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View Rob Clarke Profile
Thanks very much.
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.
One of the questions I have for you, Ms. Nicol, given that I come from northern Saskatchewan, relates to the high levels of uranium that we have, especially in northern Saskatchewan. In northern Saskatchewan a lot of the first nations and Métis communities have high cancer rates. Now it could be radon, but regarding the communities themselves, you mentioned that you had done a study in northern Alberta, but have you guys looked at northern Saskatchewan? We have a lot of myths out there: it could be from the radon, it could be from the food, it could be from the smoking, it could be from a number of environmental factors. Have you looked into that?
View Brad Trost Profile
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all members of the committee for having me here today.
You've all seen my motion; you've all seen it put forward. What I thought I would do today, rather than argue basic, broad principles, is to give you a little insight on things that I think you should deal with in your report, that is, mechanics.
The general principle, the general idea, I think everyone can understand and argue about, but the report that you will have to do, based on the motion, has to address some of the mechanics of how this could be implemented if the House decided to adopt it in a subsequent Parliament.
Let me just run through some of the issues fairly quickly. You should have the memo in front of you that I wrote and sent to the committee last week. I'm just going to comment on a few things that I think should be covered in the report, mostly about the mechanics of implementing this.
Let me start with some issues that you'll have to deal with if this ever does become part of House of Commons procedures. Of interest to note is that they're doing the elections in Great Britain right now, and the nominations are all in. The foreign affairs committee there seems to be a very popular one to chair, whereas some of the regional committees like the Welsh committee, the Scottish committee, and the Northern Irish committee all seem to have natural candidates who are going to be acclaimed. Anyway, it's interesting that it's coincident with this.
Issue number one is the nomination of MPs for the election of chair and whether there should be supporting signatures. In the report committee members will have the option to say that they recommend yes or recommend no. I think it would be wise that there be supporting signatures. Thresholds can vary. Having five or ten would probably be appropriate, considering the size of our House of Commons. I think it would indicate that the member has support or some degree of approval from colleagues. I think it would also sift out if candidates if members found fairly quickly that they were not getting signatures in support from fellow members. That might be an indication that perhaps they're not suited to the post they're thinking of.
Interestingly, in other places where they do this, they don't require signatures to be from both parties. I would not require that either, but it is something that you may want to debate or consider. Of course, there's always the possibility of letting members put forward their own name and going without any support. As I said, my recommendation is not to support that.
The second issue, and this one I really have no major opinion on, is who would run the nominations in subsequent election of chairs by the whole House. This is something that needs to be done; it could be by the Clerk of the House of Commons and associated staff there, or it could be by the Speaker's office. Frankly, I don't have a very strong opinion one way or the other. I think it would be something that when this were put to a vote [Inaudible--Editor] standing orders could be decided based on consultation with people with experience in both offices. Again, I think it's something that should be noted in the report, but I don't think there's something there that would be of major philosophical disagreement among members. It's more of a mechanical issue.
As for the timing of the elections of committee chair, I think there's a fairly natural window soon after the Speaker is elected. Members may want to seek the post of Speaker, as was the case the last time when Mr. Scheer won. If my memory serves me right, we had five or six candidates for the post. That should be done, and appropriate time should be given. As we've all had experience here, committees sometimes take longer to set up in some Parliaments than others, but a deadline, say, of three or four days after the election of the chair for members to have their nominations in, either to the Clerk or the Speaker's office, would probably be appropriate. Doing that a week later would be an appropriate time. Again, it's not a hill to die on, but it should be talked about and it should be noted that deadlines should be set, even if your report does not pick a particular timeline.
Another question would be how long do you have committee chairs elected for? I would say that when the House is prorogued, you can start again. For various sessions of Parliament you could have it. In this Parliament we've had two sessions, if I remember correctly. You would have two elections run twice. Again, that's an option you could have, but I think it's very possible people might want to switch chairmanships of committees. You may find that two years in, not every one has run their committee as well as, say, this chair has over the last few years, and there may need to be a re-election, and—how shall we put this—nomination races could start up again and there could be internal challenges based upon the competency of the chairmanship.
So that's another issue I think should be dealt with.
Another question is would we permit members to run for more than one post? Interestingly, looking through the British system, they don't have that, but it is an option that could be considered. Say we knew somebody who was particularly talented at both defence and foreign affairs issues, perhaps they would want to consider both positions. I personally would argue against that, but it's something, again, that should be considered. I think if a member is strong and competent in one area, he should put forward his arguments in that area, and again, if you had a second election two years later and the person wished to seek the post, it would not preclude that person from being elected in that second election after the House prorogued and restarted. Again, it's an issue that I think needs to be dealt with, and I think some flexibility could be put into that.
Another issue that I was asked about when I was here last time, which I'm a bit hesitant to include but I have included in case the committee does want to deal with it, is a question on the vice-chairs. I deliberately left the vice-chairs out of my motion because as a government member.... By and large most of the chairs, with again I think four exceptions, come from the government side, and I didn't want to impose something on other parties. However, I do think that it would be wise for the first vice-chair, in particular, to be chosen. Again, that may be something you want to consider in your report. My advice, because it was not a major or explicit part of my motion, is that unless the committee has substantive agreement on that, I would leave it out. But if there is substantive agreement on that issue among committee members, perhaps you could include it.
I would say, however, as we've noted in many Parliaments, the third party, from whom the second vice-chair comes from, often has only one member, and if we adopt a position where all vice-chairs are to be picked, the party at that point would have absolutely no ability to pick its own member on a particular committee if the one and only position were handed out by a vote of the general House of Commons. That's why, if the concept of vice-chairs is discussed in this report, perhaps some note should be made that the first and second vice-chairs could be treated differently. Again, I would say to committee members that this was not dealt with in my motion. So unless there's substantive agreement, personally I would stay away from it.
Issue number five is what happens if the chair resigns or if committees have become dysfunctional—this has happened on occasion—or motions of no confidence have been put, particularly in minority Parliaments—
View Brad Trost Profile
Mr. Chair, I sit on the natural resources committee. We have had to deal with Mr. Benoit frequently in private, so I understand what you're saying. For the record, that was a joke. I know the blues don't always reflect that, so I'd better put that out there.
View Brad Trost Profile
That was a joke, Mr. Chair. I have great respect for Mr. Benoit.
But that has happened, particularly in minority government situations where there has been the to and fro between the parties.
I think your report needs to deal with that, and the very basic questions of who would ultimately replace, and where would the decision be done? I could see a way of doing it where it would, first of all, be a vote of the committee, and then brought to the whole House for ratification. Or you may wish to go with the option of having the committee being able to remove a chair, and then the chair, if he wished to retain his post, could re-present their candidacy in the equivalent of a byelection. That needs to be dealt with.
People would have to think fairly long and hard if they voted out a chair in their committee and he then were re-elected by the entire House to come back and chair the committee, but this is something that needs to be dealt with.
We've had chairs resign to take private sector positions, so byelections will also be dealt with.
It's something that should be dealt with. My personal preference is that the committee could remove a chair and the House would not be required.... But if the chair wished to retain his position, I personally would permit him to run again, and if he received the full blessing of the House, he could come back.
Now, I could see an endless loop of a committee deposing chairs, and byelections being done, but I think sensible people would find some practical way to deal with what could be a theoretical problem.
That would be the fifth issue I would recommend we deal with.
If chairs want to switch committees, I would say you could deal with that in the same way as with a byelection. It's possible that two chairs could resign and both re-present for themselves. They would take the risk of possibly losing in an election in the broader House, but it's something that could be dealt with in your report.
On issue number seven, legislative special and joint committees, we have standing committees here. My idea was to deal with this with regard to standing committees. I don't have particularly strong preferences on these, other than to say that I really can't see a joint committee election being either necessary, or particularly of major import. The committees for the Library of Parliament and the scrutiny of regulations are the two joint committees, but I think it's something that should be thought of for the other committees. Again, I don't have a particularly strong preference one way or the other, but I think the committee should come to some sort of decision on that one.
If push came to shove, I think I would find it useful for both special and legislative committees to have their chairs and, possibly, vice-chairs elected. It would be a way of the House saying that it viewed these people as having specific expertise in this and that it would like them to lead the study of these matters.
I think my time is pretty close to being up. I thank you, and hopefully I can be of some assistance in answering questions.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Trost, for being here.
Let me see if I can characterize this correctly.
You presented a number of scenarios that you're asking the committee to consider. With the odd exception you haven't really come down firmly in favour of one option or another. Would it be fair to characterize this by saying that really, you would be fine with whatever options in any scenarios that this committee determines to be appropriate, as long as the concept of electing chairs versus appointing chairs was approved?
View Brad Trost Profile
“Whatever” would be an incredibly broad term, but I'm mostly interested in having the underlying principle implemented.
The reason I've given flexibility and not really come down one way or the other is that this is a change that affects the entirety of the House of Commons. It affects future parties. We don't know which side of the House we're going to be sitting on, or even if we'll be here, as parties have vanished before. So I'm arguing that effectively we need to have fairly broad consensus to get this done. If every recommendation in your report is split on pure party-line votes, that weakens the report. That's why I'm giving a certain degree of latitude, a certain degree of flexibility.
The other thing is this: other countries—for example, Great Britain—have this, but Canada is a different country, a different Parliament, a different culture. We don't know precisely how this will work, so a bit of flexibility and input from many people would be useful.
There is a proverb that says that in the multitude of many counsellors, there is wisdom. That's why I'm not necessarily being aggressively prescriptive in dealing with some of these, in my view, technical issues.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
There's a technical issue, I guess, that you haven't addressed and that is fairly obvious to me. Should we go to this approach, how do you envision the selection of chairs if there are multiple candidates? Is it first past the post, 50% plus one, preferential...?
View Brad Trost Profile
My apologies, Mr. Chair. I must have skipped over that or missed it in my notes, because my original draft did have that.
I would suggest a preferential ballot very similar to what a lot of us are doing now in our nomination races. You have the candidates listed in alphabetical order, and then you number off your choices: one, two, three. It's a fairly simple system that I think most of us are familiar with.
The voting could all be done in one afternoon. I pity the people who would have to do the counting all afternoon, but they'd get it done and report to us by the next morning.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
You touched upon some of the options if an individual wants to run for the chairmanship of more than one committee. How do you envision the elections of these various committee chairs from a timing standpoint? For example, let's assume member X runs for chair of a specific committee and does not win. He or she then decides after the fact that they'd like to put their name up for consideration to be chair of another committee.
Do you see all committee chairs being up for ballot on the same day? Do you see a schedule of committee chairs to be selected over a period of time? How do you envision that?
View Brad Trost Profile
That is a very good question. As you heard in my presentation, my personal preference would be for all committee chairs to be elected on the same day. Effectively we would get handed a stack of ballots, and away we would go with the ballot boxes and vote.
However, if the committee is open to the idea, perhaps you could stagger it week after week. You could have perhaps the 10 most interesting committee chairmanships the first week, the next 10 the week after, and so forth. Or you could have eight, eight, and eight, because I think we have 24. There are all sorts of options for the committee.
In your first question you asked me if I'm mostly interested in the principle. The answer is yes. I'd be interested in and open to either solution.
My personal preference would be to vote for them all at once: you take your chance on what you want. I can see, though, that some members would be interested in having perhaps eight go in one round, eight go in another, and finally a few more in another round. That's an option too. If the committee can arrive at consensus one way or the other, I'd be fine with that.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
How much time do I have left, Chair?
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
We can tell who's retiring.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
Mr. Trost, I want to go back to a scenario that you brought forward that actually happened in this committee, I think eight years ago, with Chair Preston's predecessor, Mr. Goodyear. It was a minority government configuration—you identified that these possibilities can happen—where Mr. Goodyear was found to be lacking the confidence of the committee and was removed. Again, you talked about this but you didn't give a specific preference, and I'd like to get that from you.
If the House elects a chair but then the committee—let's say only five or six members—has the ability to remove the chair through a vote of non-confidence, what would you foresee then as being the appropriate resolution? Should it go back to the House? As you say, it could end up in an endless loop of the House voting someone in and the committee voting them out. How do you see a resolution to this? Should there be any finality? Should the House trump the committee's wishes, or should the committee be the master of its own mandate and have the ability to overturn the decision of the House?
View Brad Trost Profile
I would note that, number one, in a minority Parliament, where the opposition members would vote out a committee chair, they would also have the majority of the vote in the House. So unless it would be impossible for them to find another government member to run for it, they could basically choose who they would want for that chairmanship.
Now, it's very possible that the government caucus could sit together in complete solidarity and renominate their candidate. There could be a couple of solutions here. You could have the endless loop possibility, or you could have something where, if someone is deposed two or three times, they're just gone—the three-strikes-you're-out rule or some version of that.
I would be reluctant to ban whoever is deposed as committee chair from being able to run again, because sometimes after motions are passed or disputes have reached a certain point a resolution can be found. People may want to make their point and then be happy when they have the committee chair back. Sometimes they may not so much want to remove the chair as send a message, and the message might be sent. So it's possible that a recommendation could be that if a chair is deposed twice—just to pick an arbitrary number—or three times, he would not be able to stand for re-election.
If your report wanted to go into that sort of detail, I think it would be appropriate. Hopefully that situation would not arise, but a two- or three-strikes-you're-out rule could be a possibility.
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