House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chapter.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank all members, as well as the PC Party, who supported this bill. I appreciate that they were able to understand the seriousness of this and I am grateful for their support.

I notice the other two parties are absent. Regretfully they do not seem to think this is a serious issue. However the important thing is that I wanted to hear from the government side, and I did from the parliamentary secretary.

I am totally confused by his comments regarding the seriousness of this issue and how the government is tackling it, the maximum sentence of life imprisonment and all these things, as if it was not a large problem. He claimed that the government and the justice system were addressing it and that everything was fine. He admitted there was a little more problem with home invasion and that the government would address it.

I had held a town hall meeting. I went out across the country and spoke on radio talk shows. The message I got was a totally different one. The message was that this government did not seem to be listening.

I challenge every member over there to go out, have a town hall meeting and listen to their constituents who will tell them how serious the act of breaking and entering is. The parliamentary secretary and the justice bureaucrats are saying this issue is being addressed. It is not. It is staring us right in the face. We have six month sentences and 80% repeat offenders out there. The justice system is failing to ensure safe homes for Canadians. Everybody is talking about it. It is only going to get worse.

I am amazed that the parliamentary secretary and the government said that everything was fine. It is not fine because that is what I have heard. I am not going to ask for unanimous consent because I know I will not get it. However this issue will come back because I will keep fighting for it. It is what Canadians are demanding out there.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 6. I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

May 1st, 2001 / 6:55 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

The House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 6.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

6:55 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That the committee take note of proposals to modernize the Standing Orders.

Madam Chairman, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Durham.

This is the second debate we have had on modernization of the standing orders in this House. The first was held on March 21 in which 44 members spoke for almost 10 hours, a very long time, which obviously indicated a lot of interest on the part of members on all sides of the House. I thank the members who contributed on that day to the process.

As members are aware, the House agreed to establish a special modernization committee on the House rules, which has been meeting since that first debate. Tonight we are actually participating in this debate in committee of the whole where all members are able to congregate around the clerk's table instead of the far corners of the House, as is normally the case. That is something that was developed in the modernization committee on which the House leaders sit.

I hope that some members will speak tonight as well and add their contribution to the debate to give us some more good ideas on how to modernize the House rules.

In the last debate I gave an extensive talk on some of the ideas that I had on modernization. I will not repeat them again this evening because obviously they are all on the record. I am sure that all members read Hansard on a daily basis, so they are aware of what I said at the time.

I will take a moment, though, to thank all members of the modernization committee; in other words the House leaders of all parties, as well as the Deputy Speaker who chairs that committee so well.

I have to say that we are making considerable progress. We have gone a long way, but I cannot reveal the content because pursuant to the order of the House we are sitting in camera until our report is tabled.

I cannot in any way criticize my colleagues in other parties. They have been most productive. We have worked very well together. I am looking forward to the June 1 tabling of our report. I am quite optimistic that we will have a number of changes to present to the House. As a result of tonight's debate hopefully we will gather and garner new ideas and be able to add to that again.

As I said on March 21, the House has already taken several parliamentary reform initiatives since the beginning of this parliament, along, of course, with the changes that have been made to the Standing Orders.

For instance, funds for political parties represented in the House have been reallocated to take into account the new standings in the House following the last election and, of course, each political party was given additional staff.

We have provided political parties with an additional $900,000 in funds for items such as party research, caucus services, whips' offices and so on, so that they could do a better job for their constituents.

Members office budgets have been increased by $20,000 per member of parliament to cover items such as salary expenses and, of course, other operating costs.

The members of parliament housing allowance has also been improved by $3,000 to cover higher accommodation costs that MPs face in the Ottawa housing market, which is of course very tight. So, accommodation costs have gone up.

The Library of Parliament has received an additional $986,000 to better support House committees.

One point that is not said enough around here is the quality of work performed by parliamentary committees. I have had occasion to visit several other parliaments and bar none, the quality of the work that comes out of our committees is tremendous, particularly the review of legislation from the House.

It is quite common to have dozens and dozens of government amendments after we hear witnesses and so on. What does that mean? It does not mean that the legislation was initially poorly drafted or some such. It means that the system we have developed whereby many people make contributions to the debate makes the legislation better. We should thank members who sit on the committee, the clerks, the research staff, the witnesses and so on.

Everything I have described so far today have been non-partisan changes made by all members of the House or on behalf of all members of the House. I am looking forward again to more members contributing tonight.

I know that one member talked in the House today in a different context about private members' bills and how we should handle them. There is a subcommittee looking at that now. It will make recommendations to the modernization committee. I am quite willing to hear those recommendations. I know all other House leaders are as well.

Some people say that every bill should be votable. I do not disagree, per se. We have to remember, though, that a votable bill takes six hours of the House: three hours at second reading and three hours at third reading. That is six hours instead of one. It effectively means that we reduce the number of private members' bills that will be considered in any year by approximately two-thirds. We could say by five-sixths, but it is not quite like that because some are votable already.

It is fair to say that the number would be reduced by two-thirds. How would we construct that? I would like to get the advice of hon. members. Perhaps, for instance, members should be limited to one private member's bill per parliament to ensure that everybody gets their turn. Even then they would not all get their turn but a greater proportion of them would. That would be another method of doing it.

We cannot just say all the items will be votable. We have to look at the rest of the picture and provide an answer. I know that the committee is doing that now. I thank the committee for the work it is doing. I hope it will make its counsel available to the modernization committee so that we can take it into account.

That being said, those are the preliminary remarks I wanted to make tonight. My parliamentary secretary will be attending later and making a contribution of his own. I know the hon. member for Durham with whom I am sharing my time this evening would like to give us his ideas on modernization of House rules. I hope members on all sides of the House will contribute to that process.

In closing, any comments made by members on the modernization of the House rules are compiled by the clerk of our committee on modernization. The suggestions by members are presented to us and we go through them every week trying to find where there is consensus and where could incorporate them into the changes we are about to make. Anything that is said here is obviously very useful to us. It is brought immediately to the attention of our committee in the subsequent week.

I want members to know that their contribution is helpful and what they say tonight will assist us. We do not go at this in a partisan way. First, the way our modernization committee works we must have unanimity to change any rule. If all parties agree then a recommendation is presented. If one or more of us disagree a recommendation is not presented. That is the way the modernization committee has been working and working very well, if I can describe it that way.

I am looking forward to listening to the contributions of other members to the debate. I repeat for the benefit of another House leader who is joining us that the advice given to us by members tonight, as was the case the last time as well, is extremely useful. It is compiled and it is brought to the attention of our committee by our researcher, Mr. Robertson, who makes a list of all recommendations that are made, and then they are studied. The list also indicates who made each recommendation so that we can speak to those particular measures at the committee.

If there is any time left I would be pleased to answer questions for the few minutes until the member for Durham takes over.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Chairman, I need a clarification. We are in committee of the whole which means that there is no time limit on speeches, except as regarding courtesy to each other. Also, we can speak as often as we wish. Am I correct in that or not?

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

The second part is correct, but on the first part a motion was tabled in the House this morning that says two members may divide one 20 minutes speaking time period. That motion was accepted this morning in the House. Therefore there are 20 minute periods.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Madam Chairman, I spent about six hours today in the finance committee so I was not here at that time.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

Perhaps I should read the motion.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

No, that is fine. I have some questions of the government House leader. I concur fully with the suggestion that perhaps members should be given one private member's option in a session. I think that would work.

I remember when we were kids at camp that nobody got seconds at the meal until everybody had firsts. Everybody could have firsts, and if there was some food left over we went back for seconds.

I have been a member for seven and half years, since the 1993 election, and I have never been drawn. It is just not my lucky lottery day, I guess. I have some good private members' bills that I would like to get on the floor and voted on. I feel that they are important enough for actual decision making.

The member opposite made that suggestion. I am ready to write the computer program. In fact I already have one. I recommend that we take all members and simply randomize their order. If members do not have a private member's bill or a motion and want to pass on it, they can let their name go to the bottom of the list, or maybe we could have a scheme whereby we could trade with others so that everybody would be involved in one rotation. There are other members in the House who have been picked three or four times in the last seven years. That is one correction I think would be really worth while.

Another one he mentioned was that we would not have enough time. Very frankly I would rather have one private member's bill every seven years and actually have it votable so that we can make a decision on it than have three or four that I can just talk about and never do anything about. I would not mind dealing with a reduced number of bills.

Furthermore, let us take for example the private member's bill we dealt with today. It was not votable, but surely after one hour of debate we pretty well all knew the issue. I do not think that it should take more than an hour or maybe an hour and a half of debate before it is sent to committee.

Private members' bills generally are quite focused. They are single issues. If we could send them to committee and then maybe have them come back for another hour debate in what would compare to third reading of another bill, I think it would really expedite the matter. Basically it would take the House two hours instead of one hour for one that we just debate and do not vote on.

We could also increase the number of hours. I have no problem at all with having an additional hour or two per week of private members' business. I have a little problem with some people who have suggested making Friday private members' day. That is really bad because it basically tells members it is an unimportant day and they do not need to be here.

As a matter of fact, if I can even be a little facetious, I have said to some people that I think it might not be a bad idea to make a member of parliament's salary in direct proportion to the number of hours he or she spends in the House while we are debating private members' business. If we were here 50% of the time, we would get 50% of our salary that month. That is a little facetious. It is not a serious suggestion.

I really think that some of the best ideas come forward from private members. They are the ones out there listening to their constituents. Those constituents have concerns. We start dealing with the bureaucracy and find out that we cannot solve their problems, so we come here with a private member's bill.

I would like the government House leader to respond to some of my suggestions.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

That was a question that took four minutes, so we will go on for one minute to the government House leader.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Chairman, it is somewhat informal, so I do not mind that the question took a bit longer. That is all right with me. At any rate, it does not seem that dozens of members are ready to make speeches.

As the hon. member knows, there is an ongoing survey of members in this regard. I think it is a good idea. I suspect all House leaders are looking forward to its conclusion.

What the member said about the three hours is not quite correct. It is a maximum of three hours. For instance, we had a votable private member's bill last week. I am trying to remember what was the subject. We adopted it and sent it to committee after one hour, even if it were votable.

That is the maximum. If we are amending the criminal code, it is not a bad idea if we knew it was votable to have a longer speech. Perhaps we do not need that long at second reading, or we might want to have that long at second reading and once a committee goes at it we would not need that long at third reading.

If I go back to the British example, they tend to have very short, if any, speeches at all at third reading on anything, even government bills. It is quite common to have a government bill debate of five minutes at third reading. Second reading, I would argue in this case, would probably be a little longer than that.

In any case, as I said, I am not against per se some of these ideas about all of them being votable. I was very lucky as an opposition member in terms of getting my name drawn. For whatever reason, I always seemed to have something that was on the floor of the House of Commons. Probably one of the greatest satisfactions I had was the motion I sponsored which was passed to erect a statue in honour of the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson.

That statue beside the west block, Mr. Pearson sitting in a chair, if members have noticed, actually includes a design of the chair of the House of Commons. That was my idea, everything, including that he should be sitting in a chair and so on. That was my motion. I was there when we unveiled it. The then prime minister, Prime Minister Mulroney, did the unveiling. I think it was a tremendous exercise by an individual member. Had I not done that, like other members who took similar actions, these things probably would not have happened. We just cannot get things to move sometimes without prodding from members of parliament.

Probably another good example of this is the bill on competition. It will be before the House this Thursday with reference before second reading. The bill on competition bears great similarity to two private members' bills, one in the name of the member from Kitchener and the other in the name of the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge.

One involves gasoline pricing and competition in that regard. The other one involves issues regarding the misuse of Canada Post to send out phony things where people are alleged to have won something. To claim their prize they phone a 1-900 number, which gives them a huge telephone bill and usually a prize of exactly nothing. That bill largely covers those items. They are private members' ideas.

As a minister I think this is great. I support that entirely. As I said, though, in my opinion the price to be paid for it is a dramatic reduction in the number of private members' bills debated. Perhaps that is not bad. As my colleague said, it means that the more important ones will be debated, and because we know they will be votable, they will always be of that importance because otherwise we would not put them. We would not want something to be put to the House to have it defeated by everybody because it was a very bad idea. Of course if it is not votable anyway, one does not really care. So arguably there is a benefit in that regard.

Finally, I think all of us should think of the effect of what the hon. member just asked and hopefully the committee doing the work will think of it, namely, should people have two or three tries at it before everyone has had at least one?

Perhaps one way of doing it would be this: at the beginning one would draw from the list of everyone who has at least one item for private members' business in the kitty. We would draw, and as we go through the process, three or six months later we would draw a name and if that name has already been drawn it would be thrown out and we would take the next one, until we find one that has not been drawn. At the beginning of a session that would not be a problem, but as we go along it would be.

If we reach the end and everybody who had an item in the kitty has had their name drawn and other members just do not want a private member's item, we could start again. We would assume the list is complete because we would have zero names left in the kitty, or at least zero names that have items in the pot.

For instance, ministers such as myself are ineligible. Secretaries of state are ministers at a different rank but similarly are ineligible. Parliamentary secretaries while they are parliamentary secretaries are also ineligible, but because they are generally on a rotational basis serving a term of two years, someone could be ineligible and then a year and a half or two years later become eligible for the draw.

Whatever mechanism we develop should bear all these things in mind to ensure that it is fair for everybody. Those are some ideas on how to handle that one, but I am not married to those I am suggesting. I am giving them as examples of how to reform this. I would like other colleagues to add to them the good ideas that they might have as well, and by the way, not just on private members' items, I hope, but on everything else we do around here.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Chairman, I was an assistant here with Ian McClelland before I became a member of parliament. In terms of the relationship between private members' business and government bills, one of the researchers for the Library of Parliament told me that before 1911 most of the bills that were passed were private members' bills but that since that time there has been an increasing tendency to spend most of our time in the House on government bills.

The researcher felt that the system actually worked better when more time was devoted to private members' bills. As the hon. member for Elk Island pointed out, we tend to be closer to the ridings than the government bureaucracies are. Perhaps it has shifted too much in favour of government bills and there should be more time allotted during orders of the day for private members' bills. Would the hon. government House leader comment on that?

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Chairman, when I came here in 1984 it was almost impossible to get a private member's bill voted on. The system was somewhat different and was reformed to the way we have it now as a result of the McGrath committee report.

Before the McGrath committee report the items were all theoretically votable, but they were votable when the debate had concluded. We had one hour of private members' bills debate every day. The trick at the end of the day was to talk the bill out, as it was called. Then it went to the bottom of the list, only to reappear perhaps 18 months later.

It was the same as killing it except that it was not really the same. It was in a state of suspended animation. With any luck, of course, 18 months later the House had prorogued and we were into a new session and it started all over again. It was the same as killing it, except we were not killing it. That is the problem we had then. I think that was the absolute worst system one could have ever devised.

The system we have now is from the McGrath committee report. There is one member of the McGrath committee who is still a member of the House. That member is the House leader for the New Democrats. He is the only survivor of that committee, politically speaking, although there are several other survivors otherwise speaking. It was a good innovation. That does not mean we cannot improve it again.

In terms of the numbers of private members' bills passed, I know of some provincial legislatures that pass exactly zero private members' bills. It is just not done. Very few, if any, are ever passed in the Quebec provincial assembly. It does not happen.

I served for a number of years at Queen's Park as a provincial member in Ontario. There it was a different system. They were all theoretically votable, but there was so little independence in voting that effectively the government stood up and killed them every time by voting them down. It really did not do anything.

The innovation we have here, I think, is that first of all there are enough of us in the House with 301 members that there is a critical mass of people and at private members' hour it is a lot harder to separate strictly along party lines. That is a good thing. It makes for members with a little bit more independence of thought and that works reasonably well.

In terms of the numbers of private members' items, we have some every day, with a couple of exceptions, and hon. members will know that occurs if we are having the budget debate or the throne speech. For the throne speech is easy to understand why we would not want to have any there. It is at the beginning of a parliament and we have not had the private members' items in yet so there is no reason to have them there.

As to why we cannot have them at the same time we are having budget debates, I do not particularly object to that. I do not see that there is anything particularly offensive about other times around here. I do not know why we cannot simply have them every day. It is effectively the case now, with a few exceptions. Why not remove some of these exceptions? I am not against that either. All of those things seem to be at first glance good occasions to have private members' items.

Of course we will always be governed by our constitution in any case. Obviously members know that we cannot have a money bill at private members' hour, unless we find a minister who will provide a recommendation from the crown, a royal recommendation. That is a constitutional issue.

Furthermore, if a bill is to generate a tax then it is even more complicated. Not only must it be a minister but a minister must have tabled a notice of ways and means and have the ways and means motion adopted by the House before he or she can even introduce a bill to levy a tax. The equivalent in the United States is that there has to be a recommendation of the ways and means committee. The Canadian equivalent of that is a little different. It is the same as the British in that we have concurrence in the ways and means motion, which is the enabling motion that permits a minister to even introduce taxation measures in the House.

Those are two restrictions that I suspect will always be there because of our constitution, but that does not mean that there are not dozens of good ideas that can be addressed by way of private members' items.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Chairman, I would like to take advantage of the fact that the government House leader is here because he has a very long memory of parliamentary procedure.

One of the problems that I noted in my time here with respect to private members' business and trying to give it more opportunity was that often members would say, “Well, let us just vote yes for this at second reading and it will go to committee”.

Clearly the problem with that was that the committees were suddenly burdened with business that they did not properly have the time to manage. Some committees were burdened more than others. I think, for example, of the justice committee.

I have thought a lot about this. I wonder what the government House leader thinks about restoring the old legislative committees. Is there not an argument to be made for creating a legislative committee to receive private members' legislation to in some way, if you will, pre-examine it for appropriateness and viability before it goes on to the proper committee? Or perhaps the legislative committee could handle it right on to report stage.

It just seems to me, Madam Chairman, that in order to make more bills votable we have to find a new system that makes it possible to process these bills without adversely affecting the very limited time of committees.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of Commons
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Chairman, on the second point, this business about having a pre-approval by a committee, that is in fact what members are advocating tonight to get rid of, because now we have a committee that in a way screens them to make them votable. It is kind of the same thing, not quite, but it is analogous to that, I would argue. My feeling is that most people do not want that.

The other thing, though, is in regard to once a bill has been read a second time and sent to committee. We did make an amendment a few years back whereby committees now have to report the bill within a certain amount of time. Otherwise the bill is deemed reported anyway without amendment. We have that in our present rules. That did not exist even in 1993.

It was an amendment produced I think in large measure as a result of an innovation of the then Reform Party House leader, the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford. I believe that was one of his innovations. Perhaps others were involved with it too, but he was associated with the cause of bills deeming to have been reported, which made it such that bills that kind of disappeared into a black hole called a committee do not do that any more. They go to committee but they now have to come back out, and the period is reasonably short.

There is one problem that remains, though, and I guess we will all have to be very frank about this, and that is that private members' bills are more times than not all about justice. For instance, on the weekly list that I was looking at Monday when I had a meeting with my staff, four out of the following six days were about justice issues. Of course if they all were votable and all sent to the same committee, I think the hon. member who just raised the question obviously has seen what would happen then. That is going to absolutely overload the system. Hopefully when the subcommittee makes it recommendation it will address that because it would make it impossible to function if that happened.

In terms of a legislative committee, it is still in the rules. It was largely unused because it had a tremendous deficiency. The last time we used it was on Bill C-20 of the previous parliament.

The difficulty with legislative committees is the following. Suppose we set up a legislative committee on agriculture to review a particular bill, like the bill we passed today on farm credit. The agriculture critic and the agriculture parliamentary secretary and so on would want to sit on it. All the people on the agriculture committee would also end up sitting on this special committee but there would be a different clerk. The end result was the agriculture committee would be the legislative committee with a different clerk. That was always the result of that.

After a few years of this, people began to look at it. They said why not keep their usual clerk and the usual everybody because they were the people who knew something about agriculture? Why was somebody else doing this and not the people who actually had the expertise in the area? That is how they fell into disuse.

If we had the multiplicity of private members' items in a given area, we would obviously have to rethink that in a way perhaps like or somewhat like the suggestion made by the member who just asked me the question.