We don't want to get into a bad habit of starting late. We're already a couple of minutes late.
Good morning, everyone. This is meeting number seven of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in the first session of the 42nd Parliament. This meeting is being held in public.
Our first business today is a presentation from the committee's analyst, Andre Barnes, in connection with our study of initiatives toward a family-friendly or more inclusive House of Commons.
After that, under committee business we will consider recommendations from the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure, which met this morning and has drafted some work for the next month or so for the committee's approval.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Committee members will have received a series of documents in the past several weeks that deal with different aspects of family-friendly practices in other jurisdictions. It depends on how the committee would like to proceed. I could begin by going over the document that's called “Family-Friendly Practices In Other Jurisdictions”, because that's the one that covers the most practices abroad. If committee members would like to discuss the parallel chambers in other jurisdictions, we can do that. There's also a document—and I apologize that it was sent out so late; it took a while to do—on Standing Order 31 equivalents in other jurisdictions, and sitting hours and sitting periods in other jurisdictions. That was sent out not too long ago. Members presumably have not had a chance to look at that one.
If the committee would like, I could proceed by going through this document here. Do feel free to interrupt with questions at any point. I might not be able to answer them, but I will come back to you with an answer as soon as possible.
The document covers sitting hours in selected national and provincial jurisdictions. It covers proxy voting, allowing babies on the floor of the House during a sitting, and a last catch-all category of family-friendly policies that covers what's currently in place in Canada's Parliament for parental leave and child care facilities.
To begin with sitting times, changes to a Parliament's sitting times are generally considered to be among the most common family-friendly reforms. As a place to start, it might be helpful to compare Canada's House of Commons sitting hours with other jurisdictions, in particular, the Canadian provincial and territorial legislatures, the U.K. House of Commons, the Australian House of Representatives, and the New Zealand House of Representatives.
In 2016, Canada's House is scheduled to sit 127 days over 26 sitting weeks. The Clerk of the House indicated during his appearance before the committee that generally the House sits 135 days per year. As members are very much aware, the House sits 8 hours on Monday and 4.5 hours on Fridays. By comparison, Canada's House of Commons sits fewer days than the U.K.'s House of Commons, but sits more frequently than Australia's House, New Zealand's House, and every provincial and territorial jurisdiction in Canada.
To get into the details, the U.K.'s House sits 150 days per year over 34 sitting weeks. That compares to 135 days here over 26 sitting weeks. It's worth noting that in the U.K.'s House of Commons, they do not generally sit every Friday. They have designated Fridays. For the calendar year 2015-16 they designated 13 sitting Fridays, and they don't sit on the other Fridays.
The changes in the U.K. appear to have been made piecemeal over time. It started in 1997 and they finally made some changes in 2005, when it was recommended that the House study sitting times. The changes were finally made in 2012. They eliminated Friday sittings between 2012 and 2015
I emailed them to find out more about it, because it must have happened so recently that I couldn't find any information on it. But they did it piecemeal. In the U.K., the House sittings began later and ended later, and they gradually moved them all to earlier.
In Australia and New Zealand, their procedural manuals—their equivalent of O'Brien and Bosc—make it sound like they've sat like that since the beginning. It might not be the most useful comparison because Australia for half of its existence has had three days a week. From 1950 to 1984 it sat three days a week and more recently it sits four days a week. New Zealand only sits three days a week and it made it sound like that's always been the case.
I looked to see if anything said why they didn't sit five days a week and I couldn't find any information on it. It might be something worth asking officials from their jurisdictions.
Yes. Meanwhile New Zealand appears to have sat for three days for a long time.
In comparison with the territorial and provincial jurisdictions, 10 of 13 provincial and territorial jurisdictions do not sit on either Monday or Friday. Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia do not sit on Mondays. Seven do not sit on Fridays: Alberta, British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, and Yukon.
Quebec has an interesting innovation that they put in place in 2009, where they designate certain sitting periods in the year as ordinary hours and other periods as extended hours. I can talk a little bit more about that later. During ordinary hours, the Quebec National Assembly does not sit on Mondays or Fridays.
That's sort of a broad overview of the sitting times and schedules and how Canada's House of Commons compares to other jurisdictions.
The tricky part and difficulty of researching the different jurisdictions just by going on what's online is that they don't tend to have a manual like we do with the O'Brien and Bosc, so you really have to dig around.
I did find that Quebec, British Columbia, and Ontario had made changes recently. Those were changes to compress the week, but they also made up for the time.
I will mention some innovations that might be of interest to the committee that other jurisdictions have put in place. One that came up during the House leader's appearance before the committee was two distinct sitting days on one calendar day.
That happens in British Columbia. They got rid of late-night sittings in 2007 and made up for the hours elsewhere. Then in 2009, they implemented on three of the four sitting days, two distinct sitting days on one day.
So, in other jurisdictions you'll see that there's a break during the day. There are different periods during the day when you look at the schedule. Those are just suspensions. They do not count them officially as different, distinct sitting days, but they do in British Columbia.
That was the only jurisdiction I found that had brought that into place. That is on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; they have two distinct sitting days.
Interestingly, Quebec, which I mentioned before, devised a schedule with two distinct sitting periods: ordinary hours and extended hours. Ordinary hours begin in February and end at the beginning of May. Extended hours run from late May until the end of June, and from November until December.
The other innovation that might be of note for the committee was in Ontario. The daily sittings were moved to an earlier time. Night sittings were eliminated. Question period was moved to 10:45 each morning. My understanding was that it was formally held during a floating time between 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m.. It should be noted that the change in time of the sitting period did come into some criticism at that time because it was felt that the opposition could not properly prepare for question period, having been held so early in the morning.
I did not dig into the possibility of extended sittings. The Standing Orders in the House do provide for extended sittings; on the calendar, there's a little star beside the last two weeks in June, and then around the holidays. I'm not sure if those jurisdictions have that. I can come back to the committee with that.
Those were more or less the highlights, I think, about the sitting hours in the different jurisdictions. Do members have any other questions about that?
I can move on to proxy voting. This innovation exists. It was put in place in 1996 in New Zealand. It allows one member to give their vote to another member to cast it in the chamber for them, so they don't physically have to be present. In New Zealand it did not sound as though they put that innovation in place to make the chamber more family friendly; they just did it to make it more convenient for members. Meanwhile, that was adopted in Australia in 2008. That was put in place to help mothers who are breastfeeding.
There are certain rules, especially in New Zealand, about the use of a proxy vote. It must be signed and dated. It must contain the name of the person authorized to cast the vote on the member's behalf. There's a duration of the proxy. The proxy can be open in nature for all business for an indefinite period of time.
Importantly, a proxy vote in New Zealand can only be exercised if the member issuing the proxy is actually present somewhere in the parliamentary precinct or is attending a select meeting outside of the capital, Wellington, or has been granted a leave of absence by the Speaker. So, there is certainly a very circumscribed use of it.
Meanwhile, in Australia, there was a study conducted by their procedure committee about the use of proxy votes. In 2008, they did put in place a proxy system. The way it works there is that the member may vote by proxy if the member is nursing an infant at the time of the division. The term “nursing an infant” refers to any activity related to the immediate care of an infant. It doesn't necessarily mean breastfeeding, for example; it means immediate care of the infant.
The whips only require the member to state that they are caring for an infant and no further explanation is required. The government members give their vote to the government whip members, and non-government members give their votes to the chief opposition whip members.
That is proxy voting in those two jurisdictions.
I could find that out as well.
I'll move on to the document on the parallel sitting chambers in other jurisdictions.
One is called the Federation Chamber. It was devised in 1994 in Australia's House of Representatives. The United Kingdom devised a parallel chamber called Westminster Hall. Apparently it was modelled on the concept of the Federation Chamber in Australia.
There is a large number of similarities between the two chambers. Both can sit at the same time as the House sits. Both chambers are located conveniently on the parliamentary precinct. Quorum in both chambers is three, although any number of members are able to participate in the debates. It might be worth signalling to the members that in the case of the House of Commons in the U.K., there are 650 members, and from what I've heard, there are about 350 seats. If all members showed up, there would not be room for them. That is a difference between our chamber and their chamber.
Both chambers have their proceedings presided over by a deputy speaker, another chair occupant. The public is allowed to attend both chambers. The proceedings of the chambers are televised. The records of both chambers form part of the official records of either House. No votes can occur in either House. To be more specific, in Westminster Hall a motion comes under discussion and it is written in neutral terms, so no vote is permitted. In the Federation Chamber, for all the items that are referred there, there's supposed to be a consensus about moving them forward. It appears as though the Federation Chamber was called the Main Committee when it was first instituted. In that sense, it appears to operate like a committee. It appears it would put forward a recommendation in a report to the House, and then the House would concur in it. The Federation Chamber can make decisions, but they need to be formally accepted by the House for them to come into force. There's no voting allowed. Everything that would require a vote in the Federation Chamber would be referred back to the House, but it seems that they can move certain items of business forward in the Federation Chamber.
I think that the use in either jurisdiction of their parallel chamber is different.
In the case of Westminster Hall, the items that can be referred to Westminster Hall are very scripted in terms of who can send an item to the chamber each day. Mondays are taken up by a new creation of theirs that was studied by procedure and House affairs last session, e-petitions. The e-petitions committee, which is a brand new committee, has the ability to send e-petitions for debate to Westminster Hall. That would have been how that item would have arrived.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, my understanding is that it's sort of like the adjournment proceedings that happen here at the House. Those are taken up via some random draw that members sign up for at the Speaker's office in the House to be able to participate in Westminster Hall.
Thursdays are scheduled by a British creation called the backbench committee, which allows backbench members to put forward items of business. Apparently at 35 sittings in a session, the backbench committee can put forward items of business to be considered. Twenty-seven of them have to be in the main chamber and the rest can be in Westminster Hall.
It's very circumscribed what business can be sent there.
From what I gather, for the Federation Chamber it's a little different. It seems as though you can bring bills forward for a second reading. If I read it properly, it says “close examination”. That might be like our clause by clause. You could do that at the Federation Chamber, and if there was consensus to move it forward, you would report it back to the House.
Mr. Barnes, I want to ask a question with respect to non-members on the floor of the chamber during a sitting. I think we do have a situation right now with a member of the New Democratic caucus. Is it a function of simply convention? I can't recall if there is an explicit rule in the Standing Orders.
A voice: Standing Order 14.
Mr. Arnold Chan: Oh, it's Standing Order 14 that precludes....
The Chair: Stranger on the floor.
Mr. Arnold Chan: Right, stranger on the floor, and that could be challenged by another member as a breach of a member's privileges. I know we've been turning a bit of a blind eye to it, but I'm simply mindful of the fact that we are increasingly likely to have circumstances as we have right now. Has any jurisdiction ever tackled the issue of strangers on the floor of Parliament at all? I know you mentioned it with respect to the Canadian context, but in your research did you encounter this discussion coming up in any other jurisdiction?
I want to pick up on this point about nursing mothers and mothers of infants, or fathers of infants, for that matter, because it's not just about being present for voting. It's about being present for the decision-making and for contributing to debate. I know anecdotally of one jurisdiction where a cabinet minister took a one-month leave of absence when she gave birth, and while she was away, cabinet made a decision in her jurisdiction that she didn't agree with. It's a matter of not being present to be able to have your voice heard.
I'm just speculating here, but in many other areas.... I know that when I was with the United Nations we did all kinds of international conferences with people from five continents by using technology, using video technology and using Skype.
Going back to this parallel chamber, is it possible that you could have a virtual parallel chamber where you could actually give a speech that would be on the record? Because it's a minimum of three people for a quorum, it would actually be quite easy to set up some kind of video conference session. People could be in their constituency, or in the case of mothers with infants, they could be with their infants but still be able to get on the record.
I don't even know if this is something that would be possible technologically, but is this something we could consider? I'm just throwing it out there.
Of the other items mentioned in a document that a colleague and I prepared about gender-sensitive parliaments, one was harassment policies. A subcommittee of this committee put together a report that ended up turning into a code of conduct for members on sexual harassment. It's appended to the current Standing Orders as of the start of the 42nd Parliament.
As for other items that I've read, having read the IPU report recently, I note that you can get into other more far-reaching ideas. I'll just put forward for the committee's consideration some that I've read about.
In other jurisdictions, there are discussions about the number of women and men chairs, for example, or the chair occupants in the House and whether or not there needs to be some sort of balance—you can make the balance whatever you would like it to be—and about officers of Parliament roles for members as a possibility.
Then, if you wanted to get very far-reaching, the IPU report gets into ways to make Parliament more inclusive, to get more different kinds of members elected. That involves a number of different ideas, but presently those are the purview of individual parties and not necessarily of Parliament.
To follow up on some of those comments, I agree, and I think it is very special to be sitting in the House, to be standing up and voting, or pushing a button and voting or whatever we will do in the future, and actually being present. But I think we're moving away from the reason we're trying to make some of these reforms: to have diverse people with different situations in their lives participate and be a member in the House.
It's equally valuable and important to have those perspectives in the House present as well, using some kind of technological means or not. We're talking about family-friendly politics. There are parents who can't even fathom running, becoming a member, because they currently are having children. We need those perspectives in the House.
For me personally, whether it's for a situation like that, or an elderly or sick aging parent, or a circumstance that doesn't allow for the member to be in the House, I guess it would be up to the House of Commons or administration to figure out whether the reason is valid, at that point, for the member to be missing. I don't want to create a slippery slope where everyone's just taking off and no one's here anymore, but we should note that sometimes there are good reasons for people not being able to be here. Let's still give them a voice and a way to communicate and be present through another means.
I also want to say that you've done a great job presenting a cross-section of different parliaments and the way things are done, but have you come across any opinion pieces or reviews of which parliaments are most effective, even though they've gone through these changes? We just have the facts of what happens where, but are they effective at the end of the day?
We seem to sit more days than any other parliament, with the exception of the U.K. That's in this report. Are we the most effective? We're obviously trying to figure out how, at the end of the day, we can still do our jobs and serve our ridings well. I think it's very important for us to know that perspective as well. Who passes the most private members' bills? Who's passing more legislation and getting stuff done? Let's look at that instead of being so fixated on the number of days, or Fridays, or where the hours are, and whether we have a parallel chamber or not. Who's getting the work done? That's what I want to know.
If there's something that you could forward to us to give us some more information and insight into that, that would be great.
The subcommittee had a good meeting this morning and came up with some recommendations for the next month or six weeks or so. I'd like to go over all of them first before people ask about particular things, because they might be in there. Those of you who don't have them yet can write them down as a draft. Of course, it's always tentative. The committee can always change it as things unfold.
Here's what the subcommittee came up with as a draft and depending on when witnesses come, etc., the timing of this could also change, with the hope that the same items would be in there somewhere.
Let me give a bit of a preamble for anyone who's new. Our committee has to review the conflict of interest rules every five years. It was done last Parliament, but they just picked the low-hanging...I think what Blake said was they picked the fruit that had fallen to the ground. The major things weren't dealt with. There are all sorts of reports and recommendations. There is one technicality. It's a little form I think we should approve, which wouldn't take very long, just because this committee approves forms.
For this reason, we recommend that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner be invited to appear Thursday this week. On the following Tuesday, February 23, the committee could consider matters relating to committee business and future work on the comprehensive review of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members. We'd take all the reports from the researcher plus what we had asked the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and come up with either a report or a road map to a report, or whatever we have to do. On Thursday, February 25, it looks as if the minister might be able to appear at that time, so we've set that time aside for the . That is tentative and we might know in the next day or two. The clerk is following up.
Then, if time permits after that, depending on how long the minister is here, we'd have a review of caucus input. As you know, we've instructed the caucuses' whips and House leaders to report through you, so we don't want to leave it too late. While it's fresh in their minds, so they feel they're being listened to, we will take that input in one of our upcoming meetings soon. If there is time at that meeting, that will be done then; otherwise, it will be done soon thereafter.
On the following Tuesday, pursuant to Standing Orders 110 and 111, we would invite the two other federal appointees to the independent advisory board on Senate appointments, and if that only took an hour, then we could carry on. If we didn't get the motion done, the caucus stuff, reporting back from the previous meeting, we could carry on or do that then.
On Thursday, March 10, we would select the second option that the Chief Electoral Officer gave us for providing a briefing. It wouldn't be a regular meeting, but it would be in the regular time slot. The clerk and the Chief Electoral Officer would arrange the room and the meal, etc. It would be on the parliamentary precinct.
Then there will be a constituency work week and after that, on March 22 and March 24, tentatively, depending on whether the other things got done, or other things came up, the committee would then hear witnesses and have discussions on a family-friendly and inclusive Parliament based on further research from the researcher. Also, from now over the next month, if anyone thinks of particular witnesses we should invite, those are the targeted days. We could give them some advance notice.
Does anyone on the subcommittee think I've forgotten anything in that draft outline?
I actually had the floor, so I let you have your rant, Mr. Reid.
At the end of the day, from my perspective again—you didn't even let me finish my point—my point is that you can raise the issues in the House of Commons. You challenge the issue of constitutionality. There are other appropriate forums to do that. It is not done here at PROC.
Again my point...and I was going to ask the clerk to read what the standing order says. If you don't like the standing order, I am prepared to allow you to propose an amendment to the standing order. However, we were there to look at the qualifications and abilities of the particular individuals to discharge their particular functions.
I take the other point you were raising with respect to the nature of that function, but with respect to the further substantive issues you were raising with respect to the details of who has applied, how many people have applied, the deadlines, from my perspective that goes beyond the scope of what the standing order permits us to do.
I yield the floor now.
Chair, I thought I'd start by reading it and remind everybody where we are. It's a notice of motion:
That the Committee adopt the following procedures for in camera business:
That any motion to sit in camera should be debatable and amendable, and that the Committee may only meet in camera for the following purposes:
(a) wages, salaries, and other employee benefits;
(b) contracts and contract negotiations;
(c) labour relations and personnel matters;
(e) briefings concerning national security; and
That Minutes of in camera meetings should reflect the results of all votes taken by the Committee while in camera, including how each member votes when a recorded vote is requested.
The only thing I would add, Chair, is that it would be my intention—if I ever got to the point where there was support for this—to add to the last sentence,“that minutes of in camera meetings should reflect the results of all votes taken by the committee while in camera, with the exception of report writing”. As we're going through report writing, and people are moving various clauses and words and ideas in and out, to me that doesn't need to be captured by what I'm putting forward. That's part of the give-and-take of report writing, which is a separate process in and of itself.
That's my motion. If I can, I'll begin giving my rationale for it, Chair.
Beginning with the issue about debatable and amendable, what has happened in the past—and I know the government's going to tell me they don't see the world that way, and they're going to be wonderful, and they won't do those nasty things. I say , fine, I believe you believe that now, but I also have a good idea where we're going to be. Going down the road, two to three years from now, all those niceties will be forgotten and we'll be into the give-and-take of the day-to-day partisan aspects of what we do.
What would happen is that as soon as the government of the day got in any way uncomfortable with what was going on, they would just throw a motion on the floor to go in camera. Under the rules, you couldn't debate it. You had to go to an immediate vote. There were no criteria to stack up against, in terms of whether or not it was allowed. There was no guideline. You could go in camera. You could just go in camera with no debate, no discussion.
What happened was that the government, whenever it suited them, would just—boom, in a flash—throw out a motion to go in camera. Before anybody even really had a chance to gather their thoughts, it had to go straight to a vote. There's no debate. You can't amend it. Boom, boom, inside three minutes we went from having an interesting, dynamic, public discussion, maybe even a debate about whatever, and all of a sudden, minutes later, we vaporized from the public view and went into this rabbit hole from which we only emerged when we decided.
My first concern is for that.
Chair, I don't know how you want to proceed. At some point I'd be interested in getting an early indication from the government whether they have a willingness to entertain any or part of this. If they did, it could save us a lot of aggravation. I don't know how you want me to proceed. That was the first point. I can move on. I'm in your hands.
Okay, but if I may, just by way of timing, if I can get some interest—I mean, we're sitting right here.
An hon. member: [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. David Christopherson: Okay, good.
If they're going to agree to things, there's no sense in me taking you for a walk around the world.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Christopherson: If you're going to agree anyway....
At some point, maybe that would be helpful. I'll outline it, but rest assured, I'm not done on any of these areas. There are lots of things to revisit and talk about, but only if necessary. Since we're all getting along so well, hey, hope springs eternal.
In terms of review, right off the bat, with regard to outlining what committees can or cannot do in camera, for those of us who served on city councils, we're very used to this idea. I remember at the time there was a whole lot of push-back. People were saying, “You know, cabinets get to meet in camera”, completely missing the point, of course. It's a very different dynamic and a whole different procedure when you have built-in opposition and checks and balances. You don't have that at a city council.
One of the first things that happens on a city council when a motion is made is that somebody often tests it to see if indeed the matter falls within the rules for discussing in camera. It should be noted that the media play the biggest check and balance on this, because once a majority on council votes, things move quickly and they just go in camera. The media will grab on to that issue. They'll take it to the press council and other places, and months and months later you'll hear a report come back saying that the council's had its wrist slapped. That's not to mention what can happen to some of the officers who are responsible municipally for some of these things.
Having an outline of exactly what we go in camera for or not makes a lot of sense. Between the first idea, that it can be debatable and amendable, and the second, that the motion has to stand against the criteria for when we go in camera, that alone would remove a lot of the potential abuse just by slowing it down and putting some kind of reference in there. In the past, it didn't matter what we were talking about. If it got awkward or ugly, if the government was getting beaten up on anything, they would just run and hide and they would move that motion. It would happen that instantly. It would be those two things alone—debatable and amendable—and the fact that they have to stack up against certain criteria on what we're allowed to do in there and what we're not.
I won't go into all of the stuff I have to say just now. I'll just do the Coles Notes version in the hope that everybody will agree and you don't have to hear from me. But providing those two key aspects would go a long way toward removing abuse and potential abuse.
The last one is what really makes me crazy. A lot of people don't know this, but as it stands right now, when you're in camera, if anybody moves a motion on committee and we spend an hour debating it, and it loses, you are violating the confidence of the committee; you are actually in breach—it's a serious matter—if you talk about that motion, because it lost. Under the rules, when you're in camera, the only motions you can talk about in public are the ones that are carried. In fact, it's not even written down. It's like it didn't happen. It drives opposition members crazy, because you're trying to initiate certain directions.
I grant you, a lot of it is partisan. So? This is a partisan place. The fact is that initiatives are put forward when you're talking about business. They're usually opposition, because the government gets their buddies to vote for it and it carries. Okay: we all accept that the election happened and you have the control at the end of the day. The government wins ten votes ten times out of ten. Fair enough. But the whole idea is at least allowing the motion that was made to be heard.
By what anti-democratic rule do we hide behind when we say that if Mr. Richards moves a substantive motion in camera about the business we're doing, or about new business, or wants to invite other witnesses, or wants to start a study, all of which is public business and doesn't fall in the categories (a) through (e) that I listed earlier...? If he should do that, currently under the rules, by the time you get out of in camera, it's like the old Soviet Union when you fall out of favour: you look at the pictures from the past, and holy smokes, they are just not there. That's what would happen to that motion. It goes all Soviet. It just disappears as if it never happened.
So, you're in camera, and you're left wondering what to do. Do you not bother making the case? Well, you want to make the case. You're going to make the argument. It just eats up a whole lot of time but denies anybody outside that committee room the opportunity.... And believe me—because you will probably see it happen at least once—when I say that if anybody violates the confidence of in camera meetings, that's a big deal. It gets raised in the House. It's a breach, and it's held as such. So this is a big deal, and it has always driven me insane that you can't even talk about it.
I have a lot to say about all of this, but those are the three items. It's 12:40 and I have lots of time to start in, but it would be helpful to me if I could get some kind of feedback from the government, just some indication of where I am vis-à-vis the possibility of this carrying. It won't stop me from making my case, but it certainly could save us a whole lot of time if they were being co-operative.
I want to thank Mr. Christopherson for his contribution on this point.
The government supports the basic premise of what you're putting forth. We took this position in opposition. As you'll recall, the member for in the 41st Parliament spoke with respect to the basic principles attached to this, and our leader introduced a private member's bill with respect to the basic premise in regard to the motion you're putting before this committee today.
The only suggestion I would have on a couple of points with respect to the substantive motion that's before the committee.... First of all, we think some additional items should be considered to expand the list of what we think would be appropriate matters to be in camera, and I'll introduce those in a moment.
The other point we have is on where you talk about how “any motion to sit in camera should be debatable and amendable”. My point is that I'm okay with it being debatable for, let's say, three minutes. I don't see why it needs to be amendable. It's either an up or down vote from my perspective; we either agree to it or we don't agree to it. Because at that point, we're dealing with a prescribed list of items, and only those items can go in camera. We vote it either up or down. It's straight up. Also, I don't want us to take an enormous amount of committee time to make those decisions once we know that we're dealing only with the prescribed list of matters that can go in camera.
Finally, with respect to the last point, which was basically about the minutes of the meeting, from my perspective—again, since we're dealing again with a prescribed list of issues—the result of those votes, because we're only dealing with a prescribed list, should only be recorded with the unanimous consent of the committee, because the only way you go in camera is that you're dealing only with those issues.
I'll give you a couple of amendments that I would suggest. For example, here's how the motion would then read. I would simply delete the provision that says “and amendable”, so it would read instead “That any motion to sit in camera should be debatable for”—I'm going to just propose this—“not more than three minutes”. So you can debate it and get your points out. We're only dealing with these items, okay? Then we'd vote it up or down.
Then I would simply add three other provisions to the list that you've already prescribed. I'm fine with the list you have so far, but I would suggest that these other items would be appropriate as well.
I would add an (f) that would read “for matters of members' privilege”. Again, I think that might be appropriate for us to go in camera on. I would then add a (g) “for the discussion of witness lists”. Again, it might be appropriate to go in camera for whatever reason. I would add an (h) “for any other reason”, because we might forget what that particular reason might happen to be, “on the consent of the entire committee”—so we all have to agree, okay?—“or on the advice of the clerk”. There might be a reason that we haven't thought about it in this list, but it gives us a way out.
An hon. member: That wording...?
Mr. Arnold Chan: Right, on consideration from the advice of the committee....
I'll read it back: “for any other reason with the consent of the whole committee or on consideration of the advice of the clerk”.
There may be reasons we need to go in camera that we haven't thought about in this particular list, but again, it's either that we all agree, or that the clerk raises it, thinking that it might be appropriate for us to do that. Then we'd still have to decide as a body.
An hon. member: [Inaudible—Editor]
Mr. Arnold Chan: I would think so—
I have to say, I'm pleasantly surprised. We can work with this. I have a couple of issues too, but I just want to start by being very positive and responding in a positive vein. I think we can get there. If we continue doing it the way we're going here, I think we can get to it. I'm very pleased. These are really good improvements. I might make note that we got this far without Mr. Lamoureux. Not that his comments wouldn't have been entertaining and wonderful, but we did manage to get here without him.
Moving on, I agree with Mr. Reid that the three minutes is a problem. If you just allow the mover of the motion.... Oftentimes it's government. So that won't work, because it eats up all the time. However, you were being fair-minded, so I was going to respond in a fair-minded way. As a former House leader, I also understand that there is an opportunity there for the opposition to again grab the floor and filibuster and hold things up. Not that we can't get there relatively easily if we want to anyway, but I do get the idea that this just opens up one more avenue of potential mischief-making, as the government might see it, and therefore they want a time limit. I think, based on what I heard Mr. Chan say and on what I heard Mr. Reid say, somewhere in there we should be able to find a common....
I'm open. I understand you just don't want it to be another opportunity for the opposition to hijack the agenda, and I get that. Mr. Reid's point is exactly the one that I would make, that in order to give effect to something being debatable it has to be more than just the person who moved it. Let's give some thought to how we can do that. I understand it eats up a little bit of time, but that's just going to be the price we pay.
On “amendable”, I'm flexible. Sometimes there are reasons that you might want to be very specific and say you are going to go in to deal with one particular thing and get out, and by amending that motion you could do that as opposed to blanket going in camera and being able to move any of these other items while we're in there. By allowing it to be amendable, you could give some direction to it, but if that is a particular problem for the government, that's a hill I'm not looking to die on. I will leave you with that thought.
I'm fine personally with the ones you've added. I think they're improvements and I like them. I think they're good. The only one I have a problem with—and I didn't even get the wording exactly—is the one about the clerk giving some kind of ruling—
That still takes us back to the unanimity, doesn't it?
The language is a little bumpy, but as long as that's clear and as long as we understand it and it's there in the Hansard, I'm fine with that.
I had amended my own motion regarding “with the exception of report writing”. Did you agree with that? I wrestled with that a bit, but I thought that often there is a lot going there, and things move quickly when you're doing report writing. It just seemed to me that was different from one of us in the opposition trying to put a motion to hold a study on something or to have a particular person be invited and then the government overruling it. That was a different thing in terms of public perception.
To me, Chair, it looks as though we're pretty darn close. It would seem that maybe one of the things we still need to finalize is the time on debate.
You heard my thoughts on “amendable”. I'd appreciate hearing yours. If you decide you'd still rather not have that, I'm fine with it.
We were talking about the three minutes being per person or for everybody, or so on and so forth. Can we find a way of limiting it so we don't have three minutes per member and then 120 opposition members coming in to do their three minutes each? I want there to be an overall limit on that debate so we can actually get on with our lives. That's my point.
If we can go for, say, three minutes to a maximum of three speakers or something for a minimum of two parties—
An hon. member: To a maximum of [Inaudible—Editor].
Mr. David de Burgh Graham: I'd be fine with that. If everyone else is fine with that, I'm fine with that.
An hon. member: It's still not [Inaudible—Editor].
Mr. David de Burgh Graham: It's better than it was.