House of Commons Hansard #79 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.

Topics

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the member talked briefly about the review of committee appointments. He will know that there are very many important appointments made each and every year. I wonder if the member would comment on whether or not it is practical given the constraints on certain committees and whether or not there might be some suggestions forthcoming on how committees can have the resources to do the job they should be doing.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, my Liberal colleague's question concerns an issue that I have addressed in my own mind repeatedly in regard to the ability of any committee to properly, effectively and efficiently review all the appointments that are within its purview.

I sit on the justice committee. I was told that on an annual basis we have somewhere between 500 and 1,000 appointments, I believe, including in the judiciary, the parole board and the Correctional Service. The list is almost endless.

Of course it is impractical for any committee, especially a committee of the nature of the justice committee, to even contemplate reviewing every single appointment. That is why we thought it was so important to establish criteria which would then be mandated for implementation by all of the civil service, by commissions or whatever is making the appointments. It would serve as a screen for us. As appointments come before us, we may very well want to check from time to time, and I think as a committee we should be doing that, to see if the process is in fact working and that merit is the test, not political affiliation or political patronage.

I just have one final point in response to the question and that is the question of resources. I have analyzed, and I think my party has done the same thing, the need to have additional resources in the way of staffing to assist the committee specifically on appointments. I think it has to be looked at as a way of making it possible for us as elected members to do a meaningful review of appointments, perhaps some specific ones but also more generally. I think we need some additional staff resources to do that.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, 10 minutes is not long enough to talk about this important area. Let me go over it quickly.

It has been argued that Parliament has been abdicating its responsibility with regard to legislation, the reason being that much of our legislation includes references to regulations, which parliamentarians do not see during the normal cycle of legislation. They are in fact promulgated after the fact and often include policy initiatives which, had members known about them, might in fact have influenced their opinions on certain of the clauses, if not the bill itself. I wanted to raise that as a general concern and give a specific example.

In the last Parliament, the 38th Parliament, in the second session, the second half of Bill C-13 on reproductive technologies had to do with controlled activities. There were about 24 references to the regulations. Royal assent was given to that bill on March 29, 2004, over a year ago, and those regulations still have not appeared. They are very important to the functioning of the bill. The bill is very important to Canadians, yet those regulations are still outstanding. I would simply ask why. I think there has to be a sunset clause at some point in time, where, if regulations cannot be promulgated within a reasonable period of time, the bill must come back to the House and we must determine what the problem is.

I would also suggest, as a pre-emptive strike, that we should require all bills having references to regulations to include where possible draft regulations or at least a statement of intent of the regulations so that the members can have a reasonable opportunity to understand what they can expect in that bill.

I want to move now to report stage motions, on which I got quite a bit of experience during that same bill. These motions are opportunities for members who are not on the committee to have some input into a bill. Under the Standing Orders, members can put them in. If there are too many, the Speaker has the right under the Standing Orders to group them. Since each member only has 10 minutes to debate, on one grouping alone I had 13 report stage motions.

If every report stage motion is to be respected, it is not acceptable to have more than five report stage motions in one group, simply because how could anyone possibly describe their motion and make their argument as to why that motion should be accepted in such a short period of time? I think that has to be looked at. Under Bill C-13, there were something like 10 or 12 groupings. It does not happen very often, but in controversial bills it will. I just suggest that we have to look at this situation.

We also have to look at the timing. When a bill finishes at committee and is reported back to the House, report stage motions can happen very quickly. As members know, the transcripts from the committee are not available until several days, if not a week or so, after the hearing. Report stage motions are inadmissible if they have already been dealt with at the committee stage.

Therefore, members are spending all kinds of time drafting report stage amendments that will ultimately be thrown out because they were dealt with at committee. How can a member possibly know unless when a bill is reported the committee should also report all of the amendments that were proposed? Then we have to provide a reasonable amount of time for members to draft up their ideas, submit them to the Journals branch and get the proper form in hand, in both official languages, for review prior to signing off.

The current time under the Standing Orders is absolutely insufficient to allow members of Parliament to properly deal with report stage motions. I believe that if we are going to respect report stage motions as having legitimacy we have to amend the time and the arrangements with regard to report stage motions so they get the attention they deserve.

I also want to refer to a problem that occurred. It was a very serious problem. A motion that was passed at committee stage by the committee on a particular bill came to this place in a report stage motion. There was a government motion to reverse that motion. It had to do with having a 50% representation of women on a board related to reproductive technologies.

The debate was over on that report stage motion, at which time the Speaker's normal process is to say, “All those in favour of the motion will please say yea”, and “All those opposed will please say nay”. Then the Speaker is supposed to say, “In my opinion the yeas have it” or “The nays have it”, whatever is the case.

In this case, the Speaker in the chair at the time, Reg Bélair, did not indicate in his opinion who had it and then proceeded to say, “Carried”. A very important motion of the committee was overturned. There was no opportunity to deal with it in a proper vote, because the Speaker made a mistake. He thought he had said, “In my opinion the yeas have it”. That was not the case.

I rose on a point of order. He said, “No, I did. I called it. It is carried”. That was it. The next day I rose and, with the Speaker in the chair, raised the issue again on a matter of privilege. The Speaker said the person in the chair at the time had made his decision and it would stand. That was a very serious problem. I think there has to be a solution.

Let me suggest one solution. It would be that the Table have a running recording of the dialogue going on in the House, which could be quickly reviewed in the event that there were ever a question about who said what and when. We just cannot rely on hearing “go away” and count on the blues. Sometimes important motions die because mistakes are made. I simply raise it because it can happen, it did happen and it was a very serious issue with regard to this place.

Finally, there is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Very often during routine proceedings the procedure and House affairs committee chair comes before this place and tables a report. Then, at motions, he stands and requests the unanimous consent of the House to concur in that report he has just tabled and no one has seen.

If that is the will of the House, that is fine, except that what happens if from time to time there is a substantive matter there that members have not seen? I understand that there are routine matters of changing people on committees or other routine matters that have to come forward, but what happens if there is a substantive matter that members have not seen? The point is, why should I be asked to give unanimous consent and even vote on a report that I have not seen? I think it is inappropriate to ask members to put themselves in that position.

In my view, to the extent that the procedure and House affairs committee has routine matters there should be an amendment to the Standing Orders that would make them deemed adopted on tabling, just as we have with other routine matters.

If it is viewed that all matters coming out of the procedure and House affairs committee have representatives of all parties at the highest levels, and if they are going to make the decisions on our behalf, then we might as well say any report coming from procedure and House affairs, once tabled in the House, is deemed to be adopted. We have to make that decision.

I know that the Lord's Prayer was deleted or eliminated from this place on a Friday by a report that was tabled and for which concurrence was obtained immediately during routine proceedings. I believe that sometimes there are items within the reports of the procedure and House affairs committee that members should be apprised of.

I also believe that if we could at least have those non-routine items here that there shall not be automatic concurrence given, that there should be a requirement for a concurrence motion to be put and to be debatable, like there is for any other standing committee. It is a standing committee and standing committee reports are debatable, but when I rose on one occasion to debate an item of interest in a report, I asked for debate on the motion to concur and was denied. The reason given was that it is traditionally not our practice.

I do not care about “traditionally not our practice”. I care about what the Standing Orders are. The Standing Orders say that the reports of standing committees are debatable in this place.

One way or another we need to address the activities of the procedure and House affairs committee. I do not want to see someone sneaking into the House in the middle of debate, interrupting the House and asking for unanimous consent to adopt a report that was brought forward during routine proceedings.

Again, I find it absolutely untenable that members would be asked to vote on something and have no idea what is in it. We should not be interrupting the House if that is going to be the case and if that is the will of the House.

Finally, I have talked with many members about the activities that go on in the House and how we can improve the operations of the House and the productivity of members. I have also served on a couple of the committees on the improvement and the modernization of Parliament. I have found them very exciting, interesting and productive, but most members in this place do not get anywhere close to that. It is their whips and House leaders who are driving the agenda here.

I believe that other members in this place have a vested interest in how this place operates. They should have an opportunity. I would strongly recommend that the House leaders get together and provide for a broad consultation meeting where all members of Parliament would be invited to provide their input on how to make the House of Commons more productive.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

John Williams Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate. My particular interest in the Standing Orders is the business of supply. For most people supply means the estimates whereby Parliament votes the individual line by line budgets to the government in order to give it the authority to spend the money that has been authorized by Parliament, because until it gets that authority, the government cannot spend anything at all.

First, I would like to draw attention to a report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs from the 36th Parliament. It states in its opening statement:

In the 35th Parliament, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs appointed a Sub-Committee on the Business of Supply “to undertake a comprehensive review of the Business of Supply, with particular attention to the reform of the Estimates and the processes and mechanisms by which the House and its committees may consider and dispose of them”.

After considerable study and deliberation the subcommittee tabled a report with the committee in April 1997. The committee subsequently tabled the report in the House, but because of the pending federal general election the committee report was not examined in detail. It was subsequently tabled again in the 36th Parliament, I believe as the 51st report.

My interest in the business of supply and the estimates goes back a long way. I sat on that particular subcommittee. It had three general concepts of change.

The first one was that we bring in what we call program evaluation which emanated from a private member's bill in my name. It asked that every government program where it delivers services to Canadians be evaluated on a cyclical basis, for example, once every 10 years. Four simple questions would be asked. They would be simple but nonetheless fundamental questions so that we could really find out if the programs were delivering value for Canadians.

The first question would be, what is the program designed to do for us anyway? When I give speeches across the country people ask, “Are you not doing that already?” No we are not. What are these programs on which the Government of Canada spends money? What value are they providing for Canadians? That question needs to be asked.

The second question would follow from there. Now that we know what it is supposed to do, how well is the program doing what it is supposed to do? The third question would be, is it doing it effectively and efficiently? The fourth would be, in this complex world in which we live, is there a better way to achieve the same results?

Program evaluation is needed to keep the programs that the Government of Canada delivers focussed for the benefit of Canadians.

The second major recommendation was that we have a committee of the House of Commons on the estimates. We are not experts. There are very few experts on the estimates in the House. Therefore we needed a committee that would look at the estimates process much more rigorously than the other standing committees do. It was given a mandate to look at six or seven fundamental parts of the estimates which generally get overlooked.

First of all is statutory spending. We do not in the House approve statutory spending at any time other than the time we set up a program. For example, i believe that unemployment insurance was set up in 1947. At that time there was a clause in the bill saying it would get the money it needs. That was the last time Parliament voted any money to the employment insurance program.

Statutory spending needs to be reviewed on a cyclical basis. That was part of the mandate.

The other one was tax expenditures. These do not even show up in the financial statements of the Government of Canada. RRSP deductions, for example, are deductions from income tax. There is no revenue for the Government of Canada. There is no expenditure by the Government of Canada, but they are a major public policy. We need to look at that.

Crown corporations have been in the news this past year. They should be examined as well.

Non-statutory spending is what we vote on but we tend to gloss over. There is non-statutory spending, statutory spending, crown corporations and tax expenditures. Loan guarantees show up as one dollar items and we do not pay any attention to a one dollar item but when the loan goes bad and comes back as a $500 million item, by that time it is too late. We want to take a look at loan guarantees and a number of other things.

Today I want to talk about the estimates process.

Here in the House of Commons we have developed our system of motions, amendments to motions and subamendments to motions. We went through that with the Speech from the Throne, the budget debates and so on, but the process is hijacked when it comes to the estimates. We do not have a motion, amend it, and a subamendment. We vote on the subamendment first. We vote on the amendment second. We vote on the main motion third.

If I as a member of Parliament put in a notice of motion to reduce the estimates by a certain amount, be it a dollar or more than a dollar, that is not an amendment to the motion that gets voted on first. That causes the President of the Treasury Board to bring in a superseding motion to reaffirm the original expenditures. When that passes, my motion is out of order. The system is hijacked, and because the process is highjacked, parliamentarians ask why they should bother. The process has become a farce.

The estimates are tabled by the President of the Treasury Board in this House and they are referred to the committees. If the committees do not look at the estimates, they are deemed to have examined them and reported back without change. Because the committees look at the estimates, the House does not debate the estimates at all. The rules do not allow it.

The subcommittee on supply recommended that we make some changes to the Standing Orders. Among these were that committees be allowed to reallocate within a department up to 5% of the spending from one program to another program. That would be something for members of Parliament to get their teeth into. If they made these changes, they would table a report in the House justifying their position. It would not be done on a political whim. They would have to table their rationale for it. If they did that, the government would either have to object or bring in a royal recommendation allowing the change. If the government objected, it would have to present to the House its rationale for things remaining as is.

We would have the two sides of the argument, the committee saying there should be reallocation, the Treasury Board maybe saying to leave it as is, both with their reasons attached. Therefore let the debate begin, let Parliament be seized with the issue and let Parliament make the decision.

We also said that since it was a novel idea, that we re-examine it after two business cycles. I did not see it as revolutionary, but that report was tabled in 1997 and here it is 2005 and we are still working to get it implemented.

This is part of the democratic process. If the government of the day, which says that it wants to fix the democratic deficit, believes in fixing the democratic deficit, I would hope that it would endorse this report and accept these recommendations.

Remember that it was an all-party committee and the recommendations were accepted unanimously in 1997. For that reason the recommendations are legitimate. They are serious. They are there to improve the effectiveness of Parliament. They are there to improve the effectiveness of democracy in this country. It does not seem much to ask because as I said, the process has been hijacked and the process today is a farce.

On that basis I have here in both official languages the 51st report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which has already been tabled in this House. I ask for unanimous consent to table the report again in both official languages and have it referred to the procedure and House affairs committee, as it deliberates on these amendments to the Standing Orders so that it can have the rationale from the committee back in 1997 and it can understand what is going on.

Madam Speaker, I would ask that you seek unanimous for me to table in both official languages the report of the business on supply of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and that it be referred to the committee.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table his document?

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:25 p.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in the debate on the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. This debate gives parliamentarians an opportunity to reflect on the procedures that govern the House, to identify what works well and to identify possible areas for improvement. I would note that this debate comes, from our perspective, at an opportune time as procedural issues have taken on greater importance in the context of this minority Parliament.

I would also note that there have been extensive changes to the Standing Orders over the past several years. Therefore, it is useful for us to continue this process of reflecting on what improvements can be made to the Standing Orders. I would like to take this opportunity to briefly outline what changes have been adopted in recent years and to highlight areas where the government believes further examination and improvements are required.

The House adopted many changes to the Standing Orders during the 37th Parliament through recommendations by the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons. Many of the special committee's recommendations have served to enhance the procedures of the House.

For example, we have a consistent practice for House review and approval of the appointment of officers of Parliament.

The Leader of the Opposition can refer two sets of estimates to the committee of the whole for debate.

The House can require a 30 minute debate with the responsible minister on motions of time allocation and closure. I would note that the government has used time allocation or closure only once since it was sworn in some 16 months ago.

More take note debates are being held on matters of importance to members. From our perspective, this is a very useful tool where members can bring to their House leaders suggestions for take note debates that are of concern to members in the House, and the government and other parties can benefit from the discussion.

There has been a relaxation of the rules concerning the admissibility of petitions so that members of Parliament can table more petitions on behalf of their constituents. The requirement for the government to respond to petitions within 45 days is being enforced.

Other changes adopted in the previous Parliament include a new committee on government operations and estimates, and a new committee on official languages. All private members' business is now votable. Committees now elect their chairs by secret ballot. The House adopted a code of conduct for members of Parliament to be administered by the new independent Ethics Commissioner. This marks the first time since Confederation that the House of Commons has created a consolidated and comprehensive code of conduct that governs all members.

The Prime Minister made democratic reform a priority when he was sworn in as Prime Minister in December 2003. To underscore our commitment, the government immediately tabled an action plan for democratic reform in the House of Commons as its first order of business. The government has made a lot of progress in implementing this important plan.

Democratic reform initiatives in Parliament include: over 70% of votes are free votes for government members of Parliament; committees are reviewing nominations to key appointments before they are finalized; bills are routinely sent to committee before second reading so that committees have greater influence in shaping government legislation; an additional $5 million has been provided for operational and travel expenses of committees of the House; and the Minister of Justice has announced a new process for appointing judges to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The minority Parliament has also caused us to consider changes to the Standing Orders. Opposition party leaders presented proposals for changes to the Standing Orders in September. Since that time, the government has worked collaboratively with the opposition parties in making procedural changes to reflect the minority Parliament situation in a way that addresses the needs of both the government and the opposition parties. These are examples of the government's commitment to making this minority Parliament work.

For example, in October the House adopted changes to the standing orders to reform the committee structure to have more committees chaired by opposition parties; enhance Parliament's ability to keep the government accountable; establish new committees on the status of women and access to information, privacy and ethics, so that Parliament could give greater attention to these key issues; and establish a separate committee on aboriginal affairs, so that there is a focus forum on aboriginal issues in the House.

In February the House adopted further changes, such as ensuring motions to concur in committee reports come to a vote so the House can fully consider recommendations made by committees; making all opposition days votable, so that the opposition has more opportunity to itself hold the government to account; and allowing greater opportunities for questions and comments during debate to improve the quality of debate in the House.

This represents a very broad reform to the procedures of the House of Commons. For this reason these changes are now provisional and will lapse after 60 sitting days in the new Parliament, so that parliamentarians in the next Parliament will have the opportunity to review the impact of these changes and to adjust them as necessary.

There has also been a lot of focus in recent years on the procedures governing private members' business. In March 2003 the Standing Orders were changed on a provisional basis to make all private members' bills and motions votable. These provisional Standing Orders have been extended until June of this year and the procedure committee has been asked by the House to consider these Standing Orders this spring.

This procedural change has enhanced the ability of members to bring forward items for debate and for a vote in the House. However, this procedure also raises a number of questions which I hope the procedure committee can consider in its review of these Standing Orders.

For example, is there an adequate level of scrutiny of private members' items as there is with government bills both in House debates and in committees? Should a mechanism be established to address private members' items in areas that have been included in government legislation? Some recent examples would include the jewellery tax, the mandate of the Auditor General, and improvements to employment insurance.

There are finally financial implications of private members' items that require full consideration of the House. For example, tax relieving measures do not require a royal recommendation or a ways and means motion, even though the cumulative impact of these bills can have a significant impact on the government's fiscal framework.

Another area where the government would like to receive input from parliamentarians is on the estimates and their reporting process to Parliament. The 2005 budget confirmed the government's commitment to improve reporting in Parliament and committed the government to consulting parliamentarians on this matter. In particular, the budget stated:

Building on these achievements the Government will...The blueprint will include the Estimates and related documents, government-wide reporting, ad-hoc reporting from many individual government entitie...Through these consultations, the Government will determine how best to provide parliamentarians with more timely, understandable and accessible information on program spending and results--

In closing, the government looks forward to the discussion in the House on the Standing Orders. As we have in the past, we will continue to work with opposition parties and all members of the House to ensure the Standing Orders continue to meet the needs of all members of the House.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

John Williams Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to believe that the government looks forward to a review of the estimates process, but I know very well that it does not. In fact, the deputy House leader from the government side just shut down the capacity for me to table an all party report dealing with the estimates that was tabled in the House in a previous Parliament. He was not prepared to accept it, so that it could be considered by the committee. So shame on him when he stands and talks about the capacity that the Liberals want to listen because they do not want to listen. They are forced to talk about some democratic changes because this is a minority Parliament. Otherwise, it would be business as usual, they would ignore Parliament, sweep it off the table, and they would continue on the way they want to.

The member talked about committee review of nominations. We just had a committee review of nominations. The government said that it would not listen to the wishes of the committee when it said that Glen Murray from Winnipeg would not sit on the environment review board. The Liberals said that they did not care what Parliament said, they will put him on anyway.

He bragged about committee reports at second reading. It means that debate is limited to three hours. That is why it is referred to committee before second reading, not because Liberals want to talk about the principle in committee, but because they want to shut down debate in this place.

The Minister of Justice talked about appointing judges. We had that fiasco here last summer with Supreme Court justices in, out, endorsed, and the government ensured the committee gave the endorsation the government wanted.

He talked about new committee chairs. That is because we asked for new committee chairs on this side not because the government volunteered them. We demanded them in a minority Parliament and we got them.

He talked about more petitions. When did the Liberals ever listen to any petition? Never. The idea of more petitions in the House is a joke when it comes to the democratic deficit.

I would like the deputy House leader from the government side to stand and tell us really what is on its mind when it talks about democratic deficit. I tend to think that if it had any chance whatsoever, it would ignore this place. That is why we have the problem we have today with the Gomery inquiry. That is why the Liberals have problems with corruption because they ignored this place and thought they could get away with it. Let him stand and talk about fixing the democratic deficit with some real integrity.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Beauséjour, NB

Madam Speaker, I had the pleasure in the last Parliament of sitting on the public accounts committee with the member for Edmonton—St. Albert. It was an interesting time in the history of that committee, which he chaired for many years. I learned a lot about public accounts from the member and I appreciate his question.

I am not as cynical as he is. I do not think that the Prime Minister and the government, in embracing the spirit of democratic reform, wanted to do anything other than make Parliament more relevant and have members of Parliament on both sides of the House have greater input both into legislation and into the policies of the government.

For example, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert mentioned the issue of judicial appointments. He referred to the exercise last summer as a fiasco. I do not share that view at all. I served on that ad hoc meeting of parliamentarians with colleagues from his party, the deputy leader, and the member for Central Nova. I remember that he participated in a very constructive way as did the justice critic, if my memory serves me correctly. We thought that exercise was a very useful way for parliamentarians to interact with the Minister of Justice before very important appointments to the highest court in the country were finalized.

The Minister of Justice made that process clear to us last summer. I regret that he would disparage that process because his colleagues who participated in what I thought was a very useful exercise in democratic reform last summer did not share that view. The Minister of Justice said at the time, as did the Prime Minister, that this was a temporary procedure because he was committed to responding to suggestions made by the justice committee that we should involve parliamentarians in these very important appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada.

That is exactly what the minister did last week. He outlined a process by which parliamentarians can have meaningful input into these important appointments. Increasingly, the Supreme Court plays a very critical role, not only in interpreting the Constitution of Canada, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but in interpreting legislation passed by the House. I thought it was a very important initiative and I do not share at all the cynicism of the member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this take note debate aimed at improving certain elements in the Standing Orders, which guide our work here in this House.

The committee on modernization has already done some serious and fairly complete work, in which our House leader, the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, participated. The committee was chaired by the hon. member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, who was the government House leader at the time.

Since the House consists of human beings, representing diverse regions, belonging to different parties, having a certain diversity of opinions, we owe it to ourselves to have Standing Orders to govern our proceedings that can, necessarily, change as well. In fact, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons cannot be set in stone for long periods of time.

That is why it would be a good idea to improve certain elements. I would like to focus on private members' business, since I only have ten minutes to outline our point of view on this issue, which has an impact on our party.

Previously, members names were drawn, and then they had to go before the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business to defend the votability of their bills. This aspect was seen by a number of our colleagues sitting on the modernization committee as being too dependent on the arbitrary decisions of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business. I have sat on that committee and I agree with this, although each and every member of this subcommittee approaching it with good faith and common sense.

With respect to the question we had to answer, who are we to decide whether a particular bill should be votable or not, despite the fact that we had drawn up a list of fairly well-defined criteria?

We decided on March 17 and October 29, 2003, and on March 23 and October 29, 2004, to improve the procedure. We adopted sections in the Standing Orders called provisional Standing Orders. What we in the Bloc Québécois are asking for is simply that these provisional Standing Orders be made permanent.

Perhaps I should clarify for the benefit of those who are watching us—since we are dealing here with a rather technical aspect of parliamentary procedure—that the provisions in question are Standing Orders 86 to 99.

Under these new provisions, all bills or motions selected under private members' business are automatically votable. However, it would not have been appropriate to allow members of Parliament to bring forward just any kind of measure, not because we did not trust them but because we had to ensure that the bills considered by this House would follow certain basic principles.

We decided to create what I would call a minimal filter, by which all items are votable provided they meet certain criteria.

Here is the first criterion. Bills and motions must not deal with matters that are not under federal jurisdiction. Of course, we are here in a federal parliament, and until Quebec achieves sovereignty, as far as Quebeckers are concerned, certain matters will be under federal jurisdiction and others will be under provincial jurisdiction. In a sovereign Quebec, this will no longer be an issue since all matters will be under Quebec's jurisdiction. However, in the current system, we have to deal with matters that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Second, this is a major point, and we have had the opportunity to dispute this with representatives of certain parties. Bills and motions should not violate, obviously, constitutional law, including the acts of 1867 and 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We must ensure that the bill is consistent with the charters. Would it be acceptable for an MP, whether in good faith or maliciously, to introduce a bill to restore discrimination based on language or skin colour, or to go backwards like some countries in Africa some time ago—such as South Africa with its Apartheid—or a situation similar to the one existing in various American states before the 1970s. The member could not say that it is his privilege to introduce such a bill. It would be totally unacceptable. The bill must comply with the requirements in the charter, particularly section 15 on equality rights. That is why we are talking about the civil marriage bill, but that is another debate.

The third requirement states that bills must not refer to questions already debated in the House to avoid redundancy. I will conclude quickly so as to mention the improvements whereby bills must not concern questions on the order paper.

However, once these requirements have been fully complied with, the bill can be introduced, debated in the House and voted on. One of the things the Bloc Québécois wants is for the provisional Standing Orders to be now deemed permanent ones.

However, there are various problems with the current system. Among those problems is the reference to similar items. Provisional Standing Order 86(5) seems to pose a problem because we realize that it indicates the following:

The Speaker shall be responsible for determining whether two or more items are so similar as to be substantially the same, in which case he or she shall so inform the Member or Members whose items were received last and the same shall be returned to the Member or Members without having appeared on the Notice Paper.

The Speaker in this context refers to the Journals Branch.

We think this needs to be changed so that two similar items are not standing in the order of precedence. Currently, the problem is that a member can present 42 different items and, in a way, monopolize everything. If the member presents 42 bills and motions and we try to present ours, Journals could say the matter has already been presented. We have to make sure that once the member's item is selected, all the other items are dropped and become available to be presented by another member. Each member could introduce 20 similar items, for instance, but once one has been debated, the other 19 become available for other colleagues.

We could propose the following amendment, “The Speaker shall be responsible for determining whether two or more items standing in the order of precedence are so similar as to be substantially the same, in which case he or she shall so inform the Member whose items were received last and the same shall be automatically removed from the Notice Paper.

I also want to talk about the law clerks' interpretation of amendments to private members' bills or bills which table clerks still maintain involve appropriation. Many amendments are refused because they are deemed to require a royal recommendation. I know that my colleague, the leader of the Bloc Québécois, talked about this earlier today. We definitely must review Standing Order 79 on royal recommendation.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the day

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Madam Speaker, I am sure people watching CPAC or from the gallery may be wondering why, when there are so many issues of considerable importance facing the country, we are spending this day talking about internal procedures?

It might be enlightening to them to know that today we are debating the Standing Orders, which are our rules of procedure and process in the House of Commons. They regulate debate, how it is conducted. They also regulate bills and motions, how they are handled, the votes and all these other things.

In fact, Standing Order 51 mandates that the debate must take place before the 90th sitting day of the current Parliament. Today, happens to be the 79th day. If we did not have the debate today, we would need to have it definitely within the next 11 days so we would meet that rule. That is one of the rules of the House. There are many rules that affect our debate.

In the few minutes I have, I would like to talk about some of the things that have struck me about how we do things around here.

One thing is not in the Standing Orders, but is a process. It has often struck me, particularly on Fridays, that we frequently finish the government business of the day before 1:30 p.m., which is the allocated time for private members' business to start. This also happens on some other days. Usually a member from the Liberal side will stand up and say, “Mr. Speaker or Madam Speaker”, as the case may be, “If you seek it, I think you would find unanimous consent to see the clock as 1:30 p.m.”. I look at the clock and I see that it is one o'clock or quarter to one.

We have in the House a considerable challenge to have people give us the highest respect. Our Standing Orders, among other things, say that we may not even hint at any possible dishonesty of another hon. member. We would never tell a lie. Yet on those occasions, we unanimously agree to tell one. I have always thought that was an anomaly, even though what is in the Standing Orders is that notwithstanding any of the Standing Orders, unanimous consent always takes precedence over whatever they say.

As a matter of process, I wish that from now on the Liberal member, instead of saying that the Speaker would find unanimous consent for us to agree to something that is not true, would say, “If you seek it, you would find unanimous consent that notwithstanding that it is not yet 1:30 p.m., we will proceed to private members' business anyway”. That would be a better way of putting it and it would be totally honest.

Nowadays Canadians are really searching for a higher degree of honesty, accountability and all those things from members of Parliament. It is a very trivial matter, but it is one that has occurred to me when I think about how we do things around here.

I have a couple of points also on private members' business, which are also covered in our Standing Orders. I am very proud of the fact that I was one of the instigators and instrumental in getting changes to the order of precedence for dealing with private members' business. Again, for those who are watching and who do not know how it works, members are chosen at random. It used to be that the names would be picked out of a hat for whose private members' business would be up for debate. Then those names would be put back. Over the 11-plus years in which I have been a member, it has annoyed me endlessly that members get up sometimes two or three times. In the now approaching 12 years, I have never once been chosen on that random list.

I am particularly unlucky. My colleague has advised me not to waste my money to buy lottery tickets. My level of luck is just so incredibly low.

We had the rule changed and I like it. Now, instead of having members chosen at random and names always being put back, the new version of the Standing Orders now says that all members will be put in random order and we work our way down the list. We do not re-scramble them until everyone has first been picked. This is based on what we used to do at camp. Nobody got seconds at mealtime until everyone had a first helping. I like that idea.

I luck out even on the new rules. The new rules state that all members are put in random order. I do not know where I am, but I am down around 280. Even though I have been waiting for three Parliaments, and I am now in my fourth, I still probably will not get my private member's bill up. I am so far down the list that this Parliament will collapse before I my name is ever drawn.

I would like to propose for consideration that those members who have been re-elected in a Parliament from the previous one and who in the previous Parliament did not have their names chosen be put in a random order list first and then everyone else in behind them.

The next thing I would like to talk about for a short length of time is the ringing of the bells. When it comes time to vote, and I will not go into detail, the bells are to ring either for 15 minutes or 30 minutes, depending on the nature of the vote and whether it was anticipated. Standing Order 45 explicitly says that the bells shall ring for not more than 15 minutes or not more than 30 minutes. We do not obey it. It says not more than 15 minutes, but I do not think I have ever seen a vote actually taken when the 15 minutes expired. When my hon. colleague from Wetaskiwin was the party whip, then that was pushed more strenuously. There is a very lax attitude toward this.

I think it would be useful to all members if the Standing Order was changed so that the bells shall ring not more than 40 minutes and not less than 20 minutes for the 30 minute bell so we have a margin, in other words. That means if it is a 30 minute bell, members would know they had to be in the House in 20 minutes. At any time after that, the vote could take place and at 40 minutes that is it, it is cut off.

The old Standing Orders used to say that the doors would be locked so members could neither leave nor come in late. We should do that so members who want to vote will be able to do in a timely manner, to be present and counted. It would not waste so much time for the rest of us.

Very often I find members bang their desks. I find that incredibly annoying. They should not do that. I have never done that in 11 years. It makes useless noise and shows disrespect. Members do that because they are impatient. They want the vote to start. I suggest that we have a limitation so members know where they are at.

Since I have a couple of minutes remaining, I hope to complete my comments after question period.

Charlottetown
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, the city of Charlottetown will be celebrating 150 years of incorporation on Sunday, April 17.

This significant benchmark is being celebrated with a full year of events, which started on December 31 last year with a New Year's gala and will continue until New Year's Eve this year.

These events will celebrate the culture and history of the people of Charlottetown. Parades, fairs and exhibitions and a lecture series are among the planned events.

This Sunday a very special day of celebration has been arranged. Starting with a service and social at Trinity United Church, there will then be a re-reading of the Act of Incorporation at Province House and then a parade to city hall.

These festivities and events will continue throughout the summer, with events to appeal to any visitor, from our local tulip festival to the RCMP Musical Ride.

I invite all Canadians to visit Charlottetown this year and celebrate with us a tremendous year in the history of Canada's birthplace, the city of Charlottetown.

Alaska-Canada Rail Corridor
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate the city of Prince George for hosting last week's extremely successful Alaska-Canada Rail Corridor Conference.

Business and community leaders and government representatives from British Columbia, Alaska, Canada and the United States assembled to explore this exciting vision to establish a link between the lower 48 states and Alaska through the province of B.C. and Yukon territory.

Conference attendees welcomed the recent announcement that the Canadian federal government has finally agreed to come on board and join our U.S. counterparts in a feasibility study to determine whether an Alaska-Canada rail line is a practical initiative in the best interests of both nations. Once completed, this rail link would open access to the tremendous untapped mineral resources in northern B.C. and Yukon.

Along with the improvement of existing rail lines and redevelopment of the port of Prince Rupert, the vision of an Alaska-Canada rail line will build upon the reputation of B.C. and western Canada as a critical transportation gateway for all of North America.

UN Commission on Human Rights
Statements By Members

April 11th, 2005 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, Canada and the world increasingly view the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a failure.

Tasked with the protection of human rights worldwide, its members now include Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and even Sudan. Hypocritically, it fails to task these and other serious human rights violators. Instead, it criticizes Israel, the only place in the Middle East where Arabs have recourse to independent courts for alleged abuses.

On March 14, the Minister of Foreign Affairs alluded to the integrity problems of the UNCHR stating, “the credibility of the Commission on Human Rights, in particular, has been challenged”.

Even UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated last Thursday, “the commission's ability to perform its tasks has been undermined by the politicization of its sessions and the selectivity of its work”.

The UNCHR must reform. Its agenda should shift to thematic resolutions and membership should be granted only to countries with a good human rights record.