Through you, Chair, I'd like to begin in terms of the comments from Mr. Lamoureux.
Most of what you said, Mr. Lamoureux, would stand if we were at two weeks ago and were having a blank slate discussion, but the problem is—and you can't erase the history—that you did arrive here at the last meeting and took the helm position, and you were the only member who spoke. Clearly, there was an intention that you were going to lead things.
Not only that, but normally, as a rule, this committee is staffed by, if you will, or has members on it who have experience, because of this sort of leading role that this committee plays in many of the activities of the House. That's why it has certain special rights. We always meet at the same time. We don't rotate. For the other committees, a lot of their stuff goes through that. There's all that kind of thing.
This is a very important committee, incredibly important in terms of the House, so for Mr. Lamoureux to be here.... Mr. Chan has some experience, I grant you that, but not much—I think a year or two after a by-election—and virtually everybody else is new. If you're going to throw newbies onto the committee, it makes sense that you'd bring in a seasoned veteran who would lead it.
Where would that seasoned veteran be? Oh, it's you, so any sense that this is just you dropping by because you're interested really doesn't hold any water. The fact of the matter is that you're here to ride shotgun on behalf of the PMO to make sure this committee does exactly what the wants, and guess what—that's the way it was the last time.
I raise this because the government is the one that has made such a big deal about wanting to be seen as the vehicle for change. I support that, and for some of the changes they want to make, I support those things. What I'm having trouble with is the words of the government versus the actions of the government. So far, when it comes to parliamentary secretaries on committees, there is nothing about their actions that link up with their words.
Mr. Lamoureux has every right to be here according to the rules, but I want to remind him that his stands up every day and talks about transparency, accountability, sunny ways, and how things are going to change, and so far, all we've seen from this government vis-à-vis PROC is the same old same old same old.
I would like to know as we're moving forward—maybe Mr. Lamoureux can point it out to me—when he's taking actions that support the government's words, because so far, they don't.
An hon. member: I'd like to—
I thank Mr. Chan. I support part of his motion, of course, the part that strikes the parliamentary secretary. That won't come as a shock. My difficulty is with putting two government members on.
Chair, I would seek your guidance on some of this. Most of the steering committees I've sat on have been one of two configurations. One is where the chair was actually the government representative and then there were two other members from the other two parties, which was very problematic. If you hearken back to some of the concerns I raised about your chairing a little earlier, there is the issue of the chair trying to represent a party at a steering committee, even though it's very informal, while at the same time being the one who referees the discussion, which is very difficult.
I moved a motion at public accounts committee, a number of parliaments ago, whereby we actually changed that and put on a formal government member and one from each of the recognized parties, and then the chair did its thing.
My understanding is that most steering committees don't bring non-unanimous decisions; at least that's been my experience. The steering committee tries to reach consensus. If there is consensus, which there is most of the time, in my experience, then things are brought forward to the full committee to vote on.
If the steering committee can't agree, then we don't have a power play on the steering committee such that the majority, meaning the government, gets to carry the day and bring the recommendation back. It can exercise its majority right at the committee, but the steering committee process is not a decision-making body per se. Everything we do has to come back to the main committee to be supported.
As we all know, the whole idea of steering committees or executives is to facilitate the business of the committee. There are a lot of details, just routine stuff. It puts together the schedule. Nobody's playing any games. It's just straight up front, boom, boom, boom, here's what we're trying to achieve and how can we best do this as a committee. As I said, 95% of the time there's agreement, because it's only about how we do our business, not about what the decisions are.
With that in mind, I would just ask the government to please consider the idea of a chair, a government representative, and then one representative from each of the recognized parties. In this case it would be the Conservatives and the NDP. Again, if there's no consensus, then it doesn't come back here by majority vote, because it's not a decision-making body. If it's a consultative body, and if all their decisions have to come back here, and the government has 100% guarantee that their will, because they have a majority, will always prevail, then it would seem to me we could facilitate things if we stayed with a chair and one from each of the recognized parties.
Mr. Chair, I still have the floor, and it looks like I'm going to have it for some time, because I want an answer. I'm entitled to an answer.
It's not an unreasonable thing for me to ask a government that says they're going to be open to tell us how the heck they're going to be running the steering committee or whether the committee is going to be allowed to run it, and so far, the silence from the government is deafening. It tells me that they still want control. They want to grab control of this committee by the throat and wrap it in some nice sunny ways and words and all that, but at the end of the day, here's the problem for the government.
I think I'd better settle in, because this is going to go on for a while. Here's the problem the government is going to have: slowly but surely, you're going to find out that every little deviance, especially when it comes to independence and some of the things you talked about in the House, is not going to go away. If the government wants to have the trappings or use it as a cloak but says “We're still in control and nothing has really changed”, this is exactly the way to do it.
I see an honourable member shaking her head. I have been over there too. I understand, but the fact of the matter is that we deserve some assurances, not just words about sunny ways, but real, concrete action.
People in Canada were tired of it. This government promised something new, and a lot of people I know and like and respect agreed with that idea and voted for them in order to have that change. The cameras aren't on in here, but those people wouldn't be very impressed with this. This is not impressive for a government that says they are not trying to control committees and that in fact, conversely, they want to make sure that committees are more independent.
All we're asking for, all I'm asking for, is the assurance that when we're at the steering committee, it will not be the PMO that's driving the agenda. The way we do that is to say that the steering committee is non-partisan. We represent partisan interests at the committee, but we're trying to reach a non-partisan agreement, an agenda.
Let's say we're doing hearings on a report and we're going to decide how many witnesses to have, how much time to allot, and the order of witnesses. Those things really aren't partisan, unless we're really fighting, and that's a different matter, but most of the time on this committee we aren't. Those are the sorts of things we'd be dealing with at committee. Our defences are down and we're working together.
However, it's a whole different ball game if, at the end of those discussions, the government gets to dictate the agenda by virtue of a majority-controlled recommendation from the steering committee. Guess what? When a majority-controlled recommendation comes from the steering committee, the government members are going to vote for it 10 times out of 10.
Now, some of you can go on the record and say that's not going to be the case. Be very careful. I caution you about doing that, because this is how things will be.
The only way they could be different is if we sat down in a steering committee and at the end of the day, if we hadn't come to an agreement, we would have failed. I would have failed my caucus; the Conservatives would have failed their caucus, and so would the government members have failed their caucus if we couldn't come to an agreement, given that our job is to put together a non-partisan agenda that the committee could then endorse. Then the politics of what we do would take over in between, but to leave it the way it is with the government unwilling even to clarify makes it pretty clear that this government has no intention of doing anything different from the last government.
I have asked for the government members to respond. I'm not getting any signal yet that they are, so I'm going to be a little while, because I want this clarified. It affects every one of our committees.
Mr. Chair, like Mr. Christopherson, I have had the opportunity to sit on PROC for the last couple of years. I've also had the opportunity to sit on the subcommittee, and in my experience, there has been a very high sense of co-operation and consensus. I cannot recall there ever being a vote on the subcommittee. I have found the subcommittee to be very helpful. It does have its meetings; they are fairly straightforward. They then come back to the full committee for a vote.
I think what we need to look at is what we're actually debating right now. I say this in my capacity as a person with first-hand experience having sat on both committees and having seen how both of them actually operated.
I look to you, Mr. Christopherson, to provide comment, as I'm sure you will, in regard to this. Can you ever recall over the last two and a half years an incident where there was controversy at that subcommittee? I don't think we need to read something into something that's just not there.
If we look at the change that's being proposed, Mr. Christopherson, you continue to question the integrity of the 's willingness to seek changes on standing committees. You're in the opposition. You can do all you want in regard to that. It does not diminish the attempt by the to make significant, positive changes to the committee. He is also making committees more open for dialogue.
This amendment, the change that's being proposed, does one thing: it takes the parliamentary secretary [Technical difficulty—Editor]. You've made reference to the importance of the procedure and House affairs committee. It is one of those senior committees to which other committees will often go. It is something we should be taking very seriously. I for one am taking it very seriously.
I listened to you, Mr. Christopherson, when you talked about, well, why was I sitting where I was? In order to try to show goodwill on my part, I thought, okay, fine, I'll change the location of where I sit, if that happens. I don't intend on being here at every meeting, per se. I'm not exactly sure of my role; I'm trying to better define my own role on it. All I know is that I do have an interest in it.
We have very capable individuals sitting on the government side, and we should not be questioning their integrity or their experience. It's much like many of your caucus colleagues who come before committees, many of them for the very first time. I don't believe you'll find Liberals questioning their integrity or their capabilities to perform.
I understand and I can appreciate that all members, including Liberal members, are anxious to see committees get to work to get the job done. Then, I believe, we'll get a better sense in regard to what role other members will be playing, including parliamentary secretaries. But I think we have to provide the opportunity for time to pass and to see what kind of work committees will be able to do. I'd like to think that a year from now you'll be looking at it and saying that these committees are in fact more productive and members are able to actually contribute by bringing forth amendments, and that you'll see amendments being accepted. At least that's what I would anticipate.
I'm very much aware in terms of what it is and many of the arguments that you've put forward, and I respect them. Having said that, if we go right back to the core rule, to what it is we're actually trying to do today, I don't think it's that much.
I had intentions of providing some comment today, because there were House leader discussions that involved all three House leaders. I was hoping to be able to share some of those thoughts. Maybe if we can pass this through, we will be able to get that opportunity. I'd like to think, because of the discussions that included your own House leaders, we'd be able to enter into at least some discussion on that, nut in order to do that, we have to go through these rules.
Now, my experience of going through rules, and I've done it on more than just PROC, is that for motions of this nature, it's typically fairly quick. There's no surprise. In the documents before us that we're expected to pass, there aren't going to be any surprises from us.
No one should have been surprised that we're taking the parliamentary secretary off the subcommittee. That's all we are doing in this particular amendment. There is no other change to it. It is the government's intent that the representatives on that subcommittee be members of PROC. There is absolutely no change.
My suggestion—and that's all it is; it's just a suggestion—is that maybe if we could get through this motion we could then enter into a discussion, if it's the will of the committee and the chair to have some sort of discussion on agenda, because I know you were very concerned about the coming agenda. We were hoping to be able to do that, because today will likely be, or could be, our last day, unless the vice-chairs and the chair get together and reconvene the committee.
I'm hopeful that you'll appreciate that there is no hidden agenda here. What we want to do is to just see the motions pass, to take into consideration taking me off the subcommittee, and to make sure there's a different membership because of the switch in places inside the committee, with the Liberals, not the Conservatives, now being the government and so forth. That's it.
Then we can continue on and we can even have an open debate, possibly, if that's what the committee wants, after the rules have been passed, but that will be up to you. We're not going to...at least I don't think the chair or members of the committee are going to attempt in any way to shut you down.
Chair, I'll pick up on Mr. Reid's last point just while it's fresh in my mind, and I have a number of other thoughts from previous speakers.
Mr. Reid, through the chair to you, your point is well taken. I think what would mitigate it in a huge way is exactly the issue I'm trying to get resolved. If the steering committee didn't have the political majority control power to control a motion that comes here, in the affirmative or in the negative, then it wouldn't matter as much because there would either be total agreement.... If you're not on there, you run the risk that you don't know what's going on, but for the most part, if somebody is on there from somewhere else, if it's by consensus, it's not as big a problem. There are two big issues, as I see them, with your point. If you get somebody on there who doesn't really know what is going on at the committee, it's a little difficult to be part of the steering committee that looks ahead, especially if you're in a bit of a jackpot and you're trying to get out of it. It's very difficult if you're not one of the ones who are there, but it's a lot easier for us on this side of the House, the other recognized parties, if there's a consensus model so that at the very least it's not being partisan-driven that way, and then when it comes here we still have the opportunity, but your point is well taken.
If I might, I would say just a couple of things, Chair. First of all, both Mr. Lamoureux and Mr. Chan have been sort of urging us to get on with things and to watch the clock, since this may be our last day. I want to remind colleagues that it was on Tuesday when we assembled all the things it takes to pull a committee together that the only thing we did was elect a chair and two vice-chairs. We had an hour and three-quarters or an hour and a half available, and I was ready to start working, but the government had no interest at all, so, I'm sorry, but the argument that the NDP caused major problems because they backed up the committee and the work couldn't get done isn't going to wash. The government has to remember that on Tuesday it shut us down after we did the least amount of work possible. I leave that with you.
Second, through you again, Chair, with respect to Mr. Lamoureux, I hear what you're saying and I don't necessarily disagree, Kevin. I think Scott was right that there actually were a few examples in which there were problems, but I agree with you to the extent that most of the time it's not an issue. When I link that with what the government has said it wants to do with committees, it reminds me of my old negotiating days back when I was in my twenties negotiating collective agreements and how whether an employer said “may” do something or “shall” do something could cause a strike. On the one hand, “may” means they might or they might not depending on how they feel that day. “Shall” means there is an obligation.
Unfortunately, Mr. Lamoureux, you didn't quite get your notes in order, because while you were arguing that we're always going to get along, Mr. Chan is on record as saying—I'm paraphrasing—that's likely to happen, but sometimes we'll disagree. There's the big “but”. Either the government wants the PMO to have the ability to control the committees or it does not. I again put forward that the government already has control.
I'm going to acknowledge that there's about a 99.9% certainty, if not 100%, that other than in some freakish scenario, I'm going to lose votes and the government's going to win. That is going to happen 10 times out of 10 whether it's in any committee or in the House, and, Chair, I'll be the first one to say that under our current system, as flawed as it is, that's the way it needs to be. I accept that. I'm not trying to rewrite the election results; as much as I might like to do that, I'm not trying to do that.
There's backup control for the government, and I do get that, but at the end of the day, you have that at committee. No matter how many times I place a motion or the former government members place motions, we're going to lose if the government decides it doesn't like those motions. That is just life for us. The government gets to win every time the government wants to win.
I've been there. It's glorious. It's great. It's wonderful walking into a room, whether it's the House or a committee, knowing that 10 times out of 10 you're going to win. It's a great feeling, but you have that, and you made a promise that you're going to do things differently, so arguments about what we did in the past carry only so much weight when the government came in on an agenda of change. Arguing status quo really is arguing against your own agenda.
If you want to have two members on there, fine. That's not a hill I want to die on. However, if you're going to say that those two members are going to use their voting clout to force things through, that's not the intent of a steering committee. Even if the government doesn't get its way at the steering committee and there's no recommendation, the government lead—possibly Mr. Chan, if we're going by seniority and the fact that it won't be a parliamentary secretary, so it could be Mr. Chan or anyone else—is going to put forward a motion that reflects the argument that was made at the steering committee. They didn't win it at the steering committee because the rules of the steering committee provide for as much consensus as possible. The structure is meant to provide that. Then, when we don't have unanimity and we come here, Chair, I can all but guarantee that the government lead is going to move a motion that, just coincidentally, reflects everything that the government members wanted to do in the steering committee.
I don't have a problem with that. You're going to place that motion. The most we can do is debate the hell out of it and delay things, as I'm doing now, to make a point on something. We can do that, which we're entitled to do, assuming that you're not into railroading mode yet. You still have that backup at this committee.
Again, if you wanted to change things, this isn't even that big. I'm really quite surprised, Kevin, that you're letting us get this far down the rabbit hole, because this isn't going to reflect well on you either. This thing should have been boom, boom, boom, out of here. We could have been done on Tuesday.
All I'm trying to do is to help the government. Let's turn this and look at it differently. I'm trying to help by facilitating your agenda to make committees a little more independent. They're not going to be totally independent, because you have that majority vote. Fair enough. Again, nobody's arguing that. You have the right to make the decision. We can squawk and complain all we want, but you have that power. They used to have it; now they don't and you do. Okay. However, if you really want to change things and you want us to feel that committees are more independent, that we're actually reflecting what we think rather than what we're being told from on high....
That still applies to our parties. It's not as tight when you're not in government, but we all have leaders, whips, and House leaders, so those things still come into play at this committee. Other than the parliamentary secretary not being on the committee, there's not a lot of change to the power structure. It's a good start, but it doesn't really change the dynamic, and nobody's pretending it should. I'm not saying that you're evil for not doing that. That's the way it is. You get the final say.
However, if we really want to make things more independent—and this is not new; most of the steering committees I've sat on have operated by consensus. If we couldn't agree, the matter was bounced over to the committee with no recommendation. The government members would have done their homework, and Mr. Chan, for example, if he were the lead, or Ms. Taylor, if she were the lead, would put forward a motion that would exactly reflect what the government was saying in the steering committee. We would be fully expecting it, and then we'd have our array of measures and tools to respond, such as discussing and talking and holding things up and all that other stuff. That'll all come into play here, but at the end of the day, you win. Fair enough. But now a government that says it wants to do things differently wants to control the one place in committee work where there are no cameras and nobody sees the transcript, except for a very few people who have to get permission. It's like Maxwell Smart's cone of silence. Nobody knows what's going on.
They're fun meetings, quite frankly, because people are intelligent and they're funny in their work. If you've been around a long time, as I have, you actually get more of a thrill when you try to work together instead of fighting, because fighting is just the same old same old. Working together is a lot of fun; it really is, especially if you have serious challenges and you're working together. That's done a lot better in a collaborative relationship without the partisan aspect of power voting.
Mr. Lamoureux, you just finished saying that you didn't expect it to be a problem. I don't disagree with you, but I have to listen to your colleague who sits besides you, who said that there's going to be occasions where...and that as soon as we get there...even if it's just one time.
I say again to Mr.—
I hope in your new capacity you won't be calling points of order on me in my attempt to help things along.
I also want to say welcome back to Mr. Chan. I'm very pleased to see that you went through your treatment and that you were elected. I would have preferred a New Democrat here, but I'm very happy to see that you're in good health, and so it's good to be here.
For the new members who might find this very tedious—I see a little rolling of the eyes—the issue before us today is the idea of “Trust us. We're great. This is the new era.” Mr. Lamoureux, on the question of whether my friend was questioning the word and the integrity of the , far be it from us over here to doubt the Prime Minister's word, but I wouldn't take it to the bank.
I say that because I've been here since 2004. I've served on good committees and I've served where it was a little toxic. I've served on committees in which we had a constitutional crisis and members actually interfered with the separation of the roles of the legislative branch and the courts, and we had to sometimes filibuster almost all night just to re-establish some of these basic rules.
How did that happen? Well, committees are made up of personalities. In politics there are sometimes big egos, and we're very partisan by nature. No matter how much we say we're going to be sunnier, this is the nature of it, and sometimes these committees can break down.
What is really reassuring from the is the message that he's taking the parliamentary secretaries off the committees. Mr. Lamoureux, it's great to see you in the House; it will be great to see you off this committee.
Those were promises. We've talked about this, and I've heard this for many years. Because of the power that the parliamentary secretary holds, I didn't actually believe a prime minister would do it. This is a really positive step, because the fundamental failing of the committee structure in the Canadian Parliament is that we are reduced sometimes to very juvenile status and to voting strictly along partisan lines. When the parliamentary secretary raises his or her hand, all hands go up on one side and all hands go down on the other side.
When I was over in the U.K. and sat in on a parliamentary committee hearing, I felt so silly as a result of the experience I've had in five Parliaments here. I couldn't figure out who was on the government side and who was on the opposition side. I was stunned that they were working together, and this was on an international affairs committee. I thought of how much our committee system has deteriorated, to the point where we have become a mirror of the House of Commons and we vote along whipped lines. That the has said that we're going to remove the parliamentary secretaries is a very powerful thing. With the Liberal majority, I don't think anybody is going to be voting for me to be chair of the aboriginal affairs committee that I'm on, but that we can choose a chair is a very powerful thing.
One of the things we need to look at, though, again goes back to the role of the subcommittee. In 2004 I was completely naive. I had no idea. I believed in the peaceable kingdom and I believed in trust. I've learned that unless you actually have it in the rule book, trust lasts sometimes as long as a meeting, sometimes not even that. However, I've had some really good chairs who saw their role as trying to build consensus so that we could actually work together and get something done.
Why this is really important for PROC is that PROC plays a very special role. It's where MPs of all parties have to look to deal with some very substantive issues, so its non-partisan nature—not that it is non-partisan, but to the extent it can be—is much more important than, say, on the ethics committee, which was sometimes like a WWF cage match in terms of its political toxicity. I get that. Some of our committees are more partisan than others. I wish you all very well and I'm very glad I'm not on it.
However, this is a committee that is entrusted. All parliamentarians put our faith in you, even though we know, as David said, that 10 times out of 10, if the Liberal members vote one way, that's how it's going to pass. However, within the subcommittee the idea of consensus has always been the one area where the chair could bring some sense of whether we could get a working plan, take that plan and come forward. If we don't have that consensus, it comes back here anyway in whatever motion gets brought and how people want to debate, and the majority vote wins.
I think what's really important for my colleague is consensus. I've sat beside David in the House, and when he whispers he's as loud and as opinionated with his own party's members as he is with you, so for you new members, don't take anything personally over there.
David is very passionate about this. What I'm hearing, and I think it's a very coherent argument, is that it's not the number or the membership but the idea of consensus. If we're not going to get consensus at the subcommittee, it goes back. The majority will rule. Our motions will be defeated or accepted and Conservative motions will be defeated or accepted, but it's the power within the subcommittee that changes the dynamic of the working relationship.
I would love to trust you all. I'd love to trust the . These are very early and sunny days, but I've been in five different Parliaments and I've seen that sunny ways lead to stormy ways. We get bogged down in issues. In some of our committees, our personalities don't work. I've seen some chairs who are extraordinary, but in the case of other chairs—not you, Mr. Bagnell—I don't know how they got the job. No names will be mentioned.
This committee sets the example that the word is really going to change the nature of committees. I think that when this change comes out of here, it will send a message to our other committees.
I have to say that in the last Parliament, I became a lot more partisan than I ever was in my previous political life. I want to ratchet that down. I'm tired of it. I want to get something done.
We're not going to build the peaceable kingdom here so you can go back and do what you're going to do, but I'm appealing to my colleagues here to recognize that if we can just incorporate the principle of consensus into the subcommittee, we can get this thing passed and we'll all be going home for Christmas.
It is a principle that has ramifications beyond just this committee. It will send a very clear message that the is serious about his word. I think all of our backs are going to loosen up and we'll start to find ways to find more consensus. We're going to start to see committees doing the job that Canadians expect them to do.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I didn't really hear what I wanted, but of course the government won't just come out and say “absolutely not.” They're still hoping they can get through this.
Look. I hear what you're saying and I appreciate the tone and I appreciate the respectful discussion. I'm enjoying it too. I would enjoy it more if we could bring a little more democracy to the whole thing.
You and Mr. Chan have repeated a number of times, and I'm sure your other colleagues agree, that you have every intention of reaching consensus. I don't question that. I truly honestly do not. I believe that's what you intend. I even believe it may be that way most of the time.
However, as my friend Mr. Angus has pointed out and as those of us who have been around here for a while know, you'll find that idea will quickly fall by the wayside. Let's face it: the government does have an agenda and they have to deliver on it in order to get re-elected in four years. Fair enough. Therefore, there will be times when they're going to want this committee to do certain things and go in a certain direction. Fair enough. You have that control here at the committee. However, maintaining absolute control of the steering committee tells us that the government will utilize it whenever it suits their purpose. As we move on and have more arguments and get more entrenched—and Mr. Lamoureux and to a certain extent Mr. Chan know this—things take on a life of their own, and you can't always separate the politics of what's happening in the House of Commons with what's happening here. As a result, sometimes we can really get into it here at this level.
Again I come back to the government's statement that they want things to be different. If you want things to be different, then you have to do them differently, and maintaining this power structure that allows the government to lower the boom when it suits them is the antithesis of a body that meets with a goal of consensus.
I think a reasonable person looking in from outside the Ottawa bubble would understand that if the government gets absolute control at the committee and absolutely everything from the steering committee has to go to the full committee, the government maintains 100% control. We're not arguing with that power structure, but what we are saying to anyone on the outside looking in is that the steering committee is where we're trying to agree on the rules of how we proceed, what witnesses to have in what order, and all the things that can take forever if ten of us sit there. You know the old saying about ten people writing a letter. That is in contrast to a smaller group without the political attention, without the cameras, without the games. You can't even win a vote. It's just working together. If we put that in place, at least we would have a little more democracy and a little more independence. It's only a little, but it matters. It matters when the government says that sometimes they'll have to. Well, all it takes is that one time, and the whole idea of that model is gone. It's either a consensus body or it isn't.
I wouldn't normally have made as big a deal of this with the previous government at the beginning of various Parliaments. I might reaffirm it at the individual committees, but clearly we're making this a big deal. I am making this a big deal on behalf of my caucus, because we believe in the idea of more independence for committees. We believe that independently ourselves. We believe it, so we support the government's initiative to do it, but you're not going to get a pat on the back just for a nice speech with a nice smile. It has to be more than that, and this is little. There will be a lot of people who watch what happens here who will be paying an awful lot of attention. It will not be the general public, but there are people who pay an awful lot of attention to what goes on. They understand very clearly how important these internal matters are, and given that PROC is the first committee, it really is setting the template.
I know my friend Mr. Angus will be going to his committees and arguing for the same thing. If he can use PROC as an example and say, “Look, they clearly made it understood that it is consensus only, so how could we do it any differently here”, it's going to carry a lot of weight. I would think that by then the government's message would be that they're at least going to loosen the PMO's control over the steering committee, where we get along anyway.
Most of the rules of the committees are like that. In public accounts it was always that way, until the government eliminated the steering committee. That could be your next step, but it also would be the antithesis of what you were saying, so I come back to my argument again and say to the government that this is not a big deal. I think, Mr. Lamoureux, you're making a big mistake, unless this is another example of same old same old and this committee really is under marching orders and they've all been told to do what Mr. Lamoureux tells them to do and we're going to see that applied at all the committees.
If that's not the case, I don't know why on earth, Mr. Lamoureux, you are allowing this issue to become a big political deal, because if we don't get it resolved, it's still going to be hanging over us in the new year. It's not as though we have an unreasonable position. All I've asked in order to support your motion that there be two government members is that we stay with a consensus model. If you want to say that's not where we were last time, I don't care how you word it, but that's where we go now.
I want to do this. I have been impressed so far. I don't mind telling the government members that I was impressed, Mr. Lamoureux, that you responded as quickly as you did to the concerns I raised. As you know, when we did that in the past, we'd be heard out impatiently and then ignored, and they would move on. That was not by Randy, but there were those who would do that to us, so I do appreciate that you responded. I appreciate that. I continue to have to push you, but you do continue to respond, and that's good. A lot of us were absolutely flabbergasted that we actually had a real, open vote for the chair. In the past we used to call it an open vote, but when the government benches only put forward one name, it was kind of hard to find where the democracy was versus the command and control model. It looked the same, and in reality it was.
We were no better. We knew who the official opposition lead was going to be for vice-chair and we knew the third party vice-chair, which was a given. In the past we all knew those things ahead of time. This time the government said it was going to do things differently, and it did, and it was a thrilling exercise in democracy. I know Mr. Chan didn't take it personally, because I think he already knows the respect those of us who have seen him in action have for him. It was more a matter of experience. I keep saying that and I know it rubs the wrong way and I get that, but nonetheless, I think you'll come to agree over time that having someone with a lot more experience is actually to our benefit.
That's the way we saw it. Either way it's a Liberal, and when I go home at night, it doesn't matter to me which one of you is in the chair. However, it does matter in terms of how the committee meeting proceeds, and I think experience is an advantage. It's the same with the Speaker. I voted for the current Speaker. Of course everybody would say that now, but I did. There were some good candidates, but it was based on that experience of having sat on all sides of the House. When I became a deputy speaker at Queen's Park, I had been on the government side as a cabinet minister, had been in the third party, and had been a House leader, so I felt equipped. Whether I was up to the task was for my colleagues to determine, but I felt equipped to take the chair knowing and understanding where everybody was coming from.
All of that is to say those are good improvements. They are little teeny-tiny changes but good ones, so you get an attaboy or a happy face or a gold star or whatever you want. That was great, but it's small. Now we're starting to move into the area of power, and in a democracy, power is determined by a majority, a clear majority of 50% plus one. That is a clear majority and that's how we make decisions.
You still have that control here, but now you want to maintain it even though you say you won't use it. At least the Conservatives, to their credit, would say, “No, we're the government and nothing's coming out of that committee that we don't control. Next argument.” You were left making your arguments, but they didn't go anywhere. It would drive us crazy. Some might argue that's why the configuration of the House is now the way it is: because of that kind of attitude—present company excluded, of course.
Now we have a new government that says it wants to do things differently. You've done that tinkering around the edges. We've given you the full credit. No one's trying to deny you your right to be complimented for the fact that we have an elected chair and we actually had to have a vote because we had two names on the ballot. Do you remember the old Soviet Union? They used to say they had a great democracy, except that nobody else except their choices could run, and they'd call it an election and say they won. That's what we used to do around here. You've changed that. Congratulations, but that's the easy stuff. That's the low-lying fruit.
The tougher stuff—and this is why it's easy to make the pledge but not so easy to honour it—is that we're actually talking about power. What I'm suggesting here doesn't alter the power alignment. The government still wins every vote 10 times out of 10. The only thing we're talking about is whether the PMO still has a grip on the throat of the subcommittee of PROC or it doesn't. You don't have to give up...you're not losing anything other than a command-and-control power technique that should be the antithesis of what you have said you're going to bring for change. If all you do is change and tinker around the edges but at the end of the day the power play is still the same old same old, then the wrapping may be different, but it's still the same lump of coal as a gift.
Again, the government wants to continue to receive accolades and to be patted on the back for what they're doing because they've made a good start, but it's only a start, and it is not unreasonable.... I was so glad my friend Mr. Angus talked about Britain. I wish we all had a chance to either go there or have a presentation on it. I've never been there, but I've certainly watched a lot of their committee meetings through different committees. It's amazing. It's a whole different world.
I like to think that's where the current is looking, that it's to that kind of independence, where a committee is a committee and you don't lose your chance to be a parliamentary secretary or a cabinet minister by opposing something the government has brought forward, or questioning it, or by supporting an opposition amendment that just, in your gut, in your experience, makes sense. It sounds like that's what should be happening all the time. In the past, you didn't have to be here too long to realize that's not necessarily how things function when the rubber hits the road.
Again, the government is not going down the road of the previous government and saying “Too bad, so sad.” They're saying, “No, we're still maintaining that we want to be different, that we want to open up the committees.” Here's the first chance where it really matters. All we're saying is to let the subcommittee act in a non-partisan way. Where it comes to agreement, which is most of the time, and when it comes forward with positive recommendations, you in the government still can change your mind and kill them if you want to. You don't lose anything other than hyper-control.
Hyper-control is saying as soon as the thing starts that you have this issue by the throat and you're not going to let go until you get the outcome you want. That's where we were. This government says they're going to take us somewhere else, and yet the first time we talk about power at committees, you're right back where the government members were, and there's no real argument for it except, “We want control, super control, maximum control—all control.” We've been there. You ran against that.
This is an easy one. It really makes me wonder about some of the other changes you want to make. Are you really that serious? All we're saying is to let the members of the steering committee come together.... In many ways it's the grunt work of committees, because you're sitting down and hammering out which witness can't make it at such a time because the clerk says they were contacted and they can only do it at that time, so how about if you need a special meeting to do that or you need to change the times.... These are the kinds of variables there are when you're working together.
You're not thinking of the agenda. You're really not. Unlike the other committees, it's not just policy where the government agrees, the opposition disagrees, and there are a few exceptions. We deal with an awful lot of things here that are not partisan. For instance, if any one of you or any one of our colleagues—my friend Mr. Angus knows more about this than I do in terms of the process—is accused of acting in an unparliamentary fashion or of denying privileges to other members, or if there is anything to do with a member, with ethics, and it goes to the Speaker, as soon as the Speaker thinks there's an issue, guess where he sends it. Here.
I don't know about the new members, but I'm pretty sure I know the former government members and my own colleagues well enough, and I have to tell you that if it's my reputation hanging by a thread, I'd like to know that at least the consideration of how I'm going to be dealt with is going to be decided in a non-partisan fashion. I'd like to know that when there is an agreement about how to proceed about my integrity, my reputation, my political life, my representative on that committee agrees that the process is fair. That's why this matters.
I don't need the attention. I don't need the headlines. Like all of you, I just got elected, and for better or worse, I'm here for four years. You'll find over time that I get far more enjoyment out of working together than fighting, although I do it. I'm kind of good at it. I'm from Hamilton and that's what we do, and when it's necessary I try to rise to the occasion, but after all these decades, it's not my favourite thing. My favourite thing is that when we have a huge problem, we all have an interest in finding a solution that's not partisan. Trust me, that's when you really feel excited, because then you are really making a difference.
As you know, on a lot of committees, especially those like public accounts, we try to come up with unanimous reports. If we get a unanimous report where it's positive for the government, it's deserved, and where it's negative, it's deserved, because everyone has supported it. If it's just a report that says the government says the Auditor General was wrong and the government is wonderful, while the opposition members say no, the Auditor General was right, they're all wrong, and it's horrible, what have we achieved? It's the process, but what have we really achieved?
When we have agreement, then we're getting somewhere. Again, Chair, the whole idea is to make this committee work. I know that members are getting tired of hearing this. They're thinking, “My God, how long can that guy go? Is this really that important?” But I'm going to tell you that what we do right now.... I thought it was interesting when Mr. Chan, I believe, said that if it doesn't work, we can bring it back in a few months. Well, It doesn't work like that. Whatever rights the opposition fails to get in the early days of setting the rules are rights they are never going to get, because what happens is that the politics of the day take over. We each get entrenched into our situations.
If you think it's hard to let go of power now when you've really just started to get control of it, wait till you see how difficult it is six or twelve months down the road when you've been exercising that power and are glad you got it because the pesky opposition is making your life difficult and you see how nice it is to be able to step in and make them go away. That's the reality.
So with the greatest of respect, Mr. Chan, the whole idea that we could bring this back for review sounds good, but in the real world, it doesn't work that way and doesn't hold.
Let me try this. In the interest of trying to find some agreement in these dying moments, Mr. Chan, rather than six months of going with the government having all the power, maybe we could set it up in such a way that it is consensus and we revisit it in six months. Do the consensus for six months and let the government experience what it's like when the oxygen of democracy comes into a steering committee. Then, if they still believe that we're stifling their electorally given right to govern, let's bring it back and hash it out in public and we'll talk about what our experience has been. I suspect that our experience will be exactly the experience that Mr. Lamoureux has talked about in the past, which I've affirmed, and which Mr. Reid has commented on, which is that usually we do get along.
If that's the case, Kevin, this is a slam dunk, man.
I can't believe you're going to let this committee go in a couple of minutes without this being resolved. You're going to report back there, and your one responsibility was to make sure that this committee got its independence, and got set-up out of the way, so that you could actually leave the stage.
You have to go back and report, “I failed. Oh, and by the way, we're now going to have a big issue about whether or not the Liberals will demand to have control at steering committees.” Really? That's really what you want the narrative to be going into the Christmas break and into the new year? Because that's where we're heading.
I've offered you a reasonable response. I've just offered you another reasonable amendment. The only way I could be more reasonable in your eyes, it would seem, would be to completely cave and collapse. That's not going to happen, because this is important.
I don't know why you're letting it become a cause célèbre. There are people out there who care about these things. Ever heard of Kady O'Malley? She knows these things better than most of us in this place. They matter to her, and she has a great ability to convey to the outside world why it matters to them.