Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Speaker.
The fifth recommendation I would like to propose is that we eliminate Friday sittings of the House. Eliminating Friday sittings would permit members of Parliament who live anywhere outside of the national capital region to return to their constituencies for one additional day each week. Friday sittings are not for the full day. The sittings run from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. These four and a half hours could easily be redistributed to the portion of the week that runs from Monday to Thursday by adding one hour of time to the chamber's deliberations each of those four sitting days. The balance of the 30 minutes could be eliminated by speeding up the method of voting that we use, a subject I will return to momentarily.
The primary criticism I have heard about eliminating Friday sittings is optics. Canadians will perceive that MPs are voting themselves a four-day workweek. With respect, this argument is illogical on its face. If Canadians believe that the only time MPs are working is when the House is in session, then on that metric, we currently work for less than one out of every three days in the year. By my count, Parliament will have sat for 102 days between November 4, 2015, and November 3, 2016.
It is clear that every member of this chamber knows that our work does not stop when we leave Parliament Hill. When we return to our communities we work in our constituency offices. We meet with residents and stakeholders in our communities. We attend events in our ridings. We participate in forums and conferences. We sometimes travel with our standing committees to consult with Canadians about legislation.
The work of a member of Parliament is full time, seven days per week. I say this to underscore that when we debate the issue of Friday sittings in the chamber, we are not making a determination about how much members of Parliament ought to work but rather where they ought to conduct their work.
Eliminating Friday sittings has the advantage of permitting members of Parliament to be in more regular and direct in-person contact with their constituents, which in my view can only make them a better representative and advocate for their community. It has the advantage of permitting members of Parliament an additional evening at home with their spouses and children. Too often, as I have already learned, families are sacrificed by the demands of elected public office. Separation and divorce are unfortunately not infrequent in this vocation, in part because of the toll played by frequent travel and time spent away from family members.
Let me turn to my last and sixth recommendation, which pertains to our voting system. It is antiquated and in desperate need of reform. I recommend that we move to a system of electronic voting. The time savings from this change alone would be incredible. I personally timed our votes yesterday. To get through seven different votes it took us nearly 70 minutes to each stand up, have our names called, and sit down.
I understand there are some who would posit that standing up has some sort of salutary effect on members, forcing them to more seriously consider the gravity of their vote and how it is cast. The argument is that this adds an additional level of accountability. My response to this is straightforward. A member of Parliament is accountable based on how the member votes. It is important. The important feature is that all votes are open ballots, not secret ones, and that a member's vote is recorded so that residents of his or her community can consult a written record to determine how their MP voted on a given issue.
Electronic voting does not impede this basic function. In fact, I would contend it enhances it. It enhances it because I have observed, with great dismay, the tendency of some members of the House to heckle, jeer, boo, and hiss at MPs during the very act of voting. When members are exercising this most basic and essential democratic function of their office, the active casting of a vote on legislation on behalf of their constituents, every member has a fundamental parliamentary right to be free from intimidation and bullying. Electronic voting would ensure that this is the case.
Today, no less than 38 other national legislatures employ electronic voting. This includes the United States Congress, which has employed it since 1995, the year I visited the House of Representatives as a Canadian parliamentary intern for this chamber. When I visited congress as an impressionable 23-year-old intern I certainly did not anticipate one day becoming an elected representative myself. Now that I am a member of Parliament I would like to think that if I had the occasion to return to Washington as part of a parliamentary delegation, I could say I learned something about improving our democracy on that trip 21 years ago.
In conclusion, it is my view that we should finally modernize the parliamentary voting system and bring it into the 21st century. This measure, along with the five other recommendations I mentioned respecting civility and sittings of the House, would significantly impact not only people's perception of our institution but also their willingness to serve.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about a timely subject and that is decorum and etiquette in the House of Commons and committee meetings. I must admit that I am a new member. I have been in the House for a year. I was very surprised and disappointed to see how members behave in the House. I am not talking about one party or another. I am not talking about the opposition or the government. I am talking about all members. It is something that I find unacceptable and it has to change.
When I arrived here, I was so shocked by this bad behaviour that I would sidle up to one MP after another and ask what they thought about question period, and I would get two responses. If it were a new MP like me, the answer would be, “Oh, my gosh, it's incredible. It's unacceptable and I can't believe I'm in this environment”. If I sidled up to someone else who had been here a long time, the person would say, “Oh, Frank, it's not so bad”. They had become acclimatized. Human beings are capable of becoming acclimatized.
That happened to me at my first job. I worked at a one-storey building right beside the airport. A couple of days after I had started the job, one of the planes flew right over the building. I was talking on the phone and said that I had to go. I hung up the phone and ran out because there was such noise and the building was shaking. It was incredible. I did not know what was happening. The plane was so low, I could have thrown a rock and hit it. After six months of being in that job, I would be on the phone, ask the person to hold on a second, cover the handset, and six seconds later I would start talking again. I had become acclimatized.
During the summer break, I made a commitment to myself to refuse to become acclimatized to the behaviour in the House. What we saw today was one side claiming what the truth was. It is a fallacy that we can pretend to be true, but it is not true.
I have four ideas to improve decorum here. First, I was to support the idea of the member for , who said that we need to give more power to the Speaker, not to throw members out but to silence them, to take away an abuser's right to speak in the House of Commons. Whether that be for one sitting, two or 10, I do not know. That should be discussed, but a member should lose the right to speak due to bad behaviour.
My second point is that we are living in the age of technology. I would like to see two high-definition, wide-angle cameras installed, one facing the opposition benches and the other facing the government benches. These cameras would be strictly for the use of the Speaker of the House and they would be used in exactly the type of situation we are dealing with today and when there is a complaint. It would be a little bit like what we see in all sorts of sports, such as tennis, hockey, and football, where the referee has the right to look at the instant replay to check on something he missed. I suggest using that same approach in the House. That would mean that we would have two cameras strictly for the Speaker's use, to allow him or her to determine, when necessary, if there is an issue on which the Standing Orders must be enforced.
The third idea I propose would be extremely important because of what we saw today. I would like us to banish clapping during question period. That may seem funny to some members. However, we are a descendant of the House of Commons in Westminster and it is not allowed there. It is banned. The Government of Quebec, less than a year and a half ago, banned clapping in its legislature.
I actually like clapping, except that it is no longer done to support a good cause or statement. The behaviour is so inappropriate that I cannot see it being used properly. Therefore, I can only say it should be completely banned.
These are the three points I raise in the hope of bringing decorum to the House of Commons.
I will never allow myself to become acclimatized. If these measures do not pass this time, I will work inch by inch to make things different. As one member mentioned, this present testosterone-driven environment comes from a hundred years ago when women did not have the right to vote, when ethnic people did not have the right to vote, and it serves only one type of person. It is a tremendous deterrent to people of different cultures where rudeness is unacceptable. It is a tremendous deterrent to women and it must change.
The last point I would like to raise has to do with standing committees. I sit on the industry committee, and too many times when we have invited a guest, that guest has not been able to testify because they have been consistently interrupted by spurious motions, points of order, and no end of nonsense.
We have a precedent here in the House of Commons during question period. No one can interrupt that process for the hour. Members have the right to speak, they can move any motion afterward, they can rise on a point of order afterward. I propose out of respect, not even for ourselves but for the guests we invite and who come to committee, some of whom have travelled great distances with prepared speeches, that we owe these people the right to listen to them. It takes one hour and I am proposing that we use exactly the same rules there that we do here, that during that hour there will be no motions, no interruptions of any kind, no rising on a point of order, just as we do in question period. This is to show respect to outside guests.
Those are the four things I am proposing to try to bring a bit of decorum here.
I will end with a little anecdote. As I mentioned, I was shuffling up to people and talking to them. I would engage to try to find out where they landed. I have two daughters and a son. My middle daughter will tell people what is what. They were all proud of me when I was elected, and they told me so. I would like them to come here and visit some day. But I was thinking about it. If my middle daughter had sat up there and seen me, then she would not say she was proud of me. I have made a commitment to myself that I will not accept this. If she comes and sees this horrible behaviour, I can tell her I am fighting it.
This is what happened with the guy I sidled up to, who was not a member of our party. He looked at me, his head bowed, his chest caved in, and he said “Frank, my 17-year-old daughter was here two weeks ago and she walked out in disgust”. This is what we are doing. It must stop.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the motion that this House take note of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees.
As we all know, the Standing Orders provide us, our staff, and the House of Commons administration with many of the tools and information we need to ensure the chambers continue to run appropriately and, in all cases, in the best interests of Canadians.
I just want to go into a brief history of the Standing Orders, which will provide some insight into the very critical role that these orders have played in our history and will continue to play in the future of Canada.
According to O'Brien and Bosc in 2009, the standing orders were first adopted in 1867. They were largely based on the rules from the assemblies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, created in 1791.
Between the 60th and 90th sitting days of the first session of each Parliament, we have this debate and are currently doing so because it must take place; so for those watching at home, this is why we are doing this, because in some viewers' minds, it might be a little confusing. They might be thinking that there are bigger orders of business going on in the world today, but this is why this has to be done.
Over the years and the plethora of debates that have taken place, believe it or not, there are still rules that go back to the late 1700s. That is another reason why it is critical that we continue to review and make suggestions on the Standing Orders to ensure that they fit with the 21st century.
I often like to reference hockey, because without the rule book for hockey, it would not be a very civil game, and sometimes even with those rules, it still is not; but the rules have changed over the years. I guarantee that the first game of hockey looked quite a bit different from the NHL games we watch today.
I realize that many of us in the chamber today are aware of the importance of the Standing Orders, but I also believe we need to understand their relevance. When the debate has ended, the matter will be referred to the procedure and House affairs committee, or PROC. As a member of PROC, I believe it is important to be here and listen to these comments that are made by my colleagues. We like to listen to the changes to the Standing Orders that are put forward, and we believe that all should be debated because most should be beneficial.
I have also found, in listening to the debate today, that the suggestions and arguments made by my colleagues are informative, and I am sure we will have quite the debate inside PROC when they come forward.
When it comes to my suggestions about the changes to the standing orders, they can be organized into three specific categories: efficiency, accountability, and family-friendliness.
On efficiency, the primary concerns I see with the current Standing Orders deal with the Order Paper questions. A general recommendation with regard to Order Paper questions would be to remove the requirement for the government to ask that all questions be allowed to stand each day. It would be significantly more efficient to have any questions without a response deemed to stand. That is according to Standing Order 33.
I believe that the order of the rubrics during routine proceedings be altered as well. I would recommend that the questions on the Order Paper should be placed immediately before tabling of documents rather than at the end of routine proceedings, as it currently stands. I believe that each change would be of benefit to both the government and the opposition. It would give the government a chance to properly respond to Order Paper questions, and it would allow the opposition to receive an answer to that question.
Alternatively, I would recommend placing motions at the end, as I mentioned, but there is always a standing order that must be changed and must be moved.
On Standing Order 106(4), I would recommend lowering the threshold to convene a committee meeting from four members to two members, and make it conditional that the two members come from different parties. This would ensure that no one party was able to call an emergency meeting unilaterally.
On Standing Order 53.1, I believe that this standing order should allow the official opposition to call a take-note debate twice during each session, and allow the third party to call a take-note debate once during each session.
We will move on to family-friendliness. This is where I think most of the debate has gone on today, and this is relatively new to the people on the PROC committee. Moving toward a modern, efficient, inclusive, and family-friendly Parliament was something we dealt with right away in our early days.
We looked at the numerous ways to make Parliament a more family-friendly environment. To quote from our report, and I think we will all agree:
There are few jobs with longer hours and greater stress than that of a member of a legislature. Numerous tasks and multiple roles at the legislature and in constituencies compete for a member’s time. Members also frequently are called upon to travel abroad, whether with a parliamentary committee or as part of an official delegation. Meanwhile, members face high expectations on the part of the public to be constantly working on its behalf, and as such, they also deal with increasing public scrutiny.
Such circumstances can have adverse effects on a member’s work-life balance, especially those with spouses and families. Members can be apart from their homes and families for long stretches of time.
Many of us in this place have families. I have one five-year-old son, but we are also all brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons, and daughters, and we all agree that being away from our families is very difficult, especially for long periods of time.
I missed my son's first parent-teacher interview. I missed my son's first soccer game, his first goal. As he learned to ride a bike without training wheels, I missed that too. It was extremely difficult, not easy. That feeling in my stomach really hurts.
We all admit in this place that it is not an easy job. The report issued by PROC looked at many of the concerns that we all saw with the Standing Orders in regard to creating a more family-friendly environment. We made recommendations that included the timing of votes, which we are seeing now. The whips on both sides have done a remarkable job of trying to get the votes right after question period because we are all here. That allows some of us who live close by or have our families in Ottawa to see them for dinner or for bedtime, which are probably the most important times.
Also issuing the House calendar for the following year in June instead of waiting for September allows us to better plan work in the constituency and allows us to better plan for our family time.
Also we could have more family-friendly events at Parliament. Once upon a time there was Hilloween, when we could bring our families and dress up in costumes and look for candy. It was a way to bring all parliamentarians on all sides together with their families and get to know each other as people. I think that is most important because some of our times will be short here and some will be long, but it is always important to take that time to learn a little about each other, regardless of which side we sit on.
I appreciate the work of my friends on the procedure and house affairs committee and I respect them all. We do some good work. We may not always agree, but there always seems to be that willingness to try to find common ground. As a new member, I appreciate that part of it.
As I mentioned earlier, being an MP is not an easy job, but we also know that Canadians work hard to make ends meet. When we discuss not being in this place on Fridays and going back to our constituencies, we all know that we will probably be working in our constituencies, but Canadians who work hard five, six, or seven days a week may not see it that way.
It is not just about optics either. It is also about changing the Standing Orders so that we sit longer from Monday to Thursday, which causes problems for those who have brought their families to Ottawa, those who have staff in and around the national capital region, who have to adjust their days and maybe work to midnight, but those staff have to work on Fridays, as we heard from many members from British Columbia.
Not sitting on Fridays also means that they have to travel anyway and they have to leave on Friday, so there is no net benefit for those members either. Basically taking away Fridays has no net benefit other than reducing the amount of time we are here by 20%. I think all our constituents know that the majority of the work we do is in Ottawa. We are lawmakers, but we are also advocates and in some cases social workers, but we also try to work for our constituents.
That is why we have constituency weeks and why we are back in our ridings in July and August, so there are balances to that. By knowing the calendar ahead of time, having family-friendly events, and also with access to day care, we can make it all work.
I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
Mr. Speaker, the curiously introspective S. O. 51 requires us to contemplate the Standing Orders here today. With apologies to interpretation services, I have a lot to say about them.
As a member of PROC, and as a perennial procedure geek who started watching CPAC when I started high school, I am following this debate with even more interest than my normal enthusiastic self.
I want to go over some of the changes that were already proposed by PROC in our recently tabled interim report on moving toward a modern, efficient, inclusive, and family-friendly Parliament and then discuss some other ideas.
A good deal of what we discussed in our report does not affect the Standing Orders directly. I encourage anyone interested in the workings of this place and the impact on their families and personal lives to take the time to read through the report and perhaps provide guidance to their friendly local PROC member on what direction that study should take going forward.
In PROC's 11th report, we made a number of recommendations and had a number of discussion points. Three of those recommendations and three of those discussion points are directly relevant to the Standing Orders. The first two recommendations are related to the standardization of vote times to ensure predictability and efficiency. They state:
That House Leaders continue, whenever possible, the informal practice of holding deferred recorded divisions immediately following Question Period.
That House Leaders, whenever possible, refrain from holding recorded divisions any later on Thursdays than immediately following Question Period.
The third recommendation states:
That the Speaker table the House calendar each year prior to the House's summer adjournment.
That is not always easy, but it is an aspirational goal worth pursuing.
As a committee, we also felt that it was important to look at ways of limiting the number of consecutive sitting weeks. We all know from our pleasant experiences this spring that four-plus sitting weeks in a row really sours the mood around here, especially when we are here until midnight every night. However, there is a lot of work to be done, and we are a remarkable Parliament for our inefficiency in getting through legislation. Those are not the kind of accolades I believe we are looking for on the world stage.
To get there, one of the key items we discussed at length, but did not really get anywhere with, is the concept used in other Westminster parliaments of a parallel chamber, that is, a voteless chamber where items can be pre-debated. Our upcoming move to West Block and our subsequent move back to Centre Block certainly creates an interesting opportunity to retain two fully functional chambers.
The fate of Friday sittings is also a contentious debate, and one I would like to see my colleagues soul-search on as to how we make this place more efficient so that we may spend more time in our constituencies.
The last item, of course, is decorum. While we did not come to any conclusions, I personally find the new tone of question period, with the government side, at least, generally keeping calm and constructive, to be positive, and I would invite the opposition members to follow suit, at least experimentally for a while, to see if it improves the overall tone here. I cannot be the only parliamentary enthusiast who always found question period the least, not most, enjoyable part of the day's proceedings, regardless of who was in power. Decorum is a cultural, not a regulatory, issue that is up to us to fix.
There are few of us who have ever actually read the Standing Orders from cover to cover. I have, on more than one occasion, and I find them fascinating. I may not fully grok them, but I am certainly trying to.
Standing Order 4 does not have a mechanism to deal with the acclamation of a Speaker, for example. When Bill Blaikie was dean of the House, he presided over the unprecedented acclamation of Peter Milliken. I remember watching it on television. He observed that there was no process to deal with this but that the House could do many things with unanimous consent. However, what would have happened if a disgruntled member had denied that consent? For that matter, there are several instances when unanimous consent is required for absolutely routine things that should not need to go to a question.
Standing Order 7(1.1) has some curious wording on the assumed election, but not really, of the Deputy Speaker. Standing Order 7(2) has contorted wording designed to ensure that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, between them, speak the two official languages, and 7(3) requires a Deputy Speaker to be elected to replace one who leaves during his or her term but is inconsistent with how that person got there in the first place.
Standing Order 11 permits you, Mr. Speaker, to punt someone from this room. I would encourage you to be unshy to use that power or to become blind to disruptive members, as Speaker Milliken did, regardless of party. Those powers should perhaps be expanded on. What value is there in kicking someone out of this room into a press scrum? What more tangible recourse could perhaps be available?
Standing Order 17 requires us to speak only from our own seats. I would personally like to see, for purely practical reasons, the members of the House leadership team of each recognized party be permitted to be recognized from any seat allocated to their party during regular debate.
Standing Order 23 declares bribery a high crime to be dealt with with the utmost severity, without providing for any type of process to do so.
Standing Order 28(1) says we cannot sit on Dominion Day. Dominion Day was replaced with Canada Day back in 1982, when I was one year old.
Standing Order 37(1) permits a Speaker to punt a question deemed not urgent to the Order Paper. However, in all of my years of watching, I have never seen that actually happen.
Chapter VI of the Standing Orders deals with the process of debate. I think it is worth considering changing the structure of 10- and 20-minute speaking slots, with questions and comments, to 15- or 30-minute speaking slots. Up to 10 or 20 minutes would be used for speaking, and the totality of the unused portion would be left for questions and comments.
For example, if I only speak six minutes out of my 10, which for me happens more often than not, I would have up to nine minutes of questions rather than only five. This will lead to shorter and more candid speeches and better debate afterward.
Standing Order 68(3) has an ironic quirk of old English. It states that bills may not be tabled in “imperfect” form, in English, but that they may not be tabled in “incomplete” form, in French.
Standing Order 71 also has a typo, in English, stating that every bill shall receive “three several readings”, rather than “three separate readings”, or just “three readings”, as it says in French.
Standing 87 deals with private members' bills. When a member of Parliament has been here for several elections and has never had a chance to bring a PMB forward, and another member comes and has a PMB on the Order Paper before figuring out where the washrooms in Centre Block are, the system may be somewhat broken.
I propose for discussion that the PMB lottery be rethought to become fairer. At the start of every Parliament, all re-elected MPs should retain their place on the order of precedence. Those returning MPs not on the list because of being ministers, parliamentary secretaries, or Speaker would come next. New MPs would then be added to the order of precedence in the current manner. MPs from the previous Parliament who had had an opportunity to take their bills through the process would be added to the end of the list, again, in the same process.
Finally, all MPs should be able to trade with all other MPs anywhere on that list. All MPs, then, would have an equal chance to propose a private member's bill, without the peculiar bias against people who just cannot seem to win a lottery and without throwing a new MP into a situation of having to write and table a bill before learning how this place works.
I would also like to revisit the issue of royal recommendations at some point.
Standing Order 128 allows the House to be called back at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday to deal with a report from the Standing Joint Committee on Regulations, to which I say, really?
Standing Orders 129 to 147 deal with private bills. That used to be how to get a divorce in this country. While the Senate still uses them, on the Commons side there has not been a private bill for many Parliaments. Could we not drop this altogether?
Finally, Standing Order 158 permits the Sergeant-at-Arms to detain strangers for their behaviour in the chamber or gallery and may not release them without an order from the House. I do not know if this building contains a jail, but this is certainly an interesting legacy item. What is the real world impact of this?
Getting off Standing Orders, per se, why must bills die in the Senate when the House is dissolved? Could the Senate not continue dealing with bills already before it and simply send the version it has passed back to the new Parliament for concurrence? Private members' bills, especially, would be far less prone to an untimely death.
On other topics, I believe it should be inappropriate for any member to refer to the official language spoken by another member in the House of Commons, in the same way it is inappropriate for a member to refer to the presence or absence of another in this House.
Chapter XIII already guarantees that all members can speak in either official language, but I would go further and make it against the rules to refer to the language another member actually chose.
There are quirks in procedure and practice that are not necessarily in the Standing Orders, such as the entertaining, “When shall this bill be read a second time? At the next sitting of the House”, amid catcalls of, “Now” and “Never”. This is an artifact from a change more than 20 years ago, and there are no doubt several of these bugs where not all consequential changes were properly made.
I suspect the need for the agreement of the House for Order Paper questions to be allowed to stand is another such artifact, and there are surely more.
I would also like to see the clock in this chamber replaced with synchronized digital clocks that can be controlled by the table and that reflect the apparent time in the House as well as the actual time so that when we “see the clock”, the clock agrees.
In fact, until we have integrated information systems in our desks, which is another long-term point we should at least discuss, I might go so far as to suggest four clocks be visible to all members in the chamber. They would show the time, the perceived time, the remaining speaking time for the current speaker, and the actual time the House is expected to rise today.
While we are at it, why do some events prolong the day and others do not? Is there any rhyme or reason to it? Could we perhaps revisit what does and does not make the day end at, say, 6:48 p.m.?
Of course, I would like to see seats in the chamber that do not tear our pockets, which happened to me again last night.
Let me also take this opportunity, as a former staffer, to call for the return of the one-stop shop, which provided for a different kind of Standing Order.
Yesterday a group of around 20 people visited me from their retirement residence in Mont-Laurier. At 3 p.m., security kicked them out of the group visitors gallery above you.
As a fundamental principle, I do not believe that behaving members of the public should ever be asked to leave the gallery during a sitting. If anything, the public should be encouraged to watch our debates, rather than question period, to participate more meaningfully in our legislative process.
Standing Order 51 provides us this wonderful opportunity to get into the weeds on the Standing Orders and to remove relics, artifacts, and cruft that no longer need to be there.
I look forward to continuing to hear the thoughts of my colleagues and to discussing them back at PROC.