I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 23 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021. Therefore members are attending in person in the room and remotely by using the Zoom application. The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. Just so you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking rather than the entirety of the committee.
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I would now like to welcome our witnesses for today. We have Minister Rodriguez, the House leader; Mr. Allen Sutherland, assistant secretary to the cabinet; and Mr. Donald Booth, director of strategic policy and Canadian secretary to the Queen.
We will allow the minister an opening statement of about 10 minutes, which will precede probably two rounds of questions. Just so the committee is aware, the minister will be here for the first part of the meeting for one hour. The officials who are accompanying him will stay behind for the second hour for further questioning.
I want to take some time now to welcome a few new members today.
Welcome back, Mr. Nater.
I see that we have Mr. Fragiskatos with us again.
Mr. Kent, welcome to the committee. I know that an official change was made and that you and Mr. Nater will be our new permanent members of the committee. I think the committee is looking forward, as I definitely am, to working with all of you.
Minister, please go ahead with your opening remarks.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I will take only about five minutes so that we can have more direct exchanges.
Good morning, everyone.
Good morning, colleagues. I'm pleased to be with you virtually as you conduct your work on the issue of prorogation. This is very important work.
Back in the 2015 election, our party promised a new role for Parliament to examine this issue. As you may remember, the previous government invoked prorogation on multiple occasions without ever explaining to Parliament why it had done so. We promised to change the Standing Orders, and we did in 2017. Actually, many of you were there at the time.
The new standing order states that soon after Parliament resumes sitting following prorogation, the government must submit a document outlining the reasons for the prorogation. Once that happens, this document must immediately be referred to PROC, and this is exactly what has happened, Madam Chair, for the first time in our history.
The government has submitted an extensive report on the matter, and I'm here to speak to you about the report and answer all your questions. In other words, we're following through on our promise. We're being transparent and open in explaining our reasons for last year's prorogation.
So, let's review what happened last year. In December 2019, following the election, our government came forward with a Throne Speech that reflected our agenda. It was a forward-looking agenda, but one that was that was truly grounded in the reality of the time, when there was no COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic simply changed the world, not just here at home, but around the world. It has changed the priorities that any government must put at the top of its agenda.
We had to take steps to protect the lives of Canadians and reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. These were unprecedented steps to support the financial health of Canadians and help them pay their bills. Pandemic or not, the bills kept coming. We needed to do everything we could to help our workers, our businesses and our guardian angels in the health sector, and we did it together.
Remember all the sessions of Parliament in the spring and summer when we passed all those bills together to help Canadians.
By the summer, it was clear that members of Parliament would be facing a new and much different landscape when the House of Commons returned in the fall. As the said in August when he announced the prorogation, Canada was “at a crossroads”. This was a time to protect Canadians, rebuild the economy and build a more resilient Canada that is healthier, safer, greener and more competitive. This would require a reset, a new plan. We committed to coming forward in Parliament with a new throne speech to reflect the extraordinary times we found ourselves in.
Just as important, members of Parliament would be given a chance to vote on this plan. That was fundamental. The was very clear in August when he made the announcement. You'll remember that.
Here are some of the things he said: “We are proroguing Parliament to bring it back on exactly the same week it was supposed to come back anyway, and force a confidence vote. We are taking a moment to recognize that the throne speech we delivered eight months ago had no mention of COVID-19, had no conception of the reality we find ourselves in right now. We need to reset the approach of this government for a recovery to build back better. And those are big, important decisions and we need to present that to Parliament and gain the confidence of Parliament to move forward on this [very] ambitious plan.”
Colleagues, this is exactly what happened.
Parliament began a second session with a new Speech from the Throne, which set out a clear roadmap to tackle the pandemic. The House voted in favour of the Speech from the Throne. It supported it, which was very important for the way forward.
Since then, as promised, our government has continued to focus its efforts to defeat the pandemic. For example, we announced a transition from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to a more flexible, more accessible employment insurance system. For our businesses, we announced the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, which we have extended to June 2021.
While the world looked forward to the day when vaccines against COVID-19 were ready, we continued the work we had begun long before. As we've said before—and we'll say it again —by September, we will have enough doses to vaccinate every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated.
These are some of the steps that have been taken. These are the actions of a government that put COVID-19 at the top of its agenda.
The House was prorogued last year for one reason: to come forward with a new plan to confront the biggest health and economic crisis of our time. That's it.
Now I am happy to answer your questions.
Thank you very much.
Thank you so much, Madam Chair.
I am very pleased to participate in this committee meeting. I want to greet all my colleagues, especially my colleague across the way, the minister responsible for Quebec and Government House Leader.
Madam Chair, the minister forgot two fundamental points in his speech. First, he forgot to say that everything that the said in his Speech from the Throne could very well have been said in a statement in the House of Commons. Indeed, there was absolutely nothing new that merited prorogation and a Speech from the Throne, since, as he said, the government and Parliament were already working to address the issues related to the pandemic. There was no need to prorogue Parliament and no need for a Speech from the Throne. A statement by the Prime Minister in the House would have done the trick. So why did he prorogue Parliament?
Let's review the events, Madam Chair.
On August 19, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, which was studying the WE charity scandal, was scheduled to receive the Speakers' Spotlight group, which had contracts with the WE movement and the Prime Minister's family. This group was scheduled to testify on August 19. However, as luck would have it, it was on August 18 that the Prime Minister decided to prorogue Parliament and dissolve this committee and the work of Parliament. Yet Speakers' Spotlight had stated that it had in the past held discussions with the Prime Minister's family and the Prime Minister himself.
Was the minister aware of the discussions between Speakers' Spotlight and the Prime Minister's family?
Madam Chair, you will not be surprised that I disagree with my colleague's analysis of the facts, although I am very pleased to see him. I even miss him, just imagine!
The government needed to focus all its efforts on the pandemic. As I said earlier, and as the said at the time, the entire government, not just the political wing but all the civil servants as well, needed to focus on the priority, which was COVID-19, the biggest public health crisis since the Spanish flu and the biggest economic crisis in a hundred years.
That's what we did. We're from different parties and we see things differently, and that's fine, but my reading of things is quite different from that of my colleague.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank Mr. Rodriguez for his speech.
What I understand, Mr. Rodriguez, is that prorogation is a fresh start, with the government's Speech from the Throne. The Prime Minister clearly announced it that way. The pandemic changed priorities a great deal. We needed a fresh start to focus on new priorities and meet the needs of Canadians.
You gave some examples earlier. I would like you to tell us about the fact that the government had to send members of the Canadian Armed Forces to long-term care homes in the spring. Some patients were not being fed or were wearing dirty diapers; some patients were lying on the floor after falling; and some seniors were found dead in their beds. The Canadian military had to step in to stop this. It became clear that the federal government's role in health care in a crisis situation was very important, as was the need to create national health standards for the well-being of the population, especially seniors, whom I represent here as parliamentary secretary.
Some politicians today are trying to make us believe that with a little money we can fix everything. They are trying to divert attention from this terrible and inhuman tragedy. We have seen why the prorogation was necessary. COVID-19 has already taken the lives of over 20,000 Canadians. This is about our fellow Canadians and our families. Our government will never forget the inhumane conditions in which many died. We have done everything in our power to ensure that this will never happen again, and we will continue to work hard.
Can the Government House Leader explain how prorogation allowed the government to work on a number of issues that are priorities for Canadians?
Mr. Lauzon, thank you for the important work you do as parliamentary secretary for our seniors. It is absolutely essential work, and you do it brilliantly.
The pandemic changed everything. It has affected our seniors more than any other group. What has happened is absolutely unacceptable. We realized that our seniors were much more vulnerable than we thought and that our social safety net was not as strong as we thought. Too much was falling through the cracks. The number of deaths among our seniors is incredibly sad.
We stepped in as much as we could to lend a hand, in collaboration with the provinces, by the way. We collaborated well with Quebec and all the provinces, but we had to do this restart, that is to say press a button and start again.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the government had made its first Speech from the Throne and we were just coming out of a fresh election campaign. Who would have thought that we would be talking about a pandemic, an economic crisis, outbreaks, rapid tests, masks, hand sanitizer, wage subsidies, vaccination campaigns? No one did. We dealt with all this as much as possible. Again, I repeat that we did it in co-operation with all parties—I see Mr. Therrien, Mr. Deltell and Mr. Julian—because it's not just the responsibility of government alone to look after Canadians, it is the responsibility of all parliamentarians. We were all elected for the same reason.
This is why, once again, I would like to thank my colleagues from the different parties for their co-operation. This has allowed us to pass a series of bills that have given us the means to help people. However, towards the end of the summer, we realized that there would be a second wave. The question was no longer whether there would be a second wave or not, but rather what the impact would be. We wondered how we were going to respond and what tools we would need to deal with it. That's when we made the decision, as a government, to press “pause” and refocus all of our actions, not just those of the executive, but of all public servants.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning, Mr. Rodriguez. I'm very happy to see you again. I also want to acknowledge my colleague, Mr. Deltell. We work a great deal together and it's a pleasure to do so.
I don't have much time, so I'll ask some clear questions.
We're told that the prorogation was prompted by the need for a renewal or by the COVID-19 situation.
Mr. Rodriguez, when were COVID-19 policies introduced?
Parliament was focused on the WE Charity scandal. All the committees were focused on the scandal. When you shut down Parliament, you shut down the work on the WE Charity scandal. That's what you did.
The experts who appeared before the committee said that a prorogation is a time to wipe the slate clean, which you didn't do. We were continuing the work undertaken in March, the work that guided the economic policies on COVID-19. So there was nothing new.
The experts also said that Parliament couldn't be shut down for long because it was an essential tool for fighting COVID-19 and for our job as legislators. They said that, if the government had wanted to wipe the slate clean, they would have shut down Parliament on September 18. You shut it down on August 18.
Why didn't it make more sense to shut down Parliament on September 18? Why were you fine with Parliament not sitting for a month? Why didn't you do this on September 18 instead of August 18?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Mr. Rodriguez, for being here. It's a pleasure to see you and I really appreciate all your collaborative leadership throughout this pandemic.
There have been some implications that other committee members have made here, but you said in your opening remarks that no one really could have predicted the biggest health and economic crisis of our time. In the first throne speech there was no mention of all kinds of things that appeared in the renewed throne speech we got more recently.
In terms of the significant impact and context shift that we saw during COVID-19, could you highlight one or two aspects of that? I think what you said was that the contextual shift really required a re-evaluation of the government's priorities. I don't mean to put words in your mouth, but maybe you could talk about those big impacts.
It was huge, I would say, for all of us. Just think about the fact that we're here on a screen. We can't meet in person and we can't go to Parliament. Everything changed, Mr. Turnbull, as you say. I'm sure all colleagues agree on that.
The first throne speech was really about looking forward, being innovative and looking to the future, but it was based on the present. It was based on the situation we were in. There was no word of testing, vaccination, relaunching the economy, massive loss of jobs or closing the borders. That didn't exist. We needed to adapt. Honestly, we did the best we could for a while.
Again, I'm turning to Mr. Deltell and Mr. Therrien, and Mr. Julian for the NDP. We sat together and we were able to work for Canadians, but we got to a moment where it was clear that we were heading into a second wave. We didn't know how big it was going to be. It's huge. We needed to reset, and this is what we did.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
You've said a few times that we should believe that the consultation requirements for the Speech from the Throne were sufficient reason to accept that the government prorogued Parliament when it did, even though there were several investigations into the WE Charity scandal going on at the time, even though it followed right on the heels of the resignation of the finance minister, apparently as a result of the same scandal, and even though there was still a lot of work yet to be done on how to replace CERB with another income support program, to not leave millions of Canadian families out in the cold.
The question isn't whether consultation is required when you're doing a speech like that. The question is whether government has the resources to both consult and continue to do the job of the government.
What I am hearing is that you don't believe that the government could continue to do the job of the government, including being accountable to Parliament, and consult adequately to prepare a Speech from the Throne. I find that incredible because it seems to me that government ought to continuously be consulting on important initiatives even as it runs the country and is responsible to Parliament.
What I can't fathom is how your government thinks it doesn't have the resources to consult with people about a meaningful Speech from the Throne while continuing to do the job of running the nation, including being accountable to Parliament. Why do you think your government can't pull off being consultative and accountable to Parliament at the same time?
We were both elected in 2004. We've been here ever since, except you took a four-year hiatus in 2011, but it's good to see you back here again.
I'm going to speak very honestly and candidly with you, Minister, and I hope you reciprocate.
It is clear to everyone in this committee, and I know it's clear to you as well, there was only one reason for prorogation being called in early August and that was to shut down committees that were investigating the WE Charity scandal. That was the singular reason for doing so. Every academic who has come before this committee—and we have had several—admits that was the reason. They all agree to that. They all agree, in addition, that prorogation was not necessary. If it had been the case that prorogation was necessary, it could have been called much later, even literally days before Parliament resumed.
The prorogation excuse that you are offering, Minister, is weak. I know most Canadians who are paying any attention to this understand that fundamentally. One of our academics went so far as to say that the 's decision to prorogue Parliament was an abuse of power. I agree with that as well. Prorogation is a tool. The Prime Minister chose to use it and that was his decision, that was his prerogative.
I want to go back to what Mr. Nater, my colleague, was saying about the extension of prorogation and one of the ancillary effects of prorogation and that is the impact it had upon committees. Because, since your Parliament shut down committees through prorogation, it took it one step further when Parliament and committees were reconstituted in mid-September. That is, Liberals on both the ethics and finance committees started filibustering.
You have stated, Minister, on the record before this committee that it was independent of any decisions from your office, the whip's office or the PMO that parliamentarians on those committees made those decisions.
I've been around a long time. I've filibustered on many occasions and you know that. You were on the same committee as me when I went on for about eight and a half hours and you know—
Thank you so much, Madam Chair.
Before I ask a few questions, I just want to, for the record, indicate that we also had some academics who appeared before committee. Some of them indicated that they approved. They felt that it was very appropriate that we used prorogation, that it was at an appropriate time and that it was called for, specifically when we are dealing with a global pandemic and that pandemic is not just a public health crisis but touches all parts of our society. I just wanted to make sure that was clear on the record.
Mr. Minister, thank you so much for being with us today. It's always a pleasure to see you.
I'm going to have a few basic questions to ask you, questions that perhaps we as parliamentarians believe are basic but for Canadians who are watching PROC.... I'm sure there are many people out there watching this committee work today, and I thought it would be good for the record for people to understand the language that we use. I bring this up because in August, September and even October, I met with my youth council members in Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, and I took it for granted that they knew what prorogation was all about, the purpose of it and even throne speeches. Then my staff person kind of winked at me and said, “Ginette, perhaps you could explain to people the purpose of prorogation, and the steps that are taken when that occurs.”
First and foremost, could you just explain to Canadians the purpose of prorogation? What does prorogation mean? What steps are taken when proroguing Parliament?
Those are my three questions, and I'll give you my remaining time to answer.
Thank you very much, Madam Petitpas Taylor, and thank you for all the work you do, especially with the caucus. It's really appreciated, especially during this tough time. I know it's difficult for all of us, all caucus members and all different parties. I want to thank you for what you and all our colleagues have done.
Basically, when you prorogue Parliament, it's temporarily dissolved. It's been used in the past. We think that it's an important tool, but you have to explain why it is used. That's not what was done in the past. Mr. Lukiwski was there when Mr. Harper prorogued twice, and he prorogued for weeks and there was no reason. I think it would have been important for Parliament at that moment to have received this type of explanation.
That is why we included the following in our 2015 platform. Any government using prorogation must table a report in the House of Commons, which I did on the government's behalf. That report is directly passed on to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as in this case, and the government must explain why it wants the prorogation. That is what I am doing today before you on the government's behalf.
It is extremely important for us to have added that layer of transparency, which I would refer to as a strengthening of democracy, as it may occasionally be necessary to prorogue Parliament. This has been seen in many governments, no matter what party was in power. What is just as important, Ms. Petitpas Taylor, is that the House receive the report and understand why it is necessary for the government to proceed in this way.
I am appearing before you today to explain that this prorogation was absolutely necessary because we were facing the worst pandemic since the Spanish flu and the biggest economic crisis since 1929. We worked with the opposition parties—the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—to introduce bills. It was absolutely necessary to build this comprehensive plan that would allow us to focus all our efforts on the fight against COVID-19 to help all Canadians.
When we did this, we were not wondering whether there would be a second wave. We knew there would be one, but we did not know how serious it would be. We now know that it is very serious. We wanted to focus the government's efforts on that crisis, and that is what we did.
Thank you for the invitation to participate in the meeting.
As you mentioned, I'm with Don Booth, who, as mentioned earlier, is my director of policy and is the Canadian secretary to the Queen, so he has one of the more interesting job titles and roles in the Canadian public service.
We read with great interest...and there was some allusion during the first part of the meeting to the committee meeting of January 28, which I found very interesting. Sometimes I feel that our democratic practices are less understood than they should be, so it was really heartening to hear some very thoughtful reflections from your witnesses, though I would note that given their quality, it's not really surprising that professors like professors Brodie, Cyr, Lagassé and Turnbull were very thoughtful on this subject.
In their presentations, the professors laid down the fundamentals of the exercise of the royal prerogative as it is practised in Canada. This included such principles as the Prime Minister having the authority to advise the Governor General to prorogue Parliament, which was mentioned by several of the professors; that under the principles of accountable government, the Governor General must act on this advice, which was mentioned most explicitly by Professor Brodie; and that in the history of Canada, a Prime Minister's request to prorogue Parliament has never been denied, which I believe was mentioned by Professor Turnbull.
During his presentation just now, Minister Rodriguez elaborated on the government's reasons for proroguing. He made reference to the 's August press conference announcing prorogation, and I believe there was even a mention of the government's report that was tabled in October titled “Report to Parliament: August 2020 Prorogation—COVID-19 pandemic”, which was an innovation and was the first time this sort of thing had been done.
I think where Don and I can usefully build on the foundation of knowledge that's already been established is on the mechanics of proroguing. How does it happen within the system? We're also in a position to lay out some of the streams of work that are initiated within the system when prorogation occurs; that is, how the public service responds to proroguing.
On the “how” of proroguing, there are a number of steps. In brief, the Governor General's authority to prorogue Parliament is set out in the “Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor General of Canada”, 1947. It's in section VI for those who wish to look it up. Normally, when it is clear that the government intends to prorogue, the Governor General is made aware that a formal request from the PM will be forthcoming. PCO seeks formal PM direction regarding the intended date of prorogation as well as the date for resummoning the House. With that PM direction, PCO drafts an instrument of advice and a proclamation for the Governor General's approval. Once approved by Her Excellency, the proclamation is published in the Canada Gazette. That's essentially the process that was followed.
On the prorogation in August, the public service kicked into gear to frame up the Speech from the Throne—and there was some discussion in the first part of this session on that—which was delivered on September 23, upon the return of the House after prorogation. This essentially engaged the priorities and planning group at PCO and involved considerable interdepartmental work to identify initiatives and themes, as well as to consider iterative work with the Prime Minister's Office.
As the minister mentioned, there was also a consultation process. The main themes of the Speech from the Throne, “A Stronger and More Resilient Canada”, were the following: protecting Canadians from COVID-19, as the minister mentioned; helping Canadians through the pandemic; building back better; having a resiliency agenda for the middle class; and achieving the Canada we're fighting for, which had a real social justice, fairness and equity dimension to it. These themes from the Speech from the Throne were also prominent in the fall economic statement and also cascaded through to the supplementary mandate letters, which were released on January 15, 2021.
As you may know, the mandate letters are the Prime Minister's marching instructions to his ministry and the public service. In these letters, the explicitly addressed the pandemic and reiterated four key themes for the government going forward, which will sound very similar to what was in the Speech from the Throne because they were built off of it: protecting public health, ensuring a strong economic recovery, promoting a cleaner environment, and standing up for fairness and equality.
Having laid out briefly how prorogation is initiated and, in broad strokes, how it impacts the work of the public service, Don and I would be happy to take your questions.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Booth for coming today. Please extend our best wishes to Ian Shugart.
Protecting the health and safety of Canadians and protecting our economy are paramount during a pandemic. While this is an important study, I think there are much more pressing issues right now: addressing the variants; protecting Canadians' health and safety and democracy during an election should one happen; and learning from the response, so that the parliamentary precinct, Parliament and parliamentarians are better prepared for a future pandemic. Pandemics are a matter of when, not if.
Because I have a limited amount of time, I will be asking for largely yes-or-no answers.
As you know, this committee is concerned with the proceedings of the House and with the parliamentary precinct. While we are clearly in the throes of responding to the pandemic and our focus must be on the response, it will be important for this committee to later review the parliamentary precinct's response.
Was there a plan for the parliamentary precinct when the pandemic began? I'm looking for a yes or a no, please.
However, in the case of a less demanding document, the thought it was appropriate to prorogue Parliament in order to be able to prepare the Speech from the Throne. I find that passing strange, because it seems to me that Parliament is in the habit of effectively sitting even while government prepares budgets year over year. Last year, of course, was an exception, but I don't think it was because Parliament was sitting that the government failed to deliver a budget in the normal time frame.
I think that's worth noting. It seems to me that we saw the government House leader make a lot of the fact that they needed to consult, but in fact the template is there, both for stakeholder consultation and for interdepartmental communication, in order to be able to effectively deliver a massive policy document even while Parliament sits.
I'm not asking you to confirm or deny your own personal feelings. However, it seems to me that it's not really a sufficient reason for prorogation.
This also speaks to a question of timing. It seems to me that if the counter-argument were that it was an attenuated time frame and that we needed to deliver a Speech from the Throne in three to four weeks, then I would ask why it was that the intention to have a Speech from the Throne only came about in August.
Was there any doubt at the highest levels of government that Canada would experience a second wave in the fall?
It seems to me there's a difference between deciding that you want to launch a new policy direction in the fall and deciding in the fall that you want to launch a new policy direction. All of the factors that we've heard about, in terms of there being a pandemic and—well, that's really it. The fact that there was a pandemic was known in June. The fact that we might well be facing a second wave in the fall was known in June. The government could have decided much earlier than August 17 that it was interested in having some kind of prorogation in the fall and in coming back with a speech from the throne, and without proroguing Parliament, it could have undertaken to do the consultative work over a longer period of time than what the left the government to do it.
I'm wondering what changed between any time previous to August 17 and August 17, such that the decided on a much shorter timetable than was necessary that he wanted to relaunch the entire policy direction of government. It seems to me that he had the same information in June that he had in August about whether the pandemic would call for a shift in policy response. He could have provided direction earlier to government to begin those consultations to work towards a new Speech from the Throne in September and obviated any need—and I stress that, because I don't think there was any need in the first place.
Certainly had the government started earlier, as it does with the budget, it could have undertaken broad-based consultations with civil society, had plentiful interdepartmental communication and produced perhaps an even better document than it did, in fact, produce in September, which, I submit, would not have caused a great strain.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
It's great to see colleagues.
As you know, Madam Chair, I am an associate member of this committee, not a full member. I've been sitting in for my colleague over the past few weeks. I am very interested in the proceedings of this committee on this and other issues.
Since we have a number of other associate members from the opposition parties sitting in today—I'm surprised they decided to sit in today for this meeting; it's a shock—for their benefit and for the committee's benefit as a whole, I think putting things in context is helpful. I would refer, Madam Chair, to the meeting of December 10 when we had a number of academics testify at our committee.
One was a noted constitutional scholar, Barbara Messamore, who said the following in her opening remarks when she talked about prorogation and her view as to whether or not it was justifiable:
...there is also a strong case that can be made that the unforeseen eruption of the COVID-19 crisis since the start of the 43rd Parliament provides a rationale for a new session, with a new Speech from the Throne setting out a fresh legislative program. For this reason, I think prorogation was entirely justifiable.
This is, as I said, a noted constitutional scholar. Professor Messamore regularly provides media commentary on constitutional issues, specifically issues relating to the Crown and all things to do with the Crown, including prorogation. I think it's important for us to reflect on that perspective.
Mr. Sutherland mentioned a number of other academics who testified before this committee recently. They certainly did, but Professor Messamore's perspective counts for a lot. This is a scholar who has agreed with the government on some occasions and disagreed with the government on some occasions, someone who is independent and, as I said, highly respected for her work.
The other thing that came up in that meeting of December 10—again, I'm trying to put things into context and I do have questions for our witnesses here today—was the fact that the average prorogation period in Canada since 1867 is 151 days. The most recent prorogation lasted from August 18 to September 23. I would ask opposition colleagues to reflect on that. I think that's important.
Mr. Sutherland, you mentioned something before about one day being lost. Can you just go over that one more time?
One day was lost, and we are spending a great deal of time examining this issue when I think the government has been pretty clear that the reasons for prorogation were straightforward. That rationale has also been echoed, again, by independent observers. I mentioned Professor Messamore. Others have testified to that fact.
Could I ask Mr. Sutherland and Mr. Booth, whoever wishes to take the question, if you can walk me through again? You went into this in your opening remarks, but could you go over it again? What's the process of constructing a throne speech?
It's not necessarily this throne speech that we just saw a few months back in the context of the pandemic—I will ask you that later on—but tell us more about the general process of coming up with a throne speech, the back-and-forth for PCO, working with departments, working with the Prime Minister's Office. How does that all come together? It seems a bit complicated, and I think it would be good to better understand that.
We are talking about the average prorogation period, but in this case, we cannot talk about averages. Mr. Rodriguez said that we are experiencing the worst pandemic of the century, and he was right. He also said we were going through the worst economic crisis since 1929, and he was right. This context led the experts who came to see us to call for the shortest prorogation possible.
My esteemed colleague from the Liberal Party told us we lost only one day in the House of Commons, but we actually lost three days. We could have been called back to the House at any time, as had previously been done, had there been urgent bills to vote on. There were also committees sitting fully, but, unfortunately for the Liberals, those committees were considering the somewhat chaotic management of WE Charity.
I have one last question for you. Am I right in thinking that it is possible to prepare consultations for prorogation in parallel to parliamentary work?
Whether in this case or in the case of some previous controversial prorogations, I think part of the idea for this change in the Standing Orders in the last Parliament was to create a forum for Canadians to get some satisfaction when there are doubts about whether prorogation is really in the public's interest or whether it is in the government's own political interests.
Earlier I heard—and I'm sure you heard the same—the government House leader say that we are from different parties, we have different takes on it, and we'll have to agree to disagree. I don't think anybody would have found that to be a satisfactory answer in the case of the 2008-09 prorogation when Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament to avoid a confidence vote.
If the result of this exercise is that we just accept that there are different points of view depending on what your party is and we don't have anything concrete to say about the circumstances of prorogation and the obvious political effects that they have, that will be a disappointment. It seems to me that having the legislature more involved in decisions about prorogation at the front end and evaluating government responses at the front end would do more to mitigate these apparently intractable disputes.
I'm wondering if you have any reflections on that, given your experience in government. I know it is the PCO's job to defend the existing prerogatives of the Queen, but I also know that those prerogatives have changed in different ways over the years. I'm wondering if you have any reflections for us on how that convention might change in this regard in order to try to avoid these kinds of intractable disputes post-prorogation and to have a more constructive process to build consensus around the need for a prorogation.
We lost more than just one day. We lost two additional days as well, so we lost a total of three days from this, but we did lose all the work that was being done in committees. I recognize that a lot of work being done was focused on WE, and it was very embarrassing for the government, but there were other committees that were doing some sensational work. I note the work that we were looking at, regarding women during the pandemic, in the FEWO committee.
Were there any other mechanisms this government could have used to say, “We're going to reset the agenda but we know it's important to continue to do the committee work”? Were there any other mechanisms through which they could have done that?
Yes, with the exception of PROC.
Are there any times when they can say, yes, here's what we're going to do, but committees, you can go back to business? You have to reset those committees, basically. It is up to the committee to decide, so if you have government members who do not wish to see the WE Charity scandal or anything else brought forward, they will continue to filibuster, which we saw in multiple committees. I just wanted to check if that was a thing.
I also want to look further at this. You're indicating...and I really appreciate it. It brings the light onto this long-standing convention that we have when it comes to prorogation by doing this report. I want to ask you.... Perhaps you cannot be quite fully open to this, but do you feel that this report that was tabled is 100% accurate? Are there any missing details?
I think with some of the areas.... It's hard, because the Speech from the Throne is a governing template—there are a lot of things in it—so I will almost certainly miss a few things.
We saw with it, of course, COVID and the issues around building back better. We saw a commitment to clean energy that I think is quite remarkable. As well, I think you saw imbued in the Speech from Throne, and subsequently in the mandate letters, Black Lives Matter, and the concern around equity and fairness that has been moving to the fore in the Canadian agenda in recent months. I think you can chart its genesis from the Speech from the Throne, the mandate letters and, as well, the fall economic statement.
As well, of course—and this is where continuity comes in—with regard to indigenous reconciliation, there was some sharpening of that in the Speech from the Throne, and subsequently in the mandate letters as well. There's an interesting continuity in the 's personal commitment to indigenous reconciliation that was reinforced both in the speech and in the mandate letters.
To the regular members, I just wanted to point out a couple of things for our next meeting. First of all, I tried to—and there was a notice sent out—to schedule a meeting for the completion of the draft report on the election study we've done. The timing didn't work for a lot of people, and I know the one to two timing also doesn't work for some members as well, so I'm finding an hour in Thursday's meeting.
Only two witnesses have confirmed to come, and we would have the second hour free. Therefore, with your permission, I was wondering if I could schedule the consideration of the draft report in the second hour on Thursday. I think that's all it's going to require, hopefully. Sometimes we go over what I think, but I'm hoping we can maybe get it done in one hour. That way, in the coming week, we could have that report tabled and then we can carry on with prorogation next week as well.
I'm thinking we might have to have committee business next Tuesday, so that we can make sure we know the plan on prorogation going forward and the other things that might be coming. However, I'll let you know on Thursday if I have other witnesses slotted in for next Tuesday and who they might be.
Does that sound good, if I put in consideration of draft report on Thursday for one hour?
That's perfect. You will get that notice. Thank you.
The meeting is adjourned.