House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Asbestos
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the minister has been very clear on the government's position and that has not changed.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, last spring, we became aware of the situation of Naser Al-Raas, a Canadian living abroad, who was detained in Bahrain for participating in a political demonstration. Since learning of his case, the minister of state responsible for consular affairs and her team have been working hard to support Mr. Al-Raas and his family, as well as urging Bahrain to drop all charges against him.

I would ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to update the House on Mr. Al-Raas' situation.

Foreign Affairs
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to confirm today that Mr. Al-Raas was found innocent of the charges against him and is free to leave Bahrain. The minister of state and consular officials worked very hard to assist Mr. Al-Raas and to press the government of Bahrain on his behalf.

Through our embassy, we are now encouraging him to leave the country and return to Canada. If he is rearrested for demonstrating in Bahrain, our options to assist him will be limited.

We want to thank the Bahraini government for responding to our concerns and I want to acknowledge the great leadership of the minister of state for consular affairs for her good work.

Freedom of the Press
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Dionne Labelle Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Speaker, the confidentiality of journalistic sources has allowed us to uncover many scandals, including the sponsorship scandal. Yet Tony Accurso's lawyers want to force the journalist from the program Enquête to reveal the identity of his source, who helped bring to light major tax fraud by Louisbourg and Simard-Beaudry.

Is the government prepared to act in the public's interest, to legislate to protect journalistic sources, and to ensure that freedom of the press remains one of Canada's fundamental values?

Freedom of the Press
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Egmont
P.E.I.

Conservative

Gail Shea Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, we take the issue very seriously and we cannot tolerate these types of activities that are alleged. There is currently an RCMP investigation going on into this matter so I cannot comment any further.

Firearms Registry
Oral Questions

February 16th, 2012 / 3 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-19 has not been enacted yet and the Conservatives are celebrating their victory in an offensive manner. To the loved ones of the massacre victims, it is as though the Conservatives were dancing on their graves. What is more, the government refuses to say exactly when the data in the registry will be destroyed. It seems to just be waiting for royal assent before calling for the immediate destruction of the data, even though Quebec has said it is going to take legal action to keep the information.

Can the Minister of Public Safety assure us that he will wait for Quebec to pursue its legal options before destroying the data in the registry, or does he simply intend to press the button on the shredder?

Firearms Registry
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Provencher
Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, last night's vote marks a leap forward toward fulfilling our promise to scrap the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry. As part of that commitment of getting rid of the registry, the data will also be destroyed, and that will be done as soon as legally possible.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government across the way came here with promises to change the way things are done in Ottawa. It promised the public, election after election, that it would change things, that there would be more accountability, more democracy and more transparency. Instead, it has organized a blatant attack on centuries-old parliamentary traditions.

The closure motions that muzzle the elected members of this House are meant to be an exceptional procedure used only in extreme circumstances. Now, under this government, closure has become nothing more than a legislative step like any other. It is a complete disgrace. The government House leader is probably on the verge of trying to blame the opposition for the government's methods. Maybe he will blame us for wanting to speak for the many ordinary citizens who are asking for nothing more than for their voices to be heard through the representatives they have elected. It is absurd, it is disappointing, but even more, it is a betrayal of the democratic promise of this country. My democracy is suffering.

My questions for the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons are the following:

Does the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons realize that the abuse of closure represents a radical shift from other traditions in this House and British traditions throughout the world?

Does the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons believe that the majority has the right to act without opposition, without debate and by excluding points of view that differ from its own?

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I did not hear it right. I thought this was a question about the House agenda. In any event, I will answer a couple of the questions.

First, with regard to the management of the House business, I will renew once again my invitation to the NDP to give us the number of speakers and the length of time they wish to speak on any of the bills before this House. They have yet to ever provide me an answer on that. I have asked in the past here and elsewhere and I will continue to ask.

I appreciate that the Liberal Party has been somewhat forthcoming in that regard. If we see the same from the NDP, we will be able to actually come to co-operative arrangements. However, barring that, it is clear that the NDP agenda is simply to run up the score and compel the government to utilize the resources available in the Standing Orders in order to ensure that we actually do come to decisions and take votes in this House.

Today we will continue with the opposition day. Tomorrow we will be having a debate to take note of the Standing Orders before, as I understand, the Procedure and House Affairs Committee takes on a more extensive and detailed study of proposed changes to the Standing Orders. Following the constituency week we will begin on Monday, February 27, with debate on Bill C-7, Senate Reform Act.

On Monday afternoon, we will continue debate on Bill C-24, the Canada-Panama economic growth and prosperity act. Tuesday, February 28, will be the fourth allotted day, which I understand is to go to the Liberal Party.

On Wednesday, we will continue debate on the Canada-Panama Free Trade Act. On Thursday morning, we will continue debate on Bill C-23, the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act.

On Thursday afternoon, we will begin debate on Bill C-28, the financial literacy leader act.

As the House can see, this will be a jobs and growth week. Jobs and growth remain our government's top priorities.

As we have seen with the North American Free Trade Agreement, free trade creates jobs and economic growth for Canadian families and businesses, and this is true of the two free trade bills that we have before the House. Like the Canada-Jordan free trade act, which, I would point out, in the previous Parliament went to committee after only a few hours of debate, we would hope that we could get the same agreement from the other parties to do so here. I invite them to do that.

I can also say, from my own personal experience, that the Canada-Panama free trade agreement has been around for a long time. I recall two and a half years ago being in Panama with the Prime Minister as negotiations concluded on this agreement. I remember, as Minister of International Trade, introducing in the House on September 23, 2010, for the first time, the bill to implement the free trade agreement. It is about time that it passes into law to benefit Canadians, exporters and workers.

Bill C-28 would create the position of financial literacy leader to help promote financial literacy among Canadians. This is something for which I think all parties have expressed support. I am sure we should be able to come to an agreement on how to proceed. I proposed a motion to the House that laid out a reasonable work plan for Bill C-28 but, sadly, that motion was not supported. I encourage the opposition House leader to get together with us again to try to work on a reasonable work plan.

I do look forward to seeing some progress as we continue the hard-working, orderly and productive session of Parliament we are in. Rather than trying to run up the score and compel time allocation to be used, I would encourage the official opposition House leader to work with all parties in this place to make progress on the bills before us.

On that note and in the spirit of co-operation and working with my colleagues across the way, I have one further addition regarding tomorrow's debate. I thank my colleagues for this suggestion, which I believe, Mr. Speaker, you will find unanimous consent for. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, the motion “That this House take note of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its Committees”, standing on the Order Paper, be amended by adding the following:

“; that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to study the Standing Orders and procedures of the House and its Committees, including the proceedings on the debate pursuant to Standing Order 51; and that the Committee report its findings to the House no later than May 18, 2012”; and

that the motion, as amended, shall not be subject to any further amendment; and when debate has concluded, or at the expiry of time provided for Government Orders on the day designated for the debate, as the case may be, the motion, as amended, shall be deemed adopted.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

(Motion agreed to)

Status of Women in Parliament—Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 8, 2012, by the hon. member for Ahuntsic regarding members bringing their infant children into the Chamber.

I thank the member for having raised this matter, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the chief opposition whip and the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for their interventions.

This question of privilege arose from events that occurred on February 7, 2012, when the hon. member for Verchères—Les Patriotes brought her infant son into the Chamber immediately prior to the taking of a recorded division. At that time, several other members began taking photographs of mother and son, creating a disturbance in the process.

The hon. member for Ahuntsic explained that it had been her impression, when she had a newborn that members could not bring their babies into the Chamber during votes. She therefore requested that the Chair clarify whether there were any House rules or practices on the matter.

I will begin by saying that it will come as no surprise to the House that I do not see this as a matter of privilege. As the member for Ahuntsic herself has pointed out, the matter at hand really has to do with a need to clarify existing practices, and she has requested that I also review what steps can or should be taken to assist members with infants or young children as they juggle the challenges and obligations associated with being a parent who is also a member of the House of Commons.

The events of Tuesday, touching as they do on very personal matters for the members concerned, are always difficult to adjudicate. As a member with four children under the age of seven, I must confess that I am particularly sympathetic to the challenges faced by all elected officials who strive to find a balance between the demands of their work and the needs of their families.

While the events which unfolded on February 7 may seem to suggest that some of our rules and practices are rooted in traditions that no longer mesh seamlessly with modern realities, the truth is quite different. In fact, the House—and the Speakership on its behalf—has a long history of adapting its practices to meet the needs of the day. The Chair has been afforded considerable latitude to reconcile apparent contradictions between our rules and practices and contemporary values.

This is exactly what happened over the years in relation to the kind of situation the House faced last Tuesday. As some members have pointed out, there have been cases in the past where members have brought very young babies into the chamber, mainly for votes. In their wisdom, my predecessors in the chair have handled these situations by turning a blind eye and, given that the presence of the babies did not create disturbances, allowing House business to proceed uninterrupted.

It is important to recall that in the case at hand several members were flouting the rules by taking photographs in the chamber, and it was this disturbance to which the Chair's attention was drawn. Therefore, let me take this opportunity to suggest to members that it would be of great assistance if member's advised the Chair privately, in advance where they can, of a particular difficulty they are facing. I believe this would help us to avoid the kinds of disturbances that were witnessed last Tuesday, which in turn led to the events which have given rise to this ruling.

When considering what kind of guidelines should be followed on an ongoing basis, it struck me that there are few times when members might actually be unable to make alternative arrangements. It is really only during unexpected votes that members could face difficulties. Fortunately, most recorded divisions are scheduled far enough in advance that members should be able to plan accordingly.

However, the Chair appreciates that plans sometimes fail. When that happens, members may find themselves in a difficult position. In such cases, provided there is no other type of disruption or disturbance, the Speaker's attention will likely not be drawn to the situation and the work of the House can proceed as usual.

It would also be helpful to the Chair, and I think to the whole House, even after some incident has occurred involving the Chair, if members approached me directly to discuss any concerns they may have.

I should remind members that, more broadly, the House as an institution has a long history of improving facilities to assist members as working parents. Not all members realize that it is now almost 30 years ago that under the leadership of former Speaker Jeanne Sauvé the parliamentary childcare centre, The Children on the Hill, was established, providing members and staff with young children access to workplace daycare. In addition, some time ago, the House installed change tables in a number of washroom facilities in Centre Block and elsewhere. On this point, I have asked the Clerk to assess whether the number of change tables is sufficient to meet the needs of members with infants and to verify that they are appropriately located for their use.

At the same time, the Chair is advised that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is embarking on a thorough review of the Standing Orders. Given the composition of the current House, as the members who intervened on this matter have suggested, it may well be timely for the committee, as part of the study, to review existing practices in this regard. The Chair would welcome the collective wisdom and guidance of the standing committee in this admittedly nebulous area.

In the meantime, the Chair will continue to be governed by the approach taken in the past by previous Speakers, always mindful of my obligation to preserve order and decorum so that the House may conduct its business without disruption, knowing that I can count o the co-operation of all members in this regard.

I thank all hon. members for their attention.