House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.

Topics

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the pleasure to present a petition on behalf of numerous constituents urging the government to enact legislation explicitly recognizing the freedom of conscience of health care workers and to prohibit coercion and discrimination against workers because of their refusal to participate in matters contrary to the dictates of their consciences and establishing penalties for coercion and discrimination.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the government will answer Question No. 49 today. .[Text]

Question No. 49—

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

With regard to the tragic civil conflict in Sudan: ( a ) has the Minister of Foreign Affairs developed a comprehensive strategy to engage the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, SPLA, in constructive peace talks; and ( b ) has the minister developed a plan to work with the private sector, NGOs and other shareholders to rewrite the Special Economic Measures Act, SEMA, in order to provide unambiguous guidelines for Canadian companies wishing to invest abroad?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Brome—Missisquoi
Québec

Liberal

Denis Paradis Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs

We share the hon. member's concern over the tragedy of the civil war in Sudan and the terrible suffering this has brought upon the Sudanese people.

There is clearly a role for Canada to play in the search of a peace agreement among the warring parties. The government has in the past offered its good offices to the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army, SPLA, and will continue to explore this possibility. However, the problem is less the absence of a neutral venue than the lack of a genuine willingness by either party to negotiate in good faith.

Canada has long supported the peace process sponsored by the intergovernmental authority on development, IGAD, and our efforts continue to focus on assistance to the IGAD process as a member of the IGAD partners' forum, IPF. Canada agrees with the IPF consensus that any new initiative to accelerate a negotiated settlement must not undermine IGAD and its principal achievement to date, namely the endorsement by both parties of the only currently viable basis for a negotiated settlement, the IGAD declaration of principles. It is important to emphasize that Canadian action is designed to complement work already underway.

In the press release on Canada's Sudan policy of May 23, 2001, it was announced that Senator Lois Wilson, Canada's special envoy for Sudan, will be travelling to the region. She is expected to meet with high ranking figures in the government of Sudan and the SPLA, and these discussions should provide us with a better sense of the opportunities that exist for engaging the two sides in this conflict.

Regarding the hon. member's query concerning the Special Economic Measures Act, SEMA, it should be pointed out that in general the international experience has been that unilateral sanctions are largely ineffective. Canada's own experience with sanctions has confirmed that multilateral measures are the most effective course of action. To amend the SEMA to allow for unilateral sanctions against Canadian companies abroad would undermine Canada's longstanding objection to extraterritorial measures by other countries.

The department continues to work with the private sector, NGOs and other stakeholders to look beyond sanctions at ways of shaping Canada's corporate presence abroad, including Sudan. On several occasions in the past few weeks we have organized large scale consultations with a range of interested parties to discuss ways of ensuring a positive international Canadian corporate presence. The Government of Canada values these exchanges of views and sees this as part of a permanent process of consultation.

We wish to assure hon. member that Canada remains engaged in the search for a durable negotiated peace settlement in Sudan and is pursuing options which provide the best chance for success.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

moved:

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to draft, and report to this House no later than November 1, 2001, changes to the Standing Orders improving procedures for the consideration of Private Members' Business, including a workable proposal allowing for all items to be votable.

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Since today is the final allotted day for the supply period ending June 23, the House will go through the usual procedures to consider and dispose of the supply bill.

In view of recent practices, do hon. members agree that the bill be distributed now?

Supply
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Supply
Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise to address the motion that our party has put forward, which will hopefully be supported by all members in the House.

The main intent of the motion is to improve the workings of the House of Commons. It is also in the best interest of all of us here, including the government, the opposition and therefore all Canadians.

Unless we can change the system, we will not change much else. That means that unless we can improve our procedures and the way in which we make decisions, we will not really be able to do much to improve the lot of most Canadians as we deal with legislation and issues in the House. We need to put in place legislation and policies and to make changes that make parliament work for all Canadians.

I would like to refer to a book that we have regarded as the handbook for the orders and procedures of the House. The first principle in Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms states:

The principles of Canadian parliamentary law are:

To protect a minority and restrain the improvidence or tyranny of a majority; to secure the transaction of public business in an orderly manner; to enable every Member to express opinions within limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time; to give abundant opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken upon sudden impulse.

Everything I say today will be based on that first principle of parliamentary procedure.

By making this change, we would trigger meaningful debates across the country on various issues. The change I am referring to is to amend the standing orders in order to allow all private members' business items to be votable if a member wishes it to be that way.

I sincerely believe that one of the problems we face in Canada is that we, as politicians, and Canadians generally, do not scratch below the surface on key issues. Many issues are often left unexamined and this hurts all of us.

In order for democracy to work and to work well we must be well informed so that we can make decisions intelligently. Many Canadians may not realize how important the motion is but if they have ever tried to bring forth an issue through their elected representatives, they will realize the importance of the motion.

We could play a very effective role in having everyone look more closely at the issues that affect them greatly and yet in our current system they are not examined in depth. For democracy to work effectively, those people making those decisions must understand the issues, and this change hopefully would do that.

I would like to give a bit of an historical perspective before I go into the arguments for this because history can really help us understand why these changes are necessary.

My source of information is from the Library of Parliament. It is a paper that was prepared by James Robertson for the subcommittee on private members' business. I cannot go into all the details that he provided going back to 1867, but as we look through the report we see that private members' business has not been static.

From 1867 to 1962 the standing orders gave precedence to private members' business on particular days in each week. However successive governments found such a distribution inadequate for the conduct of their own legislative programs and regularly gave precedence for their own business via special and sessional orders. What this means is that private members' business used to dominate the business of the House of Commons, but gradually that has been eroded.

The agenda in private members' business has taken second place to what we do. We need to bring more prominence to that issue. By 1955 government business dominated the agenda of the House and the standing orders were brought in to protect private members' business.

In 1962 the House abandoned the allocation of a certain number of days each session for private members' business and instead set aside one hour per day for that purpose.

In 1982 the practice of considering private members' business for one hour on certain days was replaced by a single private members' day.

In 1983, however, the House reverted to the consideration of private members' business for one hour per day on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with no maximum amount of time on Mondays and Tuesdays. The omission of this part of the former rule meant that the amount of time provided for private members' business actually increased as a result.

Until the late 1950s there were two criteria which determined the order in which private members' business was considered: their date of notice and, in the case of bills, their stage in the legislative process.

Other secondary criteria, whose purpose was to distinguish the different categories of business from each other, also became important. For example, in 1910 a higher precedence was accorded to unopposed private members' notices of motions for the production of papers while opposed motions of this kind continued to be considered with other motions until 1961 when they were given a specific category in the order of business and were debated on a designated day.

I refer to portions of this report in order to show that private members' business has not been static. There have been changes throughout our history.

In 1982 there was a single draw of members' names held at the start of each session. In the 1970s private members' business was organized by the government House leader's office. That was criticized by many members as undue government interference and eventually the private members' office was established under the Clerk of the House.

We are back to the same situation now because the tradition has become such that only bills that receive the consensus of the private members' business committee are deemed votable. We again find it almost impossible to bring forth items for debate and a vote when two or three members of the committee may not wish to bring them forward. It has become a great source of frustration for many members of parliament.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have just been advised that the information commissioner's report has been released. The government has an obligation to table that report in the House of Commons but for some reason that has not happened. There has not been an opportunity to bring forward this very important report.

We have heard in the past from the information commissioner and his predecessor that there is what appears to be a very nefarious attempt by the government to become less than transparent. To not bring forward this report furthers that perception amongst the public.

I would respectfully suggest that there is an obligation on the government to table this report so that the House of Commons and members of parliament will have an opportunity to examine that important report before the recess.

Points Of Order
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the hon. member has inadvertently stated that a little differently than how he should have. I agree that any report to have been tabled by the Speaker should have been tabled by the Speaker, if that is the case, but I am in no position to confirm or deny it.

However the information commissioner does not work for the government. If the hon. member wants to change the act and make that official work for the government, perhaps there would be some enthusiasm for that, but the information commissioner is an officer of parliament, not of the government. If the Speaker wants to table that information, we will be glad to receive it as well.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Supply
Government Orders

June 12th, 2001 / 10:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to continue the review of history and point out that in 1985 a very significant review called the McGrath committee tabled its report. It stated:

The House does not attach any great importance to private members' business as it is now organized. This is evident from the fact that members are seldom greatly concerned to claim the priorities they have drawn in the ballot governing the use of private members' time, and this is largely because private members' bills and motions rarely come to a vote.

This is a key point we are raising here today. We are asking that all private members' business be deemed votable if the private members wish. The committee said that its proposals were designed to achieve a number of improvements in the way private members' business is dealt with. I do not have time to go through them all but there have been many changes since then.

Private members' business has eroded significantly in importance. It is time to again review what we do and improve the whole area. We have evolved to the point where minority rights are not respected. By establishing the custom at the private members' committee that there be a consensus of committee members before an item is deemed votable we have again ensured a tyranny of the majority.

It is in the best interest of the government, the opposition and all Canadians that we make significant improvements to private members' business.

Much discussion has taken place in recent years on the topic of making parliament more effective and democratic. We began this parliament by saying that we must improve the way we do things in this place and bring back more democracy. A lot of controversy has taken place of late concerning pay and benefits for parliamentarians. My question is this: Why do we not focus more effort on doing our jobs well? The rest will take care of itself.

As many members know, I along with many members have had great concerns that we as MPs lack effectiveness in representing the people of Canada. Much of that is because of the lack of democracy in the House and the inability of MPs to speak freely on issues and vote on the merits of legislation rather than along party lines.

The motion that all private members' business be votable is predicated on the assumption that free votes on private members' business will continue. Much of the debate in the House is meaningless because MPs do not listen to it. Why? It is because they are not free to vote based on the arguments presented. They are told how to vote. Why listen to the pros and cons of the debate? Why listen to constituents? Why even be here? MPs do not even have to make the decision. Someone else likely makes it for them.

Making all private members' business votable would mean that MPs would need to pay attention. They would need to listen to all the arguments, put their brains in gear and think carefully about how to vote because every vote would be a free vote. Every vote would be theirs and theirs alone.

Making all private members' business votable would be a huge change in this place. It would probably do more to change the dynamics of parliament than any other change I could contemplate, other than of course making all legislation a free vote.

If we want to send a serious signal to the citizens of Canada that we are here to do a job and do it well to earn our salaries, this would be one of the best ways to start doing that. What are some of the consequences I would anticipate if private members' business were made votable and free votes were to continue? Of course the role of backbench MPs would suddenly become much more meaningful.

As it now stands, the Prime Minister and cabinet have all the means at their disposal to bring forth legislation and put in place initiatives they wish to promote. However Canadians have many concerns and issues that are never addressed because there is no mechanism to do so. We generally pay very little attention to issues not introduced by the government because we know they have little or no hope of being passed. This would change considerably.

Canadians are frustrated that they cannot advance issues through their elected representatives. With these changes, MPs would be forced to be better listeners. We would need to listen to our constituents and listen to debate in parliament. It would become much more obvious if an MP was not on duty and doing his or her job.

Another change I anticipate is that MPs who bring forward a bill or motion would need to do a lot more work in preparing to introduce it. They would need to do their homework because they would likely only have one opportunity to put forth the issue in the life of the parliament, but one opportunity is certainly better than none.

Another change is that the apathy Canadians have for politics and for parliament would diminish. The cynicism so prevalent throughout the land would decline as they saw and heard us doing our job. There should be a much more serious attitude to the processes that go into making the laws and rules we all must live by in this democratic society.

If all private members' business is made votable there would need to be an assurance that it would then be properly and effectively advanced, not swept under the table by the government or the Senate or in any other way.

I come back to where I started, that unless we change the system we will not change much else. The process is most important. If we do not bring meaningful democracy to the House we will not be effective in making the positive and meaningful changes people look to us to make.

We would need to review the workings of the change because the devil would be in the details. We would need a careful examination of all consequential changes that would need to be made if the motion were passed.

How many private members' bills and motions could realistically be handled in the life of a parliament? That is one question we would need to answer.

Another question is how the items would be selected to ensure that the most important issues were advanced and the rights of each MP were respected. I come back to the first law in parliamentary procedure, that we respect the rights of all members.

We must examine the cost of doing this. We must review and make additional changes so the change has maximum effectiveness. By simply passing the motion we would open up a complete study of how to make private members' business and all consequential changes more effective. There would be a lot of changes and we would need to ensure the principle was respected.

I urge all MPs to have the courage to make these key changes. Let us be willing to work harder to ensure this place does what it was originally intended to do in a democracy. Let us make it more relevant to the lives of all Canadians. By making the change we would trigger meaningful debates across the country on various issues. That needs to happen here and across the country.

I will conclude by sharing some of my personal experience with regard to private members' business. Since I was first elected to parliament in 1993 I have had a total of four private members' bills and eight private members' motions selected for debate in the House of Commons. That is twelve private members' bills and motions. Not one has been deemed a votable item by the private members' business subcommittee.

During my one hour of debate on each bill and motion I introduced motions asking for unanimous consent to have them declared votable and sent to the standing committee for further study. All my motions were refused or deemed not votable by members of the government on the other side of the House. Most MPs in the House have not had much better luck.

I will give hon. members some statistics I compiled as I was preparing for the debate. In the 35th parliament, 207 private members' bills and motions were drawn. Only 77 were made votable. That is 37%.

In the 36th parliament, the parliament before the last election, 223 private members' bills and motions were drawn. Only 58 were made votable. That is 26%.

So far in this parliament, the 37th parliament, 60 private members' bills and motions have been drawn. Only 12 have been deemed votable. That is 20%.

The way the process is structured that percentage will decline. We have a distinct pattern. Fewer and fewer private members' bills and motions are being deemed votable. Since the beginning of this parliament we as Canadian Alliance MPs have had 24 items drawn and placed on the order of precedence. Only 2 of them have been deemed votable. That is 8%. These statistics show that the situation is getting worse over time, not better.

One thing that concerns me is that at the committee we have developed the custom that all decisions be a consensus. We have determined that all bills and motions which are deemed votable, which are drawn in the lottery and come to committee to be deemed votable or not votable, should receive the support of most or all members of the committee. That flies in the face of Beauchesne's first principle:

To protect a minority and restrain the improvidence or tyranny of a majority; to secure the transaction of public business in an orderly manner; to enable every Member to express opinions within limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time; to give abundant opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken upon sudden impulse.

We must go back to that. We must ensure that the rights of every MP are respected. That is the basis of democracy. That must happen. Unless we go back to that we will be wasting our time in a lot of the things we do.