Mr. Speaker, I move that the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented to the House on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, be concurred in.
I am pleased to comment on the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs as a new member of Parliament and a member of the committee. One of the first things we worked on in committee was how to make this place more family friendly and how we could change the way we do business here. One of the things that is most important is that we remember we are in this place representing Canadians. Therefore, it is very important we make Parliament work better for Canadians and not necessarily ourselves.
Before I get going, I would like to mention that I am sharing my time with the member for .
I will get into what is in the report and then I will comment on what is not in the report.
We had a number of witnesses. We held a number of meetings. For the most part, we agreed on a number of the proposed changes, but there were areas that we did not agree with. I will comment on that in a moment.
Predictability was one that we agreed on. Predictability on when votes can happen was one of the main issues we looked into. On how to make this more family friendly, we came to an agreement that the House leaders should work together and maybe schedule votes after question period or immediately after certain events that would bring us all to the House. If members have family, have children, they would be better able to work it within their schedule. If we are here anyway, we might as well have votes after question period. That actually sounds like a good idea and was something we all supported in the procedure and House affairs committee. House leaders on all sides have done a great job in trying to make that happen, to make it work better for those with families here. That was one thing we did agree on, and I supported it.
As far as efficiency is concerned, we talked about the work calendar, about how many weeks we sit and how many weeks we are back in the riding, and making sure we do not go longer than three sitting weeks in a row. We allow for that break week or constituency week, when we are back in our ridings. We could maybe see our families, work on behalf of our constituents, and do local meetings there. That was a very important one that we all supported, again, because it made sense and made sure we would all be more efficient in our duties. It also helps Canadians as well, so we were in agreement.
On modernization, we looked at ensuring that child care facilities were available for those with children, that there was better access and that hours were modified to allow those members with children to access those services. What we found out in the committee when we did our study was that a lot of the day care hours were basically office hours and did not allow for those with children to attend a vote in the evening or attend meetings or a reception.
I was happy to learn that the Parliament of Canada did create a position within House operations so that there is now child care service provided in those off-hours. That was a good thing, because in our jobs as parliamentarians we want to encourage as many Canadians as possible to run for these positions, to run for nomination and election. It is very important to have a very diverse group in this place as we represent Canadians.
We also talked about the Board of Internal Economy examining the House bus service. We noted that those who may have injuries or disabilities were not always able to make it up to Centre Block without the help of the bus service. We agreed that we would look at the bus service and how that service is being provided and that we would also ensure the timeliness of that service during certain events that have limited its access to Centre Block. As an example, when President Obama was in town and came before Parliament, the bus service was limited, and sometimes members were not able to access this place. Especially for those we are not able to get up by their own means to Parliament Hill, that is a very important piece to remember. We always have to be thinking a couple of steps ahead in ensuring that there is that access for all members of this place. That was unanimously agreed on.
We also talked about work-life balance, and here is where I will get into the most important part. It is not only about reuniting the family, allowing members to be with their family and looking at how we do what is called “travel points”. Those watching TV probably will not have too much knowledge in that field, but for us it is a system we use to get back and forth to our ridings and also to bring our families either to the riding or to Ottawa to better do our jobs. Of course when we see our family more often, that is the most basic principle. As father of a young child, I try to ensure that I see my child as much as possible among my duties either in Ottawa or back home.
One of the things that was not included in the report was the elimination of Friday sittings. When we examined the procedure and House affairs report, we questioned witnesses, brought in experts, and other members of Parliament. It was agreed that cancelling Friday sittings and extending the workday Monday to Thursday had negative effects as well. Because of that problem, it was determined by the committee that we continue the calendar as was, five days a week in Ottawa during sitting weeks. What we noticed when we did the family-friendly initiative was starting earlier and extending the hours later actually caused a number of problems and some negative unintended consequences. It was agreed by members, even those who had to travel to British Columbia and had pretty rigorous travel schedules, that the Friday sittings remain in place.
I will also take a quick snippet from my friend from when he spoke about the Standing Orders and talked about military families. They are not the ones asking for work-life balance. They are working hard defending our rights and freedoms across the world. They are not the ones asking for Fridays off. In our ridings we have truck drivers and business people who travel. They are not asking for Fridays off. They are not asking for a shortened workweek. They are not asking for less accountability. That is where it is so frustrating.
There is a historic precedence that when changes to the Standing Orders are made, that it is done by unanimous consent. This is where the government is going in the total opposite direction. The way the Liberals are ramming this through, using their majority to make life better for them while taking away from the opposition, is totally ridiculous.
We all were elected knowing what we were getting into. We all knew what the job entailed. There are ways to make this place family friendly. That is where the report clearly identifies a number of initiatives Parliament can take to help those with young families. However, as it said in the report, we all agreed, based on the evidence we listened to from the witnesses and experts, that getting rid of Fridays was not the right way to go about it. As I mentioned, the Liberals have decided that does not really matter, that they agreed at committee, but they will go through with this anyway because they have a majority. They will ram it down everyone's throats and we will have to live with this.
This is not how Canadians expect democracy to work. There is historical precedence that unanimous consent is agreed to. I know the committee is adjourned until Wednesday at 4 p.m. and we will see what comes of that, but I really hope the Liberals take a step back, realize what they are doing and come into a debate with the opposition. There are number of initiatives they have proposed that we are willing to discuss. We might not agree with them all, but we are willing to discuss them. Let us have this conversation that the government House leader says needs to happen. We are happy to have it and are ready to do that. However, we cannot take away the opposition's role in this Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a committee on which I have served for over a decade. I am currently the longest-serving member of that committee. I am rising to speak to this not because of anything intrinsically important in this particular report. It is the 11th committee report. We have had a number of other committee reports before and since, and this one is of just average importance. I am doing it because this is our way, on the opposition benches, of drawing attention to the fact that the committee, and indeed this entire place, operates with the sword of Damocles hanging over its collective head.
The Liberals have proposed a motion in committee, a motion my colleague from mentioned just a moment ago, a motion that, far from opening up debate actually ensures that debate will be shut down by a definable, very brief deadline on all the Standing Orders, which is that the committee will report back to the House on all matters dealing with the Standing Orders by June 2.
As a practical matter, no committee ever comes to an agreement without having procedural meetings that take some time on the day it makes its report, so we are actually looking at meetings that would have to wrap up, in practice, in terms of the new substance, some time much earlier than that, probably a week or two weeks at best.
The report would be imposed using closure within the committee, something committees do not normally do, something that is not normally tolerated in committee. That closure or guillotine or termination of debate is the reporting deadline of June 2. It is very brief. That is the fundamental issue here.
We hear talk from Liberal members here of a discussion paper that was produced. We have a discussion paper. Let us just discuss what is in that discussion paper. We have a discussion paper that is, I believe, 12 pages long, put out by the government House leader on March 10, right before our most recent break week but one. The very same day, the member for Bonavista introduced it.
I actually checked by going back and finding out when the paper was submitted by the House leader and when the motion was submitted to the committee clerk by the member for Bonavista. One hour and 11 minutes later, it might have been two hours and 11 minutes, but you will see my point, Mr. Speaker, the member for Bonavista produced a motion to impose closure. It is a motion that is almost a page long. It contains five subsidiary points, one of which has a subordinate list. We are to believe that the member for Bonavista produced this motion, all on his own, after he brought forward the government's paper, and got it translated, because the member is not bilingual, and got it to the clerk all in the space of a couple of hours.
What was really going on was that there was a great rush to ensure that this could be submitted two sleeps, as we say, two government business days, prior to the return of the committee to business so that it could be introduced at an in-camera hearing and the government could then push through this profoundly undemocratic motion at that committee hearing.
I raised the issue in the House and said that the Liberals were about to push this through at an in-camera meeting, and to his credit, the said he would like this meeting to go in public, and in public we were able to raise our concerns, thereby forestalling this way of doing things.
However, if that motion were withdrawn, the dialogue could begin. The dialogue can begin, in fact, if the government will instruct its members on the committee to vote in favour of an amendment I put forward, and that amendment says, simply, “Nothing will come out of this committee as a recommendation to the government without the unanimous consent of all the members of the committee”, which in practice means without the consent of the New Democrats and the Conservatives as well as the Liberal Party members.
If the government members really want a discussion, if their words are sincere, the government has a number of options.
First, the government could agree to the motion, the amendment I proposed in committee, saying that we will not move forward anything without unanimous consent. That would allow us to get something done by June 2. As a practical matter, I think we would need a great deal more time to go through all the Standing Orders. We could start that work now, if that is the government's choice. That is the first thing it could do.
Second, the Liberals could withdraw the motion put forward by the member for Bonavista. After I do not know how many hours of debate in committee, it should be apparent to them that there is not all-party support for that motion, to put it mildly. Therefore, it could be withdrawn.
Third, the Liberals could move forward with some other motion. I actually submitted another motion to be ready to go in case the government did decide to withdraw its motion. It is a motion that calls for the discussion, on a piecemeal or subject-by-subject basis, of the various items on the government's agenda. There is nothing wrong with discussing Friday sittings. To the government's credit, it not only says that it thinks we should consider getting rid of Friday sittings. It also says it wants to consider the possibility of having the House sit all day long on Friday, making it a full day. There might be a willingness to move in that direction. However, to make the obvious point, we cannot do both of those things at the same time. Presumably, there needs to be a discussion of both of those.
Also, with regard to the 's question time, changing the times of votes, and all the other issues that are discussed in the 's proposals, if we go through them, we see that they include topics as disparate as sittings of the House; electronic voting; the House calendar and sitting further into the end of June and starting earlier in September and January; how routine proceedings are conducted; and changes to private members' business, an item which, on its own, in 2003, occupied a similar committee of the House long enough for it to produce several reports over the course of a year. It includes prorogation, something that would be a vexed question to deal with, because it deals with crown prerogatives, so that would take a fair bit of time, some nuancing, and some expert testimony to deal with. It also includes time allocation, how question period is done, omnibus bills, and the management of committees. These are all topics. There is no way we could discuss these things by June 2.
That would be true even if it were not also true that our committee has been charged by the to, by the middle of May, complete its hearings on the Canada Elections Act. The spoke very eloquently to us on March 9, one day before this paper was released, explaining why it was important for us to get this done. She said that Elections Canada could not respond to the recommendations we would be making and that she, the minister, would be incorporating into government legislation, on a short-term basis. They need to have enough time before the 2019 election to put these things in place. The minister needs to introduce legislation in September. That means that we need to report back to her by the end of May, or the beginning of June at the latest, exactly the same deadline that has been foisted upon this committee by the motion from the member for Bonavista.
Therefore, the most sensible thing of all would simply be to withdraw the motion. Having said that, I want to make an amendment to this motion.
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“The 11th Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on December 16, 2016, be not now concurred in, but that it be recommitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with instruction that it amend the same to clarify that in all of its reviews of the procedures and practices of the House, the committee will only make recommendations to the House that enjoy the support of all the members of the committee.”
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand here to do this. I appreciate what my colleague from said about our riding names and how they have changed and evolved over time. I no longer represent beautiful Bonavista.
Speaking of evolution, let us talk about how we have evolved in many ways, but we have much further to go in order to modernize our Parliament as it is right now. This has been a discussion for quite some time. In certain cases in a miniscule way we have crept along inch by inch on certain individual initiatives. The member who just spoke talked about how we changed the election of the Speaker. We had a member from the NDP who instilled e-petitions, which I think was one of the best things that I voted for regarding motions to change the Standing Orders over the past little while.
By way of illustration, as the president of Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, I hosted several members of the European Parliament. They were here from 2 p.m. until about 3:30 p.m. and managed to take in several things, such as Standing Order 31 statements and oral questions. They also took in voting, because we had a vote after question period. I asked the member from the Netherlands what she thought of the whole 90 minutes. She said it was a contrasting tale of two stories. She said, “You debate like it is the 21st century, but why do you vote like it is still the 19th century?”
Most legislatures around the world have some form of electronic voting or modernized voting. The vote of each individual member is recorded. In some places they have an ID card and members press a button “yes” or “no”. In the British Westminister system, members line up in different aisles as to which way they are voting. Voting is done electronically in the American Congress. Not very many have a way of voting such as we do. If it is a legislature of about 20 people, that is fine, but when it is a legislature of 338 members, it is time-consuming. I know Canadians want to see how their members of Parliament vote, but some may say there are better ways to do it. That being said, during the current process that we have introduced in the motion, we have heard from several people, even members of their own party, conflicted as to how they feel about it. There is nothing wrong with that, because that it is how it should be.
I use the example of electronic voting only because I have enjoyed the discussion so far and I want this discussion to continue. Let me illustrate my current frustrations with this, and I hope that we get beyond this impasse, this filibuster and get into the study itself.
Let me clarify by saying this first and foremost. If I were to stand in the House and look at my colleagues in the NDP and say how dare they do this filibuster, I would be very insincere. After 10 years in opposition dealing with the fair or unfair elections act, I know first-hand that doing a filibuster is a right of every member in the House, to the point where I even would say a lot of it I have been enjoying, quite frankly. I just wish we could take some of this debate that has been playing out in this filibuster and move it into the study, because I want to hear from witnesses from the outside.
There are several bones of contention. Let me address the unanimity aspect of this. The opposition members cite the McGrath report. I am going to pick on the McGrath report because it is a shining example, as they have said, of how it should be. I agree that it should be that way in this report. We should be able to come out with a unanimous report citing several ways to make major changes. However, my motion is to start the study by which we can get into a unanimous report, which I hope we can. The McGrath report which is from 1984, the way the motion is written, it is very complex. It never asks for unanimous consent; it just asks for a report to modernize the House of the day.
The result of that motion was a unanimous report, thank goodness. If we had to pin this down to unanimity, I am not sure that we would have a full debate.
I could debate the idea about the June 2 deadline that I put in my motion. I am willing to talk about that. I have not reached that point yet, but I certainly would like to.
I want to put to rest right away one of the other points which the member brought up earlier. She said that my motion was developed within two hours of reading or tabling the discussion paper. That is not true. Three days prior to the release, the minister showed me the discussion paper. I read it, took it in, took my notes from the take-note debate in October with my own views, and in that period I was able to draft a motion. It was not a two-hour episode. Yes, I saw it before other members. That is true. I am being honest about it.
I want the committee to study this and I want it done quickly so that we can provide the House with what we have discovered through our own testimony, which was far more robust than I had figured because of some of the input from the Conservative Party, the NDP, and from my own party. I have rather enjoyed it. For goodness' sake, for two hours we talked about the Magna Carta. To say that I was absolutely enthralled and gripped with it would not be entirely true but would be pretty close. I forget the name of the riding of the individual who brought it up. I only know him by name. I must say it was a good discussion which I enjoyed very much.
There were several discussions about how other parliaments, particularly the Westminster model in Australia, New Zealand, our own of course, and other jurisdictions, managed to get through the day when modernizing their parliaments.
I talked about electronic voting. I would like to talk about another aspect that was not brought up during the campaign but was in the discussion paper for a very good reason. This was brought to my attention some time ago. It is all about programming.
Some people looking at this would say that I was just defining what the debate is going to be. What happened is that back in the late 1990s there was a great deal of frustration about debate. Debate would go on for so long and then it would end on time allocation. The U.K. MPs call it the guillotine, which is probably a more apt description. Debate would go along; the guillotine would drop, and then it was done. It is frustrating for those in the opposition because they do not know when it is going to happen.
The U.K. decided that after second reading, the debate would be programmed such that they would know how long they would have for report stage, the third stage into the vote. That way each party would be able to present its arguments the way they want to. However, there was a frustrating part. Let us say there were three elements to a debate, with number three being the important one. Members want to build narrative into their debate by saying, “This is bad, and this is bad, but this is really bad.” By the time they got to the second point, all of a sudden the debate would be guillotined and over.
The U.K. has brought in programming, and surprisingly, even a vast majority of members on the opposition side agreed that it was a sensible way to handle legislation. It was not automatic. It required a discussion among the House leaders and if they agreed, debate would be programmed after second reading.
One of the other issues in the discussion paper is about omnibus legislation. Could the Speaker have a more active role in dividing up the omnibus legislation to make it more palatable, certainly to make it more discernible in several ways or in certain areas? For example, a particular topic would be cleaved off into this type of legislation and another topic would go another way.
My hon. colleague from the Conservatives brought up a good point which I think is a precursor to this study, and asked, is that possible? Does the Speaker have the authority? Maybe he or she does; I do not know. It is worth discussing, because as we know, omnibus legislation was a factor that weighed heavily among parliamentarians in the last Parliament and we discussed it quite a bit.
Those are a few elements of the discussion paper that we got into.
There were several aspects that we campaigned on as a party, and we would like to go forward with them, obviously. It is something we campaigned on and something we would like to do.
One of the issues brought up was Fridays. It seems pretty rich when we say to the House, “We don't want to work on Fridays, but if you look at the situation, we never said we wouldn't.”
Here is my problem with Fridays, and I hope the opposition can hear this. It is a half day. It is not a very effective day. Let us take effective hours in this Parliament and apportion them either to other days or make Friday a full day. Those are the options that we wanted to put in front of the committee. They said, “Canadians show up to work on Friday.” That is true. Canadians show up to work at 8:30 in the morning. We show up at 10 a.m. Canadians go to work in September. We do not, according to that logic. Canadians show up to work in January. We do not. Why not? Why can we not apportion some of these hours to those months?
My father was an electrician in a mill for 43 years. Many years ago the company came to him and said, “Instead of working eight-hour shifts, why don't you work 12, and that way you can spend more time with your family on the other four days? Instead of two days off, you get four.” What an idea. The difference here is that my father had some time off on those four days.
Let us be quite honest. There is another part we are missing. I do not know about the other members, and I am not presupposing they do because I know we all do, but my time away from Ottawa is spent working, attending meetings and constituency events, which is where we get our feedback. In many cases, trying to get from here to Newfoundland, I might as well just be going to Iceland, for goodness' sake. It takes about the same amount of time to get there. There is the travel that is involved. Instead of calling them break weeks, they truly are constituency weeks.
I saw the Twitter feed from my hon. colleague from last week. My goodness, I do not think he slept in four days. It was just a constant ream of work. The man is seven feet tall but he should be five foot two he ran around so much in his riding. It is unbelievable. He is a hard-wording member.
I just wanted to bring these points to the fore, but I will conclude with this point. This is a motion to do a study. All the things that members have been saying about unanimity, we want and desire, but what if we put out this report and it has to be unanimous and only one thing is agreed upon? It is a report of just one thing to do. There is so much discussion that can be had. There is so much to talk about that would not be included in this report. That is the unfortunate part. They might not agree with the logic, but in the past, as I have said before, from the very beginning, if we are going to use a report that has received unanimous consent, the motion did not call for unanimous consent and I wonder why. The member who changed the Standing Orders, who just talked about unanimous consent, not once asked for unanimous consent when he changed the rules.
There was a member from the NDP who also changed the rules on e-petitions. He did a good job and I supported it, but he did not ask for unanimous consent.
To achieve unanimous consent is the aspirational goal for which we strive. I understand the politics of this. I understand the Facebook stuff. I understand the filibuster. That is one of the privileges of serving both sides of the House, not because we think we can argue out of both sides of our mouth, but because we have a different perspective of both sides. We know what it is like to govern and we know what it is like to be in opposition. I stand on both principles. I participated fully in a filibuster, and I will sit here and sit in front of a filibuster against me. I even spoke in the filibuster. It is my motion that they are filibustering, and I spoke to it. I do not know if we would call that a “counter-buster” or what the heck we would call it. The reason I spoke to it is we had several hours of fantastic information that was put forward, even in a filibuster. Now go figure that.
Here is why I want to get to the study. There are so many people out there who are not sitting in this House and who can give us great information as to how we can modernize this place. This discussion paper is not a motion in front of the House saying that the majority rules, we vote for it or that is it.
That is what happened before. The perpetrators of the unfair elections act crawled on this high horse and said, “You can't do that.” We are not putting something in the House to vote on now; we are putting a motion to study the possibility of changing the Standing Orders.
I ask members this. At what point does that involve ramming things through? It is not. This is discussion. If opposition members do not like the programming that I just talked about, well, I like it. If they do not like it, they should not support it and should argue against it. I have already acquiesced, on many occasions, about some of the arguments that were put forward, such as omnibus legislation and all of that.
Again, if we take into account what we have done in the past, here is what I like. I liked the McGrath report, because it was unanimous. It was not required, but it was unanimous. We had a take-note debate, started by the Liberals. We did not ram through anything; we said we should have a debate and discuss these ideas. Now we have this motion, together with the discussion paper, some of which we may not even support, but it certainly is worth talking about. This is nowhere near what it used to be.
If we want to talk about precedents, opposition members say they have always acted this way. That is not so. In the early 1990s, Brian Mulroney slapped a motion in this House saying that the Standing Orders needed to be changed. Did he do a motion? No. Did he do a take-note debate? No. Did he do a discussion paper? No. It was, “Here are the changes. Vote for it. We have the majority, so good luck.”
Mr. David Christopherson: That sounds familiar.
Mr. Scott Simms: That is not what we are doing now, Mr. Speaker. That is an absolutely insincere argument.
Mr. David Christopherson: That is not insincere.
Mr. Scott Simms: That is totally insincere, Mr. Speaker, to the point where all they have to do is start this study and get moving. That is all I ask.
Each and every time that we have done this, the opposition talks about the precedents, and there are a lot of them. I do not want to take this off the rails, in the sense that I do not want people to think that we are against a unanimous report. We would all love to have one, all of us. It is an aspirational goal that we believe in.
Mr. David Christopherson: We are good. We are getting there. It is not an aspirational goal.
Mr. Scott Simms: That is right, Mr. Speaker.
However, in the discussions, like I said, I want to talk about all of these things. Before that discussion took place, it was a race to a filibuster and a race to Facebook. That is their right. They can do that, and that is fine. However, I hope we can get through this, because I think modernizing Parliament is sadly overdue. We should do this in all aspects of programming, with voting, and all the matters we can modernize to make this better for all members of Parliament, now that we have 338 members.
That being said, I want to thank all members for listening to me on this. Unanimity would be a wonderful thing. Despite the fact that sometimes I get pretty angry about it, I certainly want that. This place deserves it, and, more than that, Canadians deserve it.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to concurrence in the committee's report, as well as the amendment to send it back to committee, and importantly to affirm and clarify that, in all of its reviews of the procedures and practices of the House, the committee will only make recommendations to the House that enjoy the support of all members of the committee. As I am sure all members know, that has been the subject of some debate pertaining to some other issues before the committee.
It may be that, at various times, some members in the past in Parliament may have made arguments as to why it might not make sense to always proceed on the basis of all-party support. I am not sure I would agree with those arguments. However, I want to speak to them because it is important both to this motion and to other matters at PROC. In the particular circumstances of this Parliament and where we have come from October 2015 until now, it is important that if parties are to engage in discussions, whether it is about family friendly or other rules about the House and changing them, opposition members have some assurances from the government that before setting out on that discussion it will have a proper decision-making process for the end of that discussion. What we do not want to do is create a pretext for the government to ram through whatever changes it would like, whether with respect to family friendly or other changes to the rules of the House.
That is why, notwithstanding any general arguments about why we may not in every case want all-party support for this or that or the other thing, in this Parliament it is important we have those reassurances. Whatever good faith or trust the government might have asked for at the beginning of its mandate has been burned up by the government. It took a serious hit about a year ago when it decided to introduce Motion No. 6, which was an ugly motion that sought to handcuff Parliament and make it a creature essentially of the government. Whenever something was going on that the government did not like, it would simply be able to shut down debate or adjourn the House, and to do it at will. That is why we see arguments from the government on some issues about programming bills, for instance, because it wants more predictability in the House.
Motion No. 6 had nothing to do with a predictable schedule. It had nothing to do with making the hours that we stay or leave predictable for the sake of members with young families or for the staff of members with young families. Therefore, there is good cause to suspect that when the government talks about making the House more predictable for the sake of families, really what it is doing is using the arguments of predictability and using young families as a screen for doing whatever is convenient to it at the time.
Because I will be splitting my time with the member for , he will have more to say on that, so I will leave that alone for now.
I do not think predictability is a real value that the government is promoting. It is cherry-picking when it talks about predictability. It is cherry-picking when it is convenient for it to have concern for members with young families and when it will not. That was part of Motion No. 6. I raise that argument just as one example. If people are just listening through the news and are not in this place every day, they do not see the way the government operates on a daily basis, so it sounds like a reasonable argument. If they have a family, it would be nice to know whether they would leave at 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. When the government had Motion No. 6 in its mind, it had nothing to do with that.
Another issue that pertains to this, because it has to do with democracy and how we set the rules for democracy, was on electoral reform. Again the government said that it needed opposition members to engage it in good faith. It even went so far as to tell members what they should or should not do, which the government ought never do. They were told to go into their constituencies, hold town halls, and then report those findings back to government. Many MPs on this side of the House did that in good faith. The results that came through that process and through the extended travelling of the committee, which heard from a number of experts and ordinary Canadians themselves, was they wanted a change in the voting system.
Then the government went further. In supplementary estimates, it asked for over $3 million extra to conduct a survey. As we found out later, that was the cost of the Liberals breaking a promise they never intended to keep, but not before they caused Canadians to have to pay a considerable amount of money for them to get to where they felt comfortable breaking that promise, not because of what they heard from Canadians, but simply because they realized they would not be able to blame it on someone else.
Those kinds of moves, whether it is Motion No. 6 or whether it is on electoral reform, really undermine the sense of trust that is necessary to move forward with democratic reforms in a country. Whether it is changing the way we vote or whether it is changing the rules in this place, members want to know they are dealing with a government that is actually negotiating in good faith. I put to the House that those two examples go a long way in explaining why all opposition parties are not prepared to extend the benefit of the doubt to the government, as we did on the electoral reform file. It only gets so many chances to engage in those processes in good faith.
What the opposition parties are asking for when it comes to reforming the rules of this place is quite reasonable, particularly in light of that lack of trust and good faith. We want the government simply to commit to what has been done many times in the past. When we are to change the rules of the House, we sit down with the other parties and say that whatever the government goes forward with will be something all parties of this place agree to, and that is it. That is not a lot to ask for.
There are a number of examples where that has been done before. That includes the McGrath committee. If anyone wondered if all-party consent would lead to gridlock and not being able to get anything done, I would remind the House that it was on the McGrath committee that we had a Speaker elected by secret ballot for the first time, which was interesting. It was a major reform of the House. That was not the case before the McGrath committee. It was out of the McGrath committee that we got votable private members' business, granted not in the form that we do it now where every PMB becomes votable if it makes it to the floor of the House. It was out of the McGrath committee, which required all-party consent, that we actually got some of those first reforms.
There is the idea that we cannot make substantive, meaningful reform to the rules of the House because we require all-party consent. On the other side of the coin is that somehow the only way to make meaningful and substantive changes to the rules of the House and to improve the functioning of this place is to have a government come in with less than 40% of the vote, steamroll the opposition parties and make whatever rules it wants, whether it is with respect for what we are talking about today, which is some of the proposals around family-friendly things, or other rules of the House.
If anyone gets up and says that the only way to make the House more modern, more efficient and substantially change the way we do business here is by having a strong-handed government come in and whip this place into shape, it is not true. Members of all parties traditionally have been willing and able to get together and hammer out new ways of going forward that represent the changing trends of society and work-life balance and everything else. It has been done.
The idea that somehow it will take a strongman government to come in and make things right in a place that has its challenges but overall operates pretty well is not on the table. It is particularly funny coming from a government that has one of the most meagre legislative agendas we have seen in a long time. The Liberals have been in government for a year and a half, and they have only seen fit to introduce about 40-some bills. Most of those are just regular procedural bills that have to do with the estimates process. Some of those are bills that were because of decisions of the Supreme Court, which required the government to make a decision. Then a third major category of those bills is simple repeals of Harper-era legislation. It is not like it took a lot of time to prepare, and with the exception of some of my colleagues on the opposition benches from the Conservative Party itself, those repeals tend to have pretty widespread support here in the House of Commons. When we take those three categories of bills together, what is left in terms of an authentic legislative proposal of the government is not very much.
The idea that we somehow have to overhaul the rules of the House to make it easier for government to ram things through, which I submit is a good part of what is really going on, for a government that cannot bring itself to write any legislation of its own is just laughable. Of all the governments, at least if we are to change things to make it “more efficient” around here, it should be for a government that is actually presenting a lot of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to join in the debate. I would like to start by coming back to the focus of what is actually on the floor, which is a report from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It just happens that this report is on the family-friendly Parliament changes. My friend from made a great deal about the fact that the problem we have right now is not whether we agree with electronic voting, or Wednesdays with the , and Fridays off; our problem right now is on process.
We pride ourselves in being a sports nation. Most Canadians have had some kind of attachment to some kind of sports. We all know that the first thing to do is to decide on what the rules are going to be. When the committee did this report, the one that is actually in front of us right now, I cannot say—and when this motion came up, it was not on the agenda, and I did not have time to look at Hansard to see whether an express statement was made—that there would only be things included in this report—I was there, I was part of this—but only if we all agreed.
I can certainly say, if we look at Hansard, that this was the working assumption. The proof positive would be that the government was very much pushing its idea of Fridays off at that time. It was the Conservatives and New Democrats who made it crystal clear at the beginning, the middle, and at the end of our discussion on that subject that there was no way in heck that there was going to be unanimity. Liberals can make all the speeches they want. They can have the floor; we would not dream of denying them that. However, they should understand that as it is right now, neither opposition party is willing to accept that.
When one turns to this report, one would start looking through to see what happened to the Fridays. I know every member has read every page and word of this report, because we are voting on it. However, I would remind people, in case they have forgotten since they read it, there is no reference to Fridays because everything in the report was agreed upon by the entire committee.
My friend, the , said if there were only one agreement, how would we guarantee that there would be tangible results? This very report shows that we can do it. That speaks to how we run Parliament, which is why we all work under the implied understanding that if we did not all agree, it does not go in the report. That is exactly what happened, and the report is here now because it was approved with all-party agreement. There were things that members did not agree with that are not in the report. What is agreed to goes in the report and what is not agreed to does not go in the report.
As we talk process, as I share some side comments with the former government House leader, what is really interesting is again harkening back to my friend from talking about process. I am not showing everyone some arcane documents, but the document that is actually the focus of what we are doing, and it is only here because we all agreed.
Not only that, but on the process of how this was approached, again, I was here. Do members know how this started? It started when the previous government House leader, the current government's previous House leader, wanted us to undertake this study. It sounds familiar, right? That is exactly what the current asked us to do, except the previous House leader did not just drop a document out there in the public domain, in the middle of a constituency week, with really no comment and no consultation. It was just, “There you go.”
The previous House leader, when the government wanted us to undertake a study, showed the respect the government said it was going to show more of to committees. He showed the respect of coming to the committee, presenting his thoughts, and making reference to his mandate, which I would like to underscore and which is on the front page of the report. The mandate letter the previous Liberal government House leader had stated:
Work with Opposition House Leaders to examine ways to make the House of Commons more family-friendly for Members of Parliament.
The first thing that veteran House leader did was come to the committee, have the respect to present what the government wanted us to do, and ask us to undertake it, which we then did, under the assumption that we would only put things in the report that we all agreed on, which we did. We had quite a number of significant changes that are going to make things better for the work-life balance of members of Parliament.
What is the problem? Why are we not doing the same thing? In this case, it was the official opposition formally asking the government, since it brought papers and we were not really sure what was going on, because we did not get the courtesy visit we got from the previous House leader, when we could ask questions. We just had this thing kind of dumped out there. The first thing that happened was, guess what? There was an amendment on the floor calling on the government to acknowledge that it will not make any changes unless there is all-party agreement.
Normally, what should have happened, if we followed the process we did with this, is that the government would have said, “Of course. What's the big deal?” We would have had a fast vote.
Now, as we are wasting all this time, we would have been discussing the very issues the government has asked us to undertake. Instead, look at the mess it has got us into.
I wish I had more time. I only have two minutes? That is what happens when we are having fun. I will do this as quickly as I can.
The government is the one that did not and would not adjourn that committee meeting, which pushed us into 24/7. Technically, in parliamentary la-la land, down the hall in one of the committee rooms it is still only a week ago last Tuesday. That is the bizarre situation we are in. The government amped that up, not the opposition. The government decided that it was going to take it from a filibuster in committee to a filibuster that overtook the committee.
All we are asking is to recognize that we cannot have honest and free give-and-take negotiations, or discussions, that are actually equal and fair and are going to get somewhere as long as the government still maintains that it has the right to ram them through afterwards. We cannot have that kind of discussion. I have been at the negotiating table. It is like saying to a company when at the table, “No matter what you offer, we are going to strike.” The government is basically saying, “We are going to negotiate with you, we are going to listen to you, we are going to be fair-minded, until you want to do something we do not agree with, and then we are going to utilize our majority and ram it through anyway.”
That is why we are in this jam. It is the government's doing. The same government, a year ago, did it the right way, and we did not have any problem. There were no filibusters. There were no accusations of a power grab.
The very report that we are looking at here now is the result of the same process that we should be undertaking, and yet the government is still, to this moment, refusing to accept the fact that it does not have the moral right to change the rules of the House unilaterally, without the agreement of the other participants. That is not on.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Some issues interest me more than others. Today I had the chance to talk about the budget, which is of great importance for all Canadians, but for me personally, I love the debate about the Standing Orders and the way in which the House and its standing committees function.
I do not say that lightly. I was first elected in 1988, and I had the privilege of serving the residents of Inkster back then. Sharon Carstairs was the leader of the Liberal Party in Manitoba and she appointed me as party whip. That was back in 1988. Ever since then, I have always been a part of what one would classify as the House leadership team. I have been involved in discussions and negotiations on a wide spectrum of issues, in particular issues pertaining to the Standing Orders.
I have had the opportunity to sit down with Gary Filmon, a Progressive Conservative premier, and his designated individuals responsible to change Standing Orders. I have had the opportunity to sit down with Gary Doer, an NDP premier, and his designated individuals. I have even had the opportunity to speak to individuals inside this place with respect to the government under Stephen Harper, the former government House leader, and the designated individuals.
I like to think that I come to the table with a great deal of opposition experience especially. Most of my years in office have been on the opposition benches. I have spent over 20 years on the opposition benches.
I am very comfortable with this document, and I truly believe there are many members across the way who would be very comfortable with the document if we had this discussion.
I would also emphasize that at the end of the day, I believe, as this has clearly indicated, that there is a need for us to modernize the Canadian Parliament. I have been thinking that for years, and I am ever so grateful that we finally have a Prime Minister who wants to see that happen. We have a who has taken the initiative very seriously, and through her efforts has developed a discussion paper that is meant for the procedure and House affairs committee to sit down and have some dialogue on, and ensure that we can call some witnesses so we can hear from other parliamentary associations and from different levels of government.
Provinces do a lot of wonderful things. I for one think that we made some positive changes in the Manitoba legislature. When we were looking at changing the rules, we looked at Ottawa and the types of things that Ottawa did that maybe we could incorporate. There is a great deal of interest, especially from certain people or stakeholders, as to how Parliament actually functions, and the roles that both opposition and government members have in making it work.
I am very much familiar with filibusters. I have participated in them in the past and there is always a chance that I might be participating in them in the future. I understand the need for the government get its legislation through, not only when I have been on the government benches. In fact, if members across the way will read Hansard, when the Conservative government House leader would stand up and bring in time allocation at that record pace, when I stood up during the question-and-answer session, I would defend the government's ability to use time allocation.
Mr. Luc Berthold: Not often.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: But the point is I did, Mr. Speaker, because I recognize there is an obligation of the government to look at ways in which it can get its legislative agenda through.
We already have different situations, whether it be on private members' bills, opposition days, the government's budget, or the throne speech, where there are limits that are put into place. I would like to see that discussion take place at PROC. I would like to hear what others have to say. There are other parliamentary jurisdictions that have demonstrated that it can be more efficient.
We had members talk about the benefits of electronic voting. There is an alternative to standing up on every vote. I have had literally hundreds and hundreds of votes over the last number of years here. One stand-up vote takes roughly eight to 10 minutes, depending on who is calling it. Is that the best use of time, the hundreds of hours that we spend on standing in our place to vote, when in fact we could potentially push a button inside the chamber? I understand that there is even wiring that would allow that. If we want to see more debate on legislation, under the rules being proposed through the discussion paper, there is the potential to have even more debate on legislation. As opposed to focusing strictly on the negatives, I would suggest that members would be well served to get a better appreciation of what is in the discussion paper.
As I indicated, I have sat down with different levels of government, negotiating changes to the Standing Orders. Not once in those negotiations did I ever say I would not participate unless I have a guarantee that it passes by unanimous consent. There is no way they would have agreed to that. At least, I do not believe they would have agreed to it. I never used that as a strategy. I was open to the government and whoever was driving the need for change. I argue that it is because the former government did not make it a high priority and this government has made it a priority. There are members on all sides of the House who love to debate and talk about the rules and who want to look at ways that we can improve the system.
They talk about the prime minister's hour. Not one Liberal member of Parliament has suggested that the prime minister only be here once a day. That is not the intent. I like the idea of having a prime minister's hour. Not all members of this place can be a leader of a political party on the other side of the bench, or have the privilege of having the first series of questions, let us say, the first nine questions. Typically and historically, the prime minister answers the first nine, 10, 15 questions. After that, that is it. What about those members who are asking the 25th question? I like the idea of members knowing that on such and such a day, if they stand up, even if they are question number 20 or 25, they are going to get the opportunity to have the prime minister answer their question. I see that as a positive thing. That is not a negative. No one on this side is advocating that the prime minister should work only one day a week inside the House of Commons. That is not what is happening here.
I want to refer to the Fridays, because I want to emphasize, and I have said it before, as the member of Parliament for Winnipeg North, I genuinely believe that I work seven days a week. Some days are more hours than other days, but I go to events on Sundays, and do all sorts of things every day of the week. I would challenge members to think about how we could better serve our constituency by looking at the way we do our work here in Ottawa.
There are opportunities that would enable us to provide a better service to our constituents. The Friday is an excellent example. Today, it is a half day. If we were to shift those hours to a Tuesday and a Thursday, then we could be in our ridings on the Friday. I have missed many events in my riding on Fridays because I have to be here. It is such a privilege to be here. However, if it means that we could have a more productive day on a Tuesday and a Thursday and not have to work the half day here in Ottawa, if I could be in my constituency office meeting with people or going to an event, I would think my constituents would rather that I am there and servicing them. It does not mean that there would be fewer sitting hours in the House of Commons. Anyone who tries to give that impression is wrong.
Most importantly, when we talk about these changes, what we should be talking about is exactly what the government House leader has afforded the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs to do.
The did a phenomenal job in putting the discussion paper together. She has put it before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and is asking the committee to call in some witnesses. Let us hear what some of those witnesses have to say. A good, quality debate could be had. If the opposition sees merit in that, which I truly hope it will, we should take advantage of the opportunity and get engaged in making this a more modern Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion before the House to concur in the 11th report of the procedure and House affairs committee and our government's desire to modernize the House of Commons. We have put forward some ideas on how to improve this place to make it more accountable, more effective, and more transparent. I would like to make one thing clear. We want to hear from all parties and all MPs. We welcome a discussion on this matter. It would be good for this place and it would build on the work done on the 11th report.
In direct response to the Harper government's approach to this place, in the last campaign we spoke to Canadians about giving them more of a voice in Ottawa. Our goal is to make it a better place for members of Parliament to do their jobs and represent their constituents.
The discussion paper touches on three broad themes: What is the best way to manage time in the House of Commons? What is the best way to manage debate of legislation and motions? What is the best way to manage the work of committees?
Let me discuss some of the ideas in the discussion paper.
First is question period. We promised in the last election to reform question period so that all members, including the , are held to greater account. We said we would introduce a prime minister's question period to improve that level of direct accountability.
The discussion paper suggests that the British model of the prime minister's question period is one possible way of implementing this change to complement our current practices. We would like to look at a made-in-Canada approach. People have been saying for years they would like to improve question period, but again, let me make it clear: Liberal members will not be recommending that the only appear in question period once per week. The prime minister's question period would be in addition to the current practice of appearing on other days of the week. We are committed to more accountability in question period, not less.
Another idea that has drawn attention is Friday sittings. The House of Commons sits for fewer hours than normal on that day, four and a half hours. There are no votes in the House of Commons that day on the content of a bill, and committees do not sit on that day.
One idea worth exploring is reallocating the hours and questions on Friday to the other sitting days. The change would give MPs a chance to spend time in their communities on that weekday, meeting with their constituents and addressing their needs directly. Alternatively, we could perhaps make Friday a full day so that we could have committee time, and so forth. Regardless, for MPs Friday would continue to be a workday. The difference is that their focus on that day could be working in their ridings, being accountable to their constituents. It could become a constituency day.
Reallocating Friday sittings would not mean any less time in Parliament for MPs. The four and a half hours from that day could be redistributed to the other four days of the week. There would be more time for debate on those other days, and time could be added to the daily question period from Monday through Thursday as well. This could be easily accomplished, for instance, by having the House open at 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Most Canadians start their workday at 9 a.m. or earlier; why should the House not start at 9 a.m. as well?
Another idea is whether we should consider electronic voting for members of Parliament. MPs spend a lot of time voting in the House of Commons, standing when their name is called. The discussion paper suggests members consider a more efficient method, electronic voting. With this method of voting, MPs could have more time to get work done outside the chamber. The result of the vote would presumably be instant, and Canadians would have an immediate record of how their MP voted.
This suggestion is not new. A parliamentary committee recommended electronic voting in a 1985 report on House of Commons reform. That was 32 years ago, before the Internet changed our lives.
We live in an information age. Let us adapt and bring this institution into the 21st century. Let us think about truly modernizing how we spend our time here and take a good look at electronic voting as an option. With the moving of the chamber to the West Block, why not explore a pilot project and give it a try?
The discussion paper says that MPs could consider changing the calendar of their sittings so that the House sits earlier in January, and/or later in June, and/or earlier in September. The paper suggests that more flexibility is needed in how often the House sits, so that if an urgent matter is before the Commons, MPs could spend more time debating it, potentially by sitting longer on a given day or beyond the planned adjournment.
It is important that MPs from all sides of the House have a meaningful role in the legislative process. There are different ways to accomplish that goal. One suggestion in the discussion paper is to add more time for private members' business each week. That means more opportunity for the House of Commons to debate private members' bills and motions that MPs put forward.
These are both ideas we think MPs on both sides of the aisle would want to explore further. I encourage us to do so.
Our government has pledged not to improperly prorogue Parliament to avoid difficult political circumstances, something that was done in the past. The previous government prorogued Parliament to avoid a confidence vote. To guard against the improper use of prorogation, one idea would be to require the government to table a document early in the following session that explains why Parliament was prorogued. The report would automatically be studied by a House of Commons committee. That is a suggestion which makes sense and I believe we should look at it.
I believe we have an opportunity to have a meaningful debate, recognizing that every member, every party has a role to play.
These are just some of the ideas in the discussion paper. We are genuinely hoping for a review of these ideas by our parliamentary colleagues. I am encouraging all members to start that discussion.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say it is a pleasure to rise to be part of this debate today, but obviously, given the heavy-handed attempts of the government to try to ram through changes that would make it less accountable, I cannot say it is a pleasure. It is something I have to do, something we all have to do, to try to stand up for the rights of Canadians to make sure the government is held accountable. I am proud to do that, but I certainly wish I did not have to be doing it, because the government should not be taking this heavy-handed approach in trying to ram through the types of changes it is trying to ram through.
The government would obviously eliminate some of the accountability that is built into the measures put in place in the House by ensuring the prime minister only has to be, essentially, held accountable by Canadians for 25 hours in the entire year, by making sure there are less days members have to be here in the House of Commons to be held accountable, and by taking away some of the ability of the opposition parties to draw the attention of Canadians to important issues so the government can be held accountable by Canadians.
That is really why I am standing up today. I am doing everything I can and I know my colleagues across the opposition benches are as well. This is one of those rare moments when we see all the opposition parties standing united. That means something, because we are standing up for democracy. We are standing up for Canadians and their right to hold the government accountable through their members of Parliament whom they have elected. That is something too fundamental for us not to stand up and fight for all the way.
I listened to the government House leader give a speech that tried to deflect away from a lot of these things.
Before I get to that, Mr. Speaker, I will mention that I will be sharing my time with the member for . I cannot forget to let you know that.
The government House leader talked and used a lot of time to try to deflect away from the real issues here. She tried to claim that somehow this was going to make things more accountable, that somehow they really wanted to have this discussion, which no one seems to have heard is actually happening. The Liberals have had all kinds of time to have a discussion, but there does not seem to be one. They only want to have a discussion when they can be sure they are going to get their way. If they cannot have their way, they do not want to even start the discussion.
That is where we are. The opposition parties are saying these kinds of changes have always been done with the unanimous consent of the parties. That is to ensure that changes are not being made to simply benefit the party in power, which is what the government is very clearly trying to do. I think the Liberals are hoping and expecting that maybe Canadians will not pay attention to this. Maybe they think Canadians will not be smart enough to realize what they are trying to do. However, Canadians are not stupid, and they will not stand for this kind of garbage that we are seeing from the government. They will not stand for this kind of heavy-handed approach. They will not stand for a government that is trying everything it can to be held less accountable. They will not stand for a prime minister who refuses to answer questions of Canadians in the House of Commons.
As proof of that, I would like to just spend a little time reading some emails. Being a member of the committee that is looking at these changes, I have received hundreds, into the thousands, of emails over the last 10 days or so. I know Liberal members of the committee have been sent these as well, because I can see they are copied on a lot of these. In fact, it is usually me being copied on some of the ones being sent to them.
I hope this is something government members are listening to. I see the government members are having a conversation over there. Maybe they can have a conversation among themselves. It would be time they had a conversation with the opposition parties about actually getting down to work in trying to ensure that the changes being made are not being made by them and them alone to benefit them and them alone. It is time they actually benefit Canadians. They need to learn that. They need to listen, because this is Canadians speaking, and I am going to share their words with those Liberals right now and hope they will actually do some listening.
I will start out with some of the comments I have received here.
The first is from someone named Marilyn Raible. She says, “As a Canadian citizen and a taxpayer, it is with total disgust to hear the Liberal Party once again is trying to sneak something past the people of Canada that once again would only benefit the Liberals. All of those elected and now sitting in Parliament must be accountable to the Canadian people and the democratic principles. You were put in these positions to work for and represent the Canadian people and Canada as a whole.”
She goes on to say, “As a democracy, we have the right to have elected officials sit in Parliament from Monday to Friday and debate and scrutinize bills for the good of the people. The Liberal Party has no right in shutting down Parliament on Fridays and permanently limiting debate or scrutiny on their bills. Men went to war to fight for these freedoms that we experience in this great country of Canada. This is what democracy is all about, the freedom to speak up and debate and to work for the good of the Canadian people. I say no to shutting down Parliament on Fridays and no to limiting debate on bills.”
I have one from Hugh Freeman, who says, “This is in respect to the committee that you are currently participating in concerning the debating of the rules of the House of Commons. Be advised that I disagree with the formation of, the terms of reference of, and the timing of this to put it in conflict with the coincidental budget hearing, with the apparent purpose of trying to hide your committee from the Canadian public. I also disagree with the PM trying to shirk his own responsibility by trying to no longer attend Friday House sittings and have advised him separately of that.” The is hearing about this, too. He continues, “Although it seems clear that the intent was to hide this committee hearing behind budget matters, be assured the public has indeed noticed your nefarious behaviour and will endeavour to ensure you pay a price for this at the polls.”
I have read a couple of emails so members can get a sense of the pattern here, and I will read some others as well, but I think what we are hearing is Canadians saying, “We won't be fooled. We are not stupid. We see what this government is trying to do. We see they're trying to benefit themselves and themselves alone. We see that they're trying to make sure they're not held accountable. We see they're trying to avoid question period so that opposition members, on behalf of Canadians, can ensure they're held accountable.”
People are using words like “nefarious”. I can read a number of comments in here that refer to the as a dictator. Those are the kinds of comments Canadians are making, because they are so upset about what is being done here. They see it as akin to those kind of things. When people are seeing it and speaking about it in such strong terms, that means something. That means Canadians are seeing what is going on here. They understand what the government is trying to do and they are upset and they will not tolerate it. They are making threats even to the point of saying that the Liberals will pay the price for this at the polls.
Liberal backbenchers will see no benefit from this, because the is the one who is going to benefit in that he will not have to be held accountable. I hope some of those backbenchers are saying, “You know what, Mr. Prime Minister? My constituents won't stand for this and I can tell you I'm going to pay a price for this at the polls. I don't think it's acceptable and it's also not right.” I hope they speak up, maybe when they go to their caucus meeting on Wednesday, and let the know that this is completely and utterly unacceptable and it will not be tolerated by the Canadian people. Maybe some of them will have the guts to tell the that.
I will continue with some other emails. There are so many of them it is hard to choose which ones to read. I will read this one from Corey Smith. It is addressed to the Liberal members of the committee, and says, “Please stop the proposed changes to Parliament. I encourage you to keep the ability for debate and accountability available to both members of your own party and the opposition. I encourage you to encourage the Prime Minister to show up to work and be accountable more than one day a week. I understand the need to get home to your ridings, but working a half day on Fridays is not too much to expect. I personally work five to six days per week. I understand that you work long hours. I worked road construction. Often we worked until dark Mondays to Thursdays and we would finish early on Fridays to allow for travel, but not before noon. Is this a case where the Prime Minister is not capable of answering questions due to lack of experience and this is a good way for him to avoid this? Would you have allowed this from Mr. Harper? If things are getting to be too much for Prime Minister Trudeau, Parliament can be prorogued. This has happened. However, debate and accountability should never permanently be removed through limitations of this nature. Show how much you love Canada and stop this. You may be in the opposition in the future wishing you had the ability to debate and hold people accountable. It would be a shame if it is lost.”
There are hundreds more emails like these where people are telling the Liberal government that they will not stand for this, that they will not tolerate this, and it is time that the understood that he cannot just do whatever he wants. He has to be accountable to this House of Commons and accountable to the Canadian people. I can say that as the opposition, we will ensure that he does exactly that.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join the debate in this chamber. I started to make some points on this issue at committee, but I just did not have enough time there to get to a lot of the things that I wanted to say. Therefore, I appreciate the opportunity to continue that dialogue here in the chamber.
It is interesting how much this issue has galvanized the interest of Canadians. Even before I started participating in the work of the committee, I was receiving correspondence on all kinds of different channels from Canadians who are interested in this issue. Who would have thought that Canadians would be so seized with the activities of the procedure and House affairs committee here in Ottawa? Canadians take the strength of our institutions very seriously. They take the integrity of those institutions seriously. They take the process by which we see developments and changes to those institutions very seriously, because there is something very insidious being talked about and being intended by the government.
The Liberals use nice-sounding weasel words like “modernization” and “having a conversation”, but it is actually very clear what they mean in every case. On this side of the House, we are very willing to have a conversation in a collaborative way about how the Standing Orders might be changed collaboratively going forward. No set group of Standing Orders is perfect and I am sure we can always learn from the experience and look for opportunities to improve them. However, there is a difference between that collective process of evolution that we can undertake together where we work on possible improvements and what is being proposed by the government, which is nothing short of a Standing Orders revolution, where the Liberals come in independently as the government and decide what they would like the Standing Orders to say. It is their concept of what constitutes modernization and they are going to impose that on the House.
Government members plead, “No, this is not our intent. We are not going to necessarily do it unilaterally. We just want to leave open the possibility to do it unilaterally.” As long as the government members leave that possibility open, surely members of the opposition cannot trust their good faith. Why do the Liberals not just take that option off the table, the option of unilateral action, of revolutionary changes to the Standing Orders, and instead say they are going to do this in an evolutionary way where members put forward different ideas but ultimately have to agree on the next steps we take forward? That would be a productive way of gradually improving our institution.
We hear members of the government say, “Let us just get on to the discussion on the substance. We want to have a discussion about these issues.” It is interesting that this actually parallels the conversation we had during the electoral reform debate. Members of the government said not to worry about the issue of a referendum but to just get on to talking about electoral systems, because, in fact, what they wanted was to push their preferred system. What I think the Liberals realized as that process went through was that Canadians were paying attention to what the Liberals were trying to do, that Canadians cared about the process by which these decisions were made, and they wanted to know that there was going to be a fair process established up front before proceeding to have the discussion. It is great to have the discussion, but they have to define a fair process up front.
What we saw with the electoral reform discussion was that in response to that public pressure, eventually the government realized that it was not going to be able to get away with it unilaterally, so it dropped it and decided it was not going to do anything. That is probably where we are going to end up eventually with respect to the Standing Orders, but it is unfortunate that the government members have yet to learn this lesson. They still want to make a unilateral change that reflects their concept of what the Standing Orders should be rather than work with the House in a constructive way to evolve those going forward.
Frankly, I am very interested in having a conversation about possible changes to the Standing Orders. We had a take-note debate in the House of Commons about those issues. I put forward some specific ideas about changes that could be made to the Standing Orders. Those might be changes that are shared by some members of the government. They might be changes that some members within my own party do not agree on. That was an opportunity to put forward ideas, to have that conversation, and to move that forward in a constructive way.
The framework that we thought we could work under was one in which the procedure and House affairs committee would study these prospective changes, work on them, and look for ways of moving them forward. It would be a more genuine, gradual process of moving forward, not a kind of unilateral process of the or the or some staffer in the PMO deciding, “No, this is what we want to do.”
The Liberals plead with us to accept their good faith, but when we look at what is in the discussion paper, these are all things that work to the advantage of the government.
It is interesting going through the discussion paper. I read it and spoke about it in detail at committee on what the government House leader was putting forward. The government always uses its human shield, the young family, the family friendliness of it. That is always the Liberals go-to for trying to make changes to the House of Commons that works to their political advantage.
I take exception to this as a member of Parliament with a young family, always very seized with these questions of how we balance the needs of our families with the needs of the work we do. Let us remember, as other members have pointed out, this is not unique to members of Parliament. All Canadians deal with this in different forms. Many people in my constituency have to travel for work as well, whether they work in the energy sector or perhaps the military. This is not just unique to members of Parliament.
I put forward some ideas of things that we could actually do that would not be about the political interests of the government but would actually help young families. The Liberals talk about having fewer days but more extended hours. However, extended hours is a real problem for people with young families. If we are sitting for very long days four days a week, that makes it much more difficult for members to have time to talk on the phone or to meet in person with members of their family. That creates some new additional challenges for families.
The elimination of Friday sittings is really about taking away a day on which the government would have to be accountable. Even if we add those extra minutes to question period at other times of the day, we know, and the Liberals know, that if Friday sittings are taken away that is one less day on which the government has to stand and answer questions which could appear on that day's news. There are only four days instead of five days on which we get to ask the government questions, which then can appear as part of the broader discourse.
The Liberals are using young families as their human shield for this change they want to make, which is in their interests, when we could have a real constructive discussion about ways to move forward. One of the suggestions I put forward was reducing the number of days on which votes could take place, continuing to have the same number of days for discussion, debate, and questions, but maybe having one additional day on which votes did not take place. That would provide an additional level of flexibility but would in no way slow down the existing legislative process.
If we work together in a constructive, collaborative way in which we establish ground rules from the start, we could have some of these ideas given a full airing. These are things that I mentioned when we debated the Standing Orders earlier.
Let us talk about some of the so-called reforms to question period that the Liberals want to make. I think Canadians are interested in discussions about potential changes to question period, but one the suggestions put forward is that we make better use of late shows in particular as a vehicle for more substantive exchanges. Perhaps we could require that ministers make themselves available to be scheduled for a late show exchange rather than parliamentary secretaries. That is an opportunity where the minister responsible for a given file has to answer, in long form, specific questions that members of Parliament have. This idea would enhance accountability.
What the government has proposed in its reforms are not some of the changes that were put forward in a private member's bill by my friend from on question period reform, which would have involved an expectation that ministers actually answer the questions. That is not in the discussion paper. We see the government only putting forward changes that work to its interests. It is obvious what the Liberals are doing.
Another example is what the Liberals are doing on time allocation. Their proposal entails time allocation effectively being automatic, that on every bill, the Liberals would be allocating the time. This is different. They would not only be allocating the time in the House, but they would also be allocating the amount of time at committees. Therefore, committees would no longer be the masters of their own domain and would not have the flexibility. This is really concerning.
What if in the context of the study of a bill a committee doing its job suddenly realizes there is a significant issue that it was not aware of before and it needs to dig deeper into that to ensure it understands what is going on, so it needs more time. The government wants to completely take away that flexibility. It would be really good for the government, but it would not be good for this institution, it would not be good for the important role that the opposition has, and it would not be good for Canadians. We need to have the proper amount of time to debate legislation.
Let us agree to support a unanimous decision-making process where we can make changes collaboratively that are in the interests of Canadians and the institution. Let us do it that way, not in a unilateral way that the government wants. Let us agree to do it in that way and then we can start moving forward.