Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand here to do this. I appreciate what my colleague from Bonavista—Burin—Trinity said about our riding names and how they have changed and evolved over time. I no longer represent beautiful Bonavista.
Speaking of evolution, let us talk about how we have evolved in many ways, but we have much further to go in order to modernize our Parliament as it is right now. This has been a discussion for quite some time. In certain cases in a miniscule way we have crept along inch by inch on certain individual initiatives. The member who just spoke talked about how we changed the election of the Speaker. We had a member from the NDP who instilled e-petitions, which I think was one of the best things that I voted for regarding motions to change the Standing Orders over the past little while.
By way of illustration, as the president of Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, I hosted several members of the European Parliament. They were here from 2 p.m. until about 3:30 p.m. and managed to take in several things, such as Standing Order 31 statements and oral questions. They also took in voting, because we had a vote after question period. I asked the member from the Netherlands what she thought of the whole 90 minutes. She said it was a contrasting tale of two stories. She said, “You debate like it is the 21st century, but why do you vote like it is still the 19th century?”
Most legislatures around the world have some form of electronic voting or modernized voting. The vote of each individual member is recorded. In some places they have an ID card and members press a button “yes” or “no”. In the British Westminister system, members line up in different aisles as to which way they are voting. Voting is done electronically in the American Congress. Not very many have a way of voting such as we do. If it is a legislature of about 20 people, that is fine, but when it is a legislature of 338 members, it is time-consuming. I know Canadians want to see how their members of Parliament vote, but some may say there are better ways to do it. That being said, during the current process that we have introduced in the motion, we have heard from several people, even members of their own party, conflicted as to how they feel about it. There is nothing wrong with that, because that it is how it should be.
I use the example of electronic voting only because I have enjoyed the discussion so far and I want this discussion to continue. Let me illustrate my current frustrations with this, and I hope that we get beyond this impasse, this filibuster and get into the study itself.
Let me clarify by saying this first and foremost. If I were to stand in the House and look at my colleagues in the NDP and say how dare they do this filibuster, I would be very insincere. After 10 years in opposition dealing with the fair or unfair elections act, I know first-hand that doing a filibuster is a right of every member in the House, to the point where I even would say a lot of it I have been enjoying, quite frankly. I just wish we could take some of this debate that has been playing out in this filibuster and move it into the study, because I want to hear from witnesses from the outside.
There are several bones of contention. Let me address the unanimity aspect of this. The opposition members cite the McGrath report. I am going to pick on the McGrath report because it is a shining example, as they have said, of how it should be. I agree that it should be that way in this report. We should be able to come out with a unanimous report citing several ways to make major changes. However, my motion is to start the study by which we can get into a unanimous report, which I hope we can. The McGrath report which is from 1984, the way the motion is written, it is very complex. It never asks for unanimous consent; it just asks for a report to modernize the House of the day.
The result of that motion was a unanimous report, thank goodness. If we had to pin this down to unanimity, I am not sure that we would have a full debate.
I could debate the idea about the June 2 deadline that I put in my motion. I am willing to talk about that. I have not reached that point yet, but I certainly would like to.
I want to put to rest right away one of the other points which the member brought up earlier. She said that my motion was developed within two hours of reading or tabling the discussion paper. That is not true. Three days prior to the release, the minister showed me the discussion paper. I read it, took it in, took my notes from the take-note debate in October with my own views, and in that period I was able to draft a motion. It was not a two-hour episode. Yes, I saw it before other members. That is true. I am being honest about it.
I want the committee to study this and I want it done quickly so that we can provide the House with what we have discovered through our own testimony, which was far more robust than I had figured because of some of the input from the Conservative Party, the NDP, and from my own party. I have rather enjoyed it. For goodness' sake, for two hours we talked about the Magna Carta. To say that I was absolutely enthralled and gripped with it would not be entirely true but would be pretty close. I forget the name of the riding of the individual who brought it up. I only know him by name. I must say it was a good discussion which I enjoyed very much.
There were several discussions about how other parliaments, particularly the Westminster model in Australia, New Zealand, our own of course, and other jurisdictions, managed to get through the day when modernizing their parliaments.
I talked about electronic voting. I would like to talk about another aspect that was not brought up during the campaign but was in the discussion paper for a very good reason. This was brought to my attention some time ago. It is all about programming.
Some people looking at this would say that I was just defining what the debate is going to be. What happened is that back in the late 1990s there was a great deal of frustration about debate. Debate would go on for so long and then it would end on time allocation. The U.K. MPs call it the guillotine, which is probably a more apt description. Debate would go along; the guillotine would drop, and then it was done. It is frustrating for those in the opposition because they do not know when it is going to happen.
The U.K. decided that after second reading, the debate would be programmed such that they would know how long they would have for report stage, the third stage into the vote. That way each party would be able to present its arguments the way they want to. However, there was a frustrating part. Let us say there were three elements to a debate, with number three being the important one. Members want to build narrative into their debate by saying, “This is bad, and this is bad, but this is really bad.” By the time they got to the second point, all of a sudden the debate would be guillotined and over.
The U.K. has brought in programming, and surprisingly, even a vast majority of members on the opposition side agreed that it was a sensible way to handle legislation. It was not automatic. It required a discussion among the House leaders and if they agreed, debate would be programmed after second reading.
One of the other issues in the discussion paper is about omnibus legislation. Could the Speaker have a more active role in dividing up the omnibus legislation to make it more palatable, certainly to make it more discernible in several ways or in certain areas? For example, a particular topic would be cleaved off into this type of legislation and another topic would go another way.
My hon. colleague from the Conservatives brought up a good point which I think is a precursor to this study, and asked, is that possible? Does the Speaker have the authority? Maybe he or she does; I do not know. It is worth discussing, because as we know, omnibus legislation was a factor that weighed heavily among parliamentarians in the last Parliament and we discussed it quite a bit.
Those are a few elements of the discussion paper that we got into.
There were several aspects that we campaigned on as a party, and we would like to go forward with them, obviously. It is something we campaigned on and something we would like to do.
One of the issues brought up was Fridays. It seems pretty rich when we say to the House, “We don't want to work on Fridays, but if you look at the situation, we never said we wouldn't.”
Here is my problem with Fridays, and I hope the opposition can hear this. It is a half day. It is not a very effective day. Let us take effective hours in this Parliament and apportion them either to other days or make Friday a full day. Those are the options that we wanted to put in front of the committee. They said, “Canadians show up to work on Friday.” That is true. Canadians show up to work at 8:30 in the morning. We show up at 10 a.m. Canadians go to work in September. We do not, according to that logic. Canadians show up to work in January. We do not. Why not? Why can we not apportion some of these hours to those months?
My father was an electrician in a mill for 43 years. Many years ago the company came to him and said, “Instead of working eight-hour shifts, why don't you work 12, and that way you can spend more time with your family on the other four days? Instead of two days off, you get four.” What an idea. The difference here is that my father had some time off on those four days.
Let us be quite honest. There is another part we are missing. I do not know about the other members, and I am not presupposing they do because I know we all do, but my time away from Ottawa is spent working, attending meetings and constituency events, which is where we get our feedback. In many cases, trying to get from here to Newfoundland, I might as well just be going to Iceland, for goodness' sake. It takes about the same amount of time to get there. There is the travel that is involved. Instead of calling them break weeks, they truly are constituency weeks.
I saw the Twitter feed from my hon. colleague from Avalon last week. My goodness, I do not think he slept in four days. It was just a constant ream of work. The man is seven feet tall but he should be five foot two he ran around so much in his riding. It is unbelievable. He is a hard-wording member.
I just wanted to bring these points to the fore, but I will conclude with this point. This is a motion to do a study. All the things that members have been saying about unanimity, we want and desire, but what if we put out this report and it has to be unanimous and only one thing is agreed upon? It is a report of just one thing to do. There is so much discussion that can be had. There is so much to talk about that would not be included in this report. That is the unfortunate part. They might not agree with the logic, but in the past, as I have said before, from the very beginning, if we are going to use a report that has received unanimous consent, the motion did not call for unanimous consent and I wonder why. The member who changed the Standing Orders, who just talked about unanimous consent, not once asked for unanimous consent when he changed the rules.
There was a member from the NDP who also changed the rules on e-petitions. He did a good job and I supported it, but he did not ask for unanimous consent.
To achieve unanimous consent is the aspirational goal for which we strive. I understand the politics of this. I understand the Facebook stuff. I understand the filibuster. That is one of the privileges of serving both sides of the House, not because we think we can argue out of both sides of our mouth, but because we have a different perspective of both sides. We know what it is like to govern and we know what it is like to be in opposition. I stand on both principles. I participated fully in a filibuster, and I will sit here and sit in front of a filibuster against me. I even spoke in the filibuster. It is my motion that they are filibustering, and I spoke to it. I do not know if we would call that a “counter-buster” or what the heck we would call it. The reason I spoke to it is we had several hours of fantastic information that was put forward, even in a filibuster. Now go figure that.
Here is why I want to get to the study. There are so many people out there who are not sitting in this House and who can give us great information as to how we can modernize this place. This discussion paper is not a motion in front of the House saying that the majority rules, we vote for it or that is it.
That is what happened before. The perpetrators of the unfair elections act crawled on this high horse and said, “You can't do that.” We are not putting something in the House to vote on now; we are putting a motion to study the possibility of changing the Standing Orders.
I ask members this. At what point does that involve ramming things through? It is not. This is discussion. If opposition members do not like the programming that I just talked about, well, I like it. If they do not like it, they should not support it and should argue against it. I have already acquiesced, on many occasions, about some of the arguments that were put forward, such as omnibus legislation and all of that.
Again, if we take into account what we have done in the past, here is what I like. I liked the McGrath report, because it was unanimous. It was not required, but it was unanimous. We had a take-note debate, started by the Liberals. We did not ram through anything; we said we should have a debate and discuss these ideas. Now we have this motion, together with the discussion paper, some of which we may not even support, but it certainly is worth talking about. This is nowhere near what it used to be.
If we want to talk about precedents, opposition members say they have always acted this way. That is not so. In the early 1990s, Brian Mulroney slapped a motion in this House saying that the Standing Orders needed to be changed. Did he do a motion? No. Did he do a take-note debate? No. Did he do a discussion paper? No. It was, “Here are the changes. Vote for it. We have the majority, so good luck.”
Mr. David Christopherson: That sounds familiar.
Mr. Scott Simms: That is not what we are doing now, Mr. Speaker. That is an absolutely insincere argument.
Mr. David Christopherson: That is not insincere.
Mr. Scott Simms: That is totally insincere, Mr. Speaker, to the point where all they have to do is start this study and get moving. That is all I ask.
Each and every time that we have done this, the opposition talks about the precedents, and there are a lot of them. I do not want to take this off the rails, in the sense that I do not want people to think that we are against a unanimous report. We would all love to have one, all of us. It is an aspirational goal that we believe in.
Mr. David Christopherson: We are good. We are getting there. It is not an aspirational goal.
Mr. Scott Simms: That is right, Mr. Speaker.
However, in the discussions, like I said, I want to talk about all of these things. Before that discussion took place, it was a race to a filibuster and a race to Facebook. That is their right. They can do that, and that is fine. However, I hope we can get through this, because I think modernizing Parliament is sadly overdue. We should do this in all aspects of programming, with voting, and all the matters we can modernize to make this better for all members of Parliament, now that we have 338 members.
That being said, I want to thank all members for listening to me on this. Unanimity would be a wonderful thing. Despite the fact that sometimes I get pretty angry about it, I certainly want that. This place deserves it, and, more than that, Canadians deserve it.