Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This is such a really wonderful opportunity to have a chance to talk to PROC about some of these fundamental issues. I'm deeply grateful for the chance, and I thank Frank, and there are a lot of you around the table who also helped in working on these proposals.
Frank asked me to speak to this one specific piece, which is around the Speaker and questions and identifying who speaks, and the roles of the whips. I'm just going to back up by saying that I find, now that I'm on the brink of turning 65, that I'm sometimes cursed with a really good memory. I also have the benefit of oral history from MPs who have passed on, so forgive me for being somewhat of a storyteller. Thinking about the continuity of our Parliament and actually knowing how it used to be is something that vanishes very quickly. A newly elected MP has no idea that it wasn't always like this.
I have the great good fortune to have worked in the Mulroney administration—I wasn't a member of the party that was in power at the time—as a senior policy adviser to the minister of the environment. I was frequently in the House and working with the Speaker of the House at the time, John Fraser, to try to see if there was a way to get all-party support for something that we were doing. On a marvellous day, we got unanimous consent through to save the lower third of what was then called the Queen Charlotte Islands but is now Gwaii Haanas National Park in Haida Gwaii.
I have a bit of institutional memory, and I find myself often feeling that I wish I didn't have such a good memory; it would make it easier to tolerate what's going on.
In any case, I also want to share with you a reminiscence about Flora MacDonald, because I adored Flora MacDonald. She was my role model and hero. For those of you who don't know, she was the Progressive Conservative member for the Kingston area and served in the government of Joe Clark briefly. She would never have tolerated heckling around her, that's for sure. I said to her, Flora, do you think so-and-so is doing a good job as Speaker? She said, “Ha. We haven't had a good Speaker since Lucien Lamoureux.” I went back to figure out who Lucien Lamoureux was and when he was Speaker. It was from 1966 to 1974.
So someone who had an even better memory than mine, but who has now passed on, had that view. When you go back and look, you realize that the history of our Parliament and our democracy in terms of the role of MPs and what we do when we come here to serve is one of a continual progression...I wouldn't say that it's democracy versus autocracy, but there is an element of that, of diminishing the role of the member of Parliament at the cost of the rise in the power of organized political parties. Organized political parties, and particularly back rooms, decide that what we actually do in Parliament is just a precursor to when we go back to fighting with each other in election campaigns, so the business of Parliament gets overtaken by the party whips or backroom party people in a way that didn't happen in the 1980s, for example.
Now, focusing on the issue of the Speaker's authority and how we can enhance decorum, improve the quality of debate and restore more power to the individual MP, we can serve a lot of goals all at once by observing a rule that we already have. I want to cover this off very quickly because I know that we all want to talk about these things.
When Lucien Lamoureux was Speaker, the Speaker's control over who was recognized in the House was the Speaker's alone. He also had powers—as the Speakers continue to have, but they have fallen into disuse—and members who ignored the Speaker in the way that happens on a daily basis now would have been named, expelled from the chamber and not allowed to return for a period of time, at the Speaker's discretion—a week, a couple of months, six months.
The Speaker was also massively impartial. One of the things for which Lucien Lamoureux is known is that he tried to follow the British practice. He had been elected as a Conservative. Once he became Speaker of the House, which wasn't then a position that we voted for, he ran for re-election as an Independent. The Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives stood down and did not run against him as an Independent. The NDP did run against him. He was re-elected as an Independent. The next time he ran as an Independent, all the parties ran against him. Over time, he gave up on his effort to replicate what happens in the U.K.: the Speaker should be 100% impartial.
As for what happened under Jeanne Sauvé, who was Speaker from 1980 to 1984, she did have eyesight issues. It was legitimate.
She couldn't quite see. You're supposed to catch the Speaker's eye. That's our rule confirmed by former speaker Andrew Scheer in his ruling on Mark Warawa's question of personal privilege when he was denied his S.O. 31. We know that the rule is that you catch the Speaker's eye. According to former speaker Scheer, there is no party list that must be observed by the Speaker. You just catch the Speaker's eye. You couldn't catch Jeanne Sauvé's eye. She said she couldn't see everybody well enough to know who was standing at the far ends of the chamber. She asked for the list from a party whip just to make it easier for her. That has now become so entrenched that the Speakers don't want to go back to just saying that they don't have to follow the party list.
What happens in the U.K.? John Bercow is Speaker in the U.K. I'm sure we've all watched him for great entertainment. He receives a request to ask a question in writing from a member of Parliament earlier in the day. He decides what questions will be asked. You're not quite catching the Speaker's eye—of course the Parliament of Westminster has over 600 MPs; they can't fit in the space—but you know ahead of time you're going to be able to ask your question. It's the Speaker's call.
Where does power reside, then? With the Speaker. Are you going to thwart the Speaker, break protocol, break the rules or act contemptuously towards the Speaker or the decorum of the House? No. The power in that House resides with the Speaker.
I think we all want to talk about these issues and how you feel about the proposals that we've put together as a group. In closing, I just want to thank some other people who have informed this process. I was very much educated by and enjoyed working with Brent Rathgeber when he was the Conservative from Edmonton—St. Albert. He really stood on these principles of defending the rights of an individual member of Parliament in this place. There's also Kennedy Stewart, who took the lead working with a number of us. I won't list everybody in the book; proceeds go to Samara. Of course, Scott and Michael Chong were involved. We all played some role in turning Parliament inside out.
Out of that book effort—just to share this because this is on the record and Canadians may be interested to know—we actually have an all-party democracy caucus. The thing that brings us together is how we make progress, despite our party affiliations, to reduce the power that political parties have over individual MPs. I think it's a fascinating project. Anita Vandenbeld is the current chair of the democracy caucus, but we are all-party, so anybody who wants to join who hasn't already.... We're already thinking about what we do after the next election, depending on who's re-elected and who isn't. How do we keep this going?
Anyway, PROC is the official committee of democracy, our rules and how we conduct ourselves in this place. I want to thank you for this opportunity to make a public plea in this committee for you to encourage the Speaker to not be afraid of the wrath of the party whip. The Speaker could just decide to say, “I don't need your lists; I can see everyone just fine from where I'm sitting; I know everybody by name and I will decide as Speaker”, or we could go to the U.K. practice of submitting the questions to the Speaker in advance and seeing which ones the Speaker chooses.
It would certainly serve multiple goals of improving the independence and the power of individual members of Parliament. It would certainly improve decorum in the House and it would serve the very salutary purpose of rebalancing through no change in the rules because these are our rules. Respecting our rules, I'd love to add “don't read speeches”, but that's not part of our current package.
I'd love to dig into this and see what we can do in the remaining days of this session of Parliament to advance the noble effort of respecting the fact that no one gets elected to be a member of Parliament in this country if they haven't already done considerable work of service in their community. I think all of us are people who care about our communities and have a head on our shoulders. We really don't need to check our brains at the door the minute we become a member of Parliament because of the power of the back room.