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View Diane Finley Profile
View Diane Finley Profile
2018-09-24 16:19 [p.21728]
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address Bill C-81, an act to ensure a barrier-free Canada, better known as the accessible Canada act. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As we have heard from various members, we all want to ensure that those living with disabilities are treated as equals and remove the barriers they face every single day. I said this is near and dear to my heart, so I would like to start by providing some insight into some obstacles that I have encountered first-hand living with disabilities in Canada.
It was in 2006 that I had just been named minister of human resources and social development, with responsibility for the office for disabilities. Ironically, just a few weeks into the job, I was diagnosed with Grave's disease and Grave's eye disease. These are thyroid afflictions that, among other things, in me cause both extreme light sensitivity and extreme stabismus, resulting in my being legally blind for quite a period of time. More recently, I underwent complicated double hip replacement surgery, which unfortunately resulted in my need for mobility assistance tools around this place for many months.
It was during both of these periods that I learned just how inaccessible many things in my life were, including this particular workplace. They were simple things, such as moving between the Hill and my office, more than half a kilometre from the House, being unable to walk that distance, being unable to step up or down from the little white minibus. Challenges were also considerable in actually having to fight to get an accessible parking space here at Centre Block.
Mr. Speaker, as you will recall, even with the eventual direct intervention by the Speaker's office, it literally took months to fix what were supposed to be the accessibility doors at the rear of this building, doors which unfortunately malfunctioned more often than not. One of the main barriers to getting that particular job done was a clear lack of accountability for the issue. I will talk more about accountability later.
I also discovered how narrow certain parts of these buildings are for those who rely on wheelchairs or walkers, walkers that inhibit our ability to get around. With a disability, many of these seemingly small things all of a sudden can become very big obstacles, but it used to be a lot worse. In fact, under the previous Liberal government, the office for people with disabilities was actually two offices and neither one of them was accessible by those who were mobility challenged. That is right. People who use wheelchairs or walkers could not get into the building. They could not work there, could not consult, could not lobby, and they could not advocate for people with disabilities because they were not allowed in. I know this may sound a little farcical but unfortunately it is true.
Happily, the Conservative government fixed that scenario in short order and, in fact, combined the facilities. There was one office and it was billed as a showcase of how businesses and organizations could adapt to people with mobility, visibility, hearing or other challenges. In one place, businesses and other organizations could finally find the technologies, techniques, tips and tools that would help them accommodate people of all abilities so that these organizations could benefit from their skills to make those organizations even stronger. By the end, not only could people with disabilities enter this office to do business but they could actually work there. What a concept.
As the former minister for HRSD responsible for the disabilities file, I have to say that I was very proud to be part of a government that took leadership in removing many barriers for people with disabilities.
We created the registered disability savings plan in 2008, and we signed on to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The RDSP, as members have probably heard, was a breakthrough financial planning tool, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. To date, over 150,000 Canadians and their families have invested in this wonderful tool.
However, we did so much more for people with disabilities. We launched the opportunities fund that, so far, has helped over 20,000 people with disabilities develop the skills they need to actually get a job and, with that, the dignity and self-respect that come with having a job.
We partnered with the Canadian Association for Community Living on the ready, willing and able initiative to connect people with developmental disabilities with a job. We also invested in expanding vocational training programs for people with autism spectrum disorders.
Yes, we did more. We removed the GST-HST from eyewear that is specially designed to electronically enhance the vision of individuals with vision impairment, and also from special training to help individuals cope with the effects of a disorder or disability.
We invested hundreds of millions of dollars every year in the labour market agreements for persons with disabilities, to help the provinces and territories improve the employment of Canadians with disabilities.
We released a landmark third-party report, “Rethinking disability in the private sector.” This report spelled out, in very plain language, the many tangible benefits of hiring people with disabilities, including reduced absenteeism, reduced turnover, improved morale, and improved profitability.
I am, rightly, very proud that in 2007, our government created the enabling accessibility fund. This program was designed to provide direct funding to help community groups, municipalities and organizations improve accessibility for people with disabilities, where they work, live and play, such as community centres, town halls, churches, arenas, and so many more local spots.
Over 3,700 facilities were made more accessible through this program. In 2013, we recognized both the value and the success of this program, originally billed as a temporary one, by making the funding permanent. I have to say that when we launched that particular program over 10 years ago, I never expected that I would be so appreciative of the results of those investments 10 years later. I am surely glad they were there, as are thousands and thousands of Canadians who use them every day.
Among many other tax aids, we also created the home accessibility tax credit, for both seniors and those living with disabilities, to renovate and make their own homes more accessible, giving them not just a sense of independence but in fact real independence. We did this because we recognized the contributions that people with disabilities can and do make to our nation and our communities. We recognize the value that a person's independence brings to their dignity.
This is not to say that the accomplishments of our government solved every problem, but they were significant steps in the right direction. That said, I am sure that members would agree that we still have a lot of work to do.
Take for example the presentation of petitions right here in the House of Commons. Almost a year ago exactly, a petition from my constituents was rejected by the Clerk of the House because it was on 11 by 17 inch paper. It has been printed big enough to accommodate constituents who had visual challenges. The paper was deemed too big for the House of Commons, by this House of Commons.
Under the current Standing Orders, petitioners can only petition the House of Commons if the petition is printed on paper described as the “usual size”, meaning letter or legal size only. I had to seek unanimous consent from the House to table this particular petition. Thanks to my colleagues on all sides, unanimous consent was granted and I was allowed to table the petition. However, quite frankly, there is so much text required to be included on a petition now that the font used has to be pretty small if it is going to fit on 8 ½" by 11" piece of paper. That is not fair. It is not fair to our constituents. In fact, it is such a backward a policy to limit the size of paper if all of the required information is there. Personally, I believe that every Canadian should be able to submit a petition on larger paper if it means they can read what they are signing. I do not think that is an unreasonable thing to require.
As someone who was once legally blind, and as the former minister responsible for the disabilities office, I regularly encouraged many institutions and organizations to adopt more accessible friendly policies. It is very disappointing to me that the House is not taking the same approach, at least not so far. Not only does this guideline fail to provide accessibility to Canadians who are visually impaired, but it is also a barrier to their being able to access and fully participate in their government with the same level of engagement as those without visibility challenges.
I am grateful to the House for granting me unanimous consent to table the petition. Frankly, I was hopeful that having this issue brought before the procedure and House affairs committee, or as we know it better, PROC, would lead to positive and permanent change. Sadly, I am now hearing that government members of PROC, the same people introducing Bill C-81, for some strange reason are now withholding their support for this change, a change they once seemed to support. Frankly, I do not understand it. If the government were truly serious about addressing the issues facing Canadians with disabilities, it would have addressed the Standing Order by now. Instead, here we are almost a year later, and Standing Order 36(1.1)(c) still has not been updated. Unfortunately, I wish I could say this was just an oversight. Sadly, it does not seem to be.
During the 2015 election, the Liberals campaigned on a promise to make life more accessible for Canadians with disabilities. For each cabinet shuffle, it has been part of the minister's mandate letter to consult and introduce legislation on this subject as quickly as possible. Here we are three years later and are getting a bill from a minister that is said to have been the result of extreme consultations across Canada. I have no doubt the minister and her staff did extensive consultations across the country on this matter. That is what they claim; it must be true. However, one would normally have expected something of deeper value and more tangible change to have been proposed as a result. Instead, all this piece of legislation does is propose the creation of yet another agency, at a cost of $290 million to taxpayers.
Here is the sad part. None of the money would actually be spent on helping Canadians who face accessibility issues on a day-to-day basis. Instead, it would go to hiring more bureaucrats and paying auditors to audit all government buildings and buildings that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, and for more consultations on what the standard regulations for accessibility should be. In my humble opinion, this would be a waste of money. We do not need more consultations to develop regulations. We have those already. As a matter of fact, during our time in government, we spent many millions of dollars making hundreds of federal buildings more accessible. When we put that in the budget, the Liberals voted against it. We were able to do all of these updates and set regulations without the need for yet another multi-million dollar agency to develop another report.
The proposed legislation says that the regulations, after being developed over the next six years, would apply to the Parliament buildings, among other places.
I have a few questions for the minister. As members of Parliament, we all have at least two offices: one in Ottawa and one, although often more, in the riding. Would auditors be auditing our constituency offices to ensure that they comply with these new regulations? If our offices do not comply, who would be responsible for paying for the upgrades?
I know from my own experience that it was extremely difficult to find office space that was both accessible and affordable in many small towns. Our member office budgets would not cover the cost to make an office accessible because of the high dollar amount involved. Simply building a ramp and altering the front door of my office would have cost three years' rent. The landlord could not reasonably be expected to pay for that, and house management would not pay for it.
In addition to our constituency offices, our Parliament buildings were not designed to be disability-friendly. While we as a government have made great strides in fixing that, these buildings were not designed with accessibility issues in mind.
With Centre Block shutting down in a few months for a much-needed 10-plus years' renovation, has the minister made plans to ensure that when this building reopens it will be disability-friendly for not only Canadians when they visit the Parliament buildings, but also the MPs, senators and thousands of people who support this institution? For example, will rounded doorknobs be changed over to lever knobs? What about the bathroom sink faucets and the toilet flushers? What about the many ramps that need to be built? Will they be built to the appropriate 1-to-10 ratio? How about a distinguishable baseboard that would allow someone with a visual impairment to see where the wall and floor meet? Will there be visual and audible warnings for people in the event of emergencies? Right now in my Confederation Building office the fire alarm is an audio-only alarm. That works for me and my staff, but what if I have guests or what about cleaners who cannot hear? What is planned for wheelchair access to the hill? Perhaps more importantly, what plans exist for true emergency evacuation by wheelchair or walker?
I know that while I was the Minister of Public Works, I took all of these things into consideration and required that they be incorporated into the Parliament Hill renovation design plans. Are those features still included? I know that many of those plans have been changed.
Will the minister ensure that Centre Block and the other Parliament buildings will be accessibility-friendly after these once-in-a-century renovations?
As I mentioned earlier, I am also concerned about the jurisdiction under which this bill is being placed. As the bill currently stands, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities will be responsible for implementing this bill, yet much of the work will require execution by Public Services and Procurement. I am concerned that as a result of this, the minister will be unable to adequately assess and address the issues as they arise.
While I do support sending this legislation to committee and I do support its intended goal, I have some serious concerns about the need to create a new agency, the amount of funding requested, and how the division of responsibility, authority, and accountability for its implementation will be addressed. I am also concerned that all that this legislation does is essentially reiterate the minister's mandate letter. She has already consulted with Canadians, so instead we should be discussing the regulations, not the creation of another agency.
I look forward to hearing what other members have to say, so that together we can develop legislation that will truly address the very real concerns facing very real Canadians with very real disabilities.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2018-02-26 12:53 [p.17345]
Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that the minister has not read her government's released ATIPs and OPQs, so I will point out a few items.
She blames the previous government for Phoenix and she mentions the backlog. Her government received on December 23, as part of the transition activities checklist, a note saying to clear the backlog before going live. About a year ago, the minister's deputy minister sent a letter to her, stating that one of the main problems with the Phoenix disaster was the backlog not being cleared.
The minister talked about capacity issues and layoffs. Here is an OPQ from her parliamentary secretary saying that there were internal project assessments and independent third-party assessments done and both assessments came to the conclusion there was sufficient capacity. The minister blames the layoffs of staff, but her own department says that is not the issue.
A further OPQ shows that between the Liberals pulling the trigger on Phoenix in January and July of 2016, when they were finally forced to agree to an emergency committee meeting, guess how many job postings they had for pay advisers? They had one, and they had it for 10 days only. I do not place any merit in what the minister has been saying.
When the minister appeared at the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates in November, the Conservatives asked, in a non-partisan way, along with the NDP, for help for MPs and their constituency offices so they could help their constituents with Phoenix. At that meeting, she promised that by December 15 she would get back to us on this issue. December 15 came and went. We have written letters and sent emails to her, and there has been nothing.
When is the minister going to get back to us in providing the constituency support she promised us in November?
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Carla Qualtrough Profile
2018-02-26 12:55 [p.17345]
Mr. Speaker, I can assure everyone that when Phoenix was implemented, the 40,000-case backlog existed because there was no other choice but to move forward with that pay system at the time. There was simply nothing to go back to and we did not have people to run it, even if there was. There were 700 people who had retired, been laid off, or moved on to other positions.
With respect to the offer to provide help for MP offices, I can assure the member we are working on this. We are trying desperately not to divert resources from the backlog of transactions. We are intentionally trying not to interfere with existing processes, whether they be union grievances or existing relationships employees have with managers. We recognize we have to support MPs and give them the most up-to-date information. In the very near future, I look forward to advising MPs of what we have come up with.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2018-02-26 13:13 [p.17348]
Mr. Speaker, normally I start by saying it is a pleasure to rise to talk about a bill, a subject, or a motion, but I cannot say that this time. As we have heard repeatedly, it is well into two years of the Phoenix fiasco. It is a disgrace that we are still chatting about it.
Earlier, in a question, I brought up a commitment made by the minister, which she promptly blew off, to provide resources to the constituency offices to help people with the Phoenix disaster. She waxed on eloquently, saying that employees should talk to their managers, their supervisors, or this person or that.
I want to give a personal, human example of why we need the assistance and how the government continues to let down Canadians and public servants.
There is a lady in my riding, whose name is Sebastienne Critchley. I will read part of her letter. She says that on April 2016, she took leave without pay for medical reasons. She says that her pay should have been stopped and was not, and she received an overpayment. She notified her manager, as was requested, to try to resolve the issue. She returned to work in June, reduced her hours, and continued to be paid full time. She took additional leave without pay in July 2016, and continued to be paid.
She took the right steps. She told her manager and supervisor. Nothing happened.
In October, she did not receive a paycheque. There was no notice, just no pay one day. It had been clawed back for the overpayment.
In November 2016, she went on maternity leave and had her son, Logan, who she brought in to my office. I realize Logan is probably only about a year old, but I would like to say hello. She said they had spent over three weeks in neonatal care. The time she should have spent with her son was instead spent in a hospital bed and later in the hallway of intensive care calling and trying to get a record of employment so she could receive an income during this stressful period.
She was told at the time that it would take six months. She went on and talked to a different pay adviser about the overpayment, and he suddenly stopped responding to her. She called back again, and she was told it was $7,500 that she was overpaid, and then $22,000, so approximately $30,000 in total. Then she was told she was just a category three, the lowest priority, and therefore, they would not even take a message to have someone call her back.
In February 2017, she received a T4, followed by an amended T4. Now those who have been following the Phoenix saga for so long will remember that in the emergency committee, which the Conservatives forced in July 2016 and the Liberals fought against, Conservative members brought up the T4 issue. We were told by the deputy minister to not worry because it was all in hand. Apparently, it was not all in hand.
Her letter continues, saying she began working with a compensation adviser who advised her that her overpayment was now $30,000 because Phoenix had generated additional payments of roughly $15,000, which were never actually paid to her. Because her T4 was so low, she had credits she was not able to use so she passed them over to her husband. Then her child tax credit was calculated incorrectly, because of the T4 issue.
She estimates she has spent over 200 hours attempting to resolve this, taking time away from caring for her children, having late nights, attempting to analyze the information. She has had depression and a lack of sleep. She decided to review her pay stubs. Imagine her surprise when the pay stubs she had printed off with each pay, compared to the new ones available to her, did not match.
The letter goes on and on. She says she lays awake at night fearing that she will end up repaying $30,000 when it should have been $21,000. She went on maternity leave and indicated that she wanted to pay her benefits coverage in advance with post-dated cheques. She tried, and so did her team leader and manager, to find out how much she needed to pay. She finally went on leave without that information. When she came back, she had a letter stating that if she did not pay in advance, her benefits coverage would not cover the period she was off and she needed to repay any benefits. It was several hundred dollars she did not have, because she is currently being asked to pay back approximately $9,000 she never received.
She said she went back to work September 5, and on September 26 she received an email from the agent who was actually working on the file saying he would have information for her later that week. On October 3, she followed up and there was no answer. On October 5, she received an email asking if she had reviewed her pay stubs, as if it was somehow her responsibility. On October 12, she sent another message asking for this information. Then on October 16, she said that despite numerous requests, she had no response whatsoever.
Ms. Critchley came into my office. I saw this letter and she was called to my office so that we could meet face to face and try to help her. I realize this is a disaster and there are lots of other people trying to get their pay fixed, so I took it upon myself to say that we were going to have the deputy ministers in committee and I would personally ask them to take this on.
We actually had to filibuster at committee to get the minister to show up to talk to us about Phoenix and about what the plan was going to be to fix it. We got no information out of that, but we did get a commitment from her in November that, by December 15, they would have a plan on how MPs could help victims of Phoenix. Now we have seen the minister stand up and say that MPs should not do that as it would be interfering and that they should let the managers do it. However, we have seen very clearly that the managers are not capable.
I want to continue on with Ms. Critchley's case. I went to Deputy Minister Lemay and Deputy Minister Linklater who were in charge of the Phoenix disaster, for lack of a better word. I asked them to please help this one person. There are 150,000 people affected by Phoenix. I realize I cannot help them all, but I wanted to help this one lady in my riding because she was not getting help. I went to the very top and was promised that someone would get in touch with her.
This letter has four pages of issues. She spoke to someone and the email back from the government department said that she should speak to her manager to request the overtime that she was owed. It came back to me. That was enough for me, so I went back to the deputy minister. I asked Ms. Critchley to keep me copied on all correspondence. I have them here. It is about 58 emails back and forth. We are into another year and the T4s are still incorrect, and now I have more emails.
This just goes to show that we cannot fluff it off and tell people to go to their managers. The MPs are here for a reason. They are here to help those affected by Phoenix. It is not enough to make a promise and say that they will get back to us on how they will support the MPs and then just take off, ignore emails and letters sent to the minister, and have the minister stand in the House and say it is interfering if the MP is trying to help someone else. That is disgraceful. The minister made a promise. She should keep that promise and give the resources to the members of Parliament to help their constituencies.
I want to turn to the Phoenix pay system itself. The Liberals will blame the former Conservative government. They look over the fact that they were warned in advance by the unions. We have documentation from January 2016 of the unions warning them that the pay system was not ready. Going back a few months to summer 2015, when the PSPC wanted to start Phoenix, the Conservative government said that it was not ready. We have seen the documents that said the training had not been finished, and that there were lots of errors in the pay system. The Conservative government said, “No. Go back and get it working properly.” The unions said it was not working.
At committee, the current deputy minister told us that the government had never spoken to the union, and then backtracked when presented with the facts.
Of course the Liberals are going to blame the Conservatives, even though the Liberal government knew that it was not ready and went ahead. They are going to blame the bureaucrats. We heard it today that the Liberals were told to go ahead. However, the Gartner report that went to the Treasury Board very specifically said the pay system was not ready. If we wanted a smoking gun, that is the perfect example because it went to the Treasury Board. The Liberal government said it did not pass it on to PSPC, as it did not know. However, the government knew about it.
They are going to blame the vendors like IBM and PeopleSoft.
It is very clear that the blame for the Phoenix fiasco sits with the Liberal government. The Liberals talk about the backlog, but we have documents showing that the government was told in advance, on December 15, as part of the pay process to clear the backlog. A year later, Deputy Minister Lemay writes a letter to the minister saying that the problems of Phoenix were caused by not clearing the backlog.
Also, we have documents to the government stating very clearly all the issues, such as problems with pay changes and problems where the Coast Guard said it was having a 50% failure rate in December. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans stated the same thing, very clearly, right to the government. The Liberal government knew it was there.
When the Phoenix problem started rolling out in January, which was the first wave, in February at committee we warned the government. The minister at the time said there were only 77 cases. We knew it was a lot bigger and the problem still continues.
The biggest problem is that the government will not take it seriously. The current government will not make a plan to help Canadians and to help MPs help their constituents. The government is doing nothing and that is the problem.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2018-02-26 16:49 [p.17382]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from St. John's East for his mostly factual comments. We served a long time together on the government operations committee and dealt with Phoenix in a mostly non-partisan way. I appreciate that.
I want to bring up an issue again. In November, when we had the minister in committee discussing Phoenix, we broached the idea of resources for the constituency offices to help people affected by Phoenix. The minister at the time committed to having an answer for us by December 15. Marie Lemay, her deputy minister, stated in that meeting, “What I understood the minister to say was that we would get back to you in two weeks as to what the process would be.”
That was over two months ago, and we still do not have the process. I understand the gentleman's concern for his constituents as well. I wonder if he will stand up and say that he will pursue this issue with the minister that she will fulfill her commitment to have an answer for MPs on how the government is going to allow extra resources so that we can help our constituents affected by the Phoenix system.
View Nick Whalen Profile
Lib. (NL)
View Nick Whalen Profile
2018-02-26 16:50 [p.17382]
Mr. Speaker, I acknowledge the wonderful time we had together working on not only this file, which was quite difficult, but also on Canada Post.
The government operations committee is a very cordial House of Commons standing committee. However, I have not sat on the committee since the break due to some scheduling conflicts that had me move, so I was not aware until just now that the answer had not been forthcoming to the committee. I will undertake to reach out to the minister to determine whether additional resources will be provided to MPs' staff in their constituency offices. Obviously some people have more federal employees affected than others. It is something that I am happy to get back to the member with offline.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2018-02-26 17:19 [p.17386]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for his caring thoughts. I appreciate him sharing the stories of his constituents. I also appreciate his constituents allowing their stories to be made public because we need to get this out in the open for the government to take it seriously.
I spoke earlier about one of my constituents, Sebastienne Critchley, who has probably the worst Phoenix problem I have ever seen. I have been dealing with the Phoenix issue for two years now at committee. We had to force the Minister of Public Services and Procurement to come to the committee to address the Phoenix issue in November. We had to force it by going through a filibuster, shutting the committee down before the minister finally showed up. I brought forward the issue of the Critchley family. At that meeting, the minister promised us that within two weeks she would get back to us with an answer on how the Liberals would deliver extra resources to the constituencies so we could help those people. Even with the top person in the government who is dealing with Phoenix and who is helping, I still have over 100 pages of emails back and forth.
We heard today from the Minister of Public Services . When I asked about that commitment, she said that the government did not want to give the extra resources to the MPs because it wanted them to go to their bosses and their supervisors for help. Is that the answer, to shut down services to people and just let people affected by Phoenix talk to their bosses?
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
View Cheryl Hardcastle Profile
2018-02-26 17:35 [p.17388]
Madam Speaker, I wanted to talk about how our constituency offices need to be able to work effectively with whatever moves forward. We do this for employment and we do this for immigration. Our 338 constituency offices are used as a point of contact, and we could be maximizing that when we are implementing a plan moving forward. That is some of the advice we need to include, to not forget that our offices also need to be maximized. They cannot be left out of a triage process.
View Matthew Dubé Profile
View Matthew Dubé Profile
2018-02-26 17:45 [p.17390]
Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague and neighbour for her speech. One of our biggest concerns as members of Parliament is the way in which cases are resolved. It is a question that has been raised a number of times today. There has been a lot of talk in the House about all the measures that were put in place to help members help their constituents with specific cases. Unfortunately, in actual fact, all the resources that were said to have been put in place do not amount to much. For example, in my riding, people whose cases were particularly sensitive were directed to a hotline. These are people at risk of losing their house, for example, and they are not alone of course. They got no help in the end.
All members, regardless of their political stripe, are dealing with similar cases. I would like to hear how my colleague reconciles the government's claims of the resources in place with what is really going on, given that these files remain in limbo.
View Alexandra Mendès Profile
Lib. (QC)
Madam Speaker, I share my colleague's frustration. I hear the same frustration from the people in my riding who are asking for help. The long response times are not helping matters.
All I can say is that my colleagues and I will continue to talk about how we might provide the help that we as MPs should provide these people who are experiencing such serious pay problems.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2018-02-26 17:48 [p.17390]
Madam Speaker, I would like to welcome my colleague to the operations committee where she will spend a lot more time on Phoenix, I am sure, than she has in the past.
I am glad that she is open to looking for solutions to the Phoenix problem on how we can help. One of them that we brought up to the minister was to allow resources for members of Parliament to help their constituents with Phoenix. The minister promised us that in November and it was supposed to be delivered by December 15. We have heard nothing from her. We did hear from the minister today that constituents with problems with Phoenix should not go to their MPs but they should go to their supervisors and bosses. That is not a solution.
Will my colleague contact the minister on behalf of all members of Parliament and everyone affected by Phoenix and ask her if she will stick to her promise of setting up those resources for MPs so that we can help our constituents affected by the Phoenix fiasco?
View Alexandra Mendès Profile
Lib. (QC)
Madam Speaker, as I told our colleague from Beloeil—Chambly, I will do my best to pass the message along and ask for solutions to the problem.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2018-02-26 18:04 [p.17393]
Which is good, Madam Speaker, because she was not doing a great job with Phoenix.
We heard the government again and again deny that there was an issue. We heard in March 2016 that there were only 57 outstanding issues when we knew there were already 40,000 outstanding items in the backlog, which the government did not touch, even though, in December 2015, it was warned to do it. We heard later that it was no problem. Then we heard from the current minister, “We are working on it.” Today, when we asked her about her promise in November to provide resources to MPs and their constituency offices so they can help people with Phoenix, the minister said that people should call their supervisors.
Again and again we have heard the Liberals blow off and underestimate the issues. Why should we now believe the government that it is actually serious about fixing Phoenix?
View Fin Donnelly Profile
View Fin Donnelly Profile
2018-02-26 18:06 [p.17393]
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on the NDP motion regarding the Phoenix pay system, or as it is known by many public civil servants, the Phoenix nightmare.
It has been two long years, and through it all, public servants have been unwavering. They have kept showing up for work, despite the fact that they have not been getting paid correctly, and they have continued to deliver outstanding service to Canadians. They deserve to be paid accurately and on time. When they are not at work, they are spending hours and hours of their time trying to fix their pay problems.
In September, I met with a constituent in my riding of Port Moody—Coquitlam who is an employee of the federal government. She returned to work on December 12, 2017, after one year of maternity leave and three months of leave without pay. She contacted my office because she was experiencing “significant anxiety and stress regarding my pay issues”.
Following are some of the highlights of her email:
I have two young children ages 1 and 3, who are in full time daycare at a cost of two thousand dollars a month. I pay for a large mortgage and strata fees on a townhouse. I returned to work at 80% capacity (4 days a week) in order to balance my duties at home, and therefore have a 20% reduction in pay, which is my choice, but necessary to care for my children. In order to return to work, I needed to purchase snow tires for my vehicle at a cost of $1,200 to ensure my children are safe in my vehicle. I also pay daily parking fees to be at work. Therefore I have considerable monthly expenses, and every dollar missing from my pay cheque causes me stress and anxiety. How can I be expected to perform my job well, and serve the needs of Canadians when I cannot be paid properly and on time?
I met with her, and as I am sure one can understand, this experience has been extremely frustrating for a busy mother trying to achieve a work-life balance. She completed the mandatory Phoenix pay centre training, which took her two hours. In the end, it resolved nothing. She called the pay centre numerous times, filed many tickets, and still there was zero resolution.
Here are some of the issues she has been having with her pay. There were erroneous union dues deducted while she was on maternity leave, totalling $180 in 2016 and 2017, and an overpayment of union dues in 2018. She was not paid for work on December 12 and December 13. Merry Christmas, indeed. There have been deductions for benefits over multiple pay periods which were incorrect and total almost $400, when they should be less than $100. On top of those issues, she is trying to buy back her pensionable service for when she was on maternity leave, but the pension centre has informed her that the pay centre miscalculated her pension buy-back amount.
As her MP, I am baffled as to why no one has met with her to review these issues and why they cannot be resolved. My office has intervened and written on her behalf, but we still have no resolution.
I have another constituent, who works at Service Canada, and was issued an incorrect T4 for 2016. She was told to use the incorrect T4 to do her taxes, which she did. As a result, she received a refund in excess of $18,000, which she knows she is not entitled to. Now it is 2018, and not only is she waiting for her 2017 T4, but she is still waiting for her correct T4 for 2016. I am sure that if it was the other way around and she owed $18,000 in taxes, her issues would be resolved by now.
What a shame. All that public servants are asking for is a payroll system that will pay them accurately and on time every time. Is it really too much to ask?
I received a letter which sets out another example:
I am a resident of Coquitlam and a federal government employee. I have been experiencing ongoing issues with my pay since last July. I have diligently followed all of the required protocols to resolve these problems with the pay center and Trusted Source to no avail and it was recommended to me that I contact my Member of Parliament. I am writing to you to seek your assistance in having my pay problems resolved and to express my frustration with the pay problems that I have experienced since Phoenix was implemented. I'm writing this also on behalf of my colleagues who are also experiencing pay issues, including not getting paid at all.
Not getting paid at all: that is unacceptable. Imagine how quickly Phoenix would be fixed if MPs and senators were not getting paid at all. This has been going on for two long years.
Public servants deserve to be paid correctly and to be paid on time. Instead, they have had to push Treasury Board to compensate workers for penalties, interest charges, and other fees incurred due to Phoenix pay problems. They have had to hire tax professionals to help them with tax problems. They have had to apply for priority payments to try to alleviate financial hardship from not being paid. They have had to take the government to court and to the labour board, all to get their paycheques. It is ridiculous, and it is as bad as it sounds.
How did we get here? This was not some random accident. The governments have known since 2011 that implementing the Phoenix pay system would be a mistake. They were told by the union representing federal public servants that it would not work. However, the previous Conservative government decided to merge the pay and benefits services of all federal departments into one centralized service, located in Miramichi, New Brunswick, anyway.
The Liberal government then hit the start button and rolled out this disastrous program. Despite repeated warnings that problems were occurring and a request from the union to slow down the rollout and transfer of new files, they just kept going full steam ahead. Requests from the union were ignored, and public service workers are paying the price.
Phoenix was supposed to cost $310 million to implement, and the Conservatives claimed it would save taxpayers $70 million a year. According to the Auditor General, it is going to take years and more than half a billion dollars to fix. That is just an estimate. In the meantime, workers and their families are suffering.
I want to finish by adding that many employees are now refusing promotions or parental leave for fear of losing their salaries completely. What kind of workforce have we created when there is this kind of issue, where there is this kind of prolific fear of advancing or looking to a promotion or going on parental leave? Sure, this is not everyone; this is a number of people. However, this is out there. I am hearing about it. I am sure every member in the House is also hearing from constituents in their ridings, public service workers who are just doing their jobs and want to get decent pay, on time, and what they deserve.
I urge all members of the House to do the right thing and vote in favour of the motion.
View Kelly McCauley Profile
View Kelly McCauley Profile
2016-11-03 16:51 [p.6569]
Mr. Speaker, I find that an amusing comment from my colleague on the far, far left over there.
We talked about how there has not been one single new job created by the Liberal government since it came to power, but I am pretty sure that a few have been created in the collection industry, people going after NDP members for their constituency offices.
I agree that the government across the way has to pull up its pants on ethics.
I want to discuss one of the items that came up on the finance minister and his fundraiser in Halifax. He said that it was a consultation process for the budget that allowed him to listen to Canadians.
It was a $1,500 fundraiser. It is quite offensive to believe that Canadians should have to pay $1,500 for a private consultation with the finance minister.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2016-10-06 10:11 [p.5556]
Mr. Speaker, I am just going to start out by explaining to the public watching TV, members here, the journalists, etc. what today's debate is all about.
Basically, all the mystifying procedures that happen here, the various votes, who is on committee, and all this stuff, are handled by 159 standing orders that we as MPs create. The huge number of new MPs—probably the highest number in history, in this Parliament—may find some of these procedures very mystifying, strange, or even bizarre. Some of those come from England's House of Commons and were established before Canada was even created. Today is those members' chance to change the rules of the House. Are they most effective for doing the business of the nation?
One of the 159 standing orders is number 51, which mandates today's debate. The Right Hon. Paul Martin wanted to give backbenchers and all MPs a chance to have a kick at the can in these procedures, so he put in the standing order that says that between the 60th and 90th days of a new Parliament, everyone gets a chance to have a take-note debate on the Standing Orders, which is what we're doing today. After this debate, all this information will go to the procedure and House affairs committee of the House to do with what it will, and it can make recommendations to the government on changes to the Standing Orders.
An example is that the last time we had this debate, on February 17, 2012, one of the suggestions was electronic petitions, which are now a reality; so members can make a difference.
On this side of the House, the present Prime Minister has the same philosophy as the Right Hon. Paul Martin: that this is not for the government. Today, this is for backbenchers, for all MPs to express their ideas, so the government is not providing any input. The government has no idea what we as individual backbenchers are going to say. I think it is going to be a very fun, non-partisan, creative brainstorming day to improve Canada's house of democracy for the benefit of all Canadians.
I'm going to have to talk very quickly to get through about 14 points, just for further discussion. I am not necessarily in favour of or against them, but they are points we might discuss further. I apologize to the translators for talking quickly, but really it is just a warm-up. If they think I am bad, wait until the member for Laurentides—Labelle gets up.
A lot of members will talk about decorum in the House. They have certain concerns, and members will hear that later today.
The first of my 14 points is that the shape of Parliament can actually determine attitudes. If we were in a semi-circle like in Sweden or in Congress, we would be all focused toward the Speaker, a common problem for Canada, and we are all trying to solve it together. It is the same in the committees. Why do we have to have it as adversarial, across the board from each other?
My second point is first nations, recognizing that we are on the traditional land of the Algonquin First Nation. First nations have run successful governments in Canada for centuries, for generations. Maybe we should look at some of their successes. Some members might be interested in reading how the Six Nations Confederacy was instrumental for the designers of the American constitution and Congress.
My third point is this. If an MP of today were given another job to add to all his or her other jobs, not only the MP work but another 28 hours of work that he or she had to do, would the MP find that frustrating? For 10 years, I have had to spend 28 hours every week commuting to my riding. When members revamp the Standing Orders, I ask them to please be sensitive and gentle for those of us who have to travel a long way.
My fourth point is that it is incumbent on all of us today to think of the procedures of the House and Senate and committees as being structured in such a way that the amount of legislation that Canadians need, regardless of who is in Parliament, can be dealt with without any draconian measures by the opposition or the government to get this work done.
My fifth point is that in Congress, if members watch it, at times there are two podiums and there is a person from each party at a podium, and they are debating back and forth for a few minutes. In this Parliament, we really get no chance to debate with each other. We get a 10-minute speech, we only get to speak once, and except for a question, there is really no ongoing debate. Ten minutes may be enough or not enough. One of the greatest speeches in history, the Gettysburg address, just took barely more than two minutes. So are the speaking limits too long or too short?
My sixth point is that the situation is totally different in committee. There members have unlimited chances to speak, instead of just once as in the House. Members can speak 1,000 times or for 10 hours each time they speak, as long as they maintain relevancy and avoid redundancy and repetition.
Seventh, not long ago in this place, MPs were not allowed to have papers or read a speech. There are some who would like to go back to that. I remember being here many years ago when all the MPs from one party were reading almost identical speeches, which was not very productive. I am not doing very well today because I have lots of paper here, but that is an idea some people had.
Mr. Charlie Angus: Don't look down.
Mr. Larry Bagnell: Don't look down, yes.
Mr. Speaker, eighth is why not have electronic voting for some of the more repetitious votes, or votes whose outcome we know. In Sweden, members are in a semi-circle and get five seconds to vote. They push a red or green button, and there is a big board with green and red buttons and the total is displayed automatically. Then there is another five seconds to do the next vote. They could do 300 amendments in 10 minutes, whereas it would take us a day.
The ninth point is interesting. I am a simple backbench MP. Quite often, I only leave this building by two or three o'clock in the morning. Can anyone imagine if another full-time job were added to an MP's work? That is what happens when someone becomes a minister. Obviously, there is not appropriate time to do both of those jobs. One of them will not be done well. In Sweden, ministers do not sit in the house. They are given brand new MPs to do their MP jobs, to take care of their constituencies and to give their speeches, and ministers can devote all of their time to their ministerial work.
Tenth, I want to make a point for those of us who travel. Having Fridays alone off would not give me more time in my constituency. There would have to be no votes after noon on Thursday; otherwise, I would spend all day Friday travelling and still would not get time in my constituency, because it is a 14-hour trip. I have to take three airlines.
As for my eleventh point, to be fair to all Canadians, I personally think there should be playground equipment at the new Centre Block, both inside and outside, for families.
Twelfth, senators are often assigned to delegations on trips on joint committees with the House of Commons based on their parties, but soon there will be a Senate where most of the senators will not belong to a party. I think that whole system has to be looked at.
Thirteenth, I think private members' business needs to be looked at. It could be really abused at both ends of the spectrum. I have a slot now for the first time in 11 years, and I could propose some crazy thing that could seriously affect 30 million Canadians. That could happen if MPs were allowed to do whatever they wanted. On the other hand, I have heard that in the past, a government could go to an MP and say that it did not like his or her speech, that it had a speech it wanted read, and the MP was told to read it.
With any private member's bill, whether it comes from the Senate, the House of Commons, or members, the end result is the same. It becomes the law of the land. A bill is a bill is a bill. Any of these bills should go through two screenings, one from the factual, technical, scientific, professional, knowledge-based input of technical experts who have spent their lives on a certain topic in the bureaucracy, and the second is from the point of view of the social licence of the people, which we provide as politicians.
Last, I do not know what it is like in the other ridings, but in my riding, May and June are my busiest months. It might work better for me if we were to come back earlier in September and leave earlier in the spring, so I could get to all the graduations, etc.
For those who are really excited about this topic and scintillating debate on procedure, there is an excellent paper people might want to read, called “The Good Parliament”, by Professor Sarah Childs. She was commissioned to do it for Britain. That report contains 43 recommendations to ensure the diverse and inclusive equality of participation in an effectively organized House of Commons in Westminster, England.
I have three final points from members who could not participate in this debate. First, they suggest there be a maximum time in the Standing Orders for each different category of bill, a different amount of time, but with a limit. Second, they recommend that members who are not on a committee could get mailings from the clerk on important issues if their input were needed. Third, they call for MPs to have comparable staff to civil servants and the ability to pay for at least four.
I am prepared now to answer any questions on my 14 points. Members should remember that if they could not get into the debate, there are questions and comments. They do not have to ask questions. If they could not get on the speaking list today, they could make their comments in the questions and comments period.
View Diane Finley Profile
View Diane Finley Profile
2016-10-06 10:26 [p.5559]
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the member for Yukon has a long way to travel. It can be very difficult travelling even for those of us who have a short distance to go.
However, I am a bit confused, because throughout his speech the member suggested having a shorter work weeks in Ottawa and taking Fridays off, and he suggested rising earlier, all so he could spend more time in his riding.
When I first came to the House in 2004, I was under the impression that we were here to represent our constituents in Ottawa, not to represent Ottawa to our constituents. How does the member feel about that?
View Todd Doherty Profile
View Todd Doherty Profile
2016-10-06 10:28 [p.5559]
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to speak to the procedural rules that govern Canadian democracy. While it may not be the most exciting or controversial subject matter, these rules affect all aspects of the creation of law in this country, yet they are rarely spoken of or acknowledged in our day-to-day dealings in the House.
Since being elected, I have had the opportunity to speak on a number of diverse but incredibly important subjects, ranging from softwood lumber to assisted death, and the energy east pipeline to the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat. While I may not be a subject matter expert or a so-called procedural nerd, I look forward to the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of democracy, building on the work of the many great parliamentarians who have come before me.
In preparation for today's debate, I studied some of the speeches my colleagues have made in the past. There was plenty of material to draw from, because the House is required to review its own standing orders at the beginning of the first session of any new Parliament, between the 60th and 90th days, according to Standing Order 51(1). I am confident that all my colleagues in the House know of this standing order.
Unlike some of the speeches in the past, I will spare the House the same lecture it has heard dozens of times before. However, I would like to talk about some areas I believe would lead to improvement.
Let us talk about something that I feel the standing orders sometimes fail to do. Healthy debate is a cornerstone of our society. It is the basis for democracy and is the foundation of freedom of speech. Why is it, then, here in this place, the very pinnacle of our democracy and the safe haven for true and intelligent debate, do we hear time and again regurgitated talking points and constant repetition?
Traditionally, as our hon. colleague, the member for Yukon mentioned, no member of Parliament in this place was allowed to have notes at his or her desk. This is meant to be a place for sombre thought and for ideas and opinions to flow and grow naturally from a speaker's own mind.
We were elected to represent our constituents. We were elected on the basis of our ability to convey their wishes and concerns. How can we do so when we are simply reading and re-reading the same talking points, which all of our colleagues have already read? The following is an excerpt from the House of Commons rules of debate.
Rules respecting relevance and repetition are difficult to define and enforce. The rule against repetition can be invoked by the Speaker to prevent a Member from repeating arguments already made in the debate by other Members or the same Member. The rule of relevance, on the other hand, is used to keep a Member from straying from the question before the House or committee.
I would like to see more scrutiny when it comes to debate and the speeches we hear in this place.
I am guilty as charged on this one. I think we all are. It is very easy to let the passion of debate fuel a rant or lead a member down a path that may not exactly lead to the point or be part of the topic of debate because of a button pushed or an errant comment made. It might simply be the fact that we have this beautiful venue, this beautiful soapbox, that we often take for granted and use at will.
I would like to see members encouraged to write and create their own material. I would also like to see less reading from notes while in this holy chamber. As the previous member said, and used my line before I did, I realize and understand the hypocrisy of the statement, because I'm reading from my notes as well. However, I believe the best speeches and interventions from all sides are those that are spoken from the heart, fuelled by passion and knowledge of a particular issue, not simple talking points.
I am passionate about this place, and I respect all who come through those doors. I would like to stress the fact that I feel honoured each and every day I have had the opportunity, to this point and beyond, to walk up these stairs and work with all members of the House.
I believe that the people who elected us, Canadians, deserve the very best from all of us and from the institutions we serve. Therefore, I would like to see the rules on debate improved and enforced.
Now I would like to speak about accountability. The tabling of documents is currently something that only ministers or parliamentary secretaries, acting on behalf of ministers, can do.
I think it would serve this place well if all members were allowed to table documents. There are safeguards already in place to prevent unnecessary documents from being tabled, but if the government, which champions itself as an open and transparent government, is truly wanting to be open, truly wanting to be transparent, it should not be afraid of any document being presented before this House.
As I am sure the House is aware, because of recent events involving a minister and a limo receipt, the Speaker of this House was unable to view the receipts before ruling, because they were not officially available. There was simply no mechanism for the opposition to put them before the House, other than unanimous consent, which of course, given the topic, was unlikely.
In that same light, and I am sure all of my colleagues feel the same, take-note debates offer the rare ability to talk about issues that are pertinent. For the Canadian people it would be beneficial to allow the official opposition to call a take-note debate twice in each session and to allow the third party to call a take-note debate once in each session. This would provide the opposition parties, and their constituents in the ridings they represent, more opportunities to debate issues of importance to them.
This could be done with little to no impact on time allocated for government orders. This would also alleviate pressure on the government to grant take-note debate requests, as it could simply tell opposition parties to use one of their allocated days.
I think we can all agree that there is a certain amount of sacrifice we make in undertaking our role as parliamentarians. We signed up for this, knowing those demands full well. We see our families less. That is a simple fact. Some of us are lucky enough to have our families close at hand while others spend weeks on the opposite side of the country. I, like my hon. colleague from the Yukon, have one of the most difficult travel schedules. It is a great thing that I love airports and airplanes, and I make my way back every week to see my constituents.
We are away from our loved ones: husbands, wives, sons and daughters, grandchildren, and all those who are close to our hearts. That is why I have come to appreciate the new arrangement whereby some votes are taken immediately after question period instead of at the end of the day. I think this is something the House should look into making a permanent function. It is, indeed, better use of our time.
I would like to talk about the calendar. In the very same light, as I mentioned previously, I would like to suggest that we settle the House calendar for the following year in June, rather than waiting until September. Waiting until just before the House resumes causes an unnecessary rush and takes away from the process itself.
Recently I made the comparison to rushing the budget process without thorough review and consideration. The budget would likely miss something or have serious complications. How can we expect to fully comprehend or understand the implications of the calendar when we are putting it together in such a hectic and rushed way? I believe it would better serve this House, and indeed all Canadians, if we were to begin this process much earlier.
As hon. members know, our constituencies are never adjourned, and the responsibilities that come with representing our constituents are a constant and ever-beating heart. More time in advance to study our schedules would allow us to better prepare for the coming months and to ultimately better serve our constituencies.
On the same note, we are in a 24/7 business. Though our offices may close for long weekends, holidays, and special occasions, the lives and concerns of those who elected us continue every day.
The Liberals have proposed a shortened work week. I do not support this, and I believe that it sends a wrong message. The hard-working friends and families in my riding of Cariboo—Prince George expect me to work a full day and a full week to represent them to the fullest. Giving ourselves a long weekend every week, under whatever title or reason the Liberals offer, is wrong. We all signed up knowing the demands that came with this incredible opportunity. The responsibility falls on all of us to manage our time and schedules better.
In closing, I think it is clear that I have many suggestions. As a new member of Parliament, I am eager to continue developing my procedural skills in this place, and I vow to continue to speak with passion, resolve, and sincerity. I will continue to do my very best to serve the good people in my beautiful riding of Cariboo—Prince George, a region and constituents I am deeply proud of.
In closing, I would like to end with the words of someone else. One of the very best men to have stood in this place, Sir John A. Macdonald, said:
A new Member requires the experience of his first session in the House to teach him how to hang up his overcoat and take his seat in a manner befitting a gentleman.
With that, I thank hon. members.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the opportunity, today, to speak to the House regarding the debate on standing orders and procedures.
As times change, I believe so should the rules governing the functioning of one of the greatest institutions: our own Parliament of Canada.
The Fathers of Confederation recognized that the needs of the House of Commons and Parliament in general would change a great deal over time.
That is why, in their infinite wisdom, they created mechanisms for reviewing the standing orders of our Parliament and ensured that parliamentarians would have the important task of reviewing their own rules based on the needs of members of the House of Commons and Canadians.
That is the task that is before us today. We are discussing some of the issues that were raised in committee over the past few months, so that we, my esteemed colleagues and I, can provide more in-depth explanations as to why some of these standing orders need to be reviewed.
Today, I rise to discuss, in particular, the further study of the possibility of eliminating sittings of the House of Commons on Fridays.
While Friday sittings remain in effect today, I would like to discuss just a few of the many reasons why, in my own humble opinion, in the spirit of promoting a more family-friendly atmosphere for members and modernizing our Parliament, this is an issue that deserves much more serious attention, thought, and further consideration.
Obviously, some members may not be in favour of eliminating Friday sittings. I completely understand their concerns. I can already hear my colleagues grumbling about how this member is just trying to get out of working on the weekend, as though she is the stereotypical politician who is always trying to get out of doing work.
That is not at all the case, and I am convinced that many of my colleagues in the House agree with me. The real reason is quite the opposite. We are proposing that we carefully examine the possibility of eliminating Friday sittings precisely to give members of the House more time to spend in their ridings, travel back and forth to their ridings, and do more work there for their constituents.
For example, some members have to travel very long distances to go back to their ridings. By eliminating Friday sittings, the parliamentary calendar would be more predictable. That would give members a more flexible schedule and would benefit their constituents.
I believe that we can easily convince the Canadians who elected us to represent them that we can do a much better job if we have a little more time in our ridings to listen to their concerns and to talk to them face to face.
I just spent a wonderful summer in my riding, Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, where I had many opportunities to speak to my constituents and many community stakeholders about the issues that affect the people in our riding.
I spent countless hours this summer with my constituents. I had a marvellous time with them at barbeques, town halls, chance meetings, and farmers' markets, as well as in my constituency office, and also interacting with our region's stakeholders and hearing their concerns directly, face to face.
In doing so, I was able to secure necessary funding for vital infrastructure development and cultural projects in my riding and, also, to participate in important community discussions, mostly because I was physically available to my constituents and stakeholders and present to hear their opinion and concerns.
In my opinion, that is one of my most important responsibilities as an MP. I believe that we can do much more to free up members a little from the work in the House, so that we can focus more on our work with the constituents in our ridings.
For one, being present in our ridings allows us, as members of Parliament, to be far more engaged with our constituents and more aware of the issues that concern them. It also connects us with Canadians in a much more direct way. It is democracy in action.
Even in this day and age of social media and non-stop communication with our citizens, nothing says to a Canadian more clearly that their member of Parliament is listening intently to their concerns than when they can actually meet with them face to face and have a frank exchange with them in person.
This summer, I spent more time with the people in my region because I was in my community more. However, with the arrival of fall, when the House is sitting, I have much less time to spend with the people in my riding.
This is not a partisan issue.
It has more to do with the very nature of the work of an MP, which is to listen to one's constituents and to faithfully represent their interests in Parliament. In my opinion, we can make our job easier by more carefully examining whether we should stop sitting on Fridays.
In that regard, I would also like to point out a significant problem that all too often goes unnoticed. Increasingly, when we remain immersed too long in our life here, in the national capital, we have a tendency of distancing ourselves somewhat from everyday life in our ridings. Consequently, we run the risk of losing sight of the importance of our constituents' everyday reality.
Sometimes, when we are spending too much time in Ottawa, it becomes a bit easier to lose some of the perspective of how government policies and programs directly impact the lives of Canadians, and it becomes more difficult to see the real forest for the trees.
I maintain that if we as MPs were to spend more time in our respective ridings, we would have a better idea of the complexity of what is happening on the ground back home and a better understanding of our constituents' problems.
Much like researchers who can draw a much more accurate picture of the situation when they are right in the thick of it, MPs can do a much better job of observing the reality in their ridings, I contend, when they are physically on the ground.
For instance, they are much better equipped to witness the impact of a particular policy or program when they have direct contact with their citizens and when they benefit from additional opportunities to see these policies and programs in action.
The initiative to eliminate Friday sittings from the House calendar, unless there is a compelling reason to sit that day, is not new.
Professor Sarah Childs, from the University of Bristol in England, conducted a study on the subject of work-life balance in western parliamentary democracies. She pointed out in that study that the House of Commons in the United Kingdom sits during only 13 Fridays, set in their calendar, while the Houses of Commons in Australia and New Zealand completely eliminated Friday sittings from their schedules.
Here in Canada, eight of our 13 provincial and territorial legislatures have opted for four-day weeks, and two others sit on Fridays only in exceptional cases.
I put it to the House, if our colleagues at the provincial and territorial level have seen to modernize their own institutions in order to accommodate the lives of sitting members, then should we not follow suit?
I would strongly argue that a thorough study of the question of eliminating Friday sittings of the House goes a long way toward making a concerted effort to improving the work-life balance of MPs while also freeing them up to do a much better job representing their constituents' interests for all the reasons I have just mentioned.
In closing, I think we can all acknowledge that we have an incredible opportunity here at this time in our history to review some of the practices of the House in order to ensure that members can achieve a better balance between their parliamentary and personal responsibilities, and that this matter is highly important to how our Parliament operates.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, the member talked about eliminating Friday sittings. I have a young family, and I do not support eliminating Friday sittings for the simple reason that many members are not here on Fridays anyway, because there are no votes that take place on Fridays. Friday still provides an opportunity for debate and for holding the government accountable, but at the same time, members can go to events in their ridings if there are other people here to cover for them.
Would it not be a better fix, if the member is concerned about members being able to spend time in their ridings, to reduce the number of days on which votes could occur, rather than reducing the number of days on which the House sits? Would that not more directly address the problem of members being available to go to events in their riding while still maintaining the same amount of time for debate and for holding the government accountable?
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Speaker, I can tell the member that, frankly, during the summer months I truly had an opportunity to engage with the constituents on a very regular basis. I had the opportunity to have 10 town hall meetings, for example. During those conversations, those meetings at the constituency office, we truly had an opportunity to really sense exactly what the concerns were of our constituents.
Therefore, for me to have that additional time in the riding to really build those relationships and to hear from the constituents is truly very important. I feel that eliminating Friday sittings would absolutely allow us to do that.
View Christine Moore Profile
Mr. Speaker, I just want to say that my whip found a way to free me from having to be here on Fridays. I go back home. I do the commute every weekend and, honestly, I am burned out. I travel all day Friday, on Saturday I am exhausted from travelling and my workweek, and on Sunday I have to leave again. Sometimes I feel like crying because I have to leave so soon. Eliminating Friday sittings would not help me because I already benefit from that. It is the commuting that is so hard. Every week I lose 15 hours travelling back and forth.
Would it not be more relaxing, for example, to decide in favour of blocks of two weeks in a row and two weeks when we are not sitting? That would remove the need for everyone to do one more back-and-forth. I think that the option of eliminating Friday would not suit everyone and is definitely not an advantage for everyone. What is difficult for many people is the constant travelling back and forth, and our colleagues from British Columbia living with jet lag, for example. In fact, this has caused certain members to resign, as they could no longer manage these back-and-forths every week, in addition to enduring the effects of jet lag.
View Ginette Petitpas Taylor Profile
Lib. (NB)
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question and his comments.
The suggestion that the House not sit on Fridays is not being tabled to accommodate us, but rather to accommodate our fellow citizens. In the end, they are the ones who want local access to their members of Parliament. Clearly, revising the calendar to create two-week blocks might be a very good idea as well. However, my focus was really to fully support our citizens in our ridings, to ensure that they have access to their member of Parliament. The issue of accessibility for our fellow citizens is very important.
View David de Burgh Graham Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, if I wanted a shorter work week, I would spend more time in Ottawa, not less. When I come here to Ottawa, we go down to 12 hours a day . That is the life we have here.
My riding is very close to Ottawa, two hours by road. There are many towns in my riding, and if I wanted to spend a day in each of them, it would take me a little more than six weeks to do the grand tour. What is more, there are 45 ridings that are even bigger than mine. In that sense, the film Going to War with Guibord is a pretty accurate description of my riding.
I also want to salute the work of André Barnes, an analyst for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, or PROC, who has to examine this whole debate and give us the list of all the ideas presented here.
That brings me to another point: whenever any change is made, we must think of the parliamentary assistants and support staff all over the Hill, and the effect that the schedules of parliamentary proceedings have on their families and their work. We cannot forget them.
View Garnett Genuis Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to discuss an issue that I am truly passionate about, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. In particular, it is worth highlighting that the way the rules work is important for our democracy. It shapes the kinds of conversations we have and our ability to do our work more, or less, effectively.
I want to discuss a number of particular suggestions I have about the Standing Orders that I think can improve the way we operate in this place. I am going to focus my comments on three points: encouraging more substantive exchanges, strengthening the role of individual members of Parliament, and increasing the family friendliness of the House of Commons.
First, on the issue of encouraging more substantive exchanges, we all have an interest in ensuring that this is a genuine, effective, deliberative chamber, in which comments on important issues are exchanged back and forth. Some discussion has happened today about whether that actually occurs in question period. There were some concerns about the reading of answers, for example, and whether ministers can be expected to provide too much detail given the time constraints and the absence of advance notice. Some have suggested removing some of the time constraints.
However, it is worth underlining that we already have a procedure in place for advance notice, in which people have more extended periods of time to pose questions and to respond. Of course, that is what we call adjournment debate or, more informally, the late show. That provides an opportunity for members to spend four minutes posing their questions; ministers have four minutes to respond; then there is a one minute for a supplementary question and one minute for the supplementary response.
We could not ask every single question in question period that way, but it is worth highlighting late shows or adjournment debates as the critical period in which we can have more substantive back and forth on substantive issues. Adjournment debate does not really get the degree of notice or attention it deserves. If we want to improve the substantiveness of debate, we can look at making reforms to question period, but I think the easiest and clearest change we could make would be to give greater attention to and focus on adjournment debate. Perhaps we would have to rename it and it would no longer be called “Adjournment Proceedings” anymore. I still would propose that we move those exchanges to a different time.
Here is what I would suggest we explore. We could move statements by members to the end of the day and have adjournment debate occur right after question period. That way, immediately after question period, while members and ministers are still here, we would have that half-hour period of substantive exchange about specific issues that may have arisen in question period. There would be more time to have that back and forth.
I would also suggest that instead of having parliamentary secretaries respond, or, as often happens, a parliamentary secretary who is not even responsible for the file reading out a pre-written response in the late show, we require that the minister responsible answer the questions in late shows. Given that there is advance notice for those questions and they are scheduled, there really shouldn't be a problem for ministers' schedules and their having to say they cannot respond in a late show on a certain day or in a certain week. It could be scheduled to a different time.
If there were a requirement for a minister to respond in the late show, or what we currently call an adjournment debate, we should set it up that way and have it at a time when members are generally already here and when the media is generally already present for question period. That would really fully leverage the potential of those late shows to ensure that substantive exchanges are happening and that the ministers responsible for the files are actually involved. I think that would be a good change.
There is no reason why statements by members could not occur at the end of the day. There is no particular reason why they have to occur at the time they currently do. Just switching those things around would give the same amount of time for government orders, and within roughly the existing time slots. Again, I think that would be a positive change.
The other thing we could do to encourage more substantive exchanges is to establish a process through questions and comments where only members of different parties pose questions during questions and comments, or there be an expectation that the period for questions and comments is an opportunity for challenging the person speaking, not just agreeing with them and asking him or her to expand on some point he or she has already made. Questions and comments are a valuable time for back and forth, for people to challenge speeches, and for there to be a response.
It is a less effective use of that time when members from one's own party or perhaps even from another party stand, thank a member for a really great speech, and ask him or her to talk more about point X or Y. It would make for better exchanges if we asked questions or made comments that challenged the person speaking during that time. I think that would leverage the opportunity for more substantive debates.
Moving to the question of strengthening the role of individual members of Parliament, the practice we have in the House of Commons is that each of the parties provides a list of members who are going to speak in designated party slots. Although it is not technically required, in virtually every case the Speaker works through that list. Having read the Standing Orders a couple of times, as far as I can tell, that list is not even referenced in them.
In fact, the rules establish that the member who rises first should be recognized by the Speaker. That is not how it is done in practice. However, Standing Order 62 says very clearly, “When two or more Members rise to speak, the Speaker calls upon the Member who first rose in his or her place”. There is also a procedure for moving a motion that a different member be heard, but what I said is still the general practice.
I think it would be better if we did not use the list system. The advantage of not using the list system is that it would give members the opportunity to stand to speak in cases where they may have a slight difference of opinion with their party. More importantly, it would require members to be present in the House, listening to debate. They would have to take the initiative to jump up, and maybe if they do not manage to be recognized at the time they expect, then they would have to stay in the House for another 15 minutes or half-hour until they are recognized.
However, if we move to that system, it would also be important to amend that Standing Order to provide for some degree of rotation among the parties, because the current Standing Order that the next member who rises is recognized, risks our having a situation in which multiple members of the same party could speak one after another if they happened to be more proficient at getting on their feet, even if there were other members from other parties who wanted to speak.
Therefore, I would favour moving away from the list system, but at the same time changing the Standing Order to provide for some degree of rotation among parties in the midst of the process in which it is up to the Speaker to recognize a member.
Also, in terms of strengthening the role of members of Parliament, the Speaker should recognize members during questions and comments in a way that tries to get as many members involved in a given day. The Standing Orders provide that a member can only speak once to a motion, but it places no such restriction on the ability of the same member, perhaps from one party, asking questions. I think we would be better off if more members were encouraged to participate in questions and comments. There would be a way for the Speaker to do that. If the same member from one party were always rising, maybe the Speaker could not recognize that party on that go around, just to encourage more members to stand up.
I do not know of a single case in which Standing Order 53(2)(a) has been used in my time here, but it provides for the whip to decide that time will be split. Generally speaking, the practice here is that members indicate that they intend to split their time. I think we should eliminate this Standing Order. I do not think it is a reasonable use of the power. Theoretically, if a member wishes to speak for 20 minutes and then the whip tells the table they will only speak for 10 minutes, that seems to me an unreasonable restriction on the ability of the member to use the time slot they have acquired by standing up. That is one we should change as well.
Very briefly on the issue of family friendliness, we have heard some members talk about eliminating Friday sittings. Having the House sit as much as possible for a five-day week is important for having fulsome debate. It is important for holding the government accountable. It would reduce accountability and debate if we eliminated Friday sittings.
At the same time, I understand that some members want to go back to their ridings on Friday. I often go back to my constituency on Friday. The solution is already there, however. The Standing Orders provide that votes will not take place on Friday. Therefore, if members are concerned that the current calendar does not provide them with enough time to be in their ridings, let us just add an additional day on which votes cannot take place. I suggest this because votes are the one thing we all have to be here for. If we reduced the number of days on which votes can take place, it would still provide members with a greater opportunity to go back to their ridings, but not reduce that accountability piece.
Instead of eliminating Friday sittings, if members are concerned about this we could explore the option of not allowing votes to take place on Thursdays or Mondays. That sort of change would allow members to spend more time in their constituencies without reducing the accountability piece.
There needs to be some clarification of the rules for non-members, in this case the children of members, being in the chamber. There has been some discussion about it. Technically it is not provided for in the Standing Orders. It is provided for in practice. Members might have different opinions on that. From my view, it is no problem if a member wishes to bring his or her infant into the chamber, but it would be worthwhile if there were some degree of clarification on that.
I have more to say, but that is my time. I appreciate the opportunity to raise these issues.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2016-10-06 11:31 [p.5569]
Mr. Speaker, I really welcome this debate. I like to consider myself, first and foremost, a parliamentarian, who truly enjoys what takes place inside this privileged institution to which we have all been elected by our wonderful constituents. It is quite a privilege.
I will start by saying that we have a wonderful opportunity before us, and I truly hope that members will take it as that. The government House leader has been very clear that there is a desire to see changes to the Standing Orders that will help facilitate and modernize the way that Parliament works and the types of things we do here throughout the day.
I am hoping that we will see a good discussion on a number of issues, many of which we have already witnessed. We have talked about private members' hour. We have talked about take-note debates. We would like to hear more about opposition days, emergency debates, unanimous consent motions, the issue of petitions, adjournment debate—about which we just heard a little more—and the need for question period reform.
How many times do we hear a member asking a question to the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister, because it is not a part of that first round, does not necessarily have the opportunity to answer. I think we lost that whole discussion. Why not have a day designated for the Prime Minister, or a portion of a day, where members know that there is a greater likelihood that the Prime Minister will be in a position to answer the question?
There is the need for question period reform. I sat in opposition for over 20 years. I come to this with nine months in government and well over 20 years in opposition. I, too, wanted questions answered, but sometimes when I asked a question, I knew it was meant to embarrass the government. However, if I had a question for which I wanted a detailed answer, I would sometimes approach the minister in advance, give him the question and tell him I hoped he could provide an answer. Giving the government that heads-up helped immensely. The issue of question period reform is very important.
On the issue of decorum, there is always a give and take. The Minister of Natural Resources will recall when we were first elected in 1988 to the Manitoba legislature, we had the clear indication that we would not be clapping but in essence trying to encourage positive decorum. It is a challenge at the best of times. There are changes that we can make to try to ensure it.
I am interested in ideas from opposition members, from all members, as to how we can encourage better decorum. One that we heard already today is having the place that members eat be a common place. We would have government members and opposition members sitting down over lunch, building those relationships. I thought it was a wonderful idea that came from the member across the way.
Again, I want to approach this in as non-partisan way as much as possible. I hear a lot about Fridays, for example. Quite frankly, I very rarely miss a Friday. Having said that, what is more important are the number of hours we sit inside this House, the number of days we sit. To give an example, if we look at the calendar, I would rather sit for more days in January and fewer days in June. When the month of June comes around with those graduations, the demand for MPs is high. I want to be in my constituency. Compare that to January, for instance. We do not get as much love in our constituencies at times, so bring me to Ottawa in January.
When we talk about Fridays, I am more interested in the number of hours we put in. Members know that I enjoy the opportunity to speak inside the House. It is the hours. When we talk about hours of waste, it is efficiency. When we talk about time allocation, and I will get into government legislative agenda, often it means a motion has to be moved to go to orders of the day. Think about it: a half-hour of the bells ringing.
Then we go into a question-and-answer period because of the time allocation. That is another half-hour. Then we have a half-hour of the bells ringing again. We are talking about an hour and a half. We have had time allocation over a hundred times in a few years. Think of the number of hours of debate that have been lost. It is about how we make our system more efficient.
With respect to private members' business, I am very sympathetic. If a member has been around for a long time and does not get the opportunity to introduce a private member's bill, yet someone who was just elected gets a private member's bill, maybe there is something that can be done in that regard. I am interested in that.
At the present, private members' business gets a couple of hours of debate. It then goes to committee and then comes back for a couple of hours of debate and comes to an end.
Are there things we can do with respect to the government legislative agenda, so that the reaction to time allocation is not quite as high?
Collectively we know that there has to be a government legislative agenda. How do we ensure there is a balance? How do we ensure that those bills that are controversial, and on which we want to have more debate, can be afforded that additional debate? For those bills that are not as controversial, maybe they could pass through more quickly. One does not have to be a genius to realize that any member can cause a lot of havoc for any government on any bill. We need that sense of co-operation.
I am very impressed with the attitude, in particular of the government House leader saying, “Let's try to work this through. We don't want to use time allocation. Let's see if we can get opposition parties and members talking about important things. If we have to sit additional hours, we'll sit additional hours. We want MPs to be engaged.”
That is something for which I am a very strong advocate.
The Friday sitting days are a secondary issue. If it can be worked out so that we have that extra long weekend, so be it. I am sure that everyone of us would agree that MPs work seven days a week. If no one believes me, ask my family members. Whether I am in Ottawa or I am in Winnipeg, I am working. If there are ways in which we can be more productive, I am okay with that. I believe that if we put the party politics to the side and focus on the functionality of this House, not only will we have more members speaking, but there are things we can do to improve the quality of debate.
I have heard members talk about written speeches and so forth. Contrary to what members might think about me standing to speak, we do not need 20 minutes to make a point. We can actually make points in five minutes, or 10 minutes. I would rather see a chamber where there is a five-minute debate and a five-minute question-and-answer period. That would then get more people engaged in the debate.
Trust me, if a debate collapses on a particular bill, it might be because there is no one who wants to talk about it.
However, I can assure members that on the real controversial bills, or the issues that people feel very passionate about, there will not be a shortage of people wanting to speak. With the Paris agreement, there was no shortage of people who wanted to speak. If there were five-minute speeches followed by a five-minute question-and-answer period, I suspect we would see even better quality debates in this House. If we have a better quality of debates, I believe we would have more members wanting to be engaged.
We always have to be careful of what we ask for. In the Manitoba legislature, we had long questions and answers. That was a long, drawn-out process. It did not improve the quality of the answers, or, I would argue, the questions, even though I was the one asking questions back then.
At the end of the day, I think our question period is better than what we had in Manitoba. Can we have improvements? Yes. There is always room for improvements.
I would like to see members across the way make this issue non-partisan. Let us take advantage of the opportunity as much as possible. Let us try to get some substantial rule changes in our Standing Orders.
We do not have to settle for the low-hanging fruit. We can collectively, as MPs, forget the party lines, make some changes, and make this place more functional.
View Larry Bagnell Profile
Lib. (YT)
View Larry Bagnell Profile
2016-10-06 11:56 [p.5573]
Mr. Speaker, I did not speak about Fridays, but I just wanted to add a couple of clarifications. There are some members from all parties who were in favour of that.
When we discussed this in PROC, just so that the member knows, the majority of the time it was not to lose any question periods or any debate time. They would be added to other days. It actually lengthens the workweek if we change it to a Monday or a Friday in the constituency, because I would usually work there until five o'clock. Tomorrow, when we are here on a Friday, it is only until two o'clock, so it would actually lengthen the workweek by doing Fridays in the constituency.
I am glad the member is here with the baby. Because Parliament has been so good at being family friendly, I think we are going to have lots more babies. We had a very colicky baby and my colicky baby would have been a disaster in votes. Some Parliaments have a way a person could vote from the lobby. We might want to consider that.
Finally, on unanimous consent, we have to be careful. We have great members of Parliament, but if we had a rogue one in the next Parliament, they could stop a lot of important things by not giving consent.
View Christine Moore Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this debate today.
Having given birth in the middle of the election campaign and arriving here with an infant, I am very much interested in the issues surrounding the Standing Orders. There were a number of issues regarding the Standing Orders. I worked on making some adjustments with the help of my party whip. We made things work. Many of these improvements have more to do with the administrative side of the House, but we were quite satisfied with the result.
Nonetheless, many concerns remain and I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I am going to have another baby in May. I am becoming a mother for the second time. My speech will draw on my personal experience because my circumstances will be very different from what they were last time.
In March, I will have no choice. To travel here by car I have to cross a park where there is no cellular connection for roughly two and a half hours. I do not think it is safe to ask a woman who is several weeks into her pregnancy to travel in the dead of winter through a remote area without access to emergency obstetric care.
The other option would be to fly, but I would have to be in good physical condition and I would need a medical certificate. At a certain point in pregnancy, women are no longer allowed to even board a plane. I would then be left with no options and would be unable to travel to Ottawa. In the last four weeks of pregnancy, women have weekly check-ups. Thus, I cannot do a 15-hour return trip, come here, leave, arrive in the morning, drive six hours twice, and then a third time to return on Thursday, only to leave again.
Therefore, I find myself in a situation where I am not ill, as this is a normal and predictable condition for many women, and where I cannot exercise some of my rights as a parliamentarian, such as the right to vote and speak to bills, because there is no procedure for that.
We could easily solve the problem by giving special permission to MPs who cannot work for various reasons, which in my case is pregnancy. This could also apply to someone who cannot come to Ottawa because they are looking after a sick family member. For example, perhaps this person's father is at the end of life, and they want to see him every evening in order to spend as much time as possible with him. These are very legitimate reasons.
Sometimes people are not allowed to fly for a certain period of time because of illness or injury. If that was the case for a member from Alberta, for example, that member would not be asked to take the train home every weekend. It would be impossible. However, anyone in that situation would be able to follow the debates, because they are televised. They could therefore fully participate and have someone from their party table documents for them. However, right now that is not allowed.
It would be very easy for the Speaker to authorize members who are temporarily incapacitated to take advantage of special provisions and vote from a distance, for example from their riding, through various technological tools. One of our colleagues is an engineer. I am sure that she could describe some technological tools that we could use for that purpose.
This would allow members who are temporarily incapacitated to vote from a distance and to table documents such as briefs in lieu of spoken speeches, bills, and petitions, through their party whip.
That would make things much easier for people going through certain life events. It would also prevent them from taking health risks. I have seen that happen. Against their doctor's recommendation to keep resting even if their health is improving, some deem debates so important that they jeopardize their health and show up in person anyway.
That was the only way they could take part in the debates. We can do better. This is a rather simple procedure. We would just have to amend Standing Order 1.1, which states:
The Speaker may alter the application of any Standing or special Order or practice of the House in order to permit the full participation in the proceedings of the House of any Member with a disability.
We would just have to add a Standing Order 1.1.1, which would allow the Speaker to grant the same privilege to a person with an incapacity. It would be quite simple and would give the Speaker the necessary room to manoeuvre to change the rules.
In my opinion, it is important to discuss other measures. The idea of a parallel chamber was considered by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs during its study on work-life balance. With a parallel chamber devoted only to private members' business, we could triple or quadruple the number of hours dedicated to private members' business and debate more bills. Of course, the parallel chamber would not sit during oral question period at the House of Commons.
On the subject of travel time, I think we have to be aware of one thing. For instance, every time I go back and forth it takes 15 hours. Instead of sitting in the House and doing a back-and-forth every week, if I sat for 12 days in a row, I would have 15 more hours per week to serve my fellow citizens. We have to be aware of travel time, for it can make some people sick. For example, my colleague Denise Savoie had her physician tell her that all this going back and forth made no sense. That was why she resigned. We must be aware of the fact that our schedules are not necessarily suitable. If we were to reduce the number of trips we make, we might have a better quality of life.
As I mentioned earlier, I think it would be interesting for committees to be able to table bills after conducting a study. The committee members would decide by consensus to draft bills that they would be able to table in the House. Often we examine complex issues, and in the course of these studies, we can quietly see the improvements that should be made. It would be useful for the committee to do this directly, instead of trying to express this clearly in a report that will be read by another intermediary, who will in turn make recommendations to another intermediary, hoping that the minister prioritizes the report so that the bill can eventually be tabled. This involves too many uncertainties. Giving the committee this latitude could be extremely useful, on top of adding value to its work. It would clearly demonstrate to the committee members that their studies do more than just produce a report that may later be shelved. In concrete terms, the studies done by a committee can also be used to draft a bill and to correct certain deficiencies. That lends a lot more weight and seriousness to the studies that the committees do.
Sometimes it is not that easy to find solutions, because the situation of each member is different. However, one of the things my colleagues must not lose sight of is that rural MPs are a minority in the House, but they are often the ones with the longest travel times and the fewest options. My colleague who represents the municipality of La Loche has to drive for six hours just to get to an airport. Then she has to take two different flights to get to Ottawa. Even if she were not here on Friday, she would not have time to return home on weekends. If we no longer sit on Fridays, she will be here in Ottawa for one whole day when she will not be working. These things must be taken into consideration.
I know that many members do not go back and forth to their riding in winter. Even if they did not work on Friday, they would not necessarily be going back and forth, since they do not have enough time to do it. In addition, flights are too uncertain and are sometimes cancelled.
Not all members necessarily share the same reality. Sometimes a solution that seems attractive to us is not attractive to others. I would really like my colleagues to take this into consideration and to realize the work that some MPs have to do to get here, since they do not have the opportunity to go back and forth on weekends.
View Brenda Shanahan Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her remarks. I have a lot of sympathy for her situation.
I too had children when I was working in the world of co-operatives. My daughter was about seven years old when I had my twins. When we in the banking world started having to work evenings and weekends, it helped a lot to be able to work out a schedule with my husband. He did a lot to help me so that I could work. When people are at work, they should be at work. When they are at home with their children, they should be at home with their children. It is better that way.
I am wondering whether my colleague has any other ideas about how to make members' schedules more flexible. When we are here in Ottawa, we could work on a more intensive schedule. For example, we could work seven days a week for two weeks. There would still be some flexibility and then when we finished we could go back to our ridings. That would cut down on travel.
Does the member have any comments on that?
View Monique Pauzé Profile
View Monique Pauzé Profile
2016-10-06 12:55 [p.5582]
Mr. Speaker, I am going to switch to a completely different issue. I am going to talk about two-tier democracy and fair play.
Today we are debating the Standing Orders and House of Commons procedure. However, who does the House belong to? It belongs to the people. We are here as the representatives of the people. It is the voice of the people that is heard in the House of Commons. Is that not the spirit of democracy?
The Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, as well as the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, and the New Democratic Party, are the parties that have elected members to the House of Commons and are recognized by Elections Canada. However, at present, only the parties with 12 elected members or more have official party status. This standard for recognition is not set out in any law.
In the Parliament of Canada Act, the only specific reference to this threshold of 12 elected members exists to establish the additional allowances of leaders of a recognized party, and that is not what we are asking for. The threshold of 12 elected members is a tradition. Does this tradition serve the interests of democracy and the people, or does it serve obscure partisan interests detrimental to those of democracy?
Who gains anything at all from excluding MPs elected by the people from certain parliamentary activities? The consequences are many, and here they are. The members of a non-recognized party may not sit on standing committees of the House. Furthermore, they have no guarantee of being able to ask questions during oral question period. Neither have they a guarantee of being able to speak to bills before the House. In our view, all of this hampers the ability of elected members of the Bloc Québécois to participate fully as opposition members.
However, the real losers are the nearly one million Quebeckers who are penalized at the ballot box by the recognized parties. As for the budgets allocated in support of the parties’ parliamentary work, whether for the party leader, the House leader, the whips, research, support or IT, they are determined by the Board of Internal Economy after a general election.
In our opinion, there is nothing to prevent the Board from granting additional funds to parties that are currently deemed unrecognized. That would allow them to hire some researchers in order to better carry out their duties, just like the other MPs in the House of Commons, thereby effectively representing the citizens.
All we need is political will. Unfortunately, that will is lacking for partisan motives, to the detriment of the electors we represent.
Let us now look at Quebec. The Office of the National Assembly grants research and support budgets to all political parties that have had members elected. Under section 108 of the Act respecting the National Assembly, all political parties represented in the assembly following the last general election receive an amount that is allocated for research and support purposes. It is the same for independent members. This money of course is used to compensate the specialized personnel engaged by the parties and to cover expenses related to the operation of research services.
Now back to the House of Commons. At the moment, the NDP, with 44 elected MPs, has an average supplementary budget of over $90,000 per member. That is for the party leader, the House leader, the whip, caucus, research, translation, IT and even coffee during caucus meetings.
The Standing Orders discount over 8% of those who voted in the latest election. The House of Commons is discounting the 5% of Canadian voters who voted for the Bloc and the 3% who voted for the Green Party. As a result, the MPs chosen by more than 1.4 million voters do not have access to the right tools to fulfill their opposition member role. Is that a good thing for democracy, or does democracy take a back seat when it comes to how political parties are recognized in the House? The question bears asking.
It being 2016, we find it strange that so many people are represented by MPs who do not have access to the same tools as MPs who belong to parties with more than 12 members.
However, it is the voters who determine party recognition by choosing to elect members from the parties of their choice to Parliament. Not taking those voters into account is the same as creating a two-tiered parliamentary system with second-class representation.
Last November, the 200 new members of Parliament all gathered in the Sir John A. Macdonald building, and the Prime Minister came to greet us. He told us that his most important role was not that of Prime Minister, but rather that of the member representing the riding of Papineau. We heard his message. The role of an MP is very important. What happened to that fine sentiment?
Studying procedure is an excellent opportunity to move from rhetoric to action by recognizing that MPs from all political parties need similar tools in order to properly represent their constituents. We share the new Prime Minister's desire to enhance the legislative power and reassert the value of the work done by members beyond simple partisanship. I would remind everyone that the House belongs to the people, not the parties.
We are also appealing to the members' sense of fairness and fair play, which is what should exist among duly elected MPs, in order to make the changes needed so that we all can represent our constituents on a level playing field. Otherwise, there are two classes of legislators. The Board of Internal Economy's rule about 12 MPs elected under the same banner is arbitrary. We in the Bloc Québécois are making constructive proposals.
If the Board of Internal Economy gives parties with at least 12 members official party status, then it only makes sense to give ten-twelfths of the means to a group of parliamentarians elected under the same banner. We think that is a reasonable solution. The House has to allow every elected member to have the right to proportional means. We think it is legitimate and essential for the Bloc members to have the necessary means to carry out the mandate that their voters gave them.
The National Assembly understands that. Even though Québec Solidaire is not a recognized party and has only three members at the National Assembly, it gets $266,900, or 11% of the total allocation given to the recognized parties for research. What is more, it participates in the work of the committees. It is a question of money, but especially of democracy. The Bloc Québécois members have been excluded from a fundamental part of their work, namely committee work. The Bloc Québécois members cannot move opposition motions even though they are opposition members. The Bloc Québécois members cannot speak to all the bills that are debated in the House. The Bloc Québécois members do not have the same resources to study the bills debated in the House.
The Canadian Parliament is the only one to deny members these rights. The Canadian Parliament continues to operate in the same way it did in the past century and even in the 19th century. Take for example, the British House of Commons. It understood this issue and it upholds the rights of the parties duly elected by the population. Contrary to the British parliamentary tradition, the House of Commons in Ottawa does not play fair. It is time for that to change. That is why we expect more from a government that wants to improve democracy through electoral reform. There are ways to improve democracy now. We do not need to wait until 2019. If the Liberals were to recognize the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, it would show that they are willing to build a democracy that is more representative of the different political views in Canada and Quebec.
Finally, on another note, unlike my colleague, we believe that it is time to stop sitting on Fridays. That would encourage more people to participate, particularly women. It would allow members to balance their parliamentary work, social life and family life. What is more, if members were able to spend more time in their ridings, they would have a greater awareness and understanding of the challenges, hopes, and difficulties of their constituents. Members who cannot return to their ridings could always do riding work here by teleconference or email. This is the 21st century.
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