Debates of April 21st, 1998
House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debate.
- Government Response To Petitions
- Income Tax Act
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Standing Orders And Procedure
- Armenian People
- Hepatitis C
- Woburn Collegiate
- Canadian National Institute For The Blind
- Quebec Minister Of Municipal Affairs
- Drunk Driving
- Hepatitis C
- National Volunteer Week
- Bettye Hyde
- Quebec Floods
- Port Moody—Coquitlam
- Hearing Awareness Month
- Science And Technology
- New Member
- Hepatitis C
- Hepatitis C
- Human Rights
- Young Offenders Act
- Access To Information
- Young Offenders Act
- The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy
- Canadian Space Agency
- Young Offenders Act
- Softwood Lumber
- Hepatitis C
- Land Mines
- Coast Guard
- Presence In Gallery
- Standing Orders And Procedure
- Income Tax Amendments Act, 1997
- Division No. 124
- Division No. 125
- Judges Act
- Division No. 126
- Access To Information Act
- Division No. 127
- Income Tax Act
- Division No. 128
- Access To Information Act
- Business Of The House
- Access To Information Act
Standing Orders And Procedure
Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS
Mr. Speaker, as a new member of the House I am extremely proud to take part in this important debate which focuses on the rules and practices of the House. This is one of the few occasions when the House is required to consider its practices. Parliamentary procedure is as much a part of the Constitution as are the written constitutional statutes.
The standing orders which govern the House, like all laws, should be pliable and flexible to adapt to changing times and circumstances.
As a member of the Progressive Conservative Party there is a proud history of our party to improve the House of Commons. In 1979 the Clark government put forward a white paper on the reform of parliament. Tabled by the late Walter Baker, this position paper offered as a thesis that “the House of Commons should not govern but should poke and pry without hindrance into the activities of those who do”.
It was also the government of the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney which struck the McGrath committee to which the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona referred in his remarks. It was the same government which accepted most of the recommendations of that committee. Indeed I note that some of the reforms which were brought to this House have now been proposed by the modernization committee of the British House of Commons.
It was also the Mulroney government which agreed to the secret ballot for the election of the Speaker, a measure that Prime Minister Trudeau would not accept. Lest we forget, he was the man who characterized members of parliament as nobodies when they get 50 feet from the front door. Quite typical of his attitude.
It is obvious that some members may be feeling that they are being marginalized as demonstrated by yesterday's antics when one hon. member chose to retreat with his seat. There is a level of frustration that exists on the part of members of the House.
The hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona also referred specifically to Standing Order 56.1. There is a legacy again of the Conservative government that has to be referred to here and one that we would acknowledge as perhaps being somewhat incorrect in this standing order. Recognizing one is wrong is certainly an important part of democracy. I note that the hon. member across, the Minister for International Trade, recently demonstrated that when he publicly agreed the Liberal government was wrong in opposing free trade some years ago.
I want to indicate that with Standing Order 56.1 there is the concept of unanimous consent as it should be restored to exactly that, unanimous consent. Under normal circumstances the request for unanimous consent to move a motion would be a prelude to a question being put to the House for division. The standing order now allows a minister to put forward a motion and if 25 members do not object then the motion is put and carried. The House does not get a chance to decide the matter. In this parliament the government has used the standing order to suspend the requirement for quorum despite the fact that quorum is prescribed by the Constitution.
Essentially this standing order allows the government to run roughshod over the opposition and the right to question and hold the government accountable is therefore curtailed. This can be an arbitrary exercise of power on the part of the government. It is something that the committee should look at very closely.
I want to turn my remarks next to Friday sittings. During this debate, particularly in the remarks of the government House leader, there was some suggestion that there may be a movement afoot to eliminate Friday sittings. I want to be very clear and unequivocal about my party's position on this point. We are completely opposed to any elimination of Friday sittings. We feel that the present arrangement of Fridays is an important and integral part of the process. Fridays can be as effective as any other day of the week. I would suggest that Canadians would take a very dim view if the committee were to do away with Friday sittings in the House.
The government House leader did speak in reference to the spirit of co-operation and the desire of those present to make this parliament work. I think that is an apt observation. However, as has been suggested by previous speakers, there is a great deal of room for improvement.
One area where I might suggest there is room for improvement is Private Members' Business. There are certainly historic reasons the private members' process is set up as it is, but I would suggest that some of the rules are unnecessarily complicated and, more important, costly to the general public.
There needs to be an avenue for members to raise an issue they wish to bring to the House on the part of their constituents, but they may not wish to pursue it further. They may wish to simply bring it forward at that time.
The government House leader spoke of the esoteric notions and traditions that evolved from Great Britain. These traditions are fine but as I said in my opening remarks we must strive to be effective. The public opinion demands this and we certainly owe this to Canadians.
One suggestion would be that there be an avenue for members to put forward items they do not wish necessarily to be brought to the House for decision but instead brought forward for simply airing of opinion. Instead of a lottery based on business items before the House, a lottery of members' names would then entitle a member to put forward an item of business for complete consideration. This would therefore save a considerable amount of time and money wrapped up in the current system.
A possible suggestion would be that upon a member's name being drawn he could then decide whether it was for discussion purposes in the form of debate or simply to be brought forward as a motion. This would be a useful area the standing committee might take a look at.
Time allocation and closure have been touched upon as well by previous speakers. There is certainly a recognized need for the government to be able to move a motion for time allocation. That is acknowledged. However the Speaker, as suggested by the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona, should be empowered to disallow the government from invoking this quite draconian motion at times, in the event that the Chair is of the opinion that the closure motion being invoked is premature.
My next point concerns written questions and answers. The House has agreed to limit the number of written questions but the government is being extremely tardy in its answers.
Most questions can be answered within two weeks and three weeks at the most. That is a reasonable period of time. However, there is a major problem, I would suggest. Public accountability in the House should insist on prompt and complete answers from the government, particularly in light of the circumstances and the criticisms of the commissioner of freedom of information.
There needs to be some form of sanctions available to the Speaker when the government is not being responsive. I would suggest a form of a yellow card or a penalty box that can be imposed on the government when it is not responsive to these questions.
I will now turn my remarks to the estimates. There are few Westminster styles of parliament that have an adequate system for scrutiny of the estimates.
Yesterday I was at the justice committee where we were examining the estimates of the Minister of Justice. The meeting lasted for two hours and about 35 questions were posed to the minister and her staff. That is likely to be the only examination of her stewardship over this ministry which comprises several billion dollars in the present fiscal year. I suggest that is simply not enough. Two hours is not enough time to delve into very complicated and very crucial issues not only in justice but in all of the ministries in this parliament.
I would like to see some experimentation with bringing some departmental estimates to the floor of the House of Commons for supply, similar to the committee of the whole process that takes place at present.
This might mean that the House would have to meet during some evenings but a longer debate and examination of beneficial issues to the Canadian public, I would suggest, should be of primary concern and first on the agenda.
I would also suggest that ministers, above all members of the House, must be willing to subject themselves to the intense scrutiny that is required. It would also lead to a more rigorous debate in the House. The government has talked repeatedly of openness and transparency. These are the buzzwords of the nineties. However, it seems very reluctant to put that accountability into practice. It shies away from it.
There was mention of the Chair and of the selection of the Speaker of this House. I will add a few remarks to that. The present process allows for the selection of the Speaker through an election in which all members of the House have input. But subsequent to that, as Mr. Speaker is aware, the deputy Speakers are then selected at the whim or by the will of the prime minister. That is not to cast aspersions on the present occupant of the chair. There is certainly ample evidence of the brave, courageous and true nature of the present Deputy Speaker. As with the election of the Speaker, there should be a similar process of input from other members for the deputy Speakers who also occupy the Chair.
If a Speaker comes to the conclusion before the end of a Parliament that he or she may not reoffer, a common practice or courtesy might evolve, not necessarily a hard and fast rule, where that Speaker may choose to step down so that one of the deputy Speakers might receive the training necessary to assist Parliament in the subsequent convening of the House. The position of the Chair is very important to the ongoing success and spirit of co-operation mentioned by the government House leader.
I will discuss special or emergency debates. I began with a reference to the position paper which the Clark government placed before the House in 1979. I make reference to another document, a paper that was placed before the Canadian electorate in January 1993. It was endorsed by the now Prime Minister and was presented by David Dingwall, then opposition House leader, the then chief opposition whip who now sits in the House as minister of public works, and the two assistant opposition House leaders who are now respectively the Deputy Speaker of the House and the leader of the government in the House of Commons. That paper was entitled “Reviving Parliamentary Democracy”.
Those four Liberals endorsed by their leader had this to say about special, urgent or emergency debates in the House of Commons:
The granting of leave for special urgent or emergency debates under the present Standing Order 52 should become more generous, thus permitting the House to consider a greater variety of important issues that do not command the top of the national political agenda. If the House is to claim relevance to the interest of Canadians, it must make the most of its opportunities to debate issues of current significance. It is time for the rule to be restored to its original purpose of enabling the House to add important issues to the agenda at short notice. There is no change to any rule required for this step. The House only need make its general will on the question known to the Chair.
This is the suggestion in the paper that was tabled by the government House leader and endorsed by the opposition leader at that time, the current Prime Minister. In 1993 the Liberals were telling the electorate an idea that would be embraced by my party colleagues and by many members of the opposition, that we should have more time for special debates and more open discourse with the government. It was on the timeliness issue. When something arises that needs to be addressed on short notice, this House should be amenable and prepared to allow for that debate to occur.
In the past we have made requests. The Progressive Conservative Party has requested special debates on the disastrous conditions that exist in the fisheries on the east and west coasts. We also requested a special debate on the situation that was brewing in Iraq. Yesterday other members made application in this House for debates on the megabank mergers. All these applications were refused. I have had to assure my colleagues that the government does not instruct the Speaker on these matters. It is clear that the general will of the House should be conveyed to the Chair.
It is time the Deputy Speaker and others including the government House leader review the commitment they made while in opposition in 1993. Once again I suggest the present government be very wary of what it has said in the past and be prepared to live up to its words.
Previous speakers have had a great deal of experience and a wealth of knowledge they have put forward in this debate and the House has heard some extremely insightful and constructive suggestions. I am honoured to be able to partake in putting forward these suggestions.
Partisanship aside, the rules that govern all of us will continue to govern those who participate in this chamber in the future. We must always be aware of the shifting political signs and fortunes and the realignment of power that may some day occur because something that is said in this House is very important. It may come back again to be used either for or against you.
I want to conclude my remarks by referring once again to a policy paper. The Prime Minister had this to say: “Canadians feel alienated from their political institutions and they want to restore integrity to them. That is why we are proposing reforms to make individual MPs more relevant, the House of Commons more open and responsive, and elections more fair”.
Those are noble ambitions and they call for action from the Liberal backbenchers. They hold the key. They must do their part. The solution to the hepatitis C problem does not lie with the Minister of Health, it now lies with the Liberal backbenches.
In the closing pages of his book 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal , Christopher Moore had this to say:
If parliamentary democracy functioned in Canada, the future of Prime Minister Chretien would depend on the Liberal Party caucus. If the 301 men and women who Canadians elected in June 1997 recovered authority over their leaders, they would also recover power over the making and changing of party policy.
No constitutional amendment, not even a legislative act, would be required to return a prime minister's tenure in office to the control of the parliamentary majority, or to make all the party leaders answerable to their caucuses. It would simply require an act of moral courage and a little organizing on the part of the backbenchers.
How we collectively write the internal constitution of this House does much to decide how courageous we are in the discharge of our responsibilities.
Members on both sides of this House must shoulder that responsibility, proudly and diligently. I suggest this is the forum and the place to make the necessary changes. Self-discipline and restraint when it comes to the use of our time are extremely important.
With that in mind, I will conclude my remarks with the hope and optimism that this will be a fruitful and useful debate and the necessary changes that can be brought about will be embraced by the government.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON
Mr. Speaker, we are moving to 10 minute speeches now so I will have limited time and will briefly make a few comments on items that I hope the procedure and House affairs committee will look at in reviewing the standing orders for this parliament.
I want to make a few comments first on the importance of the standing orders. I think it is important for our constituents and for all Canadians to understand that the standing orders are the rules that parliament adopts for itself to govern and how we carry on the business of the House. They provide an important protection not only for the institution but for each and every one of us. They are an assurance that we can come into the House and freely speak on behalf of our constituents without fear of being insulted, cut off or treated less favourably than other members of the House of Commons.
These are rules which we as a parliament have accepted and we have also accepted the principle, certainly since I have been in parliament, that the rules change by consensus. When there is agreement among the parties that there is a need for changes to make the House work better and allow each and every one of us to be more effective then those rules will change.
That is why I was particularly perturbed by the so-called flag flap a few weeks ago when one party chose to bring into the House a debate regarding the rules and to make it a partisan issue.
What has preserved civility and respect for one another in this House is that we have adopted rules by consensus, by agreement and not through partisan confrontation. That is why this debate today is so important. All members have the opportunity to put on record those things about the rules which they think will help make Parliament work better and help make their jobs more effective.
I want to mention a few items I hope will be addressed by the committee in its review of the standing orders. First, during the last Parliament we had the so-called Boudria solution, when the then whip of the government party brought in procedures which allowed us to more expeditiously take votes in this House without spending countless hours in standing up, being counted and sitting down, over and over again. It is time to look at incorporating those rules into the standing orders so they become part of the normal procedure of the House and the House can count on how they operate.
The issue of televising committees, in particular, is extremely important to how Canadians understand the work of their parliament and their parliamentarians. My experience is that the work of committees is carried out generally in a non-partisan way. Committees work on issues that the members have a common interest in and try to move forward the agenda of public policy in the public interest. It is extremely important that, as often as possible, Canadians have the opportunity to see their parliamentarians working in that collaborative way on issues that are important to them. Therefore I encourage the committee to look at expanding the use of televising committee meetings.
The other issue which the committee has dealt with in a small way, and I hope that we will continue, is the clean-up of the standing orders with respect to gender. I was very pleased to have the support of all parties in the House when we made a recent amendment to the standing orders to get rid of the “he” in reference to every person of importance or position who operates in parliament. I trust that in amending the standing orders further we will get rid of the archaic reference entirely in the standing orders to every important position in this House in male terms.
I want to also speak about members of parliament and the changes that have been made in how parliament functions, to better recognize that members of parliament have roles in their constituency, roles in parliament and also, however little, a personal life. Changes have been made in the procedures and in the schedule of the House to allow members of parliament to better plan their lives and have a better balance between those many different functions they perform. Again, I hope that the committee will look at the schedule of the House of Commons, the length of the week, the length of the days, to see whether there are further improvements that need to be made.
I briefly refer to the work done by the subcommittee on the business of supply which in the last parliament conducted a very thorough review of how to increase the effectiveness with which this parliament holds government accountable for and has some influence over the expenditure plans of government. A report was tabled in the last parliament and will be dealt with again by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I hope it will be tabled again with a request for a response from the government.
To implement its recommendations requires changes in the standing orders such as the establishment of a continuing standing committee on the estimates; various other measures to give committees the opportunity to amend the estimates, to improve the responsibility of the government to respond to the work of parliamentary committees that have an impact on the estimates; to request the finance committee to give priority in its prebudget consultations to those committees that have done reports on the plans of departments on the estimate and to take into consideration the report of those standing committees.
Dawson said in 1962 that there is no part or procedure in the Canadian House of Commons which is so universally acknowledged to be inadequate to modern needs as the control of the House over public expenditure. Yet this is the core function of parliament, to decide how much money the government may have, how it may raise it and how it may spend it.
I trust that the committee will spend some time on that report and incorporate its recommendations into its changes to the standing orders.
Finally, very briefly I want to speak on the issue of confidence. The official opposition in particular raised the issue of free votes. If anybody examines the records of voting in this House they will find that the government caucus, the government party, has more often expressed differences of opinion in its voting than any of the opposition parties. I urge them to examine their own consciences before they talk too stridently about party discipline.
It is also important for people to recognize that governments of whatever party run on making certain commitments to Canadians. While this is not directly related to the standing orders, it is important for parliament and for Canadians to recognize that some measure of solidarity behind those commitments made to the public during an election campaign is what allows a government to keep its commitments. That is one of the most important things in restoring the confidence of people in their institutions.
I challenge all other parties to do as I believe my own party does, to have a very open and frank caucus process which allows legislation to come to this House having been thoroughly debated, discussed and influenced by all members of the caucus. I am not sure that happens in other parties.
The committee has important work before it. The procedures, the standing orders which we accept as parliamentarians, are what allows this institution to function in the interests of Canadians and in the interests of each and every one of us to be able to do our job of representing our constituents. This debate is an important contribution to the work of the committee and I look forward to what will be said during the rest of day.
Standing Orders And Procedure
John Williams St. Albert, AB
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate regarding the standing orders which govern the rules of this House. I am sure there is some decorum in that we can continue to achieve the legislative agenda that is introduced by the government.
I will focus my remarks on the issue regarding the business of supply which, as the critic of the Treasury Board, tends to fall within my purview.
I would also like to acknowledge the work of the deputy whip of the government in the previous parliament where we as a committee, including members from the Bloc and others, tabled a document called “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”. That document contained many recommendations for changes to the standing orders. I would certainly like to see it examined in detail by the procedure and House affairs committee. The recommendations of this all party committee had full endorsation both by the government and by the opposition in making its report to improve the business of supply.
The business of supply deals with the way parliament approves or grants to the government the funding it requires to carry out its programs and to govern the country for the ensuing year.
I do not think there is any piece of legislation that goes through this House faster and with less scrutiny than the business of supply which accounts for $150-odd billion of spending each and every year. We go through the business of supply in one day's debate. We approve interim supply without any debate because the standing orders do not allow debate.
Can anyone imagine anything more fundamental and more central to government than the way government spends its money? This House has allowed, over many years, its authority to be eroded and stolen by the government to the point that we are now simply a rubber stamp. That should change.
I think of the ordinary course of business where a a bill is introduced and amendments and subamendments to the amendments may be introduced and we vote in the reverse order. We vote on the subamendment. If it carries it would amend the amendment. We then vote on the amendment. If it carries it changes the bill. We then vote on the bill. If it carries it becomes legislation. It is a fairly simple and normal process that is adopted not only by this House but by all houses. It is how committees work all over the world.
However, when it comes to the business of supply we reverse the process. When the opposition tables an amendment to the business of supply to reduce or to delete an expenditure proposed by the government, that causes the President of the Treasury Board to introduce a motion to concur with the expenditure as proposed. That vote comes first and this House then votes on the entire expenditure.
Let us talk about a simple program with which many people identify such as TAGS which helps the people in Atlantic Canada. No one has any difficulty in helping the people in Atlantic Canada through these difficult times. However, let us say that we as opposition would like to make some minor change to that expenditure. We are forced by the standing orders to vote and approve the entire expenditure or defeat it entirely before we come to the motion that may be to reduce or change it a small amount. After having voted to endorse the entire expenditure, how can we turn around and vote to change it?
The standing orders are designed to guarantee that this House votes the government's wishes on the business of supply. That cannot be. I sincerely hope that the procedure and House affairs committee looks at this issue very carefully.
The deputy House leader on the government side talked about confidence and how she felt that this was being dealt with in open debate in caucus. Open debate in caucus is an oxymoron because caucus, as we all know, is a secret debate where the votes are in secret and where parties do their own internal management in private so that they do not have to wash their dirty linen in public.
Therefore, this open debate in caucus is an oxymoron. If we are to have open debate, surely it should be on the floor of this House because that is why this House is here. That is why we have Hansard . That is why we have television. That is why we have recorded debates. That is why this House is for open debate. To take it from the floor of this place and put it into the caucus room where no one has any say, other than their own particular members, is an affront to democracy. We should be doing it right here on the floor of the House.
We have seen how confidence has applied. It is well recognized that confidence is rigid in this country. It is more rigid than in any other democracy in the world. If one person steps out of line they are subject to severe punishment for their misdemeanour or their perceived misdemeanour. When they stand up for what they believe in or for their constituents they are disciplined.
I think of the member for York South—Weston who now sits as an independent because he stood up and voted for what he believed in.
Therefore, confidence is a lever to guarantee that people fall in line regardless of their wishes and it must be relaxed.
I would like to turn to “The Business of Supply: Completing the Circle of Control”. The procedure and House affairs committee has a road map to deal with the business of supply. Many hours went into preparing this document. It has been called the best document on the business of supply in 50 years. It deserves to be adopted. It has the full support of government members who sat on this committee. It has the full endorsation of the deputy whip on the government side who was the chairman of this committee. It was adopted by the procedure and House affairs committee in the last parliament and tabled in this House. It deserves serious consideration because it gives parliament more authority over the business of supply. It gives parliament some discretion to move the money around. It calls for the creation of an estimates committee to study the expenditures on an ongoing basis. It deals with things that we never have before us in the House of Commons today called tax expenditures.
The Minister of Finance will stand in this place and announce a change in the tax rules. Let us take a simple example that people can identify with, RRSP deductions. They are a good thing but we never have the opportunity to debate whether we are getting value for our money through the amount of taxes that are forgone. Does it provide the benefits that are equal to or greater than the taxes that are forgone? Surely we need some methodology to talk about tax expenditures.
We need to have some methodology to talk about crown corporations that suck up taxpayers' money by the millions of dollars, yet there is no formal mechanism for having a debate.
We need to talk about loan guarantees that show up in the estimates as a $1 item. They may be for a $100 million guarantee to a foreign country or for the sale of wheat or for whatever, but they show up as a $1 item. Only when the guarantee is called in and it is too late to do anything about it are we asked to approve the expenditure to fulfil our guarantee, again without debate.
There is great room for improvement in the business of supply. I hope that the procedure and House affairs committee will look at this document, “Completing the Circle of Control”, recognize that it has all party endorsation, adopt it and amend the standing orders accordingly.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Carolyn Parrish Mississauga Centre, ON
Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to talk briefly about the business of private members and the recently filed report from the procedure and House affairs committee.
The current system of selecting votable motions and bills is based on a draw. Often there are up to 300 bills sitting in the bin and they are drawn for order of precedence. As all members know, they are then sent to a committee that is comprised of a chair from the government and one representative from each of the House parties. They decide which bills will be votable. At any given moment there will be five votable bills and five votable motions working their way through the House.
In 1985 the McGrath committee reviewed this business. It is an ongoing review. We continued it in the last parliament and we revised it in this parliament. It was referred to the House leader as a report, which went through the procedure and House affairs committee. It makes a few recommendations that I think are along the line of fine tuning or making the business of private members more reflective of what members of the House want.
Currently we separate the listings of motions and bills. As I said, we can select five of each to be votable and working through the business of the House. There is time allocated for the debate of Private Members' Business and private members' debates often result in a vote.
It is not a static system. As I have mentioned, it has evolved over the years as a response to the demands and concerns of members and it is continuously being improved and redefined.
The study that was undertaken in the last parliament was endorsed by this parliament. The recommendations include four or five quite different suggestions.
One is the concept of a maximum of five votable bills and motions. The committee decided this was an artificial separation. Given that they get the same amount of time for debate in the House, we would like to see that artificial separation removed. In other words any combination of 10 could come forward and be on the House agenda.
The second recommendation was to alternate the precedence order. Right now the bill is put into a draw and is selected literally through the luck of the draw. Sometimes there are 300 bills. A private member's bill can stagnate for many years. Sometimes they are drawn on a regular basis. My colleague from Mississauga South is probably the champion having had more bills drawn. He probably has shamrocks hanging from both ears.
The system we recommend so that the bill could be pulled out of that lottery and brought before the private members committee much more quickly is that the bill could be jointly seconded by 100 members of the House represented by at least 10 members from each of the parties in the House. It is not an easy process but it is more orderly. A bill that is of great interest to a majority of the members of the House could then go through the seconding process with 100 signatures and go before the private members committee to decide on its votability. We consider this a rather strong departure from the lottery system that is currently in effect.
The third recommendation concerns when a draw is held before a deferred vote. Votes are deferred all the time and we defer private members' votes. The debate is finished in the House, the reading is finished, everybody has spoken on the bill and the vote is deferred to the following Tuesday for example. We would like it to be deemed off the list at that point, once it is deferred. When there is another draw we could then fill that space with a new private member's bill. This is a housekeeping rule which gives more bills the opportunity to be deemed votable.
Another recommendation concerns an issue on which a lot of concern was expressed by many private members who came before our committee. When a bill finishes its debate in the House it is referred to a committee for amendments and discussion. Sometimes because the committee is too busy or maybe because there is an ulterior motive that is implied, the bill dies there. We believe that once the bill has had second reading and it has been voted upon in the House it is no longer a private member's bill but is a bill of the House.
We recommend that after second reading when a bill is referred to a committee it becomes a bill of the House and the committee shall report within 60 sitting days. The committee can ask for one extension of 30 days if it is too busy to have considered the bill. If at the end of that period there are no amendments suggested, the bill should be deemed reported without amendments. That will cause all committees to make sure that a private member's bill is treated in the same fashion as a bill of the House.
The fifth recommendation appears on the surface to be a rather frivolous recommendation. Right now we like to separate private members' bills from government legislation. In the normal system of voting we start in the front rows and work our way back. We suggest for private members' bills on both sides of the House that the sponsor vote first and then the voting begin in the back rows and work its way forward. We think this would keep everyone honest. There would be no influence by the front rows on either side of the House. We thought this would be an interesting diversion and a way of keeping the thought processes involved with private members' bills totally independent.
Members may recall that the House was prorogued halfway through the 35th parliament. The House leader introduced a bill that said all bills, government legislation and private members' bills, would be reintroduced at exactly the same stage they were when the House prorogued. This is not from one parliament to another; it is when there is a prorogation in the middle of a parliament. We thought it worked well. It speeded up the process and it stopped private members' bills from dying and having to go back through the lottery. We recommend that be enshrined in the rules governing private members business.
Legal advice is very important to private members when drafting private members' bills. We want the bills to be as accurate as possible, as votable as possible and as realistic as possible. We suggest that the House appoint a law clerk and parliamentary counsel for the House of Commons who would be responsible for the provision of legislative drafting services specifically to members, who would give them unbiased advice and would be without any party affiliation.
The last recommendation of the report was to give priority to members who currently do not have a lot of bills being drafted. In other words a member who went to the clerk's office for a first effort in a session and did not have three or four other bills being drafted would be given priority. That encourages as many members as possible to get involved in the process.
When we held the review which came up with these recommendations a lot of people said that all private members' bills or motions should be made votable, that there should be no process to select votability. A lot of people gave us written submissions. A lot of people gave submissions in person.
It looks on the surface like a really great idea. Everybody's bill would be votable. It would cut down dramatically the number of bills that would have time to go through the House. It would make each of those bills less important. There would be no way of jockeying them into importance. Every bill would be voted on mechanically. The conclusion of the committee at that time was not to make every bill votable.
I just came out of a procedure and House affairs meeting where we are talking about it again. We are looking at the criteria. As I said initially in my remarks, it is an ongoing process. It is here to serve the backbenchers specifically. It is their opportunity to draft legislation and to have an impact on the country and the legislation of the country. We will again revisit this. It is one of those processes that never stops. We will be looking at the criteria. We will be looking again at the concept of making every bill votable.
Standing Orders And Procedure
John Bryden Wentworth—Burlington, ON
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to follow the remarks of the member for Mississauga Centre. I too intend to speak on private members' business and I endorse many of the recommendations she made.
I begin by referring to the remarks of the member for Calgary Southwest in his speech a little earlier in this debate. He suggested that the government side could very easily have free votes. His proposal was that individual backbench MPs should always examine legislation and vote exactly according to their evaluation of that legislation and that it should not be a show of lack of confidence in the government.
The problem with that, as the member for Calgary Southwest should know, is that each one of us in the backbench does not have the resources of the government in examining all the legislation the government must put forward. We also have commitments to our ridings. We have commitments and interests and specializations.
No individual backbencher on the government side or on the opposition side for that matter can possibly hope to examine every bit of legislation with the kind of due diligence that is necessary to always vote independently. We have to trust our leadership. I do note on the other side that the opposition MPs also usually trust their leadership and vote with their leadership.
That is not to say however that there is not a need for more independence to be shown on behalf of backbench MPs. I think the solution for that is in improvements in private members' legislation.
One of the problems is that our role as backbench MPs is not seen very clearly by the public. What we actually do is work in committee. We adjust legislation in committee.
Members on the opposition side, and fortunately I am not on the opposition side, but the opposition MPs by their criticisms contribute in a major way to the progress of legislation. Their criticisms enable backbench government members to arm themselves in caucus to push the government in the direction they want to go.
For example, the fact that the Reform Party came to parliament in 1993 in such strength certainly gave some backing to those of us in the Liberal caucus who are fiscal conservatives and wanted to push the Minister of Finance in the direction of cutting back spending and bringing down the deficit. Now there are more members of the New Democratic Party. This gives, shall we say, ammunition to those members in the Liberal caucus who want to push the government in the direction of more social spending.
The opposition makes very important contributions to the progress of policy and legislation in the House. The problem is that the public does not see this. Some opposition members from time to time feel a sense of frustration, as we do occasionally in the backbench when we are not recognized for the efforts we make in committee.
We saw an example yesterday in the opposition benches. A member was terribly frustrated by not getting the attention he felt he deserved. I am referring to the member for Lac-Saint-Jean who felt it was necessary to take his seat out to the lobby before the press in order to get attention. I submit that this was extremely juvenile and a great disrespect to the rest of the MPs who do feel that we are contributing but do not have to pull pranks for the media.
That aside, what can we do as backbench MPs to make the public see that we do have an important role in this House, a role that they can see on a daily if not weekly basis? The solution is in private members' business. We have to expand the opportunities of meaningful private members' business in this House certainly to the extent that the member for Mississauga Centre mentioned but even more so.
There is a great opportunity for private members to engage in amending existing government legislation. One of the problems now in parliament is that when the government enacts legislation it does not come up for review again for approximately 10 years. This is a formula which exists. It is a tradition in this parliament.
The reason is that governments feel there would be a lack of confidence in the government if once the law was passed and went out and was tested in the field, in Canadian society it was found to be inadequate in certain ways. Past governments have been very reluctant to return to the legislation to make the adjustments that would make that law better.
We as parliamentarians cannot anticipate all the problems of legislation when we pass it. When legislation gets out into the community there are inconsistencies. Examples are the tobacco bill, the gun bill and the competition bill. The competition bill is 10 years old and we are only revisiting it now with amendments in Bill C-20.
Private members could play a vital and important role in the legislative life of this House and this nation by doing more to amend existing legislation, to fix it up and make it work better in society. For example the notorious gun bill did go through but is not working. We as members and the government should not be afraid if members on all sides of the House introduce an amendment to the gun bill and support that change. I would propose that we look in that direction to give backbench MPs a more meaningful role.
I would also suggest that we do good service to improve private members' business to take the monopoly of writing legislation away from the Department of Justice. Almost all meaningful legislation that comes into this House is written by the Department of Justice. It is not that the department does a bad job in general but the job is sometimes inconsistent. It is the old story that if there is no competition in an endeavour then the quality of the product deteriorates. If we had better and more meaningful bills coming from private members through the legislative counsel rather than through the justice department maybe we would get an overall improvement in the quality of legislation that actually comes before this House.
How do we do this? The member for Mississauga Centre made one very good suggestion. This is a recommendation of the subcommittee of which she was the chair. She indicated that we ought to have a system whereby if an individual member has a very good bill and the member can obtain the support of 100 seconders on all sides of the House including the opposition benches, that bill should jump the lottery and should get on the order of precedence.
That is a way of getting quality bills introduced in the House by private members. It is a very good suggestion. I hope that the report which contains that recommendation is tabled by the government and I hope the government will show a certain amount of sympathy for doing so.
We also have to make more time for meaningful Private Members' Business. It is difficult to extend the hours of the House. I would suggest that we do away with private members' motions.
Private members' motions do not accomplish anything in the House and we all know it. It is an opportunity for partisan point scoring by the opposition. That is fine and so it should be. Sometimes it is an opportunity for partisan point scoring by members on the government backbenches. The reality is that private members' motions do not commit the government to do anything. It is a charade. I recommend very strongly that private members' motions be set aside in favour of more private members' bills. That is what we want.
There is one flaw in this scenario. It goes back to what the member for Calgary Southwest said. If we give this kind of initiative to backbench MPs will they use it wisely? Will backbench MPs on all sides of the House debate private members' legislation intelligently, coherently and with due diligence? We are all human on both sides of the House and sometimes we do not do our homework. One of the problems of giving a lot more power to private members to create legislation is that occasionally bad bills will slip through.
We have a new role for the Senate. The Senate is dying to have something more useful to do. If we improve the quality of legislation that comes from Private Members' Business and make it meaningful, the Senate will have the time to give it due diligence scrutiny. It would be a new role for the Senate. There would be more public confidence in the Senate. Improving private members' bills would improve public confidence in backbench MPs and in the Senate.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Stéphane Bergeron Verchères, QC
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this House today to discuss our Standing Orders to determine whether some changes may be warranted and also whether some of the existing provisions should be not only maintained but strengthened.
I salute the open-mindedness of the members of all political parties in this House, and particularly the government party, which has agreed to hold a debate on the Standing Orders in this House. I think it is rather unusual to have parliamentarians discuss the Standing Orders in this place to allow us to begin a review process that will no doubt be taken further by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
That having been said, while the open-mindedness of the members of this Parliament ought to be saluted, I must immediately express a concern. It is one thing to discuss the Standing Orders in this House, but it is another to take into account the recommendations, comments and concerns voiced in this place today.
Do government and other members of this House have any intention of following up on this debate? Will this not just be another of those sterile debates we have all too often in this place, debates that end up leading nowhere or to a unilateral decision by the government? I certainly hope not and I do hope the government will take note of what is said here today.
Right off, I would like to address the issue of the privilege of this House. The Standing Orders set out the procedure applicable when the privileges of this House have been breached. Parliamentary jurisprudence, customs and traditions and even the Parliament of Canada Act all show that there are, in this House, a number of privileges enjoyed not only by the House as a whole but also by individual members in the performance of their parliamentary duties here in this chamber.
We are told that for centuries these privileges have been sacred and carry with them certain safeguards. In the past, this House, members of this House and other parliaments in the British tradition have used provisions provided for in the Standing Orders, the legislation and case law to have their privileges upheld, privileges which, it must be pointed out, are considered sacred.
Unfortunately we cannot but notice that through the years, maybe as a result of changing political mores, maybe as a result of expanding communications, who knows, the procedures to uphold these privileges have become increasingly toothless.
It has become increasingly difficult to have the Speaker of the House rule that, in a matter which, in the opinion of some members of this House, represents an obvious breach of the privileges of the House, there is indeed a prima facie case of privilege or even contempt of Parliament. Once we have gone successfully through this first screening, the assessment of the matter raised in the House by the Speaker in his wisdom, then we must debate a motion usually aimed at referring the matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
First I must point out that, over the years, there might have been, on the part of members of this House and the Speaker, regardless of the person who sits in the chair, a lack of political will not only to enforce procedures protecting parliamentary privilege in a concrete way, but also to consider any measure aimed at protecting it as being of the utmost importance.
When we debate privilege, which is often referred to the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we are faced with yet another problem. If the question involves in any way the government majority or a parliamentary majority made up sometimes of only the party in power or other times of the party in power and certain opposition parties, it becomes absolutely impossible to have it recognized that yes indeed there has been a breach of the House's privileges.
I am referring specifically to the case that has been before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The facts are as follows. We passed a motion in the House to refer to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs the matter of the statements made by certain MPs in the Ottawa Sun that, prima facie, constituted, or could constitute, breaches of the privileges of the House.
Obviously, an objective examination shows that these statements were made only by members of the government party or of the Reform party. Accordingly, when we examined the matter in committee, the chair and members did everything they could to squelch debate, to keep light from being shed on this very murky affair. The report is therefore very indulgent—I use the term deliberately—with respect to the members of the House who made these statements.
Traditionally, the Speaker of the House does not interfere in decisions taken in committee and in decisions taken by committee chairs.
This, I think, is an aspect of the Standing Orders that deserves closer examination because, although each one of us firmly believes that the person who occupies the chair in this House will act in an objective and impartial manner, so as to protect all members' individual rights, we do not, nor will we ever, feel this way about committee chairs. Why? For the simple reason that these chairs are partisan. For the most part, they are Liberal MPs with partisan interests to defend—which leads me to another question.
As I said, we do not have the absolute conviction that committee chairs will apply, not only the Standing Orders of the House, but also the spirit that lies behind them, which is protection of individual rights, the parliamentary rights of each and every member in this Parliament.
Unfortunately, we have had this unpleasant experience in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs in connection with the référence to committee of statements made by members of this House to a daily newspaper which, in the opinion of the Speaker, might constitute contempt of the House.
I shall return later to that question of contempt, if time allows, but I would like to take advantage of this debate to raise the question of committee chairs. Traditionally, at least two committees are headed by members of the opposition, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. It stands to reason that this should be the case, since the very nature of the control Parliament must exercise over the government's actions is at stake.
It would appear that, in the case of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, since the Reform Party refused to take the chair position, the Liberals decided that they would, thus usurping the tradition that this position is reserved for the opposition. In keeping with the very logic of this committee's serving as a control over government regulation through this Parliament, the position of chair ought to have gone to the next largest party in opposition after the official opposition.
We will also have to be looking very soon at the matter of the weekly timetable for House sittings, and I trust that changes will be made which will allow more freedom
Standing Orders And Procedure
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear members opposite speak about the need to show respect for this place. In a moment I want to get into some of that and some of what we might describe as antics that have occurred in the House which the House has no ability to deal with and that some members opposite have been perpetrating on the Canadian public.
I am a new member of the House of Commons since the last election but I have some comparisons that I would like to share between this place and the provincial legislature of Ontario.
We have heard speakers talk about the need to make Private Members' Business easier to deal with, the need to bring them forward and make them votable as they say. I certainly concur with all that.
While there is a lot to be said for our parliamentary democratic system, there is some frustration that members on all sides feel when it comes to putting forth ideas and making achievements.
To give an example, when I arrived here I noticed that we use analog clocks in this room. Our speeches are timed to a 10 minute timeframe. We share our time with other members. I suggested to the Speaker that it would be nice to have a digital clock, start at 10 minutes and have it count down to zero in order to avoid the Speaker's having to cut the member off at the end of debate. Interestingly enough, I received a letter from the Speaker saying they have adopted my suggestion. So my first great claim to fame in Ottawa is that we are going to have digital clocks installed.
Standing Orders And Procedure
An hon. member
What is the problem?
Standing Orders And Procedure
Steve Mahoney Mississauga West, ON
The problem is it is going to probably take two years because we have to wait for the renovation. It is not as simple as taking a clock off the wall, but at least it is progress.
One of the things soon learned when becoming a parliamentarian at any level is that you have to be prepared to accept your achievements in small doses. I was pleased in my last session in the Ontario legislature to sponsor a private member's bill that would prohibit young people under the age of 18 from buying lottery tickets. At first blush this was questioned as can they do that now. People were stunned. I remember the premier of the day, Premier Rae, being astounded to find out that there were kids lined up in the corner store playing Pro Line sports. They were actually betting their lunch money on Monday night football or on the outcome of the NHL hockey game. Everyone was astounded to find out it was happening.
The subsequent investigation and publicity took it right across Canada and everyone said the kids should not be able to do that. I think our society really feels that we should not have kids gambling on pro sports in corner stores. That is certainly not the vision of the kind of Canada that I or members in this place would like to see.
That private member's bill was subsequently supported unanimously in the parliament of Ontario and it went through first, second, third reading and royal assent in 16 sessional days. This was a record in the province of Ontario and unheard of in Canada for any private member's bill to receive that kind of attention and success.
I recall as I walked out of the chamber everyone slapping me on the back and congratulating me and my colleagues. My comment to one of them was thank you, but the problem is this appears to be as good as it gets. I really think that is the issue. We come here in numbers of 301 with views, aspirations, goals, visions and with information from our ridings. Perhaps we have different political perspectives on issues of concern to our community but we come here looking for ways to make these issues reality. The system is such that in my respectful submission my experience here is that one can accomplish more through the caucus system than one can through the official system of committees and parliament. I think that is wrong.
The reality is that in the experience of the caucus that I am a part of the government listens to the people in the backbench who are bringing messages and information from their ridings. I have seen numerous examples where policy of this government has been changed by intervention from members in the House of Commons who sit on the backbenches. This is a very positive thing, something we can be proud of and something our constituents should know, but it should go beyond that. There should be an opportunity that goes beyond hoping your name gets pulled out of a drum to introduce private members' bills. If eliminating the motions which my colleague suggested earlier would provide more time for private members' bills then I think that is a very constructive suggestion.
I want to talk about some of the comments I have heard and that are heard from time to time about members suggesting we need to have more concern about member privileges. The word privileges tends to dominate the landscape here in Ottawa. Members are always concerned about their privileges. We had a huge debate because one of the members made disparaging remarks at the Olympics about our flag. We had a huge debate over whether her privileges had been violated. We have other members who stand up from time to time about comments made outside this place, concerned about their privileges.
There is another word that I do not hear enough members in this place talking about and that in my view the standing orders do not address. That word is responsibilities. Along with privileges come responsibilities. When we think of what is going on in Ireland, when we think of war torn countries where their solution is murder and mayhem to political differences, when we realize that the difference between the Prime Minister's desk and the Leader of the Opposition's desk is the distance of two people holding out extended swords and the tips simply touching, when we realize that our weapons are our minds and our ammunition is our words and that in this great country we simply use this institution to put forth those viewpoints, we realize what a cherished responsibility we all have.
I was very disappointed in light of that issue of being responsible to the House of Commons and responsible to the people of Canada because I believe those two issues are intertwined; we cannot show disrespect in this place without showing disrespect for all Canadians.
The member for Beauharnois—Salaberry has made comments that were quoted when he was a parliamentary mission to justify his reasoning for the separation of the province of Quebec, saying that Quebec would be more democratic and more respectful of minority rights than under the Canadian federal system if it separated. That is contempt for this place. That is contempt for this country. It has no place in this chamber or in this great nation.
I think it is unfortunate that in this House our standing rules do not have a mechanism to call that member forward to stand up and be accountable for the remarks he made while on taxpayer expense travelling under the privilege of being a member of this House and denigrating this country and this House and everything we stand for.
Finally, the nonsense I saw yesterday of a 24 year old member of the Bloc standing up and taking his chair out of this place in some kind of a demonstration is just the silliest thing I have ever seen in my days of watching this place. I have a 27 year old who left home recently. He moved out on his own and he had the good sense not to steal the furniture. I would suggest that the member opposite was just grandstanding to try to make a point of some kind. He should realize that maybe in his case we should charge him with theft of chair and maybe we should change the locks. Once a young man leaves home it seems to me that young man should try to find it on his own.
I would hope that we could look at a way to put in place rules in the standing orders to hold all members of this House accountable for their actions, to make them respectful of this place both in the House of Commons and outside when they are on official duties. I would like to see that kind of amendment take place that would bring true dignity and responsibility to Canada's House of Commons.
Standing Orders And Procedure
André Harvey Chicoutimi, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate to improve—and I know you personally care a lot about this issue, Mr. Speaker—the democratic process and respect for minority groups in every assembly, particularly here in the Parliament of Canada.
I did not much appreciate the comments made by the member who just spoke. He took advantage of an anecdotal situation that occurred yesterday and that involved one of our young colleagues, who is about the same age as our children. Our young colleague was making a statement, asking us to be more receptive, to pay more attention to members who do not necessarily belong to parties that are well represented here. Indeed, it must be understood that numbers, not substance, are what matters in this House.
In all assemblies, what people care about and what inspires them is ideas, not screams.
Over the years I noticed that, as a rule, it is those with the best and most inspiring ideas that we try to silence.
I do not intend to pass judgment on yesterday's incident in the House involving the member for Lac-Saint-Jean. Instead, I will try to be more open and receptive to the message from our fellow citizens, who want Parliament to be a place where the best ideas are often put forward by backbenchers or by members of small parties, and want these members to be heard.
I am pleased to sit with the hon. member for Shefford, who cares a great deal about young people, children and families. Just about all her comments in the House are aimed at improving the well-being of families that have problems.
We are here to promote our ideas. The message sent to us yesterday is that poverty is on the rise across the country. We have not even been here one year, and on two or three occasions, I had the opportunity to express my concern about the impoverishment of our society, even though economic indicators and figures may say that progress is being made. The fact is that poverty is very much on the rise.
I have risen in the House on two or three occasions to question the government with respect to the message we received from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops about the disappearance of all social infrastructures. I would have liked a debate on that. I have put this question to various government members on two or three occasions. Yet, governments are no longer doing anything to remedy the lack of support for social agencies that help the most disadvantaged.
After I lost my seat in 1993, I had the opportunity to work as a volunteer with a national organization known as the United Way. This organization does extraordinary things to help the very agencies that help the most disadvantaged. I have not had much feedback or positive reaction indicating a new awareness of this gradual disappearance and weakening of the agencies there to help the most disadvantaged, there, in fact, to help the government ensure that the poorest members of society receive a fairer share.
We are here to convey both our party policies and our personal points of view on a variety of issues. There is not a lot of leeway. Things are improving, but too slowly for my taste.
I can give an example. The Parliament of Canada is not particularly accustomed to the presence of five parties here in the House. That is too bad because, with respect to policies that are very important for the future of our country, particularly everything to do with the throne speech, the government's general policies are set out, not necessarily in any detail, but very clearly.
A party such as ours, a national party whose roots predate Confederation, has tried in vain to make it possible for its amendments to be put to a vote. It has been impossible. I think that, just because there are only 20 of us, and that will soon drop to 19, this is no reason why we should not have access to an amended parliamentary procedure allowing our amendments with respect to the throne speech to be voted on.
Sometimes, all it takes is one parliamentarian. It has happened in the past, and the history of the House of Commons shows that it is possible for one parliamentarian to push through measures that are extremely constructive and important for the future of the country. We were not given the opportunity to do so during the throne speech debate.
It happened again with the budget statement. We suggested directions we thought were interesting. I am not saying our ideas are better than those expressed by the other members of this House. All we wanted was to contribute in a constructive manner, but we were not allowed to. Because we are the fifth party in the House, we were unable to push through what we felt were very progressive measures and I will give you some examples.
It does not make sense for the government to hoard, keep in the bank, $19 billion this year in the employment insurance fund. This is absolutely crazy. At a time of high unemployment, when we need more money to invest in economic development, in SMBs or in training, the government is sitting on $19 billion. Moreover, we were unable to have the motion to drastically reduce employment insurance premiums, which are still way too high, put to a vote.
Tax cuts are another example. There is nothing like tax cuts to boost job creation or the economy. I realize that this government will argue that they had to reduce the deficit. It is always the same old song “When the Conservatives were in office—”
When we were in office, we eliminated the $16 billion current account deficit. We took structural measures like free trade, which made our exports grow from $90 billion to $215 billion. All the Liberals are doing right now is pocketing money and covering the deficit. I think a more progressive approach is required and steps should be taken.
To this end, the House of Commons must be more responsive to initiatives from the NDP and the Progressive Conservative Party. It is odd that our motions relating to major bills are not considered votable.
The same is true of committees. We have to wait weeks or months to obtain committee reports. Yet we draw inspiration from these reports when we take part in the debates in this House.
With respect to private members' business, I think we will have to take a very close look at this to ensure greater responsiveness to such measures, so that as members of the third, fourth or fifth party represented in the House of Commons, we can try to put across our ideas, which, I am sure, would help give Canadian parliamentarians a slightly more positive image.
In this spirit, I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting me the privilege of expressing my views.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Paul Devillers Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to comment on the motion on our standing orders, pursuant to S. O. 51(1).
I believe this is a worthwhile debate, even if some consider it a mere formality. The standing orders regulate almost every aspect of parliamentary procedure, and the legislative process could not function without them. Let us take the example of a debate that is still very fresh in our memories, and those of all Canadians, the flag flap. Without a concise set of standing orders, the House would find itself in a terrible mess from which no one would benefit.
In the time available to me I will not be able to address all questions surrounding the standing orders in any depth. I will therefore limit my comments to a few areas, and to some related issues of particular interest to me.
First I would like to turn to the issue of private members' bills, clearly a popular topic in today's debate. For many members, private members' bills are one of the most visible ways members can influence the debate of the House and reflect the particular concerns of their constituents. One current problem with private members' bills is the system of making bills votable or non-votable.
Currently a very limited number of private members' bills are deemed votable. This designation is decided unilaterally by a subcommittee of the House procedural committee. There is no appeal and no justification given for this decision.
The reasons for the designation of non-votable should be given to the MP sponsoring the bill. A right of appeal of the subcommittee's decision should be created. This right of appeal would be before the substantive committee most directly concerned by the subject matter of the bill. The committee would be asked to study the bill for a limited period of time to give the author of the bill a chance to present the problem and the context that gave rise to the legislation.
Without unduly tasking committee time this hearing would provide a more visible record of the myriad of concerns that members raise through private members' bills.
I understand that currently there is an examination of the legislative and procedural changes proposed in the last parliament by the House affairs and procedural committee. This report contained many suggestions designed to increase the number of private members' bills, to increase the number of bills that would be votable and to increase the number of those bills that could be adopted by the House.
As the government House leader mentioned in his presentation on this issue, any of these changes would require the House to perform the close scrutiny of private members' bills that currently occurs on government bills. It is clear that increased scrutiny would fall in many ways to committees. My suggestion about the right of appeal of votable designation would be a compromise between the present system and the proposals of the House affairs and procedural committee.
Committees and the House would not be overtaxed with frivolous legislation while private members' bills would get the hearing sponsoring MPs deserve and desire.
A related topic is the availability of legislative drafting counsel for private members' bills. Hon. members will be aware of the consternation expressed by some members during the previous parliament regarding the availability of legislative counsel for private members' bills. Essentially this problem arose as the private members' office lost legislative drafting advisers.
In my opinion the innovative project between the House and the legislative drafting masters program at the University of Ottawa should be attempted again. This kind of practical experience is essential for graduates. In addition, these students would provide an important service for members of parliament.
As lawyers, these masters students are well aware of the confidential relationship between the solicitor and their client. Furthermore, given the success of the policy in legal internships currently available to members' offices, I feel that a similar approach to legislative drafting would be welcome.
I would like to comment on the distinction to be made between bills that are financial in nature from those that are not. I feel, and I believe I am not the only one, that more and more private member's bills are financial in nature.
Subsequent to a reform to the standing orders in 1993, a member can, under certain circumstances, introduce a bill which involves public moneys, provide it obtains a royal recommendation before third reading. There is no provision, moreover, to prevent a member from introducing a bill which would reduce allocations of funds.
This raises matters of principle, however. The British parliamentary system has bequeathed us certain basic principles we have a duty to respect, including that of responsible government.
Canadians insist that their government be answerable to it for its decisions, particularly anything of a financial nature.
This can only be the case if we allow members of Parliament to introduce tax bills and if we pass these bills. We should probably review the related provisions of the standing orders, to ensure that the principle of government accountability is fully maintained.
Let me turn briefly to another issue that has been vigorously discussed in this parliament, that of electronic voting. Let me say from the outset that I do not support this initiative. Forcing all members to stand in their place and be counted is an important part of the job of a member of parliament. When sensitive issues are debated and decided members are forced to declare their vote or their lack of vote as the case may be. I feel strongly that electronic voting would remove some of the symbolic accountability from this place.
I have one last point before concluding. The standing orders provide that, during an opposition day, a member of the party tabling the opposition motion can amend the wording of the main motion. Since the standing orders also allow the member of the opposition party who begins the debate to share his or her time with another member, that second member has the first opportunity to propose an amendment to the wording of the motion.
However, this prevents any other member of the House from proposing an amendment to the main motion, and not only to the amendment to the motion. This procedural tactic is unfair, in my opinion, and the standing orders should be reviewed and amended accordingly.
I hope members of this House share my views on these issues relating to our rules. It is our responsibility to ensure the standing orders are as concise as possible, if this House is to operate effectively.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter the debate today. It is an interesting debate because it is one of those occasions where we actually have a debate in the House of Commons. People come with ideas and exchange them. Far too often we see ourselves here with our set pieces and not listening, but I think the debates on the standing order changes have been useful and helpful. Perhaps it is because they affect us all as parliamentarians.
In the brief time allotted to me I would like to talk about six different areas of the standing orders which I believe are in need of change. The first relates to the taking of votes and the practice of applying votes, the same practice we have been using since the start of the 35th parliament.
While every member of the House would agree that this practice has greatly reduced the time it takes to record votes, it is also true that this time and money saving measure can and has been denied by only a single voice. In other words, even though our vote is recorded in Hansard as having been cast, any one member can stand and say he or she wants everybody in the House to stand again, again and again, as many as 20 to 30 times in a single evening. Because what is most important is the vote itself that is a time waster.
My first recommendation would be that the procedure of applying votes by party should be institutionalized in our rules. Instead of requiring unanimous consent, what is now common practice, a minimum of five members would be required to force a traditional stand up vote. Such a standing order change would not infringe on the voting rights of anyone but would be consistent with the rule requiring five members to force a recorded vote. In that sense it is consistent, would speed things up and would make it a regular part of voting.
I would especially like to pay tribute to someone who works in our House leader's office, Mr. David Prest who first came up with this idea back in the last parliament and brought it forward as a time saver. One day, if we were ever to send to Mr. Prest the amount of money the House saved by using his original idea for applying votes, he could retire a very wealthy man. My hat goes off to him for that initiative.
The second issue I would like to address is that of House orders or motions which direct a standing committee on how to act. The problem I see is that the House may pass a motion, as it did in the last parliament, to create, for example, a victims bill of rights, or earlier in this parliament a motion to toughen up the drunk driving laws. Once that motion is passed by the House and sent to committee there is no guarantee that it will be dealt with or resolved in committee.
In both instances just mentioned, the motions were brought forward by the Reform Party and were supported by a majority of the members of the House. Yet no action was taken at committee. It is for this reason that I recommend that committees be required to report to the House on the progress of any order given to them by the House within a prescribed number of sitting days. There should not be any open endedness about these. When they are referred to committees, they should have to report back by a certain date.
Third, I would like to touch on a specific standing order which all parties in this House have spoken against at various times, Standing Order 56. Under this standing order when unanimous consent is denied, a minister can move a motion without notice, without debate or amendment to suspend the standing orders. While 25 members rising in their seats can have that motion withdrawn, 25 members is a far cry from unanimous consent. At any other time when someone asks for permission to table a piece of paper, to put a motion before the House, any one person can stop that by saying no to the unanimous consent.
Standing Order 56, which gives a minister special power to suspend the standing orders, is in my opinion dictatorial and an abusive rule. That is why I recommend that Standing Order 56 be deleted when we go through these standing orders.
The fourth item I want to address is Standing Order 73. It allows the government to designate that a bill be referred to committee before second reading. This process evolved, when I was first here, in the 35th parliament. It has evolved, I do not think intentionally, into a shortcut for the government which basically restricts one stage of the legislative process to 180 minutes of debate. The limiting of debate on any bill should be considered on a case by case basis which only the House collectively can decide. This should not be a decision left solely to the government which can unilaterally decide to limit debate on a bill. Therefore I recommend that Standing Order 73 be deleted.
During that debate on Standing Order 73 it may be that some people will say we need something in there to allow for the flexibility of amendments, in other words when amendments can come to the House. If this is the case, that is the only part of that standing order that should remain. If the House decides to amend rather than delete this standing order, I would recommend there be restrictions on the types of bills that are allowed to be considered by Standing Order 73. In other words, bills based on ways and means motions should not be allowed to proceed in this fashion. We do not want to see rules of the House used to limit debate. That is a decision for the House as a whole, not for the government side alone.
My fifth point relates to the question and comment period that follows most speeches in the House. Under the current rules the most important speakers—it could be argued the most important—cannot be questioned in debate. In other words, if the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition or the minister sponsoring the bill speaks on the bill, we cannot as members of parliament question the minister, the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister following their speech. What may be very intriguing or may set the agenda for the entire bill or the day's debate, instead of a question and answer and a give and take on that very important speech, there is nothing. We are not allowed to have an exchange.
The few times that we have asked for unanimous consent to allow that exchange to take place have been some of the best debates in the House. It is between a very knowledgeable minister, a very concerned backbencher on one side of the House or the other. That give and take has made for some very good dynamics and interesting debate in the House. A provision should be introduced to allow for questions and comments for those people.
Finally, I would like to address the issue of committee reports tabled in this House. The vast majority of these reports are never adopted by the House let alone acted on. The accountability of the government with regard to its response to committee reports must be improved. I think of times when reports come from the procedure and House affairs committee, a committee I sit on. It may have to do with a question of supply. It is tabled in the House.
The House adopts that it be tabled but there is no vote on whether it is concurred in. In other words, for the folks who are watching on TV, if we put a concurrence motion forward, we start the debate. I say I would like to debate the tabling of that report and I would like to debate the contents of that report. Here is my motion and away we go. We can do that. We start the debate. We give our points of view and maybe one or two others do. The government inevitably and repeatedly will get up and say it is a nice little debate here, folks, but we move we return to the orders of the day. As soon as the government does that, the debate is finished. Instead of dealing with that report, the report instead of becoming a report of the House drops to the bottom of the government order paper, not the House's order paper.
I say those reports are the property of the House and should be dealt with by the House. It is not right when they are defeated like that or a motion to go to government orders occurs that the report becomes a government order itself. That is not a government order. I would argue that is a committee report and it is not the property of the government.
In other words, the procedure where a concurrence motion becomes a government order once debate on the motion is concluded should be disallowed. It should come back at another date for further debate and a decision by the House.
The government should not have control over this process. That is why the further recommendation on that is that the House always be permitted to have a free vote on a committee concurrence motion, if it is in the interest of the House. Many of those motions are adopted by unanimous consent. They are routine motions and we do not want to tie up the House or the voting time of the House.
We will be having a report soon from the procedure and House affairs committee again on the referral about the comments of some of the members of the House and whether they were contemptuous. That will come forward in a report. It will be tabled in the House. I would like the House to decide on that. The report from the committee is one thing but because that was a decision of the House to send that to committee there is no decision of the House to put it to bed once and for all.
We end up with a motion or a report and it just hangs there. There is no final determination of what to do with it, whether the House supports it or opposes it. It just sits there festering away, waiting for a nice day.
Those changes would make the House more responsive. It would make it fairer to the House as a whole and not just the government side. I think it would make things quicker and therefore cheaper. It would be better all around for both the government and the opposition benches.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Mr. Speaker, today's Order Paper provides that we should look at the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees.
This is, in fact, a very important topic, given the government machinery and the legal and financial issues we look at here. I think it is extremely important that parliamentarians be able to say what they think about what is going on in the House, and especially outside it, in committee.
What I find unacceptable, however, is that no follow-up has been announced. Members talk, they talk for the sake of talking here, but I would love to see the government propose substantial amendments with respect to what goes on in the Parliament of Canada.
Some of the things that go on here are pretty strange. One example is how committees operate. Since I have only 10 minutes to speak, I would like to focus more specifically on the issue of committees.
Since 1993, I have had the opportunity to sit on various committees, including the Standing Committee on Justice, the Standing Committee on Finance, and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Each time, the drill is pretty much the same.
What is most disgraceful is that, when we look at committee minutes, we see that, when the Conservatives were in power, the Liberals made remarks about these committees, particularly about the way they operated. They were critical of the way committees operated, of the time allowed the opposition, of the way witnesses were questioned, and so on.
Now that the Liberals are on the other side of the House, they behave exactly the same way, and it is all right. This is the way it is supposed to be. Personally, I believe it should not be so.
Currently, the government has too much influence on directives and the way committees work. I believe it is bad, because MPs do not feel valued when doing very important work in committee, where they can have direct access to ministers and effect changes. This is the way it should be in a perfect world, but in actual fact this is not the case.
Also, I am taking this opportunity, the first I have had in the House, to draw the attention of the Chair to the issue of quorum and members who are late for committee sittings. I raised the issue this morning in committee because this happens all too often. Again this morning we had to wait for Liberal members who were late. A committee which was supposed to start at 9 o'clock started at 9.25 a.m.
As a Bloc Quebecois member from a riding in Quebec I have better things to do than wait for Liberals so we can have a quorum in committee. I know I am digressing a bit, but if we want to improve the way the House operates, government members should at least have the decency to arrive on time, especially when they have received proper notice.
This being said, I will return to the topic at hand, which is the recognition of the work done by committee members, among other things. Even though they do not talk about it any more—and I can understand why—the Liberals opposite will certainly remember the 1993 red book, which contained a whole chapter on giving MPs a greater role in the House and in committee.
In reality these red book promises were also broken. Do you know what is most frustrating for an MP who does his job as a committee member? I could give you several examples, but I will talk about a specific bill, the firearms bill.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard numerous experts and witnesses, worked hard and travelled across the country. Individual committee members travelled to various municipalities and regions to consult local people. We worked very hard to improve the bill. At the time, the Bloc Quebecois was the official opposition. This took place during the 35th Parliament, but I could also talk about the 36th Parliament. In this case, however, it was so obvious as to be a good example, in my opinion. The Bloc Quebecois worked like mad to propose a series of amendments to the government. During the hearings, which lasted not two or three days but entire weeks, the justice committee heard witnesses and experts of all kinds.
When the time came to adopt this bill clause by clause and for the official opposition, which was the Bloc Quebecois at that time, to submit its amendments, what met our eyes on the other side? Liberals I had never seen hide nor hair of in the justice committee, who had no clue what they were doing there themselves.
They had been given a very precise mandate, however, which was to help defeat every opposition amendment, and to get the bill through without any changes. That bill, on firearms, was highly controversial in all Canadian provinces, Quebec included. The Minister of Justice of the day appeared before the committee and we reached agreement on a point or two.
But as for the rest, the 45 amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, only two or three were accepted, not during the committee examination but in negotiations in the parliamentary corridors. The Liberals who came just to help push the bill through knew nothing about these negotiations.
This is most deplorable, if one wants to make the work of members more relevant. Members are not here just to say yes or no, or to do what a minister tells them to.
Speaking of ministers, another thing that is rather frustrating to committee members is what happens when the minister responsible for this or that department comes to visit. Just yesterday, we had the Minister of Justice come to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights to debate her department's budget. What was involved was not $200,000 but millions. For the Supreme Court alone, the budget is $14 million.
The minister comes, grants us a mere two hours, and we are supposed to be grateful. There we are, 15 or 16 MPs with some fairly precise rules to follow, and very few concrete answers forthcoming from the minister.
What is more, the minister can take up half of the time allocated to us, when we still have a question or two to ask her. We ask her to come back, but it is not known when she will be able to do so. The Minister of Justice is a busy woman, and all the other ministers are equally busy.
I see that my time is almost up, but I think that if we want to enhance the contribution made here by members while improving the parliamentary system, it is time the government took a good hard look at this issue.
I would have liked to say a few words about references made by this House in the past, like the last one, which concerned the Canadian flag. In that case, which was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the decision made in this place had already been concocted by the Liberals and the Reformers outside this House to stifle the matter as quickly as possible. And then, to make themselves look good, they referred the matter to the committee, leaving the final decision up to members.
It does not work that way. There are things going on behind the scenes that the public does not see. To ensure that democracy is protected, time has come for government members opposite to take their responsibilities and perhaps to strike a real committee to look into this whole issue and improve the Canadian democratic system.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC
Mr. Speaker, the purpose of today's debate seems to be the collective release of emotions, group therapy or the promotion of the existing system. As a young member whose experience is not as extensive as that of some of his colleagues, I will nonetheless offer a few suggestions or at least set forth a number of personal observations.
Of course, the purpose of today's debate is not to call the parliamentary system into question. One may not like it, complain about the government, and keep saying that committees do not operate as they should, but it is important to realize one thing: we must work together at enhancing the role of members of Parliament.
There is a price to pay for using British parliamentary rules and that is the fact that the government sits in this House, which is not the case in the American system. There are pros and cons. It only makes sense that when the government—that is the executive branch—sits in this House with the legislative branch, it must have some tools to work with. In politics, we use checks and balances.
I will not start moaning and say that the situation in committees is awful. Oddly enough, things work very well in the agriculture and agri-food committee, on which I sit, and in the official languages committee. We get along, there is no arm-twisting, contrary to what some members may claim, and the ministers do not come and tell us what to do. No, that is not the way we operate. We understand each other and we operate that way.
However, I want to deal with the role of a member of Parliament in the House of Commons. In my opinion, it is important to give a greater role to backbenchers, not only to members of the opposition parties, but also to government members.
Quite often, under the existing procedure on specific issues, there is a draw; we put members' names in a hat, and then there is a draw to determine which member can introduce a private member's bill, but it is a long and frustrating process. I understand that there used to be a fast track procedure in place.
I think that if at least 100 members support one of their colleagues who wants to introduce a private member's bill, this legislation should get priority. If several members representing all parties agree on a given bill and believe there is a consensus, but not necessarily unanimity, I think it would be appropriate to give back more power to the lawmakers.
All this would, of course, take place in the context of how parliament works. Earlier, someone alluded to back room dealings, saying how awful they are. We will not play holier than thou today, because there are some who can play that game really well.
If we asked members how many of them have read all the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, we might be very disappointed. I must candidly admit that I did not read them all. It is by working here that we learn how this place operates.
I remember the late Maurice Bellemare in the National Assembly, who became minister after Maurice Duplessis told him to learn the code of procedure. Those who know how to take advantage of the code of procedure can play a very important role. This is the way we should look at things.
Of course, the role of a member is to be efficient and responsible. However, this can be frustrating at times, especially when one feels that the government is taking too much space. But, as I mentioned earlier, that is the way the British parliamentary system works. We have to accept it and use the procedure to find ways to play a role.
In our system, the legislative and the executive are one. Therefore, to form the government, it takes a majority. A party must have a majority. Thus, Bloc members will always complain because they will never form the government. But one thing is certain: we are so democratic here that we let people say just about anything in the House, and we hear them often. Not only are the Bloc members allowed to say anything they want, but they leave with the furniture. Some are putting together a trousseau and taking the chairs. This is so democratic.
What is certain is that we have an important role to play. We must look into ways to improve operations. Earlier we talked about committees. I believe that when everybody is acting in good faith and interested in making things run smoothly, we can get along.
A case in point is the fisheries and oceans committee, which was supposed to enjoy greater autonomy. If there are people who still say that the government is twisting their arm, I think they should take another look at things, and rethink how it works.
When we listened to the chair, our friend from Newfoundland, it was very clear that he had done his homework. So, what am I saying today? If we all do our homework, if we learn our procedure and how things are supposed to be done, we can achieve our goals.
Now, it is clear that the member, despite everything, may feel undervalued. He feels that way because he sometimes has the impression that, as a backbencher or opposition member, he does not have direct access to certain things, or he feels that the government in power can run the whole show. I must say that I completely disagree. A member who does his work well and learns all the basics can achieve his goals.
Undoubtedly, there are times when we are overloaded. I myself sit on three or four committees. It is clear that we cannot always delve deeper and keep up with everything. That is when it becomes necessary to help each other and to find the best way of doing things.
We have often, however, discussed the issue of how voting takes place.
I must admit that I find it a bit tiresome when one person rises and calls for a recorded vote. As long as we agree to either support or reject a motion, the whip usually says that, with the unanimous consent of the House, the members will vote for or against.
It is clear that a member is not most effective when he must rise each time. Furthermore, it is clear that the whole issue of electronic voting has been the subject of numerous discussions, but sight must not be lost of the role the member plays by taking part. Taking the floor time after time on the same subject, whether on the amendments or something else, is an enormous waste of very precious time. For us, time is precious, and I agree with the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm on that. Our time is valuable, and sometimes there are other things we need to be doing.
Yet again, I am soft-pedalling it here because democracy is what this is all about. Respect for the institutions and traditions has made the country work. Compared to other countries, we probably have one of the best parliamentary systems in the world. That is why we need to be very prudent. We can make some improvements, adjust certain rules, but it is unthinkable to question the entire parliamentary system.
Our viewers must not be given the impression that it is not working, and that some shocking things are going on. On the contrary, I think we can give ourselves good marks. The MPs are doing a good job, and they have the capacity to assume a vital role and to represent their constituents well.
In terms of changes to the standing orders, as I have said, I do not have the experience my colleagues do, as I was elected less than a year ago, but it is clear from all of the debates that have gone on since the beginning, on all manner of subjects, that if MPs had more opportunity on the issue of bills, that might be worthwhile.
If we could enhance the role of members by improving certain aspects of private members' business, that might prove equally worthwhile. As for motions, if a little more time were available, not Friday afternoon or some evening in the week, and if we could address them in “prime time”, as they say, that too might be worthwhile. I believe that in this context changes need to be made.
I am, however, offended that a good system continually in use is still constantly being questioned, so that once again the impression is given that the institution is being devalued. I am therefore calling upon my colleagues to be very prudent. The baby must not be thrown out with the bath water, nor the building demolished just because the roof leaks.
We have a good system and I think we can still do good work, with a proper knowledge of things and perhaps a few small improvements. But, please, let us not devalue the institution.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Ken Epp Elk Island, AB
Mr. Speaker, I begin by apologizing for my voice. I became hoarse by attending a trade fair. I stood listening to the people of Elk Island for so many hours that at the end of the day, from listening so much, I was hoarse. However, I will try to do my best.
In the few minutes I have available I would like to address two items. I could probably go on for a whole hour if I were given the opportunity but I want to address but two items.
The first one has to do with standing orders regarding the elections of the chairman of a committee. On this item my issue is really quite short. It is very succinct. The way we elect the chairman and the vice-chairman of a committee right now is totally inadequate.
For those people in the gallery or watching on television who do not know how this works, most of the time when there is an election to a position we accept nominations.
For example, in an ordinary meeting one would ask if there are any nominations. Whoever is in that group can stand up and nominate whomever they want. When the list is complete, either by secret ballot, by show of hands or however it is decided, the people will choose from the list the candidates they want. However, it is just not done that way in the committees here in the House of Commons, but it ought to be.
The way it is done here is that a person proposes a motion and moves the name of a member to be the chairman. The motion is put to a vote and when it is decided that is the end of it. The other people do not even get a chance to have their names put on the list.
As I have observed, what happens is that normally the first person to be recognized is a person from the government side. That may be appropriate, but it does not allow for any other names to be on the list. Therefore, instead of having a true choice here, it looks as if this is all orchestrated in advance and members are merely going through a charade in order to confirm what has already been decided in the back rooms. This is not good enough.
What I would like to see happen is that the clerk, who is the temporary chairperson of the first meeting of a committee, would recognize whomever wants to make a nomination and then keep on going until all the nominations are in. I know that in any committee I have been in not everyone wants to accept the nomination. In this process they would have to be asked if they are ready to accept the nomination and, if they are, they are put on the list.
This list could be easily done by putting the names on a board or whatever and then everyone could just vote by number in a secret ballot. The ballots would be counted and the results would be announced. This, to me, is so simple. It would be the right way of doing it, as opposed to the way it is done here where, by and large, everybody gets herded into the corral and prodded with an electric prod as to what they should do or say. I think this method would offer a lot more freedom and would be a more democratic choice.
It could be that a government member will still win. I expect most of the time that would happen because by the composition of our committees the majority of the members of the committee are on the government side. However, sometimes we miss the use of the talent of very good people who happen to be in one of the opposition parties who would probably do a very good job.
Maybe it would not be such a bad idea to empower more members of parliament than just those who happen to be on that side who have more colleagues than the other guys. A party becomes government by having more of its colleagues win.
That is my first point. The second point that I want to address today is the issue of private members' business. I have really become distressed with private members' business. I will concede that government bills are not unimportant, many are very important. However, I have observed that some of the best ideas, those ideas which more accurately reflect the wishes of the constituents out there, come from the people who make us hoarse from listening to them at trade fairs and other places. These are the ideas which are brought to the House by a member of parliament.
The member of parliament may agree with his or her constituent's idea and decide to put it in a private member's bill. Lo and behold, the member does that and it now becomes a process almost as unlikely as that of winning the lottery in Canada: Will this bill ever get passed? A private member's bill has to pass many hurdles and some are formidable. I will admit, having a House with 301 members, that it is not practicable for each member to have a bill every session. It would take an awful lot of debating time.
However, I really believe that the standing orders should be changed so that much more of the grassroots work that comes from our ridings is at least considered in this place where we can debate the issues and actually vote on them.
I find it particularly offensive when I look at the way private members' business works now. I will accept the lottery draw. For those who may not be informed, when we have so many members of parliament, a large number of them choose to submit private members' business, either a bill or a motion, and that is figuratively put into a pail and then they draw the names of the people who have submitted bills and motions. It is a random draw. They choose 30 such items to start with and then replenish from time to time as the list is used up.
It may be a very good issue, but if it is not drawn it will never be debated. I do not really know a practical way of overcoming that, except that I would like to see the standing orders changed to provide more time for private members' business so that more of these issues can be brought to the House of Commons for debate and vote.
In any case, once they are drawn, that assures one hour of debate. If it is a very good issue and it is drawn, the member will say “Whoopee, my bill got drawn. We get to debate it in the House of Commons”. They will stand in the House of Commons and some of their colleagues on both sides of the House will discuss the pros and cons and, in the end, they will say, “That was a great time. Let's go home. It is the end of private members' business”. There is no vote on it. The only ones that get a vote are the ones which pass the next, almost impossible, hurdle and that is the hurdle of being approved by a so-called all party non-biased committee.
Here again many good motions and bills are passed over because the people on that committee, for whatever reason, think “We should not really let the other members vote on this”. I know it is a time constraint because we do have a rule that there be two full hours of debate on a bill that is going to be voted on, but I would rather have half as many bills and have them come to a vote and at least give that individual member the pride of going back to his riding and saying, “I really tried”. But to just come with that idea or notion, make it into a lottery, not even get it voted on, really gives an empty feeling to an important issue.
I am talking about important things like concurrent sentencing. I am talking about things like Income Tax Act revisions which are so important and which the government just never gets around to.
Mr. Speaker, not only have you given me the signal that my time is up, but as you can hear, my voice is starting to say it is time for me once again to listen. So I will sit down and do that.