Mr. Speaker, as we are talking about changing the Standing Orders, this is one problem that could be addressed. We only have 10 minutes at the start of this debate compared with 20 minutes for others. Maybe that is something to bear in mind.
As deputy House leader for the NDP, I am pleased to rise today and talk about the discussions we have been having within the NDP team for a number of years now on changes to the Standing Orders of the House. I welcome this opportunity to talk about two aspects in particular.
We hear a lot about work-life balance. That is very important to all of us, across party lines. When we talk about the Standing Orders, despite the pleas we heard this morning from some members, primarily Liberal, there is unfortunately an element of partisanship involved, because we are also talking about democracy, accountability, and how to reform the tools at our disposal.
As I said earlier, the opposition and government benches are two sword lengths apart, and there is a reason for that. However, we can still make an effort to improve decorum and the conduct of members. At the end of the day, we need to work in an environment that Canadians can count on to get clear answers and accountability from the government, and to feel reassured that we are doing our job.
I would like to begin by mentioning a few improvements that have already been made, because our main problem here in the House of Commons is that it is 2016, but we are working in an environment from the 20th century. Consider, for example, the fact that it was only recently, in the last decade, that a women's washroom was installed near the entrance to the members' lobby and diaper changing stations were put in the men's washrooms. These are all important details and examples that show just how far behind the times we are. We have a lot of catching up to do.
Nonetheless, some improvements have been made. For example, there is reserved parking for new parents, new mothers and new fathers, so that they can park closer to the House when there are votes or debates. As we all know, our schedule can be quite tight, so having reserved parking is very helpful. We also know that there is a family room in Centre Block now. It provides a space for new mothers to nurse their babies. That is an excellent start. That room could also be used for new parents who want to take a break with their children, their spouse, or even with a child care provider or another family member, depending on their family situation. It is very important to note that regardless of the family situation, age, or gender, all hon. members should feel welcome to use that room. That is something we could address in our discussions today.
I also want to mention some minor details that might seem trivial to the general public. Having highchairs available in the Centre Block cafeteria is appreciated. This is the type of thing we worked on with the other parties, the teams from the official opposition and the government. These are concrete measures that we were able to put in place.
We are all familiar with the experience of some female MPs. I am thinking about my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue, my colleague from Salaberry—Suroît, and, in the last Parliament, MPs such as Rosane Doré Lefebvre, who was the hon. member for Alfred-Pellan, and Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe, who was the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard. They all became new mothers while in office and remained extremely dedicated MPs. As their colleagues, we learned from their experience what measures needed to be taken to improve work-life balance in Parliament.
We do not need to stop there. When I heard the member for Yukon speak, who is also the chair of the procedure and House affairs committee and has helped lead the excellent work that the committee has done in getting the ball rolling on this debate, he mentioned other installations and infrastructure that could be set up as the renovations happen in Centre Block.
These are all things we need to be open to because we should not content ourselves with less; we need to do more. As I said, we are an institution that is sometimes stuck in the Mad Men era of the 20th century. As some would say, it is 2016 and we need to arrive at that in the way that we treat other members, our colleagues, and ourselves, which is extremely important.
To that end, when it comes to juggling family and work, we do have certain proposals, some of which will echo the proposals made by my Conservative colleague earlier, but which also echo the recommendations that were in the report that was tabled by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which to us reflects a certain consensus that exists on some of the easy things we can do to keep this ball rolling and to keep taking these positive steps that we have begun taking.
First and foremost is formalizing the habit we now have of having votes immediately after question period. It is something that started in this current Parliament and has spared us some of the long, late night hours that we experienced in the previous Parliament and before that. Regardless of our personal situations, it is gruelling on us all. This is certainly something that we should include now officially in the Standing Orders, barring certain exceptions that can come up. It is something that we can easily formalize and seems to be something that already, despite being relatively informal and based on the motions that we have to adopt every single time through unanimous consent, has that consent. Why not make it formal and avoid having to do it every time?
My colleague from Yukon also raised the issue of Thursday votes. We understand that a debate must take place on Friday, but we believe that there are other solutions to be considered before we abolish it. We believe that we must be here as much as possible to hold the government to account, but we also know that some members live further away and must leave Thursday. We recognize that they must leave whether or not Friday is on the calendar.
I am lucky to live a two-hour train ride away. It is very easy for those of us who live so close, but most of my colleagues have very long and complicated trips. Knowing that there would not be a vote at inconvenient times, such as late Thursday or Friday, they would be free to plan their trips and their personal or family life, whether it was medical appointments or other things that complicate travel.
I find these things very complicated and my situation is relatively easy compared to that of my colleagues. We can therefore empathize with them and admit that we could formalize certain rules about votes to make life easier for them.
To repeat once more the comments of my Conservative colleague, we are also proposing that the calendar be adopted earlier, in June rather than in September. It would make it easier to plan our vacations. We know that winter break weeks are not the same in all provinces. Will a family go down south during the March break? We need to know when the children are in school. It would help us get organized if the calendar were officially adopted in June rather than September.
Finally, we currently accept this practice de facto , but it goes without saying that it must be officially incorporated into the Standing Orders. Let us allow children, particularly those of nursing age, in the House of Commons. It is very difficult for new mothers to nurse their child during a vote, for example. Even if no one questions the practice anymore, it should still be incorporated into the Standing Orders.
I did say at the outset that while we talk about juggling family lives and our own personal situations, we also have to talk about accountability on the part of the government. It is unfortunate that despite wanting to be non-partisan, we have to accept the adversarial nature of this place.
As I mentioned in a question to the member for Yukon, there are some stories, such as the face palm heard around the world from my former colleague, Paul Dewar, that recall there are often answers that leave a lot to be desired. When we talk about reforming question period, we see the government House leader's mandate letter, which calls on the Prime Minister and ministers to be more accountable. If we as opposition members are going to have burdens on the questions that we ask in terms of how they relate to government business, there should be a burden placed on the answers from the government that they be relevant to the question asked and of a certain substance. I think that goes without saying and that is what Canadians would expect of question period.
It will certainly make the hour we spend here more productive, and dare I say, hopefully restore Canadians' confidence in what is the theatre of what happens here and nonetheless a rare opportunity for members to ask the important questions of the day. That also applies as well to Order Paper questions with again, stories that have come to light in the media recently. It also has to do with omnibus legislation.
Of course, there is also the matter of time allocation and closure motions, which were a bad habit of the previous government. The current government seems to be back on the right track. The use of these types of motions is less frequent now than it was in the spring. However, the fact remains that we need to limit or ban the use of these tools for the good of democracy.
There needs to be a better balance between work and family and between democracy and accountability. In my opinion, that would make for a better Parliament for both members and Canadians.