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CANADA

Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights


NUMBER 001 
l
2nd SESSION 
l
39th PARLIAMENT 

EVIDENCE

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

  (1120)  

[English]

    Honourable members of the committee, I see a quorum. We can now proceed to the election of a chair.

[Translation]

    I am ready to receive motions to that effect.

[English]

    I nominate Art Hanger to be chair of the justice committee.
    It has been moved by Mr. Lee that Art Hanger be elected chair of the committee.
    Are there further motions?
    Is it the pleasure of the committee to adopt the motion?
    (Motion agreed to)
    The Clerk: I declare the motion carried, and Mr. Hanger duly elected chair of the committee.
    Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
    I am now prepared to receive motions for first vice-chair.
     I nominate Brian Murphy to be first vice-chair.
    It has been moved by Mr. Lee that Mr. Murphy be nominated first vice-chair.
    I move that nominations be closed.
    Is the pleasure of the committee to adopt the motion by Mr. Lee?
    (Motion agreed to)

[Translation]

    I declare the motion carried and Mr. Murphy duly elected first vice-chair of the committee.
    Let us move to the election of the second vice-chair.
    Mrs. Freeman nominates Mr. Ménard.

[English]

    I move that nominations be closed.

[Translation]

    Is it the pleasure of the committee to adopt the motion?
    (The motion is carried.)
    The Clerk: I declare the motion carried and Mr. Ménard duly elected second vice-chair of the committee.

[English]

    I now invite Mr. Hanger to take the chair.
    Thank you, one and all.
    Getting right down to business, we have some routine motions, if that's the pleasure of the committee.
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Chair: Okay. They will be distributed right now.
    On a point of order, can I ask you, Mr. Chairman and the clerk, if these routine motions are in the same form as existed for the committee before the prorogation? They're identical?
    They're just guidelines, as it is--
    They're just guidelines? No, are they the same?
    They're the ones that the committee adopted last time.
    Okay, thank you.
    A voice: Except the hours of notice on the last one.
    Mr. Chairman, in the last one, with regard to notice of motion, the time period is left blank.
    A voice: It was 48 hours.
    Mr. Derek Lee: It was 48? All right.
    I am ready to move some of these motions, Mr. Chair, if you're ready to receive them.
    I am, if all members have had an opportunity to review.
    We have just heard from the clerk that they're identical to last time. If members are prepared to proceed, I'm prepared to move them.
    An hon. member: Go, go, go.
    The members are prepared to proceed.
    All right.
    These are not numbered, but I will move the first page: services of analysts, as written; subcommittee on agenda and procedure, as written; quorum of three, as written; documents in both official languages, as written; working meals, as written; and allocating time for questioning, as written.
    I will move all of those.
    Is there a seconder for the motion? You don't need a seconder, okay.
    There are some I wanted to make amendment to, if it's the will of the committee.
    On the subcommittee of agenda and procedure, we can all see what it says there. I move an amendment that it would read:
That the subcommittee on agenda and procedure be composed of the chair, the two vice-chairs, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice,
--that would be me--
a second member of the Liberal Party and the member from the New Democratic Party.
Quorum of the subcommittee shall consist of at least three members, one of whom must be from the government. Each member of the subcommittee shall be permitted to have one assistant to attend at any meetings of the subcommittee on agenda and procedure.
    That would be my amendment.
    In essence, you would be adding yourself as parliamentary secretary.
    If no one minds.
    It would be myself, the two vice-chairs, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, a second member from the Liberal Party--I think that is a new addition as well--and of course the member from the New Democratic Party.
    That would be reflective of the other opposition parties. So it would be an additional member from the Liberal Party, plus the parliamentary secretary.
    Could I suggest that we stand that particular section down and that we adopt the non-controversial ones now.
    Monsieur Ménard.

[Translation]

    I am ready to pass it, but I would like to remind the parliamentary secretary that, when he was in opposition, he systematically opposed parliamentary secretaries becoming members of steering committees. It is a little sad when one's position in government is different from one's position in opposition. Even you, Mr. Chair, moved amendments saying that parliamentary secretaries should not be part of steering committees. You used to say that the committee should function completely autonomously and without interference. I am ready to vote for the amendment, but we have to have some consistency; we cannot say one thing when we are in government and the opposite when we are on the other side. I have no objection to the parliamentary secretary being there, but I do remind him of the past.

  (1125)  

[English]

    Ms. Jennings.

[Translation]

    Perhaps we could achieve Mr. Ménard's objective by saying “a second government member as long as it is not the parliamentary secretary.”
    That is a joke. I withdraw my comment.
    Hon. members: Ah, ah!

[English]

    Mr. Comartin, please.
    Thank you, Mr. Chair.
    It's been our party's position that we've been opposed to having parliamentary secretaries playing this role because of the need for independence of the committee from direct influence from the government, and I assume that position would remain the same. I would prefer to have Mr. Lee's recommendation followed, that we put this off so we can get directions from our caucuses before we vote on this.
    Just to finish, Mr. Chair, I'm concerned that if we're doing it in this committee, we are going to be faced with the same motions in other committees and I want a systematic response from my party.
    Mr. Lee.
    Mr. Chair, if this is the only section the government wishes to alter, we may get through it; we have two hours. But my experience is that we're going to end up with a lot of debate about this.
    I know, Mr. Moore, you haven't explained the change. It's not my recollection that the steering committee was dysfunctional in any way the last time. My very firm view is that it would be inappropriate for a committee of this House to structure a parliamentary secretary as an explicit piece of the structure. I would have no objection to Mr. Moore, as a member of the committee, being on the steering committee. But for us to patently incorporate a government office into our committee structure runs contrary to the constitutional function of the House. Mr. Moore will recall very clearly, as may some other government members, the position of the Conservative Party and its predecessor in the last Parliament, where they actually moved motions that parliamentary secretaries not even be allowed to sit on committees.
    The government party has made a huge about-face here, and it invites from opposition a number of nouns and adjectives I'm not going to use now. But I would at least hope that Mr. Moore would be in a position to explain why the previous steering committee structure didn't work well enough from his point of view and why it is necessary for a steering committee to create a committee of six people, which would make it much more cumbersome, much more difficult to get the members together. The main function of that committee is talking about future business, not selecting it, and the selection of witnesses. Perhaps Mr. Moore could address that.
    I'm going to debate this at some length, if I can, and I will continue to debate it here today. I'd like to get the routine motions passed, but I'd like to hear Mr. Moore as well. I'm suggesting to the chair that we stand down this particular one until we get all the non-controversial routine motions passed, and then we could continue discussion on this and any other matter there might be an amendment to.
    I would be very interested in hearing Mr. Moore's statement as well, but I also have one of my own that I would like to contribute to this debate. It might be a good move right now to actually move the rest of these, pass them, and then we'll come right back to this particular part of the motion on the subcommittee on agenda and procedure.
    Let's move ahead. Are there any additions to any of the others? We should go through with this motion of Mr. Lee with the exception of the second point on the page, subcommittee on agenda and procedure.

  (1130)  

    All in favour? On the first page I had another change, hopefully much less controversial.
    Let's go through it this way then.
    It's only one more on the first page, which is allocation of time for questioning, and we've dealt with this many times in other committees.
    Can I move the non-controversial ones? This is going to take time. I'm going to move services of analysts. I'm going to move that.
    If it's okay with you, Mr. Lee, let's go one at a time.
    Okay, I'm going to move services of analysts from the Library of Parliament, as written.
    (Motion agreed to)
    I'm going to move quorum, as written, number three.
    (Motion agreed to)
    I'm going to move documents that are available in both official languages, as written.
    (Motion agreed to)
    I'm going to move the motion on working meals, as written.
    (Motion agreed to)
    Flip the page. I'm going to move the motion on witnesses' expenses, as written.
    (Motion agreed to)
    I'm going to move the motion staff at in camera meetings, as written. No? I'll drop that one.
    I'll move private members' business--
    Monsieur Ménard.

[Translation]

    As to the presence of staff, everyone has to be clear that it includes the “whippersnappers”, not just our assistants, but someone from the whip's office, because you know that we are nothing without them.

[English]

    I'm not going to move that, Mr. Chairman. We'll have to debate that one.
    We're going to skip over that one. We'll do it later.
    I'm going to move the motion on private members' business bill, as written.
    (Motion agreed to)
    I'm going to move the motion on in camera meeting transcripts, as written.
    (Motion agreed to)
    On the notice of motions.
    I'm going to move notice of motions, that 48 hours' notice be required for any substantive motion, as written.
    Is there agreement?
    That's fine. There was another change I was going to make, but 48 hours is fine.
    (Motion agreed to)
    Back to the subcommittee on agenda and procedure. Is there discussion?
    Mr. Moore.
    On that, I know Mr. Comartin had said to put that off. Number one, I just want to say I don't take any of that personally. All the talk about...I'm fine, my feelings are not hurt by anything that was said. I know.
    Someone asked for the reason why we'd want to do that. I know many times it came up in the last session where members, including opposition members, would ask me, as parliamentary secretary, about upcoming government business, about different priorities, and being on the subcommittee I'd be able to offer that direction directly rather than someone having to seek me out afterwards. As well, the reason for the other changes flowing from that is to maintain balance on the subcommittee. That's the only intention there.
    Thank you, Mr. Moore.
    I too would like to make a comment, given the fact that for the last year and a half this committee worked very well, moving legislation forward. The parliamentary secretary was present at a great number of those meetings, steering committee meetings, and assisted the steering committee with moving this agenda forward. I might remind the entire committee that all of it must be ratified by the committee as a whole, in the end. So if we can do that and do it efficiently in the steering committee, it makes the committee's work much easier when we don't have to go through the whole thing a second or third time.
    The input of the parliamentary secretary has been very advantageous for the steering committee, I might add, because we can pick up additional information that we would have to seek otherwise that might come up in debate. I would argue that this arrangement would be an acceptable one for that purpose alone, keeping in mind again that the committee as a whole deals with the agenda as it's struck by the steering committee.
    Ms. Jennings.
    I'm not in favour of the amendment that's being proposed by Mr. Moore. When I was a parliamentary secretary myself in different portfolios, it was my duty to keep my colleagues, not just in my own party but also the opposition parties, informed as to the government's agenda, the government's intention, in the particular portfolio for which I was responsible. It was not necessary for me to sit on the subcommittee on agenda and procedure and I did not sit on the committee.
    I also recall, as have Mr. Lee and Monsieur Ménard, the vehement debates that took place in different standing committees in previous Parliaments where first the Reform Party, predecessor to the Canadian Alliance, then the Canadian Alliance, successor to the Reform Party, then the Conservative Party, successor to the Canadian Alliance, mounted arguments to ensure that parliamentary secretaries to the then-governing party were not part of the composition of the subcommittee on agenda and procedure. That did not preclude the liberty of the governing party to designate someone else among the members of the party if their member of the subcommittee on agenda and procedure was unable to be there. And it might have been the parliamentary secretary, but that person was not part of the composition.
    I'm not in favour of Mr. Moore's proposal.

  (1135)  

    Do you want to speed things along, Mr. Moore?
    Sure. Since no one wants me on the subcommittee with them, I will withdraw that motion.
    On a point of order, it's not--
    You have an amendment. You're going to withdraw your amendment.
    (Amendment withdrawn)
    Okay then, let's vote on the question, the subcommittee on agenda and procedure, as noted in routine motions moved by Mr. Lee.
    (Motion agreed to)
    On allocation of time for questioning, Mr. Moore.
    The only change I would suggest, Mr. Chair, is that on the second to last line after “five minutes be allocated to each subsequent questioner”, I would add, before “until”, “alternating between government and opposition parties”. Then it would continue on as it is.
    Could you make that a little clearer, Mr. Moore?
    Okay. Just reverse that. Right now it says, “five minutes be allocated to each subsequent questioner (alternating between Government and Opposition parties)”. I would have “five minutes be allocated to each subsequent questioner until every member has spoken once”, and would remove “alternating between Government and Opposition parties”.
    Let me just read the whole thing to you. What I'm proposing would say:
That the witnesses from any one organization shall be given 10 minutes for their opening statements. During the questioning of witnesses, there shall be allocated seven minutes for the first round of questioning and thereafter five minutes shall be allocated to each questioner in the second and subsequent rounds of questioning.
    So what would be removed.... Well, you can see that what would be removed would be everything after “questioner” in the original.
    Give us an example of how it's going to work.

  (1140)  

    Sure. There'll be seven minutes on the first round of questioning. After the first round of questioning, there'll be five minutes allocated to each questioner in the second and subsequent rounds of questioning.
    So all that's saying is that in the first round we'd have seven minutes, which we do, and in the second round.... I'll go to it again: “seven minutes for the first round of questioning and thereafter five minutes shall be allocated to each questioner in the second and subsequent rounds”.
    Okay, the Liberal Party would start, and the Bloc, the NDP, and the Conservatives each get seven minutes--five, five, five, and five.
    No, seven, seven, seven, and seven; five, five, five; and then five, five.
    Monsieur Ménard.

[Translation]

    That was not clear in the presentation, but I think that Mr. Moore has clarified it. For the second round, alternating is important. I agree about having some leeway. No one will come to the committee if he has no opportunity to ask questions, and all members are democratically and legitimately elected. That is all part of the equation, but I do not want us to go back to a situation where there might be three Conservatives asking questions before the Liberals or the Bloc Québécois have their turn. We can play with the alternating, and everyone should have the right to speak, but I think alternating is important.

[English]

    Mr. Lee.
    I'm just about to enter my 20th year here, and for what it's worth, there was a time when the rounds used to circulate between the parties. In other words, round, round, round, round. Then there came a time when there were five parties in the House of Commons, and so it was round, round, round, round, over to the government for a round.
    The difficulty with that as it evolved was that the government members, if it was all just party rounds and there was a majority government, would be the chopped liver. They would never get a chance to make an intervention. Why bother coming to the committee if you never get a round because the opposition parties chewed up so many rounds, and it's only a two-hour meeting?
     The solution to that was to recognize that every member is, give or take a bow tie around here, equal. Therefore--and the only way we could ensure that all members were treated fairly in the rounds for questions was that after the party rounds, it then became a sequence of member rounds, and we alternated, recognizing that the government would have, we believe, roughly half the seats in the House and half the representation on the committee. That ensured everybody would get a round.
    In the current iteration, if we alternate the way it says, the government would get slightly more pro rata time than they would be otherwise entitled to based on the seats in the House, because we have a minority government.
    We have always relied on the chair. The chair here has been very fair over the last while. I didn't really see anything as broken. The most important thing is that as we alternate back and forth, it's imperative that any member who has not had a round be recognized before a member who has already had a round, whether it's a party round or an individual round. That is so important in keeping all members of the committee committed to the work of the committee and ensuring appropriate attendance.
    The wording we have here now does that, and in the draft it's actually quite favourable to the government, for the reason I pointed out. If we alternate back and forth, 50-50, the government is going to get 50% of the rounds when they have less than 50% of the membership. The only thing that makes that fly is that the chair at some point is going to have to refrain from giving a second round to a government member in order to recognize someone in the opposition who may not have spoken yet, and who may not have had a round of questions.
    I would like to leave it the way it is. It's reasonably fair that the chair seems to make it operate well. I'm reluctant to get into a situation where the government chair may be leaned on to skew the questioning. I don't think he or she would get away with it for very long, but I think the current situation works well for the government and for the opposition.
    I would like to interject a comment.
    One area that I as chair have found we do have control over when it comes to the amount of time available for questions is the number of witnesses that sit at the end of the table. According to this, each presentation can take 10 minutes.
     Mr. Dykstra, in the committee just before--a legislative committee--had, I believe, seven witnesses sitting at the end of the table. If each of the seven witnesses were to take their 10 minutes, that's 70 minutes gone out of a two-hour session and barely enough rounds for one speaker out of each party left. I would like to see our committee be a little more careful, if you will, in selecting witnesses so that we can at least question at length the witnesses who do show up here, without having just all presentations.

  (1145)  

    Are you talking about taking more time with the bills?
    Not necessarily, and I don't think that's going to play very significantly in how this committee works or functions.
    As a point of information, the translation on the allocation of time is not the same in English as it is in French. The French, translated, would be that a maximum of 10 minutes be given to witnesses of an organization. Whereas on the English it says “be given”.
    Most witnesses take 10 or longer.
    But you were making the point that it says that the witnesses be given 10 minutes, and if you have seven witnesses, they eat it up. The French version gives the chair the authority, depending on the number of witnesses, to say a maximum of 10 minutes.
    Which version do I pay attention to?
    I would say that the French one is the appropriate one and that the English should be changed.
    Mr. Comartin.
    I wanted to support Mr. Lee's comments. They are ones I was going to make.
    I'm not understanding, quite frankly, what Mr. Moore is trying to get at. The way this is structured now, as presented in the paper form, is actually a motion moved by the member from Wild Rose and it really was to cut me out of one of these cycles, to which I was agreeable because I was getting in three times. I'm quite prepared to give that up, because it is crucial that every member get an opportunity to ask questions. They were much better questions coming from this side of the table, I have to say, Mr. Chair, but for the purpose of democracy, I was prepared to give that up.
    I'm asking Mr. Moore, seriously now, because I do not understand the rotation that his amendment would put into play.
    I'll withdraw it.
    (Amendment withdrawn)
    Thank you, Mr. Moore.
    Ms. Jennings.
     I would move that the English version of the allocation of time for questioning be amended to say “That witnesses from an organization be given up to 10 minutes” so that it is in conformity with the French version.
    Is that an change to which we all would agree here? We're all in agreement.
    On the allocation of time for questioning, I put the question.
    (Motion agreed to)
    On staff at in camera meetings--

[Translation]

    Mr. Chair, do we agree that it does not only include a member's staff or assistant, but someone from the whip's office, or the leader's. This is the same comment that I made earlier.

[English]

    That's a point.
    Ms. Jennings.

[Translation]

    I am in favour of the amendment that Mr. Ménard is making. In addition to each committee member being allowed to be accompanied by a staff member, a member of the staff of each party's whip would have the right to be present. That is in addition.

[English]

    Mr. Moore, do you have any comment in reference to that?
    That's fine.

  (1150)  

    There is no problem with the whip's office.
    The only thing I would suggest—I think this came up at our last committee and we had the same discussion—is that it not be limited to the whip's office. We used the word “party” in the last one. If it were someone from the House leader's office, for example, they wouldn't be excluded.
    You are seeking to have that amendment, Monsieur Ménard, to include anyone from the party, one person from any position from within the party, as opposed to just the whip's office.
    An hon. member: Is he a fundraiser?
    The Chair: I haven't done you any good so far.

[Translation]

    Mr. Chair, perhaps we could use the term “a party official”. It could be the house leader, the whip, someone from the party leader's office, that is not for us to decide, but it must be someone who has something to do with our caucus administration. It does not matter to me whether the person is from the house leader's office, the whip's, or the party leader's. So we could say “a party official”.

[English]

    From the caucus officer's staff.
    I was thinking of a person representing the party leadership in the House.
    Party leadership? Party leadership it shall be.
    We have an amendment to that motion, Mr. Ménard. Again, it was the party leadership in the House, anyone there. I call the question on the amended motion.
    (Motion agreed to)
    Is there any further discussion on those particular motions? I think that is the end.
    Mr. Moore.
    On notice of motions, Mr. Chair, I do have a proposal for an amendment.
    Are you referring to...? We've adopted all of the points on the routine motions that were just submitted, including the last one.
    I thought we adopted the last one, that we were just dealing with staff at in camera meetings. We passed the motion about giving 48 hours' notice.
    Mr. Chairman, if Mr. Moore has a reasonable suggestion, let's hear it out. It won't take very long.
    Mr. Moore.
    It would just be to add, after the word “committee”, the words “and that the period of notice be calculated from the time the motion has been distributed to the members of the committee by the clerk of the committee”. Then it would go on to say that the motion be distributed to members in both official languages.
    It is my understanding that is actually standard procedure.
    That's standard.
    The original reading says that “48 hours' notice be required for any substantive motion to be considered by the committee”. All right, so that's standard procedure; that's fine.
    Good. That's a point of clarification for the committee then.
    Now, Mr. Moore, do you have a notice of motion?
    I was going to give notice of a motion to the clerk, but that's it. There's no need to discuss it.
    Was there any other business?
    Are we adjourned to the call of the chair without any future business? Is that where we are now?
    Mr. Moore.
    The motion deals with the issue of impaired driving. I can read it out to you if you like; I'm going to be submitting it to the clerk. It says:
that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights do a full review of the issue of impaired driving including consideration of:
- the advisability of lowering the criminal Blood Alcohol Concentration limits;
- innovative approaches in use in other countries, such as Randomized Breath Testing;
- the implications of advances in technology to enforce the laws;
- the Criminal Code sanctions for impaired driving and how they interrelate with provincial licensing measures.
    Mr. Ménard.

[Translation]

    Mr. Chair, when we dealt with the work of the legislative committee at our first organization session, I think that we agreed that the committee would not meet. I just want to make sure that everyone is clear on the rules of the game, because not everyone sits on that committee. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will not meet at the same time as the legislative committee. I want the chair to remember that when all the appeals are made. When you call a meeting of the steering committee or the full committee, that is when we will see if it is the committee's will to study the question of impaired driving.

  (1155)  

[English]

    Monsieur Ménard, the legislative committee takes precedent. There will not be a duplicate meeting.
    May I move that this meeting be adjourned?
    There are others on the speaking order, Madam Jennings.
    Mr. Comartin.
    Just so I'm clear on that, next week when tentatively, at least, we're scheduled to meet--which would conflict with the normal justice committee schedule--the justice committee will not be meeting?
    We will meet, but we won't overlap the legislative committee.

[Translation]

    No, we passed a motion. There cannot be a meeting of the committee until the legislative committee meeting is over. That is what we passed.

[English]

    That was my understanding as well.
    There cannot be any justice committee meeting?
    It really would just be next week, Mr. Chair, because right now we're scheduled to start clause-by-clause consideration on Tuesday and to go through until we finish. That's in effect what we're planning. Then again on Wednesday it's the same situation, which then spills over to Thursday, potentially.
    In terms of planning anything for this committee's work, I think it just makes sense not to schedule any justice committees next week.
    Okay. I understand, Mr. Comartin. Thank you.
    I think then the call will be for the steering committee for justice and human rights to meet sometime during the week--and that should not be a problem for the steering committee--to set the agenda for this committee.
    This meeting is adjourned.