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
Government Response To Petitions
April 21st, 1998 / 10:05 a.m.
Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to five petitions.
Income Tax Act
Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-390, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (allowances paid to elected officials).
Mr. Speaker, I move first reading of this bill, an act to amend the Income Tax Act, which would have the effect of removing the special provisions in the income tax code which allow members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures, members of municipal councils and elected members of school boards to exempt one-third of their regular indemnity or income from taxation.
This bill is being moved as I think it is completely inappropriate for politicians to exempt themselves from the tax laws that they impose on other Canadians.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)
Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition signed by a number of Canadians, including from my riding of Mississauga South.
The petitioners draw to the attention of the House that managing the family home and caring for preschool children is a honourable profession which has not been recognized for its value to our society.
The petitioners also point out that the Income Tax Act discriminates against families that choose to provide direct parental care to their children in the home. This point is also raised in the national forum on health report of November 1996.
The petitioners therefore pray and call on Parliament to pursue initiatives to eliminate tax discrimination against families that decide to provide care in the home to preschool children.
Questions On The Order Paper
Peter Adams Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, I suggest that all questions be allowed to stand.
Questions On The Order Paper
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
Questions On The Order Paper
Some hon. members
Standing Orders And Procedure
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
Pursuant to Standing Order 51(1), the following motion is now deemed to have been proposed:
That this House takes note of the standing orders and procedure of the House and its committees.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, when Standing Order 51 was adopted some time ago, it was assumed that while party members would change from parliament to parliament one House of Commons would not differ much in structure and character from its predecessor, and that the rules followed in the previous parliament would not generally require change to be effective in the new parliament. Therefore about halfway through the first session, which is what we are doing now, would be the appropriate timing for a review of the standing orders.
First, there would be a debate on the rules of the House itself, followed by a more comprehensive review of specific rules by the Standing Committee of Procedure and House Affairs.
The last two elections have obviously not sustained that assumption. In 1993 there was an unprecedented turnover in the membership of the House of Commons. In 1997, after many years of functioning as a three official party chamber, the House returned to a five official party system. Consequently today we are not, as anticipated in the standing orders, commencing the process of the revision of the rules but are taking stock of a revision process that of necessity began virtually the day after the last election.
It is not my intention this morning to attempt a dissertation on parliamentary procedure, although I do have a vent for that every now and then, but merely to review for the House the ongoing situation regarding our rules and how these rules have been changing since the last election. I would like to propose a few further changes that the committee might want to consider.
I will attempt to put forward a few observations and I look forward to receiving views from all hon. members on the rules of the House.
My first observation is that so far the House has functioned very well. According to the pundits of last summer, this was not supposed to be the case. They called it the pizza parliament, a House divided in five parties. It was supposed to be chaotic. It was supposed to be unproductive. In fact, from the very first contacts I found that the House leaders of all parties would be willing to make this House function. I thank them for the attitude demonstrated to that effect thus far. They have demonstrated a sense of responsibility to the Canadian electorate which expects all of us on both sides of the House to do our work in an orderly and organized fashion.
The House of Commons is a partisan political cockpit. It is also a legislative workplace. The task of all House leaders has been to adapt its procedures and the composition of the House as chosen by the electorate so that both of these realities would be given expression.
The task of making a five party House of Commons function effectively was expedited by all House leaders. Their early acceptance of proportionality is one of the governing principles. This has led us to agreements on funding for various parties to operate research offices, party officials' offices and so on, as well as agreement on the composition of committees, rotation of speakers and the allocation of opposition days.
We even had to change the amount of time for speeches during private members' hour and opposition days in order to permit the free flow across the House of Commons. We have also made some suggestions to the Speaker on the operation of the daily question period.
The proportionality principle I have just referred to has led to an increase in the size of the standing committees. Since the membership of the House is after all finite, we were obliged to combine a number of committees in order to reduce the overall number recognizing the finite situation of the number of members available to do the work.
Perhaps the most immediate obvious change that was brought about was in the daily question period. At least it is the one which was noticed immediately by a large number of Canadians. It was clear to all House leaders that if the balance between the parties was to be maintained, the Speaker would have to govern the question period strictly, especially with regard to the length of the questions and answers. I am one who thought the answers were usually better than the questions but that is a matter for another time.
The result is a question period which moves along far more swiftly with more succinct questions and answers. More important, more members have the opportunity to participate. This has been very successful. I again congratulate the leadership of all parties, the Speaker and of course the table for having administered this program which has worked very well.
It is a bit early yet to tell how effective the operation of proportionality has been with regard to the standing committees. The principle has led to a 16 member committee which is a trifle large from the point of view of developing internal cohesiveness and rapport. Its application has also made it more difficult to use subcommittees. This has led to a rather heavy committee burden on individual members.
Anyone who has worked on a committee whether in this House or elsewhere recognizes that smaller and less formal groups have a greater possibility to conduct proceedings coherently and that a consensus is usually easier to achieve. Nevertheless the committee structure satisfies the partisan position of all parties. However we should give some thought in terms of how satisfactorily it is working given the large number of people who must sit on committees.
Speaking about committees, we should seriously consider improving the approval process for travel by committees. By and large, bringing witnesses to Ottawa or alternatively using teleconferencing to permit the hearing of witnesses from other parts of Canada are more preferable than having committees travel. It is more cost effective and makes greater use of the members' limited time.
When there is a need for committees to travel, the structure by which we seek the permission of the House, the one which requires either unanimous consent or debate of a motion in order to arrive at the permission for a committee to travel, is somewhat cumbersome. Perhaps an easier and more flexible mechanism could be developed for us to achieve a condition whereby a committee would be able to travel on those limited occasions when there is such a need.
Proportionality worked well in allocating opposition days to the various parties, in spite of the fact that the number of days allocated to supply had to be changed. We will soon have to address the issue of the total number of days if the principle currently applied is approved and maintained in the fall.
As I said earlier, the five parliamentary leaders began their consultation process last summer, in the weeks following the election, and I want to thank them again. When the parliamentary session resumed, we found out that a policy of give and take based on mutual respect went a long way in resolving almost every problem both rationally and even amicably.
As a result, we wondered if the House would not benefit from long term planning of parliamentary business. Starting in the fall and continuing into the winter session, we looked at the time available, assessed the volume of parliamentary work for the government and decided on a plan for the current session. We wanted members from all parties to be able to plan their work and activities in their ridings and also to attend the House whenever a bill of particular interest to them is put forward.
The process I just described demanded openness and transparency on the part of the parliamentary leaders in their discussions, which in turn required a kind of self-discipline. Of course, there will always be times when, in spite of all our good intentions, we will not agree on the time to be allocated to debate on a given bill. When this occurs, the government must take the measures required to speed up the legislative process, if necessary.
The planning system also impacts on the committees' agenda, as we just saw. Pursuant to their general mandates under Standing Order 108, each of the standing committees may undertake specific studies, but they must also be aware of the business of the House, so as to be able to promptly deal with the legislation referred to them by this House. I believe this must be a priority for every committee.
I should point out that a review of our legislative procedures was undertaken during the previous Parliament and is still pending. I am referring to the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs dealing with private members' business. The report primarily seeks to provide the House with the flexibility required to increase the number of private members' proposals that can be put to a vote, and to speed up passage of votable items.
Some members are reluctant to endorse the report because government bills must meet all sorts of criteria, while private members' bills are not required to meet the same strict conditions. However, the good work that parliamentary committees do in conducting detailed reviews of these bills leads me to believe that private members' bills will be treated very seriously to make sure they are properly drafted.
Generally speaking, it is our intention to adopt the report of that committee.
However, I should point out with regard to the rules of the House and the committees that, in future sessions, should private member's bills be automatically reinstated from the previous session, the same should apply to government bills. I believe the same test should apply to both.
There are many other issues which hopefully could be reviewed by the Standing Committee on Procedure within the coming weeks and months, including our voting system, for instance. Should the committee be reluctant to support electronic voting, as I hoped it would, it might explore other ways to solve the recurring problem of delays in the taking of parliamentary votes. I understand the committee has already looked into the issue of days and hours of sitting, and I would welcome any proposal from the committee in this regard.
Some members have expressed concern regarding the language and procedures of this House, which I would qualify as sometimes esoteric. This issue is under review. In Great Britain, a reform to this effect is presently under way.
I will give you the following example.
When we table private members' bills in the House, we seek leave to introduce the bill and then we introduce the bill. Both motions are deemed to be adopted right away. If they are both deemed to be adopted right away, why have two separate motions? One motion to do both tasks would surely be sufficient. It sounds like a repetitive process and it confuses many people, not the least of whom are those watching the proceedings or listening to the debate in the House of Commons.
The other point I want to bring to the attention of the House is that of the tabling of estimates. Once the estimates are tabled in the House they require a motion to refer them to committee. If the House ever decided not to adopt that motion I guess it would mean that the House itself rather than the committee would be dealing with the estimates.
I cannot see why that motion is not deemed adopted, similar to the motion for first reading on private members' bills. Otherwise a House that would defeat the motion would be forced to deal with the estimates itself in the Chamber, which is a procedure we did away with.
The language used in House procedure could be changed. For instance, when we table a bill, and the Chair says it will be studied at the next sitting of the House, should it not rather be “in the near future” or some more realistic expression more in tune with reality, instead of this slightly outdated language?
The standing committee may well want to look critically at the rules and process of debate with a view toward maintaining a vigorous and meaningful exchange of views in the House while permitting the House in the end to articulate a clear and correctly nuanced conclusion.
Several years ago the House decided to remove the automatic definition of opposition motions on allotted days as non-confidence motions. The intention was to permit opposition parties to raise issues for decisions by the House. On many occasions since, such motions albeit sometimes with amendments, have actually been adopted.
This noble purpose however has been perverted. We have a condition now that when some party is proposing a motion it does so splitting its own opening round and proposing its own minor amendment which makes a substantive amendment to the motion in question impossible. That was not the purpose of the rule when it was put in place. Its purpose has been perverted and I suggest respectfully that the committee might want to look at this very seriously.
In my opinion this House, thus far, has worked well. It has worked well because the leadership in the House, and presumably the leadership overall of the respective parties, has wanted it to be that way. The opposite would be equally true. If the leadership of all parties did not want it to work they would have some responsibility for creating that condition, should it ever occur in the future.
For the time being, we have worked constructively and we have had vigorous exchanges. That is fine. Overall the House is discharging its function. Some of our processes can be improved and I am sure they will be with the good work of the committee.
Meanwhile the leadership of all parties has not waited for this day and for this debate. It could not. We have engaged very constructively since the days after the last election and we have provided and offered, and the House has accepted, a number of amendments which have made this parliament function better and which have made all parties participate. I am pleased that has been the case.
I congratulate all members. I congratulate the Speaker and all the occupants of the chair for their good work and the excellent support that has been provided to all of us by our table officers and our respective staff in the House leadership offices in making the changes that we have effected thus far.
I look forward to the contribution of all hon. members in this day's debate.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC
Mr. Speaker, I am going to split my time with my colleague from Calgary Southwest, the Leader of the Official Opposition.
My colleagues take seriously today the debate and we have waited some time for it to come. The issues that are going to be placed before us in the House of Commons today concern the standing orders, which are basically the rules that members develop for this House to be used in this House. Members on all sides of this House have a vested interest in their improvement.
Whilst I would agree to some extent with the Government House leader that things have worked well, there is no doubt in my mind that things can work better. That is what we are about, the reform of this House of Commons. A part of that reform comes through changes to the standing orders.
My colleagues today are going to spend about 10 minutes each talking to these issues. We could probably spend a lot more time talking to each issue. However, we want to talk about a number of serious issues that have been around this House for some time. They concern the election of the Speaker, free votes, petitions, the Senate, operation of committees, private members' business, royal commissions, borrowing money, closure, time allocation and order in council appointments. These are all issues which affect members, not only the members on both sides of the House but the very constituents that we are here to represent.
I want to spend a few minutes talking about Standing Order 36 which deals with petitions. I have long since had a concern about petitions. Many times when we are in our ridings people who are looking to develop a petition will say “Can I really effect change in the House of Commons through a petition?” Most times we do not have the heart to say “I do not think that is working all that well. Do not go around getting 30,000 names or 10,000 names because the petition goes into some black hole in the House of Commons and you will get a letter back identifying the way things are, not the way things should be”.
Ironically enough, just before I stood up to speak, a response to a petition was delivered to me by one of our pages. It was a petition that I tabled in the House, but my colleagues on both sides of the House tabled petitions on this issue which is drunk driving. The response given by the House of Commons to the petition is what bothers me most. The response basically indicates that the Criminal Code provides that both impaired driving and driving with a blood alcohol content in excess of .08 are criminal offences. These people already knew that.
The third paragraph goes on to discuss what the Criminal Code says. It says that some provinces permit roadside suspensions. There are various paragraphs describing what the Criminal Code reflects.
That is nice, but the petitioners had expectations when they went across their communities, across the country in some cases. They wanted a change to be effected. They did not want a response to their petition saying “This is the way it is”.
That is one of the problems with this House. The response to change is “This is the way it is”. But these people want the House of Commons to say “We understand your dilemma. We will try to effect a change”.
Therefore, Standing Order 36 basically covers the process of submitting a petition. We stand here without debating it, read what the people want and away it goes. Later there is a response. That is not good enough.
After all, that is the reason we are here. These people want something changed in this country. We must give them a fair idea that at least their ideas, their considerations, their petition material will be given consideration in the House of Commons.
They have an expectation. We should have an expectation. Therefore I think it behoves us, with respect to Standing Order 36, that we submit a recommendation to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and ask the committee to consider, in cases where there is a significant number of signatures on a petition, giving that petition debate time in the House. The House would debate a motion referring that petition to a committee.
If the motion was adopted the committee would be required to report back to the House a bill or a motion that would give effect to the petitioners' prayer.
That is the recommendation I make on that. I do not think that in this House we would get opposition to that. Like many things that come into the House and go to committee it can be asked “Why do they not come back here?” “Why do we not legislate it?” “Why do we not just make a simple standing order rule change?” That is what we are asking for and that is what I expect to be done.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to speak about a topic which is near and dear to your heart. I want to talk about Standing Orders 2 through 6, which deal with the election of the Speaker.
The rules for the election of the Speaker are contained in these standing orders, but it is not really the process of electing the speaker that I am going to speak about, it is what happens prior to the election of the Speaker.
We have seen this for years in the House of Commons. I noticed it as a fledgling MP in 1993 on my arrival to the House. I did not know any of the individuals who we were supposed to elect as our Speaker. I did not know anything about them. There was one member of the Reform Party who had been here previously. I knew nothing about these individuals, about their skills, their beliefs, their positions on issues, their visions or their ideas for improving parliament, but I was expected to stand here and vote for these people. I think that is wrong.
After all, we came here as a result of going through nomination meetings, disclosing what we believe in, our own personal background, and our responses to issues which came up in candidates' debates. None of that happens when we come to the House of Commons to elect the Speaker.
I do not understand it. In other elections, whether they be municipal, hospital, school board, provincial or federal, we all insist on this democratic exercise, but when it gets down to the primary Standing Orders 2 through 6, the first objective, the first duty we have in the House of Commons is to elect a Speaker and we have no idea who the candidates are or what they stand for.
After the 1997 election, when we were electing a Speaker, we initiated an exercise. We asked all members from all parties to come to a meeting prior to the election of the Speaker to hear from the candidates. Some did not come because they thought it was inappropriate, that tradition prevailed. They said “No, it is just going to be an election and I am not going to tell you what I stand for”.
That is going to change in this House. At that meeting were members virtually from most parties, if not all parties. They saw that the prerequisite for becoming the Speaker is some form of upfront accountability. Heaven forbid if we ever in this House elect a Speaker who is obviously biased, for instance. We would not want that. We would not want a Speaker who consistently rules with the government. We certainly would not want a Speaker who threatens contempt, for instance, if he wants to prevent exposure of his thoughts. We do not want those kinds of things in this House.
I am not saying that has occurred, but we want to make sure that the Speaker of the House is elected by members who have full knowledge of what that Speaker stands for.
I make the recommendation on Standing Orders 2 through 6 that a new practice be added to the standing orders to provide for all candidates for Speaker to openly address members of the House before the election of the Speaker.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Preston Manning Leader of the Opposition
Mr. Speaker, today we are debating the standing orders, the rules whereby this parliament governs itself. As I gaze about me at this great throng of members sitting dutifully at their desks after a two week recess, I perceive that some members are perhaps a little bored with this subject and perhaps distracted.
To provide a little stimulus I would like to start with a little story.
Once upon a time there was a king named Jean I, who presided over a castle surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge. The inhabitants of his castle were divided into two classes: lords and ladies who occupied the front benches of the royal throne room on state occasions and the peasants who occupied the back benches.
One day a group of peasants, or backbenchers as they were called, went out to toil in the fields. As they crossed the moat and started down the road they passed a cave from which emerged a great dragon breathing fire and smoke. The fire consumed 50 of the backbenchers and sent the rest scurrying back into the castle.
When King Jean was told of this terrible tragedy he resolved to investigate it himself. To help him, he took along two of his most trusted knights. They included Lord Bob, the keeper of the royal whip, and Lord Boudriavere who had once been a bus boy in the castle cafeteria but had risen to high rank through his faithful service to King Jean.
As they surveyed the scene of the tragedy they observed three things. They saw the 50 fried backbenchers and said that was too bad. They saw the dragon lying dead from overexertion. They also noticed that the dragon's fire had ignited a seam of coal in the cave from which smoke continued to billow.
Lord Bob, who was a straightforward fellow, and had been a sword fight referee in another life, said the obvious “The dragon is dead. This is good news. Let's go tell the backbenchers”. But Lord Boudriavere, who had once been a bus boy in the castle cafeteria and had risen to high rank through faithful service to the king, said “Not so fast”. Turning to King Jean he said “I see an opportunity here to maintain and increase our control over the peasants. Let us imply, indirectly of course, that the fiery dragon still lives. We can point to the smoke belching from the cave as evidence of this. Let us tell the backbenchers that henceforth they can only go out of the castle with royal permission and under the supervision of myself and Lord Bob, for the safety and protection, of course, of themselves and the castle”.
King Jean thought this was a splendid idea and thus the myth of the fiery dragon was established. It was used to coerce and control the backbenchers of the kingdom until King Jean was defeated in battle by a knight from the west which is another story I will tell on some other occasion.
This is the point that I want to make.
There is a myth in the House that lurking out there somewhere is the fiery dragon of the confidence convention, the erroneous belief studiously cultivated by the government that if a government bill or motion is defeated, or an opposition bill, motion or amendment is passed, this obliges the government to resign. This myth is used to coerce government members, especially backbenchers, to vote for government bills and motions with which they and their constituents disagree and to vote against opposition bills, motions and amendments with which they substantially agree.
The reality is that the fiery dragon of the confidence convention in its traditional form is dead. The sooner the House officially recognizes that fact, the better for all. It is true that there was a time when the rules supported the traditional confidence convention but that is not the current situation. Our present practice is outlined in Beauchesne's sixth edition, citation 168(6):
The determination of the issue of confidence in the government is not a question of procedure or order, and does not involve the interpretive responsibilities of the Speaker.
Following the recommendations of the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure as well as those of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, December 1984, the House removed references in the standing orders which described votable motions on allotted days as questions of confidence. The committee concluded that matters of confidence should at all times be clearly subject to political determination. Motions of non-confidence should not be prescribed in the rules.
The British parliament, the mother of all parliaments, has acknowledged the death of the traditional confidence convention. For example, in the British parliament of 1974 to 1979 the government was defeated 42 times, 23 times as the result of government MPs voting with the opposition and 19 times when the opposition parties combined against the government after it had slipped into a minority position in 1976.
Some of these defeats were on important issues such as economic policy and an important constitutional bill. Yet the British prime minister neither resigned nor requested dissolution. Despite the current citation from Beauchesne's and these historical facts, the myth of the confidence convention still appears to live in this parliament.
It is in the interest of the majority of the members on both sides of the House to dispel the myth of the confidence convention and thereby permit freer voting. I therefore offer the following three challenges.
The first is to the Prime Minister. Will he please stand in his place in the House and declare his intention to allow government members to vote for or against all bills and motions and all amendments to bills and motions free of party discipline, and that no such vote other than the adoption by the House of an explicit motion of non-confidence in the government shall require the government to resign? All he has to do is stand up and make that statement. It would take about 20 seconds and it would change the character of this place overnight.
The second is to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to study this issue and report to the House with a view to dispelling the myth of the traditional confidence convention once and for all.
The third is to government backbenchers to test my hypothesis for themselves that the fiery dragon of the confidence convention is indeed dead, even though with the help of Lord Bob and Lord Boudriavere the smoke still appears to be billowing from its cave. I suggest that someday during question period while they are awaiting their turn to ask a scripted question they should engage in a simple mathematical exercise: count the number of people on the front benches and include their parliamentary secretaries, and then count the number of backbenchers. I know this is a strenuous intellectual exercise, but if they could carry it off they would find there are more backbenchers than there are those on the front benches and parliamentary secretaries. Then on some future occasion they could vote down a government motion or bill or support an opposition motion or amendment.
What will happen? Will the earth open up and swallow government members and their political careers? Of course not. Will the government resign? Of course not. Instead the government will demand a vote of confidence and since government members ultimately outnumber opposition members the government will surely win and carry on; but it is possible to kill a bill or part of a bill or to change it without killing the government.
The government will do exactly the same thing as the Pearson government did in 1968 when it was defeated on Mitchell Sharp's budget resolution but then carried the confidence motion which immediately followed. After that incident, Anthony Westell of the Globe and Mail concluded:
If the principle comes to be accepted that bills can be amended or rejected without forcing a change of government—the effective power of the opposition and of private members of the government party could be strengthened; the power of the cabinet to have its own way could be reduced.
In other words the House will have passed from the dark night of excessive party discipline into the bright sunshine of freer votes.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC
Mr. Speaker, there are three topics I would like to deal with today, and I will make recommendations to the House on all three.
First is the issue of the motions introduced on opposition days. The hon. leader of the government touched on this earlier in his speech, saying that the opposition had found a way around the Standing Orders by amending an opposition motion on an opposition day by introducing an amendment from the outset to split interventions into two 10-minute interventions.
The leader of the government said that, in a way, this changes the direction of debate, and uses the Standing Orders to prevent something from happening.
I would like to remind the leader of the government that I sent him a letter on this subject, requesting that no amendment whatsoever of opposition motions be allowed, except by the member who moved the motion in the event of a last-minute development, so that the essence of the proposed debate is not changed.
In fact, an opposition day is one of the rare days when an opposition party can control the debate. It picks the topic and makes major speeches, and this gives a party an opportunity to make its views known in the House of Commons and to promote a particular point of view.
The opportunity for other political parties, particularly the government, to change this motion through an amendment that, more often than not, will substantially alter the substance of the initial motion means that it is no longer an opposition day.
The instigator of the motion introduces it in the House but he can never be sure, unless he amends it himself or through a colleague, by splitting his time, that his motion will be debated as is by all the members of the House.
It is my sincere belief, and my first recommendation, that if we are to get back to what an opposition day really is, what it must do and what it must allow, we ought to ensure that motions are not amended except by the person who originated them, to reflect changes in the situation or the content of debates.
This would eliminate any possibility of manoeuvring to change motions or their nature, or to make the debate totally different from what it ought to have been initially.
For opposition days, therefore, I invite the Government Leader to at least acknowledge receipt of my letter to indicate “We have decided that we can or cannot follow up on this, for this or that reason”. The government ought to specify this in the Standing Orders.
The second point I would like to raise is somewhat more delicate, the matter of the Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. Normally, two of the House of Commons committees are chaired by members of the official opposition.
The purpose of this is to give some kind of counterbalance to the power of the government. The Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which examines government expenditures, is chaired by a member of the official opposition, and this is normal. This allows the opposition to be extremely productive in these committees by initiating matters and by presiding over the work of these committees.
Having opposition members chair the Standing Committee on Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations sort of counterbalances the immense power of the government and its team.
However, there is a problem. The Reform Party, the official opposition in this Parliament, decided to assume its responsibilities concerning public accounts, but at the same time decided not to assume its responsibilities as official opposition on the Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. And yet, this is extremely important.
To those who follow our proceedings, the Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations may appear as something terribly technical, very boring, and very difficult to understand. But it should be pointed out that on this committee, members have the opportunity to examine the way bills passed by Parliament will be enforced in everyday life. The bills we pass are very broad and provide for various things. They are general policy statements with a number of specifics, but each law is accompanied by regulations stating how its provisions will be enforced, by whom, and how responsibilities will be shared. Regulations are an extremely important part of any bill.
When the Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations is chaired by a member of the official opposition, this intentionally gives the opposition an extremely important role in monitoring government action. This gives the opposition a lot of power to scrutinize regulations, which do not come to the attention of members of this House. People are entitled to know that MPs draft bills, but that once a bill is passed by Parliament, its enforcement is the government's responsibility. Regulations are made by senior officials, people who know how to do their job and do it very well, but who are accountable only to the government and the Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations.
Since the Reform Party refused to assume its responsibilities, we thought that, as the third party, we could legitimately chair the committee since the chairperson must be a member of the opposition. The Reform Party refused our request. It is its problem. It has the right to do so. It would then have made sense for another opposition party—there are four altogether, the Bloc Quebecois being the second largest—to chair the committee. We thought it was up to the Bloc Quebecois to chair this committee, which acts as a government watchdog.
But no. Being the great democrats that they are, the Liberals decided to appoint one of their members to chair the committee because, for the first time ever, the official opposition was refusing to assume its responsibilities. We now find ourselves in a situation where the Liberals took it upon themselves to appoint a Liberal chairperson to the Standing Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, thus tipping the balance that must exist in the parliamentary system. By appropriating the committee chair, the Liberals gave themselves an additional power, at the expense of the opposition. They took advantage of the Reform Party's withdrawal. But this is wrong. It is unacceptable.
I call upon the democratic sense of the members of this House. Today's debate must be free of partisanship, since its purpose is to improve the Standing Orders of the House, so that Parliament can operate as smoothly as possible.
So, I urge the government to restore the situation and to give back to the opposition the chair of the Standing Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. It can offer the position again to the Reformers—we do not particularly relish the idea, but the Liberals can do so if they wish—but if the Reformers continue to say no, it would make sense to offer that responsibility to the next party, that is the Bloc Quebecois.
By appointing one of its own members to the chair, the government just set a precedent. It increased its power over the committee's operations, and this is not right. It is not right because it affects the very fragile balance that we have here. They transferred to the government responsibilities that should be assumed by the opposition. Worse, they did not transfer them, they took them over.
Therefore—and this is my second recommendation—the Standing Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations should have as its chair a member of the opposition. If it is not a member of the official opposition, it should be a member of the Bloc Quebecois or of another opposition party. The Bloc Quebecois has always fulfilled that responsibility and would be very pleased to continue to do so. This would restore a balance. It would only be normal to do so.
I call on the government to correct this anomaly, which almost went unnoticed to outside observers, but which says a lot about the will of the cabinet to take over more and more powers, thus leaving the opposition to fulfil an increasingly less meaningful role.
Let us not forget that a system such as ours works well when there is a balance between the opposition and the government, when the government is not free to do whatever it pleases, unimpeded, when the government must answer to other parliamentarians who do not share its point of view and who force it to improve its proposals and rules, to introduce better legislation. All citizens benefit.
The second recommendation is that the Liberal member who co-chairs the Standing Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, which is an anomaly, step down and offer the position, as is only right, to a member of the official opposition or of the second opposition party.
The third point is an extremely serious one. It involves the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. A few weeks ago, during the so-called flag flap, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was asked by the House of Commons to conduct a serious review of the behaviour of members of the House whose statements may have been an attack on the integrity of the Speaker. These statements were tantamount to threats. Members clearly said that, if the Speaker did not rule in a particular way, they would run riot, that he must resign, and that they would withdraw their confidence.
Make no mistake, this was the first time that such statements had been made about the Speaker so directly in all the media. The House decided to resort to an existing mechanism, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, to investigate the behaviour of these members.
When members do not behave properly—a very rare occurrence, but not unheard of—the House may then, at leisure, turn to this committee. The member is therefore judged by his peers. A member whose conduct may have been questionable or was plainly reprehensible is therefore judged by his peers.
Since I have been a member, this is the second time this committee has been used. The first time, as members will recall, was in the case of Jean-Marc Jacob, the former member for Charlesbourg, who was accused of trying to corrupt the army, to get soldiers to transfer to Quebec after a winning referendum. It was quite a to-do, and Mr. Jacob was summoned before the committee.
A Reform motion was ruled in order in the House. It called on Mr. Jacob to explain his behaviour before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Bloc Quebecois was in agreement and Mr. Jacob, a member of the Bloc Quebecois, appeared before the committee. He was questioned for six full hours on May 2 and 7. During these six hours, the committee had the opportunity to put questions to Mr. Jacob. Committee members asked as many questions as they wanted to, relating to every conceivable aspect of this matter in order to get to the bottom of it.
There was a lengthy debate. The committee was struck as a result of a motion passed by this House on March 18. It tabled its report three months later, on June 18. Many were called to testify before the committee and, as material witness, the member himself, Mr. Jacob, was grilled by parliamentarians for six full hours.
We thought nothing of it. We abide by procedure. We figured “If you want to examine the conduct of Mr. Jacob, the MP, fine, so be it”. The hon. member appeared before the committee and answered its questions. In that, the Bloc Quebecois showed a great sense of responsibility. We abided by the House's standing orders.
When time came to examine the conduct of four other members, from the Reform Party and the Liberal Party, who had made rather surprising statements concerning the Speaker, we showed up at committee with questions to ask.
The committee chair decided that each witness should have 20 minutes, including five minutes for an opening statement. There was 15 minutes left for members to question the witnesses. Members of the Reform Party and of the Liberal Party, whose colleagues were involved, were entitled to ask questions, like everybody else. We have no problem with that.
But the fact remains that for the Bloc Quebecois only had five minutes to question these members who had threatened, so to speak, the Speaker of this House. How can any MP, regardless of how brilliant or effective he may be, manage to cast light on the unacceptable behavior of another MP in five minutes?
The Liberal chairman made use of his authority within the committee, with the support of his colleagues and the Reform MPs, who were in the same boat, having also made unfortunate statements. They came to an agreement among themselves, and they were the majority—imagine, the government and the official opposition—and they decided that there would be 20 minutes, no more.
We asked whether the questions could go on longer because we had things we wanted to ask. Jean-Marc Jacob was grilled for six hours. We were not asking for six hours per witness, but neither were we asking for five minutes. Such is the concept of justice in parliament and in committees, where the Liberals and the Reform Party are running the show. Five minutes to question them, but six hours when a Bloc MP is involved.
That is what justice is like in this Parliament. When a Bloc MP is in an awkward situation, he gets questioned for six hours, and three months are spent on it. When it is a Reform or Liberal MP, their parties vote together, make use of their power, and allow us five minutes.
This is unacceptable, and the people have a right to know. I rose in the House to raise a point of order. It was an unusual situation. I brought the matter to the Speaker's attention and told him “Mr. Speaker, this makes no sense. How can the work get done properly?” His reply was “Well now, generally things are done properly in committees. You will sort this out among yourselves, and big boys like you ought to be able to reach some agreement”. The committee chair, a Liberal, got up and said “Mr. Speaker, the member for Roberval is barking up the wrong tree. The member for Roberval ought to know that we have reached agreement for witnesses to be able to be called back before the committee”.
I bought that, and I sat back down, telling my colleagues “You will go back to the committee and ask for the witnesses to be recalled, even if it is only for five minutes a shot. You will call them back as often as necessary for there to be a proper examination”.
Do you know what happened? The Bloc went back again and called for the witnesses to be heard again, as the Liberal member had told us in the House. The Liberal chairman claimed he was not an undemocratic person by saying “You can recall a witness as often as you want. It is provided for in the committee's rules”.
When the committee resumed its proceedings, we asked that the witnesses be recalled, but the Liberal and Reform majority refused. These Liberal and Reform committee members were in a conflict of interest. How can Parliament operate properly if special and ad hoc committees, whose role it is to review the behaviour of parliamentarians who did something wrong, are controlled by people who are in a conflict of interest?
If it is the behaviour of a Liberal member that is reviewed, the Liberal majority can of course allocate five minutes to the review, as opposed to six hours. The next time it could decide on two minutes or, for that matter, 30 seconds.
That is the way things work. However, Canadians have the right to know that one the most important tools in this Parliament, and in all the parliaments I know, is the special committee that reviews members' behaviour. Members are judged by their peers. However, that committee was manipulated by the Liberal and Reform majorities, with the result that it could not do the job that had to be done.
This is unacceptable and must be condemned. When it is a Bloc Quebecois member who appears before the committee, the proceedings last for six hours. It should be the same for a Liberal or Reform member, if necessary. It should not be six hours for a Bloc Quebecois member and five minutes for a Liberal member.
Standing Orders And Procedure
Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to participate in this debate on the standing orders mandated under Standing Order 51. I had something to do with the creation of this standing order in the 1980s and I think it has proven itself to be a worthy recommendation to provide the House with this opportunity on a regular basis. This is an opportunity for the House to consider how it can improve on its procedures which are rooted in tradition and in history but which also must be responsive to changing political contexts.
I begin my remarks by considering two contexts that make the House of Commons unique. The first is the unusual fact that there are four opposition parties duly recognized by the Chair and the standing orders. Immediately following the last election there was considerable comment in the media about how such a parliament would function. I think it is worth pointing out, as the government House leader did, that this so-called pizza parliament, an institution for debating matters of public concern and for holding the government of the day accountable, has worked better than many commentators led us to believe it would.
It is true the government has continued to resort to time allocation and closure and each of the opposition parties has on occasion made full use of the rules of the House to provoke votes and debate issues more fully than the government would have liked. But when it has come to the practicalities of planning for the orderly consideration of parliamentary business, I think it is fair to say that the parties have managed to adopt an effective and pragmatic way of dealing with one another and have served the public well.
This has allowed for an unprecedented degree of forward planning of the parliamentary calendar, and the government House leader is to be commended for his efforts in this regard. The whole question of legislative planning is a matter which I consider to be important and which I regard as some of the unfinished business of the special committee of the reform of the House of Commons. I am glad to see we are making progress in that regard.
The election of a five party House of Commons did confront the House with the challenge of reconciling the new political context with the existing standing orders that in a number of ways have been designed for some time now around a House consisting of three parties.
The House has already dealt with one of the implications of five parties by amending the rules regarding speaking times for private members' business under Standing Order 95, ensuring that members of all parties can speak in each debate. We dealt with the matter of redesigning question period over the summer of 1997 after the election.
However, other difficulties remain and should be addressed. For instance, Standing Order 74(1) grants the first three speakers in a second reading debate 40 minutes of speaking time, a measure evidently and obviously designed to apply to a House that has three official parties. As it stands, this standing order gives an advantage to some opposition parties over others and increases the possibility that not all opposition parties will have their first speaker participate on the first day of debate.
This standing order should be amended to put all parties on an equal footing, a change that would have the added advantage of allowing for a question and comment period following the first speaker of all the parties. I think this would be a good thing. It is often the case that the leaders, the very people members might want to question, are exempted from this procedure.
More important, the current supply process does not allow for an allocation of debating opportunities that reflects the relative strength of the parties in the House. Standing Order 81(10)(a) and (16) set the number of allotted supply days at 20, 8 of which are votable. These numbers do not break down into an equitable distribution between the four opposition parties as they are now represented in the House.
The House leaders have agreed to improvise on the number of votable days in the current supply period in order to accommodate the current representation of the opposition parties in the House. However, the House should consider formalizing an appropriate formula for future supply periods.
The second unusual characteristic of this House is not only are there four opposition parties in the House but all four of them have in the recent past had members sitting in the House who were not recognized as belonging to a political party.
In the previous parliament the members of parliament elected as New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives by their constituents could not convince either the rest of the House or the Speaker to recognize their party status. In the parliament before that it was the turn of the Reform Party and the newly formed Bloc Quebecois to have their party status go unrecognized.
This is not the occasion to fight past battles for recognition of party status. However what the past disputes have shown is that there is no clear definition of party status in the standing orders themselves, only a loose and ambiguous series of precedents that are often in contradiction with one another.
Given the experience of each of the four opposition parties and given that there is not now a party seeking recognition in the House for which there would be a conflict of interest, it would be opportune for this parliament to carefully consider ways of clarifying the rules regarding the recognition of parties under the standing orders now that all the parties are on an equal footing.
The House may decide to formalize the most recent Speaker's rulings on the 12 member threshold, or it may choose to resurrect an earlier tradition of recognizing smaller parties. But the House itself should speak clearly on the matter animated by the most generous democratic outlook.
Apart from dealing with the presence of five parties in the House which is unique to this parliament, the House should also revisit the enduring questions of whether our current parliamentary practices give the fullest possible expression of the democracy Canadians rightly expect from this institution.
I think it is fair to say that those questions can be distilled to two basic issues. First, is there a proper balance between the ability of the government to govern and the ability of the opposition parties to hold the government accountable and offer alternatives to the government of the day? Second, is there a proper balance between the legitimate and necessary operations of party discipline and the opportunities of individual members of parliament either to dissent from the party line or to put before the House consideration of issues that concern them individually?
As the House considers how it might address these enduring questions there are a couple of historical precedents that should instruct us on how to proceed and how not to proceed with changes to the standing orders.
The example of the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons which resulted in what is now called the June 1985 McGrath report after its chair, the Hon. Jim McGrath, a former member for St. John's East, should instruct us on how to proceed. The McGrath committee of which I had the honour to be a vice-chair offers the good examples of a consensus building process as well as a series of specific recommendations some of which remain to be implemented and still deserve the attention of the House.
The episode not to be repeated and indeed an episode some of the consequences of which should be undone was the unilateral imposition of major changes to the standing orders by the Mulroney government in June 1991 against the vigorous opposition of all of the opposition parties at the time. I urge members of the government not to repeat in any way the unilateralism of that regrettable episode and to be guided by their past opposition to those measures forced on the opposition parties on which there is no consensus.
Among the most undemocratic of the measures introduced at that time which offends the principle of striving for a due balance between the rights of the government and the opposition was what is now Standing Order 56.1. If the government has been denied unanimous consent on a particular course of action, this standing order gives the government the right to put the same question again during routine proceedings without debate or amendment and deems the motion to have carried unless 25 members stand in their places to oppose it.
This measure was clearly designed for use against small parties or factions in situations where a government wanted to act quickly and override the required parliamentary process for consideration of a government bill or motion. In essence because it sets a threshold which some opposition parties can meet and others cannot, its effect is to allow the government to deprive a recognized party of party status in particular situations where it is convenient for the government to do so.
This is not to argue that the government should not have at its disposal in situations where it feels it must act quickly mechanisms to accelerate the parliamentary process. What makes Standing Order 56.1 intolerable is that the government already has a wide array of other tools at its disposal to do so.
The government can use time allocation, closure, and seek extended hours. All of these measures balance the right of the government to act quickly in particular situations with the rights of the opposition parties to insist on due process. Standing Order 56.1 removes that balance entirely and without such a balance, where a government can act as if it has the unanimous consent of the House when in fact it does not, the Canadian public remains vulnerable to a parliamentary dictatorship.
It is unfortunate that the government has seen fit to make use of Standing Order 56.1 two times in this parliament, even though the Liberals opposed and voted against such a change when they were in opposition in 1991. On the first of those occasions, the government used it as part of its parliamentary tactics in moving Bill C-24 through the House very quickly, the back to work legislation concerning the dispute between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
This brings me to the next point about achieving a greater balance between the rights of government and opposition. Whenever governments want to circumvent the normal proceedings on government bills, it is almost always to force back to work legislation through the House quickly. It is almost always a case of infringing on the collective bargaining rights of Canadian workers.
This pattern stands in stark contrast to the direction that has been taken in recent years regarding the rights of investors and corporations. In the NAFTA, the WTO and the embryonic MAI, the trend has been to put up more barriers to government actions that might impinge on the rights of corporations and to make these corporations almost immune to government action.
In the case of the draft MAI, the proposal is to put in place a series of hurdles to public action that would last up to 20 years, even if governments were elected to withdraw Canada from the agreement. This stands in stark contrast to the rules and practices of this House where labour rights can be compromised by the passage of back to work legislation in a matter of 20 hours, not 20 years.
Here is another area where our democratic practices must restore some balance. I point to Standing Order 71 which states:
Every bill shall receive three several readings, on different days, previously to being passed. On urgent or extraordinary occasions, a bill may be read twice or thrice, or advanced two or more stages in one day.
This standing order is very vague about what procedures must be followed in order to read a bill at more than one stage in a day. It is therefore very vague about what must be legitimately done to circumvent one of the opposition parties' most important vehicles, which is time.
Time is not just time to be wasted; time is time to be used. Time to consult with interested parties. Time to make the opposing case to the public. Time to make sure that public policy is not conducted in a reckless manner. What has happened over the years is that delay has come to be seen as inefficient in a culture of efficiency, rather than seeing delay for what it is and can be, which is an integral part of a parliamentary process by which time is provided to the public and to opposition parties to make sure that a full and appropriate debate takes place.
I urge the House to consider ways of formalizing the procedures for allowing a bill to be read more than one time in a day in such a way that gives greater balance between the government's ability to act in a timely manner when there is a legitimate time constraint and the opposition's ability to do its job well.
Clearer rules would have the added benefit of creating a greater opportunity for constructive compromises to be arrived at as is often the case in back to work legislation, a process that in the past has shown parliamentary democracy to be working at its best as a vehicle for mediating between competing interests in society. When the government needs the opposition to get something through, we then have a meeting of the minds, genuine dialogue and genuine amendments to legislation. Things get done around here in a way that they should be conducted more often.
There are other standing orders giving power to the government to accelerate the consideration of government business which need some rebalancing. These are the standing orders governing time allocation and referral to committee before second reading.
In regard to time allocation governed by Standing Order 78, it is clear that time spent on a bill is a major source of conflict between governing and opposition parties. On most occasions when an opposition party makes deliberate use of a filibuster as a tactic, or the government resorts to time allocation, the parties will ultimately be guided by how the public judges their actions in the next election, or for that matter in the next poll, that is, such decisions are very often matters of political judgment.
However there have been and no doubt will be occasions when there will be a widespread and objectively arrived at concern that a government is resorting to time allocation too precipitously, and that there is a genuine public interest in a full debate in the House. For such a situation it is important that the standing orders vest in the Speaker the right to rule a government motion for time allocation out of order or inadmissible.
It is right and proper for the Speaker, especially now that the House has an elected Speaker, to have the authority to stand in the way of a government that was prepared to use time allocation to stifle debate when there was a widespread appetite for such a debate.
Giving the Speaker such an authority, even if he or she did not use it regularly, and I would not anticipate the regular use of such a power, would create the healthy habit of circumspection before the government resorted to time allocation. Perhaps then we could move away from the practice of the almost routine use of time allocation which really makes a mockery of the procedures of the House.
As regard referrals of bills to committee before second reading, it is sad to say that while this measure has the admirable intention of expanding the scope of a committee's ability to amend a government bill, in practice it has been used too often simply as a means to accelerate the passage of bills that the government clearly has no intention of allowing the committee to amend.
Standing Order 73(1) at present only requires the government to notify representatives of the opposition parties before proceeding with referral to committee before second reading. I urge the House to consider amending this standing order to require the agreement of at least some of the opposition parties before referral, perhaps along the lines of Standing Order 78(2)(a) which requires the agreement of a majority of the representatives of the several parties.
There is one further point I would like to raise under the heading of rebalancing the rights of the opposition and the ability of government to govern. That is the right of standing committees to scrutinize non-judicial order in council appointments. This process is governed by Standing Orders 110, 111 and 32(6), measures that resulted from recommendations of the McGrath report.
Although these standing orders are in place and empower committees to scrutinize a wide range of public appointments, committees are not making use of the powers available to them with any kind of regularity. I call on committee chairs and the government majorities that support them in committee to allow committees to make greater use of these standing orders in the spirit in which they were introduced. If they do not and the process withers on the vine, then the House should consider strengthening the rules requiring committees to fulfil this important function.
In the meantime the House should also consider extending the process of committee scrutiny to judicial as well as non-judicial appointments. I do not now wish to suggest a particular formula for the parliamentary scrutiny of judicial appointments but some form of scrutiny must be on the agenda for parliamentary reform.
The introduction of the charter of rights and freedoms fundamentally altered the role of the judiciary in our Constitution and its relationship to federal and provincial legislatures. As a country we are still in the process of assimilating the profound changes the charter has brought to the relative power and authority of the judiciary and the legislatures. The House of Commons must participate in that process by considering whether the new powers of the court must be met with a new level of parliamentary scrutiny.
I would now like to address some of the issues pertaining to the balance required between the requirements of party discipline and the rights of individual members of parliament. The main opportunity for individual members of parliament to play a meaningful role in the legislative process, or certainly one of the main opportunities, is in committee. It is in strengthening the independence of committees that this House can do the most to achieve a better balance between party discipline and the independence of individual MPs.
The McGrath committee recommended that alternate membership on committees be abolished and that members of committees themselves, not the party whip, have the responsibility of seeking their own replacements. The thinking behind this recommendation was to lead the House of Commons away “from the concept that everything in the House of Commons is controlled by the whips, the House leaders and the prime minister”.
It borders on the tragic to watch situations develop where a committee is doing exactly what it is supposed to be doing, studying a bill or an issue carefully with the members developing an expertise and a collective sense of where policies should be headed, and to have the process cut off by a government whip who can stop such a process in its tracks. The current rules make it easy for whips to undermine the work of committees.
I urge the House to revisit this recommendation of the McGrath committee as well as the recommendation that parliamentary secretaries not be allowed to sit on committees. Too often we see the parliamentary secretaries sitting there as a kind of censor or a government point man on the committee.
Another area where the effectiveness of committees could be enhanced would be in altering the concurrence process for committee reports.
At present any member of parliament may move concurrence during Routine Proceedings, but almost always the process results only in a single speech by the mover of the motion and the first government speaker moving that the House proceed to Government Orders. The current process then is useful only as a dilatory mechanism for the opposition with the government retaining full control over the debate and any subsequent vote on concurrence.
Committee reports are too important a part of the legislative process to be reduced to tactical footballs in the procedural wrangling between government and opposition. There must be some mechanism to allow for a full debate on important committee reports.
One possible mechanism would be to allow a committee that presents a unanimous report to recommend to the House that a concurrence debate and vote be held on the committee's report and that a fixed number of days be set aside each parliamentary year as with the supply process for holding such debates should committees request them. These debates could be time limited perhaps along the lines of the 180 minute debates with 10 minute speaking spots attached to the process of referring a bill to committee before second reading.
Another area relevant to the status of individual members of parliament is the whole question of Private Members' Business. This has been the subject of much parliamentary activity in this parliament with points of privilege being raised concerning the resources available to individual members of parliament for the purposes of drafting private members' bills and with the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs proposing a new method for selecting votable items of Private Members' Business.
I just need a few more minutes, Mr. Speaker. I wonder, with unanimous consent of the House, if I could wind up my remarks.
Standing Orders And Procedure
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
The hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona has asked for unanimous consent for a few more minutes to wind up his remarks. Is there consent?
Standing Orders And Procedure
Some hon. members
Standing Orders And Procedure
Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, one thing would concern me which I know is not a part of the 13th report. There has been significant support expressed for this idea in some quarters of the House. It is the idea that somehow all private members' motions and bills should be made votable, uncritically so, that their very existence should render them votable.
I want to register my own concern about any proposal that would take away from the House's ability to filter what will actually become votable. If we do not have a system at the end, as we do now, for selecting what will become votable then we would have to have some kind of system at the beginning which would recreate what we now have at the end to make sure that the House is not put in a situation where it has to vote on private members' motions and bills, no matter what their content, no matter what the quality of their drafting and so on.
I have a final comment on another matter that has been raised by Reform Party members in the House and on which we have supported them. It is the fact that bills keep originating in the Senate. This is a practice that was questionable in the past but is even more questionable now, given that the Senate does not reflect the five party constitution of the House of Commons. It creates a new tension between the two chambers that I think the government should take into account when it considers whether or not it wants to continue with this practice of originating legislation in the Senate.
With respect to the election of the Speaker, I think it would be appropriate for the standing committee to consider what would be appropriate campaigning and what kind of structures the House might set up for candidates for the speakership to make known to members of parliament their views, their attitudes toward the House and so on. I think this has to be done very carefully.
The initial recommendation of the McGrath committee was that there be no campaigning at all because we did not want to bring the speakership into the disrepute that sometimes is associated with political campaigning. That spirit has to be respected. I hope we might be able to find a way to meet the needs of new members who feel that they do not have enough information about candidates for the speakership and at the same time respect the original spirit of the McGrath committee that we not have that kind of campaign.
My final comment, because I promised not to abuse the generosity of the House, is on the matter of free votes. All votes in the House are already free. This was achieved by the McGrath committee. The dragon to which the Leader of the Official Opposition referred, that is to say the confidence convention, is slain. What is not slain is the desire for uniformity and for obedience which exists within all political parties, including the Reform Party and including my own. That is what has to be slain if we are to have the kind of parliament the Leader of the Opposition called for. That is something that is the responsibility of political parties and not primarily the responsibility of the House of Commons.