That the Standing Orders of the House of Commons be amended as follows:
1. That the following section be added after Standing Order 32. (6):
“(7) Not later than twenty sitting days after the beginning of the second or subsequent session of a Parliament, a Minister of the Crown shall lay upon the Table a document outlining the reasons for the latest prorogation. This document shall be deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs immediately after it is presented in the House.”
2. That the following new Standing Order be added after Standing Order 69.
“69.1(1) In the case where a government bill seeks to repeal, amend or enact more than one act, and where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions or where unrelated matters are linked, the Speaker shall have the power to divide the questions, for the purposes of voting, on the motion for second reading and reference to a committee and the motion for third reading and passage of the bill. The Speaker shall have the power to combine clauses of the bill thematically and to put the aforementioned questions on each of these groups of clauses separately, provided that there will be a single debate at each stage.
“69.1(2) The present Standing Order shall not apply if the bill has as its main purpose the implementation of a budget and contains only provisions that were announced in the budget presentation or in the documents tabled during the budget presentation.”
3. That Standing Order 81 be amended as follows:
(a) by replacing each occurrence of the words “interim supply” in sections (3) and (17), and in paragraph (14)(a), with the following: “interim estimates”;
(b) by replacing the initial text in section (4) with the following: “(4) The main estimates to cover a given fiscal year for every department of government shall be deemed referred to standing committees on or before April 16 of that fiscal year. Each such committee shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than June 10 of that fiscal year, provided that:”
(c) by replacing in paragraphs (4)(a) and (b),
I. the words “May 1” with the words “May 8”;
II. each occurrence of the words “May 31” with the words “June 10”;
(d) by replacing paragraph (4)(c) with the following: “(c) on the third sitting day preceding the final allotted day, at not later than the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, the said committee shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the main estimates for the said department or agency; and”;
I. by adding after the word “immediately” the word “after”;
II. by replacing the word “censé” in the French version with the word “réputé”;
(f) by adding a new section (6) to read as follows: “(6) Interim estimates shall be deemed referred to a standing committee or committees immediately after they are presented in the House. Each such committee shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than three sitting days before the final sitting or the last allotted day in the period ending not later than March 26.”; and
(g) by deleting the words “or interim supply” in section (21).
4. That the following sections be added after Standing Order 104.(4):
“(5) In addition to the members named pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, the Chief Government Whip may, at any time, file with the clerk of any standing, special or legislative committee a notification indicating that one or more Parliamentary Secretaries shall serve as non-voting members of the committee. The Parliamentary Secretaries shall have all of the rights and privileges of a committee member, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.
(6)(a) A Minister of the Crown cannot be appointed to or cannot act as a substitute on any standing, legislative or special committee.
(b) A Parliamentary Secretary cannot be appointed to any standing, legislative or special committee, except as provided for in section (5) of this Standing Order.”
5. That the following subsections be added after Standing Order 114.(2)(d):
“(e) In relation to Parliamentary Secretaries named pursuant to Standing Order 104(5), the Chief Government Whip may effect a substitution of one Parliamentary Secretary for another by filing notice thereof with the clerk of the committee and such a substitution shall be effective immediately when it is received by the clerk of the committee.
(f) A Parliamentary Secretary named as a non-voting member of a committee pursuant to Standing Order 104(5) shall not be eligible to act as a substitute for a member of that committee.”
6. That Standing Order 114.(3) be replaced with the following:
“(3) Changes in the membership of any legislative committee shall be effective immediately after notification thereof, signed by the Chief Whip of any recognized party, has been filed with the clerk of the committee. Substitutions may be made in the same manner prescribed in section (2) of this Standing Order.”
7. That Standing Order 116 be replaced with the following:
“(1) In a standing, special or legislative committee, the Standing Orders shall apply so far as may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the election of a Speaker, seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.
(2)(a) Unless a time limit has been adopted by the committee or by the House, the Chair of a standing, special or legislative committee may not bring a debate to an end while there are members present who still wish to participate. A decision of the Chair in this regard may not be subject to an appeal to the committee.
(b) A violation of paragraph (a) of this section may be brought to the attention of the Speaker by any Member and the Speaker shall have the power to rule on the matter. If, in the opinion of the Speaker, such violation has occurred, the Speaker may order that all subsequent proceedings in relation to the said violation be nullified.”
That Standing Order 81 as amended take effect on September 18, 2017, and remain in effect for the duration of the current Parliament;
That the other Standing Orders as amended take effect on September 18, 2017;
That the Clerk of the House be authorized to make any required editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders, including to the marginal notes; and
That the Clerk of the House be instructed to print a revised edition of the Standing Orders of the House.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about our government's commitment to strengthen and improve Parliament. We believe Canadians cherish the House of Commons, the very heart of our democracy. We believe that what happens in this place, how we conduct ourselves, how we debate legislation, and how we hold the government to account is central to our country's democratic health.
The people who sent us here deserve to know we are doing our best to serve in their best interest and to make them proud of the work we are doing on behalf of them. They deserve to know that as their elected representatives, we are working together to put our country's interests first. Simply put, our constituents should be assured that we will all fight together for their interests. Those debates can often be drawn along clear and robust partisan lines, and that is good. This is part of what creates good public policy.
At the same time, it is crucial that all of us find ways to collectively maintain and strengthen the political institution where we debate our differences, our perspectives, and most important, the voices of our constituents. Indeed, the rules and conventions that govern this place date back through generations of our predecessors, and we have all done well by them.
However, there can always be improvements. We can always modernize. We can always do better. Today, it is time to do just that. We are here to debate our government's proposed motion to reform and modernize the Standing Orders in several key areas.
In this discussion, it is important to emphasize the reasons why these changes are needed and how they can serve to strengthen the House of Commons over the decades to come.
It is also important to emphasize how attached we are to implementing new practices, such as the Prime Minister's question period, which will contribute to making our government and future governments more accountable to Canadians.
As background, I would like to remind colleagues of some of the steps that have brought us here today.
Two years ago, as Canadians were preparing to cast their ballot in the general election, the Liberal Party released its campaign platform. That platform promised real change and pledged to give Canadians a voice in Ottawa.
The platform stated:
For Parliament to work best, its members must be free to do what they have been elected to do: represent their communities and hold the government to account. Government must always stay focused on serving Canadians and solving their problems.
The following are among the specific promises that were made in the platform that we committed to: introduce a prime minister's question period to improve the level of direct accountability; end the improper use of prorogation and omnibus bills; provide better parliamentary oversight of taxpayer dollars; and, strengthen parliamentary committees so that parliamentary secretaries do not have a vote on committee.
On election day in October 2015, Canadians made their decision on the type of government and Parliament they wanted in Ottawa. The result was clear: Canadians elected a government with a mandate to strengthen Parliament. The is committed to making that happen.
It is important to note the instructions he has given me in my mandate letter, which states:
As Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, your overarching goal will be to make Parliament relevant again and to ensure that Canadians once again have a real voice in Ottawa. Parliamentarians must have the information and the freedom to do their most important jobs: represent their constituents and hold the government to account. It is your job to help empower all Members of Parliament to fulfill these essential responsibilities.
Before going any further, I would like to insist on the fact that this is our main goal. Our intention is to give powers to members on both sides of the House. We want to give them the tools they need to be able do the work for which they were elected. We want to ensure that the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers are more accountable to the House.
As I have often stated in this place, I welcome the views of my colleagues. I have engaged in good-faith discussions with my Conservative and NDP counterparts about our approach to the specific reforms we have put forward. These were helpful discussions. Indeed, throughout both the public discourse we witnessed this spring, and more recently in my conversations with my counterparts, I listened carefully. Now, Canadians expect us to act. We have a plan on how to strengthen Parliament. It is reasonable and it is based on our mandate from Canadians.
First, let me address the changes to the Standing Orders in four areas.
With respect to the prorogation of Parliament, which signifies the end of a session and can occur with justification during a mandate, there have been times in the past that governments have improperly prorogued early to avoid politically difficult situations. If that happens again in future, Canadians deserve a formal explanation in Parliament. Under the change, the government must table a document outlining the reasons for prorogation within 20 sitting days of the next session of Parliament. That document must justify the government's decision to end a parliamentary session. The document would be deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This change will build accountability into Parliament.
Our government is committed to ending the improper use of omnibus legislation. I am not speaking here of responsibly drafted budget implementation bills that contain changes stemming directly from the budget; rather, I am referring to what should happen when a government introduces a non-budget omnibus bill that contains entirely separate and unrelated themes. We want to ensure that MPs are not faced with the dilemma of how to vote on a bill that is most supportable but contains a totally unrelated clause, a poison pill, that they find objectionable. We want flexibility for MPs in these instances. Under the proposed change, the Speaker would have the authority to divide bills for the purpose of voting for second reading, third reading, and passage of a bill. The Speaker would also be authorized to group a bill thematically. There would be a single debate at each stage, and members would then be able to vote on parts of a bill separately.
With respect to estimates, members of Parliament are responsible for keeping track of how the government intends to spend the public's money, yet the financial accounting system they are currently expected to use is inconsistent and incomplete. We need a better way. We want to better align the budget and estimates process so that the data means something and is truly relevant and timely for colleagues, resulting in better informed decision-making.
Our motion proposes changing the date on which the main estimates are tabled from March 1 to April 16. The date on which the estimates should be sent to the House by the relevant committee would move from May 31 to June 10. Pushing back the dates will ensure that the estimates more appropriately reflect the budget and will allow members to conduct a more detailed review. This will allow Parliament to provide better oversight.
Our government believes strongly that committees provide the backbone of much of the work that is done in Parliament. It is there that MPs can do some of their best work, scrutinizing legislation and hearing the views of experts, stakeholders, and Canadians at large. Indeed, it is at the committee stage where proposed legislation can be improved and members from all parties can constructively work together toward that end.
We believe there is a role for parliamentary secretaries to be members of committees. As link to ministers, they can provide insight and great assistance to other committee members as well. Under our proposed changes, parliamentary secretaries can be committee members, but they cannot vote or move a motion, nor can they be part of the count for quorum or act as a substitute for a member on a committee on which they have been named a non-voting member.
That is a summary of the changes to the Standing Orders that we propose.
I would like now to turn my attention to another matter that we also believe is important: the 's question period, PMQP. Our Prime Minister is firmly committed to being more accessible to all members of Parliament in question period. This is why, this spring, he took the historic step of initiating a prime minister's question period, in which he answered all of the questions asked on Wednesdays. This special question period is in addition to the other days of the week when he attends the regular question period to answer questions with his cabinet ministers.
So far, our has attended six special question periods on Wednesdays, answering a total of 233 questions from members of Parliament on those six days alone. We have shown it can be done. We now have made it our practice that when the Prime Minister is here on Wednesday, he takes all the questions, and we will continue that practice. Let me make one thing clear. The Prime Minister's question period is here to stay under this government. Just as it became the convention and not something codified in the Standing Orders in the United Kingdom, it is our endeavour that it will become the convention here.
In closing, I invite members to support our proposals for strengthening Parliament. We promised Canadians two year ago that we would make these changes. Canadians gave us a mandate to do so. They gave us a mandate to act. It is time to work together and make our Parliament stronger.
Mr. Speaker, what a long road we have travelled to get here. The process leading us to today's motion has been a long and very frustrating struggle. It was a struggle where the opposition was forced to mitigate the excesses of a careless and arrogant government, a government devoid of any appreciation for what Parliament actually does, a government that insulted the House and dismissed the role of members who sit in opposition to it.
The process has been a sham from the beginning, despite the assertions that we have been hearing about a conversation, a dialogue, and working better together. Over the weeks and months of question period, the House has heard the full word salad from the government trying to defend and excuse its approach to Parliament, a bunch of jargon and buzzwords tossed together with very little substance and very little weight. Given the way the has handled this whole issue and refused for months to acknowledge the need for all-party support, Conservatives will be voting against the motion.
Let me take a few moments to review just how we managed to get here. On March 10, a Friday afternoon, just before we started our March constituency week, the government House leader posted on her website a so-called discussion paper. The House will recall that this Liberal discussion paper proposed, among other things, to reduce the opportunity for members to hold the government to account by eliminating Friday sittings, automatically time-allocating all bills, preventing the opposition from triggering debates on committee reports, and bringing sharp closure changes to committee. It was a shocking set of ideas to think about. Since it was less than a year since we had witnessed the Motion No. 6 fiasco, it was sadly par for the course with the government. The primary driving force for the has been to alter the balance between the opposition and the government by taking away the protections that the rules offer.
The Globe and Mail in an editorial at the time called out the on his ideas and I quote:
[The] government considers the opposition’s limited arsenal to be “tactics which seek only to undermine and devalue the important work of Parliament,” and which “sow dysfunction” and are not “rational” or “defensible,” according to a discussion paper....
Those contentions are cynical bunk. The...government is hawking a utopian vision of Parliament, in which members from different parties politely discuss the government’s proposed legislation on a schedule set by mutual agreement, and there are cheers all around when the House enacts laws that are a perfect reflection of the selfless compromises agreed to in a collegial fashion on committees and in the House....
There are just sunny ways passing beneath crisp rainbows.
They are sunny ways indeed. Had this discussion paper simply been just that when it was published, it would have been read, critiqued, and actually discussed with the flaws being pointed out and the interesting ideas build upon. However, that is not at all what happened.
Later that afternoon, the government House leader's colleague gave notice of motion at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to have the discussion paper studied, with everything wrapped up and recommendations made by June 2. Had the motion at committee simply been a proposal to add the discussion paper to its study of the Standing Orders, it would have been a natural idea and hard to object to. However, that is not what happened. The writing was on the wall. All of the ideas in the discussion paper, which coincidentally all were to the benefit of the , would be rammed through.
Let us fast forward to the procedural and House affairs committee on March 21. The Liberals wanted to pass their motion right away. The hon. member for offered an amendment to observe the long-standing tradition around here of using all-party consensus to change our rules. The Liberals, to their credit, quickly signalled their disagreement with that perfectly reasonable amendment.
We were faced with a completely transparent plan from the Liberals to ram these awful ideas through the House. We simply would not allow this to happen. As a result, we had to stop this reckless Liberal power grab from getting rammed through, so we used one of the very few tools available to opposition parties, the one that the Liberals actually had wanted to remove, and that is the ability to filibuster. Over some six weeks with more than 80 hours of committee meetings, opposition MPs led the fight against the Liberal discussion paper.
I have to give credit to the three Conservative MPs who are members of that committee, the hon. members for , , and . However, it was not just them; this really was a team effort, and 29 Conservative members of Parliament participated at that committee.
In parallel to the committee proceedings, the NDP House leader and I offered a constructive alternative to the government. We suggested that the House set up a special committee with one member from each party, chaired by our impartial Deputy Speaker, to work on a consensus basis in reviewing our procedures and proposing improvements.
What we proposed was hardly revolutionary. Pierre Trudeau's government set up the Lefebvre committee, which recommended several changes to the Standing Orders, such as bringing in the first time limits to bell ringing, which were adopted unanimously.
Brian Mulroney's government set up the McGrath committee. That group tabled three reports, all adopted unanimously, on a whole range of topics, such as giving our standing committees permanent mandates to study topics on their own initiative.
Under Jean Chrétien, a special committee on the modernization and improvement of the procedures of the House of Commons was created. That committee codified the pattern of goodwill to its rules with an express requirement for reports to be adopted unanimously. Far from that being a veto—and remember that this was back in the days of five recognized parties—the committee managed to adopt six reports.
Most recently, Stephen Harper's government followed the tradition of the unanimity approach, not bringing in permanent procedural amendments with out all-party support.
Those governments proved that reforming Parliament can be done with a co-operative approach. The results were substantive, and they significantly strengthened the role members play in this place.
Indeed, I know the procedure and House affairs committee would have been up to that task. From following their debates, and from joining them for a night, I know that the members from all parties handled the task in front of them with civility and good cheer. They would have handled such a review in a professional and capable fashion.
Sadly, it was quite clear that the Liberals on the committee were under firm instructions from the 's Office not to let their members' own better judgment carry the day. Indeed, far from being co-operative and far from her repeated claim to have an open door, the government House leader left the other House leaders hanging. For weeks on end, our letter to her went unanswered.
In addition to a committee filibuster and good faith proposals from the opposition parties, here in the chamber the opposition parties used many of the tools available to us to register our unhappiness and our frustration. The Liberal government desperately tried to get back on track, even shutting down a privilege debate and preventing it from coming to a vote. The hon. member for called out the government on this, and the Chair ruled that what the Liberal government had done was entirely without precedent. The Speaker wisely and bravely ruled, allowing the privilege debate to start anew.
Finally, admitting that the was staring at the risk of a total paralysis of his parliamentary agenda, the government House leader finally answered the letter that the hon. member for and I had sent her. In that letter she indicated that the Liberals were backing away from their discussion paper, but would be pressing ahead regardless of the opposition parties' thoughts with items referenced in the Liberal election platform.
The opposition cannot claim complete credit for the Liberal backdown. I suspect the Liberal House leader may have been under considerable pressure from her own caucus colleagues. Though caucus meetings are confidential, I believe that we witnessed the tip of the iceberg when the hon. member for , a veteran of this House, offered this in debate on April 11:
...this place is called the House of Commons for a reason. It is not the House of cabinet or the House of PMO. Protecting the rights of members in this place, whether it is the opposition members in terms of the stance they are taking, is also protecting the rights of the other members here who are not members of cabinet or the government. We talk about government as if this whole side is the government. The government is the executive branch. We do need to protect these rights.
Here we stand today debating government Motion No. 18.
First let me talk about something that we all expected to be in this motion. The headline proposal in every Liberal statement this spring about the Standing Orders was that there was going to be a dedicated 's question period. We heard a lot about that.
The was gung-ho and looking forward to having to show up to work for just 45 minutes every week. The was going to show us just how well he could memorize his lines and put on a Broadway-worthy performance with dramatic delivery. He may even have put his hand on his heart a time or two.
We all saw how that experiment unfolded. The quickly saw that his glib platitudes did not give satisfying answers on the concerns of Canadians, the problems facing our economy, or his ethical lapses. It quickly became crystal clear to everyone that the failed to perform and bombed terribly.
Remember the Wednesday when the was asked 18 times if he had met with the Ethics Commissioner? That was May 10.
Although I cannot and I will not refer to the presence or absence of a member, I can say that the House did not hear another Wednesday answer from the until June 7.
John Ivison wrote just this past Thursday about the most recent 's question period, noting that the “...did not look like he was having fun Wednesday, when he was pummelled for the entire Question Period on topics ranging from the big issues of the day—Chinese takeovers, rising debt levels—to more arcane subjects like potentially illegal activity at Shared Services Canada and autism funding.”
It is obvious that Liberal bigwigs decided that their leader's performance was actually a liability to the Liberal Party. His performance in question period specifically was a liability to the Liberal Party. If anything, the Liberals' last-minute withdrawal of this proposal only highlights the fact that the government's approach to procedural reforms has been guided solely by Liberal partisan interests. They only want to do it if it is in their interest. That has been made very obvious by their rather rapid withdrawal of a 's question period.
Of course, the 's good friend, Gerry Butts, was on Twitter Friday claiming that there would never be standing order amendments to create a 's question period. To further his alternative facts, the PMO principal secretary then claimed that the Standing Orders were entirely silent on question period. I guess he obviously had not read Standing Order 37, for example, with the big headline above it of “Oral Questions”.
Setting that aside, in her response to written Question No. 1022 tabled Friday afternoon, the said, “The motion will refer to the commitments made in the platform during the election in relation to...increasing accountability in question period.”
The also testified on Thursday afternoon at the procedural and House affairs committee, where she again reiterated that the 's question period would be in the motion. Just a few hours later, though, her words did not match up to her notice of motion, with the 's question period being noticeably absent.
We can only conclude that this was a very hasty, last-minute change of heart from the Liberals, likely following last Wednesday's flop by the .
Now that I have spoken about what is not in this motion, let me turn to what actually is in government Motion No. 18.
On prorogation, the Liberals wanted to prevent governments from abusing this routine constitutional procedure. One way to do that is to promise not to abuse it and then follow through on that promise. That would be the good, old-fashioned approach of integrity.
Instead, the government proposes that after prorogation, the government would be obliged to table its reasons, or its excuses, when Parliament reconvenes. Basically, that means that from this time forward, governments can table the press release that it puts out when it announces prorogation. That is really all this change will do.
This amendment makes no sense. It is meaningless. The should be embarrassed to put it on the Standing Orders.
With respect to the Liberal pledge on omnibus bills, we see something even more ridiculous and absurd. The Liberal proposal to end omnibus abuse exempts budget bills, the very bills the Liberals used to complain about. When we look at Bill , which just passed, we see that it is little wonder the Liberals are trying to have their cake and eat it too.
On the other hand, for the few bills the rule might possibly apply, really nothing will change at all. There will be a few extra votes in the House, but no more debate would be held.
The real concern is that the will become more aggressive with omnibus bills. Sheltering under this half-baked reform, omnibus bills will be encouraged. The Liberals can claim that they will be absolved of any fault, because they have changed the rules. This is absolute rubbish. It is not hard to imagine the Liberals taking us to a place where we will soon see things like a throne speech implementation act, with everything thrown into one bill and just a lot of votes to follow. It is actually very worrisome.
However, we should not worry; they say there will be three votes instead of one.
In short, the proposals on prorogation and omnibus bills are so cynical that they are just jokes, plain and simple.
The next item is not as cynical, and it may even have some merit. However, to be successful, it requires the Liberal cabinet to follow through on a promise. Given their record on keeping promises, I have my doubts.
Without getting into a lot of technical detail, government Motion No. 18 tweaks a number of aspects about the scrutiny process for the main estimates. For Canadians not familiar with what the estimates are, they are the proposals that lead to Parliament's authorization for government spending.
The government wanted to achieve a better alignment of the budget and the main estimates. As a matter of principle, Conservatives do not object to this idea. However, the challenge lies in implementation, especially the timing.
Essentially there are two ways to address the timing issues: budgets could be presented earlier or the estimates could be presented later. The government wants flexibility in when budgets are presented, given fluctuating events. That is fair enough, since the previous Conservative government also insisted on the same thing when similar proposals were floated by committee five years ago.
However, last fall the published his own discussion paper on this very issue. He called for a permanent change to the Standing Orders that would reduce the three months currently available to study the main estimates down to 30 days. The Treasury Board president had been promoting this reform, effectively saying that it would give us great documents—so great, apparently, that there really would not need to be time for parliamentary oversight.
Well, hold on. While recognizing the merits of aligning budgets and estimates, the Conservative Party does not want to sacrifice the time available for scrutiny of spending proposals, because we all know how much the Liberals love to spend.
Last fall the Liberals were quite itchy to get these changes through the government operations and estimates committee, but we managed to put the brakes on these hasty, bad changes. For that, I want to recognize the good work of our Treasury Board critic, the hon. member for , and his colleagues on that committee, the hon. members for and .
We were hardly doing this just be stubborn or obstructionist. Outside observers, including none other than our parliamentary budget officer, pointed out concerns with the government's optimistic plans. In November the parliamentary budget officer published a report explaining the promise of the . The PBO had this to say:
With respect to delaying the main estimates, the Government indicates that the core impediment in aligning the budget and estimates arises from the Government’s own sclerotic internal administrative processes, rather than parliamentary timelines.
He went on to say:
This example [of last year's supplementary estimates] shows that it is unlikely that delaying the release of the main estimates by eight weeks would provide full alignment with the budget.
His predecessor, Kevin Page, penned an op-ed in The Globe and Mail, which also poured cold water on the Liberal plan. Kevin Page said:
How does that improve financial control? ... If you start from the perspective of financial control, Parliament should see the fiscal plan...before April 1.
Therefore, this is not just us expressing concerns. There were a number of other esteemed individuals who expressed concern with the government's plan.
More recently, the PBO, in reviewing the spring supplementary estimates, offered this skeptical take, noting his analysis:
...demonstrates the [Treasury Board] Secretariat is further away from its goal in 2017-18, rather than closer to it. This raises a significant question of whether the Government's proposal to delay the main estimates would result in meaningful alignment with the budget.
Basically, the Liberal government was saying to trust them on improving the estimates and wanted Parliament to agree to this change up front, while the evidence of the government's ability to do its part was completely unconvincing.
By standing firm through tough negotiations over the winter and spring, Conservatives reined in these Liberal efforts to slash accountability.
The amendment set out in government Motion No. 18 is now a two-year experiment, providing two months of committee study, twice the amount that the Treasury Board president had originally proposed. By insisting on a sunset clause for this change, Conservatives have ensured we can take an evidence-based decision after the 2019 election on whether the information made available to parliamentarians truly does improve leading to a reasonable trade-off with losing a month of scrutiny.
The ball is now in the and Treasury Board president's court. Given the government's record, I am not holding my breath.
Finally, there is the amendment that will prevent ministers from sitting on committees. However, it will allow parliamentary secretaries to be ex officio members of committees, with all privileges except the ability to vote or to constitute quorum. They may participate at in camera meetings, question witnesses, and travel. Parliamentary secretaries will maintain practically every tool, except an actual vote, to shape and steer committee work.
Liberal parliamentary secretaries have continued to attend committees, and in some cases strive to shape the committee's work and decisions. This proposal would only further entrench their ability to do this, while claiming to honour platform commitments. How very clever.
If the has concluded that parliamentary secretaries are important to committee work, the Liberals should just admit that and assign them Liberal seats at committees.
The Liberal caucus has dozens of backbenchers with multiple committee assignments. This arrangement may work in the current majority context, but in a minority situation it could become quite an unsustainable burden on any government backbench when 70 or so office-holders would go without any committee assignments and 50 to 80 MPs would have to cover 24 standing committees, plus two joint committees and any special committees. I do not know if the government has thought this through, especially if it does find itself in a minority situation at some point.
A similar arrangement whereby parliamentary secretaries could not sit on committees that were related to their department was implemented in 1986, but it was later scrapped in 1991. We should not be surprised to see another U-turn in the years ahead on this particular change.
As I said in my opening remarks, this has been a long road that we have travelled down. At the beginning, I was not sure whether the 's approach to this whole issue was aggressively ambitious or just very naive, but over the subsequent months, the answer has become increasingly clear.
Shortly after the parliamentary battle launched in March, Andrew Coyne wrote a piece entitled, “Renewed attempt to rewrite House rules confirms Liberals are not to be trusted”.
The article stated:
The [first] 18 months of the...government have been an education in cynicism. Every time you think you have plumbed the depths, every time you believe you have pierced the many veils of their duplicity, you are delighted to discover still another con wrapped inside the last—usually delivered by some smiling minister tweeting variations on “Better is Always Possible” and “Diversity is Our Strength.”
Later the article says:
The latest chance to refresh our acquaintance with how deeply cynical the [Prime Minister's] people are—not have become: are—is the clutch of grubby expedients the government is now trying to stuff down the opposition’s throats, in the name, prettily, of “parliamentary reform.” Scholars of the [Prime Minister's] style will recognize the expression “reform,” like “merit-based appointments” and “evidence-based policy,” as a tell that some kind of humbug is afoot, and this is no exception....
We had an early foretaste of this with the infamous Motion Six... That alone ought to have signalled how sincere [the Prime Minister]’s frequent protests of his devotion to democratic accountability are: as calculated, as fake—and as useful!—as his feminism.
Well now the Liberals are back, with a new, more attack-proof House Leader...
That brings me to the current .
I truly believe the hon. member for is very well-intentioned, but she has been set by the for failure, as a rookie parliamentarian, in taking on the important role as House leader and all that it entails, while at the same time picking this fight.
Veteran parliamentary observer Chantal Hébert recently penned her observations on a pattern of, as she said, “Rookie ministers turned into cannon fodder”. I will read from her recent column. It is extremely relevant and a very clear example. She has articulated very clearly what we are seeing the do with his rookie MPs, specifically women MPs, sadly. The article stated:
[The hon. member for Waterloo] is the first woman to occupy this strategic government position [House leader]. She also brings to the role less hands-on experience in the Commons than any of her predecessors.
To be able to read the mood of the House is an essential skill for one in [her] position. It is also a skill usually acquired over time.
As parliamentary neophyte, [she] would have had her hands full just keeping the government’s legislative agenda on track. Yet, shortly after her appointment she was tasked with implementing a controversial set of parliamentary reforms. Included in the government’s unilateral wish list were measures that would have curtailed some of the few procedural tools at the disposal of an opposition minority.
[The government House leader] might as well have set out for a stroll across a minefield. She pressed on with the plan until a predictable procedural war threatened to bring the House to a grinding halt. At that point she beat back in retreat — at cost to her credibility.
Even veteran Liberal Warren Kinsella reached this conclusion when he tweeted last week, saying that if she was forced to do yet another climb-down, her position would become untenable.
The passage from Chantal Hébert's column was about a broader point: the fact that our self-proclaimed feminist has put a number of earnest, well-intentioned, but inexperienced young female ministers into senior roles where they become political roadkill. As a female politician myself, it angers me when I see what the has done with his cabinet and those with immense professional potential. These are young people with huge potential in the Liberal caucus, and they are being put in these positions just to benefit his cynical feminist brand.
Basically, we are seeing some Liberal MPs being prematurely promoted into roles and responsibilities ahead of having the necessary experience to assume such weighty offices and then being asked to do the impossible for the . Some would call this the “glass cliff”.
I recognize that some of this could be inevitable when a party goes from being a third party straight into government. However, we have seen a pattern with the , which has been made much worse by a prime minister who is far more concerned with snappy sound bites and click-bait pictures than actually doing his own members right and putting them in positions where they have experience and are not doomed to fail. He simply does not have his eye on competent management and professional development within his own government.
As Ms. Hébert suggested, these young rookie ministers could well have become formidable forces in Canadian politics. I wish them well in their future, I honestly do. They would have been formidable forces in Canadian politics if they had a chance to mature in their career paths, but instead they have seen their potential sacrificed for the sake of some re-tweets and trending hashtags.
Speaking personally, I know the value of taking one step at a time on a career path. When I was first elected, I did a stint on the backbench and then I got to chair a committee. After that, I worked for a while as a parliamentary secretary and then was promoted into the ministry. Today, I find myself the opposition House leader, a role I am very privileged to hold.
Even though I am learning new things every day, it is not basic principles I am learning. I have had the benefit of adding my lessons to a base of experience and knowledge that I have acquired over almost nine years. Regrettably, for the hon. member for , I do not think she has enjoyed the same benefit of incremental growth and development. However, the fault for that lies not at her feet but with the .
What is the lesson to take out of this whole episode from the March discussion paper through to today's government motion?
In a column entitled, “Liberals forced to swallow humble pie — again — on parliamentary rule changes”, John Ivison stated, “the Liberals have learned the hard way that the rules governing this most precious of institutions can only be amended by consensus, not by parliamentary cosh.”
We have long said that the rules of the House belong to all members from all corners of the House. Changes should enjoy consensus support before being implemented. The Liberals have learned this the hard way. Ideas for discussion and debate are to be welcomed. A prescriptive list of proposals strapped to a rocket for rapid implementation rightly rouses suspicions.
However, the government continually demonstrates its contempt for this institution and its history. Most recently, in his proposed nominee for Clerk of the House of Commons, we once again saw the dismiss the consultation process and bypass the established non-partisan professional development practice for career advancement with our procedural experts. There are some very serious and valid concerns with respect to how the nomination of the Clerk has come about.
Prime ministers, even those with majority governments, should not pick a fight with the House of Commons in a bald-faced power grab to neuter what tools this House has. After all, the core constitutional role of the House of Commons is not to pass bills but to hold the government to account.
Barely a year in office, the Liberals found this reality to be a pesky inconvenience. They tried to eliminate this, to remove the distraction from a government built on platitudes and selfies. The government has created a distraction, falsely called our calls for consensus to be a demand for a veto. It was not a demand for a veto; it was our right. There is a significant gulf between a demand for a veto and a consensus.
Negotiations and horse-trading inevitably lead to a result where one has to give up something to gain something. However, that is not how the government chose to approach the Standing Orders. It should not have ended up this way. It chose to provoke a procedural war in an effort to get its own way. As in every case throughout the centuries when power-hungry kings and governments sought to curb Parliament's powers, the House of Commons fought back. Just as in the past, the elected House won. We are grateful for that, and will keep fighting the government and doing our job.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to say from the outset that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for . I ought to say at the outset as well that it is with regret that the NDP opposes Motion No. 18. Had there been a better way, we would not necessarily have been here. This motion represents the final act of a failed attempt by the to unilaterally ram through changes that would overhaul rules that govern democracy and the House of Commons, and the government failed.
The Liberals would have done things that would have consolidated the power of the executive branch of government. I want to outline, therefore, how we got to this point. I do concede that many of the more odious things that the government wanted to slip in under the guise of a discussion paper never found a way into this motion, mercifully. Still, the government's wish list is mostly about trying to make the House function in a way that is simply more convenient to the government. That is not necessarily how democracy was supposed to work.
There are five things that this motion would do. I will address them in a bit of time, but they are the prorogation issue, omnibus bills, the timing of estimates, parliamentary secretaries at committee, and the use of filibusters at committee. I will examine them later, but first we need to talk about how we got here.
The Liberals promised to “Change the House Standing Orders to end the improper use of omnibus bills and prorogation.” That was in the mandate letter for the . Instead, their motion simply would legitimize omnibus bills. It would do nothing as well to hinder the improper use of prorogation, which the Stephen Harper government used in 2008 and 2009. It would simply regularize that. Therefore, the cynicism in the standing order reform is really quite breathtaking. They also promised to make committees independent by removing parliamentary secretaries, but the motion would do nothing of the sort to prevent them from being there, from managing the agenda in the interests of their ministers, or from ensuring their majority membership voted the right way.
In 2015, the campaign platform of the Liberals made a series of promises about parliamentary reform. It said this, “A Liberal government will restore Parliament as a place where accountable people, with real mandates, do serious work on behalf of Canadians.” One of the things they said they would do would be to change the rules so members and parliamentary secretaries may not be, or stand for, voting members on committees. This gives, I think, the clear impression that parliamentary secretaries and ministers would not be on committees at all; not so fast, as we will see.
They also said they “will ensure that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is truly independent...properly funded, and accountable only—and directly—to Parliament.” The current parliamentary budget officer and the former PBO, Kevin Page, have just criticized the changes that the government has made in giving new responsibilities to the parliamentary budget officer, fearing that they would have to have their work plan approved by the Speakers of the House and Senate before proceeding, hardly something that enhances the independence the Liberals promised us.
The Liberals said they would end abuse of prorogation and omnibus bills. That was included, as I said, in the mandate letter to the She was to “Work with the President of the Treasury Board to ensure accounting consistency between the Estimates and the Public Accounts”—I will have more to say about that in a moment—and, my favourite, “Work with Opposition House Leaders to examine ways to make the House of Commons more family-friendly for Members of Parliament.” That has certainly gone by the wayside, as we see a four-week marathon session to midnight, which is hardly friendly to young families.
In March 2017, as the hon. has outlined, there was a so-called discussion paper where the laid out the Liberals' plan to overhaul the rules of the House, clearly rejecting the traditional approach of requiring all-party agreement for major changes to the way this place runs. The Liberals simply did not seek all-party consensus. They simply thought they could ram through their changes; again, many of which were simply to make the life of a government easier. They did not succeed, I am happy to say.
They promised to eliminate Friday sittings. They have resiled from that commitment dramatically. Allowing ministers to vote without interrupting cabinet meetings is no longer there. Adding sitting weeks in January, June, and September is out.
Have the House sit longer on any given day, eliminate the summer and Christmas adjournment date at the government's discretion, remove tools of the opposition from routine proceedings, replace the tool of time allocation with a more powerful tool called “programming”, and so forth; a lot of those things did not make it to this part of our parliamentary process. Now we have a motion with merely five things.
There was also something called a “prime minister's question period” that did not make it. As of Friday it was in, but it is no longer there. I will ask Canadians to draw their own conclusions as to why. We are supposed to assume that it will still be part of their practice. I do not know what we are to take from that.
We saw a filibuster at PROC. We saw issues as we used our procedural playbook in this place to disrupt the government's agenda, to get Canadians' attention. The media and stakeholders rose to the occasion. We simply said as opposition that we would not stand for unilateral changes to this place. I am proud that both opposition parties worked together to find common ground in protecting parliamentary rights.
However, I want to give credit where credit is due. It was not just Conservatives and NDP; there were well-meaning, experienced Liberal members of Parliament who also understood how dangerous the government's course of action was. I refer, for example, to the hon. member for , who on April 17 said this:
The reality is there’s not enough getting done in the House. I’ve been a long-term member and I strongly believe that you have to have at least consensus from the main parties to change the rules of the House.
We also heard from many Liberal backbenchers, encouraging us not to give up, understanding we were dealing with their rights as parliamentarians as well.
Eventually, the government has backed down and now we have what can only be described as pretty thin gruel before us. The government has been very ineffective with its legislative productivity. The Liberal government has passed half the bills that were passed by this time in the Harper government's mandate. The Liberals have introduced 56 bills into either the House or Senate, and now have passed 25 since they came to power. Notwithstanding that there have been a lot of time allocation motions in the last while, I think most Canadians will agree that had they worked with other sides of the House, we would have had a more productive Parliament.
I would like to address the five things, very briefly. On prorogation, within 20 days of the new session following a prorogation, the government would have to submit a report to the House explaining the reasons why it prorogued. What will that achieve? It will achieve virtually nothing. It will not stop the misuse of prorogation that we saw under Mr. Harper. In fact, it would simply allow rubber-stamping of prorogation. How cynical is that?
On omnibus bills, it was Mr. Harper who traditionally used the budgets for his omnibus bills, so it is not about a budget implementation act. It is about others. The Standing Order change would simply allow the Speaker to have the power to divide omnibus bills for the purpose of voting “where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions”. We saw the 300-page budget implementation bill that is before Parliament making all sorts of changes, which this would not affect.
On filibusters, in the interest of time, I cannot say much more, except to say that was a positive change that came out of eleventh-hour negotiations.
On the budget and main estimates, the Treasury Board Secretariat could have time to have the main estimates reflect what is in the budget. That is a good thing. However, our concern as opposition is that this proposal merely reduces the amount of time the opposition and stakeholders would have to examine the main estimates.
The NDP must, regretfully, vote against the motion. We hope the government will never again attempt to unilaterally change the rules that govern all of us parliamentarians as we go about our duties in this place.
Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing Motion No. 18. This is a motion in which we see the Liberals making some compromises after the fiasco that unfolded these last few months over their proposed changes to the rules and procedures of the House of Commons.
The government's efforts are doing nothing to improve things in Parliament or to increase government accountability, and neither are they solving the problematic use of omnibus bills and prorogation. However, those are the goals that the government set out with these changes.
Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The was in appearance to testify on this very matter. During her testimony, she used an expression that I did not at all appreciate given what has transpired. She spoke of a lack of political will. I believe political will is necessary in order to adopt bold ideas and take risks. However, in order to do that and to hold the kinds of discussions the government claims to want to hold, we need a healthy process in which these bold ideas can be heard so that we may then show the political will to move ahead with this so-called modernization of Parliament, to use the terms used by the government.
The government's chosen approach to this issue is a product of its ultimate arrogance. The political will to discuss substantial issues was there. However, without a healthy process in which all voices can be heard, no progress can be made. Unfortunately, that is something the government still does not understand.
Listening to the questions that have been asked and the comments that were made since debate started this morning, it is clear that the government still does not understand.
I do not want to digress too long, because I want to talk about the substantial issues surrounding the motion, but I do want to touch on the question asked by the member for , for example, who spoke of our search for consensus. The member for and the member for , among others, worked hard for the entire NDP opposition day to try to end partisan appointments. They also worked with the government the entire day to try to come up with an amendment that might allow for consensus, to make the necessary concessions to get the government on board. However, the government voted against that amendment and then voted against the motion.
The member for accuses us of hypocrisy on this matter. I consider that unparliamentary language. He needs to look at himself in the mirror and acknowledge what has been going on for the past few months. This is not a new problem. We have been dealing with this problem since last year with the infamous Motion No. 6, which sought to remove some of the opposition's powers. When I think about this government's attempts to improve parliamentary life for all members, the expression “do as I say, not as I do” comes to mind.
Let us turn to the substantive issues in Motion No. 18, such as the item on omnibus bills. Instead of putting an end to the practice, to this scourge, which has a negative impact on parliamentary life and prevents members from doing a good job and properly analyzing some extremely important legislative measures, the government is normalizing and validating the use of omnibus bills.
We need only recall what the said in committee last week on the importance of themes. The problem with themes is that one can always find a way to justify that something relates to the budget. That is exactly what the previous government did with its excessive use of omnibus bills.
Bill , the bill to implement certain provisions of the budget, contains legislative measures to create the infrastructure bank. This involves a fundamental change in how our infrastructure is funded. This has caused great concern among parliamentarians, civil society, and Canadians.
On Friday, I saw Senator Pratte on television saying that he was in favour of the infrastructure bank but did not understand why the government is bound and determined to include it in this bill rather than carrying out an appropriately thorough review of such an important measure.
Even senators who support the idea of the bank do not like its being in the omnibus bill, proof that the government crossed a line. The same thing could easily happen again, even with the changes proposed in Motion No. 18. The Liberal Party would have us believe that these measures will enable parliamentarians to study important legislative initiatives like this one, but what the motion really does is officially normalize the government's use of omnibus bills.
What is even worse is that, by making these measures part of the House rules, nobody will even be able to criticize them. Now, at least, we can say that it is an inappropriate use of legislative tools, but once it is in the rules, any government, current or future, will be able to say that this tactic is fine because it is in the rules.
Let us talk about prorogation. I remember in 2008 when Mr. Harper announced that he was proroguing Parliament. He was trying to get out of a situation where the opposition parties had the audacious political will to form a new government to replace the Conservative government. Let us not forget what happened when Parliament resumed after prorogation. Perhaps that is why the Liberals are not so keen to talk about prorogation and making real changes, because it seemed to have served them well in 2009. They came back and suddenly had nothing more to say about it. They were quite pleased to have Mr. Harper stay in power. However, I do not want to dwell on the past. I want to talk about the current government.
The government is proposing to table a report in the House of Commons outlining its reasons for using prorogation. It essentially boils down to a press release that would be tabled in the House. If the government does not see that any MP or its communications officer could quite easily come up with a justification for using prorogation, then it is dreaming in technicolour.
In that respect, I asked the at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs whether there would at least be a vote on this report, as provided for in the Standing Orders of the House in the case of motions to concur in committee reports. She could not even say. She simply said that the use of this mechanism would ensure accountability. That does not mean much. The government is not even considering the possibility of allowing parliamentarians to vote on this report.
Once again, after promising to correct a mechanism that the previous government abused, the new government is simply giving us a fine press release. That is not showing respect for Parliament, quite the opposite.
The government also wants to reduce the time provided for the consideration of the estimates in committee from three months to eight weeks. Once again, I am wondering how giving parliamentarians less time to do this work shows respect for them and the job they do.
In closing, I would like to propose an amendment, but first I would like to say that nothing has been learned with regard to the parliamentary secretaries in committee. If the government really believes that preventing the parliamentary secretaries from voting or moving motions is sufficient to convince us that the PMO and cabinet do not have any power in committee, then it is dreaming in technicolour, because all that the parliamentary secretaries have to do is whisper their instructions to the Liberal members.
That is not the real change the Liberals promised. On the contrary, pretending that this is a real change demonstrates a greater lack of respect for Parliament than simply abusing the mechanisms. At least with the previous government, we knew exactly what it wanted from us. Now, we are getting stabbed in the back. That is not the way to show real respect for parliamentarians.
In conclusion, I move, seconded by the member for :
That the motion be amended in part 2 by deleting all the words in section 69.1(1) after the words “divide the” and substituting the following:
“bill thematically into separate and distinct bills, each of which shall be deemed to have been read a first time and shall be ordered to be printed. The order for second reading for the newly divided bill shall provide for referral to a committee or committees determined in consultation with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.