Debates of Feb. 7th, 1994
House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was standing.
- House Of Commons Standing Orders
- Kahnawake Band Council
- St. John's Church
- Grain Handlers' Strike
- Cigarette Taxes
- Cp Rail
- Cellular Telephones
- International Year Of The Family
- 1996 British Columbia Summer Games
- Crimes Of Violence
- Serial Killer Games
- Social And Co-Operative Housing
- Cn Rail
- Cigarette Taxes
- Cigarette Smuggling
- Indian Affairs
- Cigarette Smuggling
- Indian Affairs
- Cigarette Smuggling
- Labour Dispute
- Foreign Affairs
- Canadian Milk Board
- Vancouver Harbour
- Recall Legislation
- Michael Drake
- Border Crossings
- Labour Disputes
- Public Works
- Transportation Safety
- Canadian Multiculturalism Act
- Criminal Code
- Questions On Order Paper
- House Of Commons Standing Orders
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Herb Gray Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Solicitor General of Canada
That the Standing Orders of the House of Commons in force on January 28, 1994, be amended as follows:
I. That Standing Order 73 be amended
- By deleting sections (1) and (2) thereof and substituting the following therefor:
"(1) Immediately after the reading of the Order of the Day for the second reading of any public bill, a Minister of the Crown may propose a motion that the said bill be forthwith referred to a standing, special or legislative committee. The Speaker shall immediately propose the question to the House and proceedings thereon shall be subject to the following conditions: a ) the Speaker shall recognize for debate a Member from the party forming the Government, followed by a Member from the party forming the official Opposition, followed by a Member from each officially recognized party in the House, in order of the number of Members in that party, provided that, if no Member from the party whose turn has been reached rises, a Member of the next party in the rotation or a Member who is not a member of an officially recognized party may be recognized; b ) the motion shall not be subject to any amendment; c ) no Member may speak more than once nor longer than ten minutes; d ) after not more than 180 minutes of debate, the Speaker shall interrupt the debate and the question shall be put and decided without further debate or amendment.
(2) Every public bill, except for bills referred to a committee before being read a second time pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, shall be read twice and referred to a committee before any amendment may be made thereto.
(3) Unless otherwise ordered and except for bills referred to a committee before being read a second time pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, in giving a bill second reading, the same shall be referred to a standing, special or legislative committee."
- By renumbering sections (3) and (4) thereof as sections (4) and (5) respectively.
II. That section (1) of Standing Order 74 be amended by deleting the word "When" and by substituting therefor the words "Unless otherwise provided by Standing or Special Order, when", in paragraph ( a ), by deleting the words
or second speaker'' and substituting therefor the words, second or third speaker'' and in paragraph ( b ), by deleting the word
two'' and substituting therefor the wordthree''.
III. That the Standing Orders be amended:
- By inserting, immediately before Standing Order 76, the following:
"At Second Reading
- (1) The report stage of any bill reported by any standing, special or legislative committee before the bill has been read a second time shall not be taken into consideration prior to the third sitting day following the presentation of the said report, unless otherwise ordered by the House.
(2) If, not later than the second sitting day prior to the consideration of the report stage of a bill that has not yet been read a second time, written notice is given of any motion to amend, delete, insert or restore any clause in a bill, it shall be printed on a Notice Paper . When the same amendment is put on notice by more than one member, that notice shall be printed once, under the name of each member who has submitted it.
(3) When a recommendation of the Governor General is required in relation to any amendment of which notice has been given pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order, notice shall be given of the said Recommendation no later than the sitting day before the day on which the report stage is to commence and such notice shall be printed on the Notice Paper along with the amendment to which it pertains.
(4) An amendment, in relation to form only in a government bill, may be proposed by a Minister of the Crown without notice, but debate thereon may not be extended to the provisions of the clause or clauses to be amended. NOTE: The purpose of this section is to facilitate the incorporation into a bill of amendments of a strictly consequential nature flowing from the acceptance of other amendments. No waiver of notice would be permitted in relation to any amendment which would change the intent of the bill, no matter how slightly, beyond the effect of the initial amendment. (5) The Speaker shall have the power to select or combine amendments or clauses to be proposed at the report stage and may, if he or she thinks fit, call upon any Member who has given notice of an amendment to give such explanation of the subject of the amendment as may enable the Speaker to form a judgement upon it. If an amendment has been selected that has been submitted by more than one member, the Speaker, after consultation, shall designate which member shall propose it.
NOTE: The Speaker will not normally select for consideration any motion previously ruled out of order in committee, unless the reason for its being ruled out of order was that it required a recommendation of the Governor General, in which case the amendment may be selected only if such Recommendation has been placed on notice pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order. The Speaker will normally only select motions that were not or could not be presented in committee. A motion, previously defeated in committee, will only be selected if the Speaker judges it to be of such exceptional significance as to warrant a further consideration at the report stage. The Speaker will not normally select for separate debate a repetitive series of motions which are interrelated and, in making the selection, shall
consider whether individual Members will be able to express their concerns during the debate on another motion.
For greater certainty, the purpose of this Standing Order is, primarily, to provide Members who were not members of the committee with an opportunity to have the House consider specific amendments they wish to propose. It is not meant to be a reconsideration of the committee stage.
(6) When the Order of the Day for the consideration of the report stage is called, any amendment proposed pursuant to this Standing Order shall be open to debate and amendment.
(7) When debate is permitted, no Member shall speak more than once or longer than ten minutes during proceedings on any amendment at that stage.
(8) When a recorded division has been demanded on any amendment proposed during the report stage of a bill, the Speaker may defer the calling in of the Members for the purpose of recording the "yeas" and "nays" until more or all subsequent amendments to the bill have been considered. A recorded division or divisions may be so deferred from sitting to sitting. NOTE: In cases when there are an unusually great number of amendments for consideration at the report stage, the Speaker may, after consultation with the representatives of the parties, direct that deferred divisions be held before all amendments have been taken into consideration. (9) When proceedings at the report stage on any bill that has not been read a second time have been concluded, a motion
That the bill, as amended, be concurred in and be read a second time'' orThat the bill be concurred in and read a second time'' shall be put and forthwith disposed of, without amendment or debate.
(10) The report stage of a bill pursuant to this Standing Order shall be deemed to be an integral part of the second reading stage of the bill. When a bill has been concurred in and read a second time in accordance with the procedures set forth in this Standing Order, it shall be set down for a third reading and passage at the next sitting of the House.
After Second Reading".
- By renumbering Standing Order 76 as Standing Order 76.1 and by amending the said Standing Order: a ) in section (1) thereof, by inserting immediately after the word
committee'', the wordsafter the bill has been read a second time''; b ) in section (2) thereof, by inserting immediately after the word
stage'', the wordsof a bill that has been read a second time'' and by adding, at the end, the words,
When the same amendment is put on notice by more than one Member, that notice shall be printed once, under the name of each Member who has submitted it.''; <em>c</em> ) in section (3) thereof, by inserting immediately after the wordbill'', the words
that has been read a second time''; <em>d</em> ) in section (5) thereof, by adding, immediately after the wordsupon it'', the words,
If an amendment has been selected that has been submitted by more than one Member, the Speaker, after consultation, shall designate which Member shall propose it.''; <em>e</em> ) in section (6) thereof, by deleting the wordssection (2) of''; f ) by deleting section (8) thereof and by substituting the following therefor:
"(8) When a recorded division has been demanded on any amendment proposed during the report stage of a bill, the Speaker may defer the calling in of the Members for the purpose of recording the "yeas" and "nays" until more or all subsequent amendments to the bill have been considered. A recorded division or divisions may be so deferred from sitting to sitting. NOTE: In cases when there are an unusually great number of amendments for consideration at the report stage, the Speaker may, after consultation with the representatives of the parties, direct that deferred divisions be held before all amendments have been taken into consideration.'' ( g ) in section (9) thereof, by inserting immediately after the words
any bill'', the wordsthat has been read a second time''; h ) in section (10) thereof, by inserting immediately after the word
bill'', the wordsthat has been read a second time''; and i ) in section (11) thereof, by inserting immediately after the words
When a bill'', the wordsthat has been read a second time''.
IV. That Standing Order 113 be amended:
- By deleting section (1) thereof, and by substituting the following therefor:
"(1) Without anticipating the decision of the House, within five sitting days after the commencement of debate on a motion to appoint a legislative committee or to refer a bill thereto, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall meet to prepare, and shall report not later than the following Thursday, a list of members of such a legislative committee, which shall consist of not more than fifteen Members. Such a committee shall be organized only in the event that the
House adopts the motion for appointment or referral. Upon presentation of such a report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the same shall be deemed adopted."
- In section (3) thereof, by deleting all of the words after the word "meet" and by substituting therefor the words:
"within two sitting days of the naming of the Chairman and the adoption of the motion appointing or referring the bill to the committee of which the membership has been reported."
That Standing Order 68 be amended by adding, immediately after section (3), the following:
"(4)( a ) A motion by a Minister of the Crown to appoint or instruct a standing, special or legislative committee to prepare and bring in a bill, pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, shall be considered under Government Orders. During debate on any such motion no Member shall be permitted to speak more than once or for more than ten minutes. After not more than ninety minutes debate on any such motion, the Speaker shall interrupt debate and put all questions necessary to dispose of the motion without further debate or amendment. A motion by a Minister of the Crown to concur in the report of a committee pursuant to this section or to section (4)(b) of this Standing Order shall also be taken up under Government Orders and shall, for the purposes of Standing Order 78, be considered to be a stage of a public bill. b ) A motion by a Private Member to appoint or instruct a standing, special or legislative committee to prepare and bring in a bill, pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, shall be considered as a motion under Private Members' Business and shall be subject to the procedures in that regard set down in Standing Orders 86 to 99, inclusive. A motion by a member other than a Minister of the Crown to concur in the report of a committee pursuant to this section or to section (4)( a ) of this Standing Order shall also be taken up as a motion under Private Members' Business pursuant to the aforementioned Standing Orders in that regard.
(5) A committee appointed or instructed to prepare and bring in a bill shall, in its report, recommend the principles, scope and general provisions of the said bill and may, if it deems it appropriate, but not necessarily, include recommendations regarding legislative wording.
(6) The adoption of a motion to concur in a report made pursuant to section (5) of this Standing Order shall be an order to bring in a bill based thereon.
(7)( a ) When a Minister of the Crown, in proposing a motion for first reading of a bill, has stated that the bill is in response to an order made pursuant to section (6) of this Standing Order, notwithstanding any Standing Order, the bill shall not be set down for consideration at the second reading stage before the third sitting day after having been read a first time. The second reading and any subsequent stages of such a bill shall be considered under Government Orders. When a motion for second reading of such a bill is proposed, notwithstanding any Standing Order, the Speaker shall immediately put all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill without debate or amendment. b ) When a member other than a Minister of the Crown, in proposing a motion for first reading of a bill, has stated that the bill is in response to an order made pursuant to section (6) of this Standing Order, and if the bill has been selected pursuant to Standing Order 92, when a motion for second reading of such a bill has been proposed, notwithstanding any Standing Order, the Speaker shall immediately put all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill without debate or amendment.
(8) A Minister of the Crown may propose a motion for first reading of a bill based on an order made pursuant to section (6) of this Standing Order, whether that order was the result of a motion by Minister or of a private member, and notwithstanding the provisions of section (4)( b ) of this Standing Order, any such bill shall thereafter be considered under Government Orders.''
That Standing Order 81 be amended by adding at the end of section (8)( a ) the words ``In any calendar year, no more than one fifth of all the allotted days shall fall on a Wednesday and no more than one fifth thereof shall fall on a Friday.'' and by inserting immediately after section (6) the following:
"(7) When Main Estimates are referred to a standing committee the committee shall also be empowered to consider and report upon the expenditure plans and priorities in future fiscal years of the departments and agencies whose Main Estimates are before it.
(8) Any report made in accordance with section (7) of this Standing Order may be made up to and including the last normal sitting day in June, as set forth in Standing Order 28(2), and shall be deemed to be subject to the provisions of section (9) of this Standing Order."
and by renumbering the subsequent sections accordingly.
That the Standing Orders be amended by inserting immediately after the title "Budget Debate" and before Standing Order 84, the following:
"83.1 Commencing on the first sitting day in September of each year, the Standing Committee on Finance shall be authorized to consider and make reports upon proposals regarding the budgetary policy of the government. Any report or reports thereon may be made no later than the tenth sitting day before the last normal sitting day in December, as set forth in Standing Order 28(2)."
That Standing Order 83(4) be amended by deleting the period and adding the following:
"or to propose an amendment or amendments to a bill then before the House, provided that such amendment or amendments are otherwise admissible."
I.That Standing Order 24 be amended by deleting sections (2) and (3) and substituting the following therefor:
"(2) At 6:30 o'clock p.m. on any sitting day except Friday and at 2:30 o'clock p.m. on Fridays, the Speaker shall adjourn the House until the next sitting day."
II. That Standing Order 30(4)( a ) be amended by deleting the words
the mid-day interruption'' and by substituting therefor, the wordsoral questions''.
III. That Standing Order 30(6) be amended by deleting the words "Private Members' Business-from 5:00 to 6:00 o'clock p.m." and the words "Private Members' Business-from 7:00 to 8:00 o'clock p.m." and substituting therefor the words " Private Members' Business-from 5:30 to 6:30 o'clock p.m." and by deleting the words "Private Members' Business-from 3:00 to 4:00 o'clock p.m." and substituting therefor the words "Private Members' Business-from 1:30 to 2:30 o'clock p.m."
IV. That Standing Order 30 be amended by deleting section (7) thereof and by substituting the following therefor:
"(7) If the beginning of Private Members' Hour is delayed for any reason, or if the Hour is interrupted for any reason, a period of time corresponding to the time of the delay or interruption shall be added to the end of the Hour, provided that if the delay or interruption continues past thirty minutes after the time at which the Hour would have ordinarily ended, Private Members' Hour for that day and the business scheduled for consideration at that time, or any remaining portion thereof, shall be added to the business of the House on a day to be fixed, after consultation, by the Speaker, who shall attempt to designate that day within the next ten sitting days, but who, in any case shall not permit the intervention of more than one adjournment period provided for in Standing Order 28(2)."
V. That Standing Order 33(2) be deleted and the following substituted therefor:
"(2) A period of time corresponding to the time taken for the proceedings pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order shall be added to the time provided for government business in the afternoon of the day on which the said proceedings took place. Private Members Business, where applicable, and the ordinary time of daily adjournment shall be delayed accordingly, notwithstanding Standing Orders 24, 30 and 38 or any Order made pursuant to Standing Order 27."
VI. That Standing Order 38(1) be amended by deleting the words "6:00" and substituting therefor the words "6:30".
VII. That Standing Order 41(1) be amended by deleting all of the words before the word "unless" and by substituting the words "Whenever the business before the House is interrupted pursuant to Standing Order or Special Order,".
That this Order shall come into effect on the Monday following its adoption.
That Standing Order 51 be suspended for the present Session.
That the Clerk be authorized to make necessary editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders.
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs examine procedures regarding members statements, special debates, the taking of divisions of the House by electronic means, the conduct of Private Members' Business, especially with regard to Private Bills and to Senate Public Bills, any anomalies or technical inconsistencies in the Standing Orders, the reform of question period, measures to achieve more direct participation by citizens, including citizens' initiative, the right of constituents to recall their M.P., binding referenda, free votes in the House of Commons, debates on petitions and fixed election dates.
Mr. Speaker, the motion to change the rules of the House, which I am proposing today, is intended to implement a number of commitments that my party made in the recent election campaign and in the throne speech in order to revive and revitalize the House of Commons.
In the speech from the throne, the government committed itself to "enhance the credibility of Parliament". The changes they propose to make to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons "will give the hon. members the opportunity to be more actively involved in the development of government policies and legislation".
As I have said in quoting the throne speech, what we want to do is renew and revitalize the House of Commons. Of course changing the rules of the House does not alone bring about its revitalization. It is the extent to which the new procedures are used that will make the difference.
Today we are providing a framework for renewal. It will be up to all members, both government and opposition, to make these procedures effective.
It is to state the obvious to say that Canadians have in recent years, and I think especially over the last nine years, grown increasingly dissatisfied with the way the House of Commons has functioned. They have been unimpressed both with the process that the House has used to do its business and with much of the results. The changes to the standing orders, the rules of the House, proposed today make a beginning on improving the process. Our success in improving the process will, in my view, have a constructive influence on improving the product.
Our Parliament is an institution founded on developments many centuries ago. It is one that has evolved over the years to meet the changing expectations of society. We believe that the Canadian system of parliamentary government is fundamentally sound but that the recent practices of the House of Commons have become inadequate to meet the expectations of the Canadian people.
Canadians expect responsive as well as responsible government. Many Canadians have in recent years come to feel that the House of Commons has failed them in this regard. They also expect more transparency in government decision making. In this regard as well, Canadians have been dissatisfied with parliamentary proceedings. Also, our electors want us to conduct their business in an orderly and civil fashion. They have not been overly impressed with the record of the House in recent years on this front either.
However, the new government has been making a real effort to have the House operate with a more constructive tone and with a better sense of decorum. The opposition parties, I am happy to say, have been making a similar effort and the results have been a matter of favourable comment by many outside the House.
Members will note that the proposals in this motion do not represent radical departures from some of the ways in which the House has operated. They in fact reinforce the fundamentals of our system. By this I mean they seek to restore a more active role to our members of Parliament and to provide a better balance between them and the government. The proposals are the end product not just of the Liberal platform, but of intensive study in recent years both inside and outside the House.
There has been a growing consensus both inside and outside the House that proposals such as the ones we find in the motion before us are essential to the recognition by Canadians of the House of Commons as the central institution of our federal government. We do not apologize for what appears to be a national consensus. We are pleased to be able to act on this national consensus and this is what we are doing today.
I want to mention some of those who have contributed to the development of this consensus.
A year ago there was an important report prepared by the present minister of government services and the hon. members for Saint-Léonard, for Kingston and the Islands, and for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell. This report deserves our recognition.
Several months later the standing committee on House management made its very useful 81st report which represented work not only by the members I have just named but also by such members as the member for Winnipeg Transcona and former members, such as the hon. Jim Edwards.
There have also been many studies by academic and private sector organizations. There has been work over the years by the Parliamentary Centre for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade under the leadership of Peter Dobell. The House has benefited as well from commentary on procedural matters by journalists such as Hugh Winsor, Doug Fisher and, yes, Bob Fife.
In the immediate past weeks we also benefited from constructive discussions with the Official Opposition, with the Reform Party and with other members. I would like to thank particularly the hon. members Roberval and Kindersley-Lloydminster, the House leaders for the Bloc and the Reform Party, for making a number of constructive suggestions which we have been happy to incorporate into this motion.
I believe this kind of collaboration and consensus building is what the Canadian people desire of their elected representatives. I am confident all members who want to build a more vital and more relevant House of Commons will be able to support these proposals.
The House actually got a head start in its proposals last week when it unanimously approved a restructuring of the committee system. At that time the standing committees were realigned to match the new structure of the government to make it absolutely clear which committee would deal with which of the departments and agencies. One important feature of the reforms adopted last week was the confirmation that the standing committees and not the legislative committees would be the usual and customary route for the consideration of the committee stage of bills.
The motion before us today follows and adds to the changes made last week. I would like to now turn to its specific provisions.
The main object of today's motion is to put in place more of the parliamentary framework that will permit members to do what was promised by my party in the election campaign and in the throne speech. This promise was to enable members of Parliament to play a greater role in the legislative process before being limited in their scope of action by the approval in principle of a bill that is implied by second reading.
Second, our proposal will give members an opportunity to have more input in the preparation of annual departmental spending plans. This will be a considerable enhancement of their role in the present process whereby they merely review the estimates for the current fiscal year. Since these estimates bear the constitutionally required recommendations of the Governor General, they are procedurally difficult to alter.
Third, our motion would enable members to be directly involved in the consideration of proposals for the annual budget and in consultations about it before being confronted with formal tax measures to which the government must be constitutionally committed.
It is our proposal that these tasks be undertaken through the work of members in the standing committees of the House holding hearings, listening to witnesses and arriving openly at decisions and recommendations.
In a country as vast and complex as Canada every government decision represents a compromise. Every decision on legislation, on expenditure and on taxation affects different groups and regions in our country in different ways. No decision can be reached without consulting a wide range of Canadians, without considering the views of provinces and municipalities and without extensive consultations within the government itself,
that is among departments of the federal government. As a result virtually every government decision represents myriad compromises.
The difficulty that the present practices cause for our democratic society is that most of these consultations and compromises occur before legislation or financial proposals are made public in Parliament.
There is little transparency in this pre-parliamentary process which gives natural rise to suspicions, justified or not, about its fairness and balance.
The impact of this approach on Parliament is as a consequence often negative. Interested groups unhappy with the result of the process may simply seek champions of their opposition in the House and often find them in one or more of the opposition parties as well as in individual members on the government side.
Also ministers and their officials, having already been involved in extensive consultation and compromise, are very often highly reluctant to agree to substantial alterations of the bill in the House. As a result, what could be a constructive and potentially more unifying parliamentary process may well become confrontational and lead to more division instead of some reasonable degree of consensus?
It is true that in a regionally, socially and economically diverse country such as Canada, arrival at consensus on national policy is not easy. When attempts at reaching such compromise appear to be restricted to private and even secret processes, however, it is at the expense of the valuable educational and enlightening effects of more public involvement. All this merely exacerbates mistrust and suspicions and makes the arrival at some reasonable degree of national consensus unlikely or certainly more difficult.
Canadians have the sophistication and the generosity to cope with the forging of at least some of these difficult compromises more in public than has been the case before now. There may be some who doubt this but I am convinced that most Canadians are capable of understanding each other's needs and positions and are willing to sanction the kinds of compromises between regional, social and economic groups that are necessary to govern so diverse a nation as Canada.
What is more, it is important that a modern democratic government, more often than at present, more openly involve its citizens in this kind of decision making. The government must give more trust to its citizens and their elected representatives if citizens are to trust their government. Therefore we are proposing two new avenues, two new routes, for the House to deal with legislation in addition to the one already in existence.
The first new avenue, the first new route, would see the government introduce a bill for first reading but after a short debate of up to three hours and a vote, if necessary, the bill would be referred to a committee, usually a standing committee, before rather than after second reading and approval in principle.
The committee would be able to hold extensive hearings and would be able to make amendments to the bill unrestricted by the present limitations considered to be imposed by approval in principle at second reading. Committees would be in a position to make extensive revisions to the legislation. Amendments of a similarly broad nature could be proposed at the report stage after the bill was sent back to the House and this would be prior to the completion of the second reading stage.
When the report stage is concluded, under this new procedure a motion for second reading would be disposed of without further debate and the bill would be set down for consideration at the third reading stage at a future sitting.
The third reading stage as well as the earlier report stage would continue to provide broad opportunities for all MPs who wish to engage in debate of a more general nature on the bill in question.
The second new avenue or route would see a committee, on motion by a minister or by a private member, if it is a matter during private members' hour, charged with the responsibility of preparing a bill. Such a committee, likely a standing committee, could hold wide ranging hearings on what ought to be included in the legislation and would report to the House on the principles, provisions and scope of the proposed bill.
That report could include some of the drafting. Concurrence in the report would be an order of the House to bring in such a bill. The bill, having already been subject to extensive debate in principle during consideration of the motion to concur, would have to be given second reading expeditiously and referred to committee for detailed study of its legislative language. Subsequent consideration by the House would take place under already existing legislative procedures.
One of the features of this route would be that the government, if impressed with a private member's initiative, can move it for consideration as compared with the slow and difficult procedure usually applied to private members' bills.
As I have said, in addition to these two new routes the present legislative process will also be retained, the process of sending a bill to committee, only after the vote on second reading.
The House and its committees will need to develop the techniques and the expertise required to make the new procedures effective. We propose to make a relatively limited number of government bills subject to the new procedures in the
beginning. I foresee the two new routes becoming more and more the procedures to be preferred by the government.
The great advantage of these new procedures, these new routes, would be that members would be able to do what they and those who elected them have always expected, and that is to do more to develop legislation.
There is, however, an important additional potential benefit to be gained. The broad role of standing committees with regard to a bill dealt with in either of these two new processes could substantially reduce the quasi-proprietary attitude of ministers and their officials toward their legislation. By the time such a bill is ready for second or third reading, it could be as much the committee's bill as it is that of the sponsoring minister. It has been suggested that a vote on second or third reading of such a bill could as a consequence of this be more difficult to describe as, standing by itself, a confidence issue. Members on all sides of the House could find themselves freed more often of constitutional implications in voting and would be able to depart from party positions without concerns about defeating the government.
In other words, the suggestion has been made to me that these two new legislative routes could be one way of increasing the number of so-called free votes.
The new procedures also can help avoid situations that all governments face from time to time. They result from a bill's being developed within departments without sufficiently broad and open public consultation. As a consequence, things could be overlooked and the governments as a result are embarrassed, to say the least, when the bill must be dramatically changed or even withdrawn in the face of a strong expression of negative public opinion after that bill has been introduced.
I would like now to turn to our proposals regarding greater involvement of members of the House in financial procedures. Under present rules the House does not deal with government expenditure until the estimates, the spending programs for the current fiscal year as recommended by the crown, have been put before it.
The estimates are complex and difficult to analyze and are, for constitutional reasons, difficult to change. In addition, their consideration is subject to a rigorous timetable. Main estimates are referred to standing committees late in February and their study must be completed in committee by the end of May of the same year. As a result, the examination of estimates has become rather cursory and there has been no focus for parliamentary debate on government spending before its spending priorities are actually set.
We propose, therefore, that concurrently with consideration of the main estimates for the current fiscal year, each standing committee must also consider the future expenditure priorities for the subsequent fiscal year of the departments and agencies for which it is responsible.
The committees would be required to report their findings and recommendations by the end of June in order to fit into the government's administrative timetable for preparing the next year's estimates, a process that occurs in the autumn of each year.
The House would thus have the opportunity to provide the government and the public with its views on expenditure priorities before the estimates for the next fiscal year are prepared rather than being put in the difficult position of having to deal with what amounts to almost a fait accompli when the estimates are finally tabled.
Turning to another matter, the annual budget presentation by the Minister of Finance usually takes place around the end of February of each year. We are proposing in this motion, therefore, that the Standing Committee on Finance be required to undertake an annual public consultation on what should be in the next budget and in so doing to conduct extensive public hearings. This consultation would have to take place in the fall of each year between September and December so as to fit into the real timetable for budget preparation by the Department of Finance.
Having the consultation take place in this time period would make the involvement of parliamentarians meaningful and relevant. This would provide a forum for both parliamentarians and the public to air their views on these important matters well before the budget is locked in in order for it to be presented around the end of February.
This would also enable the Minister of Finance to test proposals and ideas with the public less hindered by the often misunderstood and often exaggerated concept of budget secrecy.
The idea is that while the minister would still take care to avoid giving unfair commercial advantage through advance notice of what the budget would actually contain, he or she would have the benefit of public and parliamentary comment before, rather than after, preparing the budget. Also this would be done because the study has to take place in the finance committee in the fall of each year before a budget is expected to be presented the following February. This would have to take place at a point close to when decisions are being made within the government on the contents of the budget.
I should add that the public could well benefit from a better understanding of the options, and by analysis of the committee proceedings hopefully would be more confident that the budge once published reflects its needs.
In addition to providing the framework for implementing our platform commitments and what was said in the throne speech, the motion seeks to regularize the hours of sitting of the House. Over the years evening sittings in my view have proven to be unproductive for legislation and not helpful to the health and family life of members and the staff of the House.
Evening sittings will still occur when the House is debating general policy matters that attract an unusually high level of participation, as we have seen in the last few weeks, or holding special debates on matters of urgency. However, we consider it desirable that the House not usually sit during the evenings in order to give members more time for committees, for work in their offices and perhaps, most important, time for some normal home life for those whose families come to be in Ottawa.
We wish as well to accommodate members' travel on weekends to their constituencies by reverting to an earlier adjournment time on Fridays. We would make up the time lost by sitting until 6.30 p.m. rather than 6 p.m. during the week and by doing away with the break between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
We are also proposing a measure that would protect the right of private members to have their proposals debated for the full allotted of time as well a measure that would recognize in the rules the need for the House to make certain amendments from time to time to tax bills that are already before the House.
There are a number of other areas of parliamentary procedure that have been subject to comment from both within and outside the House including what has been mentioned in the House management committee's 81st report of which I spoke earlier. These include such matters as the conduct of Question Period, special debates and Private Members' Business. I do not believe that these should be the subject of an initiative by the government at the beginning of new Parliament, especially one in which more than two-thirds of the members are new to the House. In addition there is the question of electronic voting, a subject that has engendered a lot of discussion in recent years.
These subjects as well as a number of other issues such as recall, referenda, citizens' initiatives, are among those that should be addressed in a parliamentary study. As a result we are proposing that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs put them on its agenda for early consideration.
Also the government has decided that as a part of its effort to enhance the relevance of the House of Commons, ministers must, whenever possible, make announcements regarding policy first here in the House and before meeting the press rather than after.
This enables members to hear first about such decisions in the House of Commons. This also facilitates formal responses by the opposition parties. We saw a good example of how this approach can work with a statement by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration just last week.
It is also the government's intention to continue the innovation seen in the last few weeks in which the government, on its own initiative, sets aside a significant portion of its own House time for general debates on policy issues of current and immediate significance.
I believe this enhances the role of members since their voices will be heard here in the House of Commons more often before decisions are made rather than afterward.
I want to turn to a subject that is not mentioned in the motion itself, but I anticipate that some of the debate on the motion will concern this subject. It is the subject of so-called free votes. I want to spend a few minutes discussing this important topic.
The subject does not appear in the motion because in our view it is not a matter that can be dealt with effectively by the rules themselves. In fact it is not a matter dealt with now by the rules, the standing orders of the House. Instead I have concluded it is a matter to be dealt with by each party and each party's members themselves.
A government may choose to declare a vote a free vote but it cannot oblige the other parties in the House to accept such a declaration. For example, in the last Parliament the House had before it a bill on abortion which government backbenchers and the Official Opposition regarded as a free vote but which the then third party declared to be as far as it was concerned a party vote, that is one of party policy from which dissent by its members was not acceptable to it.
We should also bear in mind that this question is as much one of self-discipline as it is of party discipline.
Most members of this House sought election on the basis that they were supporters of a particular party, its leader and its program. This is certainly the case for the Liberals who campaigned on a more fully detailed and developed platform than is usually the case. Electors likely expect their members to represent them in a manner that is consistent with the basis on which their members sought election.
A more complex consideration here is that the question of free votes is not only a matter of internal parliamentary procedure. We are dealing here with the Constitution. To be sure it is the largely unwritten part of our constitution but it is a vital part, crucial to the whole concept of parliamentary democracy.
It is a fundamental constitutional principle that the government in order to hold office must command the confidence of the House of Commons. Confidence means that the House does not only agree that the Prime Minister and the cabinet ought to remain in office, but in order to permit them to do so the that House is prepared to support their fundamental policies. This is a basic element of the unwritten part of the Constitution, that part which stems from the preamble to the Constitution Act which states that Canada is to have a constitution "similar in
principle to that of the United Kingdom". In other words, we are the heirs to hundreds of years of constitutional practice and are at the same time both liberated and bound by that legacy.
For more than 300 years it has been a constitutional principle in the United Kingdom, and later in Canada, that ministers in order to hold office must have the support of the House of Commons in the sense that they are assured of a majority on their central policies. They must demonstrate on an ongoing basis the ability to persuade the House to grant the crown the funds necessary to carry on the government, to raise the necessary moneys through taxes and to enact the laws the ministry considers essential for good government.
Under our constitution the House may express its satisfaction with ministers who hold office by passing motions expressing confidence or defeating motions of censure from time to time. But if that same House were at the same time to deny regularly to the ministers the funds needed to administer the government or the taxes to pay its bills or the legislation the ministers believe essential, those ministers would be shown to be unable to govern.
As a result, they would have to leave office or seek the election of a new House. The confidence of the House and the government is not simply something that is periodically voted upon. It is something that is also gained or lost on a cumulative basis.
Not long ago the Prime Minister was asked in the House to commit the government to a process whereby it could, after any defeat on any bill or motion other than an explicit no confidence motion, bring before the House a motion reaffirming the confidence of the House and the ministry and if sustained in that motion to carry on.
This process, if sparingly used, is a legitimate one. It was employed in the House once 25 years ago. This happened when a government, having carried a tax bill successfully through all earlier stages, was not sufficiently prudent and held the final vote at what proved to be the wrong time. Having been defeated on the third reading of that bill, the government later brought in a motion that specifically declared that situation not to have been an intentional declaration by the House of no confidence in the government. The House accepted the motion and the government carried on.
It is not however a device that is, if resorted to on a regular basis, at all compatible with Canadian and British constitutional theory or practice. A government, I submit, in order to remain in office must be able to count upon Parliament to support the essentials that the programs that it places before it and upon which its members were elected. Both the Constitution and the electorate expect the government to do something more than to simply cling to office. A government is expected to pursue the program on which it was elected.
This is not to say that the government must be on the winning side of every vote in the House in order to stay in office. Far from it. The Sir John A. Macdonald government between 1867 and 1872 absorbed many defeats both on legislation and on supply. The Trudeau government between 1972 and 1974 also carried on despite defeat, including some on supply.
The cumulative effect of votes in both of those parliaments however was supportive of these governments. By and large they got their legislative programs and their central fiscal policies adopted.
The question of confidence is far from straightforward. This was demonstrated during the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne in January 1973 when then Prime Minister Trudeau presented an exposition of the confidence convention and said:
Some things for us will be questions of confidence. Some things would mean the demise of the government. If, for instance, there should be a clear vote of no confidence in the government, if the government should be defeated on fundamentals, on basic principles-we shall go to the people-But I hasten to add that other questions, if they go against us, will not be interpreted by the government as a defeat of the government.
He was then followed by the then leader of the New Democratic Party, the late David Lewis, who summed up in his view what was Mr. Trudeau's position on confidence as being:
We will let you know whether it was confidence after.
Mr. Lewis begged to differ. He said:
I want to tell him that, as far as we are concerned, it will be parliament that will make that decision.
Constitutional experts tell us the fact is that both Mr. Trudeau and the late Mr. Lewis were correct. A government can always assert that the results of any vote in the House demonstrates that it enjoys the confidence of the House. However, in the final analysis it has to prove this claim on an ongoing basis by continuing to win crucial votes here in the House. This shows how complex the question really is.
Our Constitution differs from that of the United States. There the executive and legislature are rigorously separated. In Canada the executive and legislature are not rigorously separated as is the case in the United States. Our Constitution does not permit the executive and the legislative body to function almost independently, often working in opposite directions.
This is not to say that our Constitution is based upon the subservience of the legislature to the executive. Indeed in principle at least the reverse is true. It is the central thrust of our proposed procedural reform, the reforms we are discussing today, to reinforce the role of members of this House without sacrificing the mutually interlinked, the symbiotic relationship between executive and legislature that is the hallmark of a parliamentary democracy.
While this issue is as I have said more complex than some would have us believe, I do not wish in describing these complexities to leave the House with the impression that the government is reluctant to depart from the recent practice of treating virtually every vote in the House as a matter of confidence. In fact it is definitely not the intention of the government to treat every vote as a matter of confidence. There will certainly be more occasions than in the past when this government will not regard issues before the House as matters of confidence, whether these be on amendments, on bills or on other motions.
I think I should return to the motion before us and to say in conclusion that I want to repeat that this motion is intended to provide an important new framework for both immediate and ongoing parliamentary reform. However, it will still be up to members on both sides of the House to make it work.
I want to assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it is the government's intention, it is the intention of members supporting the government, to make these changes work. I believe this motion will carry out the government's commitment in the throne speech to enhance the credibility of Parliament by giving members of Parliament a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of public policy and legislation.
I urge this House to adopt this motion as a substantial contribution to achieving these important objectives which are aimed at restoring the confidence of Canadians in the House of Commons as the central institution of our federal government and of our parliamentary democracy.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC
Mr. Speaker, in the speech from the throne, the government committed itself to enhancing the credibility of Parliament. It also announced that changes would be proposed to the standing orders of the House of Commons to give members of Parliament a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of public policy and legislation.
Today, the government introduced its proposals for parliamentary reform. The Official Opposition does not object to the proposed changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. However we do have some reservations.
Certain aspects of the proposed reform violate the fundamental principles of our parliamentary system. In other areas, we feel it does not go far enough, and we seriously doubt that the few changes being proposed will be able to restore Parliament's image and enhance the role of its members in the eyes of the public.
We realize that updating the rules in the Standing Orders is not a task to be taken lightly. Parliamentary procedure is extremely complex. It is based on principles that are meant to protect the inherent values of a democratic society like ours. Any attempt at reform must be done with great care, to avoid undermining the fundamental principles of our parliamentary democracy. As Charles Franks, founding president of the Canadian Study of Parliament Group pointed out, parliamentary reform is not a straightforward technique to make Parliament more effective and efficient, although it is often presented in those terms. This kind of reform is about the interests that legislators must serve in Canada and how various points of view may or may not affect choices and results.
However, we know that thorough reform is possible, witness the sweeping reforms of 1968 and 1985. It is enough to observe the following rule: any changes in the Standing Orders must conform to the fundamental principles of the Canadian parliamentary system.
Before taking a closer look at the government's proposals, perhaps I may briefly recall, for the benefit of this House, the underlying principles.
The Canadian parliamentary system is derived from the British system. In fact, according to the preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867, the Canadian Constitution is based on the same principles as those applied in the United Kingdom.
Historically, the British parliamentary system has consisted in a set of techniques for co-operation between the government, called the King's Council, and the elected assembly or House of Commons. To encourage co-operation between the two powers, the British created various means of contact as well as certain controls and constraints.
Normally, these parliamentary techniques should have disappeared when the supremacy of Parliament, represented by the House of Commons, became the sole legitimate basis for the exercise of political power in Great Britain and Canada. However the need to reconcile parliamentary supremacy and effective government led to maintaining the parliamentary mechanisms that we know today.
Briefly, the British parliamentary system is based on maintaining a balance between the government's right to govern and the right of the House of Commons to control the government's activities, according to the principles of parliamentary supremacy.
To maintain this very necessary balance, the British parliamentary system requires a flexible sharing of legislative and executive powers by Parliament and the government, while stressing co-operation.
The government enjoys the confidence of members of Parliament who belong to the party that has the majority of the seats in the House of Commons. This allows the government to dictate the business of the House. Although the House of Commons conducts its business as it sees fit, it is more or less subject to the government's will. This mechanism allows the government to govern.
However, members of the House of Commons enjoy guarantees by which they are free to criticize the nature of government activity. These guarantees arise from the Standing Orders of the House and certain conventions. The preservation of the rights of the opposition is one of the basic unwritten rules.
The contemporary role of the House of Commons is therefore to monitor the government's actions. The main function of its members is to publicly and freely challenge and criticize the government and the measures it tables in the House. Any infringement of the member's role diminishes the usefulness of the House of Commons as a democratic institution.
As a result of the last election, the 54 members of the official Opposition were given the mandate to defend the interests of their constituents in the House of Commons pursuant to Parliamentary rules and traditions. They intend to assume the traditional role entrusted them under the Canadian parliamentary tradition to monitor the government's actions. However, Quebec voters did not give them the mandate to reform federal institutions such as the House of Commons.
Granted, the government has presented us with a proposed reform of the Standing Orders of the House, and it is its prerogative to do so. We have decided to co-operative to fully assume our parliamentary role and carry out our mandate. But our duties are not limited to approving the government's proposed amendments to the Standing Orders. We must also offer constructive criticism of the proposed reform. The Official Opposition intends to underline not only the positive aspects but also the shortcomings and oversights in the government proposals. The objective of this approach is to reassert the value of the members' work while respecting the underlying principles of the Canadian parliamentary system.
As representatives of Quebec voters, we cannot let the House lose some of the tools it has to monitor the government's actions. We would prefer to see an increase in the number of such tools. In fact, the Opposition watches over the transparency and openness of the House of Commons proceedings, in order to preserve the democratic values of our society.
In this regard, we are a little surprised by two amendments to the Standing Orders put forward by the government: the referral of a bill to a committee after the first reading and the delegation to a committee of the responsibility to draft a bill. Of course, the government asserts that noble goals are behind these proposals. Unfortunately, they will result in suppressing debate in the House on the principle of government bills.
The first amendment enables a minister to propose a motion to refer a bill to a committee right after the first reading subject to a short 180 minute debate during which no amendment would be allowed. Once the motion had been passed, the bill would then be referred to a committee controlled by the government majority for review.
The report stage would then be followed by second reading without amendment or debate. The report stage would become part of the second reading stage. The bill would then be reviewed at the third reading stage pursuant to the current Standing Orders.
Of course, Opposition members would have the opportunity to address in the House the principle of the bill during the initial debate on the referral motion. However, the debate would then be shorter than the usual second reading debate. Moreover, the members would lose the opportunity to propose the postponement of second reading or to put forward a reasoned amendment. The proposal to amend Standing Orders 73 and 76 and to add Standing Order 76(1) would limit debate in the House on the principle of the bill.
Comment 659 in the sixth edition of Beauchesne reads as follows:
The second reading is the most important stage through which the bill is required to pass; for its whole principle is then at issue and is affirmed or denied by a vote of the House.
The debate and vote on the principle of a bill is the Opposition members' main mechanism to control government bills. It enables them to criticize in the House the principle of a bill before the clause by clause review in committee.
It would be difficult to question the principle of a bill in committee at the report stage while trying to amend it clause by clause. As a result of this amendment, the debate on principle would be diluted by that on the amendments to each clause of the bill. We will debate technicalities without having discussed clearly and openly the opportunity of the bill. That is why the opposition has reservations about this amendment. In our opinion, it affects the fundamental right of members of Parliament to have an input in the legislative activities of government, a right which is at the very root of the Canadian parliamentary system.
We doubt that such an amendment will renew the credibility of this House in the eyes of Canadians. We could have had something more substantial to reassert the value of Parliament.
We feel uneasy about another amendment and for the same reason: the one allowing a minister to put a motion to instruct a committee to prepare and bring in a draft government bill. In its report, the committee would recommend the principles, scope and provisions of the draft bill.
Concurrence in this report by the House would constitute an order of the House for the government to bring in a bill based on the report, but not necessarily the one recommended by the committee. The government bill would then be introduced for first reading. The third sitting day after having been read a first time, the bill would be set down for consideration at the second reading stage, and immediately voted upon without debate or amendment.
In effect, this amendment to Standing Order 68 prevents members from debating in the House the principle of government bills. Certainly members are involved in the preparation of the draft, but their input is more theoretical than anything else, as far as we are concerned. In fact, the decision rests with the majority of the members of the committee who come from the government party.
The principle of the bill adopted in committee essentially reflects the wishes of the government. It cannot be argued therefore that opposition members participate fully to the preparation of the bill. They do participate in the debate on the committee report and can propose amendments. By then however, the bill tabled by the government has turned into an entirely new governmental bill that can be different from the draft bill tabled by the committee.
This can hardly be seen as the same bill. In fact, we are dealing with an entirely new bill, the principle of which has never been considered. This amendment denies the members the right to debate in this House the relevancy of the new government bill. Also, the involvement of opposition members in the preparation of the bill is used to claim later that they were in agreement. It is basically infringing upon the right of opposition members to examine the legislative activity of government by forcing them to conduct a fundamental part of their work as parliamentarians in committee, without debating the principle of the bill.
Again, the opposition doubts that this is the sort of amendment that will enhance the work performed by the opposition members. It undermines a major aspect of the Canadian parliamentary system, in that the members are to monitor the legislative activities of government through an open debate in the House of Commons on the principle of governmental bills. For that reason, it would be dangerous for the Official Opposition to say that this amendment will help remedy the negative perception the public may have of the House of Commons.
In spite of these reservations, the Official Opposition recognizes that some of the changes proposed by the government are indeed interesting. Two amendments are timid steps in the right direction. First, the amendment to Standing Order 81, empowers standing committees to consider government expenditures for future years.
Second, adding Standing Order 83(1) authorizes the Finance committee to make reports on budgetary policies before the tabling of the budget.
These proposals, however, are not enough. The government forgot to include some measures which would have enhanced, in a concrete manner, the status of the work done by MPs, thereby improving the credibility of Parliament as a whole. By proposing that the House of Commons examine order-in-council appointments before such appointments take effect, the government would have taken a giant step toward transparency.
It would have been in everyone's interests, including the Prime Minister, the opposition parties, the members of Parliament and the candidates to those positions, to submit to the House, as part of this parliamentary reform, a procedure allowing the members and the public to participate in the appointment process. In so doing, the government would have concretely enhanced the status of the work done by MPs and would have given back some credibility to Parliament.
Yet, during the election campaign, the Liberals promised to restore integrity within the federal government administration. On page 92 of their famous election program, the Liberals accused the Conservatives of choosing political friends when making key appointments within the government, adding that they would put an end to this reprehensible practice. The Liberals committed themselves to making appointments on the basis of competence.
Why then did they not propose, as part of this parliamentary reform, a review process which would take place prior to confirming order in council appointments? We wonder.
Giving MPs the power to approve order in council appointments before their coming into effect would have been an excellent way of solving the problem exposed by the Liberal Party in its election program. Indeed, to allow the House of Commons to review order in council appointments of parliamentary officials, judges, ambassadors, high commissioners, top civil servants, chairpersons and directors of Crown corporations, as well as of those appointed to various regulating agencies, organizations and tribunals, would certainly have
been an excellent way of removing the negative perception the general public has of some of our political institutions.
The idea is not a new one. Such a review process already exists in another great democracy, namely the United States of America. The reform proposed today does not take into account the urgency of implementing such a review process, by the House of Commons, regarding appointments made by the government. Yet, it is essential that the public view these appointments as not being merely a form of patronage.
The government is saying to Canadians: If you want more transparency, you will have to wait! Indeed, the government failed to propose an important measure which could have improved the public perception of our parliamentary democracy.
Unfortunately, the opposition also notes another important oversight, namely the absence of a mechanism to hold special debates on issues deemed important by the members of the opposition. Such a measure would have enabled the government to enhance even more the status of the work done by MPs. Past experience reveals that emergency debates in the House are a rather rare occurrence. These debates are held at the discretion of the government. The conditions regulating the holding of such debates are very strict and thus prevent debates on issues deemed important by the public. Many Canadians feel that the work done by the House lacks relevance to the main current issues. The holding of special debates would provide MPs with an opportunity to have in-depth discussions on current issues.
In its 81st report tabled in 1993, the Standing Committee on House Management recommended the adoption of a procedure to hold special debates on specific issues. The goal was to ensure that members of the opposition would be able to raise questions of particular interest to them. The government did not deem appropriate to include a procedure for special debates in its parliamentary reform, even though this would have had the effect of giving more credibility to the work of the House and to the parliamentary role of the MPs.
In the same vein, I would like to mention a final major oversight of the government. The government did not include a proposal to create a special question-and-answer period on particular topics or departments. This oversight is even more glaring in that the 81st report of the Standing Committee on House Management recommended establishing such a question period and having one every week. According to the committee, this special question-and-answer period could deal with regional or sectoral problems that do not receive due attention from the opposition, for lack of time. It would also provide an opportunity to question ministers more systematically than is possible now.
The government thus dropped a fundamental recommendation of the management committee to make the work of Parliament reflect the people's everyday concerns. This oversight will not bring the institution of the House of Commons closer to the people.
In conclusion, the reform proposed by the government is light-years away from a real, specific upgrading of the work of members of Parliament. On the contrary, the government is proposing changes to the Standing Orders which, although positive in some respects, seem in their application to contradict to some extent the foundation of the parliamentary system in which we now operate.
We deplore the fact that the government did not consider statements made by one of its own members when he criticized the Conservative government's reform plan in 1991. On April 9, 1991, the Liberal member for Kingston and the Islands said, as reported on page 19189 of Hansard :
We believe that this country functions best when it has a strong and effective opposition.
Later he added:
-the importance of an opposition in Parliament to inform the people and to express their grievances in Parliament is deep rooted in the British parliamentary tradition. Over the years, governments have sought to curtail the rights of oppositions to present grievances and to argue their case.
The official opposition agrees with the opinion expressed by the hon. member. Indeed, the present official opposition takes the same view of the parliamentary system because it summarizes the present situation. The government, by abolishing debate in the House on the principle of a bill, seems to be ignoring the right of opposition parties to express their grievances and to argue their case. Moreover, it is not proposing supplementary mechanisms that would allow free criticism of government action.
It is a pity that the Liberal Party in power has a different opinion than it held when it was in opposition. The government has not been concerned with the fine principles it defended when it was in opposition. Perhaps the Liberal Party in power and the Liberal Party in opposition say two different things. Events bear that statement out, at any rate.
With its incomplete reform, the government will not achieve its objective of restoring the credibility of Parliament and of the present system. The official opposition knew that we could not count on the federal government to solve an image problem with the House of Commons. Obviously, the government is showing real timidity in submitting specific measures to end what I
would dare say is the widespread disillusionment that people feel towards politicians.
Nevertheless, the official opposition is aware of the most important role which it must play in this House. It has always shown that it intends to defend the interests of its constituents, in accordance with parliamentary rules and traditions. For these reasons, it will not impede the proposed reform.
Yes, the opposition has reservations. It shares its disappointment with all citizens. But to show its good faith and its sense of fair play, it recognizes the proposed reform. It could have fiercely opposed some of the amendments presented today, but it prefers to give its consent so that the positive aspects of the reform can have unanimous support in this House.
In closing, I say to the government that forewarned is forearmed. The official opposition intends to continue to promote the openness demanded by voters. It will vigorously defend the values inherent in the Canadian parliamentary system so that it can defend the interests of Quebecers in this House, in accordance with its mandate.
This does not exclude the possibility that in future it might fight a subsequent reform which could interfere with its work in Parliament and its defense of its constituents' interests. Our society's democratic values depend on this.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. On behalf of the Reform caucus co-ordinator I would like to notify the Chair that pursuant to Standing Order 43(2) we will be dividing our time.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Ray Speaker Lethbridge
Mr. Speaker, today is a very great day and one we should mark high on the marquee as being very important for the House, for Parliament and for the people of Canada.
First I want to thank the government on behalf of the Reform Party for putting such a broad agenda before us. Its willingness to look at changes to the committee structure and then presenting those changes will bring about certain expediencies and as well make those committees more effective. The second matter we appreciate very much is that the agenda to be set before the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs will be broad enough to look at a number of items we think are very important to the process and the way we act as parliamentarians.
We must recognize as parliamentarians that the attitude of the public has changed and that we must adapt to the changed attitude and expectations. The public we have spent millions of dollars on for years and years ought to be able to be more involved in the process. I believe we have arrived at a point at which it said to us: "We have arrived; we want to be involved so you as legislators make sure you have a process by which we can intervene and present our points of view and direct government during a session of Parliament, specifically during this 35th Parliament".
All of us have heard that this is not just a Canadian phenomenon. It is a phenomenon of the United States. Over the weekend some members of Parliament had the opportunity of hearing a presentation on Congress reform so that Congress would be able to hear what the public wanted. The fellow who presented it talked about the attitude of Americans and how they wanted to be involved. It is very consistent with what we are hearing. It was a good message.
Japan, Europe and other parts of the world have gone through the same populous phenomenon, the same people involvement phenomenon. We must pay attention to it as it is significant.
This attitude came into focus during the debate on the referendum. At that time the old traditional approach, the elitism, or the hierarchal approach to politics was defeated by a broad base of populism. People on the no side had very few dollars to spend. People on the yes side had millions of dollars and they spent it through a variety of mediums trying to convince the population that they should vote yes on the referendum. The people said no, that they would decide and they did.
We have to recognize other characteristics in the process. They should be a lesson and an influence on what we determine after we have hearings and the committee comes back with its report. Voters want more input and more say in the decisions we make not only at election time but between elections. They want equality of input. Everyone no matter their social standard or what economic position they are in-the poor, the middle income, the rich-wants to have something to say about the process and we must open the doors for them.
Something very important to me which I have seen happen in our political system is that certain vested interest groups and certain people within our society are able to succeed because of who they knew and who they were able to influence in government. People are saying to us that is not the current rule and is not the way it should be. It should be taken out of the political process. It should now be what one knows, what one's attitude is and what one can place into debate to determine the actions of government. It should be this way not only in the House but also within the rooms of the public service and of the ministers with whatever actions the minister takes in his or her public responsibilities. That is a very impressive major change to me as a parliamentarian.
What challenge is offered? How do we respond to our leaders who now are the electors? The electors are finally getting through to us and saying something. How do we respond? First we must respond by adding opportunity to the process. In the agenda before the standing committee are some very important matters: citizens' initiatives, referendums and direct representa-
tion to the standing committees so that the members of Parliament can be more involved and more aware of attitudes.
Some people say we are going to a referendum on everything. That is not the intent of a referendum nor do people want that type of government. They do not want daily referenda. They want to know that if they want utilize referenda it is there so they can get involved. It is very important that we add it to our process.
The second matter they want to challenge us with, and this may be said of myself being around for some time or some of the members of government who have been around Parliament for a period of time, is that we must be prepared to change our thinking. As a new member of the House we should also take that advice.
Today I would like to call on the Prime Minister and the government House leader, who made a very eloquent and elaborate presentation today, to think in a more open manner. We must reconsider some of the traditional approaches on how we act and how we behave. It is often easy to say we tried that before and it does not work, we should not have that on our agenda. I have gone through the process a number of times. About 10 years ago I had a certain experience in my legislative responsibility. At that time it may have been out of step, but today it is more acceptable. Some of these public processes are just good examples of that.
For example, I would like the government to reconsider its thinking regarding free votes. In the early stages we do not have to have a free vote on everything. Possibly there is an area where we can test the free vote without the confidence convention. Maybe there are some areas where new programs of expenditure will be initiated by government. It could be in the budget process. The Prime Minister, by announcement, could say this item is open to a free vote; the convention is not there. That would be acceptable to the House. It could possibly be done on some of the bills that reference expenditures where it is a new policy, one that has not gone through the electoral process.
As I listened to the House leader's remarks today I felt that was part of his concern, that if the political party has made a commitment out on the hustings it should follow it through. I would, in a sense, agree with that. It has been given a mandate to follow through so it should. The House of Commons may have a limited amount of authority, but there should be some areas where we can test this concept without just rejecting it in whole. I call on the House leader to think about it. I also call on the committee of House affairs to examine it further.
I have one minute left and would like to cover two other topics. I support the changes in the committee structure as it concerns my involvement with the finance committee. It is excellent the government is giving us more opportunity and flexibility to be able to determine the direction of government. I appreciate that very much as an opposition member.
The proof is certainly going to be in the follow through. The note that I wanted to highlight in this last minute of my remarks is that historically-I read some of the reports of committee work-the concern was that ministers and senior government officials did not listen to the committees after they did some good work. I know the initial attitude of the government is to change that and try to listen to the committee.
Another suggestion I want to make for the committee today in my brief remarks is that we look at using the technology of the day and the available electronic equipment to do away with some of what I call the paper pile up and waste I find on Parliament Hill.
Two weeks ago I set outside my office a huge pile of paper. I said: "What a waste". I looked through it and there were many things that were not relevant to my responsibilities. There must be some way we can even have Hansard electronically available without sending that major document to our office every day. I would like to add that to the committee's agenda for it to look at. There would be cost savings, more efficiency and an update of the process.
In conclusion elitism is out. Populism is in. If we make these major changes during the 35th Parliament, I will be able to say we have achieved significant relief for the people of Canada.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Nelson Riis Kamloops, BC
Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the comments of my hon. colleague from Lethbridge. I tend to agree with almost everything he said. I echo his comments on the proposals enunciated today by the government House leader. They are a major step forward.
I listened with particular interest when he referred to his previous life and that there were times when perhaps government policy was influenced more by who people knew within the government than from a democratically driven change. We can probably say that similar observations have been made about Ottawa, that perhaps public policy has been driven in the past by lobbyists and others from the outside as opposed to the public generally.
One aspect of the reforms proposed today that concern me is the ability of any of these reforms to deal with initiatives before us at the moment. That is the matter of cigarette smuggling. People have said this is an item that ought to receive serious input from provincial ministers of health because of the implication it has for health.
If this is not caving in to pressure from the cigarette manufacturers it is certainly caving in to pressure from people participating in illegal activities. Does my hon. friend from Lethbridge think any of the proposed changes introduced today would help us if they were in place today to deal with some of the critical issues confronting us surrounding this whole matter of cigarette smuggling?
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Ray Speaker Lethbridge
Often one of the reasons that one has very brash reactions from the general public is that it does not seem to be able to vent that feeling somewhere.
This matter concerns both federal and provincial taxation. It could be open to a citizen's initiative. Potentially we could even have a referendum on it but it takes a bit of time to do that type of thing. I know we are sort of in the hot box and have to make a decision on this one right away. That often will occur. If we had the procedure in place then we could make a rational adjustment to use it. I would like to see that very much.
We are having a public discussion with regard to cigarette smuggling. I believe the public has an answer to it somewhere. The government will look at it from a certain perspective but I am not sure it would reflect public opinion at the present time.
In a quick answer to the question, opening the public process would bring about a more satisfactory answer than one we would make here believing what the public servants have fed us.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Daphne Jennings Mission—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House to join in the debate on the motion put by the government House leader dealing with changes to the standing orders, the rules of the House of Commons.
I would like to begin by congratulating the government and its House leader for bringing in these changes at this time. To me they represent the beginning of the reform of this place that my party, the Reform Party of Canada, has been advocating for some time now.
We in the Reform Party are fundamentally committed to changing the way business is conducted in Parliament so the people of Canada and the members of Parliament who represent them can gain some influence over the policy making process.
In our party platform, devised long before the call of the last election, we made it clear we did not believe this place was functioning in a way that best served the people. We proposed in our platform changes which we believe would give members some influence over the policy making process of government. Ours was not a plan released in the heat of an election campaign. Our plan for reform goes much further than what has been proposed today.
We believe the government is reacting positively to our pressure by bringing in these changes to the standing orders. We in the Reform Party will watch the government carefully to see if it is really committed to fundamental reform or if it is simply putting limited reforms in the window for Canadians to look at without any real intention of making them work. However these changes represent a good first step, but it is only a first step.
The changes introduced in relation to bills proceeding to committee prior to second reading and enabling the government to request or ask a committee to draft a bill are really not necessary. If the government wants to do these things it simply has to do them and could do them under the present rules. These changes present an orderly procedure by which bills can be sent to committee after first reading and the government can request a committee to bring in a bill. These procedures allow for limited debate so that the government is assured of accomplishing its objectives without giving up valuable House time.
In relation to the proposal to send bills to committee prior to second reading we know that the subsequent debate on second reading will really become debate on amendments. As well when a bill comes back to the House from the committee which has been asked to draft it, again debate at second reading will not take place.
Debating time which could have been used by the opposition to set out deficiencies will be lost, but as we believe in the greater good of getting on with reform we support these two initiatives.
I hope the government will take advantage of these changes. If it does then we might see the beginnings of real input into the legislative process by both backbench MPs on the government side and by opposition members as well. If the government does not use these new rules then the people of Canada will deal with it appropriately four years hence.
By virtue of changes proposed to Standing Order 81 the mandate of standing committees will be broadened to allow them to comment on departmental spending plans when the committee is dealing with the department's main estimates. This is good as far as it goes, but in reality it will do little to affect the spending patterns of government departments and help bring government spending under control. More changes are necessary and I will be addressing this issue later today.
Also changing a standing order to allow the finance committee to hold pre-budget consultations and report prior to a particular day in December every year sends a welcome signal that at least members of the House will be consulted. Hopefully the report which will be forthcoming yearly from this committee will be taken into consideration by the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister.
The last proposal in this motion is to refer a number of procedural matters for examination to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I am concerned that the date for reporting on these matters has been lost. We in the Reform Party will be vigilant in ensuring that these matters are reported back to the House at the earliest possible time.
I note that in response to suggestions made by my party this list has been broadened to include elements of direct democracy and I thank the government. The matters contained on this list are important. I look forward to the discussions of this committee.
The list is still incomplete. How can we have meaningful reform or even a study of reform without including in this list the structure and functioning of the standing committee system?
In my initial address to the House I dealt with freer votes and the relaxing of the confidence convention. I also stated that there is a feeling among Canadians that government-and by this I mean government in its broadest connotation, the party in power, the opposition and the bureaucracy-is not serving the needs of Canadians; that is government serves its own needs first and the public's needs second, if at all.
With all due respect to the hon. minister of the government, a point of clarification is we refer to freer votes and relaxation of the confidence convention. This does not refer to the government's saying today or on this issue it will have free votes. Legally and constitutionally all members of the House are guaranteed the right of independence.
Again may I stress this is an attitudinal change. We are all campaigned on party policy, on definite issues which we were elected to support by the Canadians who elected us. However, that does not suggest that each member of the House should be prevented from truly representing their constituents on specific matters which reflect the very serious interests of that area of Canada. We must not operate from fear. If the government loses a vote on a certain initiative, that could have a good positive result. Perhaps it was bad legislation.
I cannot agree with former Conservative House leader, Doug Lewis, who expressed that government is entitled to its bad legislation. Why? When we have the opportunity to correct this waste of valuable debate time in the House and this waste of taxpayers' dollars let us address it.
In my initial address to the House I dealt with freer votes and relaxing the confidence convention. That is why I argued for an attitudinal change in this House that would result in a relaxation and redefinition of the confidence convention, which would result in freer votes. Through such changes members could begin to play a vital role in making and influencing in public policy.
I believe my remarks in relation to the confidence convention and freer votes are equally valid in the context of reform of the standing committee system.
The changes proposed to the rules today, bills to committee prior to second reading and the government's asking committees to bring in bills, are good ones. If they are used and the results of the committee deliberations are not ignored by the government, this will make committee work more rewarding for the members.
I urge the government to go further than this in relation to committees. Let us in the committee on procedure and House affairs examine the report of the House of Commons liaison committee tabled last spring, which addressed committee reform in detail. Let us together devise methods to limit the power of the whips in this Chamber so that substitutions on committee are not made in order to ensure the outcome of a vote which is crucial to the government. Let us look at various structures so that the House, through the committee system, can once again make meaningful comments on government spending.
This House, through changes to the rules brought in over time, has effectively lost control over government spending. This must not be allowed to continue. Ways must be found so that members can gain some control over public expenditures. These changes are worth the time it will take for the House and its committees, especially the procedure and House affairs committee, to study.
Reform goes much farther than what has been presented today. It is a beginning. I congratulate the government for taking the initiative and implementing some of the changes which members of the House, both today and in the past, have strongly recommended.
I also want to recognize the contribution made by the Reform Party toward these changes. Although in our opinion these changes do not go far enough, we do recognize the good intent of the government just as we recognize that the Reform members and the Reform Party have prodded the government into action. If the Conservative Party were sitting in our seats in opposition today it is highly unlikely we would be witnessing these changes.
I look forward to being a part of the procedure in the House affairs committee and contributing to its discussions.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Fernand Robichaud Secretary of State (Parliamentary Affairs)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the House on the issue of parliamentary reform. This is a subject which is very important to me, not only as a member of the government team but also as the member for Beauséjour.
In the last three general elections the people of Beauséjour have elected me as their member of Parliament in the House of Commons. They have given me a mandate to defend their interests in the House. I am very proud to represent the people of Beauséjour. I can assure the House and the people from Beauséjour that I will make every effort to represent them well.
However, when I was elected for the first time in 1984, it took me some time to realize how complex and inflexible the machinery of government is. It is not always easy to find one's way among procedural rules, the Standing Orders of the House, party discipline and the expectations of those who have put their trust in you.
You know, as I do, that the voters are disillusioned with political institutions. They are disheartened by what they read in the newspapers and see on television every day.
Last fall people from coast to coast delivered a very clear message by electing more than 200 new members to this House.
The people want to see some changes. They are dissatisfied because they were not always consulted, because their opinions were not always taken into consideration, and because important decisions were often made behind closed doors.
Data compiled from a survey conducted in 1992 for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing confirms what our constituents have long been thinking. Seventy per cent of respondents said they felt the government did not care at all about what people like themselves were thinking. This is very unfortunate.
No fewer than 82 per cent of Canadians, that is more than four in five, also responded that most candidates in federal elections made promises without any intention whatsoever of keeping them. This too is very unfortunate.
Finally, 32 per cent of respondents said that most elected officials simply did their best under difficult circumstances. This is a little more reassuring. And, it is precisely to address these difficult circumstances that we are proposing changes to our Standing Orders.
All those who have red the red book released during the last election campaign-and many have-know that parliamentary reform is very important to the party which now forms the government.
We made a commitment to electors to adopt a series of measures to restore their confidence in political institutions. It is no coincidence, therefore, that one of the first initiatives put forward concerns the standing orders of this House.
This decision reflects not only our eagerness to take concrete action, but also our willingness to initiate a constructive dialogue with all members of this House on this issue.
The changes that we are proposing would allow MPs to play a greater role and restore the confidence of Canadians in the integrity of their Parliament and in its ability to intervene in matters which it deems important.
Thus, we are proposing that certain government bills be referred to committee immediately following first reading. The committee could then consider them, amend them if it wishes and report back to the House. The House would then proceed at the same time to the debate on second reading and at the report stage.
The procedure for third and final reading would remain the same.
As we all know, the current legislative process is almost over by the time a bill reaches first reading stage. Too often, members get the feeling that the legislation before them is set in stone, as we say.
Therefore, we want to change the process so that a bill would be referred to a committee right after being read the first time. That way, each and every element of a bill will undergo a complete and open examination. We will have a more transparent decision making process, as was requested by our constituents. Quick referral to a committee would give hon. members more influence over the substance of the bills.
In order to increase their influence, we could ask committees to study some issues before a bill is drafted.
Committee members would then have a say in the legislative strategy, suggesting guidelines or parameters for the upcoming bill.
We want the government to be more open when time comes to prepare the budget. In the past, consultations regarding the budget were kept secret. Nothing could come out before the budget was tabled in the House.
We want the Standing Committee on Finance to study the fiscal policy put forward by the government. We want to establish a very open consultation process for the budget. Through his efforts these last few months, the Minister of Finance has shown the way we want to go on this issue.
Our wish is to listen to what people have to say so that we may respond not only to their needs but also to their expectations. The changes we are proposing will make it possible for the Standing Committee on Finance to hold consultations next fall before the presentation of the 1995 budget.
The process of establishing a budget will be much more open and a lot less secretive.
Before the government unveils its fiscal priorities, as many people as possible should have an opportunity to express their views. Again, to avoid putting members before a fait accompli , we are suggesting that, after detailed study of the Estimates, the committees be given three additional weeks to prepare a report on future priorities for a department, for example. Therefore, when members of the Standing Committee on Finance would undertake their consultation process in the fall, they would already have a number of suggestions to take into consideration.
The measures I just mentioned would help members to play a more important role and to feel they really have some influence on bills referred to the House and passed.
Not one of us was elected to simply say yea or nay on bills we have not worked on. Thousands of people trusted us to make changes; we cannot disappoint them.
The measures before us today also involve changes to the sitting hours of the House. By eliminating the evening session on Wednesdays and adjourning earlier on Fridays, hon. members will be able to spend more time on committees and in their ridings.
Finally I would like to add that these measures mark only the beginning of parliamentary reform. During the weeks and the months to come, we want to sit down with representatives of the Opposition parties to come up with some more changes.
These changes will affect question period and statements by members. There are other points that we would like the parliamentary reform committee to study before submitting to the House a report with recommendations. What we would like is to pursue the dialogue on parliamentary reform with all elected members in the House.
We must innovate, we must take a fresh look at our tasks as parliamentarians and we must find solutions which will help restore the integrity of the government. We will thus restore the confidence of the Canadian people in their institutions.
It is our duty to offer to Canadians a parliament to which they can relate and to give them an institution of which they can be proud.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Daphne Jennings Mission—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the hon. member for an interesting and very well intended speech.
I am pleased to hear of the possibility that committee members could receive the bill beforehand. This would certainly be beneficial for everyone and I thank him for saying that.
I would also like to mention what the hon. member just said about the times changing. This is a very good move. In view of the fact that 1994 is the year of the family I hope we take this into consideration. MPs are just as important as everybody else and so are their families.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Fernand Robichaud Beauséjour, NB
Mr. Speaker, the government leader in the house mentioned the fact that members do have families and that we should take into consideration their family roles. It is for that very reason that we want to make changes in the sitting schedule. For members whose families are in the Ottawa area, it will mean more time at home, and those whose families stayed home will have more time to spend in their ridings. It also means that we will be able to serve our constituents much better.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC
Mr. Speaker, when the government leader introduced his parliamentary reform agenda this morning, he said that there were much dissatisfaction in the population about the work the hon. members were performing in this House. On that I agree.
There are several criticisms regarding our work and while some are justified, others do not withstand a critical analysis. Nevertheless, some changes have to be made. It is on this basis that the leader in the House spoke of renewal.
However, before we proceed with what he calls the parliamentary renewal, we have to make sure it is based on the foundations of the British parliamentary system. When I say that, I mean that we have to consider collective sovereignty-that is the sovereignty of the people who elect us to this House and therefore send here members of different parties.
Therefore, we have to reconcile collective sovereignty and government efficiency, that is the capacity for the government to act in a normal, unhurried and also consistent way. We do not want to go through, for instance, the unfortunate bell incident we experienced a few years ago. I know that the same incident could still happen in the Senate, but we must live with that.
When we talk about the foundations of the British parliamentary system, we talk about a balance between the role of the government, which is to govern, and the role of the House of Commons, which is to monitor the action, activities and proposals of the government.
Needless to say this must be done openly and the Official Opposition definitely supports that wish, that will for a greater openness of all the mechanisms and operations of this House. But it is not enough to talk about openness, we must also talk about the principles behind any bill because, in the end, we must judge the proposals we receive. Who better than Beauchesne can define for us the importance of the discussion on the principles behind any bill. Beauchesne says: "The second reading is the
most important stage through which the bill is required to pass; for its whole principle is then at issue and is affirmed or denied by a vote of the House".
We may question this reform plan because the debate and the vote on the principle of a bill are the best way the opposition members have of controlling government bills. The debate and vote on principle allow them to question the very appropriateness of presenting such a bill before it is examined and debated clause by clause.
The proposals in this reform bring a few questions to mind. Will members really have the opportunity to criticize a bill before it is passed? I do not question the government's intentions on this issue, I am simply saying that, if we accept what is proposed, we will still be far from our objective. Maybe we will reach it, but only experience will tell us if such is the case or if we have missed our goal altogether. The possible consequences of these modifications lead me to believe it will be hard for members to debate, in the House, the suitability of government bills.
We will have 180 minutes to determine if it is relevant to send a bill to committee; but then we will be discussing the appropriateness of sending the bill to committee and not the bill itself. Let us not kid ourselves, everyone knows that we can talk about something even if we do not have the right to do so, that we can do indirectly whatever is forbidden directly. Therefore, that 180-minute period will in fact be devoted to discussing the principle of the bill. If we do not agree with the principle, we will question whether or not it should be referred to committee. But we would have to use a round-about way to debate what is most fundamental.
Moreover, since members will have the opportunity, in committee, to get involved in the actual drafting of a bill, clause by clause, they will certainly be more involved in general, but here again, the government will have to exercise a lot of caution. Some members, although opposed to the very principle of a bill, may still try to improve it. They should not be told afterwards: "You proposed an amendment which was adopted, and now you are voting against it". They still want to be able to vote against a bill, even if they have drafted, asked for the adoption of or voted in favour of an amendment to a given clause, in order to limit the subject matter of a bill they intend to fight. That should be made perfectly clear so that opposition members are not used to rubber stamp a bill they disagree with.
I do think that the government will have a huge responsibility in that matter. Democracy should not be held hostage by cunning manoeuvring. As I said before, only time will tell how good this reform really is. It does have some positive aspects such as the review of estimates by the standing committees. It will allow members to review the estimates of each department and to table reports regarding the government's future expenditures. We totally support such an initiative; as a matter of fact, we of the Official Opposition, have been demanding a debate in the House for the past three weeks, to review each department's budget, item by item, envelope by envelope. Therefore, you can be sure that we support this committee. Still, it falls short of the fundamental request we have been making since the start of this Parliament.
A second positive point certainly is the idea of pre-budget consultations by the Standing Committee on Finance. This committee will consider and report on proposals regarding the budgetary policy of the government. I think this is an important step, one that should have preceded the tabling of the current budget. I think that, before all those consulting firms that have organized conferences across Canada, the primary stakeholders are the members of this House. We were not consulted, but this change will remedy this shortcoming.
Speaking of shortcomings, I believe that there are a few more. I am referring for instance to pre-screening for order-in-council appointments. On page 92 of their platform, the Liberals accused the Conservatives of making a practice of choosing political friends. Well, there is nothing in here to stop such a practice. As the Minister of Canadian Heritage said, and the appointment of the president of the CBC reflects that reality, the red book is a thing of the past and we must look to the future. We can see that it is indeed a thing of the past, because the proposal made, as I said, on page 92 of the Liberal red book is nowhere to be found in here.
There is also the issue of special debates. It was also raised. The Liberals had raised it at the time they were in the opposition. There should be a procedure to allow special debates to be held in a timely manner. Many people wonder why the members of the House are debating some obscure matter with little connection with current events sometimes, while major events can happen in our society that seem to go unnoticed in this House. The fact of the matter is that special debates would allow the House of Commons to be attuned to reality. Yet there is nothing with regard to that in the proposal before us.
We must see why such a proposal was made, and I refer to my colleague from Kingston and the Islands who said in 1991: "We believe that our country works well with a strong and efficient opposition". Now can we conclude that this reform will really enable the opposition to be strong and to function effectively? This reform in itself does not necessarily enhance the role of members of Parliament. I repeat, experience will show whether the fundamental principles which I think are endangered by this reform are respected or not. I hope that the government will have the wisdom to assess whether the reform will achieve its objectives or not. If the reform does not have the intended effect,
the government should come back with something else and not stubbornly keep the reform as it is.
I do not think that we should consider this reform to be permanent; rather, it is subject to improvement at any time. We are trying to use new mechanisms. Experience and practice will show whether it has met the objectives.
I will close with some suggestions that are not found in this reform. First, I am thinking of this mechanism for an inquiry which exists in Quebec City whereby the leader of the official opposition can question the premier on a specific issue for an hour, with the Speaker of the House present, to get to the bottom of an important subject, which cannot be done in the daily question period. This exchange between the premier and the leader of the opposition helps the people form a better idea of the issues involved in a debate, which can only be healthy in a democracy. This exists and goes on in Quebec City, not every week but occasionally, and we could do it here.
A second suggestion concerns the ban on reading our speeches in this House; that is why no lectern is provided.
Everyone knows that members read their speeches to all intents and purposes. They have notes and they read them. In reality, it is rather hypocritical. The Solicitor General, who is the Leader of the Government in the House, read his entire speech on the proposed reforms, whereas this is prohibited, Mr. Speaker. Of course you did not stop him, because everyone does it. Only the budget speech can be read, because the Minister of Finance cannot be expected to recall all of the figures. I would point out that once the budget is adopted, very often he cannot recall the figures.
The point is that in reality, things are quite different. One thing must be recognized: members are not supposed to read their speeches because they should speak spontaneously, from the heart. Well, I have nothing against members reading their speeches. Everyone does, so why not recognize this fact. It would be a lot simpler than having to carry around books on which to prop up our speeches. It would be much simpler if members had a lectern.
My third suggestion is this: except for emergencies, votes should be held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because some members are in their ridings on Mondays and Fridays. We divide our caucus in two because we must also work in our ridings. A number of members from more remote ridings must leave on Thursday after oral question period.
We must recognize this fact. I do not see how concentrating the votes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays impedes democracy. On the contrary, it would help to create a better balance between House and riding work and the parties already agreed to this so far, that is up to week three.
One final suggestion. I realize that it is against the rules for you to have a list of speakers. Yet, I gave my list to you at the beginning of the debate, as did the others. Again, the rules do not correspond to reality. Everyone knows that the Speaker has a list of those members who will be asking questions during oral question period. No one says that this is prohibited. Yet, we exchange lists and submit them to you every day so that you can refer to them during statements under Standing Order 31.
In my opinion, the time has come to dispense with this pretence. It would be much easier if we knew exactly who was planning to speak. Each party could submit its list and you could work with that. Then everyone would know who was planning to speak and when. Why not recognize what actually happens? Why not let people know when their members will speak, instead of pretending that I do not give you a list? By the way, in one hour I will be submitting my list for oral question period, as I do every day.
These are just a few suggestions which would help us do away with old habits that no longer correspond to reality.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Kingston and the Islands
Peter Milliken Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Laurier-Sainte-Marie. His comments were highly constructive and his suggestions are much appreciated.
I do not agree with his suggestion that votes should take place only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It is a problem in this House because we only sit 130 days a year, roughly, under the new system introduced by the former government. Every three or four weeks the House adjourns for one or two weeks. At Easter, for instance, there is a two-week recess. It is at such times that members should be travelling to their constituencies, not now when the House is sitting. In my opinion, when the House is in session, the members should be here.
There is enough time to work in the constituencies on weekends and during the weeks when the House is not sitting. That is why I do not agree with him that we should not hold votes on Thursdays. Those are simply my thoughts on his speech.
I think that he may have misunderstood the government's intention in putting this proposal before the House today because we did propose a change to the second reading of bills as he suggested. We will only have a very short three-hour debate on the motion to refer the bill to a standing committee after the first reading.
He indicated that the House would lose the right to hold a debate on the principle of a bill at second reading, that is true. But, at the same time, the committee to which the bill is referred will have a lot of opportunities to review the bill.
As a member of the Bloc Quebecois, he did not have the opportunity to do committee work in the last Parliament. If he had been a member of a committee, he would have realized that many proposed amendments are inadmissible as the principle of the bill has already been voted on by the House itself.
The committee members cannot change this principle. What is this principle? This argument is always debated by the committees, and an amendment which proposes a major change to a bill is deemed to have altered the principle of the bill; thus, the amendment becomes inadmissible. It is a problem.
The new procedure will eliminate this problem and the hon. members will have to opportunity to put forward many amendments that were previously inadmissible. So I hope that when he sees this new procedure put into practice, he will support our proposal. This procedure will eliminate, with other opportunities, the second reading debate in the House. I hope that he will see our proposal in this light because I think it helps to understand our meaning. I hope that this explanation will help him.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am not judging the government's intentions. My judgment was based on what will happen in practice.
First of all, in committee, there are no more than two or three members from opposition parties, which limits considerably their ability to speak. Second, a debate in committee is not as public and general as a debate in this House, where all Canadians can find out, through newspapers and television, what the members said about a particular issue.
With regard to votes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I will tell you that a member's work in his riding is not only on weekends. Very often, we have to go back to our ridings during the week. Moreover, in the past, votes were held mostly on Mondays and very rarely on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. If we are to vote on a particular day, why not choose a day when more members are present. This would allow us to strike a better balance between our work in our ridings and our work here in Ottawa.
We were told in the past that it was impossible to defer a vote for more than 48 hours. That is what has always been done. I think there is a very simple solution: to defer votes for 72 hours. It is just 24 hours more and that is exactly what was done when the Prime Minister was scheduled to give a speech in Toronto last Monday. The government thought that 72 hours instead of 48 made a lot of sense. It allowed the Prime Minister to be here for the vote. I think that what was done for the Prime Minister could very well be done for other members of the House.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Peter Milliken Kingston and the Islands, ON
Mr. Speaker, I think you will find a disposition on this side of the House to limit speeches to 10 minutes with the usual 5-minute questions and comments thereafter.
House Of Commons Standing Orders
Murray Calder Wellington—Grey—Dufferin—Simcoe, ON
Mr. Speaker, as I rise on this occasion to make my maiden speech, I wish to extend my congratulations and best wishes as you face your new and most difficult task.
There is no greater honour for me than standing before this House as the newly elected member for Wellington-Grey-Dufferin-Simcoe. The riding, as the name suggests, is made up of municipalities of four counties in southwestern Ontario. In total there are 31 towns, townships and villages with four upper tier county councils.
The riding's boundaries are the historic and picturesque town of Elora, Nichol township to the south, the rural and agricultural communities of Clifford and Minto township to the west. The largest and most urban area is the town of Orangeville to the east and the beautiful port communities of Collingwood and Thornbury on Georgian Bay to the north. This vast and diverse riding is representative of the uniqueness and diversity of its citizens residing within its borders. Wellington-Grey-Dufferin-Simcoe is home to 112,000 people, and I wish to extend my sincere thanks for the trust and opportunity they have provided in allowing me to represent them.
I would also be remiss if I did not take this time and opportunity to thank my wife and family for their dedication and support and understanding as I embark on my new parliamentary career.
The topic of debate today in the House is parliamentary reform. It is probably safe to assume the reason two-thirds of us are here and new to the House is that many defeated incumbents paid little heed to the demands from the public about this very important issue.
If the House would allow me some licence to address the concerns voiced to me during the election campaign, I will proceed. One of the most visible and contentious areas which requires change is the pensions for members of Parliament. During the election there was a clear message that we must return to an understanding we are the representatives of the people and as true representatives we must understand and appreciate the values of those we represent, values of equity, fairness and service.
There is no member in the House who has not already felt the burdens of this office. It has been three brief months since our election and less than a month since the opening of the 35th Parliament. I ask the members present to consider the amount of time spent in Ottawa, the time spent in transit and the time spent in our ridings. Many members of the House have young children and spouses they dearly miss. Some members have left behind successful businesses to devote their energies to public service.
These are great sacrifices but sacrifices we chose to make of our own free will. Despite the enormous burdens of this office there must be a limit to the compensation for this job.
To return to my earlier point, we are here to represent the values of our constituents. There is a rage in the land about the current pension system. It violates the sense of equity of people as there is nothing to compare it with in the private sector. People are angry that after voicing their protests they have not been heard. It is unfair, they say, that politicians can write their own cheques and pay them with taxpayers' money.
During the election the Liberal Party presented its platform in a document some of us may be familiar with entitled "Creating Opportunity" or the red book. More recently in the speech from the throne the government reaffirmed its support for the independent review currently under way.
It is important that we remove the public irritants that have undermined politicians in the public eye. This Parliament must signal the end to double dipping. We cannot have people receiving both pay and pensions from the federal government. The taxpayer is willing to pay but the taxpayer is not willing to pay twice.
The age at which pensions are received must be reviewed. No one in the private sector receives full pensions immediately after vacating a position. The question put to us during the election and now before the members of the House is why should we.
What is the appropriate age? I do not have all the answers but if we are to represent and reflect the realities of our constituents, should we not be governed by the same rules of economy as them? Should we receive full pensions after retirement without an age restriction? I think October 25 told us no.
The size of pension is another component. Our pensions must be based on value qualified by reasoned assessment, not greed. The review under way must look at our duties and skills and other factors also should be assessed objectively. From this we should arrive at a figure more in tune with the feeling of Canadians.
The government House leader has now placed before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs a number of items to be reviewed. I believe this to be a great step forward.
Among some of the items to be discussed are procedures regarding members' statements, special debates, the taking of division by electronic means, the conduct of private members' business especially with regard to private bills and Senate public bills, any anomalies or technical inconsistencies in the standing orders, the reform of Question Period, measures to achieve more direct participation by citizens including citizen initiatives, the right of constituents to recall their MP, binding referenda, free votes in the House of Commons, debates on petitions and fixed election dates.
I applaud the government House leader on this initiative. I look forward to participating in the debate and review of these proposals.
We have seen recently that private members can make valuable contributions to the presentation of different ideas before the House, for example the great acceptance from members from all sides and the success of the debates on Canada's peacekeeping role and cruise missile testing.
These debates raised the level of decorum and intellectual exchange of ideas. This type of reasoned debate is what makes this House such a great institution. It is unfortunate that these exchanges do not receive the level of public interest as the often rowdy and point scoring mentality we have seen in some question periods.
In the remainder of my allotted time I wish to address one final issue. The lobbying industry has expanded rapidly over the past years. The integrity of government is questioned when there is a perception that the public agenda is set by lobbyists who have excessive resources to exercise their influence away from public view.
I believe there is only one collective body we must listen to and that is the Canadian people. In order to ensure that the voices of the silent majority are heard over the voices of the few we must strongly address the issues of conflict of interest, influence peddling and selling access. There must be openness and consultation with all Canadians, not just with the lobbyists arriving at decisions. It is this point I applaud the actions of the Minister of Finance in his pre-budget consultations. These consultations allowed the minister to hear advice from bankers, economists and social agency advocates. What is more important is that we were able to hear what was said in the open, in full public view, not just whispers behind closed doors.
In conclusion, I feel the points raised here today are a starting point and not in any way a cure all for the changes required in the operation of the House. I want to go back for a moment and restate that we must represent not only the people of our ridings
but their values. If we are indeed bold enough to bring this process of change, we will have succeeded in creating a government with priorities based on equity, fairness and service to the people of Canada.