Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'm pleased to be speaking to the committee today because my party doesn't often have the opportunity to do so. I know my colleague had a great deal to say, and I want to thank him for letting me take part in the discussion.
The members of my party don't often have the chance to speak. We have little or no speaking time in committee meetings. The only exception was when the Special Committee on Electoral Reform allowed the Bloc Québécois to sit on it. Since the last Parliament, we haven't been able to sit on any other committee. This is a major problem for us. Each time a bill is submitted and we have issues to raise, we can't do so. We also can't suggest amendments. We sometimes manage to do so, but often, we can't do so the way we would like to.
This causes specific problems. We're members like all the other members in the House of Commons, meaning we were elected by the citizens of our constituencies. There are 11 members in this situation in the House of Commons. No, there are now 12 members because a former Liberal member is now sitting as an independent.
The mandate from our constituents is the same as the mandate given to the other members by their constituents, which is to represent them in the House of Commons. It's unfair because we can't represent our citizens the same way the other members represent their citizens.
The committee should look at this issue to ensure that it's taken into account in the possible changes to the Standing Orders. The members must be able to express their views in all the House committees, and not only in the committees dealing with the Standing Orders of the House and the changes to the democratic rules for committees.
The democratic rules were discussed in a committee that studied the change to the voting system. I appreciated the openness to us and the fact that we were allowed to share our views. I think it was essential. When the rules of our democracy are changed and certain people aren't invited to the table, democracy is denied, because these people are part of the democratic process.
In this case, the situation is similar since we're talking about changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Obviously, the Standing Orders play an essential role in the parliamentary process. When it comes time to change the lives of parliamentarians, it's important to hear what all parliamentarians have to say on the matter. On that note, I appreciate that the committee is giving us the chance to speak. However, I don't think it's sufficient to give us the chance only on this occasion. We should also have the opportunity to speak on other occasions, in all the committees.
I don't think we should implement a practice of automatically assigning a member to a committee. We're 10 independent members, since you don't want to recognize us as Bloc Québécois members. Since there are more than 10 committees, we can't sit on all the committees, given the number of members in our party. Nevertheless, whether one or 11 independent members are elected to the House of Commons, we need to look at the possibility of those members sitting on the committees—no matter which committee—and participating in a meaningful way. It's a key way to allow everyone to participate in the democratic parliamentary life.
I'm sure the parties considered independent could agree on who would take the place of independent members on a given day. For example, I'm sure the member from Saanich—Gulf Islands would regularly sit on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. I'm sure she would often leave us her place on other committees. When we would have issues to raise in the committees that interest her personally, there wouldn't be any problem either. I think it would be something positive.
It would be all the more desirable because, in a democracy, we talk about the proliferation of views. Having views from all the parties is even better for the House and for all the members.
We each received in our offices a document that was released to the public. The document is a policy paper from the government describing the changes it wishes to make.
One of the changes is to sit four days a week instead of five. It's an interesting option to explore, but it involves many risks.
First, all members must be able to spend time in their constituencies, but they must also spend enough time on the Hill. If we decide to sit four days a week, for example, would members seen as independent have their number of questions reduced? Currently, each independent member has the right to ask one question a week. The Bloc Québécois has 10 members and can therefore ask 10 questions a week. The Green Party has one member, so it can ask only one question a week. These members mustn't lose the opportunity to ask their questions. They already can't ask many questions, and they may ask even fewer. I think the current system is already completely dysfunctional. Regarding the questions, it's not right that parties with fewer than 12 members aren't recognized. Parties should be recognized whether they have ten, five, four, two or one member.
The policy paper we received talks a great deal about London. The example of the British Parliament is provided. The British Parliament doesn't always sit five days a week and the Prime Minister sits only once a week to answer questions, as proposed in the policy paper. However, in London, the parties with two or more members are recognized, whereas here the parties need 12 members to be recognized. Great Britain has a population of 60 million and Canada has a population of 35 million. If we establish an equivalency based on the number of inhabitants, a party should be recognized starting at a single member. If the equivalency is purely based on how the British Parliament works, that's what must be done.
It isn't right that the members don't have the same resources. Recognition means the ability to ask more questions. In a question period where over a hundred questions may be asked, the party that's unable to ask questions can't even be included on the agenda and comment on what's happening on a given day. All political parties must be able to speak every day about key issues. Things are happening in society, and when the members of these parties can't be heard, their views aren't heard at all.
If we were to sit four days a week, we would sit for more weeks to compensate and to ensure the government sits for the same number of hours. We can look at this, but we're wondering what would happen to the recess weeks. Would the parliamentary recess weeks be eliminated? Would we sit more often? All members must have time to spend in their constituencies, especially the constituencies that cover a large area.
Important dates must also be considered. Sometimes, the House sits on June 24, which we find completely unbelievable as members from Quebec. June 24 is Quebec's national holiday, and it's an extremely important day for people in the province. All Quebec residents expect to see their members in their constituencies, to meet with their them, to celebrate with them and to share this important time. June 24 must be free so that Quebec members can go to their constituencies. I'm sure the Quebec members from the other parties would agree. The national holiday is very important for everyone in Quebec.
The policy paper also refers to the possibility of independent members sitting on committees. We're pleased about this, but I want to point out that members need preparation time to sit on committees. When members seen as independent are invited to committees, the time required is demanding. It's often said that time is money. These members need additional financial resources, because they currently don't have enough to prepare to sit on committees. Sitting on committees results in additional responsibilities, and financial resources must be allocated accordingly.
If ever there is a reform that allows independent members to sit on committees, or parties to be recognized in various ways—for instance, we could recognize a parliamentary group without acknowledging it as a party, or recognize parties on the basis of a lower minimum threshold—then budgets would also have to be made available at a lower threshold. Members will not be able to take on bigger workloads without having the financial resources to do that work. I think this is the most important point we have made today: additional financial resources are essential.
Currently, our Bloc Québécois members have to cut their riding office resources in order to be able to do parliamentary work. That means that they are not on an equal footing with the other members from recognized parties. All of the members should be able to serve the citizens of their ridings without having to amputate their constituency budget to do parliamentary work. What is happening currently is very difficult for our members. I think it is important that everyone be able to provide reasonable service in their ridings and on the Hill, both with regard to constituency files and parliamentary work.
Electronic voting is also discussed in the document. We view this with a certain amount of interest. However, there seems to be a certain ambiguity as to how this electronic voting would proceed. The document says that the members could continue to work in their ridings and vote electronically, or while continuing to work at the House. We are wondering how security measures could be put in place to ensure that the member who is in his riding has the proper context to allow him to vote for or against a bill. How can we ensure that the vote has really been cast by the member? For instance, it is not normal to have someone who is travelling vote without anyone verifying his identity. I think that the security systems have to be very reliable. We really need proof that this would be concrete and effective.
Whether we like it or not, there is a history that explains the way we vote now. The history behind the way in which the vote is carried out currently is an important symbol for a lot of people. If a change is made to the way in which we vote, I think it would be important that on certain important occasions, such as the vote on the Speech from the Throne, the budget or other such occasions, we be allowed to vote in the traditional way. That is part of our tradition and history, just like the way the pages, the Speaker of the House or some of the table officers dress. We should be able to continue to vote in the traditional way on certain special occasions.
We have not yet made up our minds about the idea of sitting four days a week, but we are open to the concept, as well as to the electronic vote. I think it is important to talk about it, and that it is a good idea to submit this to our committee so that we can discuss it today.
However, there is something that concerns us in the document that was presented. It concerns time allocation. It seems to open the door for the government to resort more easily to time allocation, that is to say that the House will be forced to take a position on certain issues and debate will be cut short, both in the House and in committees. We are concerned about that because according to the way things are done currently, we cannot even take a position on many bills, or debate them in the House. That too is a problem.
In other parliaments of the world, such as the National Assembly in Quebec for instance, when any member wants to speak, he or she has the right to do so. He can express his opinion on all of the bills that are introduced, and on every topic that is discussed.
We think it is abnormal not to be able to express ourselves. If a bill is tabled, it is important that all of the members be able to speak on it. With 10 members, it is not true that our group is so small that it should not be allowed to speak. There are parliamentary groups made up of 12 members. With only two additional members, they are allowed to speak on all topics, whereas we are not, although we have 10 members. There is quite simply something wrong with that picture. It is important that changes be made to that way of doing things. If it becomes easier to resort to time allocation, we fear that this will adversely affect members who, like us, already have trouble making their views heard in debates.
Traditionally we have always voted against time allocation because we think it is a way for the government to cut the debate short.
We think that cutting debate short is dangerous. It is important that the members be able to put forward their points of view. There are 338 members in the House of Commons and I think that if 338 people speak on a bill, it is not the end of the world. It is in fact interesting to hear about the vision of each of the members of Parliament on every bill.
You know, some members belonging to the same party may not have the same position; after all, people vote for a member, first and foremost. That is how our system works and it is important that this still be recognized today.