge changes, and there's lots going on. We need to discuss that here. Bring in the departmental people.
    If you read the motion and look at the intent of it, even Mr. Dewar and Mr. Rae would agree that this is so significant, so important to our security, to our deployment, to our mission in Afghanistan and how the engagement is going to continue, how we're going to stop the terrorism. I can tell you that all those banned organizations are now opening their doors to terrorism because they know that there's been a change from military rule to civilian rule, and they're having serious difficulties. I'd like to see the departmental people come here and tell us what is going on. Are they engaged? What is our high commission doing over there? I can tell you that this is so significant and so important that this must be the first motion of this committee that we deal with.
     I'd like to urge and request the engagement of all of my colleagues on this committee: let's address the issue. We have now formed an Afghanistan committee, and Mr. Rae is a member of that. That is an important committee, and that committee needs to hear this. He's a member of that foreign affairs committee and he needs to be engaged in that, and we must bring the departmental people here so we can hear them, listen to them, and move forward on the agenda, which is significant to our country. It's not just political games within the parties. The foreign minister made a statement to clarify....
    You want the foreign minister here? By all means, but let's not leapfrog over such important issues of national interest and national security and our mission in Afghanistan, Mr. Chair.
    Thank you very much, Mr. Khan.
    Mr. Goldring.
    Yes, Mr. Chairman, I tend to agree with the comments that have been made, and particularly comparing the two. If we're going to be leapfrogging one ahead of it or moving one up the line, I think there should be significant capacity, significant meaning to it. When we look at the reasoning for the second motion, if there was time to do it for the main estimates and to have a more overall engaged and more comprehensive discussion on the issue.... We did just set up the Afghanistan committee. That is under way now. It would be good for us to have an update and understanding of what happened on that committee.
    We also have, of course, many other initiatives ongoing there. Minister Oda went over to Afghanistan recently as well. It would be good to have, from the foreign affairs perspective, a complete update and statements from the foreign affairs minister in relation to the main estimates committee and comparing what could possibly be brought forward and what should be brought forward. I would certainly think that one is far more comprehensive in its character and nature, and I think that motion itself would be far more important.
    These issues and discussions could all be part of the main reason for the minister to be brought forward on the main estimates. It doesn't have to wait. It could include that, whereas the discussion just on the narrowly focused aspect of the motion that's being put forward does not really allow for that form of discussion too.
    So we have a timing element here. What are we best doing? What are we best to plan for the remainder of this session and period of time that we have? I think the meeting with the foreign affairs minister and having him appear here for a discussion on the estimates would be far more important, far more comprehensive, and of much greater value to this overall committee and the work we've been doing.
    An hon. member: Hear, hear!


    All right. The bells have started, so in order to continue with this motion we have to have unanimous consent to continue to sit.
    Do we have unanimous consent? We don't.
    I have a point of order, Mr. Chair. The next time we return to business, we'll continue the debate on this motion?
    When we return to committee business, yes.
    We are adjourned--
    This is for all the committee members. I think on Thursday we're supposed to be meeting at 3:30. I know there is an event for the Holocaust remembrance, and many of us, I think, would want to be in attendance for that. I believe it would take us to four o'clock, for those attending, and I'm just wondering if, through the clerk, we could see if there's a consensus to start a bit later that day.
    What do we need for that?
     We won't finish at 5:30.
    I have no problem starting at four o'clock.
    Okay, let's wait. I'm not going to make that decision right here, right now. We're aware of it. I am getting the drift from most of the committee on where you'd like to be, and I don't blame you. So we'll see if we're going to start at four o'clock or 4:15, or whatever. We may cut out committee business on Thursday.
    This meeting is adjourned.