Thank you for this opportunity. It's really a pleasure to contribute to this important debate. We really welcome this chance, so thanks again for inviting us.
As many of you might know, the IPU has been working for many years now to promote stronger parliaments and more inclusive parliaments. One of the major angles of our work has been to focus on gender equality in parliaments, ensuring that women have more access in parliaments, but also have the opportunity to really influence policy-making in parliaments.
Within the context of that work, over many years now, we focused more and more on how parliaments functioned. We developed the concept of gender-sensitive parliaments, which was the result of a two-year survey of MPs and more than 70 parliaments from around the world. We looked at how they functioned and how they actually both embodied and delivered on gender equality issues.
In 2011, we developed this concept of gender-sensitive parliaments. We adopted an action plan to assist parliaments in becoming much more gender sensitive in their work. This is an important element for us because we really acknowledged for the first time that parliament was a workplace like any other, and that this workplace needed to be conducive to the equal participation of men and women.
Therefore, parliaments needed to look at how they functioned, how they facilitated the participation of men and women on an equal basis, and how they catered to the needs of young men and women who are the target for many of us in terms of renewing parliaments and making them, again, always in tune with society. This concept was really developed to respond to one of the first challenges identified by women themselves in running for politics, which is how can they balance family responsibilities and politics at the same time?
This is an issue. This is the first challenge identified by women. Most recently, the IPU has also been focusing on enhancing youth participation in parliaments. This, too, is an issue identified by young men and women in terms of going into politics and addressing how they are going to balance family and work responsibilities. I think it is very important to place this within the context of not just a gender issue, but also an issue that concerns both men and women, and especially young men and women.
We really look forward to Canada taking the lead in this respect. There are very few parliaments that have actually questioned and analyzed themselves to see how they were functioning and how they were actually catering to gender equality needs. It's difficult to engage in reform, so we really welcome that.
Ultimately for us, engaging in such reform makes for better and more effective parliaments. This is the message that we are also trying to promote when we work with parliaments in looking at how they function.
You have listed a series of questions of how parliaments have taken initiatives and some questions addressing the work-life balance of MPs. The important point for us, if we are to engage in this initiative is to, first of all, place the issue as a political one. This is an objective that we all want to achieve. It's important to make it a common objective for everyone. It's not just a gender issue or other issue. By placing it as a political issue, it's a very good and first way to approach it.
The second thing is for parliaments to acknowledge that this implies reform. It implies working at how parliaments function in a general way, and reviewing their work methods and their culture as well within parliaments. This is also very important in terms of mindsets that will facilitate or not, meeting this balance, and being a more family-friendly environment.
The third point for us is to look at the capacities and the needs that are required both at the level of parliaments but for MPs as well to address these issues.
If you were to engage on this question, for us you would need to look at how parliament works, what the needs are for MPs, and how to develop a more gender-sensitive or family-friendly culture in parliament.
Several parliaments have taken initiatives at different levels. In terms of how parliaments work, several have focused on sitting hours and days, of course, with some stopping work at 6 p.m. and others not voting on Mondays or Fridays and only focusing on votes Tuesday through Thursday. Other parliaments have fixed voting times and fixed days for votes, as I've said. This way of working and organizing work allows for better planning and, therefore, for freeing up time to meet both the family requirements and the constituency needs.
Other parliaments have tried to cater to the needs of young women who are breastfeeding or who have to cater to the needs of young children, so some parliaments have adopted a system of proxy votes for women who are breastfeeding. That's the case in Australia, for instance. Others have actually developed a system of e-voting, allowing MPs to vote from a distance. That's the case in Spain, for instance. This is for women who are either pregnant or breastfeeding and have to meet their children's needs. This is a recent formula that was adopted in 2012.
In many other parliaments, some of the initiatives taken have been aimed at looking at how IT can alleviate the work of parliaments and have parliaments function differently, and how IT can be used either to enhance the efficiency of meetings and the work of parliament or to enhance the link with constituents, which is of course one of the priorities for MPs: how can they also be present at the constituency level?
The second big point that I wanted to just quickly flag, because I know we'll speak about it, is that some parliaments have looked at the support required technically and physically in parliaments for women and men with children. This has of course been a case of developing child care facilities, which we've seen in many parliaments, whether that's a crèche, a nursing room, or a playroom, so many parliaments have experienced that, with more or less success in the challenges. I'll be happy to come back to those in our discussion.
Other parliaments have also tried to support parental leave. This is of course a very tricky issue, but some parliaments do allow for parental leave for MPs. This is the case in Sweden and many northern countries. This is of course intrinsically linked to the electoral system and the way parliamentarians are elected and also to the possibility of having substitutes. I'm happy to also go into that if it's of interest.
The last point I wanted to mention as we engage in reform for a more family-friendly parliament is there is a lot of work to do at the level of culture and changing mindsets and the ways people address this issue. In the research we've done, we've often seen that many MPs do not feel that they should claim their rights in terms of parents, because that presents as an MP who is weak or not focused on his/her work. I think there's a question of changing mentalities and acknowledging that this is important, that it makes for MPs who are maybe more engaged and also more effective, and that MPs are human, and by addressing those needs in a constructive way we will make for more effective parliaments. I think that changing the mindset and making this less of an taboo issue is an important thing.
Also, in terms of communicating with the public, the second point in terms of culture is that we've seen that we really need to push more for a more gender-sensitive culture in parliaments, and for gender equality to be better understood, both by MPs and staff, in how parliament functions, in order to really create an environment that is conducive to reform and respects the needs of men, women, and their families in parliament. For us, I think the question of culture, communicating, and breaking the taboo around these rights or this situation is a very important point. We'd like more prime ministers to speak up on these issues and say that it's important to address this.
I'll leave it there. I hope I wasn't too confusing. These were just some of the points we've noticed on this issue in terms of recent developments in parliaments.
Thank you so much for being here today. It's a pleasure to see so many of you around the table.
As you likely know, Equal Voice Canada is the only national multipartisan organization dedicated to the election of more women. We communicate with tens of thousands of Canadians on a monthly basis who care deeply about gender equality. While we were extremely pleased, as you might imagine, to see this new government's commitment to gender parity in federal cabinet, Equal Voice remains extremely concerned about the under-representation of women, which is both chronic and historic in our federal institution and in many provincial and territorial parliaments.
We did an analysis during the election that suggested that based upon the last five federal election cycles there would not be parity on the ballot for 45 years, based on the one-third of candidates who presented themselves to the five major parties. Further, based upon the outcome of this past federal election and four previous elections, we are looking at 90 years before we attain gender parity in this institution if we take past performance as an indication of future progress.
It's in this spirit that EV is with you today. We're delighted to see that this conversation is happening. It's one that we've been advocating for on the outside for many years and we want to bring you some proposals in the spirit of recognizing that we're dealing with a 150-year-old institution that was conceived before women had the right to vote or stand for federal office. In our view, just like our colleague from Switzerland, this is not a discussion about women, it is a discussion about working smarter not harder, it is about being effective, efficient, and using resources wisely. I think this Parliament has a tremendous opportunity to do things differently and, equally important, to do them well, so we can inspire confidence among Canadians in this most important institution.
In our view, the House of Commons has not fully leveraged innovations that have been widely adopted elsewhere in both public and private sectors. That includes a better use of technology, maximizing teamwork, and allowing for flexibility at critical periods of caregiving.
On average, as you know, MPs are representing approximately 103,000 constituents per riding—I realize this is an average—and you are expected to fulfill many roles: community ambassador, ombudsman, champion, liaison, troubleshooter, legislator, event convenor, spokesperson, party activist, fundraiser, and, increasingly, parent and caregiver among many other roles.
Finally, the average age of the MP is slowly declining, something we are excited about. Before 2011, you may be surprised to know, there were only five women under the age of 40 serving in the House of Commons as compared to 25 male colleagues under the age of 40, which already suggests some inequality. Fortunately, in 2011, 19 women aged 40 and under were elected and then in this Parliament we believe it is the same, though there is no disclosure of birth dates of MPs anymore, so we can't be totally accurate with those statistics.
In our view, to be optimizing their performance MPs should be guided by three principles of work-life balance: sustainability, predictability, and flexibility. With this in mind, we're here today to make five major recommendations.
First, we believe it is necessary to reduce the weekly commute. Canada's federal Parliament sits approximately 125 days per year in a non-election year. That is one-third of the year, the longest of any federal, provincial, or territorial legislature. Despite bringing people here from coast to coast to coast, the average commuting time for an MP outside of the Ottawa, GTA, Montreal corridor is approximately 12 hours driving or flying time, depending on what you do, approximately six hours per one-way trip.
To address this significant commuting burden, EV would urge this committee to consider the following: more consecutive weeks in constituencies. I was here last week when one of the spouses' groups noted the importance of having MPs in their home riding for more than one week to do very important riding work in addition to reconnecting with their family.
We are also interested in the possibility of compressing the parliamentary week by starting earlier on Tuesdays through Thursdays to allow for the possibility of longer but fewer days in Ottawa. This would maximize the time of MPs while they are here, but would not compromise the hours devoted to House business. I don't believe anybody wants that. A compressed Parliament as our IPU colleague just mentioned is now undertaken by several parliaments quite successfully.
In doing so, we think the Hill calendar could potentially be modified so that Mondays and/or Fridays could be treated with more flexibility, given the long commutes from west to east.
Second, we believe there should be an increase to the resources available for staffing among MPs. In our view, in the face of the constant demands on MPs, we believe you are thinly staffed given the high expectations for your engagement as legislators, committee members, ombudsmen, community leaders, troubleshooters, etc. We are asking all of you to bear a considerable burden without what we believe is the necessary support to ensure you have the team around you to be the most effective and responsive you need to be.
Our calculations suggest that most MPs have on average two Hill staff and two riding staff, which equals one staff for every 25,000 constituents if an MP represents a riding of approximately 100,000 people. We would recommend, then, in the life of this Parliament, that you consider devoting additional resources to an MP's office budget to allow for the hiring of one additional staff on the Hill and one in the riding.
Third, we believe this House of Commons needs to end the punitive treatment of new parents and mothers who are MPs. I was greatly disturbed by some of the experiences Christine Moore related here last week in terms of 14-hour drives back to the riding so she could have access to her car, and the challenges she's had navigating the Hill. In our view, it is not appropriate that there is no formal accommodation for women in the later stages of pregnancy, new mothers or parents, and the primary caregivers of a terminally ill parent or child. I believe this needs to end.
EV, as a consequence, supports the call for a minimum of three months of riding-based activity representation for MPs who face these circumstances. As a consequence, it would mean introducing the prospect of proxy or electronic voting for a small cohort of MPs who are in legitimate need of it. As we've heard from our IPU colleagues, it is something that other parliaments have undertaken with some success.
If Canada's Parliament were to go down this road, MPs would have to be given the opportunity to teleconference and provide written comments on bills or debates, among other things. It is an ambitious task, but we believe it can be done.
Upon returning to Parliament, we want to echo our concerns on the lack of access among MPs to child care services on the Hill. As the chair of a day care board in the Ottawa area, I do believe child care spaces and centres can grow and be flexible if they are given the resources to do so. We believe, in anticipation of the fact that there may be more than one or two young infants on the Hill, Centre Block or another close building should be looked at to potentially care for young children six months and older.
Further, we do believe the provision of occasional on-site care in the House for infants under the age of 12 is also required, and attainable, to provide care for a baby during unexpected votes, a committee meeting that goes late, or other unusual circumstances. Again, I don't see this as an impossibility. Equal Voice provides child care at evening events. There is a roster of highly qualified day care providers in this area who I believe could be on call for occasional child care services.
These measures, of course, are not about reducing the amount an MP works but about facilitating, recognizing, and valuing the other work MPs are doing.
I'd like to wrap up by saying clearly, however, that this is not just about the structure of Parliament. It is also about the tone and language of politics. We have heard from many women and men that they are turned off by the kind of leadership they see on display in the House from time to time, particularly during question period. Other legislatures in Canada have eliminated the banging on tables and significantly reduced the heckling MPs dish out to their opponents. While theatrical, we think it is time to revisit these behaviours once and for all to address what we think is a reputational crisis in the federal political arena.
In conclusion, apart from this study, it is our view that a regular five-year review by this committee of House practices to assess them for their flexibility and reasonability is imperative. We think you can come up with predefined criteria based upon the literature of work-life balance.
We know this has been done before and that other modifications have been made in the past that have made the lives of MPs significantly easier. In the fall, you joined one of five countries that have gender parity in cabinet. We are regarded as a leader, and it is now time to lead on gender-sensitive Parliaments.
Thank you for the invitation to appear. I suspect I was invited because of an interview I gave questioning the idea of changing the parliamentary calendar to a four-day week. In fact, I think a good argument can be made for that change, but I have not heard it so far in your deliberations.
You don't lose much by not sitting on Fridays. There are no votes in the House. Committees normally do not meet, few ministers are in question period, and many members are on their way to the airport before the House rises. But the idea has not been well received in the coverage I've seen in the media. Perhaps my presentation can help to explain why.
In 1982 I worked for the committee that brought in the first parliamentary calendar. It was 160 days, which replaced an average of 175 days when Parliament operated without a fixed calendar. The present version provides for a maximum of 135 days, but in the last decade the House has only sat as many as 129 days on one occasion, and in many years it sat less than 100 days. Put another way, you have a calendar which at best provides for six months on and six months off. If you came back earlier after Labour Day and after the new year and eliminated all but two break weeks, one in November and one at Easter, you could have a calendar of about 160 days with no Fridays.
I know members are unhappy when journalists or academics refer to break weeks as holidays, and I know all of you work hard during these constituency weeks, but they are holidays from Parliament. They are holidays from holding the government to account, and they're holidays basically from committee hearings.
The break weeks may be much loved, particularly by ministers who don't have to face question period, but I suggest there are three things wrong with our very generous approach to break weeks, aside from creating the erroneous impression that you're on holidays. First, I think break weeks encourage obstruction, because if the opposition can delay a bill until the Thursday before a break week, they have effectively stopped it for 10 days, and sometimes more. The result has been a dramatic increase in the use of time allocation motions. Even the dreaded omnibus bills are partly due to the limited time that Parliament is sitting. If nothing changes, I suspect the government, despite its promises, will have to result to both extensive time allocation and, perhaps, even omnibus bills before this Parliament is over.
Second, I think break weeks are really part of the permanent election campaign and a huge advantage to incumbents. They are essentially the importation of an American practice instituted because congressmen are always looking for money for the next election, and they use break weeks for constant rounds of fundraising. We have a different system and different election laws. I believe if constituency events and fundraising were focused on Fridays and the House met with fewer interruptions, the result would be a more functional as well as a more family-friendly Parliament.
A third point, which is perhaps a bit theoretical, is that break weeks reflect a view of the member's role as a delegate who primarily represents the view of his or her constituents. This is perhaps obvious, but there is a more traditional view of the role of an MP, first articulated by Edmund Burke. He thought the role of a parliamentarian was to exercise his or her independent judgment on the public issues of the day. Of course, that judgment is informed by views of constituents, but in this age of communication and social media, is it necessary to be in the riding in order to know the views of one's constituents?
A final point regarding the calendar is that I think a good bit of family friendliness could be injected simply by using pairing, which seems to have fallen into disuse. This was mentioned briefly by the clerk at your last meeting, but I think it bears repeating. A member on either the government or the opposition side advises his or her whip about an unavoidable conflict. The whip calls his counterpart on the other side, and an agreement is struck whereby one member from the other party will absent himself or herself from the vote and this will be indicated in the journals as being paired. As I said, that could be used a lot more than it is, or has been in the last decade.
I don't have any great knowledge of dual chambers, but I looked at the British Standing Orders, and they appear to be used partly for what we call private members' business and partly for questioning ministers. In the Canadian context, I could see a dual chamber used for specific debates. For example, the budget debate could be split and take half the time. The same could apply to the throne speech. Parts of private members' business, excluding the vote, could be moved to the parallel chamber.
However, my real question is, what are you trying to accomplish? If you're looking for ways for members to get their views on record, you could accomplish this by allowing members to append their speeches to Hansard. However, if the purpose is to free up more House time for discussion of legislation, I think there are better approaches.
Why not limit second reading debate to one day? This sounds draconian, but that is the practice in Britain. After the minister introduces and gives reasons for supporting a bill and the opposition party critics give reasons for opposing it, I think you only need a few more speeches by interested members, and then the bill should go to committee. Of course, there could be and should be exceptions to a one-day rule when bills are matters of conscience and members have a legitimate interest in putting forth personal views that differ from those of the party leaders.
Finally, let me conclude with a couple of general observations. In the last decade, Parliament became the subject of many criticisms, “dysfunctional” being perhaps the adjective used most frequently to describe our most important democratic institution. I hope this new Parliament will address some of the issues that led to those criticisms.
One such area is question period. I'm not sure if a British-style Prime Minister's question period is part of your mandate, but I hope you can push that forward.
Another problem is non-confidence motions, because the timing is largely controlled by the government. This led directly to two unfortunate Parliamentary incidents in the last decade. This problem could easily be corrected by changes to the Standing Orders.
I'm getting away from purely family-friendly issues, so I will stop here. I look forward to your questions.
First, it's great to see you again. It's really nice to be in contact and working together again.
In general, at the IPU all the surveys we've carried out over the past 15 years have really highlighted the challenges for women running. We've also surveyed candidates and within groups of civil society, etc. The first thing that comes up as the first challenge or cause for the hesitation of women is the anticipated difficulty in managing family and work responsibilities.
You'll be interested to know that we asked the same question to men and to men MPs, and this issue, sadly enough, did not come up as one of their major challenges.
This is why I come back to the change in culture. For us, whatever we're going to do and whatever reform is carried out, you're going to have to have reform in the public space, but there's going to have to be reform in the private space as well. It's going to be linked to redefining gender roles in families as well. If this part of the reform does not take place, then you're going to have a limitation in terms of the impact of whatever policy you take at the public level.
However, it is definitely one of the biggest deterrents. This is why we are so happy to see this debate, and not only for women: it's becoming a deterrent as well for young MPs and younger people who are interested in running. You have an eager younger population, but they are also realizing that they have lots of other objectives that they want to carry out in their thirties, or whatever it is, whether it's studies or families, etc. and they wonder how they are going to do that all together.
I think this is definitely a key issue in terms of participation and having more inclusive parliaments.
Very good, thank you, Chair.
Thank you all very much for your presentations. It's helpful when witnesses disagree because it gives us an opportunity to get into some back and forth, which I'm going to try and prompt in a moment.
At the risk of regretting saying this, but in defence of heckling—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Christopherson: Obviously anything that is intended to drown out someone who's speaking, regardless of who it is, that's not even heckling. That's just plain obscene, rude, and unacceptable behaviour. I have to tell you, Chair, my experience is—and I've been doing this for a long time now, in all three orders of government—I'm always mindful of the fact that whenever I'm in session, whether it's city council, or a legislative chamber, or the House of Commons, that the debates we're having, the procedures that we have, and all of that replaced the way we used to decide who has power and who gets to decide things, and that used to be on the battlefield. You can't argue there aren't a lot of emotions going on when you're on the battlefield. To me, a good heckle is like a good political cartoon. It causes you to laugh, but it underscores the issue you're trying to amplify.
I just want to throw that out there. I think it has a role. I think of things that matter. If someone was giving a speech, and I was in the House, and they're going on and on about how the steel industry is yesterday's history, and because of the environmental issues we ought not to be even looking at the steel industry, I have to tell you that my constituents expect me to do more than just sit there at that moment. There has to be an acknowledgement there's a certain amount of reaction that's said, and it's part of it.
I understand the point that's being made, that it becomes such a hostile place, but to me it's only like that when it's in the extreme. Anyone who doubts my commitment to that can ask Sandra Pupatello, who was a former high-profile Ontario cabinet minister when I was deputy speaker, and what I did in that House when the opposition, males, late at night, drowned her out. Ask her. I'm there on that part of it, big-time.
I guess this idea we would always, without exception, sit very quietly, like we were in church, to me that doesn't reflect the reality of the place and what it's for. I just throw that out there because I'm a glutton for punishment.
I want to go on about the eight months, because of course it seems to be at odds with where Madam Peckford was in terms of more back-to-back in the riding. I'm not sure the two are marriageable, if you will—there's probably a better word. Madam Peckford, if you wouldn't mind, I'll give you an opportunity to respond because maybe I'm misinterpreting. Maybe you're seeing something that Mr. Levy's proposing that isn't that far, but it seemed to me they're two different concepts. One was the focus on the consistency here in the House, and the other one was a little more consistency in the riding, which common sense might suggest would be a hard balance to achieve.
Your thoughts, Nancy, please.
Thank you. I appreciate your being here as well.
I want to ask you a question, a similar question for both of you. What I'm going to do is characterize what I think I understand your proposals to be for changing the sitting days and sitting weeks. You both come at it from very different approaches and have very different suggestions, but both of you are advocating for some change.
I'm going to characterize what I think I've heard your suggested changes to be and then ask you a couple of questions around that. I'll then let each of you answer.
Ms. Peckford, you can go first, and then Mr. Levy, but I'll throw the thoughts out first, and you can correct me, if I'm mistaken.
It's based on something Mr. Levy said. He said there are 338 members of Parliament and that he expected each of us would have a different approach to family-friendly. I think that's an important point. Almost every member of Parliament has a different situation, and every change that can be contemplated could affect each of those members of Parliament differently. It could be family-friendly for some and maybe not so friendly for others.
Ms. Peckford, I think what I was hearing was that you're suggesting sittings Tuesday through Thursday, with longer days on those Tuesdays through Thursdays. We wouldn't be sitting, then, on Monday or Friday. Then you would suggest more consecutive break weeks or constituency weeks.
I didn't know whether you were suggesting that the number of days currently is about right. You can comment on this when you're answering. Would this mean more weeks, or are you suggesting that the number of weeks would remain as is, with the sitting days just being longer so that there is the same number of sitting hours? That's what I wanted to ask you.
I guess the question around that is, say for example, for a member of Parliament who has their family here.... Some members probably make the choice to move their families to Ottawa so that during the week, when they're here, they can be home with their family in the evenings, and when they go home to the constituency, they can focus on their constituents and really work hard to get around to a lot of events. The question is about the effect this might have—both the fact of longer sitting days and obviously more consecutive weeks—on a family like that, for example.
Another question is this. I don't want to put words in her mouth, but when Christine Moore was here, I think this is what she was indicating; I hope I'm characterizing it correctly. She mentioned that she didn't feel that getting rid of Fridays was something that would be helpful for her, particularly. I think this centred around the fact that being here through the week, she can have a focused week here, and the same thing back in her constituency. The question, then, is about the effect this might have on someone in that situation.
Then Mr. Levy, you felt that maybe getting rid of the Fridays would be okay, but that we'd need more sitting weeks, and not only more sitting weeks to accommodate the Fridays we're losing, but you think there should be even more days than we currently sit.
I guess I wondered a little bit. Obviously, many members of Parliament go back to their ridings for the weekends or whatever. Does the travel time involved in that then become...because there are more sitting weeks and you're losing more time both serving your constituents and being able to spend with your family?
The same thing goes, I guess, for those with young children. If we're going to have more sitting weeks, does that become...? I think it speaks to what Mr. Christopherson was saying: it almost becomes that you throw your family's routine out by being home. What effect would this have on that type of family?
I'll let you both comment on those comments.
Ms. Peckford, do you want to go first?
Yes, of course, that's absolutely how you do it, but you might recall the Samara study that came out about three years ago and said that less than 15% of riding associations had websites. I think riding associations actually fly well below the radar of many busy women and men in our communities. Unless you're naturally connected to political brokers, you're not always sure about what's happening, or it's not always as transparent as it needs to be.
As a consequence, I think there's great merit in being clearer about the process from the get-go, so that women understand where the opportunity is. You can appreciate that most riding associations meet in the evening, as they would; they're volunteer-driven organizations. We all understand that, but I think information is power.
The studies out of the U.S., where they have far more resources to do this in a very intense way, show that women really value being asked and approached to run. You can't do it three months before an election; you have to do it two years out. Because women plan, right? Often, that's because they are primary caregivers, or because they care significantly about their spouse and they want to ensure that it works for everybody. As a consequence, I do think better information, as well as outreach to key groups, would make a significant difference.
What we've seen through the NDP—and this is specific to their party and their culture, but it matters—is that they fielded 43% women. They have a policy that they go out to under-represented groups. It's systematic, it's thorough, and it has worked for that party. Is that the solution for every party? We don't know, but that shows it can be done. You can achieve better success.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives were the one party in this past election that dropped in terms of the percentage of women fielded. I think we do have to look systematically at where we can do better. But overall, clearly, with only 33% women on the ballot, I think this is a collective challenge and an opportunity to recruit more women.
We all went through this process. We all are legislators, and we know that the majority of our work is here in this place. That's what we do. You did rhyme off a bunch of things that we are. We're fundraisers. We're advocates. That's all true.
I agree with what Mr. Reid said. I was a political staffer for 11 years before this and when I said that my previous boss couldn't attend an event because he was in Ottawa, nobody said, “Oh, well, that's it, this is ridiculous.” I think they recognize that the job is here. You're a legislator. You need to be in that place doing your job.
I do agree with Mr. Christopherson. You can't be “Ottawashed”, if you will. You do have to get back to your riding—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Jamie Schmale: —but I think there's a delicate balance.
Also, I think that taking Fridays off or removing that sitting, with all that's going on around the country—job losses—just sends the wrong message. I think there are other ways to do this in terms of structuring votes after QP. We're all there anyway, and I think that's an easy way to rearrange your schedule.
Also, when we make changes, we have to recognize the flip side. There are a lot of people who already have moved their families here, and if we change something, that might affect the lives of those who have made that decision to bring them here to work. I agree that no solution is the best, that they all kind of suck, if you will, but “ya take the best ya got” and make a decision based on that.
I will also say, as a man, that family life did come in. That was the one thing that was thought of first. Before I ran for the nomination, before I ran for the election, and after I got elected, it was all factored in. I know there were a couple of men on our side—James Moore, Peter MacKay, and my predecessor, Barry Devolin—who made the decision not to run again because of their families. I think this is an issue. As times change, more men are getting involved in family life.
I'll give just a few thoughts, then, and if there's time for some comments, fine. We see the end coming fairly soon.
First of all, I think one of the best things we've done is a simple matter: having more votes right after question period. What a difference it is not having to come back or to break where you are for 6:00 or 6:30, which just takes the guts out of the evening when you still have receptions. That was a great move, and it didn't cost anything. The surprising thing is that we didn't do it a long time ago. It just makes so much sense.
Next, I appreciate the shout-out on the NDP procedure. I was trying to figure out a way to do that without looking like I was bragging.
There are two things on that. One is that there is also a reporting obligation on the part of the riding back to the party where they haven't gone, where they don't have candidates from under-represented groups, showing what the search procedure was, just to ensure that it actually was done.
The second thing I'll say, just to put the human angle in here, is that not all the ridings are real happy about that. It's not an easy one. There are a lot of ridings where they know who their candidate is, or they have an idea, and they look at this thing and go, “What's this nonsense they're sending us now? We have to do all this kind of stuff.” You will get that kind of push-back, and it's no different in the NDP.
It comes down to leadership. It takes the top-of-the-house to lead it at a conference or convention, to get it as part of the fabric of the party, and then it's baked into the way you do things. My understanding is that there are fewer and fewer complaints now as we've gone on. It's just become part of the culture. But I'll tell you, in the beginning, holy smokes; you'd thought you'd ask them to give up their firstborn.
Next is the flexibility. I just wanted to mention that I was talking to our whip's assistant, and one of the advantages of having Friday the way we do it—I just put this out there to chew on—is that in and of itself it provides some flexibility. Because we don't hold voting that day, it's the same as every other day, but it does allow people different opportunities to come in and make speeches they otherwise wouldn't, or to trade off days so they can go back into their ridings. We never have enough time in our ridings. You can set up a meeting. You can maybe set it up for a Friday and get a switch, even if you're scheduled to be on House duty. There is some flexibility that the Friday being in there provides us, which we would lose if we took it out.
The other thing on that is, look, colleagues from all parties are workaholics. You know what? It's really geographically disadvantaged no matter how you do it. I can work late, late, late, staying in with family members at a barbeque or something, or hitting a backyard thing, or a 50th anniversary on my way out of town. I can massage it, because relatively I'm not that far, compared with some.
There will always be those who are coming in on the red-eye. My heart bleeds for my colleagues from B.C. when I see them on a Monday morning. Without saying a word, I can tell which ones went home and which ones stayed, just by looking at their faces.
So a lot of this is really the disadvantage of being further away from the capital, in that you'll always have more of these problems than we will.