Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, colleagues, and thank you, Kevin, for joining me.
Mr. Chairman, let me begin by saluting your re-election as the member for Yukon.
Your chairman and I are proud members of the class of 2000. We were among 24 Liberals elected in the class of 2000. In the last Parliament, sadly, we dropped to four, but with your return, Mr. Chairman, we're back up to five, so congratulations.
It's a privilege to be here. I guess I'm the first minister to appear before a committee in this new Parliament. I'm obviously happy to be here with my friend and our colleague, Kevin Lamoureux.
I am here under the mandate given to me by the to cooperate in a concrete manner with the members of all parties and, of course, with our parliamentary committees.
I'm hoping that together we can bring a new tone and a renewed sense of collaboration into our House, and that we can make efforts to extend that new tone down the hall to our colleagues who serve in the Senate.
My goal of making Parliament more relevant and more effective requires your co-operation and your expertise in reviewing the Standing Orders with a view to improving accountability, making this place more family friendly, and giving members of Parliament the ability to fully participate in all activities of the House.
I'm sure all of you have read with great excitement the mandate letter the gave me. It was made public, but I'll briefly summarize some of the main priorities in it. The mandate letter, in my case, includes a mix of changes to the Standing Orders, some legislative changes, and what I would call some policy changes or improvements.
Many of the commitments that require changes to our Standing Orders come, of course, under the purview of your committee. For example, making Parliament a more family-friendly place is one of the things the has asked me to work on. It would include things like, perhaps, eliminating Friday sitting days to allow colleagues to travel to far-flung parts of the country to work in their constituencies and to plan more and better time with their families.
Another is adjusting the times we vote in the House of Commons. We all come back to vote at 5:30 or 6 or 6:45 some days of the week. We're all sitting there at question period at three o'clock. Might there be a way, in routine deferrals of votes, to take them while everybody is in the House at three o'clock, for example?
For sitting hours, maybe we can have two sitting days on a Tuesday if we're going to drop a Friday sitting day.
Those are all issues that have been around this place for a lot longer than some of us have had the privilege of serving here. I have had informal conversations with colleagues on all sides of the aisle. There is a lot of common ground. It has to be done properly and thoughtfully, and we have to understand the consequences of these changes, but I very much hope that you can help all of us arrive at some improvements in that regard.
For question period reform, we could possibly have some form of a prime minister's question period. You know that was a commitment we made. Just to be clear, that was never made to substitute for the 's ordinary weekly appearance in question period. It was to be in addition to that, or one of the days, for example, might have that different component. There was confusion as to whether we were suggesting that he come only one day a week. That is not the case, but is there one day a week when his appearance could perhaps be more effective or different? Maybe there could be a longer time for questions and answers. Those are some of the ideas.
There's ending the abuse of omnibus legislation. We have some ideas for how that might work. There's prorogation, though that falls into a constitutional prerogative of the crown and is, perhaps, more complicated.
There is the issue of parliamentary committees and making them more effective and of giving you, Mr. Chairman, and your colleagues the resources you need. There's the issue of not having parliamentary secretaries as voting members of committees. I understand you've had some conversations at this table about that issue. There's ensuring that committees are properly resourced.
Some changes require legislative provisions, such as proposing amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act in order to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an independent officer of Parliament, make the Board of International Economy public and reflect the new dynamic in the Senate.
There's working with the on a proposal to create a statutory committee of parliamentarians to review government agencies with national security responsibilities. Again, to be clear, this was envisaged to include not only agencies under the purview of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness but also other national security agencies that would exist in other departments, such as National Defence, and conceivably, Immigration or other departments. It was a horizontal mandate across the government.
A committee of parliamentarians would obviously include members of the opposition. That will require legislation, and we're working on proposals in that regard.
I will also work with my colleague, Minister Brison, to implement a model that will guarantee consistency among budgets and public accounts, although I have not yet received any details regarding that proposal.
The objective is to improve the way the government reports on its spending to the House of Commons, as well as to help members carry out more detailed studies on the government's spending plans. That is one of the members' important roles, and we must facilitate their job more than we have in the past. I expect Minister Brison to obviously cooperate with this committee and with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
and I are hoping to organize, quite quickly, perhaps next week, a meeting to which all parliamentarians could come and informally offer some ideas of how to better coordinate the estimates and budget cycles to give colleagues more accurate and more reliable information in a more timely way.
My last set of mandate commitments would include what we would talk about in terms of policy changes. They could include, for example,
increasing the number of free votes, so that members can really represent the views of their constituents. That clearly affects our caucus more than other parties' caucuses, but I wanted to tell you about it.
We want to ensure that all agents of Parliament and officers of Parliament are properly funded and accountable only to Parliament. We would be prepared, at the appropriate time, to increase resources available to Parliament for these officers if they have identified certain gaps in their capacity to hold the government to account or to serve members of Parliament.
We will work with the Board of Internal Economy to enhance changes that we all collectively made in the last Parliament to require members of Parliament to disclose quarterly their expenses in a common and detailed way.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I will work with my opposition House leader colleagues and the whips to take further actions, as you may deem appropriate or as others may suggest, to make sure that Parliament is a workplace free from harassment and sexual violence.
In fact, all the proposals I just made are non-partisan. I want this committee to use its expertise to determine the best way to modernize the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, so as to give members more powers and enable them to better fulfill their parliamentary duties.
I look forward, Mr. Chairman, to working with all of you. I hope this is the beginning of a conversation we can all have collectively. Obviously you'll decide on your own agenda and your own priorities, but I would encourage you, at the beginning of this Parliament, to look at changes to the Standing Orders or other changes you may have in mind so that we can quickly put into play some of these changes for which there may be common ground and not find ourselves doing things next fall that we could do this spring.
That would be due to a lack of time or coordination.
I would obviously be willing to be helpful in any way I can.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and through you to Anita and Ginette.
Thank you for those questions. I'll take the last one first, and then try to conclude with an answer to Anita's question.
Mr. Chairman, the tone.... I saw David laughing and with good reason.
For those of us who have been around or served in other legislatures, the sad news, Ginette, is that the tone is actually massively better than previous Parliaments. To be fair, it's not a partisan judgment; it includes when there were previous governments in office. I hope we can make this tone last. I've talked to my colleague House leaders. There is a broad desire because Canadians expect that of their parliamentarians, to work respectfully with one another, and to disagree, of course, and have vigorous debates.
I have friends on all sides of the aisle in the House of Commons, people I really like in every political party. We should focus on that, on the things we share in common, and not exasperate the points of difference. It starts with things like perhaps not heckling in question period. Certainly for my colleagues in the cabinet, it starts with answering the questions. That had become over time a practice that was rare: ministers getting up and answering the question, even saying, “You know, it's a difficult question, and I'm not sure there's a clear answer. Here's the best shot we have in answering it.” We're trying to do that. It won't be perfect. Old habits die hard, but I think we all need to make a greater effort.
The new members like you, Ginette, and colleagues in all parties are setting a better example perhaps than some of the old warhorses, like your chairman, who have these old habits that die hard.
Anita, with respect to your question, you're right; it starts with saying that it's not about taking Fridays off. There's nothing more irritating than when we have a break week and we hear, including from our own families and friends, “Oh, you have a week off.” Well, actually, no, we don't. I've loaded up a pile of events, activities, or meetings in a constituency one time zone away. Some people here are from three time zones away. We work in constituencies. People who elect us expect us to be present in our ridings. Many people travel a lot further than Ginette or I do from Atlantic Canada.
When my father was elected here 40 years ago, our whole family moved to Ottawa. I went to high school in Ottawa. We sort of reversed the route that I do now, where I go home on weekends to New Brunswick. We lived in Ottawa the whole school year and went to New Brunswick in the summer. That would be politically, and I think in a parliamentary concept, much less acceptable now than it was a generation or two ago.
To reflect that, I think we look at sitting hours. I think we acknowledge amongst ourselves that we're one of the few legislatures in the country that sits five days a week as a routine. People travel the furthest to get here than any other provincial assembly. I think we can use technology to make time more effective and save money when we're in constituencies.
With respect to the Friday, the challenge will be that if we take 20% of the sitting days in theory out.... It's not the hours. As a government, we have an obligation to have a routine where we can pass government legislation or at least bring it forward to be considered, so you'd probably have to take those hours and reallocate them to the other sitting days.
Again, colleagues should understand that if the conclusion is that those four and a half hours—because Friday is a short day—should be tacked on to other days, we're wide open to that. If colleagues don't want to lose Standing Order 31 statements and want to apportion them on other days, we're wide open to that. If people want to take those questions and reallocate them in some sensible fashion, we're open to that. It's a conversation we can have. Certainly some members in all parties—I won't out them—say that it would be a great idea, so we have to resist the temptation to say, “I can't believe they want to take a day off.” We all have to resist that race to the basement and have an open conversation about what would modernize this place.
That's one of the examples, but there are many others. The NDP whip talked to us about finding a child care space, as I understood it, not necessarily a child care supervised facility. That's a separate issue. There is one that's available. It may not be perfect, but it can be adjusted. It's about having a space where you could be with a small child for a brief period of time.
We should be open to all of this. Some would be for the Board of Internal Economy and some for your committee.
Thanks, Mr. Chair.
I have a few questions today. I listened with interest to some of the things you were discussing, at least in concept at this point. I certainly picked up on the idea of adjusting the voting times. It's something that I know many of us around this place have talked about for a long time, and it would make sense. Certainly, it sounds like there are some things there that we can agree on with you.
When you're talking about concepts like these, I think that a lot of times, of course, it's the details that matter. What we've seen so far from your government—I hate to say it, but it's the truth—is that talk is different from the actions. We've heard a lot of talk about openness and transparency, but what we're not seeing is the action and the follow-through on it.
Look at the first days of the government under former prime minister Harper, when the accountability act was put in place. That was creating accountability. What we saw from your government was removing accountability, the first nation to first nation accountability, for first nations people to be able to hold their leaders to account. These are the kinds of things we're seeing.
We can talk about the Senate. You promised change. Well, what you've created is a secret process that creates secret recommendations that the will either choose to accept or not, and they'll all be done in secret.
What we're hearing in the talk is different from what we're seeing in the action. I guess here's what I would want to know. You've talked about some of these concepts, and they sound interesting, but give us some details. Tell us some details of what you're proposing, of what you think some of these changes will look like.
Give us a sense of the process you're looking to go through in making these changes. Give us an idea of the timeline in terms of making those changes. How will all parliamentarians be involved? Give us an idea of some of the processes, some of the details here, because that's where the important points are.
Through you to the member, it won't surprise you that I don't share entirely your characterization of some of those initial moments of our government. We could have a conversation. I could address them all for you, and it would be entertaining, perhaps, for you and me and for others.
Let me focus on the last part of your question. You want details. I'm suggesting that we cancel the Friday sittings and reallocate those hours that would have been on a Friday to other sitting days. We could decide on what days make the most sense. If you and your colleagues want to take those questions and Standing Order 31s and, again, allocate them over a bunch of other sitting days, we would be open to that.
My suggestion would be that Tuesday may have to be characterized as two sitting days, because it may be a very long day in order to accommodate people travelling on the Monday. You could use those two days in a Tuesday. I'm told by the clerk that some other parliaments have done this and have characterized that as two sitting days, because as you know, for government legislation, often the Standing Orders talk about how many sitting days there are for particular dispositions. You'd have to look at the supply day consequences of getting rid of one of the sitting days. We would be open to those kinds of changes.
I would agree with you, Blake. Let's take, for example, as a matter of routine, deferring votes to three o'clock on the following day or at the end of question period. Private members' votes held on Wednesday evenings at the end of government orders, instead could be held at three o'clock on Wednesdays. We could change the committee schedule, obviously, to accommodate that.
We would be wide open to all of those. Those are just a few concrete suggestions, but the reason I wanted to come here, frankly, is that you asked how all parliamentarians would be engaged. That's by doing exactly what I'm doing this morning, coming here and asking for your advice. Those changes are properly and correctly the purview of your committee. I would welcome—and I know my cabinet colleagues would and Kevin would as well—the benefit of your advice, your report, and your suggested drafting of any of these changes.
As for other ideas, the list is by no means exhaustive. If you have other ideas, we would obviously welcome them enthusiastically.
Yes, and that's why the chair's going to make sure that doesn't happen again. I'll make sure that I'll get my stuff out there, and you can respond as you deem appropriate, Minister.
First off, on the parliamentary secretaries, again, it's almost like we come in now and it's Where's Waldo? I never know where he's going to pop up. He started over there, then he went to there, and now he's over there. I mean, it really does beg the question: why does the parliamentary secretary need to be on the committee if the whole purpose is to make committees more independent?
I say this from experience and partly as a confession. When I was parliamentary assistant to the finance minister back a long time ago at Queen's Park, I was on the finance committee. Make no mistake, I was there to ride shotgun. I was there to make sure that the government majority's will was exactly what prevailed. We weren't even pretending that it was any kind of independence. It was them and us.
That's the world we've had up until now. Your government has come in, Minister, and said you want to do things differently. We're hearing the words, but we're not seeing the action. If you really wanted to send a strong message.... Never mind technically whether the parliamentary secretary can vote or not. It's whether or not, as Blake has said, they're sitting here, orchestrating, as a general on the field, all the team and where they're going. They give a nod and that's where the vote goes. That's where the majority is, and they control this committee 10 times out of 10.
I say to you, in a sincere effort to respond to the effort that I think you've made to be sincere, that if you really want a notion or signal of change, remove the parliamentary secretary. There are still BlackBerrys, staff, and all kinds of means. If you really want to say that things will be different, that you want committees to work a little more independently and be less partisan, then please remove the one person who ties this committee work directly to the executive PMO and the control of the majority. I leave that with you.
Secondly, the PBO...excellent. I'd be interested in hearing what the time frame is to make them an officer of Parliament, given that the Liberals finally came around and agreed that it needs to be done. It's the same with the BOIE time frame. I know that we have House leaders there who can do this, but you're already up and meeting, and I haven't heard any time frame. I'd be interested to know what that might be.
For the estimates budget process with public accounts, you may know that I've sat on public accounts since I got here in 2004. I'm the longest-serving member. My advice would be to go root and branch, to go right back to the basics, so that the working understanding is good enough that if you're a new member, you understand exactly how that process works and then reflect that in the way we change things. Right now, the truth of the matter is that there are very few parliamentarians who truly understand in detail the estimates and the public accounts process that we go through. I think you've touched on an important thing, but please don't go halfway; go all the way. Let's just revamp this so that the public can follow it too.
Next, the family-friendly thing sounds great. The one thing we're a little bit cautious of is that the Liberals under former Premier McGuinty did this in Ontario in 2008. One thing they did was to change question period to the morning. Virtually everybody, and I'm advised that includes even the media gallery, acknowledged that it was done so that the government would have an opportunity to change the negative message coming out of question period and turn it into a positive message before the six o'clock rotation came around.
Regarding the Standing Orders, we spent a lot of time on this in the last couple of Parliaments. It took us I don't know how many meetings to come up with a report that we called the “low-lying fruit”. We all agreed, and it was the simple stuff. But that's the past. The heavy stuff is now in front of us. You want to make major changes, and I'm very interested to hear whether or not those changes will only take effect if it's a unanimous recommendation of this committee. Will you do it with just one opposition party, or is the government prepared to ram things through on its own?
With regard to in camera, I have a proposal in front of the committee right now. I'm sure you're at least aware of it. Perhaps you could give us your thoughts before I head into that debate and give some idea of whether you, as the government House leader, are prepared to entertain some rules around when we can go in camera and what we do there.
Finally, on prorogation, there was a ton of work done one or two Parliaments ago, back when we had minorities. We did a lot of work. was the chair. I would urge a revisiting of that as the starting point, because it addresses a lot of the constitutional things. We had all kinds of experts come in. It was a great civics lesson. We didn't come to a conclusion, but we learned a lot. I would just ask that you maybe consider that.
With that, Chair, I'll say thank you.
Mr. Minister, thank you.
Chair, I'll be splitting my time with Mr. Chan.
I just want to say quickly that I was a staffer in the 40th and 41st Parliaments, and I have seen a lot of dysfunction. As a former staffer, I think I have a different perspective, and I am looking forward to taking on these challenges head-on.
I kept my old boss's office, and I just changed desks, which I think was a lot of fun. I'm already seeing a real change, though, as a member.
Being an MP has severely hurt the time I have for my two-year-old daughter. I think that's the big issue for me. I come to Ottawa and I work 12 hours a day. Then I go back to the riding and work 12 or more hours a day there, too, except that I also have to drive a few hundred kilometres around my 20,000-kilometre riding. My wife and my daughter often come with me, which is wonderful. I'm very lucky. Most people don't have that option.
Since I'm expected to be everywhere all the time in 43 municipalities, do you have any suggestions on how to do better family friendliness on the riding side of things? We always talk about what happens here on the Hill, but not so much about what we do on the other side of this job. Thank you.
To be honest, I hadn't reflected. I have a riding, perhaps not as large as yours geographically, but there are the same kinds of issues with francophone, anglophone, and aboriginal communities. When I became the member of Parliament in my riding, there were two traffic lights. I think there are now eight, so there's been a very marked economic improvement during my tenure. But it is like yours. I envy you. In your constituency, there are at least some larger urban areas, compared to rural New Brunswick.
It is a challenge. I know what I have done—and other colleagues have more experience at these kinds of issues—is to say that if I'm going to the northern part of my constituency and there are a series of local community groups or municipal leaders or others who have been calling the office to set up meetings, I try to bundle them. If I'm going to drive x number of hours, I borrow a municipal office in a small town and set it up as a satellite constituency office, and I invite people from that particular area to come to meet with me. We try to spend half a day or whatever time's allowed, and I can clear up a number of meetings and not go back over and over it again.
People at this table may have suggestions around how the Board of Internal Economy could, either through technology—and I know colleagues have more experience than I might with this—or through different allocation of resources.... For some people with huge, northern, and remote ridings, the points system, for understandable reasons, may not marry up with their particular transportation needs. I think the Board of Internal Economy should be wide open to listening carefully to ways that we could maybe not even change the budgets, but adjust the rules in a way that better serves colleagues with unique needs in their constituencies.
I don't know if that somewhat answers your question, David.
I know, you get delirious reading it, Mr. Chairman. I understand that, but—
Voices: Oh, oh!
Hon. Dominic LeBlanc: Scott, you make a very valid point. If we can quickly arrive at that consensus—I think that's what I said in my opening comments less eloquently than you just did—on five items that we could quickly turn into standing order changes, I would urge you to consider doing that quickly and first. If other items require more study, or you need to hear from witnesses, or you can't get to a consensus or arrive at a conclusion, they could be put off for a subsequent time when the committee would judge that it wants to go back to them.
I think what I was trying to say is that if we're going to make some of these improvements, I would hope that we would make them sooner so we could all benefit from them for a longer period of time in this Parliament.
I don't want to be a cynic, and nobody here who knows me would think that I would be at all cynical about these things. There is, I think, as David said in his comments, and maybe Ginette and others, an amount of goodwill that I hope we can make last for the entire Parliament, teasing aside.
But as significant pieces of legislation land, there will be very complicated policy issues, and if we can in the short term arrive at some changes, let's take advantage of the goodwill that I think we all see. It's not perfect, and it may not be always at the same level, but let's take advantage of what goodwill there is now if we can arrive at some changes.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the time.
I too am the father of a young son, a four-year-old, so I welcome some of these suggested changes and look forward to working with my colleagues on this committee and hopefully making this a more family-friendly place. I welcome that discussion and look forward to it.
I want to quickly reference a few things that were mentioned.
Your party ran on openness and transparency. My first meeting was not too long ago, and again the parliamentary secretary was here and there, and then slowly moved away. Now, I understand that he's not a voting member, but the involvement was supposed to be removed. What I witnessed in that first meeting is that he was basically directing traffic. I know you said that about the experience, but it still goes to the issue that mentioned about how you remove yourself from the majority government and how you become more independent. Again, as a new MP who was just elected, I heard what was going on throughout the election, and then I watched what happened in committee. They were two totally different things. If you want to expand on this, I'd be happy for you to do that.
Again, I'm concerned about the Senate process, with the list going in secret to the . In secret, the makes that recommendation, and you really never see the names. You really never see what is going on. I think that needs to be a little more transparent. I agree that change in the Senate needs to be done, but to me that secrecy doesn't change anything, really. It's still in secret and you don't actually see what's going on.
In terms of electoral reform, you may have said something different, but before Christmas you mentioned that you have ruled out any kind of referendum on this subject. I apologize if you've changed or if something happened after that.
I was at the minister's breakfast earlier this week. Everyone sat at a table and took suggestions. Everyone at the table had something different to say on electoral reform, every single person. There were eight people at the table, and we had eight different ideas, good or bad. At the end of the day when you choose somebody, you'll choose one method out of all these suggestions, and I think it's very tempting for any government in power to take the suggestion that benefits them and say that they've consulted Canadians and, “This is what they say”.
I urge you, Minister, to reconsider, if you haven't already, your stance on that referendum. I don't think it prejudges any process. I think you can still consult and you can still come up with the ideas, but at the end of the day, I think you look at that idea and say to the people, “This is what we've consulted on and how about this?” I think we really do need to have that referendum on this. You've seen it in other jurisdictions and I would urge you to look in that direction.
Thank you very much, and congratulations on your election to Parliament. I hope that collectively we can find a way such that your four-year-old son will see his dad more often than perhaps other kids in different Parliaments saw their parents. That can be done in a way such that we can also serve our constituents and fulfill our responsibilities here.
On your comments about openness and transparency, I understand what you're saying. I came from a cabinet committee this morning on open and transparent government, so we have a cabinet committee focusing on these exact issues.
With respect to the Senate process, I hear what you're saying. In a different frame and a different constitutional context, there may have been a different way to do it. We are very much guided by the Supreme Court of Canada reference that Mr. Harper's government brought—we thought properly—to the Supreme Court to clear up what are in fact the rules. What is possible? What's not possible? It should bring clarity to the conversation around how to improve the Senate and to understand when you would or would not trigger a constitutional change.
Our commitment was to make incremental improvements while not reopening the Constitution. This more inclusive process, by which we hope the receives high-quality recommended names from a committee of people who are not strictly partisan advisers, we think is an incremental improvement.
On this business about releasing the names, we had a conversation about that, to be honest. Suppose the advisory committee gives the five names in the case of an appointment from New Brunswick. I'm not sure that the five people who may agree to be on that list to be considered as a potential appointment to the Senate would agree if they thought the list was to be made public, because to some extent it is a judgment on the four who weren't selected.
In a judicial appointments process, the Attorney General has a list of qualified persons determined by a judicial advisory committee. Every time we make a judicial appointment, we don't announce that there were 38 people on the list who weren't selected and we chose the 39th one. I'm just conscious from a human resources perspective about doing it in a way that respects privacy but also the professional and personal lives of the other people. That was the thinking behind it, but it may not be a perfect solution. In our view, it's a beginning and an incremental improvement.
I listened carefully to what the in the House of Commons said.
You are all familiar with the situation of Bloc québécois parliamentarians, who are all elected under the same banner. Among the government's reform intentions, I would have liked the government house leader to say this morning that he wanted to respect the mandate the gave him and make it so every parliamentarian can benefit from the same means to have their voice and the voice of their constituents heard in the House.
You know that we do not have those means. We are proposing a solution. We have sent a letter to the speaker and to all parliamentary leaders. I want to tell you what we are proposing.
We do not want to be recognized based on the arbitrary 12-member rule, but, at the very least, given the parliamentary work we have to carry out, we should receive at least ten-twelfths of the budget that was considered important to be given to 12 members elected under the same banner.
We would like the Internal Board of Economy to adopt a rule, so that all members elected under the same banner would receive the budget they need. At this time, the Bloc québécois members have to use part of their constituency budget to pay their staff working on the Hill.
Of course, I appreciate being given five minutes to speak this morning, but under the current rules, we are excluded from committees. We have also been excluded from special committees. In order for us to be able to plan our work, we should at least be able to participate in each committee meeting to have a right to speak. I want to specify that we asked for a right to speak without a right to vote.
Earlier, the minister talked about giving more powers to members, so that they could carry out their parliamentary duties. He intends to meet with parliamentary leaders to find a common ground. The intentions are there, but they are not materializing.
Through you, Mr. Chair, I want to congratulate Mr. Thériault for being elected to the House. As my colleagues know, Mr. Thériault is an experienced parliamentarian who sat on Quebec National Assembly for a number of years. His presence in Parliament as an experienced parliamentarian will be even more valuable.
Mr. Thériault raised questions about the participation of the members of a party that has not reached 12 elected members. According to a number of Standing Orders of the House, those members are technically independent and cannot participate in committee meetings.
We are open to discussing the best way to enable them to participate in those meetings. I have had positive discussions with Mr. Thériault and his colleagues, as well as with the parliamentary leaders for NDP and the Conservative Party. I am very happy Anita gave Mr. Thériault an opportunity to speak. I hope this will be a tradition we could continue in committee meetings.
During speaking rotations in the House of Commons, I believe we offered our colleagues from Bloc québécois an opportunity to take the floor on a few occasions. That time could have been allocated to the Liberal Party. Through whips, we offered members of Bloc québécois to take the floor. I hope we could continue in that tradition.
To my knowledge, the Board of Internal Economy has not yet made a decision when it comes to resources. I have participated in all the meetings. Since the election, we have had only one one-hour meeting, when we had to approve the budget.
I think the problem will arise in the procedure of committee meetings. I was honest about that with Mr. Thériault when I explained the situation. Permanent committee members have very little time to ask questions and speak out. If, at some point, independent members who are non-voting members but participants were to take the floor, that would reduce the speaking time of the members of other parties that managed to have more members elected. The NDP had four times as many members elected as the Bloc, and the Conservative Party had ten times as many.
It is not easy to make a decision on this. We will continue the discussion, including with other House leaders, while respecting all members.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, colleagues. This brings to a conclusion something I know you've been looking forward to for many weeks, my appearance here.
I thank you, Mr. Chair.
I thank you, colleagues, for your suggestions.
I do hope, teasing aside, Larry, that you'll invite me back.
Colleagues, I hope that even informally we can work on things. It doesn't always have to be in such a formal setting. My office is just off the foyer, and I would obviously be happy to chat informally or in small groups or whatever you think is appropriate.
Thank you, Kevin, for joining me at the table. It's part of the evolution of Kevin's movement around the table.
You'd better watch out, Larry. He could end up in your seat at some point.
Thank you very much.
Our plate is quickly going to fill, as I think members are beginning to see, and we'll be overwhelmed. Managing our time is one of the most stressful and difficult things for us to work out. The government House leader asked this committee if we could come to agreement on as many standing order changes as possible, to get those in the system and in place as quickly as possible, so that we could live under those new rules. It would make sense to me, although I would certainly be willing to listen to other thoughts, that this has the most time-sensitive nature to it in terms of changes. I for one am willing to support the aggressive agenda for changes, because I think those changes, if they live up to the words, will be good. That's why I'm prepared to move things out of the way and get at it.
Just as a cautionary note before I shut down, this is not nearly as easy as the minister led to believe. We spent—I see David over there smiling, because he remembers when we went through this—probably the better part of a calendar year just on what we were calling the “low-lying fruit”. In other words, it was the issues where we all agreed. It wasn't that complex. It wasn't controversial. If there was any controversy or disagreement, we set it aside and said, “Okay, that's not part of the low-lying fruit.” Everything got shovelled over there. It was all we could do to come up with a limited number of very minor changes.
I'm not overly optimistic that we can do it as quickly as the minister might like, but it seems to me that if they're serious—and I take them at their word that they're asking for our input as to how to approach this work—then beginning on the Standing Orders would be a good place, in light of the time sensitivity and the amount of time it takes even to just find the ones that we all agree on.
Before I relinquish the floor, Chair, I did raise this quickly in my little stream of consciousness with the minister, but I am serious. One of the things we used as a working tool when we were looking for what we called the low-lying fruit.... By the way, that report was issued, it did go through, and it was adopted by the House. They weren't big deals, but we did have the agreement that if anybody at the table, any of the caucuses, disagreed, it wasn't going forward.
I did ask the minister, although I didn't really expect he could answer it or would want to given the time available, but I put the question to you, Chair. I'd like to hear from the government. If we get into a crunch, and we're very likely to, on rule changes, how will the decision be made? At the end of the day, is it just majority rules and that's it—too bad, so sad? Alternatively, will we say, “No, if we can't reach unanimous agreement, we won't put forward changes to the rules”? Because all it will do is recreate a partisan fight in the House over rule changes that are meant to be non-partisan.
I would just leave that with you, Chair. Thank you.
—yes, three times—and other changes too.
If you look ahead, let's say 50 years from now, they'll look back at where we are today and it will almost be like the story I'm telling you now, where we had to convert a closet into a washroom for that female councillor. We were still fighting about whether it was “aldermen” or not. I mean, that's how far back it goes. It shows you the kind of change that needs to happen.
Again, it's based on what's happened, especially in the last two Parliaments, the last one and this one. There are so many younger people.
Jamie, it wasn't always that a male politician would be as quick to jump in and say to Ruby, a female politician, “I have the same issue. I have a four-year-old son.” I mean, those roles were so defined. There was no blurriness in the lines, but you're in a time when you can say that you too have a four-year-old.
What I'm saying is that we have to make this place more real, and this is key to it. If we're going to attract more women.... Yes, good, we probably have more women here than ever, but we're still not there. We have a long way to go. I've worked with young women and have encouraged them to get involved. My wife is very active in electing more women across partisan lines.
A lot of the questions you raised, Ruby, and what you went through in terms of what to do about your child, all that reluctance—we have to remove all that so that the pressure of whether you go into public life is predicated solely on your personal circumstance, not your gender, or whether you're a mom or a dad. It should be built in.
We're starting to get there, and history is telling me that we will get there. I'm just saying let's not be afraid to be bold, to really, really shake it up. If something looks so obvious to us, and using Scott's technique of building in a fail-safe for ourselves a year or 18 months from now, let's go for it. We're going to get there anyway. Let's try to get there as quickly as we can to make this kind of change. We still have a long way to go, but with the kind of serious young politicians who are here now, I really feel like now's the time. Let's grab it.