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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.
View Monique Pauzé Profile
View Monique Pauzé Profile
2016-10-06 13:05 [p.5583]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his question because it will allow me to point out that suggestions were made to the Bloc Québécois that were deemed unacceptable because they maintained these two classes composed of MPs and employees who work for the Bloc Québécois
I will give just one other example. At one point, the House of Commons research budget was increased by 20%, but the Bloc Québécois was excluded. Once again, we lost out. More than $3 million was given to MPs, except members of the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party. Moreover, part of that 20% was allocated to the ridings, because it was recognized that doing work in the ridings was essential.
We received that portion, but at the same time we had to use some of our riding budgets to pay for the services of a bare minimum of employees to help us.
Our work is recognized, but at the same time, 11 MPs, ten from the Bloc Québécois and one from the Green Party, are still prevented from doing the same work as the other members.
View Jamie Schmale Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am on the procedure and House affairs committee. We went through the family-friendly Parliament study, and we heard testimony from a number of sources. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with my friend about not sitting on Fridays. We examined a number of ways to make Parliament family-friendly, such as access to day care and changing the way the votes are structured, and that seemed to have all-party support on the committee.
We looked at ways of reaching out to our constituents. I know that the Board of Internal Economy is looking at ways we can introduce video conferencing. My riding is only a three-and-a-half-hour drive from here, so I do sympathize with my friends who have to travel quite a long distance to get to their ridings.
All our constituents recognize that the majority of the work is here. We work hard when we are back in our constituencies. We arrange meetings when we have constituency weeks.
When I signed up, I knew it was going to be five days a week in Ottawa. I think Canadians are working hard five days a week, sometimes more. I would like to know how the member would tell her constituents back home that she is going to be here only four days, even though we know that she will be working in her constituency.
View Monique Pauzé Profile
View Monique Pauzé Profile
2016-10-06 13:08 [p.5584]
Mr. Speaker, this question is an opportunity for me to tell my hon. colleague that on the other days I am not at home in bed. As he said so well, I may be working for my riding or doing conference calls or videoconferences. There is work to be done to get better acquainted with the people we represent.
At the same time, I would like him to remember that that was not the gist of my speech. The gist of my speech was that we have a two-tier democracy; the gist of my speech was to point out that the decisions of the Board of Internal Economy are arbitrary; the gist of my speech was that elected officials are working here without funding and that a mandate letter given to the House leader said that everyone ought to be equal.
It is easy to have rights and principles when we are among people who think the same thing, but it is something quite different to apply our principles when we are facing people who are our political adversaries. However, that is where we see who the real democrats are.
Am I to understand that the mandate letter that was given to the House leader and the words of the Prime Minister when he came to meet with the 200 new members were nothing but hot air? I ask the question.
View Mark Strahl Profile
View Mark Strahl Profile
2016-10-06 13:09 [p.5584]
Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to rise in the House.
I think Canadians who tune in to these debates could be forgiven for wondering just what the heck we are talking about today. Over 100,000 energy workers have lost their jobs, the economy has flatlined, growth is down, and here we are talking about the Standing Orders. We are doing that because the Standing Orders require us to do it, so we are having this debate today.
It is one of the few debates in the House that those who regularly watch will see is a free exchange of ideas from all sides, from all members. That is positive. It is unfortunate that when we get into government legislation or opposition days, we seem to stray from that and stick to similar lines, if I can put it that way.
We need to be careful, as we examine the Standing Orders, that as we propose changes, we do not do anything that would diminish the role or the relevance of Parliament to Canada. In the chamber today I have heard some members say that ideas have just popped into their heads. It is great to throw them out on the table, but this is not a brainstorming session where we just get together over a cup of coffee and change the way Parliament works. That is not what we should be doing. This needs to be carefully considered.
I want to make the point that we are members of Parliament. Parliament is not here to serve us; we are here to serve Parliament and the Canadians who sent us here. That is what the debate should be about. The question should not be how Parliament can better serve members of Parliament but how parliamentarians can better serve Canadians through this place. That is what we want to talk about today.
We are having this debate, in large part, with all these new ideas coming forward, because there are so many new MPs. There are 200 or so new MPs since the last Parliament. Some 59% of members of Parliament are new. Some are returning after some time away. That gives us some fresh eyes on the situation.
We should encourage meaningful, thoughtful conversations. However, I have heard things today that make it seem as if people are looking for Parliament to do a job that they should be doing for themselves as individuals.
I have heard people say that members of Parliament do not have to speak for 10 minutes. They can speak for five. I would encourage members of Parliament who have only five minutes of content to speak for five minutes and sit down. They do not need the Standing Orders to be amended to restrict the speeches of members who might want to speak for 10 minutes. If we are going to have five minutes, why not one minute? Why do we not just email our statements in? That would save all the trouble of having to stand here and have it translated in real time.
This is an important chamber we are in, and we should not diminish the role of members of Parliament.
Members of Parliament have great power. I have heard about re-establishing or changing the work-life balance. I have news for members. The Standing Orders will not change their work-life balance for them. Members of Parliament have to take control of their own situations. If they need more time with their families, they need to carve that time out.
Members are asking about taking Friday off, getting back to their ridings, and being here only Monday to Thursday. What would happen in most situations is that we would all go to work on Friday. We would be working in a different location, and there would be less accountability here for the government, with one fewer day for question period and one fewer day for legislation to be examined. It would do nothing for work-life balance.
When we are in our ridings, we are not at home with our feet up on the coffee table. Our constituents expect us to be out. They expect us to be at events. They expect us to be meeting with them. If members of Parliament are expecting the Standing Orders to save them from a bad work-life balance, it is not going to happen.
I have a unique perspective on work-life balance. Others here worked in the political system before being elected to it. My dad was a member of Parliament from 1993 to 2011. I was 15 years old when he was elected. Members could ask either one of us, and we would say that we missed a number of milestones. He missed my graduation because he had to be here in Ottawa. That was tough. We celebrated some milestones over the phone. I have had that same experience of missing milestones with my wife and young son, things that I am just not around for.
However, no one forced my dad to run for office, and no one forced me to run for office. We knew what we were getting into when we signed up. We signed up for a job that has gruelling travel. I have heard some talk about being 15 hours away. It is about 16 or 17 hours round trip to my house in Chilliwack. I campaigned in the last election for 78 days for people to give me the privilege to serve in the House. I did not complain about the work-life balance. I campaigned vigorously against a Liberal candidate who wanted to do the same thing. Now members are saying we need the Standing Orders to save our work-life balance. That is not what this is about. This is about reducing accountability by 20%.
If we extend work hours during the week, that makes it worse for families. It makes it worse for our local families and the ones who have moved their families to Ottawa, hoping to get home after a committee or a late night vote to see their kids for a couple of hours, for supper, and before bedtime. Now there is talk of working Monday to Thursday as a compressed schedule and extending work hours. People would not see their families.
Putting aside members of Parliament, our staff are working while the House is in session. Therefore, staff would be required to stay here Monday to Thursday late into the night, not see their kids after school, not see their kids before bed. Then, on Friday, when they are supposedly improving their work-life balance, their kids are in school, so they would not see them then either. This is not a solution to the problem. I challenge anyone to ask their constituents about the need for MPs to take some time off while 100,000 energy workers have been laid off. That is a non-starter on this side of the House.
We can talk about ways to make it more efficient. I congratulate the House leaders and whips for having made this Parliament much more family friendly than the last one. How have we done that? We have done it by having votes after question period when all members are already in the House. The 200 new members of Parliament can go back to check videos or Hansard, and they will see that we used to vote on three and four nights a week, every week.
Now members of Parliament, if their families are here, are able to get home, have dinner with their families, and tuck the kids into bed. My family is in Chilliwack, and I do not have that luxury. However, the fact is that the House has wrapped up by seven o'clock most nights, which means that I can phone home or FaceTime my son. It allows more flexibility. There are things we have already done that have made this Parliament more family friendly. We need to make sure that we do not reduce accountability in this family-friendly language.
No one talks about the work-life balance of an oil sands worker in my riding, who leaves his family for three weeks at a time. He is home for a week and gone for three weeks. Long-haul truck drivers are gone for weeks at a time. What about our men and women in the military? My cousin served for 10 months in Afghanistan. No one talked about his work-life balance, or asked the military to change the way that things were done to accommodate that. They signed up for those jobs, and they did the work well. That is what we should be doing here as well, not looking for ways to diminish the accountability of the government.
When the Liberals were the third party in the House, they never talked about going home on Thursday night. This was never an issue for the Liberal Party when it was the third party. Now that Liberals are in power, there is suddenly a shift away from the House. They want to diminish the importance of the House. They want to diminish our time in the House. We should not allow that to happen.
View Randall Garrison Profile
Mr. Speaker, I could not agree with the member for Mégantic—L'Érable more.
My constituents do not get to decide to take Fridays off, and I do not think we should decide to take Fridays off. I think actually that it is deceptive to say it is more family friendly. I totally agree with him that lengthening the day is not just not family friendly for MPs. Think of the hundreds of staff who work for us in this institution and what it would do to their family lives to extend those sittings to midnight every night during the week.
Extending a Thursday night sitting for me, from Vancouver Island, means I would be here on Friday anyway. If I have to stay until midnight on Thursday night, I would be stuck in Ottawa on Friday without a sitting of the House, and I would lose a significant amount of my time as an individual member to contribute to debate and questions.
View Luc Berthold Profile
View Luc Berthold Profile
2016-10-06 13:52 [p.5590]
Mr. Speaker, I suppose the member wants to know if I agree with him. I certainly do, because it makes no sense to spend more time travelling every week than we do in the House. During the week, we have to spend our time doing our work here in the House. That is what Canadians expect: a Monday to Friday work week.
When I am in my riding, I work Monday to Friday. I do not ask my staff to hold down the fort on Fridays because I do not feel like it or I had a busy week. We are here to work. I think that all Canadians expect us to work hard and make progress on their issues.
View Arif Virani Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Arif Virani Profile
2016-10-06 15:20 [p.5605]
Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Speaker.
The fifth recommendation I would like to propose is that we eliminate Friday sittings of the House. Eliminating Friday sittings would permit members of Parliament who live anywhere outside of the national capital region to return to their constituencies for one additional day each week. Friday sittings are not for the full day. The sittings run from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. These four and a half hours could easily be redistributed to the portion of the week that runs from Monday to Thursday by adding one hour of time to the chamber's deliberations each of those four sitting days. The balance of the 30 minutes could be eliminated by speeding up the method of voting that we use, a subject I will return to momentarily.
The primary criticism I have heard about eliminating Friday sittings is optics. Canadians will perceive that MPs are voting themselves a four-day workweek. With respect, this argument is illogical on its face. If Canadians believe that the only time MPs are working is when the House is in session, then on that metric, we currently work for less than one out of every three days in the year. By my count, Parliament will have sat for 102 days between November 4, 2015, and November 3, 2016.
It is clear that every member of this chamber knows that our work does not stop when we leave Parliament Hill. When we return to our communities we work in our constituency offices. We meet with residents and stakeholders in our communities. We attend events in our ridings. We participate in forums and conferences. We sometimes travel with our standing committees to consult with Canadians about legislation.
The work of a member of Parliament is full time, seven days per week. I say this to underscore that when we debate the issue of Friday sittings in the chamber, we are not making a determination about how much members of Parliament ought to work but rather where they ought to conduct their work.
Eliminating Friday sittings has the advantage of permitting members of Parliament to be in more regular and direct in-person contact with their constituents, which in my view can only make them a better representative and advocate for their community. It has the advantage of permitting members of Parliament an additional evening at home with their spouses and children. Too often, as I have already learned, families are sacrificed by the demands of elected public office. Separation and divorce are unfortunately not infrequent in this vocation, in part because of the toll played by frequent travel and time spent away from family members.
Let me turn to my last and sixth recommendation, which pertains to our voting system. It is antiquated and in desperate need of reform. I recommend that we move to a system of electronic voting. The time savings from this change alone would be incredible. I personally timed our votes yesterday. To get through seven different votes it took us nearly 70 minutes to each stand up, have our names called, and sit down.
I understand there are some who would posit that standing up has some sort of salutary effect on members, forcing them to more seriously consider the gravity of their vote and how it is cast. The argument is that this adds an additional level of accountability. My response to this is straightforward. A member of Parliament is accountable based on how the member votes. It is important. The important feature is that all votes are open ballots, not secret ones, and that a member's vote is recorded so that residents of his or her community can consult a written record to determine how their MP voted on a given issue.
Electronic voting does not impede this basic function. In fact, I would contend it enhances it. It enhances it because I have observed, with great dismay, the tendency of some members of the House to heckle, jeer, boo, and hiss at MPs during the very act of voting. When members are exercising this most basic and essential democratic function of their office, the active casting of a vote on legislation on behalf of their constituents, every member has a fundamental parliamentary right to be free from intimidation and bullying. Electronic voting would ensure that this is the case.
Today, no less than 38 other national legislatures employ electronic voting. This includes the United States Congress, which has employed it since 1995, the year I visited the House of Representatives as a Canadian parliamentary intern for this chamber. When I visited congress as an impressionable 23-year-old intern I certainly did not anticipate one day becoming an elected representative myself. Now that I am a member of Parliament I would like to think that if I had the occasion to return to Washington as part of a parliamentary delegation, I could say I learned something about improving our democracy on that trip 21 years ago.
In conclusion, it is my view that we should finally modernize the parliamentary voting system and bring it into the 21st century. This measure, along with the five other recommendations I mentioned respecting civility and sittings of the House, would significantly impact not only people's perception of our institution but also their willingness to serve.
View Jamie Schmale Profile
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the motion that this House take note of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees.
As we all know, the Standing Orders provide us, our staff, and the House of Commons administration with many of the tools and information we need to ensure the chambers continue to run appropriately and, in all cases, in the best interests of Canadians.
I just want to go into a brief history of the Standing Orders, which will provide some insight into the very critical role that these orders have played in our history and will continue to play in the future of Canada.
According to O'Brien and Bosc in 2009, the standing orders were first adopted in 1867. They were largely based on the rules from the assemblies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, created in 1791.
Between the 60th and 90th sitting days of the first session of each Parliament, we have this debate and are currently doing so because it must take place; so for those watching at home, this is why we are doing this, because in some viewers' minds, it might be a little confusing. They might be thinking that there are bigger orders of business going on in the world today, but this is why this has to be done.
Over the years and the plethora of debates that have taken place, believe it or not, there are still rules that go back to the late 1700s. That is another reason why it is critical that we continue to review and make suggestions on the Standing Orders to ensure that they fit with the 21st century.
I often like to reference hockey, because without the rule book for hockey, it would not be a very civil game, and sometimes even with those rules, it still is not; but the rules have changed over the years. I guarantee that the first game of hockey looked quite a bit different from the NHL games we watch today.
I realize that many of us in the chamber today are aware of the importance of the Standing Orders, but I also believe we need to understand their relevance. When the debate has ended, the matter will be referred to the procedure and House affairs committee, or PROC. As a member of PROC, I believe it is important to be here and listen to these comments that are made by my colleagues. We like to listen to the changes to the Standing Orders that are put forward, and we believe that all should be debated because most should be beneficial.
I have also found, in listening to the debate today, that the suggestions and arguments made by my colleagues are informative, and I am sure we will have quite the debate inside PROC when they come forward.
When it comes to my suggestions about the changes to the standing orders, they can be organized into three specific categories: efficiency, accountability, and family-friendliness.
On efficiency, the primary concerns I see with the current Standing Orders deal with the Order Paper questions. A general recommendation with regard to Order Paper questions would be to remove the requirement for the government to ask that all questions be allowed to stand each day. It would be significantly more efficient to have any questions without a response deemed to stand. That is according to Standing Order 33.
I believe that the order of the rubrics during routine proceedings be altered as well. I would recommend that the questions on the Order Paper should be placed immediately before tabling of documents rather than at the end of routine proceedings, as it currently stands. I believe that each change would be of benefit to both the government and the opposition. It would give the government a chance to properly respond to Order Paper questions, and it would allow the opposition to receive an answer to that question.
Alternatively, I would recommend placing motions at the end, as I mentioned, but there is always a standing order that must be changed and must be moved.
On Standing Order 106(4), I would recommend lowering the threshold to convene a committee meeting from four members to two members, and make it conditional that the two members come from different parties. This would ensure that no one party was able to call an emergency meeting unilaterally.
On Standing Order 53.1, I believe that this standing order should allow the official opposition to call a take-note debate twice during each session, and allow the third party to call a take-note debate once during each session.
We will move on to family-friendliness. This is where I think most of the debate has gone on today, and this is relatively new to the people on the PROC committee. Moving toward a modern, efficient, inclusive, and family-friendly Parliament was something we dealt with right away in our early days.
We looked at the numerous ways to make Parliament a more family-friendly environment. To quote from our report, and I think we will all agree:
There are few jobs with longer hours and greater stress than that of a member of a legislature. Numerous tasks and multiple roles at the legislature and in constituencies compete for a member’s time. Members also frequently are called upon to travel abroad, whether with a parliamentary committee or as part of an official delegation. Meanwhile, members face high expectations on the part of the public to be constantly working on its behalf, and as such, they also deal with increasing public scrutiny.
Such circumstances can have adverse effects on a member’s work-life balance, especially those with spouses and families. Members can be apart from their homes and families for long stretches of time.
Many of us in this place have families. I have one five-year-old son, but we are also all brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons, and daughters, and we all agree that being away from our families is very difficult, especially for long periods of time.
I missed my son's first parent-teacher interview. I missed my son's first soccer game, his first goal. As he learned to ride a bike without training wheels, I missed that too. It was extremely difficult, not easy. That feeling in my stomach really hurts.
We all admit in this place that it is not an easy job. The report issued by PROC looked at many of the concerns that we all saw with the Standing Orders in regard to creating a more family-friendly environment. We made recommendations that included the timing of votes, which we are seeing now. The whips on both sides have done a remarkable job of trying to get the votes right after question period because we are all here. That allows some of us who live close by or have our families in Ottawa to see them for dinner or for bedtime, which are probably the most important times.
Also issuing the House calendar for the following year in June instead of waiting for September allows us to better plan work in the constituency and allows us to better plan for our family time.
Also we could have more family-friendly events at Parliament. Once upon a time there was Hilloween, when we could bring our families and dress up in costumes and look for candy. It was a way to bring all parliamentarians on all sides together with their families and get to know each other as people. I think that is most important because some of our times will be short here and some will be long, but it is always important to take that time to learn a little about each other, regardless of which side we sit on.
I appreciate the work of my friends on the procedure and house affairs committee and I respect them all. We do some good work. We may not always agree, but there always seems to be that willingness to try to find common ground. As a new member, I appreciate that part of it.
As I mentioned earlier, being an MP is not an easy job, but we also know that Canadians work hard to make ends meet. When we discuss not being in this place on Fridays and going back to our constituencies, we all know that we will probably be working in our constituencies, but Canadians who work hard five, six, or seven days a week may not see it that way.
It is not just about optics either. It is also about changing the Standing Orders so that we sit longer from Monday to Thursday, which causes problems for those who have brought their families to Ottawa, those who have staff in and around the national capital region, who have to adjust their days and maybe work to midnight, but those staff have to work on Fridays, as we heard from many members from British Columbia.
Not sitting on Fridays also means that they have to travel anyway and they have to leave on Friday, so there is no net benefit for those members either. Basically taking away Fridays has no net benefit other than reducing the amount of time we are here by 20%. I think all our constituents know that the majority of the work we do is in Ottawa. We are lawmakers, but we are also advocates and in some cases social workers, but we also try to work for our constituents.
That is why we have constituency weeks and why we are back in our ridings in July and August, so there are balances to that. By knowing the calendar ahead of time, having family-friendly events, and also with access to day care, we can make it all work.
I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
2016-10-06 15:56 [p.5611]
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member, especially for his comments about the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, because I believe we have made every attempt to work collaboratively and bring forth these kinds of good ideas.
On the issue of constituency time, in my case, because my constituency is here in Ottawa, I benefit from being able to hear immediate reactions from my constituents on things that happen during the course of the week. Because I can go back and forth, I have the opportunity to listen and have a business day in the constituency, where people can come to see me.
Does the member not think it would be beneficial for all members to have the same opportunities every Friday or Monday to be there listening to constituents and getting real-time feedback on how we are performing in the House?
View Jamie Schmale Profile
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comment and the work we do on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
There are new ways to work this out. I know the Board of Internal Economy is working on ways to establish video conferencing. All of our constituents recognize that the majority of the work we do is here, and that is where the constituency week comes in, when we can go back to our constituencies and meet with people.
Also, I am only a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Ottawa, so I have the ability to meet constituents on weekends as well and attend events. I know the chair of the committee is from the Yukon, so he has quite a distance to go. I believe he said in his speech today that Friday sittings would really make no difference to him. Even those from British Columbia, if the House sat until midnight on Thursday, could not leave until Friday anyway, so it is of no benefit to them. It is a couple of days of travel, so it really would not benefit them and would put additional pressure on us as MPs to work early in the morning until late at night and continue to work on Fridays, Saturdays, and in some cases Sundays if we are not travelling.
Although I appreciate the suggestion to eliminate Friday sittings, I disagree. Constituents expect us to be here in this place.
View David de Burgh Graham Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Speaker, the curiously introspective S. O. 51 requires us to contemplate the Standing Orders here today. With apologies to interpretation services, I have a lot to say about them.
As a member of PROC, and as a perennial procedure geek who started watching CPAC when I started high school, I am following this debate with even more interest than my normal enthusiastic self.
I want to go over some of the changes that were already proposed by PROC in our recently tabled interim report on moving toward a modern, efficient, inclusive, and family-friendly Parliament and then discuss some other ideas.
A good deal of what we discussed in our report does not affect the Standing Orders directly. I encourage anyone interested in the workings of this place and the impact on their families and personal lives to take the time to read through the report and perhaps provide guidance to their friendly local PROC member on what direction that study should take going forward.
In PROC's 11th report, we made a number of recommendations and had a number of discussion points. Three of those recommendations and three of those discussion points are directly relevant to the Standing Orders. The first two recommendations are related to the standardization of vote times to ensure predictability and efficiency. They state:
That House Leaders continue, whenever possible, the informal practice of holding deferred recorded divisions immediately following Question Period.
That House Leaders, whenever possible, refrain from holding recorded divisions any later on Thursdays than immediately following Question Period.
The third recommendation states:
That the Speaker table the House calendar each year prior to the House's summer adjournment.
That is not always easy, but it is an aspirational goal worth pursuing.
As a committee, we also felt that it was important to look at ways of limiting the number of consecutive sitting weeks. We all know from our pleasant experiences this spring that four-plus sitting weeks in a row really sours the mood around here, especially when we are here until midnight every night. However, there is a lot of work to be done, and we are a remarkable Parliament for our inefficiency in getting through legislation. Those are not the kind of accolades I believe we are looking for on the world stage.
To get there, one of the key items we discussed at length, but did not really get anywhere with, is the concept used in other Westminster parliaments of a parallel chamber, that is, a voteless chamber where items can be pre-debated. Our upcoming move to West Block and our subsequent move back to Centre Block certainly creates an interesting opportunity to retain two fully functional chambers.
The fate of Friday sittings is also a contentious debate, and one I would like to see my colleagues soul-search on as to how we make this place more efficient so that we may spend more time in our constituencies.
The last item, of course, is decorum. While we did not come to any conclusions, I personally find the new tone of question period, with the government side, at least, generally keeping calm and constructive, to be positive, and I would invite the opposition members to follow suit, at least experimentally for a while, to see if it improves the overall tone here. I cannot be the only parliamentary enthusiast who always found question period the least, not most, enjoyable part of the day's proceedings, regardless of who was in power. Decorum is a cultural, not a regulatory, issue that is up to us to fix.
There are few of us who have ever actually read the Standing Orders from cover to cover. I have, on more than one occasion, and I find them fascinating. I may not fully grok them, but I am certainly trying to.
Standing Order 4 does not have a mechanism to deal with the acclamation of a Speaker, for example. When Bill Blaikie was dean of the House, he presided over the unprecedented acclamation of Peter Milliken. I remember watching it on television. He observed that there was no process to deal with this but that the House could do many things with unanimous consent. However, what would have happened if a disgruntled member had denied that consent? For that matter, there are several instances when unanimous consent is required for absolutely routine things that should not need to go to a question.
Standing Order 7(1.1) has some curious wording on the assumed election, but not really, of the Deputy Speaker. Standing Order 7(2) has contorted wording designed to ensure that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, between them, speak the two official languages, and 7(3) requires a Deputy Speaker to be elected to replace one who leaves during his or her term but is inconsistent with how that person got there in the first place.
Standing Order 11 permits you, Mr. Speaker, to punt someone from this room. I would encourage you to be unshy to use that power or to become blind to disruptive members, as Speaker Milliken did, regardless of party. Those powers should perhaps be expanded on. What value is there in kicking someone out of this room into a press scrum? What more tangible recourse could perhaps be available?
Standing Order 17 requires us to speak only from our own seats. I would personally like to see, for purely practical reasons, the members of the House leadership team of each recognized party be permitted to be recognized from any seat allocated to their party during regular debate.
Standing Order 23 declares bribery a high crime to be dealt with with the utmost severity, without providing for any type of process to do so.
Standing Order 28(1) says we cannot sit on Dominion Day. Dominion Day was replaced with Canada Day back in 1982, when I was one year old.
Standing Order 37(1) permits a Speaker to punt a question deemed not urgent to the Order Paper. However, in all of my years of watching, I have never seen that actually happen.
Chapter VI of the Standing Orders deals with the process of debate. I think it is worth considering changing the structure of 10- and 20-minute speaking slots, with questions and comments, to 15- or 30-minute speaking slots. Up to 10 or 20 minutes would be used for speaking, and the totality of the unused portion would be left for questions and comments.
For example, if I only speak six minutes out of my 10, which for me happens more often than not, I would have up to nine minutes of questions rather than only five. This will lead to shorter and more candid speeches and better debate afterward.
Standing Order 68(3) has an ironic quirk of old English. It states that bills may not be tabled in “imperfect” form, in English, but that they may not be tabled in “incomplete” form, in French.
Standing Order 71 also has a typo, in English, stating that every bill shall receive “three several readings”, rather than “three separate readings”, or just “three readings”, as it says in French.
Standing 87 deals with private members' bills. When a member of Parliament has been here for several elections and has never had a chance to bring a PMB forward, and another member comes and has a PMB on the Order Paper before figuring out where the washrooms in Centre Block are, the system may be somewhat broken.
I propose for discussion that the PMB lottery be rethought to become fairer. At the start of every Parliament, all re-elected MPs should retain their place on the order of precedence. Those returning MPs not on the list because of being ministers, parliamentary secretaries, or Speaker would come next. New MPs would then be added to the order of precedence in the current manner. MPs from the previous Parliament who had had an opportunity to take their bills through the process would be added to the end of the list, again, in the same process.
Finally, all MPs should be able to trade with all other MPs anywhere on that list. All MPs, then, would have an equal chance to propose a private member's bill, without the peculiar bias against people who just cannot seem to win a lottery and without throwing a new MP into a situation of having to write and table a bill before learning how this place works.
I would also like to revisit the issue of royal recommendations at some point.
Standing Order 128 allows the House to be called back at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday to deal with a report from the Standing Joint Committee on Regulations, to which I say, really?
Standing Orders 129 to 147 deal with private bills. That used to be how to get a divorce in this country. While the Senate still uses them, on the Commons side there has not been a private bill for many Parliaments. Could we not drop this altogether?
Finally, Standing Order 158 permits the Sergeant-at-Arms to detain strangers for their behaviour in the chamber or gallery and may not release them without an order from the House. I do not know if this building contains a jail, but this is certainly an interesting legacy item. What is the real world impact of this?
Getting off Standing Orders, per se, why must bills die in the Senate when the House is dissolved? Could the Senate not continue dealing with bills already before it and simply send the version it has passed back to the new Parliament for concurrence? Private members' bills, especially, would be far less prone to an untimely death.
On other topics, I believe it should be inappropriate for any member to refer to the official language spoken by another member in the House of Commons, in the same way it is inappropriate for a member to refer to the presence or absence of another in this House.
Chapter XIII already guarantees that all members can speak in either official language, but I would go further and make it against the rules to refer to the language another member actually chose.
There are quirks in procedure and practice that are not necessarily in the Standing Orders, such as the entertaining, “When shall this bill be read a second time? At the next sitting of the House”, amid catcalls of, “Now” and “Never”. This is an artifact from a change more than 20 years ago, and there are no doubt several of these bugs where not all consequential changes were properly made.
I suspect the need for the agreement of the House for Order Paper questions to be allowed to stand is another such artifact, and there are surely more.
I would also like to see the clock in this chamber replaced with synchronized digital clocks that can be controlled by the table and that reflect the apparent time in the House as well as the actual time so that when we “see the clock”, the clock agrees.
In fact, until we have integrated information systems in our desks, which is another long-term point we should at least discuss, I might go so far as to suggest four clocks be visible to all members in the chamber. They would show the time, the perceived time, the remaining speaking time for the current speaker, and the actual time the House is expected to rise today.
While we are at it, why do some events prolong the day and others do not? Is there any rhyme or reason to it? Could we perhaps revisit what does and does not make the day end at, say, 6:48 p.m.?
Of course, I would like to see seats in the chamber that do not tear our pockets, which happened to me again last night.
Let me also take this opportunity, as a former staffer, to call for the return of the one-stop shop, which provided for a different kind of Standing Order.
Yesterday a group of around 20 people visited me from their retirement residence in Mont-Laurier. At 3 p.m., security kicked them out of the group visitors gallery above you.
As a fundamental principle, I do not believe that behaving members of the public should ever be asked to leave the gallery during a sitting. If anything, the public should be encouraged to watch our debates, rather than question period, to participate more meaningfully in our legislative process.
Standing Order 51 provides us this wonderful opportunity to get into the weeds on the Standing Orders and to remove relics, artifacts, and cruft that no longer need to be there.
I look forward to continuing to hear the thoughts of my colleagues and to discussing them back at PROC.
8510-421-79 11th Report of the Standing ...Absence or presence of membersAltering days and hours of sittingsBehaviour modificationBillsBriberyCanada DayCentre BlockCommittee reportsCommittee studies and activitiesConstituency offices ...Show all topics
View Dan Albas Profile
Mr. Speaker, it is with great honour I rise today on the Standing Orders of this place.
I believe I speak on behalf of all members when I state that it is a great privilege to do the work that we do on behalf of the Canadians who democratically elected us to represent them. It is on behalf of those very same Canadians that I rise today to speak on a subject I believe of importance, one that I am concerned about.
Back in the spring of this year I became greatly concerned when the then government House leader was quoted as suggesting that Friday sittings in this place should be eliminated. I would like to explain why this was a point of concern for me.
Back in the spring of 2016, we were all collectively part of a newly elected Parliament. At no time during the election did any of the parties, and certainly not the governing Liberals, suggest to Canadians that when this place sits, we should shorten our workweek. To be clear, I am not implying that we do not work when we are back in our home ridings or that being back in our home ridings with our families or our constituents is not important. I believe we would all agree that it is very important. However, we must not forget one important fundamental principle in any democracy. We work for the citizens who elect us.
Perhaps it is just my own sentiments, but I believe when it comes to the subject of shortening the workweek, however well intended the motives might be for doing so, first and foremost we have an obligation to have a discussion with the citizens we work for. Canadian taxpayers deserve a level of respect and accountability from their member of Parliament. It is for that reason that back in March of this year, in one of my weekly member of Parliament reports, I asked citizens in my riding what they thought about taking Fridays off.
I am certain it will come as a shock to many of you in this place that the idea was not a popular one, and while many were respectful in passing on their thoughts on the subject, there were also those who were quite offended. Words such as “out of touch” were referenced frequently. I will remind everyone in this place that B.C. is a long way from Ottawa. When citizens there hear about $100,000 political staff moves from Toronto to Ottawa billed to them, or that the Prime Minister is charging for not one but two nannies, after claiming that million-dollar families should not get taxpayer-supported benefits, they become disillusioned, disengaged, in fact.
I realize that in a majority government there is a mandate for that majority government to implement change. However, in this case, at no time were citizens ever told about a shorter workweek in Ottawa before we went to the polls in 2015. Thus, in my view, there is no mandate from the public in support of a shorter workweek, and yes, I recognize there is an argument that hours could be extended during the other four days. However, let us not overlook that doing so would simply take all the staff who run this place away from their families and create a greater cost to taxpayers with overtime.
I would also question the merits of productivity when working extended hours and if there would be a diminishing return with such a change. However, the bigger question is this. If we were to eliminate Fridays, then would not Thursdays become the new Fridays, with many ministers and senior government members of Parliament leaving Ottawa on Wednesday evening? If that was the case, where Thursdays become the new Fridays, it would be most unfortunate.
Getting back to my member of Parliament report that I wrote on the subject of not sitting on Fridays, some local media ran polls on the very topic. Once again, citizens in my riding were very clear that they did not support the idea.
I am not certain what plans the government has on this issue at this point. However, I believe it is important that on matters such as these, we make our positions clear and give reasons as to why. In my case, obviously I oppose these changes, and from talking to many citizens in my region, I can state they are also strongly opposed to eliminating Friday sittings in the House.
The fact is that the vast majority of real, middle-class Canadians do not have the luxury of having a three-day weekend unless it is a statutory holiday. Again, I am not suggesting that we are not working hard back in our ridings, but I feel that out of respect for the people who sent us here, without having a mandate for a shorter workweek, we should maintain the current five-day House schedule that we were elected under, when, of course, the House is sitting.
Let us also not forget that there are many break weeks throughout the House calendar that allow us to get back to our home ridings often. We are also provided with a generous taxpayer-financed budget to hire staff who work in those home ridings. The majority of us also take advantage of some of the latest communication tools that, in many cases, are also provided to us by the taxpayer.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to admit that, yes, this is a challenging and demanding role, even more so for our families and spouses. I believe we all are thankful and appreciative for the consideration and support we receive from our loved ones for the time-consuming work we do here. However, let us not overlook that we are generously compensated. We have the ability to fly our family members to this place. Lastly, for six years of service, we are eligible for a generous pension that most Canadians are not. Granted, some major changes were made in the last Parliament, which created a more respectful compensation pension plan for both taxpayers and members of Parliament.
In summary, yes, there is an element of sacrifice, but it is one that we are well compensated for. Let us not forget that it is called public service. I submit that we must be careful not to forget that final point, because recent expense scandals by the current government, not unlike previous governments, can ultimately undermine public trust.
While it is easy for us to understand the unique challenges of being a member of Parliament to the extent that for some it is easy to say, “Yes, we should take Fridays off”, and I am sure many people could justify a whole boatload of activities to show that they would still be offering some value to constituents, there is a perception that we are forgetting to ask the very Canadians we work for what they think of the idea.
I believe that if other members ask local citizens what they think of the idea, they will receive similar feedback to what I received. As a result, I have taken time today to speak out against this idea under the current circumstances and I want to reiterate that I mean no disrespect to those who support the idea. I understand the arguments in support of it. However, in this case, based on feedback I have received from my riding, it is important that I state for the record that I am opposed to this idea.
Before I close, I want to go back to the point I made earlier. Ever since I was first elected, first given the opportunity to serve people other than my family, elected as a city councillor in Penticton in 2008, I have always been very clear that our job is primarily to maintain the public trust. There are differences in what is in the public interest. We could all disagree on that, but I hope we would all find that we must maintain the trust that Canadians have in our institutions, the trust that their elected leaders stand for them and do not dictate to them, but instead, serve them in a way which serves their long-term needs and also hears what they are saying in the short term.
The public trust is a responsibility that each one of us has been given and I contend in this very place that if we cut Fridays off, we will undermine that public trust. If we abuse the taxpayer resources we have, we will undermine that public trust. It is not an easy thing because we can disagree with what the public interest is or what the public trust is, but I suggest that we all should try to preserve that trust.
I would like to thank all members of the House for hearing my comments and for the opportunity to stand in this place and comment on the Standing Orders, an important part of our democracy.
View Kyle Peterson Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Kyle Peterson Profile
2016-10-06 16:56 [p.5620]
Mr. Speaker, I realize the member's comments result from gathering feedback from his constituents and voters, and that is, of course, what we are supposed to do in the House. Instead of asking his constituents if they agreed with MPs having a short workweek, I wonder if the result would have been different if he had asked his constituents if they would like him to be more accessible for an extra day every week. Does he think the result would have been the same?
On that note, I am wondering how much geography might play a role in this. Even if he were able to return to the House on Fridays, would he actually be able to? Maybe that is something we need to address in the House. If it benefits members in different parts of the country, maybe that is the angle we should be looking at as well. I want to know what his comments are on that.
View Dan Albas Profile
Mr. Speaker, I find Friday sittings to be just as important as any other days'. It is very seldom I am not here. In fact, the Ottawa Citizen newspaper did a study and found that I was one of the five MPs that had a 100% voting record.
People in my riding in the last election appreciated that, whether they agreed with some of those votes or not, and I imagine they did not agree with all of them. They appreciate that I show up for work.
The member should canvass his constituents and ask if they want him in Ottawa standing up and holding the government to account, contributing to our democracy through public discourse, or would they like him there so he can attend important family, business, and community events, or whatnot. He should put the question to them, and give them both sides.
It has been my experience that people want to know that their MPs are doing their jobs. That job is primarily legislative. No one else can vote in our place. Staff members can make calls.
That is the one job, being here and standing in the House, that we are privileged to have. We owe a duty to the people we represent. I suggest that the member canvass his constituents to see what they have to say.
View Joyce Murray Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Joyce Murray Profile
2016-10-06 17:16 [p.5622]
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be speaking to Standing Order 51. Actually, I am honoured to serve in this House. Every time I am in Ottawa, walking toward the Peace Tower to come to this chamber, I am reminded of the privilege of being a member of Parliament and how rich and unique this opportunity is for each of us.
I have appreciated that there is this frank and open debate on the Standing Orders today. This is a rare occasion in which we are able to weigh in on how to have a better Parliament and be more effective on behalf of our constituents.
I am going to focus on just one element; that is, how to increase the effectiveness of Canada's members of Parliament in our primary responsibility of being the voice of our constituents here in Ottawa.
My proposal is about rebalancing the parliamentary calendar to spend more time in our constituencies, to serve the people who elected us.
There are many people here who are able to fly home for an evening in the middle of the week to attend something in their constituency and then be back in the House the next morning. Their reality is different, perhaps, from the one I will be describing.
People who are from far-flung areas of Canada simply cannot do that, and so the amount of time they can spend in their constituencies is considerably constrained.
Canada's extensive geography is one of our greatest assets, but I have to say it also presents a great challenge for Parliament and for parliamentarians for whom Ottawa is not easily accessible. Constituents do want to hear from us. They want to see us. They want to tell us about themselves. They want to tell us about their organizations, their initiatives. That takes time in the constituency. Work in the constituency is important and MPs need more time being there, doing the work.
Our job is to represent the voices and concerns of our constituents in Ottawa, more than it is to represent Ottawa back in our communities.
The members of Parliament may or may not know that for almost half the history of the Canadian Parliament, members of Parliament were in Ottawa between January or February and May or June during the year. That is when Parliament sat. That is when the business of the House was conducted in Parliament. The rest of the time, they were in their constituencies, serving those who voted for them.
That changed in 1940, during the Second World War, when the complex elements of Canada's response and Canada's involvement caused the need for much debate, for ministers' involvement, and for Parliament's decision-making. Therefore, in 1940, that shifted to more of a year-round presence here in Ottawa.
It was not until 1982 that there was a change in the Standing Orders that created seven adjournment periods, so members of Parliament had predictable, stable calendars to go back to their constituencies in the summer, over Christmas and Easter, and four other adjournment periods.
That is the last time that there was actually a substantive change to our Standing Orders with respect to the parliamentary calendar.
I want to point out that was during the 32nd Parliament, at a time when there were just 16 women members of Parliament in this House.
Constituency work matters. The myth that the work of an MP only takes place in Ottawa is just so wrong. When members in this House, in this debate, have talked about a four-day work week, or one day off a week, it is very inaccurate and very misleading, because the bulk of the work happens, actually, in our constituencies, where we have up to 100,000 people, each of whom we are serving.
Our offices do all the things that residents see when they email us, when they phone us, when they come in for meetings. They come in to talk to us about their concerns, their issues. They make requests. They want us to advocate for them. They ask for help. Constituents see that. However, there is much more that is done that is not visible. The kind of engagements we do in our constituencies is very time consuming.
I will just give some examples of my own. I organize monthly MP breakfast connection events with more than 100 people, to hear from key policy speakers on an issue of the day. I often do town hall meetings. I do consultations that I call “MP policy cafés”, where people sit around tables to weigh in on a policy issue, and the results of those consultations go back to ministers.
There are many ways we engage with our constituents, and I do not have to tell the members in this House what they are. We all know how time consuming but how important it is, because we are the link between our constituents and the federal policies that affect them. We are their link, their voice, and that takes time.
There are special projects that we tackle in our local community where we have to find out about an issue that is concerning people, and we need to have meetings to fully understand it. We may organize ad hoc advisory groups to give us advice. We then may meet with other stakeholders to try to advocate for the involvement of our constituents or the interests of our constituents. Those special projects in the riding take a lot of time as well.
I do want to point out that it is not just Parliament in Ottawa that takes us away from our constituencies. During these seven adjournment periods, we are often away. If as a British Columbian I am commuting back and forth each week, which I largely do, that will be between 16 and 20 hours a week that I am not in my constituency because I am commuting. I take to heart the situation of my colleague from the Yukon, who spends 28 hours a week commuting, so that is time not in the constituency.
We also do international travel on behalf of Canada, like the trip I took to Zambia to attend an African Union conference on ending child marriage. It was very important to be there and I was honoured to be able to go, but those were days not in my constituency.
We travel in Canada as part of our jobs, during the adjournment periods. There are caucus meetings. We may be having a caucus meeting outside of our constituency in order to hear from stakeholders in another part of the province, such as our caucus did in Kelowna this year; or there may be national caucus meetings that are outside of our constituencies during these adjournment periods; or there are other kinds of travel, like committee travel and parliamentary secretary travel. I have had several of those trips out of the constituency during constituency periods.
All of that pares down the time that we are available to our constituents. Therefore I am recommending not only that there be one constituency day a week during sessions, but also that the length of some of the adjournment periods outlined in Standing Order 28(2) be expanded to reduce the amount of commuting and to make up for some of the time away from our constituencies that we experience due to our work.
I am going to take this last period of time to point out that this can be accomplished without reducing our effectiveness in Parliament through the many measures that have been raised already today: electronic voting, audiovisual conferencing, parallel Parliament for statements and debates to go on the public record. There are many ways that we can be both more effective in Ottawa and more effective in our constituencies with more time there.
I also want to point out that this addresses a significant barrier to women in Parliament. It will be 100 years before we have a gender-equal Parliament at the rate we are going. One of the barriers is that women do tend to be the ones who are providing care in their constituencies to elderly family members or who have more of the household responsibilities. About 66% of family caregivers are women who can do some of that work in the evenings when they are in their constituencies, but cannot do that when they are in Ottawa. This would be good for women's equality. This would be good for the constituency. It would be good for parliamentarians to have a better balance of time in their constituency working for their constituents.
So that is my pitch here, that we rebalance our calendar for the benefit of all and for our parliamentary democracy.
View Joël Godin Profile
I would like to acknowledge my colleague from Vancouver Quadra, who is the parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board. I thank her for allowing me to speak to this important matter.
We spend a lot of time here, but we only spend 26 weeks a year in the House. There are two ways of looking at this. I knew what the conditions were before I stood for election in the beautiful riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.
I am therefore having a bit of trouble agreeing with a proposed day of leave or shorter week so that we can be in our ridings. Last night, I left the House, went to my riding, and returned this morning. It is physically demanding, but it is a choice. I would call it client service because I had the privilege of meeting with people in my riding last night. Yes, we have to travel because we live in this big country called Canada. I have the privilege of being from the greater Quebec City area. There may be more flexibility, but I believe that where there is a will, there is a way.
I would like to ask the member a question. What example are we setting for workers who get up every morning and have to deal with the same problem?
View Joyce Murray Profile
Lib. (BC)
View Joyce Murray Profile
2016-10-06 17:28 [p.5624]
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. I will answer with a question of my own: what example would we be setting if we did not change a 32-year-old workplace framework?
This framework was created in 1982, a time when there were no female MPs in the House of Commons. This framework is no longer acceptable. This is 2016.
We have to change working conditions in order to attract more women MPs. That is what I was talking about. Having more opportunities to be in the ridings is very important, especially for women, but also for those who commute for 20 hours, 35 hours, or 30 hours.
The hon. member has no idea what it is like for the members who live in regions that are far from Ottawa or whose commute is rather complicated. I invite him to talk to the hon. member for Yukon to get a better understanding of the challenge.
View Richard Cannings Profile
Mr. Speaker, I am from British Columbia. My riding is between my colleague's Vancouver riding and the riding of the member for Yukon. My travel time is about 12 hours each way, so 24 hours of my time going home for the weekend is spent on planes and in airports. I do not mind that too much because I get some work done. It is a bit of downtime. However, it is time away from work and away from my wife and family. Every time I fly home, I arrive at midnight and have jet lag the next morning. If I leave on a Thursday or Friday, the next day is pretty difficult. For that reason, I tend to only go home every other weekend or so. I would rather stay here in Ottawa and catch up on valuable work that I need to do here. I am not sure whether taking Friday off would help my situation. A lot of us already leave on Thursday evenings.
The member for Vancouver Quadra mentioned at the end of her speech about the effect on women and their families. A lot of MPs have moved their families to Ottawa. I wonder if my colleague could comment on how having Friday off would affect them if they had to work more during the week.
View Dan Albas Profile
Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago, I was proud to announce the official opening of my new constituency office in Summerland, British Columbia. One thing unique about my new office is that I am sharing it with the B.C. Liberal MLA who also represents Summerland at the B.C. Legislative Assembly.
As many members of Parliament will know, often citizens come into our offices only to discover they are seeking assistance on provincial issues. Providing more services in the same location can better serve our constituents, and sharing some office expenses can create more efficiencies. At the end of the day, we must always be mindful that there is only one taxpayer.
So far, I am pleased to report to the House that the joint office is working well to provide increased services at a lower cost to citizens in my riding. I would also like to thank B.C. MLA Dan Ashton for supporting this initiative.
View Brian Masse Profile
View Brian Masse Profile
2016-05-17 13:00 [p.3461]
Mr. Speaker, that really disappoints me. Friday was the 14th year that I have spent in this House. I came here with a variety of different experiences. I worked on behalf of persons with disabilities at Community Living Mississauga and then at the Association For Persons With Physical Disabilities. I was also a board member at the CNIB.
I can say that the member for Timmins—James Bay would add significantly to this debate. Although I have served in occupations and positions that helped support people with disabilities, as well as being a board volunteer, that does not do justice to those who have to live with young people and help grow them through a society that is inaccessible in many ways. I am saddened to hear that we did not have unanimous consent on that issue alone, given the fact that his voice would be empowering. It would be part of what we are trying to achieve, which is to have other nations support this bill, as we still do not have full support to accomplish that. That type of testimony would add value, substance, and help us put a case forward to deliver this. Unless we can get those supporting factions and countries to agree upon this, nothing will change. I am saddened by that.
Hopefully, we will see better days in the House than moments like this, as it takes away from the sincerity of trying to get something accomplished in a bipartisan way and demeans all of us with respect to the causes we seek here.
This is an important bill, and the member for Timmins—James Bay took carriage of it in the past. We have also had Peggy Nash, the former member for Parkdale—High Park from our party, who brought forward a motion which stated:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should immediately sign and ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
I know that the current member for Windsor—Tecumseh is taking up this challenge as well for persons with disabilities.
It is important to note that one of my heroes with respect to this battle was my late grandmother Marion Masse, who lived to over aged 90. She had to have her knees replaced. She had macular degeneration. Despite all of that, although she lost her vision, except for shadows at the end, she still won the bowling tournament for her rest home and was very much an active person. She was involved in creating the low vision for the blind group, an organization in Windsor and Essex County, that worked on issues that many of us would perceive as mundane, yet are truly important for social, economic, and cultural integration. One of the projects it worked on was menus being printed in large print or braille to assist people when they would go out to eat to read the menu. Also, it was about the fact that they could go to safe places where they could be with their friends. They knew that the customer service they would receive was supportive and understanding. It was part of a culture where their disabilities were not pointed out and barriers were not created.
One of the most frustrating things is that we are still creating barriers today, despite having the economics and the ability to not do so. We even experience that in the House. For a number of years, I have been using braille cards, as a member for my constituency and in my work here. The House of Commons will not allow my staff to have those because it is a resource issue. Therefore, the House of Commons is denying that accessibility and support provision.
Our constituency offices had been placed on hold for funding improvements. That has been cancelled with respect to upgrading. After years of putting aside some budgetary allotments, I was finally able to make my office accessible. That is not provided for us as members. Funds for upgrades were made available, so we were able to put in a door for accessibility, an accessible washroom, and those types of things. I would like to see an audit done of the offices of all members of Parliament, including my own. We would quickly discover that they are deficient with respect to accessibility, whether that be with respect to visual or mobility impairments. These different measures are not provided.
In fact, even without my previous employment experience as a job specialist, I can say that Ottawa is one of the most inaccessible cities in many respects around the Hill, because of the curbs. Even for those with a child, it is like off-roading when it comes to Sparks Street and other places. We build inaccessibility in as part of our due diligence of construction, and it is not necessary.
This treaty will be very important in Canada, in setting aside some battles on the cost and the compensation with regard to increasing accessible print, books, and audio. We see that happening with format sharing when we go to purchase a movie now. We can actually purchase it in formats that are different than what we would assume is one version. We can purchase it so it is available on a mobile device, on a computer, and as part of a video consul. We can purchase it online. We can go into the store and purchase it. There is a series of ways that we can do so.
We think about the same context with books and information and cultural development that we have. For those who think that the age of books is done, it has recently had a resurgence. There are many applications for people with visual disabilities, of any sort, who can take advantage of these materials. It is important.
I can also argue that there are people who may not qualify for the official recognition of a disability but who have some type of visual challenge. Obviously, I have one with my glasses here. However, there are others who have to switch between vision products and use some of these print versions, depending on the stage of their life. Macular degeneration, for example, is a condition of transitioning to a degradation of vision, and a person might need multiple formats.
This treaty will allow for some compensation to be extended, but under a specific format that, more importantly, would also allow the universal sharing of this information, whether that be a book on politics, culture, betterment, or children's material. All of those different things are looked at and taken care of. That is important, because it does tend to lead to a safe environment for persons with disabilities with visual impairments to explore different types of subject matter, which can also lead to different formats.
When I worked for the Association for Persons With Physical Disabilities, I worked with an individual who was blind and required modifications on the job. At that time, it was the beginning of allowing translation devices on computers. This was before Rosetta Stone and all of the different ones. The Dragon was before that, and there was a series of others that came into place. The devices would actually read back to people what they were typing. We were able to get into that type of technology in the early 1990s. It was not perfect, but it worked well. This individual could have a job, and it was very important.
I have had other important experiences over the years. I can mention this person's name because she is a dear friend and she was a client of mine. Lynn Fitzsimmons became a clerk in the insurance industry. What was required for Lynn was the simple identification of files. We had them in larger print and they were colour-coded. At dental offices and other types of medical offices, there are systems in place that are colour-coded to make it easier for the administrators to select those files off the counter. We did a similar type of system for Lynn, and she became gainfully employed. She is very much a leader in the disability field, and a wonderful mother and active person in our community, with her husband Phil.
We were able at that time to do the colour-coding system because we had to look for something that was economical. Working for a not-for-profit agency, we had very limited resources. It was at a time when there were cutbacks to all of these programs. It was the first program in Ontario that allowed support on the job for persons with physical disabilities.
The simple accessibility of these materials, which were not expensive to begin with, allowed for someone to be employed for approximately 10 years in that one position. It was an excellent system of colour-coding that enabled her to do the administrative work. Also, it allowed the individual for the insurance company to be extremely successful in this model environment, because he then hired her as an administrative assistant who could accomplish all of these goals.
The reason that this is important is because work defines us in many respects. However, this country is woefully inadequate with regard to the supports for persons with disabilities and work.
Work brings up a number of issues that are very important. One does not just get an income, but health, wellness, and mental and physical abilities are affected by work in a very positive fashion. We meet people, friends, and have relationships that we would not otherwise have, which brings us out of a closed environment. Therefore, when we see those opportunities emerge for persons with disabilities, it is quite important in the overall picture for Canada to be an equal society.
Sadly, we are not anywhere near that in Canada, hence my question previously with regard to upcoming matters. I do not think there needs to be consultation on certain issues. We should move the lower-hanging fruit off the tree right away to improve it.
I came from an era where we had employment equity. There were those who backlashed against it, but it opened a door for me to at least plead the case for why an employer could benefit from hiring a person with a disability, whether it be Lynn or other persons with physical challenges. We were able to say that they have less employee absenteeism. They have fewer work-related accidents. They stay longer on the job. Their training retention is a benefit that an employer would receive, as opposed to the expense of people rotating through a job. Most importantly, they also prove to be a product-quality person at the end of the day, versus many other workers getting the job done. Also, one of the indirect benefits is the fact that it is a morale boost for companies.
There was an individual with a physical disability who I had helped to work at Costco. I took in shopping carts with him for four to five months. He stayed there, and the job accommodated him six or seven years later. He had worked in a workshop until the age of 48 and was now employed at Costco. When he finally became physically challenged by the snow and the weather, Costco moved him inside and found a job for him there. It was a wonderful experience for everybody involved. He is an incredible individual.
My point is that socially, he would remember everyone's birthday, bring in a birthday card and all of those different things. People loved that. The fact is, he had his own employment, his own gainful experience, and friends who followed afterwards, which is important.
When we look at Bill C-11, we have Canada joining with nations, many that have not valued persons with disabilities previous to this particular effort and maybe in a holistic way. When we measure Canada's results on this issue, it is not very good, given the fact that we have been active and have had not-for-profit organizations opened in Canada for decades. We are still fighting the good fight, and we still do not have that type of support system in place. Therefore, hopefully the bill will push many other organizations and countries to make sure that we have it.
I have some statistics on poverty for persons with disabilities, because I want to show the increase in poverty for persons with different types of disabilities. There is the aging and poverty rate at 15% of Canadians, mobility at 15.2%. There is the “any disability” area, which is around 14.4%; and seeing poverty, compared to that, is 17.1%. Therefore, we have a heightened challenge there.
Some of the things we have done have been piecemeal across the country. My good friend and former councillor, Ron Jones, who was previously a district fire chief, became a city councillor when I became a member of Parliament. One of his last gestures on council was to make the west end of the city, basically the area I represented, accessible for street corners and cuts. It included new technology for visual disabilities and others, to make it more accommodating than in the past. This was just a few years ago. It is something that should have been done years previous, but it just was not. We do not have any centralized approach for these things.
I cannot believe some of the mistakes. I am a hockey coach and a hockey dad to my daughter and son, and I cannot count how many arenas I have been to that are inaccessible for all types of disabilities, including the hockey players' bags. I just cannot believe the way some of the arenas are built, with no regard for persons with disabilities or an aging population that wants to watch their grandsons and granddaughters play hockey. I just cannot believe some of the barriers in places built with money that has come from federal grants.
When I was on city council I served on the disability committee for a number of years. There was a group of individuals who had different types of challenges and disabilities. My good friend Dean LaBute, was among them. He was very active in the CNIB for a number of years, for decades, actually. They would audit proposed municipal projects based on the disability format. The projects had to pass, whether it was a fountain area, like the memorial fountain built in honour of the late member of city council and mayor, Bert Weeks, who was involved with work on the waterfront. A waterfront clock was placed there. The committee audited that.
There were still some challenges afterward, but at least we took care of some of them. The projects had to be audited that way. Why do federal infrastructure grants and programs not have to be audited for disability accommodation as well? It is very important. If government money, grants, and support are going to be provided, why are projects not being looked at through some type of disability lens?
The fact of the matter is that despite the issues that pose challenges to persons with disabilities, including visual disabilities, they make contributions to society and they are taxpayers. Their money is quite literally going to projects that are inaccessible to them. It makes no sense whatsoever and it is a real concern. How fair is it that? They get up and go to work in challenging environments. There are less constraints in the private sector.
Try being a person with a disability, who is underemployed right now because the jobs don't match the person's skills, and having to raise the inaccessibility issue at work. Think about the challenge of having to do that as a worker. How many workers do I know today who are scared to question the practices of their employer under health and safety acts because they are fearful of losing their jobs or being blackballed? That happens every single day.
We just had May Day for injured workers. How many went through that process at work, where it was not safe, and they did not return to their sons and daughters at home one night because the workplace was not safe? Think about that for persons with disabilities, who are fearful about raising inaccessibility at the workplace. They pay their taxes. Government projects are put in place by federal, provincial or municipal governments, and accessibility is not built into the process. It is supposed to be. It is supposed to meet municipal codes. I have been there and done that, but it does not go through the necessary auditing processes.
There are a number of issues regarding persons with disabilities that are clearly important and need to be addressed. The New Democrats have called on the Conservatives and Liberals to move on this file and we appreciate most of the co-operation we have had, but unfortunately, there was none on splitting my time.
As a result, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to move the following motion: That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House, Bill C-11, an act to amend the Copyright Act (access to copyrighted works or other subject matter for persons with perceptual disabilities), be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to the committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed.
View Guy Lauzon Profile
Mr. Speaker, I have had the honour of serving as Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry's federal voice for nearly 12 years.
I am most proud of the work done by my top-notch staff and volunteers in the riding. We are one of the busiest constituencies in the country. In the past 12 years, our team has processed over 57,000 passport applications. We have handled over 9,000 files. We have helped over 1,500 families receive $12 million through the disability tax credit program. Last year, we partnered with local volunteers through our CRA community volunteer income tax program to complete 4,000 income tax returns for lower- and fixed-income residents.
I am sure all members here will agree that our staff are the backbone of our success. That is why I am so grateful to Eric, Francine, Denise, Nicole, Sue, Stephanie, Claire, Rosemary, and all our income tax clinic volunteers for the fantastic work they do.
View Rob Clarke Profile
Mr. Speaker, constituents in my riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River are concerned that the NDP leader has still not reimbursed Canadian taxpayers for the $3 million the New Democrats used for parliamentary offices outside of Ottawa. This is a violation of the rules of the House of Commons. Now he is saying that he does not see this money coming out of the pockets of the 68 NDP members who misspent these funds; instead, he expects the taxpayers to pay.
It is time for the NDP leader to do the right thing and repay taxpayers immediately. The New Democrats made inappropriate use of taxpayer funds to run party offices, and their March 31 deadline is fast approaching. When will the leader of the NDP take responsibility and pay back the taxpayers of Canada?
View Harold Albrecht Profile
View Harold Albrecht Profile
2014-06-10 10:42 [p.6515]
Mr. Speaker, I was interested in hearing how gloomy things were back in the 1960s and 1970s when my colleague was growing up and how bad the family structure was back then. However, he spent most of his time pointing out all of the Canadians who would not benefit from this tax proposal. I wonder if my colleague would point out how many Canadians did not benefit from the investment of taxpayer dollars into the satellite offices that my colleague and his friends set up. How many Canadians did not benefit from those mailings that went out in franked envelopes paid for by the taxpayers, which had NDP partisan material inserted in them?
It is important to realize that those tax dollars could have easily helped to reduce the tax burden on Canadians across Canada, including those who are trying to raise children under 18, who this policy would definitely benefit. It would help them with clothing allowances, education, sports and the things that all of us in the House think are important for young families to give to their children.
Could he point out the big savings that would have occurred if the members of the NDP would not have spent those millions of dollars on those partisan activities?
View Peter Julian Profile
Mr. Speaker, I would just mention to the leader on the government side that if nobody showed up for the shift to repair his car, his car would not be repaired.
Very briefly, I want to come to the issue of Standing Order 56.1 and the point of order that was raised, with comments from both sides. I would like to get a sense as to when you will be replying to that particular point of order, Mr. Speaker.
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
View Stephen Woodworth Profile
2014-05-15 14:17 [p.5479]
Mr. Speaker, the chance today to question the leader of the NDP at length was nothing short of a real pleasure. His elaborate, repetitive, and evasive defence of the NDP's illegal satellite offices and subsequent looting of millions of dollars from taxpayers got no traction, even when rationalized in Latin.
The most telling testimony the NDP leader gave may have been his defence of partisan work by constituency workers, to which he said we all just do it, just as the senators fiddle their expenses.
Canadians know the NDP cannot be trusted to manage the public purse. When the leader of the NDP is willing to compare his party with the few bad apples in the Senate, the Duffy defence, it highlights why the NDP has lost 16 consecutive elections.
I urge the leader of the NDP to do the right thing: stop his members from using taxpayer money for election purposes and for staffing partisan political offices.
View Eve Adams Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Eve Adams Profile
2012-12-11 14:07 [p.13160]
Mr. Speaker, today, while dues-paying union members are hard at work doing their jobs, their union dues are paying for people to occupy my constituency office. None of the occupiers live in—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Hélène LeBlanc Profile
View Hélène LeBlanc Profile
2012-03-15 10:26 [p.6335]
Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 threatens this common vision of hope and our collective desire to build a nation where compassion is the rule, a nation that opens its arms and offers a fair opportunity to those seeking asylum, safety and protection.
I must state clearly that Bill C-31 puts aside all the hard negotiated and balanced compromise on immigration reform that all parties, including the government, worked to achieve in the previous Parliament in former Bill C-11.
Unfortunately, the balance and the compromises that were achieved at the time have disappeared. Instead of punishing human smugglers, Bill C-31 attacks the refugees who are the victims of these unscrupulous people. Even more worrisome, the minister is giving himself certain powers that will jeopardize a system that must be fair and must honour international conventions.
Under Bill C-31, the minister will establish a list of safe countries and a list of countries that are considered unsafe. What is troubling is that this list will be established by the minister, rather than by a panel of experts in international relations, not to mention that this list will change depending on his assessment of the safety of the countries on that list.
In the previous more balanced immigration reform act, Bill C-11, the decision on whether or not a country was safe was left to a board of human rights advisers, not a minister with a red pen.
Perhaps most troubling of all, Bill C-31's unbalanced approach to immigration reform enables the minister to revoke the permanent resident status of former refugee claimants if the minister decides that their country of origin is no longer threatening.
There are many permanent residents that have made my riding their home. It can take years for someone to obtain permanent resident status, as many of my constituents know. Imagine the anxiety they would feel, how vulnerable they would be to know that the minister could revoke their status on a whim, just as they have begun to rebuild their lives.
In the meantime, these constituents have settled in Montreal. They have made friendships and have married. They have worked hard to make a living so that one day their children can go to school, college and university, and participate in our society. They have come to build lives and share in the prosperity and security that too many of us born here take for granted.
My colleagues know as well as I do that when the government makes rash decisions, our constituency offices are the first to hear about it. Our constituents turn to us when they can no longer count on government services, for example, because the delays have become untenable or because the process has become fundamentally unfair.
We respond to calls from our constituents who hope to be reunited with a spouse overseas and who, after months and years, can no longer wait and confess to us that their marriage is about to fall apart. We open our doors to mothers who come with their children, begging us to intervene because they are about to be deported in less than two hours and they are overtaken by desperation.
Decisions made by governments have very real and very human consequences, often far from Ottawa; we see that every day. The government needs to put more resources into processing requests, well-trained human resources that can meet the demand.
Bill C-31 epitomizes this government's callous vision of a society made up of two classes of citizens: good Canadians and those whom the Conservatives consider profiteers.
It is no accident that Canada is called the “new world”. Our country is a land of immigrants, a land that welcomes immigrants, a beacon of safety and hope and opportunity for a better life. That is the Canada whose values I stand for.
That is why I am urging the government to forget about Bill C-31, as it forgot about its predecessor, Bill C-4. I am asking the government not to repudiate the historic compromises that all parties achieved when they reformed our immigration system by passing Bill C-11 during the previous Parliament.
Those are the reasons why I oppose Bill C-31.
View François Lapointe Profile
Mr. Speaker, after an unexplained transfer of $15,000 from his campaign budget to RMG and harassing calls asking for donations, former Conservative MP Bernard Généreux is in hot water once again. Le Soleil reports that he may have either tried to transfer money from a riding budget to the Conservative Party through the purchase of 200,000 sheets of paper or illegally contributed to party's funding by paying the bill himself months after his defeat. And yet, he was appointed to the Quebec Port Authority. Accordingly, is the propensity to transfer donations from a riding to the Conservative Party the type of skill the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities was talking about yesterday to justify these partisan appointments?
View Jacques Gourde Profile
Mr. Speaker, those are false allegations. Those were legitimate expenses of the hon. member. In this case, the former MP paid much of the cost out of his own pocket.
I have here on hand an ad that proves that the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup takes himself for Columbo. Instead of using the House of Commons budget to do his own work, he is using it to do the work of Elections Canada, despite the guidelines sent out by Elections Canada.
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Carolyn Bennett Profile
2011-10-26 15:06 [p.2524]
Mr. Speaker, today 25 parliamentarians from all parties are participating in the Canadian Paraplegic Association's fantastic chair-leaders event to experience first-hand the obstacles that people with disabilities face every day.
We understand that after five inaccessible years, the minister responsible for persons with disabilities has finally moved her constituency office. We hope the minister will welcome the opportunity to rise in the House today, advocate for accessibility and reassure the House that her new office on Kent Street in Simcoe is totally accessible.
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