Notices of Meeting include information about the subject matter to be examined by the committee and date, time and place of the meeting, as well as a list of any witnesses scheduled to appear. The Evidence is the edited and revised transcript of what is said before a committee. The Minutes of Proceedings are the official record of the business conducted by the committee at a sitting.
Welcome to the 45th meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Today we're beginning our study of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees. Members will recall that the matter was referred to the committee on October 6, 2016, pursuant to Standing Order 51 following the debate in the House.
A briefing note summarizing the content of the debate in the House was prepared by the analyst and has been distributed twice now to members, once a long time ago, and then just yesterday or today so you would have it again.
Today's meeting is in public. Here is a brief summary of what happened the last time. This comes up after every Parliament. It's a standing order that we have to do this. First of all, the parties distributed the report to all their caucuses and received input from their caucuses. I'm assuming, hopefully, we'll get permission from the committee to allow their caucuses to have input.
Once they got into working on the report and stuff, it was in camera. I think Mr. Richards, Mr. Reid, and Mr. Christopherson were probably here during that procedure last time. Mr. Lukiwski went through one too.
I don't know if those people who were in such a debate before want to add anything to what I've said. Our researcher was integrally involved in the debate last time also. At Tuesday's meeting, he could add anything we've missed.
Larry was right. For nine and a half years I was a member of this committee. One of the things we did in the last Parliament was to do quite an extensive review of the Standing Orders. To give you a sense of history, as Larry has quite correctly noted, each Parliament is required within, I think, 80 or 90 days of the new Parliament being convened to do a review and report back to Parliament on any potential standing order changes.
Many times that wasn't the case. Many times, if it gave any kind of a review at all, Parliament gave a review that was cursory in nature, but sometimes it didn't even do a review.
In the last Parliament, I had suggested to then prime minister Harper that we do a fairly extensive review, because I felt there were many standing orders that could be revised. Many of them were very outdated and arcane, and I felt they could be dispensed with. Other changes would be perhaps more substantive, for example, if we wanted to take a look at changing the timing of question period, or if we wanted to look at substantive changes in other areas of how committees operated.
However, the one thing I insisted upon after I formed an all-party committee to do this review—and that all-party committee was only the three recognized parties: ourselves, the Liberals, and the NDP—was that if any member of a party brought forward to our little subcommittee a proposed change to a standing order, it had to receive unanimous consent or else it was not even considered. I pointed out that the Standing Orders affect all parliamentarians, and it would be patently unfair, in my opinion, even though we were in a majority situation, to try to change the Standing Orders with the tyranny of the majority. That approach worked out very well.
There were a number of suggestions made by all three parties that were not unanimously agreed upon. Once we found that out, they were off the table with absolutely no discussion. There was no debate. We didn't try to convince others to change their opinion. It simply was taken off the table.
At the end, we did change a number of standing orders. We deleted many of them, primarily because they were outdated, but it was because we had unanimous consent for all of them. Still to this day I feel quite strongly about that. If any Parliament wants to change standing orders, whether they be minor changes or substantive changes, it should, at least morally, get the unanimous consent of Parliament to do so. We don't need it, but I suggest it would be the proper thing to do, once again, only because these are the rules that guide us all. They affect us all. I don't believe in one party using its majority to try to change rules that affect all parliamentarians because it might just be convenient for them or it might benefit them somewhat politically.
That was how we approached things. It was a fascinating exercise to go through and to actually learn more about the Standing Orders. I thought I knew a little bit about procedure before I went into this exercise, but I found I knew nothing. I'm quite a bit more knowledgeable now than I was before.
I understand this committee is looking at the standing order changes now, and that's great, but I would offer up from my experience my thoughts that if you're going to make any changes, I would strongly suggest you try to get unanimous consent before you do so.
It's interesting to hear the history of it, so thank you for that, Tom.
An idea that I wanted to throw out there is to go through the nine pages of the report from Andre and say which ones we want to defend at committee when it comes to a debate, which ones we find interesting for each of us to do as parties or as individuals, and then take one forward, see if we can get it passed, and see if there's a consensus to go forward on it. I'm not saying we should decide everything. We just say, “These are the ones I want to be the defender of.” The thought is that everybody would go through it and say what they like. That's where it would start, and then I can defend my clause.
An hon. member: Did you come up with lights on the camera? Is that you?
That's a good question, David. I can't remember if there was a specific reason.
One of the things that happened with this all-party committee is that it basically just died on the vine. There were so many other issues that were coming forward that PROC had to consider and that Parliament as a whole had to consider. After we made the initial changes, we just kind of stopped.
I certainly was in favour of the camera. I don't know what the rationale of this suggestion was.
I suggested, particularly for new members but it would be helpful for all members, that if you had a camera with a light on, just as if you were in a television studio, you would know where to look. Sometimes it's just embarrassing if you're looking one way.... The camera should follow the speaker, but sometimes it doesn't.
The other ancillary benefit that I thought of, not that members should need any prompting, is that for those members who may not be paying attention in question period or in legislative debate, if they see a red light kind of glaring at them, it might wake them up a little bit. They might pay more attention and not be embarrassed if they see themselves asleep on camera.
We talked about it. I think we actually arrived at the point where we checked with the technocrats to see whether that was within the art of the possible, and it was. It just hasn't been fulfilled. I still think it's a good idea.
I think there were just three of us: me, Joe Comartin, and who was the Liberal? Kevin Lamoureux. How could I forget Kevin? Not that he wants to speak at all, but....
Adam and I, together with a few others within our caucus and our staff, had a working group, and we went through all of the standing orders. We put out a laundry list of items we thought would be appropriate to change or amend. Every party did the same.
As I mentioned earlier in my dissertation, we brought forward those changes, and we took a look at all of the suggestions. If any party at any time for any reason said, “No, I don't like that change; I'm not in support of it,” then it was gone. We didn't even discuss it. Those that were left, we discussed and determined whether or not it would be appropriate to make the changes.
I would be willing to go a step further and have debates on those items. If there's one person objecting, let's at least find out why and see if we can get past it. If they still say no, that's fine, but let's have the discussion.
Are there any comments on that procedure? It would mean that we would start with a list, with the report, go through it and ask, for the first one if anyone is interested in it, and if not, it would drop off the order paper and we would go on to the—
Mr. Chair, that was going to be my question. I'm sorry. I'm probably asking questions that have already been asked. Has each party, every member had a chance to take this back to the caucus? I know I did a full presentation to our caucus at one time on all of the proposed changes to try to get their reaction. Because of their reaction, some of the suggestions that we had made, we struck. Our caucus simply wasn't in favour of it. I don't know if—
You become the sponsor of the item. We could have a list from the analysts, and as a way of getting rid of stuff that nobody has an interest in, we would just say, “This is the one that I will take to the committee and defend.” It's a way of getting rid of stuff from the list faster.
My only question is, if we have unanimous consent that there are some items here that we all agree on, why do we need to find a champion for them? If there are some items that we all agree on, can't we just say, okay, it's agreed?
Mr. Chair, I'm just here covering for Mr. Christopherson, so forgive my newness to this.
My concern is if we haven't gone back to our caucuses yet to get their feelings on this, it almost appears to me to be putting the cart before the horse. It's hard for me to say to drop something completely or that we'll champion it when I haven't had a chance to get feedback from my caucus. I'm just wondering if anybody else has that—
I'll do a mind-meld with David. There's nothing that commits you to a particular position. You can still come back and say.... The question is, if we think it's a stupid idea, let's just punt it, right?
To deal with the question that Ginette raised, again, I think the key for us is that we're just trying to cull this. The only thing I would say is that even if we all champion a particular idea, there is sometimes interoperability between the standing orders that we do have to think through. Even if there's a particular idea that we all agree is a great idea, we have to make sure that we've thought through its broader implications for its impact on all the other standing orders. We could say it's good, but I think we'd still have to look at it as a total package in the end, right?
As I heard Ms. Petitpas Taylor say it, the other way is we could identify those things that we all know are worthy of further consideration, of serious consideration.
The difference between those two is that with the second, the latter, you'd end up having a far shorter list. You might end up with the actual 10 or 20 standing order proposals that are serious and that you really want to consider. The other way is that we just identify the ones that we agree should be gone.
A lot of these, I think, will require further consideration. I'm in your hands.
Some of the changes in here don't necessarily affect the standing orders, so how do we deal with that? The very first item on the list says to make use of a standing order. You don't make a standing order to make use of a standing order. The standing order is already there. I'm not sure how to approach....
Topic 1 is the committee study of bills before second reading: recommend that the government make more frequent use of Standing Order 73.
Topic 2 is on omnibus legislation: examine restricting the introduction of omnibus legislation, or declaring omnibus legislation inadmissible, with the exception of budget bills, provided that matters contained in the budget bill do not fall outside of budgetary matters.
Do we have a champion?
Table 2 concerns committees.
Topic 1 is committee bills: give committees the power to draft and introduce bills.
We'll have a shortened list, hopefully, after this. We might get options sponsored by somebody, I don't know. Then we can get back to the study, because I don't think we're going to get this finished today—I think that's reasonable to assume—since we have to go back to caucus. It's not going to really get going until next year. We'll have a shortened list to work from, and if we want to punt more stuff, then so be it.
Topic 5 is legislative committees: provide that legislation must be studied by a legislative committee. Standing committees would focus on policy matters and departmental estimates.
This was a fairly major recommendation. You have almost two sets of committees, one that does just the legislation on the topic, and then another that does all these other things. That's a major restructuring of Parliament. Is there a champion for this?
Okay, we'll pass that for right now.
Topic 6 is number of standing committees: reduce the number of standing committees.
Topic 7 is parliamentary secretaries: prohibit parliamentary secretaries from being committee members.
Topic 8 is seating in committee: change the seating arrangement to have members around the table alternate between government and opposition members.
I'm not going to defend that. I was just going to say that how we sit isn't defined in the Standing Orders. We sit the way we feel like it. I could go sit between Jamie and Don right now if I wanted to.
Topic 22 is written request to convene a meeting: reduce the number of members who must sign the request to convene a meeting from four members to two, but the two members must be from different parties.
Okay, we'll pass that one.
Now we're on table 3 where the subject is debates.
Topic 1 is on curtailing debate: study the rules and usage of closure and time allocation.
Topic 2 is the duration of speaking times for “controversial” and “non-controversial” bills: provide for longer debate periods on controversial bills, and shorter debate periods for non-controversial bills.
—and the time provided for questions and comments. Suggestions for changes included making all speaking times five minutes, making all speaking times 15 minutes, with 10 minutes for speech and five minutes for questions and comments; and blending a member's speaking times with the time provided for questions and comments. Further, prohibit whips from splitting speaking times.
There are a whole bunch of different things in there. Does anyone want to discuss any of that?
Topic 4 is list for recognizing speakers: limit or cease the practice of using a list provided to the Speaker by the parties to determine who speaks next, provided the Speaker recognizes members in an equitable rotation.
Right now, when you have a debate on a topic, your whips line up who's speaking. Do you want to discuss this?
This is just a question, not a point or order or a point of clarification. Will these be the only suggested changes, or is there still opportunity for members to suggest other changes to the Standing Orders?
Let me answer that. This committee is master of its own destiny. We're charged with the Standing Orders, and if anyone wants to raise anything at any time, and we have consensus, then I don't see why we can't bring that forward. This is just the mandated opportunity under the Standing Orders.
Topic 7 is take-note debates held at the call of the opposition: allow the official opposition to call two take-note debates in each session and allow the third party to call one take-note debate in each session.
Topic 8 is take-note debates, decision to hold a debate: allow take-note debates to be held if a certain number of government and opposition members assent to the decision.
Mr. Davies approves, champions.
Now we're on table 4 on deletions (Standing Orders, Practices).
Topic 1 is debate on concurrence motion for a report from the joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations: delete Standing Order 128, which schedules a debate in the House, at 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday following a notice of motion, to consider a report from the joint committee for the scrutiny of regulations.
No, it's not private members' bills. This is the C-1000s, which we haven't used for years. We still have it on the Senate side, so everybody goes to the Senate to do it anyway. We used it to build railways and canals. We don't do that much anymore.
Topic 5 is strangers detained by the Sergeant-at-Arms: delete Standing Order 158, which permits the Sergeant-at-Arms to detain strangers who misconduct themselves in the House or gallery, and who may not be discharged without a Special Order from the House.
In the old days, they would put them in the jail in the basement. If it was just before the summer recess, they were stuck there all summer because the House had to let them go.
That came from my speech too, because there's a standing order that said that bribery is a crime, but there's no process to deal with it. I thought, why do we have this if there's no process? I want to understand that.
House leaders, whips, deputy House leaders, deputy whips, because they're often moving around in the chamber, all parties. It's to allow them to speak from any spot. It's too complicated to have everybody do that, but if they're at the other end of the room and they need to speak, they need to be able to get up to speak. That would apply for every party.
If something happens and one of the House leaders is at the other end of the room, and they have to rise on a point of order, right now they can't. They have to run back to their seat to do it. Why not allow that small group of people, who are the people managing the House, to get up from wherever they are?
The idea was that between the first and second hour of debate, a sponsor of a motion could move changes to his bill based on the first hour of debate. Because of some controversial bills we've had around the time of this debate, it's just an idea to discuss.
I'll take that one, unless somebody else wants it.
Yes, and the item here was.... Well, you could be like me. Until now, after 11 years, it's the first time I actually have a private member's slot. So this means at dissolution, if it's almost your turn, you stay there, and everyone would eventually get a chance.
There's something similar to this, as I said in my speech, but it's not exactly this. It might be what it's from. The idea that I was proposing in my speech was this: Let's say a bill passes the House and goes to the Senate, and then there's dissolution. Why couldn't the Senate finish dealing with that? The Senate is not changing. That was my point. It wasn't to come back to the House; it was that the Senate finish it.
Yes, exactly. On a private member's bill that goes to the Senate, and hasn't finished being dealt with in the Senate when the House dissolves, why shouldn't they be allowed to finish that, instead of having it go all the way back to the beginning?
An hon. member: Do you want to champion that one?
Mr. David de Burgh Graham: I will, on the understanding that's what I meant, not exactly what it says here.
Topic 5 is on hours per week for private members' business: increase the number of hours per week dedicated to private members’ business. It was suggested that a parallel chamber could be used to increase the time available for private members business.
Topic 7 in table 7 is on a random draw held for returning members: devise a mechanism to give returning members priority over newly elected members on the list for consideration of private members’ business. It was suggested two random draws could be held: one for returning members and one for new members.
Returning members would retain their current spot on the list if they return, assuming they get re-elected, followed by people who have been added to the list, such as people who left cabinet between elections, followed by new members on a new random draw. Once you have your spot, you have it until you get your bill, however long it takes. Right now, we have members who have been here for five terms who have never had a PMB, and other members come in and the first week out they'll have one. I don't think that's right. I think everybody should get an equal shot at this.
That's why I'll defend that one. Number seven is mine.
You can assume that by default, if there is nothing.
Topic 8 is regarding a random draw held for members who have a bill or motion ready: when the list for consideration of private members' business is first established, give priority on the order of precedence to members who have introduced a bill or have a motion on notice.
There is no champion for that.
Topic 9, trading on the list: allow for trading between members on the list for consideration of private members' business.
Are you championing this, Arnold?
We're on table 8 now regarding question period and statements by members. There are 14 items that came up in debate here.
Topic 1 is on applause: prohibit applause by members during question period.
Topic 6 is on the length of questions and answers: extend the length of time provided for both questions and answers, and also extend the time period for question period.
Topic 7 is on the list for recognizing speakers: limit or cease the practice of using a list provided to the Speaker by parties to determine who speaks next, provided the Speaker recognizes members in an equitable rotation.
I'm going to read Standing Order 31, which simply says,
A Member may be recognized, under the provisions of Standing Order 30(5), to make a statement of not more than one minute. The Speaker may order a Member to resume his or her seat if, in the opinion of the Speaker, improper use is made of this Standing Order.
An hon. member: Without ever defining what proper use is.
Mr. Arnold Chan: Without ever defining what that means.
Yes, I think it was maybe even a bit more broad than just a specific member. It's attacking a member or using a...“partisan” isn't quite the word I'm looking for, but if you were using them as attack statements, even on the other parties or whatever.
Topic 13, timing of statements by members: move statements by members to the time for adjournment proceedings (late show). Hold adjournment proceedings immediately after question period, rename it, and have ministers respond to questions instead of parliamentary secretaries.
Is there no champion?
Topic 14, urgency of questions: examine utility of Standing Order 37(1), which provides that non-urgent questions can be directed by the Speaker to be placed on the Order Paper.
Now we're on table 9 regarding recorded divisions. There are three recommendations here.
Topic 1, electronic voting or status quo: study electronic voting systems with a view of implementing a process for electronic voting, e.g., members vote using secure iPads. Other members expressed their preference for the status quo.
Topic 3, timing of recorded divisions: suggestions regarding the timing of recorded divisions included: prohibit recorded divisions after noon on Friday; prohibit votes on Monday, Thursday and Friday; hold recorded divisions on specific days of the week, e.g. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, like in Sweden; and hold recorded divisions immediately following question period.
Some of those things we're trying to do already, but we need to get it in the Standing Orders. I think we agreed to that at a previous meeting.
Table 10 is on routine proceedings. There are seven items of potential discussion.
Topic 1, answers to written questions: give the Speaker the power to judge the quality and substance of answers to Order Paper questions, e.g. answer must relate to the question.
Topic 2, reorder rubrics under routine proceedings: move the place of motions in the current order of rubrics to place it at the end of routine proceedings. Move the place of questions on the Order Paper to precede tabling of documents.
Is there no champion?
I think the purpose of that item might have been to get some of that business done without being interrupted by a dilatory motion, like we did today. We were debating for three hours on something and then those other things didn't get done. However, there is no champion.
Topic 3, tabling of documents by opposition members: permit the tabling of any document by members of the opposition.
Topic 4, tabling of uncertified petitions: allow members to table uncertified petitions in the House.
Topic 6, written questions (questions transferred to notice of motion): delete Standing Order 39(6), which allows the Speaker upon request of government to allow lengthy Order Paper questions to stand on the Order Paper as a notice of motion.
Is there no champion at this time? We can come back to that.
Topic 7, written questions (question made order for return): delete Standing Order 39(7), which allows the House to allow the reply to a complex question to take the form of a return.
We're on table 11, sitting schedule. There are seven potential topics for discussion here.
Topic 1, eliminate Friday sittings or continue to sit five days per week: eliminate Friday sittings of the House. Extend the rest of the sitting week in order to accomplish the Parliamentary business conducted on Friday, e.g. sit extra days during the year, sit on certain weekends, add an extra hour per day. Other members gave their views as to why a five-day sitting week should be maintained.
Topic 2, parliamentary calendar (adjustment): begin sitting weeks earlier in the fall and adjourn earlier in the late spring. Increase the number of sitting weeks in January, decrease the sitting weeks in June.
Topic 5, private members' business (Fridays): increase the amount of time set aside for private members' business on Fridays.
Mr. Davies will champion that.
Topic 6, prorogation: study the rules and usage of prorogation.
Mr. Davies...we have about three people to champion that.
Topic 7, sitting week schedule (a proposal): the following was proposed during the take-note debate as a schedule for the sitting week: set aside Monday and Wednesday for committee work; on Tuesday and Thursday, the House sits from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; hold all recorded divisions following question period on Tuesdays; set aside Thursdays for consideration of private members' business and opposition days; question period would be held each day, Monday to Friday.
I'll take that one. The reason is that when Peter Milliken was re-elected as Speaker, he was acclaimed. I remember watching on TV and seeing Bill Blaikie getting up as the dean of the House to say that there was no process to deal with it so he hoped there would be unanimous consent. But what if somebody had said no? Let's fix that.
Topic 2, election of Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Speakers: provide a formal process or guidelines for electing the Deputy Speaker and Assistant Deputy Speakers; ensure each party has a chair occupant.
An hon. member: Right now, we operate by convention.
Topic 3, wording issues: clarify or reword Standing Order 7(1.1) regarding putting the question forthwith on a motion to elect the Deputy Speaker, 7(2) regarding the language knowledge of the Deputy Speaker, and 7(3) regarding the term of office of the Deputy Speaker and the provision for a vacancy in that office.
Topic 4, list for recognizing speakers: limit or cease the practice of using a list provided to the Speaker by the parties to determine who speaks next, provided the Speaker recognizes members in an equitable rotation. Penalize disruptive members by not recognizing them.
That one's mine. I didn't say the “ability to speak”. I was referring to the language somebody spoke in the past. I don't think it's appropriate. Both languages are of equal weight in the House, and you shouldn't be deriding someone for which language they spoke, which has happened.
Topic 6, order and decorum: expand the Speaker's powers to maintain order and decorum. Encourage the Speaker to employ current disciplinary measures with greater frequency, e.g. disallow reading of text, repetition and relevance; cease to recognize disruptive members.
Topic 7, questions of privilege: give the Speaker the power to decide questions of privilege rather than having the member who raised the question of privilege move a motion to give the matter further study.
Is there any champion for that? No.
Topic 8, reports on members' behaviour: mandate the Speaker to produce a written report grading each member's behaviour, to be made public on a quarterly basis.
Topic 2, correct Standing Order 68(3): in the section of the Standing Orders that deal with introduction and readings of public bills, in English, the standing order reads that bills may not be tabled in “imperfect” form, while in French it reads that bills may not be tabled in “incomplete” form.
Topic 3, correct Standing Order 71: in the section of the Standing Orders that deal with introduction and readings of public bills, in English, the standing order reads that every bill shall receive “three several readings.” In French it reads that every bill shall receive “three readings.” It was suggested “several” could be replaced with “separate.”
What happened is the day before I gave that speech, I had visitors in the group gallery, which is the one above the Speaker. At 3 o'clock the security went through and told them all to get out, and I thought that wasn't right. In the other galleries people are left there, but in the group gallery, where the big groups go, like the school groups, they're only there from two until three. They're not used the rest of the time.
It wasn't like a standing order change; it was a suggestion, but that's okay.
Not to bring it on anymore, but the United States constitution is largely based on the Six Nations Confederacy. They got a lot of items from there. In our area, we have traditional first nations modes of governance that we have approved in modern treaties, and I was just suggesting that it's something we could look at in governing of Parliament, but we don't have to discuss it.
Yes, the idea is that.... It used to be the case that, instead of having our lunches in our own lobbies, there was a lunch room for the two sides to get together, and it created a more collaborative atmosphere. Now it has changed, not that long ago—
That's not us either, is it? It's the Board of Internal Economy.
The next one is ministers (split role): put in place a system whereby ministers would not sit in the House; instead, their parliamentary duties are carried out by a “replacement” member.
This was in my speech. That's what they do in Sweden. When you're a minister, you are not allowed to sit in the House. They give you another member of Parliament for your constituency. You are so busy as a minister that you can't really do the two jobs well, so they give you another member and you don't sit in the House. You come one day a week, I think.
Okay, I'll defend it and get out of the chair at that time. I'll get Blake to chair.
Number 14 is on motion seeking to circumvent the provisions of existing standing orders: disallow or restrict motions that seek to circumvent a rule or practice unless they meet a threshold higher than 50% plus one, e.g. require unanimous consent.
I think this arose from.... We have some things that require unanimous consent that can really shut down Parliament. If at the beginning here the Bloc wasn't giving unanimous...just appointing committee chairs and people on committees and stuff.
That came from me. I call that a different kind of standing order.
Until three years ago, we had a one-stop shop where the post offices are now, where you could also get all of your supplies, instead of having to use eway.ca. If you wanted pens, paper, or binders, you went down there. I was a long-time staffer, and it was so much more convenient. When we lost that, it really made the day-to-day operations of offices more difficult, so I was hoping to bring it back. It is outside the mandate of this study, but I would like to see it back
Topic 17, physical layout of seating in the chamber: consider alternatives to the current adversarial seating arrangement.
In places like Sweden, and the House of Representatives in the United States, the seating is in a semi-circle, so you're all facing the Speaker. You're all attacking the same problem for your country together, as opposed to ours, which is confrontational across the floor.
What I said was strictly to PMBs. If the House passes a PMB and sends it to the Senate, I don't think the Senate should kill it just because the House stops sitting, because the Senate doesn't change in the election. I'm saying we should allow the Senate to finish its work on that PMB, if it has received it and is dealing with it.
Okay. We're going to amend number 20. We'll amend it to say “private members' bills”.
Before we go any further, and this is a little off topic, Anita brought up the Centre Block, and it reminded me of whether people think that as MPs they have enough say in giving suggestions on redesign.
For instance, our committee did a tour of the West Block, but it was already designed and half built. I don't know if any of us here...I've been here 11 years.
Tom, you've been here a long time, as has Blake. Do you feel we've had a sufficient chance to have input into this new design of buildings? Someone just goes ahead and does it. I'm not saying they're bad, but MPs have—
I don't know if it would be helpful, frankly. You know, too many chefs spoil the broth. They contract professional designers who take a look at other parliaments and take into account a whole bunch of factors before they come up with a final design.
I've taken a look at West Block. I saw West Block in its very early days, and I've seen it two or three times since. I think it's going to be magnificent. I really do. I love the design, particularly the House of Commons. We'll never want to go back to Centre Block again.
In terms of having us included in the design, I think very few of us in this Parliament are architectural designers to begin with, so I don't know what benefit.... I don't know what we would add to it. Maybe some general comments as to the size of offices or the facilities required by members would be helpful, but for the actual design elements, I just don't see where this would be—
I think it would be useful if any major changes went through a committee, whether it's a special committee or PROC, to at least be looked at: here's what we want to do, so is this acceptable to MPs? If it's not, we need to study it, and if it is, fine, let's carry on. We don't need to have 338 MPs providing their opinions. Have a committee that says, “This makes sense and this doesn't make sense.”
Otherwise, little issues.... Designers don't sit in those chairs. They don't know about the pockets, right? That's not their issue. It's like software from companies that engineers design and not the users. At the end of the day—
We would never know, until after having used the place, and having sat in the chairs, and going through the doors. It's hard to look at a plan and say, “I can spot the problems here, here, here,” unless you are an architect or a designer. A normal person would have to live in the place for a little while and then discover the flaws.
I take your point, but there needs to be some kind of.... Things like the pocket issue; I'll use it just as my example, because it's an easy one. The shape of the chairs has three ridges. It's very decorative, very pretty, and because we have it, we can't change it, because that's the tradition.
You could sand off the inner point and nobody would have a pocket torn again. It would be a very minor change. How do we get to that kind of thing?
As a bigger example, what if in the new Centre Block, they decide we're not going to have any committee rooms because they want to do something else? A lot of us think this is a good place to have committee meetings, in Centre Block.
I think the Board of Internal Economy has a kick at this can. I think they decide these things. I don't remember ever being consulted as a backbencher MP on these things, not to have any veto or anything, but at least to put in comments. It is our workplace.
I think there should be a process. It's one of those things where you buy the whole cow, and you probably get...even in this process you can see three, four, or five substantive proposals that may have influenced the design. For instance, the....
Yes, the form of the chamber, whether it's circular or not, or whether it's two chambers, or whether there's a common room.
I know one thing that has affected us in the NDP is not being able to have a caucus meeting in Centre Block. After the two main rooms are taken, there's really no other room. We meet over in the Promenade building.
As long as there would be a way that you could separate the substantive, meaningful suggestions from the 5,000 suggestions you're going to get about the colour of the paint in the bathrooms....
Maybe you just have to take it all in and allow the designers and the deciders to sift through them. I don't think it's a bad idea to have that suggestion.
A specific suggestion in our report on this is that we have the power to make recommendations to the Board of Internal Economy. We can make the recommendations to the Board of Internal Economy that when the plans are being drafted to return to Centre Block 10 years down the road, the plans should be made a lot sooner so that we at least have the opportunity to see it before it is approved. That was a request for a comments period.
David is suggesting we don't have much more work to do today, until we've gone back to our caucuses. We're not going to really be able to get to our caucuses by next meeting, which is when we're supposed to discuss this, on Tuesday.
I'm not sure I heard everything you said. I would argue that since we don't really have.... We should be seeking the minister, and seeing if there's a possibility of two hours with the minister. As we pointed out the other day, there isn't really enough time to deal with and address the concerns and questions we have. I'm afraid we wouldn't move forward without it.
Could I make a suggestion? This will probably require the break. Maybe the analyst could look through it, and if there are some that have obvious content about another parliament doing it a certain way or it having been studied before in this committee, perhaps she could find some of that, so that we would have a bit more background when we come back to some of these points.