The House resumed from June 19 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, yesterday I spoke to the issue of prorogation, because we now have a historic opportunity to ensure that prorogation will never again be used improperly, and I said that the motion fails to eliminate that possibility.
I was about to close on the subject of prorogation by suggesting to the House, as I have suggested to the hon. government House leader in a paper I prepared on things we could do in our Standing Orders, the advice from Professor Hugo Cyr, L'Université du Québec à Montréal. He raised before the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, as did Professor Peter Russell, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, additional reforms for democracy that we should consider making.
Professor Cyr's approach is this:
...to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons so that asking for Parliament to be prorogued or dissolved without first obtaining the approval of the House of Commons automatically results in a loss of confidence in the Prime Minister. Consequently, the Governor General would not be bound by a prime minister's advice requesting the early dissolution or prorogation of Parliament without first obtaining the approval of the House of Commons.
This is a very sensible proposal. What the government has proposed is a form of improvement, but there is nothing in the government proposal that would stop the abuse of power such as we saw when Stephen Harper shut down of Parliament to avoid a vote he knew he would lose. Unfortunately, the opposition parties had just recently voted on the Speech from the Throne, mistaking what they thought was a mere formality. It actually was a confidence vote and that is why the Governor General at the time refused to deny Mr. Harper his request for prorogation, although it is historically an affront to parliamentary democracy. We need to close that door now, but the proposal from the government does not do it.
Similarly, I was pleased to see the motion would deal with omnibus bills and allow them to be split, only to be crestfallen to realize they only would be allowed to be split when it came to voting on them, not for studying them. It was actually the case with one of Harper's omnibus bills, Bill , which was introduced in spring 2014. I went to committee, as I was by that point mandated to do by the new motions that were passed to deny me my rights at report stage, to present amendments to various sections of the bill.
These omnibus bills were so big that when I went to committee with amendments to a section, it was the moment when members around the committee realized they had not had any witnesses on that section. It was a commercial chemical section, by the way. I wanted an amendment related to asbestos. The committee had no witnesses, had not studied it , and certainly could not take amendments, but it could pass it because it was under time allocation. When there are multiple sections pushed in the same bill, it is a small improvement to say that the Speaker can split them out for purpose of voting, but we really need those sections split out for purposes of study.
Again, the recommendation from the hon. government House leader is a small improvement but a long way from being adequate.
While we have a chance, there are a lot of things we could look at in the Standing Orders. Again, going back to the advice of Professor Peter Russell and Professor Hugo Cyr to the Special Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reform, we are one of the only modern democracies that does not have a mandatory period between when an election takes place and when the newly elected government convenes Parliament. This loophole has not yet been exploited or abused, but there is no reason not to close the door on it now.
Fundamentally, what is terribly sad about this process is that we lost the opportunity to achieve a consensus on how to change our Standing Orders. This remains a historical, and not a good historical precedent, where the party with the majority of seats in this place, even though it does not have the majority of votes across the land, is able to push through this motion, because the votes are there.
I would urge the government House leader and the Liberals to seriously consider adopting the NDP amendment. It will do no violence to the principles it is espousing. It would at least allow omnibus bills to be split for purposes of study. I urge this to my colleagues. I also hope that in the future we can return to some of the other proposals I made, particularly taking into account the carbon footprint created by our parliamentary schedule. I continue to maintain that we need to consider very closely changing the days and the weeks in which we sit in order to intensify our time in Ottawa and thus reduce the millions of dollars and tons of greenhouse gases as we fly back and forth to this city.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from for sharing her time with me.
Ten minutes is valuable time that will allow me to speak to the alleged intent behind the modernization of House of Commons procedure. My political party will have had only 10 minutes to express its views in the House. All the members of the House are complicit in believing that this is perfectly fine.
Since October 19, 2015, I have been experiencing Canadian-style parliamentary democracy. To be honest, it concerns me, both in terms of the inconsistencies between theory and practice and the inconsistencies between this government’s intentions and its actions. It concerns me, especially given the discrimination, as well as the complacency about this discrimination, plaguing this House. Whether we like it or not, there are two classes of members in the House. This also means that there are two classes of constituents. There are recognized parties and non-recognized parties, which make up the two classes of members. When it comes to freedom of speech, we do not have the same rights as all parliamentarians in the House.
In terms of its practices, Parliament is stuck in the 19th century. However, the mother parliament of Westminster has evolved. If you ask me, today it would have difficulty recognizing its Canadian offspring, since it grants its minority parties benefits and privileges that this Parliament does not. The aim was to undertake procedural reform. In the area of modernizing procedure, we have been excluded from all parliamentary committees since October 19, 2015.
When the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs wants to meet and seek the approval of all parliamentarians in the House to amend the Standing Orders, members who belong to a non-recognized party continue to be excluded. If this is not discrimination, I do not know what else to call it. Is this ideological segregation? This is following this government’s supposed intention to change the voting system in order to allow for a greater ideological diversity of opinions in the House. Obviously, the Liberals have tossed that in the trash, along with their intention to modernize procedure and the Standing Orders.
However, all my colleagues and I were elected, just like all other MPs, to honour the mandate given to us by the people. How is it that everyone accepts the fact that some MPs in the House do not have the same means of giving a voice to their constituents? I am speaking mostly of the contributions of MPs to committees, or parliamentary “commissions” in Quebec, which represent a large part of parliamentarian’s work.
If MPs are excluded from committees, what other means do they have left to make the voices of their constituents heard? In committee, when the debate is focused on the principle of a bill, we have the right to vote and are given 10 minutes to say what we think of the bill. After that, it is radio silence. We no longer have the right to vote or intervene. Depending on the government’s mood, and if we have played nice in committee, we might be allowed to raise our hand and perhaps be given a brief two minutes to say something. However, we still do not have the right to vote. At report stage we can vote in the House, but there is absolutely no possibility of submitting any amendments that were not submitted in committee.
We do not have the right to vote or the right to speak in committee. Is this what Canadian-style parliamentary democracy looks like? Are we proud of this? I for one am not because I am not given the means to speak on behalf of constituents in the House.
However, we have a democratic principle under which voters pay taxes to the Government of Canada and have the right to be represented by MPs from the Bloc Québécois or the Green Party. These parties should have equitable means for representing their fellow citizens. Freedom of speech is a recognized principle, but an MP’s duty to speak is not respected in a fair manner in Parliament.
How could we think that this parliamentary reform of procedure would lead anywhere other than a dead end? According to parliamentary tradition, changing the rules of the game requires trying for the greatest consensus possible. In December 2015, this government gave the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a committee that we are excluded from, the mandate to modernize how the House works, within a perspective of work-family balance. That is an excellent idea, because after having sat as a member in another parliament, I can tell you that work-family balance is pathetic here in Ottawa.
However, today, this entire aspect has been set aside, along with the willingness to acknowledge all legislators of the House. Parliamentary procedure is controlled by executive power, which, in any case, is always looking to bypass legislative power, since hearing members speak takes too long. There are no ministers in the committees, but the government would like to give parliamentary secretaries more rights than I have. They will automatically receive the right to intervene, even if they do not have the right to vote. The executive will then be able to once again deliver its messages to the majority legislators of the governing party so that they do not deviate from the executive line of government. There is no separation of powers.
This government, however, was supposed to do politics differently. Changing the voting system, which allowed each vote to count, among other things, was thrown out. Reforming the financing of political parties was also tossed, and this could have at least allowed each vote to count, in a British system, by paying parties an allowance in proportion to the number of votes that they received. Work-family balance was scrapped along with the recognition of minority parties in the House, the fundamental right of parliamentarians of all parties to do their job in the House, freedom of speech, and the value of justice, because it is a matter of justice.
The fairness principle must be absolutely respected. However, when it is a matter of the right of only one member, one can assume that all members of the House may not be able to speak, as there are 338 members. This refers to parties. I have not heard many members, except for the member of the Green Party, agreeing with us and saying that what the members of the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois are experiencing is terrible, and that they support us because they would never want to be in that position.
I therefore ask our fellow legislators whether they support us in this interpretation of a bad reform of the procedure.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak to Motion No. 18. It is an important motion, one that impacts the way we conduct business here in the chamber. I am also pleased to split my time with my friend and colleague, the member for . I know he too has a lot to say on this matter.
I think it is fair to say that members on this side of the House strongly believe the government is trying to stifle the opposition's ability to protect the people we are elected to serve. What separates us from tyranny and revolution is our right, lent to us by the people, to stand in this place and contest ideas and demand that the government explain itself.
These are not sunny ways. These are dark days for democracy. The is not interested in working with members on this side of the House of Commons. The government simply wants to get its agenda through the door, regardless of the impact on Canadians. The role of the opposition, as we all know, is to hold government to account, debate ideas, and represent the people in our constituencies. It has become clear over the past two years that the opposition is just an inconvenience to the Prime Minister's agenda. He wants an audience, not an opposition.
Back in March, the government attempted, among other things, to reduce the opportunity for members to hold the government to account. The government intended to do this by eliminating Friday sittings, putting automatic time allocation on bills, eliminating the effectiveness of committees through preventing opposition parties from triggering debates on reports, and implementing closure changes to committees.
How Motion No. 18 came about, late on a Friday afternoon when members of the House were either back in their ridings or on their way there, is very suspect. The government decided it was a good time to spring these changes on the members of the House. It was not the government House leader but her colleague who gave notice to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, on which I sit, that these matters would be studied and everything wrapped up in a couple of months.
Yesterday the official opposition's House leader, the member for , mentioned four examples in recent years when the Canadian Parliament worked together to form a consensus on changes to House procedure: Pierre Trudeau's Lefebvre committee; the McGrath committee, set up by Brian Mulroney; Jean Chrétien's special committee on modernization and improvement; and the previous Conservative government, under the stewardship of Stephen Harper, which worked co-operatively with all parties to bring in permanent procedural amendments.
I am honestly at a loss as to why the government ignored previous parliamentary traditions on working collectively on changes to House procedure. I thought this was the government that campaigned on working together.
I am very proud that both the NDP House leader and the opposition House leader worked together to suggest an alternative, a special all-party committee to work on a consensus to review our procedures and to propose alternatives. This would have been an opportunity to put aside partisanship and work in a collegial spirit to strengthen, not weaken, members' ability to protect Canadians' interests. If the Prime Minister was truly committed to working with this Parliament, he should have seen the value in that proposal.
There is a reason that the two sides of this chamber are separated by two swords' lengths. There was a time when parliamentary democracy was not as collegial as it is today. One has to but open a history book to see what happens when the people have no power or when it is stripped from them. Blood has been shed in the fight to enshrine and protect the rights of members of Parliament to fully represent their constituents. The government intends to deprive us of those rights. It will perhaps not happen all at once, but if it is successful here in this instance, make no mistake: the erosion of the House of Commons will have begun, and before long I fear this place will become redundant.
I would now like to turn to a brief overview of the changes the government is proposing in this motion.
Within 20 days of a new session following a prorogation, the government has to submit a report explaining the reasons that it prorogued. This rule is nothing more than sleight of hand. The opposition already has means to demand of the government answers to why it prorogued.
We have an opportunity to scrutinize the government. It is called question period. Unless the government's aim is to limit the availability of the during question period or perhaps even limit the powers of parliamentarians to debate ideas in this place, then all that is needed for scrutiny is an open question period that the attends for as many days as possible. Perhaps the government has more foresight than we gave it credit for.
In all seriousness, the inclusion of this item in the motion before us is nothing more than basically checking a box in the Liberal 2019 election pamphlet. If Liberals have issues with prorogation, they simply should promise not to do it and stick with that promise.
That brings me to omnibus bills. Under these proposals, the Speaker of the House of Commons would have the power to divide those bills for the purpose of voting “where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions”. As the motion reads, the exception would be budget bills.
If I recall correctly, not so long ago the current government was in opposition and would raise a hue and cry over those same omnibus budget bills. Now Liberals stand here decrying these evil omnibus bills, except that now they will allow them if they are budget bills. I guess there was one thing for the campaign and another thing for after being elected.
The most recent government omnibus budget bill included the new Liberal infrastructure bank, a bank that will offer taxpayer-backed loans and loan guarantees to cover the losses of wealthy foreign investors who build megaprojects in Canada. These are the kinds of bills the government has no problem passing in an omnibus bill, the kinds of bills for which it wants limited scrutiny. We are not even sure if members of the board of this $35-billion taxpayer-funded bank will be Canadians. We may see foreign directors funding foreign investors, with taxpayers on the hook for any losses. I do not understand this logic. Perhaps this is simply a means to balance out the election pamphlet that the Liberals are working on for 2019.
These first two items are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The following item is much more nefarious, and in this connection a March 26 Globe and Mail opinion piece warned the Canadian public to keep an eye on what is happening in Parliament.
According to the government, a new schedule for budgets and main estimates documents will be created so that the Treasury Board Secretariat can have time to have the main estimates reflect what is in the budget. This is not the case in reality.
I applaud that the government wishes to better coordinate the budget and the main estimates, but reducing the time the opposition and stakeholders have to scrutinize the main estimates is not the way to do it. This is an issue of time management, nothing more.
The main estimates, for the benefit of the public watching, are the instrument the government uses that leads to the eventual authorization by Parliament for the government to spend the public's money. Perhaps that is the heart of the issue. The government has never really been serious about financial accountability. I am not even sure it realizes where this money comes from. Here is a reminder: it comes from the Canadian public, the people who work hard day in and day out for their paycheques. That is who the money belongs to, and I think every Canadian would demand that there be parliamentary oversight on that procedure. The government cannot take away the right of the public to scrutinize government spending simply by reducing the time parliamentarians and other stakeholders have to examine the main estimates. It is not Parliament that is delaying the government's spending; it is the government's own internal practices. If the government wants better alignment, it should get the main estimates to us a lot sooner.
The last item I will speak to today centres on committee business. In an attempt to neuter opposition MPs, the government plans to introduce an amendment to prevent ministers from sitting on committees. Instead, it will allow parliamentary secretaries to sit as ex officio members. There is only so much time committees have, and with an extra member for the government at the table, we can bet that opposition time will be affected. These parliamentary secretaries might not be able to vote, but they will have every other right of committee members. They will be in a position to effectively steer the committee toward their ministers' agenda, and that is something Liberals directly campaigned against.
I am not saying that Parliament must not renew and review its parliamentary procedures from time to time. I am on the procedure and House affairs committee and I get it, but we are talking about consensus by all parties to come to an agreement on how this place works.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, as always, to rise in this place and add to the debate, this time on Motion No. 18, a motion to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
Here we are. We are on the second day of debate on this motion and we are on the fourth-last scheduled sitting day of the session, under extended sitting hours, and talking about the changes to the Standing Orders. How did this happen and how did we get here? In order to explain the position that I am going to take on this motion and how I am going to use my vote and my voice on behalf of my constituents of Calgary Rocky Ridge, I am going to explain a bit of the context behind this motion for the benefit of constituents watching at home.
At the time of dissolution of the last Parliament, the Liberals were the third party in the House. They had 30-odd seats. They had a new untested leader. They had little to lose and they came up with an idealistic platform that included many promises that were designed to capture the imagination of Canadians, in contrast to a government that was very familiar to Canadians by virtue of its having won three consecutive elections and governing for nearly 10 years. Therefore, one might go so far as to say that the Liberals' 2015 platform perhaps was designed more to improve from the third-party status than to be a serious platform under which to govern.
It contained a lot of promises, including a modest deficit of $10 billion, and a stimulatory and not structural deficit that would result in immediate GDP growth and a swift return to balance. Obviously that did not happen. It also contained a promise to change the voting system within the first 18 months. That also did not happen.
The Liberals also had a promise to modernize the House of Commons, and what that meant was fairly vague. They threw out some idealistic buzzwords and mused about whether the House of Commons could be made more family friendly, a worthy ideal for many of us. I am a husband and a father of three children, so I am all for family friendliness.
The Liberals really only had four specific promises related to the Standing Orders. They promised that they would amend the Standing Orders to prevent omnibus bills; they promised not to use prorogation; they promised they would instill a British-style prime minister's question period, compelling the to answer all the questions one day a week; and they promised that they would change the estimates process so that the main estimates would reflect the current budget.
We know that Canadians took the current government at its word in the election and elected them on the strength of these and many other idealistic promises. However, soon enough the Liberals began to discover that reality is a tough place, an unforgiving place, and, once elected, reality is inescapable. One by one, the Liberal promises have been broken, set aside, or just plain abandoned. The Liberals' first attempt at what they called modernizing the House of Commons could be more properly called muzzling the opposition and disenfranchising the millions of Canadians who elected the 154 members of the opposition parties on this side of the House. It happened last year when Motion No. 6 tried to impose limits on debate and give members of the government additional powers over the House. That motion fortunately was abandoned on the night of the long elbows last May.
After that, the government expended enormous amounts of political capital, committee time, public money, and teasing the activist base whose support they stole from the NDP in the last election on their failed electoral reform agenda. Following that, the government then took its second stab at fulfilling its election promise on Standing Orders reform with its absurdly called “discussion paper”, delivered after hours on a Friday in March, followed by a motion with a deadline at the procedure and House affairs committee the next week. That motion and the so-called discussion paper called for all kinds of draconian and thoroughly undemocratic measures, including limiting debate through giving the government the power to pre-allocate time in the House of Commons, limiting debate at committees; and reducing the number of sitting days each week, thus reducing the number of days that the government would be compelled to be accountable to Canadians by facing the opposition in the House, especially during question period.
The reaction by the opposition parties was swift and predictable. Recognizing what was at stake, the Conservatives and the NDP used every means available under the existing Standing Orders to prevent the government from proceeding. At the height of the Standing Orders debacle at PROC, The Globe and Mail wrote an editorial that pointed out that in a majority Parliament when a government can pass any law or motion it wants, the opposition really only has two weapons at its disposal: moral suasion and the power to delay.
Both of those weapons were used to maximum effect, and eventually the government realized that the opposition would go to any lengths to prevent it from changing the Standing Orders without all-party consent, something that no other government has had the arrogance or contempt for the opposition to attempt before. That perhaps is wherein lies the rub. The Liberals seem quite sincere in their belief that whatever makes it easier and more convenient for the government and limits the ability of the opposition to hold it accountable is somehow democratic.
Members on the government side seem to sincerely believe that the opposition should merely act as spectators. It has been said before by me and by many of my colleagues that we are not an audience. We are the opposition. We were elected to this place just as each member on the other side was. We were elected by people who do not support the government's agenda and expect us to speak on their behalf. They expect us to demand accountability. They expect us to examine proposed expenditures. They do not expect us to simply act as mere spectators. They expect vigorous debate and robust daily question periods attended by the . They certainly do not expect us to surrender the very limited tools that we possess to do the job we were elected to do.
This brings me to the present and the details of the motion before us.
At first glance, the motion might appear not unreasonable, a compromise perhaps compared with the outrageous Motion No. 6, with the machinations that happened at PROC and the absurd statements that the government House leader has been making for months. In fact, one might for a moment be tempted to even give credit to the government for abandoning nearly all of the draconian changes signalled by its March so-called discussion paper and its Motion No. 6 of last year. Before doing that, however, let us consider what the motion would do and how it stacks up to the Liberals' supposedly sacrosanct commitment to delivering on the specific election promises related to Standing Orders and so-called modernization of the House of Commons.
With this motion, the government has abandoned its promise to change the Standing Orders for a prime minister's question period. Perhaps it has finally realized that this is something it could have done all along without a change to the Standing Orders, or perhaps it has realized just how poorly the present performs, so it is no longer so keen on the idea of a prime minister's question period.
The motion's so-called modernization of the estimates process would reduce the amount of time for committees to review the estimates, thereby reducing accountability.
Giving the Speaker the power to split a bill, not a budget-related bill and only for this Parliament, really is a joke within the context of the Liberals' promise and their past objections to omnibus legislation. The number of omnibus bills they have already tabled makes this part of the motion hilariously cynical.
The requirement to table a prorogation press release is also ridiculous, given the Liberals' promises and their past statements on this subject.
In short, despite the fact that this appears now to be merely token lip service to Standing Orders reform, I could never support the motion, because to do so would be to reward the government for its cynicism and for its spectacular incompetence. There is no way that we will let the Liberals claim that their grotesque mismanagement of this file has somehow ended in all-party support, all-party support that they have never seriously tried to obtain.
Mr. Speaker, last week some individuals implied that the speech I gave last week might have been my last speech. I want to disabuse them of that thought, because I am standing here today. However, in the same speech I had indicated I was not sure whether I would have the opportunity for many more 20-minute slots. Today, in that case, I will leave some ongoing confusion. I only have a 10-minute slot today because it is my intention to split my time with the hon. member for .
While I have the floor, at this particular point, I really want to thank my hon. colleague for standing in for me when my health challenge arose again. I recognized that my capacity to actually carry out some of my House duties would be challenging. He has so admirably stepped in for me when I have not been able to perform that particular function. I want to thank him for his service and for his friendship in many ways covering much of my duty when I was not able to be here.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to the addresses of the , the , and the , along with the hon. member for . I will focus most of my comments in response to the 's very lengthy address. I probably will not be able to get through all of the points that I want to deal with, but I will acknowledge that I think the opposition House leader provided fairly lengthy criticism with respect to the process that led up to this point.
I think the one thing that was missing is to back up and to look at how we got here, not just what has transpired in the last few months, but what transpired under the previous government. It is that history that I want to address a bit, which I think needs to be part of the record, in terms of how a lot of issues that are now reflected in Motion No. 18 ultimately became part of our electoral platform in response to how the previous government treated this institution of Parliament. I will deal with some of those particular issues.
The first one I want to deal with is the first major test of Canadians' confidence in this institution at the end of 2008, shortly after the election that led to the Stephen Harper government being returned with a larger minority Parliament but not quite a majority. What transpired at that time was the coalition of three of the parties, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Québécois, to potentially defeat the government on a confidence motion, which led former prime minister Harper to go to the Governor General to seek a prorogation shortly after that government had already tabled the throne speech and had barely begun the legislative session.
The point I want to make is that ultimately prorogation is a crown prerogative, and so the ability of this House to circumscribe the crown's prerogatives is fairly limited. The criticism that came from the 's attack on the proposed change in Motion No. 18 was that she did not see it having any merit or any particular point.
The purpose of this particular proposed change to prorogation is simply to shed light on the actual advice that the leader of the government, the prime minister of the day, is recommending to the Governor General as to why prorogation ought to be granted. Ultimately, that is entirely at the discretion of the Governor General. However, what this process does is shed light on that request. That is all it can do. It has, essentially, a political consequence and nothing more. That is essentially the purpose of why this particular amendment is being proposed within the Standing Orders.
The second thing that came out under the Harper government was, of course, the excessive use of omnibus legislation, particularly related to unrelated themes or unrelated matters. That is the one thing that we are trying to change, with respect to the proposed changes under the draft section 69.1 of the Standing Orders.
I acknowledge that we could have been clearer in the electoral campaign platform with respect to budget bills because, by their very nature, all budget bills are omnibus legislation. The point we are trying to make under proposed subsection 69.1(2) is that, if the budget bill proposes to make changes to other consequential acts, those changes have to be directly related to the implementation of the budget. It would be quite inefficient to break up a budget bill into numerous component parts because it would essentially render the whole budgetary process unworkable. The key in this area is the transfer of power from the government to the Speaker to make the final determination as to whether a piece of legislation is considered omnibus legislation or not, and the discretion would then rest entirely with the Speaker.
The third proposed area that is captured in Motion No. 18 relates to the estimates. The purpose of that change is to deal with what is a backward process right now where information about the budget is not clear. The changes being proposed would give parliamentarians better information ahead the budgetary process of instead of after it.
The fourth element that is proposed within Motion No. 18 deals specifically with parliamentary secretaries. In the previous Parliaments under the Conservative government, particularly in the 41st Parliament, in many but not necessarily all committees we saw the parliamentary secretary of the day dominating the agenda and denuding the broad capacity of all members of the House, particularly on the government side, from seriously looking at legislation that was coming through. The proposal we are putting forth in the Standing Orders would clarify the role of a parliamentary secretary. Parliamentary secretaries would still play an important liaison role with both the minister and the ministries they represent, but we would take away their capacity to be part of quorum and to vote. However, they would still play a very important liaison function with respect to dealing more rapidly with any of the issues that may arise at committee, through their participation. That is the fourth purpose in Motion No. 18 as to why the proposed changes are being advanced.
With respect to the last item, which has not made it into Motion No. 18, with respect to a prime minister's question period, the government has chosen to advance that particular measure by way of an established practised convention. I hope that we would give some serious consideration to following the United Kingdom model where the big difference is that, unlike the model we are executing now, the questions are tabled two days in advance by the opposition, which gives the prime minister of the day the opportunity to have a more extensive response. This is as opposed to playing gotcha, as we are seeing right now with respect to question period.
I want to wrap up by simply saying that there has been some suggestion that there is an underhanded attempt by this government to ram through changes to the Standing Orders. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. If the House leader had every intention of ramming things through, rather than presenting the discussion paper that was brought forward to PROC, she would have simply tabled a motion directly to the House to change the Standings Orders and to ram everything through that the government wanted, which is probably what the previous government would have done. This government did not do that. I want Canadians to understand that was never the intent or purpose behind the discussion paper. The intent was to solicit honest feedback. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was already doing very good work on a number of fronts, and this was to expand some of the other ideas that we felt merited discussion.
I am happy to take questions from any of my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for for sharing his time with me. It is emblematic of the duties we have been sharing over the past year as I have been working with him to back him up in his deputy House leadership duties.
While my dream of fixing the clocks in this place to be digital remains unfulfilled, there are a number of more serious Standing Order issues that need to be addressed. While the opposition has often accused Liberal members in this place of wanting to change the Standing Orders to government advantage, I would argue that the opposite is true.
Many of us on this side were here when we were in opposition. A few of us survived the decimation to third party. I started as a staffer, working for Frank Valeriote, the previous member for Guelph, in his constituency office early in the 40th Parliament. I eventually found myself working here for the member for , where I worked when the government was found to be in contempt of Parliament and an election was forced in early 2011. I subsequently worked for both those members as well as the current members for whom I take great pride in calling Mr. Speaker today, and the member for , all, for a short period, at the same time.
Working for four excellent members of Parliament, with different personalities and areas of interest, I gained a great breadth of experience and perspective, which has been a key part of learning how to do this job. It also gave me an up-close perspective on the abuses of power, on a daily basis, by the previous government. That is the perspective from which this motion has been written, that of the third party. To make the point, I want to go over Motion No. 18 one piece at a time.
In 2008, most of us will remember that the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc got together in an effort to take down the freshly re-elected Harper government. Whatever one thinks of the details of that agreement, a majority of members intended to vote no confidence in a sitting minority government. To avoid this, Harper visited then governor general Michaëlle Jean and asked her to prorogue Parliament, a request she granted after a couple of hours of deliberation.
Parliament is often prorogued between dissolutions. Of the past seven Parliaments, only one did not have at least one prorogation, that being Paul Martin's minority 38th Parliament. Proroguing itself is definitely legitimate. In the 2008 instance, however, it was used as a tool to avoid a confidence vote. We all know how history played out after that, and it was a tactical success for Prime Minister Harper.
The first clause of Motion No. 18 would not prevent a prime minister from proroguing, but it would require the executive to explain why they felt it was necessary and would mandate the procedure and House affairs committee to revisit the matter. It would not prevent abuse, but it would raise the bar on prorogation.
It is a bit of a marvel to me that, in my experience, no one has tried to do a massive private member's bill that rethinks the role of government from one end to the other. It would be a pretty interesting two-hour debate and is only currently prevented by convention, not rule.
In the last Parliament, the government had some impressively scattered omnibus bills. The standard here is not about how many laws a bill amends but rather if those various and sundry changes all serve the overall purpose of the bill. For example, Bill , which passed at second reading here only yesterday, was cited by many in the opposition as an omnibus bill because it intends to modify 13 existing acts. However, this is spurious, because all the changes legitimately and clearly fall under the concept of the name of the act, the transportation modernization act, and some of those 13 existing-act changes are both relevant and miniscule.
For example, clause 91 of Bill C-49 is the section that would amend the Budget Implementation Act, 2009. This change reads, in whole, “Parts 14 and 15 of the Budget Implementation Act, 2009 are repealed.” A quick investigation will reveal that Part 14 is amendments to the Canada Transportation Act and Part 15 is amendments to the Air Canada Public Participation Act, both well within the purview of the to modernize within his mandate. Both sets of amendments from that Budget Implementation Act, 2009, which was called Bill in the second session of the 40th Parliament, came with a coming into force clause that read, in part, “come into force on a day to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council made on the recommendation of the Minister”. The most remarkable part of this eight-year-old piece of legislation is that the Governor in Council never brought these changes into force.
Getting rid of obsolete, never implemented bits of transportation law is clearly within the frame of transportation modernization.
In 2012, the Conservative government brought in a wide-ranging budget bill that implemented much of what it called Canada's economic action plan, but it also went after environmental legislation that had nothing to do with the budget. Among other things, it stripped legal protection for Canada's millions of lakes and waterways. This was slowed down, but not stopped, by more than 1,000 amendments to the bill at the finance committee, resulting in an around-the-clock filibuster-by-vote at clause-by-clause study. I was there as staff for the final shift of that marathon vote.
The second section of Motion No. 18 would attempt to address these problems. Any bill presented in the House that did not focus on a single theme or overarching purpose could be split by the Speaker. While there would be an exception for budgets, the phrasing of that section, which would be standing order 69.1(2), would only seek to clarify that the objectives outlined in the budget would in their own right define the purpose. Attempting to change environmental law in a budget implementation act, without having defined it in the budget itself, for example, would permit a point of order to be raised and accepted by the Speaker to carve that section out of the BIA. This change is important and is something we committed to doing.
The third change is a little more arcane.
I was a staff member on the public accounts committee for a short period in the 41st Parliament and was a member of government operation and estimates early on in the 42nd Parliament for about the same length of time. I do not pretend to have any great understanding of the minutiae of the estimates process and defer to those who do. That is a big part of the point here. I welcome anything that can help bring clarity to the estimates process.
The fourth change in the Standing Orders in this motion is a particularly interesting one, covering sections 4 to 6 of Motion No. 18.
In the last Parliament, I believe most of us who were around had the same experience. Committees were run by parliamentary secretaries. They sat next to the chair, moved motions, voted, and otherwise controlled the committees. This utterly and totally defeats the point of parliamentary committees. The parliamentary secretary is, by definition, the representative of the minister. In this capacity, parliamentary secretaries serve a critical role in liaising between the committee and the department the committee oversees.
Being able to answer questions about intent and plans from the committee on a timely basis or bringing concerns or issues for study that ministers would like feedback on in the course of their duties are completely appropriate. However, when parliamentary secretaries run the committees, these oversight bodies cease to oversee much of anything and simply become extensions of the executive branch of government. If that is what we are to have, the committees serve little purpose. Including parliamentary secretaries on committees as liaisons with their departments instead of as the planners and executors of the work of those committees is the right balance.
This is really important. During the Reform Act debate in the last Parliament, the member for , for whom I have great respect and have for many years, commented to me that as a backbencher, he was not government. “Like you,” he said to me, “my role is to keep the government to account. The difference is”, he concluded, “I have confidence in the government.”
This critical bit of political philosophy has stuck with me since that day. Our role as backbenchers is indeed to keep government to account whether we are on the government or opposition benches. One of the most critical tools to achieve that is committees, and when this government talks about restoring independence to committees, it is not a meaningless catchphrase or sound bite; it is legitimate. I have seen the transition on committee function from last Parliament to this Parliament and it is truly something. Keeping parliamentary secretaries in a participatory, but not controlling, role on committees is a critical element of this.
The last change, section 7 of the motion, is particularly interesting. The one place where the opposition has immense power, even in a majority government, is in the power of the filibuster at committee. An opposition member determined to prevent a vote from taking place or a report from being written at a committee has the absolute power to do so, as long as he or she is willing to talk out the clock and stay reasonably on point. Our colleague from is an expert at this task, often joking that after half an hour of talking he has not yet finished clearing his throat.
When we had the debate on reforming the Standing Orders that went sideways at PROC a few weeks ago, we were accused of trying to kill the filibuster. This could not be further from the truth.
In that debate, we sought to have a conversation about how to change the Standing Orders. The had written a letter with her ideas of what changes she hoped we would discuss on top of the numerous ideas already before us on account of the Standing Order 51 debate from last fall. However, but if we refer back to the previous elements of this speech, where we landed was up to us as a committee. An idea floated was that members at committee be limited to an unlimited number of 10-minute speaking slots rather than a single slot with no end.
The way I understand this would work in practice is that any member can speak for as long as he or she wishes at committee, but when another member signals his or her interest in speaking, the member would have 10 minutes to cede the floor before the other member would take over, before giving it back again if the first member so chose. The effect of this would be to ensure that every member on a committee would have an opportunity to speak in any debate, but would not limit anyone from tying up committee and would not kill the filibuster either in the instance or in principle. It certainly would make it easier to negotiate our way out of one by giving others a chance to get a word in edgewise.
However, the change proposed here is not about that. It is about getting rid of one of the most absurd abuses of committee procedure we saw in previous parliaments: that a member of the committee majority would take the floor, even on a point of order, and say to the chair something like, “I move that we call the question.” The chair would correctly say that it was out of order and reject the request for the vote. The member would then move to challenge the chair, the majority would vote that the chair was wrong and the question could be called, and the motion to debate, study, report draft, or whatever was happening, would come to an abrupt, unceremonious, and totally acrimonious end. That was the only effective, if not exactly legitimate, way of ending a filibuster.
In Motion No. 18, we are defending the right to filibuster.
As I said, Motion No. 18 is about defending the rights of the opposition, informed by our experience in the third party. Not one line of this motion benefits a majority government. All, however, benefit the improved functioning of this place. I look forward to its passage.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with my colleague for .
First, I am so pleased to hear that our colleague for will be speaking again, and that this was not his last speech today.
I rise today to speak to Motion No. 18, the government motion mostly about the estimates process and the government's shameful move to reduce parliamentary oversight by changing the tabling and reporting dates of the main estimates. It is the government's misguided and cynical attempt to change the estimates process so it appears it is trying to do something, anything actually.
How did we get to this point?
Over a year ago, the appeared in the operations and estimates committee, OGGO, to discuss the difficulty in understanding the estimates process. We discussed the alignment of the estimates to the budget, accrual versus cash accounting, and the unclear reporting of the departments. He proposed a solution, which was an odd one. His solution to all of these problems was to simply take away two months of oversight by moving the tabling of the estimates to May 1 from March 1, allow zero time for the opposition to study the estimates before choosing the two committees of the whole, and take away a few supply days. This was supposed to be the solution to the issue of the estimates being difficult to understand. If members do not understand the process, then surely the government will give them less time. That must be solution.
Despite the government having proved completely unable to fix its own internal administrative processes, the decided the solution was to take away two months of oversight on the estimates. We were told that changing the Standing Orders to allow the government to move the tabling of the estimates from March 1 to May 1, leaving parliamentarians just over a month before the estimates were considered reported, would allow the government to ensure more of the budget would be in the estimates.
We asked the about these concerns in committee and we were told not to worry, that we could change the Standing Orders back in a couple of years. We were told not to worry about having only five sitting weeks in May and June to review the estimates. The Liberals would guarantee that ministers would show up to all committee meetings regarding the main estimates. To quote the committee evidence, the stated “You have my personal commitment, but also the commitment of our government, to make sure that is the case”, that the ministers will show up.
The current is on leave and the department in an absolute mess. There is the Liberal Phoenix fiasco. There is the Liberals's on-again, off-again love affair with Boeing, which is truly sad. In Paris right now the love affair is off. It is very odd that the city of love cannot get back the love affair with Boeing. There was the scandal of the Liberal Party executives deleting emails in Shared Services Canada, reminiscent of Hillary Clinton. Then there is the ongoing shipbuilding delays that are costing taxpayers billions.
Therefore, with all of this going on, do members think the fill-in minister, if anyone even knows who that person is, or the parliamentary secretary would show up for the estimates? I am pretty sure members can guess what the answer is: No. The first chance the government had to put its money where its mouth was and we ended up with the deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement representing the minister. It was not that the deputy minister did not do a great job. We got all the same nonsensical answers we would have received from the minister herself, but it was the principle of the thing.
Kin Hubbard, the American satirist, had an oft-quoted line, “When a fellow says, 'It ain't the money but the principle of the thing,' it's the money.” In this case, it is both; it is the principle and the money, taxpayer money.
Another well-known and similar quote from H. L. Mencken is, “When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.” Now Mencken was a very influential and prolific journalist in America during the Depression era. He wrote a lot about the shenanigans and shams of con artists in the world. He would have had a lot of fun writing about this, because shams of con artists were his specialty.
The government is saying that to improve transparency, we must decrease transparency. In order to give more power of oversight to parliamentarians, we must first take away oversight to parliamentarians.
We told the that if there was an alignment issue, why not move the budget up to an earlier fixed date? This was recommended by the all-party OGGO report in 2012 on the estimates. He told us that it was not possible due to timing issues. Therefore, we have two rulings on timing issues; unilaterally changing the Standing Orders on estimates is good, changing timing for the budget is bad.
Before anyone thinks this is just a partisan rant about the government, it is not just me who thinks the government is completely wrong on the issue. The PBO noted:
Before agreeing to the changes proposed by the Government, parliamentarians may wish revisit the core problem that undermines their financial scrutiny: the Government’s own internal administrative processes.
The PBO was in committee just this morning and again noted that moving the date would have little to no effect on alignment if the internal processes on budget and spending approval are not reformed, which is not happening. He further stated that taking away time for MPs to scrutinize government spending, as this motion would do, would be of no benefit at all to Parliament or to oversight by parliamentarians. The PBO proved this point by pointing out in a supplementary estimates analysis how many new budget measures appeared in each supplementary estimate.
In the 2016 supplementary estimates (A), 70% of new spending announced in the budget was in the supplementary estimates (A). If we go a year closer, with all the hard work they put into it, we see a new total of just 44% in the supplementary estimates (A). Incredibly, in response to this failure, the said it was “progress”.
We asked the minister to share his plans to reform the internal process and achieve alignment, and he refused, referring instead to his four-pillar discussion paper as a “concrete plan”, in his words. That is the same paper the PBO just this morning inconveniently noted was not a plan, since it had nothing concrete in it to address the process issues.
We further asked the if he would follow parliamentary tradition and make no changes to the Standing Orders without unanimous consent of the opposition parties. He said—well, actually, he did not say.
My learned colleague from , who is our committee chair, asked repeatedly if, as was the long-held custom, the TBS president would commit to changes to Standing Orders only if he had all-party support. It was like asking the how many meetings he had with the Ethics Commissioner. All we got was non-answers.
Now we know why he would not answer such a simple question: they planned all along just to ram the changes down the throats of the opposition. What is next when this little experiment fails? Will it be further reduction in oversight?
In committee, the Treasury Board president trotted out a line from an interview with Kevin Page, the former PBO, as justification for his plans. He quoted Kevin Page as saying, “I support your recommendation that this adjustment may take two years to implement.” There was nothing about its being a good idea; it was just that it would take two years to implement. What the Treasury Board president did not know, however, were a couple of other thoughts from Kevin Page, also in a Globe and Mail interview. The former parliamentary budget officer stated:
The recommendations for change in the discussion paper seem to have come from a public servant's perspective.
It is not from a parliamentary perspective or a perspective of oversight to protect taxpayers, but from a public servant's perspective.
The article continues:
The report does not start from the perspective of the financial-control responsibilities of Parliament.
With great respect to [the Treasury Board president]...the specific proposals in the report do not go far to strengthen Parliament's financial control.
The current PBO said of the proposed estimates changes:
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.
The PBO further noted that:
...the 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.
In response to these learned experts, the minister said he did not agree with every utterance from the PBO. Those are his exact words: utterances.
On this side of the House, we believe we should pay attention to such utterances. Reducing oversight of spending for no gain does not serve Canadian taxpayers, nor does it serve parliamentarians. I strongly urge the government to withdraw its damaging changes to the estimates timing.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise again in the House to debate an important issue.
Canadians tuning in today can perhaps be forgiven if they are wondering what Motion No. 18 means. Most probably do not give a lot of consideration to what the Standing Orders mean and how they affect their lives, but this motion is really about accountability and transparency of government and of the House of Commons. That is what we are debating today.
After several months, the government has finally put forward some proposals to change the Standing Orders, and it is important for people to understand how we arrived at this point and how we arrived at the proposals that are on the table today.
The road that we are on began over a year ago, when the government proposed Motion No. 6. The government was frustrated with the opposition for opposing its legislation and its attempts to change our laws. We were doing our job, but the government became frustrated with that, so it brought in Motion No. 6, which was by all accounts a draconian motion to take away the rights of the opposition, thereby disenfranchising the people that we represent, the millions of Canadians who voted for parties other than the governing party. We were sent here to do an important job; certain members of the government understand that, while others clearly need a reminder.
We saw what happened when the 's anger boiled over. He came down to this end of the chamber, made contact with one member, grabbed another one, and we spent days debating his violation of the parliamentary privileges of members of the House. Only because of the Prime Minister's unparliamentary outburst did the government withdraw Motion No. 6 at the time, and we went back to operating under the normal Standing Orders that give opposition members their rights in this place.
We then came to March of this year and a supposed discussion paper. I listened with some amusement to the previous Liberal speaker and questioner talking about how this was just a discussion paper and how the government had no agenda. In fact, we heard from the previous speaker that freedom now reigns in committees and the Liberals are just operating as a bunch of free agents. They do not have any direction from the Prime Minister's Office or from ministers' offices. They just act on their own goodwill and good ideas.
Of course, the discussion paper was tabled on a Friday afternoon before a break week. Then, two hours later, a motion was presented calling for discussion of the paper that had just been discovered, just been translated, just been tabled before Canadians.
I guess an idea popped into the head of the member for to bring this discussion paper before the procedure and House affairs committee with a firm deadline for the committee to report back to the House on these changes by June 2. It was essentially holding a hammer over the heads of opposition members. We could talk about it all we wanted, except here was the deadline, here were the terms, and here was what was going to happen.
We in the opposition exercised our rights as opposition members to hold the government accountable and to use the tools at our disposal to draw Canadians' attention to these changes.
What did the Liberals propose to do in these changes? They proposed to cancel Friday sittings, thereby reducing accountability by 20%. The House would sit for fewer days.
They proposed that the would only be in the House for 45 minutes a week, for question period on Wednesdays. They also proposed to cut speaking times in half and have five-minute speeches instead of 10-minute speeches, because we all know how easy it is to get complex matters discussed in five minutes. Perhaps members of the government are wishing they had implemented that already, as I have reached that point in my speech right now.
The Liberals also proposed electronic voting, meaning that we would no longer have to stand and be counted. I can tell the House that from this vantage point, I have several times seen Liberal backbenchers making up their minds as the roll call was coming to them. As they had to stand and be counted, they realized either through their own conscience or through the pressure of their peers what they should do. It is important that we stand and be counted and be recorded here in the House of Commons.
The government proposes eliminating the ability of MPs to bring up and sustain debate at committees. We have seen the member for do an admirable job of using the immigration committee to talk about the government's false reasons for closing down the Vegreville case processing centre. Through her efforts at committee, we have exposed the fact that the government rationale for that decision was false, that the cost savings were manufactured, that in fact it would be costing taxpayers much more money to shut down that system. We never would have had that debate if the government had had its way and eliminated the ability of MPs to do that.
The government also wanted to eliminate the ability of MPs to be able to bring up concurrence motions, to be able to debate committee reports here. We have had important debates many times in this session. Just yesterday, we talked about the Official Languages Act and got to talk about the fiasco that was the Liberals' appointment process for the Commissioner of Official Languages. These were their proposals. We are now left, after weeks of debate and weeks of the opposition using the strategic and procedural tactics available to us to draw attention to this and slow it down. The government has finally put forward this thin gruel of Standing Order changes.
It is not just members of the opposition who have taken offence to how this has been conducted. The member for , a long-standing, respected member of this Parliament, who has sat at the cabinet table, who has sat in the official opposition, who has sat in the third party and is now on the government benches, but as a backbench member of Parliament, quite clearly said:
This is the House of Commons. It’s not the House of cabinet. It’s not the House of the PMO. It’s the House of Commons. It’s the people’s House, and the majority of the people in that House are not members of Cabinet.
Those are wise words, and I wish that government members, members of the Liberal caucus, would heed them.
The member also said the following:
I know there is some upset in my own party over the way things are at, at the moment, that the environment seems to be somewhat toxic. But opposition are using the only levers of power they have at the moment, and I understand that; I’ve been there.
The member for understands that we do not unilaterally change the rules of the game to benefit the majority, that the rules are there to protect the minority.
Again, the government has time after time shown that it is actually more interested in having an audience than an opposition. The member for served in the government of Jean Chrétien. It is unfortunate that the government does not follow that example. Jean Chrétien was a tough guy. There was no love lost between him and the opposition. He realized that this place served a purpose, that members of the opposition served a purpose. Before there were any changes to the Standing Orders, he struck an all-party committee, in which the government did not have the majority, to look at things that could be agreed upon to change.
This happened again in the previous Parliament. Everyone talks about Harper ramming through this and ramming through that. When it came to the Standing Orders, he respected the rules and he respected the opposition, and there was no change made if there was no agreement; the issue was not brought forward. That was the record of Stephen Harper. We know that the government will not follow Stephen Harper's example on that, but they should follow Jean Chrétien's example.
I want to address just one of the issues: the Prime Minister's question period. The government says this has to be done to enact their campaign commitments. However, Prime Minister's question period is nowhere to be seen in Motion No.18. I do not know why. Perhaps it is because the has the ability to answer as many questions as he wants without changing the Standing Orders. Maybe he has finally come to that realization. Perhaps it is not going too well when he has to answer time after time, for instance, how many times he met with the Ethics Commissioner. He refuses to answer time after time.
We have come to this place. This is thin gruel. There is not much there. What is there, again, is done without the consent and co-operation of the opposition.
We think that there are possibilities to make changes here, but we believe that the government should have come to the table with a more willing attitude to work with the opposition and only make those changes that could be agreed to by all the major parties in this place.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for . Having said that, it only leaves me 10 minutes to cover this issue and that is just not enough time. However, I will give it my best shot.
Motion No. 18 is actually a very encouraging and positive motion. I would encourage all members of this House to recognize the value of this particular motion. If we take a look at the five aspects that I want to highlight, one only needs to look back to the last federal election. The made it very clear that he wanted to implement changes to House rules inside the House of Commons and to make some changes that would ultimately ensure there is a higher sense of accountability and a higher sense of transparency.
What we find in Motion No. 18 are changes to our Standing Orders that will in fact improve the conditions in the House. One of the issues that the talked a great deal about was prorogation. We have had a number of members make reference to it. There is a reason why prorogation became a major issue. Others have commented on it. Suffice it to say that the most encouraging aspect of what we are doing with respect to that is that a prime minister will no longer be able to walk across the street to the Governor General's house, have a session prorogued, and have nothing ever come of it in terms of any sense of accountability.
Through this change, there will be an obligation for the procedure and House affairs committee to deal with the issue, if at any point in time in the future a prime minister goes to the Governor General and asks for prorogation. That is something that was committed to in the last federal election. That is something this and this House are being asked to put into place, which I would strongly encourage members to do.
We have talked about the inappropriateness of the use of omnibus bills. This is something that has been somewhat controversial. I have been quoted by members in the opposition on some of the words I said when I was in opposition, and rightfully so. While I was in opposition, there were budgets bills and other pieces of legislation in which we saw an abuse of the idea of what an omnibus bill was actually meant to do.
At times, omnibus bills are questionable, and that is one of the reasons why we are enabling the Speaker to have more authority to ensure there are opportunities for members to vote on different sections of these bills, if in fact the Speaker deems it.
I have heard members talk about our budget bill. The example they give is the infrastructure bank that is being established. They have been using that as their class one example of the government having an omnibus bill. I would suggest that, if members really look into it, they will find that it has a direct link to the budget. After all, even in the budget we talk about the importance of the billions of dollars that we are investing in infrastructure. We make reference to the infrastructure bank. It only stands to reason that we would have that in the budget implementation bill.
Having said that, we recognize that there needs to be more authority and power given to the Speaker in addressing issues of this nature. This would be a change in the Standing Orders. I would think that all members of the opposition would support that.
Then what we are doing is giving strength to our committees. The made a comment and commitment that we should not have parliamentary secretaries voting at our standing committees. I am a parliamentary secretary, and I believe that is a positive move. We are codifying that. We are saying, in the Standing Orders, that parliamentary secretaries will not be able to vote in the standing committees. They will have a role to play, but they are not going to be able to vote.
I would think the opposition members would see that as a positive thing and support it.
We are talking about improving financial oversight. I served in the Manitoba legislature for many years, where a budget was presented, and following that budget presentation we would go into the estimates. We are talking about doing something of a similar nature here, postponing the estimates until after the budget has been presented on the floor of the House. That is a way that we can ensure a higher sense of accountability with respect to the budget, if we know those debates and discussions will occur after the budget has been presented. I suggest to members that many Canadians might have thought that would have been the case. It is something that is long overdue, and has been talked about a great deal. Listening to the members opposite provide comment on that aspect, I would expect that all members would be voting in favour of that change.
Increasing accountability for question period was another commitment this made to Canadians. We are so appreciative of the fact that Canadians supported our platform commitments relating to change. This is one that I thought was something the opposition members would have jumped all over. The has said that he would answer all questions from beginning to end of that question period. However, the Conservatives have been saying they do not want the to show up only once a week. Not one Liberal MP has argued that the would be here only once a week; it is only the Conservatives who want to argue that. That surprises me. We believe that the is providing more accountability by doing that. We will respect what we are hearing from the opposition, and going forward this government will make that commitment because we believe it is a good, positive thing for the to not only answer the first question but also the last question as much as is possible. When I sat in opposition, I was never really afforded the opportunity for my question to be in the top nine questions, which were the questions that Stephen Harper would usually answer. With these changes, even if a member is the 20th person to ask a question, he or she can ask that question of the . I think that is a positive thing.
Although, we are not codifying that in the Standing Orders, I would like to hear more encouraging words from the opposition with respect to the benefits of that, because I believe that Canadians who truly have an understanding of what is taking place in the House would look at not only that change but also the changes to the rules that we are making and see them for what they are. It was a promise that was made in the last election, and by all accounts it is a promise that has been kept.
That leads me to the discussion paper. We have a government that was open to changing other rules. We had a discussion paper. Members can call it whatever they like, but I would suggest that this has been a government that has opened its doors, talked with members, and invited them to encourage a dialogue with respect to changing the Standing Orders, whether it was the government House leader or PROC members. What has been interesting is that, as I listened to many of the members today and yesterday, I had the sense that there was a bit of regret on their part that maybe we could have made some other changes. One member who had an infant asked about the voting rules and why we would have to sit at nine o'clock. Why did we not allow for that discussion to take place? We on this side of the House were prepared to do that. We wanted to look at ways in which we could improve the rules in our Standing Orders. It was the members of the joint opposition that made the decision that they did not want that. However, we as a government wanted to ensure that those commitments that were made to Canadians would be kept. That is the reason why we are debating Motion No. 18 today.
I would encourage all members of this House to respect what Canadians want and vote in favour of Motion No. 18.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for for splitting his time with me. I am pleased to stand up and give my thoughts on the motion before us today.
We have heard a lot of discussion from Liberal members. They keep on referring to the fact that it was just a discussion paper. “What is the matter with the opposition? It is just a discussion paper. We just wanted to have a discussion. These were just ideas.” What they conveniently forget to look at is the Trojan Horse that discussion paper was riding in, and that was the motion that was moved at the procedure and House affairs committee just a few days after the discussion paper came out, and imposed a timeline on when the committee was to complete its study. It was basically putting us into a straitjacket, and we know that with the Liberal majority on committee, they could have basically gotten any change they wanted. They would have reported that back to the House, and then that report, which would have reflected all of the Liberals' wants, would have then just been voted on by this House. We recognized that for what it was, a Trojan Horse, and we used every tool at our disposal to stand up.
There is a lot of alternative history and alternative facts being uttered in this place, but let me remind members that it was the Conservatives, in addition to the NDP, who proposed a reasoned amendment that stated that:
the Committee shall not report any recommendation for an amended Standing Order, provisional Standing Order, new Standing Order, Sessional Order, Special Order, or to create or to revise a usual practice of the House, which is not unanimously agreed to by the Committee.
That is the sticking point that the Liberals refused to agree to. They could not bring themselves to honour the time-honoured practice of this House that when any change is made to the bylaws by which we operate, we usually try to get all-party consensus, because these rules do not affect just the government members, they affect all members, and we all live by these rules. We all deserve their protection, and that is why we sought unanimous consent.
The Liberals refused to budge on that, so what does the opposition do? We use the tools at our disposal. We use the equivalent of pulling the fire alarm, and to this day, Liberals still express confusion as to why we were using all of these dilatory motions. Why were we moving that the member now be heard? Why were we calling ministers in for votes at inopportune times of the day? Because those are the only tools we have at our disposal, and they worked, because we forced the government to climb down, to wave the white flag, and the opposition did its job. Every national paper started running stories on this, the disgrace with which the government tried to unilaterally change those rules.
We will not apologize on this side of the House for using the rules that we need protection with. As soon as the government withdrew that motion, the dilatory motions stopped. What a surprise.
On the discussion paper that came about, what was causing so much consternation on our side was the fact that the Liberals wanted to codify in the Standing Orders the ability to add programming to bills so that they would not have to move time allocation. They wanted to limit the ability of the opposition to move motions during routine proceedings. They wanted to curtail filibusters at committee.
When there is a majority government in the House of Commons, those members have tremendous amounts of power. If only the new Liberal MPs could sometimes see what it is like from this side of the House, how much extreme power they wield in this House of Commons and how few tools we have at our disposal. Those rules are very sacred to this side of the House; they allow us to speak up with the voices of our constituents. For the Liberals to claim they have some sort of legitimacy to proceed with this, let me remind hon. members on that side of the House that the opposition, all parties combined, collectively represent 61% of Canadians. The majority of the population did not vote for the Liberal Party, so our voices deserve to have a say in this House, and we will fight as long and as hard as we can to make sure that we have that right.
We did enter that fiasco of the filibuster, as I like to call it. It spilled out into the House of Commons. We finally got the government to back down, and I am extremely proud of the work that we collectively did. I always say that politics makes for strange bedfellows. Any time that we can get the Conservatives and the NDP working together on something, it must be an important issue to fight for.
I want to go to the motion at hand. We try to reach changes in the House by consensus. What we see before us today in Motion No. 18 is an extremely watered down version. We do not see any substantive changes because, unfortunately, the government ruined its attempt to find those meaningful changes with the ham-fisted way it approached this whole reform package. As a result, here we are with a very watered down version of change in Motion No. 18.
I believe the claimed her mandate letter gave her some sort of mandate to proceed with changes in the House and how this place operates. The Liberals pursued that change with a lot of vigour initially, starting in March. If only they had had the same vigour for their promise on electoral reform. I can remember, and I think my hon. colleagues will also remember, how many times that promise was uttered, both in the House and out in the Canadian public, that 2015 would be the last election held under first past the post. That was not even worth the paper it was written on.
Let us look at the changes listed in Motion No. 18. The government wants to have the ability, when omnibus bills come before the House, to give the Speaker the ability to make changes so we can have multiple votes on areas that are unrelated to each other. My friend from has moved an amendment that would also give the Speaker the ability to carve the bill up into separate bills, because if we really want to put an end to omnibus bills that should be the way. The way this motion is written, it does not pay any heed to a 300-page omnibus bill, or 400 or 500 pages. It is all well and good to split up the constituent parts so we can vote on them individually, but it does not stop the fact that we collectively have to debate on a giant bill with the 10 minutes we are given.
Our major source of frustration with this is that it would actually legitimize the use of omnibus bills. The government could just say that because the Standing Orders have been changed, it can just clump everything together because we can vote on it separately, conveniently forgetting the fact that our debate is going to still be constrained to the same amount of time as if it was just one bill.
Another part of the motion is adding parliamentary secretaries to committees. This flies in the face of what the government's promise was. I am lucky enough to sit as the vice-chair on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. The two parliamentary secretaries to the minister of justice are very honourable people, and I enjoy working with them, but there is nothing there to prevent them from coming and joining our committee. Parliamentary secretaries, whether they like it or not, are representatives of the executive branch. A committee is a constituent and important part of the legislative branch, and I resist any attempt to have that influence from the executive branch on a legislative committee. We have already given so much power in the House to the executive to allow parliamentary secretaries to now sit on the committee as members. They are not able to vote, but to give them the opportunity to question witnesses, that is our job. We already have so much time devoted to the executive in the House. Ministers can appear before committee if they wish to clarify points. They are allowed to have unlimited speeches when they introduce bills. There is already a tremendous amount of power that rests with the executive.
Finally, the part on prorogation. Let us face it, this is a bit ridiculous. To be able to, within 20 days of a new session, table a statement as to why a government prorogued, what good is that going to do? Whatever the party in power, it could simply spin the reasons and say they did it for this or that reason. There would be no debate on it. It would just be tabled. It does not stop the fact that prorogation, which I know is a constitutionally protected right, still happened. For us to just continue down that path with a simple discussion paper tabled in Parliament, I do not see that as a substantive change.
I see my time is running out, but I will note that the great Stanley Knowles gave an address to the Empire Club in 1957. He stated that the rules are the only thing the opposition has for its protection. The majority has so much power at its disposal, the opposition depends on these rules. I hope Liberal MPs will now understand why we mounted such a stiff opposition. It is all we have in the House. We will go to the wall to defend the rules, and I am proud of the job we did together.
Mr. Speaker, it is my turn to speak to the government’s Motion No. 18. No one will be surprised to learn that we will vote against this motion, for several reasons that I will have the opportunity to raise in the next few minutes.
To begin this short 10-minute speech, I will be very clear. I am blessed to be one of the Conservative members who will have the opportunity to speak on such an important motion as this one, which aims to change the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. I consider myself lucky because Motion No. 18 was tabled yesterday and the debate will end in a few minutes, when there were only two hours of deliberations yesterday and we resumed the debate at 11:30 this morning.
I do not have a lot of experience in the House of Commons, as I have only been here since October 2015. However, I have had the opportunity to speak with several of my colleagues who have been here for a very long time, even though none of them have been here since the creation of this beautiful House, of which I am proud to be a part. Never in memory have the Standing Orders of the House been changed by a motion that was hastily moved at the end of a parliamentary session and that divided the members of the House. According to all the comments I have received, this is a first. Moreover, it is quite a first, but it is not at all a credit to the Liberals opposite. It is shameful to act in this way.
Since the October 2015 election, this government seems to be quite unco-operative when it comes to the business of the House. It does not appear to understand its role as the governing party, and more importantly, it does not appear to understand at all the role of the official opposition, which is to ask it to justify each of its decisions.
When I was the mayor of Thetford Mines, I had to justify each of my decisions to the community. If a decision made at a Monday night council meeting did not please the community, I would hear about it the next morning at Tim Hortons, because people would quickly find out about it. Therefore, if, God forbid, at some Monday night council meeting I was unprepared and together we made a bad decision, the next morning, it was we—the councillors and the mayor—who be called to account.
If we became better and made good decisions on a Monday night, it was because not all the councillors supported the mayor’s decisions. They understood that their role was to point out the flaws in decisions that were not that well thought out. Therefore, even if we cannot refer to them as the opposition in the same way we do here in the House, having town councillors challenge our decisions made us all better. The following day, instead of being criticized, we were praised by the community, because we had made good decisions.
I appreciated the fact that the councillors did not always agree with me. I appreciated that they approved of some of our decisions and questioned others. That upset us sometimes, since we did not always agree with them, but ultimately these councillors who acted as the opposition made us all better.
This is what the Liberal government does not seem to understand. The role of the official opposition is to improve how this country works and improve the decisions made by all governments, regardless of political stripe, by allowing the official opposition and the other opposition parties to examine them. That is how the House must operate.
What protects the members of the House so they can properly perform this role? Certainly, they sometimes bother the government when they ask questions and criticize it.
We sometimes point out its failings and oversights. We do not always see eye to eye. Sometimes, we prevent the Liberals from keeping their promises because those promises were reckless to begin with. Other times, we would like them to keep their promises, but they always have all sorts of reasons not to. I am sure government members find us incredibly irritating at times, because we do not share their thinking, but that is our role.
What holds us together, what makes it possible for us to fulfill this role for the benefit of all Canadians? The answer is simple: the Standing Orders of the House. Without these rules that allow us to question and challenge the government's decisions and positions, things would slowly but surely turn into a dictatorship, even under another name. Why? Because the government would then be able to do whatever it likes without subjecting itself to the opposition's scrutiny, making all the decisions, good ones and bad, its bad decisions remaining unchallenged.
That is why I am sending this message to my colleagues across the floor who are not in government, but who sit in the House and on committees. They were there when we exhausted all avenues and used every tool at our disposal to make our point that the government cannot do what it wants to the rules of the House. These rules belong to all Canadians, as they serve to protect them from a government whose arrogance might one day reach such heights as to compel it to want to use the full measure of its power to introduce the policy it wants without regard for the opinion of Canadians who might not share its views. That is why we are here in the House.
Motion No. 18 is a manifestation of this arrogance. It has to be said, because this is the first time since October 2015 that I have seen such a lengthy motion. It is written in very small print. When I was mayor, I remember receiving complaints from citizens telling us not to use such small print because it made it difficult to see the big picture. Some of our more senior citizens asked us all the time if we could use larger print. People use small print when they want to make it so others cannot read them. This applies to Motion No. 18. They would rather we did not read it, so it is full of numbers and other stuff. Motions will pass, however, even if they are too wordy. That is the Liberal way. They are always looking for a back door to sneak through, hoping not to rouse the opposition along the way. That is why I now declare, as my opposition colleagues will surely agree, that this will not stand. We will not be fooled by the Liberal government's methods.
Before we vote on this motion, I just want to say that I am very proud to be an MP. It is a privilege to be elected to the House. This government swept to power on a tide of false promises about sunny ways, openness, transparency, and doing things differently. I hope that, by “doing things differently”, it did not mean “doing things unilaterally”.
Unfortunately, ever since last year, Motion No. 6, the infamous discussion paper that the tabled in the House, the many closure motions the government has imposed, and the partisan appointment processes we have witnessed in recent weeks and months have exposed the government's blatant lack of respect for the work of opposition members.
Motion No. 18 is essentially the dregs of the government's latest attempts to unilaterally change the rules of the House. The government may have watered things down considerably, but the outcome is the same. It will use its majority to force changes to the House rules without getting consensus, even though there has always been and should always be consensus to change the House rules.
Mr. Speaker, you are in charge of both discipline and the clock in the House of Commons. I trust you will let me know when my time is up.
We are here today talking about this motion to make sure that, if changes do in fact need to be made to the rules of procedure, that they are made consensually.
When it comes to changes to our institutions and the way the House operates in particular, it is important that they be made not according to the wishes of the party in office, but to those of the country as a whole.
We, the 338 members of the House represent all Canadians, whether we are Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, or members of the Bloc Québécois or Green Party. If changes need to be made, they need to be made in the interests of all Canadians and on behalf of all Canadians.
In 2012 and 2013, when I was a member of the Quebec National Assembly, I worked closely with my political opponents who were articulate, ferocious, and tough. Nevertheless, we worked together to make the changes we deemed necessary to the electoral system at the time. Heaven knows that, today, they are being put to good use.
We are currently going through exactly the same thing because, when we change the voting system or the rules of procedure, we have a direct impact on democratic institutions. From my past experience in the National Assembly, I draw the conclusion that we cannot make changes without consensus. We had consensus on the issues of federal political party financing and provincial election spending, and then when it was time to set a fixed date for elections. Therefore, yes, we are able to do that.
As I said earlier, I faced vigorous opposition, from both the member from Beauce-Sud at the time, Mr. Robert Dutil, or the PQ minister of the day, Mr. Bernard Drainville, who is now a radio commentator. For my part, I worked for the Coalition Avenir Québec. We were all guided by a desire to make changes, but first and foremost by a desire to do so with consensus.
I will always remember the conversations we had following the discussions, coat in hand, to try to find a way together to make those changes with consensus. We found a way. When we are guided by good faith and want to make changes, it can be done with rigour, respect, and especially a desire for consensus.
I find it very bizarre, if not laughable or preposterous, to hear politicians say earlier that they were elected on that promise. May I remind them that there were elected by promising small deficits and saying that they would return to a balanced budget in 2019? May I remind them that the reality today is that those deficits are enormous and that the stated three days ago, without any shame, that he did not even know when we would return to a balanced budget? The Liberals lecture us about their election promises. It is a complete farce.
Since we are discussing the voting system, or in fact the attitudes that we must have as parliamentarians, we must not forget the famous promise, made a thousand times, not just once, that 2015 would be the last election under that system. How many times did we hear our NDP friends repeat that to no end? What did the Prime Minister decide when he realized that the polls were in his favour and that the system worked for him? In the end, he said that Canadians did not really want change.
Today, the Liberals are lecturing us and saying that they were elected on that promise. In their election platform, a very specific article stated that the Prime Minister must spend a full day answering questions in Question Period. They tried it, realized that it did not work for them, and decided to do it later or when it suited them better. I will not say that it is hypocritical, as that is a somewhat harsh term, but what a surprising way to deal with the facts.
The reality, quite simply, is that the tried to answer the 40 questions put to him every day during question period. Obviously, talking and answering are very different things. Everyone remembers the 18 times we asked the Prime Minister a very simple question and he was never able to answer. No later than last week, nine times we asked very specific questions to the Prime Minister about the Norsat scandal, and he was unable to answer directly.
The Liberals want to lecture us about parliamentarianism. They need to ease up a bit. Whenever they want to bring amendments forward, they need to find a consensus. They will not accomplish anything by imposing long motions on us and giving us just a few hours to debate them. We need to work together beforehand, find some common ground and be willing to compromise. That is how we achieve meaningful results. That is not what is happening now.