That does present a bit of a problem, obviously, given the suggestions and discussions that took place last night about travelling next week. That would put us into a position where....
I guess the government in trying to rush through this elections bill, which they waited forever on, puts us in a position where we're not giving that bill anywhere near the due justice it deserves. I would argue, frankly, based on what's before us there, that we're not going to do our jobs properly as legislators on that piece of legislation. It simply is not going to happen. The fact of the matter is that we will not be meeting what I would say is our proper duty as legislators on that bill. At the same time, we are also going to say that we're not going to meet our proper duty as members of this committee in dealing with an appointment for a new Elections Canada CEO. If we put ourselves in a position to travel next week, we will be left with a situation where we actually cannot perform our duties by having the come and speak to the process.
This really, really is troublesome to me. Actually, I'll be frank that I'm at a little bit of a loss as to what to even suggest. That said, I suppose I'll still bring forward the motion and move it here. As a committee, I guess we can try to decide how best to deal with that. I think it's a travesty, frankly, that we're not going to give either one of these things due justice, but that's the reality. If the government chooses to force through this motion that they handed around to us last night, then that's the reality we're faced with. I guess we'll see how that goes.
Having said that, we can move this, and I will have some amendments to make to it. The reality of the situation is that some things have changed since the notice of motion was given. I'll get to those in a second. At the end of the day, I think we should still be trying to do our proper duty here. If the efforts that are being made by the government to ram through their Bill prevent us from doing our jobs properly not only on that legislation but also on this motion, and therefore the appointment of the CEO, I think at the very least we still should undertake to do our duty properly even if it is after the fact, which would be significantly unfortunate.
Having said that, I'll read the motion that I gave notice of, and then I will suggest what I think are the appropriate amendments. The notice of motion was the following:
||That the Committee invite the Acting Minister of Democratic Institutions, Scott Brison, to appear within two weeks of the adoption of this motion, to answer questions regarding the appointment of a new Chief Electoral Officer, for no less than two hours, and that this meeting be televised.
There's an obvious amendment required here. I was unaware that the minister would be returning so shortly after this notice of motion was given. It was my mistake. I probably should have just used the title of the minister, and of course the acting minister would have come in place of the minister. I did not do that, and therefore I'll make that amendment now.
The amendment would change “Acting Minister of Democratic Institutions, Scott Brison” to “Minister of Democratic Institutions”. It would be replacing that wording for obvious reasons.
I'll make that motion for the amendment first, I guess.
I do want to speak to the motion itself. I appreciate the indulgence of everyone on that. It was obviously a mistake on my part to have done it that way to begin with, and now we've resolved that.
We had the task of taking a look at whether we would agree or confirm or give our recommendation to the House that the appointment be made. That duty is something we as a committee should take quite seriously. We have that duty.
In that spirit, we had the chosen appointee—sorry, it was the second appointee chosen. The first one, for some mysterious reason, was withdrawn. It seems that no one is yet aware of why that is, including, to my understanding, the person who was actually the original appointee. It's a very odd circumstance, to say the least, and is certainly suspicious. I would think that the minister would want the opportunity to clarify what occurred, what happened and why. I would think that would help us in determining whether the right decision was, in fact, made.
When the person who has been chosen, the acting CEO, has been before our committee, I've always been satisfied with his level of knowledge and so on, so that's not of concern to me. Certainly we want to make sure the right decision was made with regard to this appointment. Part of the right decision being made is ensuring that the process was proper and fair. When there is something as odd as what occurred in this situation in a process, that is in doubt.
It may well be that there is nothing all that odd or suspicious to the situation at all, but there's only one way to find that out and that's to ask. Obviously, the best person to do that with is the minister. That is the reason I am making this suggestion.
I'm obviously aware of the logistical challenges that are now created by the government trying to ram through this piece of legislation, Bill , but I'm hopeful we can find some way to undertake this and do it properly. It would only make sense. I would certainly hope that all members of this committee would support it.
I had actually not meant to get back on the speakers list, but do I need to comment on that.
We have no way of knowing and I don't think we will wind up knowing, but perhaps there are privacy considerations relating to private information appertaining to either the initial appointee to this position, Mr. Boda from Saskatchewan, or some other individual being referenced here. However, given the giant gas cloud of it all being a big secret, the fog bank of “Gosh, we can't tell you anything”, to say it's unhelpful is putting it mildly.
I think it's designed to prevent us from doing our jobs. It may be designed in a way that is actually not permissible, but how do we know, since it's all a big fog bank of secrecy? The bigger the fog bank of secrecy, the bigger the curtain behind which the guy with the levers is doing his job—that's a reference to The Wizard of Oz, by the way—and the more the munchkins will be fooled and impressed by his or her ostensible grandeur.
Just to be clear, that was actually in reference to me, not to anybody else.
I do think that's an issue. There are many things the minister could share with us that, in my experience, much as I like her, she has not been sharing with us. As we saw just yesterday, by way of example, she didn't say “no comment”, but she found other words with which to say “no comment” or that she wasn't going to answer a question. Her words were, “I'm here and prepared to answer questions about the substance of the bill”, not about the timing of the bill, not about the rush to get the bill through.
The fact is, the decision to rush the bill through is one made at the cabinet level, and there was only one person in the room who was a member of cabinet and had any say in it, who had an awareness of what was being done or would have a chance to take the views of the committee back to the cabinet, who was involved in the drafting and scheduling of the legislation, the timing that caused it to come out so late. Having to rush this bill through the House by June 12 would have been an easy matter had the bill been developed, say, a year earlier, or six months earlier, and had it been divided into several slices so that the package we'd get at this late date would be much smaller. Several other pieces of the legislation, containing other elements of the bill, had been dealt with at some earlier time, and lest anyone make the claim that this could not have been done, I note that Bill was introduced some months ago.
This is kind of a mess of the government's own making, and I'm not referring to members here who are not in cabinet; it wasn't your decision. This is an officer of Parliament, and the rules require that, when an officer of Parliament is appointed or suggested, there are consultations with the other parties. That never happened. It didn't happen on the languages commissioner, which ended up blowing up in the government's face. It didn't happen in any of the other officers of Parliament, nor did it happen with Mr. Boda's nomination, nor did it happen with this recent nomination. All we're left with is confusion.
The interest I have more so is in the government explaining publicly what the consultation process actually was. I know what it was from our point of view. It was a letter, “Here's our nominee, you've been consulted.” Two weeks later, “Here's our other nominee. Congratulations, you've been consulted again.” It's laughable in its incomprehension and lack of respect. You talk about respect for these nominees, who are high-profile people with long, distinguished careers. It's not laughable in the sense of what these people are supposed to do, which is to govern our elections for 10 years in this case, audit the government for many years, and be the environmental assessment people for our country.
I take it quite seriously, and , who normally occupies this chair, takes it even more seriously than I do. We've made recommendations to the government of a better process that would consult with the opposition. By the way, that would innoculate the government, if we're interested in that, from the accusations that come by simply not consulting and being arrogant about it. Pardon my accusation, but it's true.
My interest is not saying what was wrong with Mr. Boda. I don't know what's happened to his reputation, but he was the nominee and then suddenly he wasn't.
I had a government member accuse me of leaking his name, by the way, which was ironic, since the leak came out of the office of the , but never mind that.
The ability of these people to do their jobs requires support from all sides of the House, and I know the chair would agree with that, that they don't work for the cabinet. They're officers of Parliament. We hire them. Only we can fire them, but this process has not been well done under this government, I think, by anybody's assessment, and I would hope by their own self-reflection.
Support for this motion comes from me directly, not with our interim CEO, the nominee per se, but to talk to the minister about what the consultation process was like. Maybe it was different for the Conservatives. I don't know, but I suspect it was not. Certainly anybody who believes in the idea of consultation, which this government talks about all the time, means that it should mean something. In this case, it meant nothing. It was not consultation at all.
The first thing I'll do is point out the very brief, dismissive comments made by those on the other side, that this motion simply consisted of, well, there's no point in having the minister come in here and say she won't comment for an hour—or for two hours, I guess, at that time. We saw that happen yesterday.
Whether it's privacy issues or otherwise, that may well be the case, and that may be what she chooses to do. However, that doesn't mean there shouldn't be the opportunity to ask questions of her. It doesn't mean we shouldn't do our jobs as committee members. If the minister refuses to do her job and answer the questions, then Canadians will judge that. That doesn't mean we as a committee would say, “Oh, well, there's no point in doing it because she won't answer anyway.” If that were the case, we probably wouldn't have question period every day, because there would be no point then either. I don't think that's true. I think there is a point to it, and if people choose not to answer, that is something people should be judged for. If she chooses not to answer questions, that's her right.
Of course, if we're talking about legitimate privacy issues, fine; that may be the case. However, there are a lot of things in this process that certainly would not qualify for the excuse that we can't give you an answer to that because of privacy. For example, I'll start with....
To be frank, Mr. Chair, I intended this to happen quickly, but I'm a little angry now by the dismissiveness on this motion, on something so important, so it may not be so quick now. It's unfortunate, because it should have been quick.
To follow up on the consultation process that Mr. Cullen mentioned, the type of so-called consultation that happened with his party, the letter that said “Here's our appointment”, it didn't ask what we thought about it. It's the same letter we got, I'm sure. I didn't see their letter, but I'm sure it's the same. It was simply, “Here's our appointment.” It wasn't, “What did you think? You have until x date to let us know your thoughts.” It was that this is the appointment they made.
Essentially, that's what the letter consisted of. It was the one name, which has been linked to the media, obviously. I think it was two or three weeks later that another name came. It was very much like the kind of comments we had from the other side today. It was very dismissive. It was sort of, “Well, other candidates have been withdrawn and here's the new candidate.” It wasn't, “What do you think about that?” It was, “We're just letting you know.”
I don't think that is in the spirit of what this government promised it would do. It was always going to work with other parties. I don't see that happening, so let's answer to that. That doesn't cause any privacy issues; that's something the minister should answer for. It's a decision that her government has made or she has made, so let her answer to it.
In terms of the memorandum that was drafted for the Prime Minister on this issue, which was obtained through access to information, it says right in that memo that one of the things that should occur in this process, and I quote from the memo to the Prime Minister: “Consultation would occur with the Procedure and House Affairs Committee to ensure transparency and to capture its views.”
According to the very memo that was given to the Prime Minister of this country, this committee is supposed to be consulted with. How is it supposed to be consulted with to ensure transparency and to capture its views? If we're going to ensure transparency, doesn't that mean the minister should probably answer some questions about the process? That would seem like transparency. Maybe this government views transparency in the same way they view openness to amendments, when we heard from the minister yesterday, “Oh, we're open to amendments, but we won't accept them.”
Okay, great. They'll give us the chance to put forward our amendments, but they won't accept them. That's quite open, much like the type of transparency we're seeing here. Capturing the views of the committee, I would assume means the committee would be asked for its opinion. It wouldn't just be, “Oh, here's the second appointment after we withdrew the other one for who knows what reason. We'll bring him in and the committee can ask him some questions for an hour.”
How does that capture the views of the committee? It doesn't, does it? Maybe the government should follow its own words and capture the views of the committee. In order to do that, they have to let us do our job properly, which means the minister needs to come here and answer.
Beyond all that, this process has taken about two years. Why, I don't know. Who might be able to answer that question? The minister, perhaps? One would sure hope, but if we don't have the minister come to answer the questions, how will we know, and how can we properly make a decision, and how can we share our views? Does the government want to capture our views, as it claimed it did in this memo to the ?
The idea of why bother having the minister and it's a waste of time because she won't answer the questions anyway, as the government member said, is not right. She should come here, and if she chooses not to answer the questions, she should be held accountable for that.
Now, if there are legitimate privacy issues, fine, but there are plenty of things, and I've just outlined a few of them, that can be commented on here. Frankly, this is an officer of Parliament, someone who is supposed to serve this Parliament, as was mentioned already, for 10 years. It's the person who runs our elections in this country. It's a very significant and important role. If the government messes up the process and refuses to answer questions about that process, then how can this committee do its job? Remember, it said we're supposed to capture this committee's views.
Well, we don't have the answers. We don't have the information required to make an assessment and properly give our views. It seems to me as though what we're hearing from the government side is that they don't really care about trying to do that job and that they don't really care what the views are of this committee.
Well, I want to do my job properly. I want to ensure we're doing what we're supposed to do as parliamentarians. If you don't question the decisions, and I don't care what side of the House of Commons you sit on, you should care about doing your job properly and questioning the decisions of the executive. That's our job as members of Parliament. We should all want to do that.
I'm really quite offended by the comments that were made that there's no point having the minister come here because she won't answer the questions anyway; she can't answer questions. Well, she darn well should. I will be appalled if this motion doesn't pass. I thought it was an easy no-brainer. I really did. Why would we not want to do our jobs properly? Why would we not want to ensure that the lives up to his own words? I would sure think, even if I were sitting on the other side, elected under the banner of the , that I would want to make sure he keeps his word. I would think that would be helpful in getting re-elected, if I were on that side. If the chooses not keep his word, I would take that fairly seriously. I certainly do over here, and I know my colleagues do as well.
I sure hope that we will be given the opportunity to do our jobs, that the minister will be expected to do hers, and that the government will be expected to live up to its word. The only way that any of that will happen is for us to pass this motion, and I will point out we very generously made the offer to amend it, to cut the time in half, to help facilitate this. I get the jam that the government has put itself in here. Let's hope that members on the other side choose to take a second thought to this and not be so dismissive of it.
I come back to the issue of consultation and secrecy, but actually, before I do that, Mr. Chair, with your permission, I actually meant to raise this as a separate point of order. I hope you'll indulge me.
The issue of adjournment in these kinds of proceedings is, of course, a bit touchy in this committee. There's an interesting history, and as we are engaging in essentially the same process once again, I'll just suggest that what we do with respect to determining how to adjourn and the search for implied consent will have more weight with those who are trying to figure out how to revise House of Commons Procedure and Practice—What is it right now? It's Bosc and Gagnon—than will what has happened elsewhere.
So I would like to make the suggestion that the practice of looking around the room and seeing if there is consent, and taking one's time in doing this, as you just did, ought to govern us just as much when the—I don't know how to put this any different way—party of which the chair is a member would like proceedings to wrap up as it does when the party of which the chair is not a member would like things to wrap up. There was an inconsistency last time. I think the process of looking around the room, seeking consent, and taking at least several seconds to do that is appropriate.
I can't remember how much time you took. Maybe it was 10 seconds. That, I think, is a reasonable thing to do, to see about consent. Consent implies “I'm looking to see if there's a consensus”, and not “I'm looking to see if there's a majority.” That could be dealt with by means of someone moving adjournment. That's where you establish majority and so that's why I asked Mr. Richards if he was going to move adjournment. We then would have found out where the majority sits. There would have been a vote.
In the absence of a vote, presumably the assumption is that any one member can deny a consensus, and everything we do is structured around that basic assumption that you have to move to an actual vote in one form or another in order to establish that the majority is in charge. I'm just saying that so that we can make sure we're consistent, should we be here for some length of time, in the way in which we wrap up these proceedings, when the government decides that they would like the proceedings to be wrapped up.
Let me now turn to the issues of this very expansive definition of secrecy and of privacy in particular. I find that there are certain buzzwords that point to salutary and widely accepted concepts but in a fuzzy way that permits the same word to have different meanings at different times, based on the convenience of the speaker—I don't mean the Speaker of the House; I mean the person then holding the floor—around terms like privacy and dignity. These are terms that, when narrowly constructed, have unanimous support of everybody, the vast majority of Canadians. When very, very broadly constructed, they are used as a way of withholding information, disclosure, access, democracy, and so on. We saw the term “privacy” being used today for that purpose. The implication of Mr. Bittle's words was that—
We saw something being slowed down unnecessarily. I don't know whether it's mismanagement that led to that in that particular case or in the case of the current legislation, or in the case of.... Professionally I'm not talking about the decision, I'm talking about the appointment process for the Chief Electoral Officer or for any other appointment processes, which are also held up for an inordinate amount of time. I don't know whether it's a process issue or whether it's an execution issue.
I would like to know because this is a pattern. We have a right to know. Saying it's all private information is just a way of saying, “We're not going to show you what goes on, and you just have to trust us that there's a secret that we are obliged to keep as a government as opposed to a secret that we in practice are obliged to share but we choose not to share for reasons that have to do with the fact that we're a little embarrassed by the fact that we're kind of incompetent at this sort of thing.”
I don't ascribe nefarious motives to the government for doing what it did in this matter. I don't know who said this, but I've always thought it was profound, that one ought never to ascribe to machiavellianism that which can be explained by ineptitude. I'm fully prepared to believe that the government was just inept in this matter. I can only speculate as to what the reasons for that ineptitude might be: too many chefs? Alternatively, in the case of this government, the problem is one chef who has to decide on everything, no sous-chefs, and it is difficult to play to the entire dinner for many people. I used to work in a kitchen, by the way.
Without the assistance of people other than the head chef, I think that's the problem here. Everything's got to wait until Justin Trudeau says yes or no personally, and that does not speed up processes very much, not in my experience.
I think that explains what happened during last year's filibusters. It took a month to finally get the issue all the way to the top echelon. In the interim, we'd all come away more enlightened than we currently are. We developed an entirely new set of procedures, allowing us to have a back-and-forth conversation in the middle of the filibuster, the key principle of which was named after my esteemed colleague Mr. Simms. While that speaks well to the people on this committee and their ability to work together, it doesn't speak well to the nature of highly centralized decision-making, which I think may be the problem here. If so, we could learn that without revealing any secrets about Ms. Sahota, Mr. Parent, or any other person other than the secret of what's going on behind that curtain in the middle of the emerald city, where I think one wizard has too many levers to twiddle with and just can't keep up with all the decisions that these highly centralized decision-making structures have caused. That's my theory.
I don't know that is the problem, but it's a problem which occurs to me, and if I'm wrong, I could be disabused of my mistaken notion by having the minister come here for an hour and explain what was going on. We might very well leave impressed.
I do think I'm right in saying that the minister, on the whole, is a very intelligent person who is able to express herself eloquently, when she is given liberty to do so, to defend her government's practices and to show there is genuine goodwill to improve the practices in the future. I think that on the whole, she has been able to juggle a very difficult portfolio and certain personal challenges, of which we're all aware, with a capacity that I think very few other people could manage, so I think she could handle an hour-long meeting. I really do. I think she could do it with ease. We'd all come away more enlightened than we currently are.
That is why I say this whole secrecy argument doesn't really hold up very well. It's too broad. It's too inclusive. It is too much the use of a term that has a fungible meaning—an expandable, contractible meaning. It's the use of what is known as a motte and bailey argument. Secrecy can mean something very specific, like in the Official Secrets Act, or it can mean something very broad, some information that would make somebody feel uncomfortable, and good taste forbids us from going in that direction.
I will mention, now that I've raised the Official Secrets Act, a very strong counter-argument to what Mr. Bittle is putting forward. Let's say, for the sake of argument, it is the case there is something that actually would qualify as an official secret, a cabinet confidence that really cannot be shared with the members of this committee and the public. There is a way around this. We know this because the government has actually actively offered exactly this way of handling things.
Do you remember when our Conservative leader, , was raising the issue of Daniel Jean, the national security adviser, and his commentary relating to the actions of the Indian government and the conspiracy theory that Mr. Jean put forward? The stood up in the House of Commons and said, well, they were happy.
I think I've dealt with most of what I had to say on the subject of privacy. I had just one further comment on the subject of the issue of privacy, a summation, as it were, of what I was saying earlier. I would summarize it this way. I don't want to be unfair to Mr. Bittle, but I do feel that what he was doing was a bit of a version of what's known as a motte and bailey argument, in which you use a term where you can retract it to its narrow meaning and say, don't you agree with the right to privacy? Don't people have a right to their privacy? For goodness sake, you can't have everybody spying into everybody else's life. Aren't you outraged by Cambridge Analytica, and aren't you appalled by Mr. Zuckerberg's willingness to sell your information to people who then make assumptions about your activities and desires and try to manipulate them through their ads?
I assume that is why I used to get ads on Facebook—or maybe it was Google—where they thought I wanted orthopaedic aids. I think the reason was that they identified I was getting a lot of correspondence dealing with pensions. It was from people who were worried about their Canada pension plan cheque not having come through. Anyway, they said, “Ha, there's this key word. He must need orthopaedic aids.” I would have been happier if that hadn't happened. I could say that's an invasion of my privacy. We all agree with that kind of privacy.
When you spread it so broadly that everything that might make, say, the government uncomfortable is counted as privacy, you've entered the bailey region. The motte is the little part in the middle of the castle. The bailey is the larger part. You then expand out to something else that's broader, and you take in claims as part of that word that are not something the average person thinks is reasonable. So yes, it could be embarrassing to the government. It could be that people would say that this is not a reasonable way of doing things, and the government would be a little embarrassed by the fact that people now know this, but that doesn't change the fact that the people have the right to know it.
Preserving the government from embarrassment is not something that is regarded as a legitimate thing in this country. We have very careful rules about this. This is a motte and bailey argument. You can actually look up motte and bailey arguments on the Internet and learn more about them in greater detail. I invite you to do that.
I want to now turn to the issue of consultation with the other parties. The term “consultation” seems to be interpreted more and more narrowly by the current government. Every opposition complains about every government's lack of consultation and the pro forma nature of its consultation. I've been in opposition twice now, once back from 2000 through 2005 and then since the 2015 election, with a 10-year period where my party was in government. I've had a chance to see this from both sides, and from the opposition side twice.
Under the Chrétien government we complained, because Mr. Chrétien would—as it was described to me—call up Stockwell Day and then John Reynolds, who was the leader of the opposition. After that, it was Stephen Harper. He did this pro forma thing where he'd call up and say, “We've chosen so-and-so for this job. We're just letting you know.” That was consultation. At least we got a phone call.
Now, if what Nathan Cullen described is correct, we get the equivalent of an automated voice that says, “Your call is important to us.” That's not consultation. That's giving prior cognizance, but that's all it is. Consultation actually involves people having the ability to say something back, like, “We don't think that's the best candidate. Have you considered so-and-so?” or something of that nature.
The standards of Mr. Chrétien's government were not high. I actually can't remember what the standards of the government I was a part of were—I'm going to guess the Liberals say they were not high—and the standards of the current government, by that low measure, are too low: they are lower yet.
This is not an acceptable way of carrying on a consultation. We should have the right to ask the minister what the process was, what the protocol is.
Here's what we're really getting at: is there an internal protocol in the Liberal government on what constitutes a consultation? This is not something dictated by law. It's dictated by convention, which is to say it's dictated by that which is generally found to be acceptable by the public at large and particularly by the politically knowledgeable public. By that standard I believe this government is failing, but as long as the failure is kept in obscurity, as long as we don't know what the rule is, if they have a rule—maybe it's a moving target, or they use a different standard at different times, depending on which minister is making.... Who knows?
Knowing whether there is an internal protocol as to what constitutes consultation, when it was adopted, how it varies from that which existed under the previous government would be helpful. That should be public information.
There is in the Library of Parliament a book that lists political conventions and attempts to systematize them. It was developed under the Pearson government in 1967. It has not, shamefully, been updated since that time, but it contains protocols for any number of different things.
Here, for example, is the way, if you are resigning from cabinet, that you ought to address the issue on which you are resigning without revealing a cabinet confidence. There is a draft letter laid out. There is a draft response from the Prime Minister laid out so this can be followed, allowing for a person who is resigning on principle to indicate what the principle was without violating cabinet confidences, to prevent their resigning under a cloud or breaking an official secret.
Similarly, there is some kind of protocol at work here, and we ought to know what it is. It ought to be public. The minister could provide us information on it that would not involve saying it's all a secret—would not legitimately involve saying that. The minister could try to say it did, but were she to say that, she would not be telling the truth.
We all avoid in this place. We may not always say the whole truth, but that which we say is the truth, and that, of course, includes the minister, who has as far as I can tell always been truthful with me, and indeed as far as I can see with everybody else—as is her duty, but I think it comes naturally to her.
If you don't mind, Mr. Chair, I want in connection with this to deal with Mr. Bittle's comments earlier regarding my colleague, Mr. Richards. I must say, having known Blake a long time—Blake worked under me when I was the critic or shadow minister, as we now say, and I have subsequently worked under his leadership—that I have never once seen him deviate from the absolute truth on anything or suggest that it's acceptable ever. He is a man of the highest honour, as is appropriate.
Some people will say you should devalue remarks made by a colleague in defence of a colleague of the same partisan stripe. You can do that if you wish, but I have the highest regard for Blake Richards, and I think that Mr. Bittle's comments were not ideal. Upon consideration he may come to that conclusion himself—although I hold Mr. Bittle in high regard.
I made some jokes earlier about Scott Brison not really liking him. That, of course, was not.... I was dissembling a bit when I said I suspect that Scott Brison likes him just as much as he likes the rest of his own caucus. I can go and ask Scott at some point and confirm this. He may wonder why I'm asking such a strange question, but—
There are several separate paragraphs to the motion.
Number one is that notwithstanding any motion adopted by the committee in relation to the submission of proposed amendments to bills, the members of the committee, as well as members who are not part of a caucus represented on the committee, submit to the clerk of the committee all their proposed amendments to the bill no later than the end of day on June 8, 2018, in both official languages, and that these be distributed to members.
I'll summarize. This is basically allowing all the parties and all of those who are not represented here to make submissions.
Number two is that the clerk of the committee write immediately to each member of Parliament who is not a member of a caucus represented on the committee to inform them of the beginning of the consideration of the bill by the committee and to invite them to prepare and submit any proposed amendments to the bill for the committee's consideration prior to the deadline, which is June 8, 2018.
Number three is that the committee commence clause-by-clause consideration of Bill on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, at 11:00 a.m.
Number four is that 80 or more suggested amendments are received, the chair may limit debate on each clause to a maximum of five minutes per party per clause.
Number five is that should the committee not complete its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill by 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, all remaining amendments submitted to the committee shall be deemed moved, the chair shall put the question forthwith and successively, without further debate, on all remaining clauses and proposed amendments, as well as each and every question necessary to dispose of clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, as well as all questions necessary to report the bill to the House, order that it be reprinted, and order the chair to report the bill to the House as soon as possible.
We can say as number six that no substantive motions should be passed while the committee is on travel.
Hopefully you'll be able to understand this. I'll read it.
Number one is that notwithstanding any motion adopted by committee in relation to the submission of proposed amendments to bills, the members of the committee, as well as members who are not part of a caucus represented on the committee, shall submit to the clerk of the committee all of the proposed amendments to the bill no later than end of day on June 8, 2018, in both official languages, and that these be distributed to members.
Number two is that the clerk of the committee write immediately to each member of Parliament who is not a member of the caucus represented on the committee to inform them of the beginning of consideration of the bill by the committee, and to invite them to prepare and submit any proposed amendments to the bill for the committee's consideration prior to the deadline.
Number three is that the committee commence clause-by-clause consideration of Bill on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, at 11 a.m.
Number four is that if 80 or more suggested amendments are received, the chair may limit debate on each clause to a maximum of five minutes per party, per clause.
Number five is should the committee not complete its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill by 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 12, 2018, all remaining amendments submitted to the committee shall be deemed moved, the chair shall put the question forthwith and successively without further debate on all remaining clauses and proposed amendments, as well as each and every question necessary to dispose of clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, as well as all questions necessary to report the bill to the House, order that it be reprinted, and order the chair to report the bill to the House as soon as possible.
Number six is that the committee travel across Canada from June 4, 2018 until June 8, 2018, and the clerk be authorized to organize travel with meetings in communities in the following regions, as discussed in committee: 1. Atlantic Canada; 2. Québec; 3. Ontario; 4. Prairies—or I guess Alberta——and, 5. British Columbia.
Then, in brackets, we can put the specific locations that we're going to. I would do that, and then end with that the travel budget for the required travel be approved.
Then we have number seven which is that no substantive motions be passed in committee while the committee is on travel.
Again, here we are. It's because this government, after a one-hour debate, moved notice of time allocation on this very important piece of legislation that determines how people choose who will represent them in Parliament. Then, when they did their time allocation and they moved it....
For anyone who isn't familiar with parliamentary language, it basically means they shut down the debate in the House of Commons on a piece of legislation that determines how we choose our representatives in Parliament, trying to rig the system in their own favour. They didn't want to allow the opposition to have a chance to make points about that, to show how foolish some of the things they were attempting to do were, or to point out that they are serving own interests, as they have done so many times in the past. Rather than allow that, they said, well, let's just shut down debate.
When that happened, and members of the opposition questioned the about this heavy-handed, undemocratic approach her government was taking, the minister gave the same response over and over again; she didn't say it just once. She said that she felt the best place to have a full debate, to really hear out the issues and get the different perspectives, was at this committee.
That was the excuse that was given at that time. That was the rationale that was given. We all knew that this was utter and complete nonsense. It was not true.
I could use other words, Mr. Chair, but we're in a parliamentary setting here, so I won't do that. I know that there are words you would probably hear on occasion in the streets of your hometown, as I would in mine, but I won't use them here. All Canadians know what I would like to say, or what I would like to call this.
It was nonsense—we'll call it that—and we knew it was, which this government is just in the middle of proving. They're demonstrating it. They're showing us that what she said was untrue, that it was not, in fact, the truth. They can characterize it however they'd like, but if Canadians were to take a look at this motion that's been presented, they would see a government trying to ram through this piece of legislation, and ram it through this committee as well.
What typically happens, just for the benefit of those who might be following this committee from outside this parliamentary precinct—I'm sure there are some—is that when a bill comes before a committee, the committee will make some determination as to how best to study it. They will ensure, however, that there are opportunities for Canadians who wish to be heard at the committee to come forward and bring their perspectives. That gives members the opportunity to question those individuals and try to gather more from those perspectives, or to challenge those perspectives, if they wish. The goal of all of this is to give us, as parliamentarians, the ability to properly weigh out the pros and cons of the various parts of the legislation.
This legislation is 350 pages. That's a pretty big piece of legislation. I think it would only make sense that there would be a number of different expert perspectives that we could draw from. There would need to be some full examination and discussion about what those things mean or what changes they will in fact enact in our elections legislation and in other consequential acts that might be amended. In doing that, there may be unintended consequences. There may be things that the government hadn't really considered, when it was making those changes, would have an impact.
I'll go down a bit of a rabbit trail just for a second here, to give a good example. There are a number of changes in this legislation—and if my memory serves me correctly, I'll give you a few examples, but I don't have the paper right in front of me, although I'm sure I could find it if you wanted me to be more precise.
The Ontario government not too long ago approved some changes to their election law, and some of those changes are similar in nature or affect the same parts of election law, I guess, for lack of a better way of putting it, that the legislation the federal government has brought forward contemplates doing. A future registry of electors is one of those things. There are some changes to the third party regime and how that is treated in Ontario. Those are a couple of examples and there are others.
In this legislation, there are similar changes or changes to the same parts of electoral law, and so, as I've argued before, I think it would be wise for this committee to hear those perspectives. I raised this with the when she appeared before the committee this week. I asked her if she felt it was important to learn from the experiences of others, if she felt that it was important to make decisions based on evidence, and not surprisingly, I would imagine for anyone, she agreed with me that that was a wise thing to do, until I asked her whether we should actually apply those things to this study and hear about the experiences of others and gather evidence. Then, of course, her tune changed a little, much as it changed after she was able to pass and ram through the time allocation motion about how important it was for this committee to have a chance to have a full debate. Her tune changed then too.
Suddenly now, she has the government's representatives here on this committee saying, “Oh, no, we can't possibly do that. Why would we want to have a full debate? We want to ram this thing through.” There, again, her tune changed, and we went from her thinking it was important to hear evidence and important to learn from the experiences of others to suddenly those things not being so important to her when it meant that we would hear about the experiences of those who are in the middle of an election right now. That will end on June 7, voting day for the election here in Ontario. We're just days away from that, so why not wait a few more days and have the opportunity to hear from those experts, whether they be Elections Ontario or others who have been involved in the Ontario election and who these changes affected, to ask them what they learned from their experiences having run through an election with some of these changes? Maybe we don't want to repeat some of those mistakes if mistakes were made. I don't know—maybe there haven't been any, but if there were, why would we want to repeat those when we can gain that experience and that wisdom from those who have already done that?
It kind of reminds me a bit of when I was a kid. I think we can all relate to this experience. How many times did our parents give us a piece of advice that we just chose to ignore? Of course they always ended up saying, “Well, you know, you should have listened.” When you're a kid, you just think you have it all figured out and your parents can't be all that smart. But you realize as you get a little older that your parents actually had the experience and they learned from their own mistakes and they just wanted to see their children not make the same mistakes.
I've been through it now as a parent as well. I have a 22-year-old son at home and I have watched him make some mistakes too. One thing I've learned with him is that the more I try to provide advice, the less he's going to listen, so I have to watch him make those mistakes, and it's frustrating. It's difficult.
What I would say is that it's one thing when you're talking about a parent watching a child make a mistake, maybe negotiating a bad price on a used car he's trying to buy, for example. Sure, it has a little bit of a consequence for him. Maybe it means he can't afford to take his girlfriend out on a date or something. Maybe that's not an insignificant consequence to him, but it's a consequence that's a lot different from what we're talking about here.
What we're talking about here are consequences that will affect our elections and will affect the very way we choose who our representatives are. There's a pretty significant consequence when you get something wrong, so when you have the opportunity to learn from the experience of others, I can't imagine why you wouldn't take that opportunity.
That's one example. I mentioned that it was a rabbit trail I was going down, because where I'm going with all of that is to say that the made these excuses back then, and they clearly were just that. They were excuses. Within hours of those excuses being made, we were already getting indications from the government that they were going to just ram it through the committee as well. Their excuse was that this committee was the place for the full debate, all the discussion, and the openness to amendments, which I'll get to in a second in terms of how much of a true statement that really was and how insincere that actually was, because we talked about that with the minister when she was here as well.
Here we are with the government. Let's be absolutely clear about what this motion does. What this motion does is ram it through. The typical process, as I was stating earlier, is that we go through it and we debate these things. We hear from the experts. We hear from people who may be affected and ask, “How would this affect you?” We ask what they think of these changes. Or people who have dealt with these kinds of things....
I guess I'll just point this out here. I notice that on the government side there have been a lot of conversations going on. They're probably just asking what they can do now, because the opposition is not just going to roll over and die here. They're asking, “What do we do now?” I'll point out to them, if they care to listen, that if at any point in time they want to take a walk back from the attempt to ram this through and they're willing to allow proper debate in this committee, they can come over and give me a tap on the shoulder, and I'll be happy to facilitate that. Otherwise, you can plan to get used to my voice for a while.
Some of my colleagues will probably have some things to say too. I'm sure you've noticed that my friend to my right here brought in a whole lot of.... He's probably to my right in a whole lot of ways, really.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Blake Richards: My friend brought in a whole lot of material, and I don't think it was just to read it to himself. Keep that in mind. If at any point in time you want to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you know what, we realized that it was a mistake to try and ram this through and maybe we will rethink that”, I'd be happy to entertain that discussion.
Until then, we'll go back to where I was, which is this motion. As for what actually happens, of course, once you hear these different perspectives and you have a chance to challenge those perspectives, you yourself hopefully will be challenged in your thinking. It's something that we all should do as members of Parliament: hear these different perspectives.
I know that for me, I'm proud to say as a member of Parliament that I certainly feel I've broadened my horizons in terms of the different perspectives I've picked up from all across this country through the various things I've been involved in as a member of Parliament. Whether it be committee proceedings like this one or other parts of your job as a member of Parliament, you're exposed to a lot of different perspectives, and it challenges your way of thinking. I will readily admit that there are things that I thought—I knew—were absolute truths when I first came to this Parliament, and that I realize now weren't completely.... I didn't have it all figured out, as I said earlier, right? I didn't have it all figured out. We learn from these things.
That's why all of these opportunities are a good thing for us as members of Parliament, because at the end of the day our job is to take on legislation that is proposed by the government. It doesn't matter whether you sit on the opposition benches or on the government's side; your job as a member of Parliament is to scrutinize the legislation, scrutinize the actions of the executive branch of the government, ensure that the proper questioning is done on those things, and ensure that those decisions are in the best interests of your constituents and all Canadians.
In order for us to do that job properly, we have to take sometimes the time necessary.... When you talk about a bill of the magnitude of this one, at 350 pages, how many clauses are there in the bill? There are over 400 clauses. When you talk about a bill of that magnitude—350 pages, over 400 clauses—it will take a little bit of time.
That's not me speaking as an opposition member or wanting to delay a piece of legislation. That's me speaking as a member of Parliament, no matter what side of the House I sit on, wanting to ensure that it receives proper scrutiny. I'm not sure how many members of this committee will have a different story than mine on this, but I will readily admit I have not read the entire bill, all 350 pages. I'm working towards that. You'll note that my copy has a lot of—
—tabs here that have been added to it and dog ears and things like that. I actually have a second copy that I've used as well, so there are some on that as well.
That means there are areas in which I have questions or concerns. Maybe some of them are things I actually really like, because there are some things in there I do like. But, I would think that if we all want to do our jobs properly, we would want to scrutinize that properly. This is a great place to do that, because it's easy for me to read a piece of legislation and say what I like or don't like.
I'll readily confess, again.... Some of the members of this committee are lawyers and are more familiar with the legalese in a bill. I have been a member of Parliament for a little while now, and I've become more familiar with that but I don't pretend that I am an expert in legalese. Being able to get a perspective from officials, as we've been able to do, helps. Being able to get a perspective from those who will come in and who are experts in certain subject matters will help. Getting a perspective from people who are actually going to be directly affected by the legislation will help.
An example is Canadian Forces electors. There are some big changes in terms of that. Maybe we should hear from people in the Canadian Forces or from members of the Canadian Forces who are serving and ask them how they think this will affect them.
For those with disabilities, with regard to where there are some changes, maybe we want to hear from people with different disabilities. Maybe there are unintended consequences. If I recall correctly, in our review of the CEO's report of the last election, which the government likes to claim should form part of the debate on this bill—a suggestion I find baffling, by the way—I can recall us thinking we had some good ideas on certain areas. I won't get into those, because they were from in camera discussions. But then we heard from people who had perspectives on how they were affected by things we were talking about, and we realized that there were unintended consequences to some of those things. Therefore they maybe didn't make the most sense.
That's where we have the opportunity to walk back on those things and say that it might have been a mistake to put them in this piece of legislation, in this example. So, whether we be opposition or government members, our goal should be to try to find what those things are. Maybe there are none—I doubt that, because I have some concerns about this legislation—but if we don't do the proper examination, we'll never know that.
Maybe I can be convinced on some of the things I have concerns about now. Maybe government members on this committee will be convinced that there are certain things in the legislation that they should be taking a closer look at, and maybe even amending or removing from the piece of legislation. It could be the case, but we won't know, and we'll never know, if this motion is to pass, because it just rams it through and doesn't allow that opportunity.
Now, I guess I should probably explain how it doesn't allow that, because people who might be listening are probably wondering that. They're saying, “Is this just an opposition politician talking because he wants to delay things?” I'll prove to you that's not the case.
Here's how I will demonstrate that. What this motion does—and I'll just explain it in brief detail—is to first of all—I guess now it's sixth or seventh of all, because the government wanted to change the order of it for some reason—have us travel across the country next week, which, I'll add, creates a very difficult logistical challenge for those who are trying to arrange this, our clerk and our travel logistics experts.
It doesn't give a lot of time for the witnesses who would probably like to come forward to rearrange schedules, to give real consideration to their thoughts and perspectives on these various things. That being said, that's what it does. It has us travel across Canada next week, which certainly is a good thing. I know it's far less than it should be. I actually thought that the NDP was exceedingly generous, frankly, because this was initially their suggestion—that we travel.
Mr. Cullen had put forward a proposal that was far more extensive than this in terms of travel. I think it would have gone a lot closer toward giving this its proper examination from that perspective; I think there still needs to be meetings here as well.
I say that—I'll briefly go down this rabbit trail, Mr. Chair—as someone who was part of the previous examination of the Elections Act. That was the last time there were changes. At that time, the government asked the opposition how long they wanted to discuss the changes, and that was the timetable the government followed. It meant a lot of hearings.
As I said, I was part of the committee that studied the last election law changes. The government asked the opposition how long they needed to debate this and to have a hearing on this. That's the way that government proceeded. I mean, we spent just about every evening, for weeks, discussing that legislation in committee. That's the way these things should be discussed. Everyone should be given an opportunity to have a full discussion.
That's not what's happening in this motion. Instead, there would be one week of travel next week—a very quick timeline—and then the government would propose that we come back to Ottawa, not hear from any further witnesses, and not have a chance to have the minister, as was promised to us, come back for another hour. That was promised to us, and it won't happen under this scenario. It won't give us an opportunity to hear from any of the experts here in Ottawa who might have something to say, or give us any further chance to debate or discuss this. Then it would go immediately to clause-by-clause consideration.
For people who aren't familiar with parliamentary procedure, we would take a look at the bill clause by clause. Each clause of the bill would be looked at. There would be an opportunity to have discussion about it and make any amendments that the committee felt were necessary.
This government has said, “Great. We'll let that happen.” They have no choice, of course; they have to let that happen, but they're going to put in place a very draconian measure that would put a very strict timeline to that. For every amendment that's being proposed, it would allow five minutes of debate per party. Obviously, the government's intention is to ram this through, so that means probably five minutes total. That's not a lot of debate about something that could have a very significant impact on our elections, as some of these things certainly do.
It means they're breaking their promise, as it seems they're very inclined to do on just about everything. The minister promised full debate and discussion in committee, which is where it should happen. Instead, they're saying, nope, we're just going to ram that sucker right through.
Guess what will probably happen when it goes back to the House of Commons? They'll probably close down debate there too and ram it through. There will be changes made to our elections law, and nobody will really know for sure whether they were sensible or smart or should have been done, because no member of Parliament had the opportunity to give this its proper due and do our job, which is to scrutinize properly and question. It shouldn't matter whether we sit on the government side or the opposition side. We should all have an interest in doing that and in doing what's in the best interest of Canadians. This motion simply does not allow that.
I wanted to say all that, Mr. Chair, just to give people a sense of what we're talking about here and what we're debating. I do have more to say on this. I'll ask that you put my name on the list, and then I will yield the floor.