Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
Honourable members of the committee, I see a quorum.
I must inform members that the clerk of the committee can only receive motions for the election of the chair. The clerk cannot receive other types of motions, cannot entertain points of order, nor participate in debate.
Therefore, we can proceed to the election of the chair. Pursuant to Standing Order 106(2), the chair must be a member of the government party.
As per protocol, because I certainly don't want to be the one accused of breaking protocol, we will suspend for five minutes to confer with the clerk about the proceedings of the finance committee meeting.
Welcome back, everyone, to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. We're running very quickly and very efficiently, which is great.
The following is a list of routine motions adopted by the committee during the second session of the 41st Parliament. We're now going to proceed through these motions, and I'll ask for someone to put them forward. Then we'll take a quick vote and proceed from there. We have quite a few. I think most of you have the list in front of you.
Just to refresh your memories, then, the first motion concerns services of analysts from the Library of Parliament. It is that the committee retain as needed, and at the discretion of the chair, the services of one or more analysts from the Library of Parliament to assist in its work.
Concerning the subcommittee on agenda and procedure, the motion is that the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure be established and be composed of the chair, the two vice-chairs, and two members of the government party.
I would move that when we're dealing with things that a subcommittee might proceed with, we simply operate as a committee of the whole. I know that has been undertaken at the trade committee. They have decided to make those decisions as a group. That would be my recommendation, that we not strike a subcommittee on agenda and procedure and that the decisions that are normally made by that body be made by the entire committee.
That means you would have to move an entirely different motion. Is that correct?
We can adopt the subcommittee on agenda and procedure motion as is and just not bother to use it and always have our discussions about committee business in the whole committee., or, if you prefer to have a vote, we can do that as well.
Essentially, I'm proposing that this is not a routine motion, that there is no subcommittee for this committee and that those decisions that would be made at a subcommittee would be made by all of us together.
In the absence of that motion, what happens? If we vote against this...?
I guess I'm not understanding. If we're moving motions to be approved and if the motion is simply not moved, what happens? The question becomes, if we simply agree that we're not going to have a subcommittee, do we just go merrily along? I would say that's probably easier than saying please vote against a motion that no one has yet moved.
What we're doing at this stage is setting the routine motions that will govern the committee business. This is the proposal to establish a subcommittee on agenda and procedure. If you didn't have this motion, then it would be the committee that does this as a committee of the whole in the absence of anything else.
I'm going to speak to why I think a subcommittee on agenda and procedure is a good tool for a committee like this. As Mr. Chair already pointed out, you don't have to use it but it's there for you if it's adopted in routine motions.
I sat on the trade committee for the last three years, which did not have a subcommittee on agenda and procedure. It was not a happy experience.
When that happens, a couple of things occur. First, there is no ability to meet in advance of the meeting, work things out, and discuss them as part of a more informal procedure—and by the way, every decision that's taken at a subcommittee has to come back before the committee anyway, where it would be ratified, so the decisions have to be taken here. By having a subcommittee, it allows a smaller committee to meet and do a little bit of that legwork in advance of the committee.
Second, the practice of the previous government in committees was to go in camera for anything to do with committee business. Anytime you wanted to discuss a potential item of business, the government went in camera and everything was secret and off the record. That's how committee business was dealt with. I hope that's not the practice of this government or of this committee, but by having a subcommittee, you can talk about the committee business and then come before this committee and have an open public discussion about whether the committee wants to adopt the recommendations of that subcommittee.
I think it's very helpful to have a subcommittee. Again, it's up to the chair and the committee itself when to use it, but if you don't have it in your routine motions then you don't have the subcommittee. I think that's a lamentable absence.
I'm a fisheries committee veteran. I've been on it during my entire time as a member of Parliament, four-plus years. The fisheries committee has a reputation of being quite a collegial committee. Essentially all reports were unanimous.
We did have a subcommittee, but as subcommittee members we all had a lot of meetings to go to, and that was an extra one. The chair at the time made the subcommittee work but everything the subcommittee did had to be brought back to the committee of the whole anyway. I always felt that it was a bit redundant, and quite honestly, as I said, the collegiality of this committee, or at least what I've been used to, means that I think we'll come to some pretty easy agreement on what needs to be done with a fairly efficient use of our time.
I honestly don't think this is a very large question for us, and quite frankly, I think that if we find the idea for a committee of the whole to set the agenda doesn't seem to be working that well, we can always form a subcommittee.
Okay, right now we have to vote on the motion, as moved by Mr. Davies, that the subcommittee on the agenda and procedure be established and be composed of the chair, the two vice-chairs, and two members of the government party.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: We now have a subcommittee on agenda and procedure.
The next item is reduced quorum. The motion is that the chair be authorized to hold meetings to receive evidence and to have that evidence printed when a quorum is not present, provided that at least three members are present, including one government member and one opposition member.
We now have the distribution of documents. The motion is that the clerk of the committee be authorized to distribute documents to members of the committee and only when such documents exist in both official languages.
That is moved by Mr. McDonald.
(Motion agreed to)
An hon. member: Now we're on food.
The Chair: As was duly noted by my honourable colleagues, we now have working meals. The motion is that the clerk of the committee be authorized to make the necessary arrangement to provide working meals for the committee and its subcommittees.
That is moved by Mr. Finnigan.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Now we have witnesses' expenses. The motion is that, if requested, reasonable travel accommodation and living expenses be reimbursed to witnesses not exceeding two representatives per organization, and that in exceptional circumstances payment for more representatives be made at the discretion of the chair.
Yes, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to propose an amendment and seek the unanimous consent of the committee to add a sentence at the end of this paragraph that says.... I'll just read it, and I'll go slowly so you can write it down.
The proposed amendment is “However, each witness shall be offered the opportunity to testify by video conference.”
The point of the paragraph that's been proposed, the routine motion, is that if requested by a witness we allow them to come testify to the committee. It's getting increasingly common at Parliament to allow testimony by video conference. It's more efficient. It's sometimes more convenient. The reason I think both have to be there is that you still want to maintain the ability to have witnesses come to Ottawa to testify for a number of reasons. Sometimes it's easier to have them in person. Sometimes what happens is that witnesses who live in regions like British Columbia, or farther away, tend not to be able to come to Ottawa, so you get people that live near Ottawa coming to testify before committee more frequently. That's why I think if we preserve both options, it's important.
I'm wondering if Mr. Davies agrees with the sentiment that it needs a “where possible” in there? If he could read it again. I'm wondering if we can add “where possible” to “they should be given the opportunity”. I don't know. There are times when people don't have access. If they're from UBC, for example, they're going to have access to video conference and facilities. Is there a proviso in there to give us some flexibility as well? I think we still want them to come. Is this the preferred option then of the committee, or is it giving the witness the option?
If I may interject for one moment on a procedural thing before we get too far into the weeds on that one. Sorry, I'm not diminishing your point.
We have to move the main motion first. Someone has to move an amendment to it, so the main motion consists of this: that, if requested, reasonable travel accommodation and living expenses be reimbursed to a witness not exceeding two representatives per organization, and that in exceptional circumstances, payment for more representatives be made at the discretion of the chair.
If I could speak briefly, I take Mark's sentiment. I know what he is trying to say. What I don't want to do is set up a hierarchy of one over the other. They should be offered both. If a witness can testify, and if they request to come before the committee, we'll pay their expenses. At that time we should also say to them, “If you want to testify by video conference, you can.” Mark's point, I think, is if someone can't do it—
Okay, so now we're voting on the whole thing. Do I have to repeat that?
A voice: No.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: The next issue for motion is staff at in camera meetings. The motion says that unless otherwise ordered, each committee member shall be allowed to be accompanied by one staff person at an in camera meeting, and in addition, each party shall be permitted to have one party staff member attend in camera meetings.
It is moved by Mr. Strahl.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: We'll turn to in camera meeting transcripts. The motion is that one copy of the transcript of each in camera meeting be kept in the committee clerk's office for consultation by members of the committee.
It is moved by Ms. Jordan.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: We turn now to notice of motions. It is that 48 hours' notice be required for any substantive motion to be considered by the committee, unless the substantive motion relates directly to business then under consideration, and that the notice of motion be filed with the clerk of the committee and distributed by 5 p.m. to members in both official languages.
It is moved by Mr. McDonald.
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: We turn to allocation of time for questioning. It is that witnesses from any one organization shall be allowed 10 minutes to make their opening statement, and here is a proposal for the rotation as put forward. It is that in round one, the first question is to the Conservative Party for six minutes, the second question is to the Liberal Party for six minutes, and the third question is to the NDP for six minutes. That's round one.
In round two, the first question is to the Liberals for six minutes, the second question is to the Conservatives for six minutes, the third question is to the Liberals for six minutes, the fourth question is to the Conservatives for five minutes, and the fifth question is to the NDP for three minutes.
Yes. I would propose some changes here, and I'll just go through them and then we'll discuss them briefly.
The PROC committee adopted a slightly modified version, which is closer to what we had in the last Parliament, so I would propose, and I don't know how we do this but this would be my proposal. Round one would go Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Liberal, and those would be seven-minute rounds; and then the next round would go Conservative, Liberal, Conservative, Liberal, NDP, five-minute rounds, with three minutes for the NDP at the end.
The reason for this is that, if you look at the rotation by time, there would be, in round one, slot four, and round two, slot one, 12 consecutive minutes of questioning from the government side. I think the seven-minute rounds give that first round a little more weight, a little more opportunity for every party to be represented, with the government getting two cracks at it there. This is what we did in the last Parliament, and I think the rotation is a little better in that there is constant rotation between the parties and not such a long stretch for one side to have the microphone, but still the same number of minutes in total, and the same proportion of questions.
It is my hope that we could get some agreement on that.
I'm sorry, I don't want to fight with the chair on the first day. I don't think we vote in favour of a motion and then essentially vote against it by voting in favour of the amendment. It can be moved, but not voted on.
Okay. I'm going to speak in favour of that. I think it is consistent with PROC, and it's what we adopted at the health committee too. Seven minutes is.... I looked at your last committee. I think you had 10 minutes for the first round. Is that right?
Let me answer that question. As I said, I've been on the committee for four years.
We've done both, and we found that two panels of an hour each worked very well, if the discussion warranted it.
To the members who haven't been on a parliamentary committee before, concerning the allocation of time it's astonishing how fast the time goes, and seven minutes is measurably better than six, believe me. In terms of the second round of five minutes, you get most of the testimony out in the first round, and the second round is often just to clarify it. This type of rotation, as I said, works quite well.
For rotation by time, my amendment is to.... If we're modifying the table that you have in front of you, in round one, slot one, would go Liberal; slot two, Conservative; three, NDP; and four, Liberal. All four would be seven-minute rounds. Then round two is Conservative, Liberal, Conservative, Liberal, NDP, five-minute rounds, and then three minutes for the NDP at the end.
Now we have to move on to vote on the amended motion.
(Motion as amended agreed to)
The Chair: Thank you. Sorry if I was confused there.
There is one left. It is that the clerk of the committee be instructed to request from the minister's office the curriculum vitae of an appointee or nominee, once the committee has been notified of their nomination, and distribute it to the members of the committee.
What will happen is that there will be people in the Canadian public who will write to the committee chair asking to appear. That will go to the clerk, and in the absence of having a motion, committee members are not necessarily apprised of who's doing that. It's helpful for committee members to know who wants to appear before the committee. It's also helpful when we have to suggest witnesses for a particular study to know who wants to appear and not to double up. If you know that someone has written the committee, you won't necessarily waste a spot of your own.
It's just more efficient and a courtesy to all committee members.
That was most certainly not the practice in the past, and I question this motion now.
Basically, when a study was proposed and agreed to by the committee, each party would put forward a list of witnesses they would want to appear. Again, it was a fairly collegial process that ensured that every party had its witnesses appear before the committee in proportion to the party's representation on the committee.
I don't see what would be served by the motion on the floor right now, at all.
Again, so that we are clear, this does no violence to the normal situation wherever committees are working collegially and are requested to put in requests.
What this does is inform all committee members when a member of the public or an organization has written independently to the committee and has said that they want to appear, just to let the committee members know that the request is there. Otherwise, we wouldn't necessarily know.
Again, it has the capacity to create unnecessary conflict, because there are going to be members of the public who want to appear before the committee but won't be allowed to because the committee decided not to hear them. I think it would be a source of embarrassment for them.
My experience on this committee for the last four years was that there was a wide range of witnesses. No political party of any stripe on this committee was the least bit shy about putting forward an extensive witness list. As I said, it worked very well. We decided among ourselves which witnesses would come, and a wide spectrum of witnesses appeared before us on every single issue.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the proceedings of this committee are public proceedings, so things will get out. Of course, if someone requests it and it is not possible for us to see them, obviously they will be disappointed and will make sure that their displeasure is known.
Look, I'm as much of a politician as anybody else. I like conflict as much as anybody else, but I'm thinking of the smooth workings of this committee and I'm drawing on my four years of experience on it. As I said, the past practice of each party putting forward a list of witnesses worked very well.
So that you know, this is a type of routine motion that is adopted quite routinely by lots of committees. It doesn't oblige it to happen. It obligates the chair to, I guess, take reasonable efforts that it be televised.
Whenever a minister appears before a committee, it's an important time. It's probably one of the more important meetings of a committee when a minister appears. Generally the minister wants it to be televised. It's not anything that they're not interested in. What this does is recognize the fact that it's an important meeting, and it's an expression by the committee that we take whatever steps we can to ensure that it is televised, recognizing that it's not mandatory.
I think the chair has several options now. I think most rooms now have some capability or we can get to Centre Block where they have the cameras. I think it's a request that the chair pick a room that has that capability, not that it's going to compel CBC or CTV to cover this but that the equipment is in the room. I think it's a room allocation request and the notice indicates that it's televised. I'd be supportive of that.
I'll briefly say in answer to Mel's question that whenever the minister appears there's a lot of media attention. The room will be full of media. It's public anyway, so it doesn't discourage him one way or the other.
I think it's part of an accountable transparent government that when a minister appears it recognizes that meeting is of broad interest to the public. If it can't be done sometimes, if there's not a room available, then so be it.
I know it will require consent, but given Mr. Davies' motion, I would like to ask.... I don't know who to ask on that side because Mr. Cormier is not here, according to the rules. He's here as an MP, but he is not running the show over there supposedly. I can see it, a house divided against itself and all the rest of it.
We would like the minister to appear to talk about his mandate letter and to discuss his priorities for the department in this new government. I recognize there hasn't been 48 hours' notice, but I'm wondering if we could agree that he would be the first witness this committee would hear and that we would talk about his mandate letter and the direction of the department.
I would like to have that friendly suggestion. I heard the minister in the Senate. He's obviously prepared for this, and we would welcome the opportunity to hear from him at the earliest opportunity.
Before any further discussion on that one, because you asked about the 48 hours, it's okay. You can move that, seeking a majority vote. However, as a reminder, I had hoped we would be doing committee business on Thursday, unless you want to deal with that right now. I'm assuming you do.
It might be worthwhile for the committee of the whole or otherwise, the subcommittee, to meet and talk about the direction in which we want the committee to go. That may help to inform the kind of discussion we want to have with the minister when the minister does appear in front of the committee. Just a thought in the sequencing of things, I suggest that we take care of some housekeeping first and then go forward.
I think that regardless of what our path might be, having the minister come to the committee would be the very first option no matter what we've discussed. I do agree that we want to discuss the potential studies and witnesses we want to bring before us. But no matter what we decide upon, the minister will probably be the first witness that we ask.
The minister will be appearing before this committee and can speak to any issue. This motion identifies one specific issue for him to speak to at that particular time. I'd prefer that be dealt with when the minister does appear because as you point out, he is going to appear before the committee. To have a motion bringing him in to speak to one particular issue, which is his mandate letter, I don't think is necessary at this stage.
I beg to differ. The mandate letter relates to his entire duties for his department.
The other point that I wanted to bring up is that time is passing. It's the middle of February now and we have a number of constituency weeks coming up. From my experience on both the environment and the fisheries committees in my first four years, it takes quite a long time to line witnesses up. It's not like you decide on a Tuesday to do a study of fisheries project X and the witnesses are all there on the Thursday.
I think it behooves us to move fairly expeditiously given the time frames. It will be May before we know it, and I think it's quite important that this committee get a number of briefings and studies under its belt, given some of the very serious issues that are facing Canada's fisheries and coastlines.
The intent of the motion is that this committee request that the minister come and speak to us regarding his mandate letter as soon as possible.
Having been on that side of the table before, I know that sometimes takes time. I wouldn't expect him to be here on Thursday, but I would expect him to receive our request in the spirit in which it's given, and to propose dates to us that the subcommittee or others could consider. The fact that we make the request as soon as possible means it's not a hard deadline. It indicates our desire to hear from the minister and to ask questions of him on his mandate letter, which, to Mr. Morrissey's point, is quite expansive. It covers what the Prime Minister expects of him and lays out a number of key priorities for him and his department.
I think that's not a very narrowly cast invitation. The mandate letter is quite significant and will give us many avenues to speak with him about. It's not that it will be the first meeting, it is that at his first opportunity, as soon as possible, we'd love to hear from him.
It would be helpful to me if the motion were read again.
If I understand it, the motion is to extend an invitation to the minister to appear before the committee as soon as possible to discuss his mandate letter.
My experience, when ministers appear for things like mandate letters, is that it's similar to when a minister comes and discusses the estimates. You're actually not limited to the estimates because invariably the questions come up. You can ask about what's not in the estimates. So if you were to invite the minister to discuss the the mandate letter, generally that's unrestricted questioning on anything, because you can always question a minister about what's not in the mandate letter and why it's not in the mandate letter. I'd want clarification on what exactly the scope of the questioning is that Mark proposes, recognizing that generally when you call the minister you can ask the minister almost anything because of that general approach to questioning.
Okay, is there any further discussion on this particular motion? For the sake of clarity I'm going to read that motion again for everyone. It is that the minister appear before the committee to discuss his mandate letter as soon as possible.
Should I say, “the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans” or should I just say, “the committee”?
A voice: That's okay.
The Chair: All right. I have to make sure I get this right.