Interventions in Committee
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View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Chair.
First of all, I'd like to express my gratitude to PROC for agreeing to look at this motion, to Mr. Christopherson for presenting it and to everybody on PROC who had an open mind. I understand that agreement isn't to say we accept it or we agree with everything in the motion, but that you would have a serious look at it. I'm very grateful for this opportunity. Thank you.
Two things brought me to bring this motion forward. Since I arrived here, I was shocked, and I think anybody I spoke to was shocked, at the lack of civility and decorum in the House and lack of productive debate. I don't believe any one party or one person is to blame. I think we all share a little of the responsibility.
I spent the first year or two asking people, talking to people, trying to cajole people to be a little politer or have better debates. And I realized at some point that it was no longer paying. It was better to have confrontation than collaboration. That had happened over time. There had been changes and things had progressed away from how we used to run the place to a point where now it was better to have confrontation.
We probably need to look at our Standing Orders. This phenomenon of consolidation of power into the centre is not new. It's not unique to Canada. Professors will tell you what they call the third wave of autocratization, as we heard at one of our committees with Ms. Kusie.
In any system, democracy is always in a constant battle with autocracy. As we see right now in the world, many great nations are moving toward autocracy. We can see this in one place where a leader has named himself dictator for life. We see another great nation where a leader is a dictator in all but name because they have the pretenses of elections, and we see another nation where another leader is constantly attacking the very foundations of their democracy. And we see that in so many countries.
Here in Canada we don't have a leader who's done this, but over time power has been centralized, seeped inward towards what we call the PMO or the OLO. With this pulling together of power, many things have happened. The role of the MP has been slightly modified. The role of the Speaker has been drastically changed. Citizens have been disenfranchised.
People often say to me that when we brought the cameras in, that's when it all got bad. I don't believe that for a second. I looked at many ideas. One of the ideas was if we had cameras on everybody all the time, I bet you it would change overnight. It was explained that can't be done because we have certain rules that the camera can only be on a person speaking.
I looked at how they run the audiovisuals. That rule is such that bad behaviour can go unpunished because it's never seen.
For example, the Senate moved and they now have the right to show all camera angles. They said it makes for much better, much more interesting TV, but it's also going to have an impact. One of my ideas was let's put cameras everywhere and if someone is behaving badly all the time, everybody will know that. I didn't use that idea here. Why? Because we're in politics and we look at the art of the possible.
I read all the ideas that had been presented over the last dozen years or so. Then I chewed on it; I thought about it and then I tried to say what is doable. I considered low-hanging fruit. I thought this motion was very simple.
Many people have said to me this is way too big, it's way too much. I don't think it is, and I'm going to challenge all of you in PROC to look at it from that perspective.
Serendipitously, you have just done a study on second chambers, and the majority of this motion turns around the implementation of a second chamber, so I don't think we need to do another study on a second chamber. I believe you have done a good study. If you've done a study on a second chamber, you can now ask yourselves whether you should try or not bother trying it. Or you could say, “Let's do another study again next Parliament”, but if you're going to do another study again next Parliament, I would challenge you to ask what questions you didn't ask during this Parliament, in your study right now. I believe we're ready to try something.
What is it that I'm proposing and how did I come to these packages? There are three areas where I want to take power that's been centralized over time and just decentralize it. At this point, I want to say none of these ideas are new, except for one part of one idea, and that's the one I'm getting the most push-back on. That was my idea, so I'm pretty sure it won't make the cut. Having said that, none of these ideas are mine, number one.
Number two, I didn't write most of this motion.
Here I'd like to stop to say thank you to the people who did do it. First of all, I'd like to thank Scott Reid, and especially his assistant, Dennis Laurie. They did the brunt of the work writing the whole section on a second chamber.
I'd like to thank Michael Chong, because he collaborated a lot and he's very knowledgeable on issues of decorum, powers of the Speaker, and how things changed over time.
I'd like to thank Daniel Blaikie and Murray Rankin, because they took the ideas that had been proposed by Kennedy Stewart, who had taken these ideas from the United Kingdom about how to give citizens the right to bring matters of debate into Parliament.
I'd like to thank David Graham, because he looked at ideas for how to make it fairer for people who are doing private members' business to have their chance, because sometimes you may have people who have been elected three times and they never get up, but someone who was elected once gets up. There's a core unfairness in how we do private members' business, and he had ideas about that, which I incorporated.
I'd like to thank Scott Simms, because he studied how the United Kingdom has strengthened its committees and brought those ideas into the package.
Obviously, I'd like to thank Elizabeth May, because as everybody knows, she has been a strong voice for strengthening Parliament overall, for changing—or even, I would say, honouring—our rules. She'll speak a bit about that idea in a moment.
I thank all those people. I also recognize that none of those ideas are new; none of them have not been debated; none of them have not been studied. To hear the argument that it's too much, I tell you now, if you're going to make a second chamber today, tomorrow, in a year or 10 years from now, it'll be a big motion. You can't get around that. You have to write it.
What's inside the actual motion now? The first thing is the Speaker, powers to the Speaker. The Speaker has the name “Speaker” for a simple reason: in every Westminster system, including ours, up until the 1980s and early 1990s, the Speaker has decided who speaks. It seems pretty reasonable. He's not called “the reader of the list”; he's called the Speaker, because his job is to decide who speaks. It's that simple. I'd like him to do his job. I think we all want him to do his job. If he does his job, two things will happen: decorum will shoot up, because he'll have a carrot and a stick to let people who are behaving speak and let people who are not behaving not speak. The second thing is that debate will improve. This is how it's done in every other Westminster system. We are unique: We are wrong.
I spoke at length with other Speakers—I spoke at length with our longest-serving Speaker, Mr. Peter Milliken—and they all agree that this is a perversion of the system and it should be put back to the way it was.
How did it happen? There was a lady, Madam Jeanne Sauvé, who couldn't see very far, and she asked for help with people at a distance who might be getting up to speak, so they were giving her a few names.
There was another speaker—I won't give his name—who was not that interested in doing his job, and said, “Can you just make it easier for me? Just put them in alphabetical order, or whatever, and just....”
Then, over time, the whips decided we had more power, and the whips got stricter with the lists, until something happened in the previous government where a ruling had to be made about what the powers of the whips, the House leadership and the Speaker really were.
We need to put it back the way it was, and the way it should be. That's number one.
The second thing is powers to the citizens—a simple idea. Bruce Stanton mentioned this when he came and spoke about the second chamber. In the United Kingdom, if they reach the threshold of 100,000 signatures on a petition, it gets debated in their second chamber. Of note is that these are the debates that everybody watches. This is what people care about. This is what their citizens watch.
We took that number of 100,000 and made it 25% higher by population so that we don't have any spurious debates, and we ensured that anything that meets that threshold would still come to PROC to be looked at, to make sure it's not some silly thing, or something that's already been debated. As long as it hasn't, it would get a take-note debate in the second chamber.
That would re-engage our citizens to say, “Hey, I have a say in what goes on. It's not just once every four years that you ask me my opinion. If I really care about, say, the salmon run in B.C., and it's really important to me, and I have 70,000 other Canadians who say it's really important, then I want to hear Parliament express themselves.” They'll get a chance to do it. They'll engage themselves. Just like what happened in the United Kingdom, they'll be more engaged in their democracy.
The third thing is powers to the members of Parliament.
Again, over time there has been a degradation of power and a degradation of the role of the member of Parliament, who is a representative of her constituents. When she is elected and has to come to Ottawa, she is elected under a banner. We have to always answer the balance. I'm elected as an NDP/Liberal/Conservative/Green Party, but I'm also elected because I'm Frank Baylis, or Elizabeth May or Linda Lapointe. I have to balance what my citizens want with what I think, sometimes, is morally right, and with what the party wants.
But I am not elected as a trained seal, to simply do each and every time exactly what the party demands. If so, then they don't need any of us. We have no role to play, if that is our role. If I say that all I do in my job is to vote 100% the way the party votes, every single time, well, great, they don't actually need me. They'll just take the percentages, do the math and get out of the way.
We have a role to play. We have a role to play sometimes if enough of our constituents.... And this has happened to me. A lot of them wrote to me on a certain subject, and I said, “Okay, I have to listen to them. I'm not going to vote with my party on something here, because I'm going to represent them.”
This is our role. We need to give our members of Parliament their power back. How do we do that?
We looked, first of all, at our ability to bring private members' bills forward. Right now, it's fundamentally unfair. If you're lucky, you may get one. If you're unlucky, you won't get one. If you're half lucky, like me, you might get your first hour, which you might blow; but that's another question.
There might a lesson there. I haven't found it yet.
Voices: Oh, oh!
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
My point here is that every person elected within reason, for whom we can see how to do it, should get the chance to get heard. That's just being fair.
Then, if we have a shortened schedule, like let's say, for example, not everybody gets up because there is a minority government and we don't have a four-year cycle, the people who were last and didn't get up should be brought over. It's a very simple thing, a simple idea, but it makes total sense. Someone I talked to who was elected three times and not once had a private member's bill would get one. That just seems fair.
The second thing is the way our system is supposed to work is if it sounds like a good idea we vote to say let it go to committee and let's listen to what the committee has to say. We bring in experts and experts are supposed to tell us you should change this, you should fix that, this is why you brought us in here. Then we report back to Parliament to vote yes or no for these changes.
Committees should be reporting to Parliament, not to the whips, not to the ministers. The idea here is, as was done in the United Kingdom, to say let the committee chairs be elected by Parliament. It's a simple idea.
This set of changes gives the Speaker back his powers, gives the citizens some powers, and gives the MPs some powers, all within reason. How do we do this? This is where the second chamber comes in. I want to point out here do not think for an instance that we are charging or leading the way if we put a second chamber in place. For 25 years they've had it in Australia, and for 20 years they've had it in the United Kingdom. We are not ahead of the curve here. We're not taking a risk here. The whole idea is to implement a second chamber.
Then I took an Bruce Stanton said, and he said even here in the committee, when they brought these in there was skepticism. People said, you know, I'm not sure. So what they did is they said, let's give it a two-year trial period. That's written right into the motion, try it for two years. If you don't like it take it away, undo everything, nothing ventured nothing gained.
Lastly, if we bring in a second chamber we have to look at the schedule. I looked at the schedule and said, okay, when will it sit? What happens if there are votes going on? What happens if there's something that has to be decided? It doesn't get decided in the second chamber.
The second chamber is there to ensure that private members' business gets done, that members of Parliament get more chances to speak, and with the changes to the Speaker and the Speaker's powers to ensure that the whips don't take that over as well, so that the private members' business gets heard. That's why the package is 19 pages. That's it. It's a simple package. It's nothing in there other than one little thing, which I put in and I'm going to take out, because what I've been doing as well is I've been asking a great many people and I've gotten a lot of great suggestions, little things I didn't think of. For example, when I changed the schedule I said we're going to do away with overnight voting. We don't need it. We should start treating ourselves like human beings, not like animals. If you did what we do to ourselves to an animal, someone would be knocking on your door for animal cruelty. It's true.
Then I spoke to one member of Parliament and he said to me, Frank, the most important thing I think I do as an MP is vote. To vote is my most important thing. You've changed the rules so that there would be no voting overnight, but still from 9:00 to 10:30 straight I've got to go to the bathroom. They said to me that in the labour codes of our country you can't make someone work for four hours without giving them a break. I thought, you know, I didn't think of that. That's an example of a change that I'm going to suggest here, and I brought other ones like that. People have said to me, “Have you thought of this, have you thought of that?” It's a small change, but it's a totally reasonable change and it matches just our labour codes. On this entire package, I've heard from many people who say, too much, too big, too late in the game.
Prior to coming to Ottawa I ran a business and people worked from 9:00 to 5:00. They didn't stop at 4:15 and say the day's over. There's time for you to look at this. You've already done most of the looking at it. You've already done the big part of it, which is the second chamber.
I think there's time. I'm asking you—and this is my ask—to go through it. Do your job. Rip it apart in whatever way you can, but give the members of Parliament and the House of Commons the right and the opportunity to vote on it.
PROC's here to look at these procedures, to study them. I don't think it's hard to say we trust our own members of Parliament enough to express themselves on this package. If they don't like it, that's their right. If they do like it, that's their right. It's how we run ourselves, how we choose to run ourselves.
I say to this too. If you have a family, if you have young kids, if you have a health problem and you don't look at this seriously, don't complain. Don't go home and say to your wife or your husband or your kids, “Well, you know what? I didn't vote for it because my leadership didn't want me to”, or, “You know, that's just the way it is. You don't understand Parliament, but let me tell you, we're going to be voting all night, but don't worry about my illness.” I've talked to a lot of people who had serious illnesses who were aggravated by that overnight voting. It's unacceptable.
It's unacceptable. We are elected here as members of Parliament. We have a say. We are not trained seals. I'm asking for this: any change that's reasonable, anything you see in error in here.... I am not perfect, but I did not write most of it. I do not want to take credit where it's not due. I'm truly asking you, please, before the Parliament's done, to send it up and let our members, our fellow colleagues, express themselves.
With that, I'm going to say thank you very much for hearing me out. I'm very appreciative of that.
I'll pass it over to Elizabeth.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, Ms. Lapointe. That's an excellent question.
I would add this: not only will this promote courteous behaviour, but it will also increase productivity. Those will be two positive effects.
I would like to point out one more thing about bad behaviour or lack of respect during the oral question period. According to all the surveys, this is the main reason why women do not run for office. They do not understand all the work of members of Parliament and do not see what we do in committee. They look at the oral question period with horror and say to themselves that they will never be MPs.
I brought my two daughters to a session of the House, and I was ashamed. One of them has no qualms about telling me when she doesn't like something. She was shocked to see what was happening. I personally never get into this game. You know me well enough to know that, Ms. Lapointe. Never in my life would I behave like that, because I always keep in mind that one of my daughters or my father might be watching me from the gallery.
How will this encourage members of Parliament to be courteous? There is a whole series of things.
We talked about co-operation, as opposed to confrontation.
First, inappropriate behaviour will not help members to obtain the consideration of the Speaker of the House, as the Speaker will prevent them from speaking. If I am a new member of Parliament and I start yelling in the House, the Speaker will ask me to calm down and I will not have the right to speak. That is one thing.
Second, if I'm always yelling at members, they will not support any private member's motion or bill I may have introduced; they will not even talk to me. I will not be able to co-operate with them. If I want their help, it's best if I stop yelling.
Third, we will be freer to support measures by following our conscience, without fear of being punished.
A whole series of things can encourage members of Parliament to act with courtesy.
Members are not stupid; when they come to the House, they see that it's more advantageous to yell than to co-operate, and that is why they do it.
We must consider the whole package that will allow us to change that.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Yes. I have taken note of all the witnesses who have made presentations on this issue to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs over the past 10 years. I went to see them or tried to contact them. I spoke to former Speakers of the House, including Peter Milliken. I don't remember the exact number of years, but I think he held the position for 13 years. All the people I spoke to unanimously said that these powers must be given back to the Speaker of the House.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Am I allowed to ask Scott Simms to answer that question?
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Very well.
It started in the United Kingdom, with a few committees, and things worked very well. They thought it was fantastic and decided to apply it to all committees.
There is always the issue of checks and balances. Previously, all decisions were centralized and made by one person. You were following exactly what that person was doing, otherwise it was over for you. Now members can follow the committee chair. I wouldn't say that this offers protection, but there are some checks and balances, even in the case of a minister. If a minister introduces a bill, the committee studies it, but is not forced to support the minister. It is freer to propose and discuss changes. There will be a discussion between the minister and the committee chair. Once again, this promotes dialogue and co-operation. We're no longer in a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
With each item I'm proposing, I keep trying to bring people together. We will have to co-operate and discuss, not only among ourselves, but with all members of Parliament.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
What happened—and this is 100% my fault, not my staff's or anybody else's—was that I made a mistake in my Google calendar. I had been trading my positions to try to move up so I would get a second hour, which I didn't have, but I was trying to get a second hour. At one point I was in the evening schedule, and that had gotten locked in my head somehow.
I'm normally here anyway, and it wouldn't have mattered, but on this particular day, because I had worked so long on this motion, I got up, and I practised my speech a couple of times, and I said to myself, “You know what I'm going to do?”, which I've never done before, “I'm going to go to the gym first and work off a bit of my nervous energy, have a sauna and really come out relaxed and ready to deliver my speech this evening.”
Lo and behold, when I came out, my phone.... My relaxed period lasted about 30 seconds, and I found that, yes, as you point out, on Mondays we do it at 11 a.m., and so that error is 100% mine. Then I tried to be philosophical about it, and I thought that maybe wasn't right for me to push forward with it on my own anyway. Maybe God was talking to me or something like that, I don't know. Maybe it should come properly through PROC. That was my hope, anyway, but I was really running two horses, and one was hoping that PROC would study it and bring it up, because I do believe that is the proper way to do it and give people the vote.
I also was really committed to getting on the record and hoping to find a second hour to have people at least vote on it, much as I've asked here. The fault is 100% mine that I did not do that. I apologized to everybody. It's unacceptable; there's no excuse for it. It wouldn't have mattered any other day because I'd be here anyway, and if I had forgotten, they would have just called me to say, “Get your butt over here.” I don't know why these things coalesce, but that's how it happened.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
I had been trading up to get my first hour and then hoping that someone would literally give me the second hour so that I would be able to bring it to a vote, but this was a work in motion, and through these processes and changes, that's how my mix-up in the timing came about. I did not have any commitment to a second hour yet. I was in discussions with some people, but it's a big ask. I'm basically asking that they not speak and let me speak a second time.
It would truly be my preferred route anyway to have this committee say to our fellow colleagues, “This is something you can vote on”. I always was hoping for this anyway.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
If there was time, absolutely. The issue we've always had.... Even now I've not actually lost my hour; I'm just going to have it some time at the end of June or the beginning of July, when it won't happen.
My problem was always that I wouldn't have enough time. Why won't I have enough time? Because the luck of the draw when I got my PMB was such that it came at the end of the schedule. At least I got an hour. This is why, if these changes were in place, I wouldn't have had to do that.
How I came to the number of hours necessary was by calculating the last 20 years of, on average, how many PMBs got closure, which is either voted for, abandoned or defeated, and I made the calculation backwards.
Absolutely, about having time, you're right. That's the right way to do it, but I was racing against time.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
I think Ms. Kusie proposed at the beginning, after Mr. Christopherson brought this forward, that it should be unanimous. I mentioned to her that I was very grateful. I would point out, by the way, that I had discussions with people like David de Burgh Graham. He was of the mindset that the way we should do it is as a group. We should try—I know it's very hard—to take the politics out of this. We should try to say that we're doing the right things for the right reasons, and we should respect the issues such as how we treat ourselves.
We ask a lot, when we come up here, of our families, for example, but some things we're doing for no reason. We should respect them and say, “Can we make ourselves better so that we are better for our citizens?” We would get to see our citizens and our families more, and we would be working properly.
All those things led me to this process, but why I had to have two horses.... As you well know, I came in, and I spoke to every single one of you individually, and I asked the same thing: Please look at it. I was very grateful, and I think that's the first thing I stated here. I'm very, very grateful that you agreed to do so, and I agree with your approach.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
I have a quick aside. I did read up on, “You're not allowed to read.” You can have notes. I decided not to put it in here. I do think we should go there, but we need to bring all of our colleagues along. They're not going to be trained to do that.
I want to challenge one other thing, before I answer your question, Scott. Our constituents care. Don't doubt that for a second. I challenge you, please: If any of you knock on doors over the next couple of weekends, ask, “Do you care about civility and the carrying on in the House of Commons? Does it matter to you?”
I had constituents talk to me about it, and I mentioned to them that I'm working on something. I name-dropped Michael Chong, because he's very well known and respected. I said to a guy, “Mr. Chong is collaborating with me,” and he was two thumbs up on that.
What do I hope comes out of it? I started, I have not deviated and as Mr. Nater asked me, I'm really hoping that you choose to bring this up to Parliament now, so that we start the next Parliament with these changes in place.
Written into the motion is a two-year trial period for the second chamber. If, after two years, you don't like it, and you want to change or get rid of it, you can unwind everything. It's very simple. I don't think we're asking for a lot. I know you say it's a big motion, but this turns around a second chamber. If you pull the second chamber out, the private member...has to go away and the citizens' rights for take-note debates have to be taken away, because there's no time in the main hall. All these things get unwound.
I will still go around and talk to any colleague who will talk to me about it. I'm asking you, as PROC, to let your colleagues pronounce themselves on it. If they say, “No, it's not good enough,” or, “We don't like it,” that's their right.
I don't think PROC should say, “We're denying the right of colleagues to speak.” I think your job is to say, “This is no good, and we're going to radically change it, or just update or tweak it.” Whatever you choose to do, that's your right, but I don't think it's your right to say, “Ah, you know what, we're just going to stop it from going up, because we don't want it.”
That's my hope, and I'm not entertaining other thoughts, honestly, Scott.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
I want to reflect on two of your points.
I read the rules on reading, and they are quite flexible. They would allow for the first person speaking does take into account situations like yours or the ministers'. They understand if the minister is giving a budget, he's not going to say he's doing this.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
But those things are written in the rules. It's not as if you're not reading at all. The rules are quite clear. Let's say you have to quote someone, wondering what that quote was, or if you're presenting a bill or a motion you would have the right to read it. They understand that.
I want to make the reading part clear even though it's misunderstood. That's why I wanted to clarify.
The second thing on the S.O. 31 is the last two reserved.... As I said, there has been degradation. It was understood the Speaker does whatever. The last couple were reserved because things come up, and the parties need to have it. Over time, that got taken over. Then this concept of rotation did happen for a while, at least in the Liberal Party, where you had four.... You knew months ahead that this was the day, get ready. It's the nature of the beast that over time things get centralized, and at some point we have to hit the reset button and say we're pushing it back out.
View Frank Baylis Profile
Lib. (QC)
Could I add a little bit there, David?
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