House of Commons Hansard #83 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was madam.

Topics

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Pursuant to Standing Order 51(1), and the order made Thursday, February 16, 2012, the following motion is now deemed to have been proposed:

February 16, 2012--That, this House take note of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its Committees; 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 finds to the House no later than May 18, 2012--Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, we are looking today at the Standing Orders, which are the formal and structured rules that guide us here.

In Commonwealth countries, formal institutions are structured around three great precedent-based systems of law. The first system is the common law. The second system is our constitutional conventions, which are the unwritten rules that guide the unwritten institutions of our Constitution such as the rule of cabinet government. The third system is parliamentary practices, which guide us here, in the other place and in the provincial legislatures.

In each of these three systems there is an arbitrator who has the authority to make rulings as to which precedent ought to apply, in the event there is a dispute as to what the rules might actually be.

In the case of the common law, the arbitrator is the courts, which is to say judges who are selected based upon their wisdom and experience, as well as juries selected randomly or by lottery as a way of trying to create the best possible cross-section of reasonably minded persons.

In the case of constitutional conventions, the arbitrator or adjudicator is the Queen. Because we are across the ocean, in her absence, it would fall to the Governor General or the Lieutenant Governor, as the case may be. Final say as to what the conventions might be is decided by the voters themselves at the next election, should there be any great question as to whether or not a government has acted constitutionally in the sense of the unwritten constitution.

In the case of Parliament, the adjudicator is the Speaker.

In each of these three systems there is a series of key decisions or key rulings which focus on previous precedents and draw them together.

In the case of the courts, we refer to these as leading decisions or leading rulings that attempt to summarize these precedents and detect patterns that have a morally binding authority and that reflect the great weight of where the institution as a whole would like to go. We refer to these as leading or landmark cases.

In the case of the House of Commons, these would be key decisions of the various Speakers. Certain decisions that are cited more frequently are seen as more effectively jelling those that came before them.

In the case of our constitutional conventions, I have to confess that it is less easy to pick out these leading or key cases.

In each case, our common institutional history with the rest of the Commonwealth and with the provinces allows the precedence of other jurisdictions to be persuasive, although not necessarily binding. That is true with the common law. Our courts will refer to cases decided elsewhere. That is certainly true with our constitutional conventions. We think it entirely appropriate. We thought it entirely appropriate a couple of years ago when we were dealing with the question of prorogation to look at how other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth dealt with prorogation. It is true as well with respect to the House of Commons that we look to precedents from other chambers.

We also look to writers to summarize these precedents for us. These would have been known in medieval times as “glossators”, people who gathered to get their glossaries of the great precedents. In the common law we would have great names in the past such as Glanville, Bracton and, in the 18th century, Sir William Blackstone. There are modern commentators who have written volumes that continue to be used and are referred to under the name of their author, such as Craies, Maxwell and Bennion.

In the case of our constitutional conventions, the great writers are people like Albert Venn Dicey, in the 19th century, Walter Bagehot or, if we are looking at the United States, people like Tocqueville and Lord Bryce.

In the case of our parliamentary institutions we look to texts compiled by Erskine May, looking at the British Parliament and their practices. In Canada, the leading text is a volume that was known as Marleau and Montpetit, after its two authors. It is now referred to as O'Brien and Bosc, after the most recent editors of that volume.

Each of these three great systems of rules brought together the rules as they exist based upon the precedents. In each of these three great systems, it is possible to encode or formalize the rules, rather than simply turning to precedent.

In the case of our laws, acts of Parliament can encode what formerly had been dealt with by means of the common law. In the case of the unwritten constitution, it is possible to formalize the unwritten conventions and turn them into written constitutional rules. We have not done that for many rules in Canada, but we have done it for some. In Britain they are still dealt with on an entirely unwritten basis.

We have gone a great deal less far of course than the Americans, or to pick an example that is closer to home, than the Irish when they converted from being a monarchy and a member of the Commonwealth, to being a republic, so this can be done. We can also, in case of the Constitution, make formal amendments, as I said.

In the case of the House, we can change our Standing Orders and adopt Standing Orders. When we do so we are codifying that which was dealt with by precedent in the past. In so doing, we tend to do one of two things. This is perhaps why we are turning now directly to the Standing Orders themselves.

In the case of each of those practices and precedents that has existed, it seems to me that, on the one hand, we might want to conclude that the practice, the precedent, is one which is sufficiently crystallized that it is time now to enact a formal rule. A formal rule would capture our best practices, which we will then have to apply when we find that we are not at our best.

Anybody who has been around here for a few years knows that we are not always at our best. We are not always as solicitous of the opinions of the minority point of view. We are not always open to full discussion. We are not always as decorous as we could be. These rules could be entrenched so as to freeze in the best practices which have crystallized.

Or on the other hand, we might look at practices that perhaps do not reflect the direction we ought to be taking. They might reflect a natural progression, but not the progression that is optimal. We can effectively adopt a Standing Order that overrules a past practice if there is a better direction to take, toward which we were not being led by our precedents.

In the common law this phenomenon was dealt with in the 19th century in Britain. Legislators and legal theorists came to the conclusion that the common law, in some cases, had simply led to what they regarded as a dead end from the point of view of public utility. Simply, that no further advancement would occur in the direction that was in the best interests of society. That can apply here as well.

However, there is a third possibility. There are many areas where it is best not to adopt a formal rule that locks us in at this time. It is better to allow the precedents to continue to develop and improve. This allows us to collectively exercise our wisdom through the kinds of interventions that all members make when they are advising the Chair as to how the Speaker ought to rule. That gradual accumulation will continue to improve the rules of the House.

As a concluding remark, I want to observe that we sometimes tend to wax nostalgic in this place about the great days of our parliamentary past, now lost. I want to suggest that it is a myth.

We think back to the great days of Macdonald debating Edward Blake, or Churchill versus Lady Astor, or Gladstone versus Disraeli. The truth is that these were often times as ill-tempered as the present, sometimes more so. The long-term trend, as our standing rules grow, as the body of precedence on which they are based grows, is that actually we are producing a set of rules that govern us in a better way than Gladstone, Disraeli or any of the others I have mentioned were governed by their rules.

The truth is that we are moving forward. This is a positive exercise and the rules that we leave to our successors will, I think, be better than those that were left to us.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's comments. We both sit on the procedure and House affairs committee so I know he cares passionately about the Standing Orders, as we all do.

I wonder if the member could tell me how he feels about the Standing Orders relating to time allocation in particular, as well as committee proceedings in camera, which are two of the issues that are of most concern to members on this side of the House.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, with regard to the in camera rules, I suppose the obvious thing to mention is that our rules for going in camera and coming out of in camera to a public session are based upon the rules that were developed for this chamber. These rules have fallen into disuse in this chamber.

In theory, at any point a member can ask that all strangers be cleared from the gallery. This would have the effect of causing this chamber to go in camera. That has not been done for a very long time here or in any of the provincial legislatures. It is really something that is now an artifact of the past.

However, the rules in committee are derived from this. The process is simply that one member in committee moves a motion to go in camera, there is no debate, members vote on the motion and then the committee session goes in camera. The same is true to return to a public meeting. The trouble is that this can lead to proceedings taking place where we are all bound by a requirement not to reveal what happened at the in camera meeting. Of course, there can be things done in camera that, if done in public, would not find favour with the public. I do not think we would want to create a situation where that could happen too easily.

I can give specific examples of this but I think we all get the idea that some kind of change might be appropriate. I must admit that I have thought about this but I cannot figure out what the change ought to be. I would like to look at what others have done to see if there are good practices out there.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, in listening to my colleague from across the aisle, it is clear that he is quite passionate about the subject of the Standing Orders, which I think puts him in an exclusive club here in the House of Commons. I know from working with him in committee that he is very knowledgeable about these things and he did give us a good historical review of it.

I was hoping, however, that he would be a little more specific about what his party intends to do in the next little while in terms of suggesting changes to the Standing Orders. I was also wondering, like my colleague from the NDP, whether he could shine a little more light on what the Conservative Party feels might be worth looking at in terms of changes to the current Standing Orders.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Madam Speaker, I know all the parties have been working within their own caucuses to develop some ideas on this. I will mention one thing that I think is quite important. I will admit that my party has not been thinking of this in our discussions, but it is something that I have been hoping to add to the discussions. I think this is as good a place as any to throw it out.

The definition of parliamentary privilege is one that has been dealt with almost entirely conventionally, that is to say by means of precedence as opposed to any kind of change to the Standing Orders. However, I noticed that a change occurred between Marleau and Montpetit and O'Brien and Bosc.

If we consult Marleau and Montpetit on parliamentary privilege, they list off three effective privileges. I remember raising an issue of privilege with the Speaker some years ago and he referred to the three underlying privileges. However, O'Brien and Bosc consider there to be four such privileges. In reviewing these privileges, and coming to a clear agreement among ourselves as to whether we are working on the basis of three or four, would be profitable. That is one thing that I personally would like to see discussed.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this special debate provided for in the rules of the House to address our concerns with respect to the procedures and Standing Orders that govern our business here in the House of Commons.

I will begin by pointing out that the rule which allows a debate such as this to happen has been around since 1982. Yet, in all of those 30 years, members of Parliament have only felt it necessary to engage in this debate twice before, once in 1998 and once in 2005. That is very telling.

What it says to me is that, on the whole, our rules of procedure have served the institution of Parliament well. When applied as intended, they have preserved the important balance of giving the government the authority, funds and resources necessary to govern the country while, at the same time, ensuring that the opposition parties can fulfill their roles as watchdog and proponents of alternatives to the government of the day. In the balance hangs the principle of representation through which the views of Canadians are brought to bear on the important issues of the day.

Clearly, the fact that members feel it necessary to review the rules of procedure now implies that something has changed, that the way the rules are currently being applied no longer serves the public well. I would go so far as to suggest that we are experiencing a democratic deficit in the House that must be exposed and addressed.

I concede that normally tuning in to debates about rules of procedure would be akin to watching paint dry for most Canadians but this time it is more than insider baseball. It is about ensuring that the voices of Canadians are heard and listened to in the single most important democratic institution in this country. It is about ensuring that Canadians can hold their government to account. It is about ensuring that the Canadian public does not become vulnerable to a parliamentary dictatorship.

It is for all of those reasons that even the media have begun to pay attention to the procedural games played by the government. In particular, it has focused on the rules that currently allow the government to cut off debate on subjects of its choosing and rules that allow the government to escape accountability by avoiding transparency and holding critical debates in closed door meetings.

I will get right to the heart of those issues.

Currently, our Standing Orders provide that the rules governing committee procedures are the same as govern the House. The only exceptions are the rules governing the election of the Speaker, seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches. The Compendium of Procedure elaborates by pointing out that:

On occasion, a committee may decide to hold an in camera meeting to deal with administrative matters, to consider a draft report or to receive a background briefing. Committees also meet in camera to deal with subject matters requiring confidentiality, such as national security.

Both in Standing Order 116 and in the compendium, it is therefore clear that in camera meetings are to be the exception, not the rule.

However, under the current Conservative government, some government members have moved that the entire proceedings of particular committees be conducted behind closed doors, shutting out both the public and the media from deliberations on what, in the end, are questions of public policy. How absurd is that? When the issue is raised with the Speaker, he or she consistently falls back on the principle that committees are the masters of their own proceedings.

While technically correct, we must give the Speaker the tools to uphold the independence of committees while insisting that they cannot subvert the democratic principles of transparency and accountability that underpin the Westminster model of Parliament. To do otherwise is to turn the Speaker into a parliamentary eunuch at best, or more likely a government patsy, particularly during majority governments. In either case, the Speaker will be hamstrung in fulfilling his or her role as the principal officer of the House of Commons, the guardian of its privileges and the protector of the rights of all members. Clearly, that must change. We should be examining how to allow the Speaker to overturn anti-democratic behaviour at committee while respecting the principle of committee autonomy.

Similarly, the Speaker must be able to play a more active role in maintaining the balance between the right of the government to pass its legislative agenda and the right of the opposition to examine and debate proposals in the House of Commons.

Among the most undemocratic measures contained in the current Standing Orders is Standing Order 56.1. If the government has been denied unanimous consent for a routine motion, this Standing Order gives the government the right to put the same question again during routine proceedings without debate or amendment, and deems the motion to have carried unless 25 members stand in their places to oppose it. While I am sure that wording seemed benign to its original drafters, there appear to be very few procedural limits on what constitutes a routine motion.

As a result, governments now regularly use the Standing Order to curtail debate on bills and to accelerate the legislative process. Clearly, that was not the intent of the rule. In fact, former Speaker Milliken virtually begged the House to place limitations on the types of motions that would be considered routine and specifically suggested that no motion which furthers legislation can be considered routine. I would refer members of the House to Speaker Milliken's rulings of June 5, 2007, October 3, 2006, May 13, 2005 and September 18, 2001.

This may be a good time to look at how useful Standing Order 26.1 is as well, since it has the same regressive, negative option billing process where a motion is deemed passed unless 15 members of Parliament rise to oppose it. It is a procedural loophole that dates back a century. The government should not be able to use that anachronism to force a vote in the House.

It is not like the government needs any additional mechanisms to accelerate the parliamentary process. On the contrary, my NDP colleagues and I strongly believe that even the existing powers to time allocate debate must be reviewed and curtailed. It goes without saying that the time spent on a bill is a major source of conflict between governing and opposition parties. After all, time is the currency of parliamentary proceedings.

In 1987, Speaker Fraser was clear when he stated:

It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view.

Although he put it slightly differently, the Prime Minister said the same thing on election night last year. He said, “For our part, we are intensely aware that we are and we must be the government of all Canadians, including those who did not vote for us”.

That is a far cry from what the Conservatives have been saying in the House ever since. Now they are saying over and over again that they received a majority mandate from Canadians and that all further consultation can therefore cease. They consulted during the campaign, after all. The arrogance of such statements is astounding and it has led to a gross overuse of tools to shut down debate in this House, whether it be through time allocation or formal closure motions. Those tools were initially designed to give the government the power to overcome deliberate filibusters by opposition parties where the public would ultimately judge which party's actions it supported in the subsequent election.

However, there are occasions now where there is widespread and objective concern that a government is resorting to time allocation too precipitously, and that there is genuine public interest in a full debate in the House. For such situations, it is important that the Standing Orders vest in the Speaker the right to rule a government motion for time allocation out of order or inadmissible.

It is right and proper for the Speaker to have the authority to stand in the way of a government that is prepared to use time allocation to stifle debate without any evidence of obstruction. Giving the Speaker such an authority, even if it were not used regularly, would create the healthy habit of circumspection before the government resorted to time allocation. Perhaps then we could move away from the practice of the now routine use of time allocation which really makes a mockery of the procedures of this House.

Just since the last election, the government has used time allocation 15 times. In one instance, notice of time allocation was given before debate had even started on the bill. When they were in opposition, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Public Safety, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages and others decried such tactics and they have been quoted extensively on that in this House.

However, for me, the person who summed it best was the Minister of Finance when he reacted to a time allocation motion brought forward during his time at Queen's Park. He said:

This shows...the legislative incompetence on the other side of the House. They've been unable to manage their bills here, so they...have to time-allocate....

I could not agree more. Overreliance on time allocation is the sign of an incompetent government but such incompetence is no excuse for running roughshod over the institution of Parliament.

I look forward to discussing these issues further in committee so we can restore transparency and accountability to the parliamentary process on behalf of all those Canadians who sent us here to speak for them.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:30 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I listened intently to my colleague's presentation. I look forward to working with her in the upcoming weeks on the procedure and House affairs committee as we get into further discussion and look at the Standing Orders in depth. However, I have to take issue with a few of her comments.

Primarily, she made the comment about Standing Order 56.1. She stated that our government uses it routinely and suggested that was done in an undemocratic manner to curtail the direction of the House. I would point out to the member opposite that Standing Order 56.1 has only been used once in this Parliament and when our government used it, it was to allow the NDP members to go to their own convention. The Liberal Party was denying the right of the NDP members to go to their convention. We have historically all agreed as political parties that when one party wants to go to a convention, we do not sit on the Friday of the party's convention. The Liberals opposed this. We had to use Standing Order 56.1 to allow the NDP members to go to their convention and yet she complained about it.

Furthermore, I would point out that Standing Order 56.1 could be blocked at any time by only 25 members standing in the House to object to it. If the member is suggesting that her party cannot bring 25 members into the chamber to go to work every day, then there is a problem, not on this side of the House but on that side of the House.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, clearly we do not have a problem having 25 members on this side of the House, which is why the government has only been able to use Standing Order 56.1 once.

The other point is that the government has not had to resort to using Standing Order 56.1 very often because it has brought down the hammer and has used time allocation over and over again. For those who are watching, time allocation is a bit of insider baseball, but it shuts down debate on a piece of public legislation. The Conservatives have used it in the House before debate has even begun on a bill.

Canadians have a right to have their voices heard. They have influence into the public policy process through the debates that happen in this chamber through us their representatives. Their voices must be heard in the chamber. Their issues cannot be time allocated, closed off and ignored by the government. That is why this debate is so important to the future of this institution. Frankly, Canadians deserve better than having time allocation invoked before debates have even begun.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Madam Speaker, I listened to the remarks by the member for Hamilton Mountain. I was especially intrigued by what she had to say about committees. That is one of the most troublesome areas with this very secret and closed door government. It is becoming more and more prominent every week. In fact, some are monitoring how many committees are having in camera or secret meetings on a daily basis. It happens all too often.

For the government to go in camera almost consistently when there is an opposition motion being debated in terms of the motion itself is a denial of the democratic privileges of the country. The Conservatives do not even want to hear the discussion. They go in camera, shut down debate and vote against the motion. Increasingly, we are seeing the same restrictions and dissenting reports. I wonder if the member would comment.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, the member for Malpeque raises a really good point. Obviously, as I said, it is one of the two areas that is of primary concern to those of us on this side of the House. Committees are an opportunity for the public to be heard with respect to legislation. We value that input and want to make sure it is reflected in the bills that get reported back to the House. Yet the Conservatives want all of that to happen behind closed doors.

The Prime Minister is notorious for wanting to silence his backbenchers. I have been trying to figure out why there is such urgency to go in camera and it finally came to me. I think it is because the Prime Minister is fundamentally afraid of what his backbenchers might say. He does not want that to be on record, so he prefers to move everything behind closed doors.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to participate in the discussion about our Standing Orders and to debate the rules regulating our proceedings and committees.

The debates that are held in the House can often get very heated. This statement surely comes as no surprise to my colleagues because when intelligent, hard-working and passionate people debate issues and tackle difficult questions, emotions sometimes run high. I admit that my emotions occasionally run high when I speak, even though I consider myself emotionally a controlled person, but this is to be expected. However, we are not here today to discuss the substance of the issues that we debate, but rather the way in which they are discussed, debated, examined and ultimately decided upon.

Yes, this debate provides an excellent opportunity for members to share their ideas and proposals on how to modernize and improve House procedures, but I have to wonder about this government's willingness to accept any suggestions in that regard. I hope they will.

Even though we may sit on opposite sides of the House, I think it is safe to say that we are all in the same boat. We must work together, and yes, even though we might disagree on how to carry out our work, we should all agree on one thing: every member has the right to be heard and to take part in the process. I hope this debate will allow us to come up with some constructive ideas that will help members do their job to the best of their abilities.

I say this because I feel as though the reasons for this debate are twofold. One would be to streamline or improve the rules, so to speak. The other would be to give due respect to the spirit of the rules.

Several areas need to be considered and come to mind, from the broadest subjects, such as the operations of standing committees and the conduct of question period, right down to the weekly, dare I say, colourful Thursday statement. I ask myself sometimes, as I am sure many Canadians do, why this place often seems to grind to a complete halt. Is it because of the rules, or is it brought about by an abuse of the rules? I do not mean to sound cynical, but the hyper-partisan nature of this place in recent years makes me wonder sometimes what really needs to be changed.

In today's debate we will hear a lot of talk about committee proceedings, specifically in camera meetings. Why is that? Because the Conservative Party has begun to stifle any kind of debate in committee by using its majority to shut down every proposal put forward by the opposition. I find it very regrettable that the Conservatives have decided to go this route because it undermines our democratic institution as a whole.

We in the Liberal Party have taken it upon ourselves to propose some possible wording that describes a specific list of exceptional circumstances when in camera meetings are appropriate, thus enabling committees to maximize public access to their activities rather than excluding citizens and the media unnecessarily.

I will describe what we proposed earlier this week. We believe that as a principle all meetings of standing, special, or legislative committees should be held in public and after public notice, with only a few very specific exceptions. Examples would be situations where we are discussing specific things such as wages, salaries and other employee benefits; contract negotiations, labour relations and other personnel matters; information that cannot be disclosed publicly without demonstrably putting national security at risk; an item of business that cannot be discussed in public without disclosing information supplied in confidence, such as legal advice supplied in confidence; and/or consideration of any draft report of the committee. We hope that this will be viewed as a constructive start. We think that we do need to maximize the openness of our committees and we are putting forward the first specific suggestions on this subject.

That I have to stand here today to make suggestions on how to advocate for greater democracy is somewhat ironic. Here is the same party, the Conservative Party, that cried foul every time time allocation was used when it was in opposition, and is setting new records as soon as it got enough seats to steamroll its legislative agenda through the House. To remind members, the last time we in the Liberal Party had a majority, from 2000 to 2004, in those four years with over 150 bills there were 10 calls for time allocation. The Conservative government has been in power for eight or nine months and has already passed that limit with 16 calls for time allocation on about 20 bills.

It is the same party that wasted so much time in the House, for example during the Nisga'a debate, that we actually had to tighten up the rules on what was acceptable in terms of proposing amendments. It is the only party to be found in contempt of the House of Commons in the history of Canada.

I could go on for some time about the symptomatic problems of the House. If someone were to ask me what other changes I would like to see and what changes I think Canadians would like to see, I would say that, for one thing, we should examine the way question period operates.

The problem with question period is not one-dimensional, but rather it is full of nuances when taken as a whole. There are questions of procedure, such as rotation and the length of questions and answers. There is also the question of decorum, including exclamations and shouting, which often cut short members' time, and parliamentary language, which often becomes the source of further debate.

It is true that we do not have an official list of terms that are deemed unparliamentary, but quite frankly, I am not convinced that we need such a list, because I think all hon. members in this House should refrain from using provocative language and resorting to personal attacks, the most recent examples of which include shameful comparisons to Hitler, pedophiles and terrorists.

My colleague from Mount Royal spoke quite eloquently in this place last week on a point of order regarding this matter. As he outlined in his speech, Speaker Milliken paraphrased Speaker Fraser's ruling of December 11, 1991 that offensive remarks can linger and “have a suffocating effect on the fair exchange of ideas and points of view. Anything said in this place receives wide and instant dissemination and leaves a lasting impression. Offending words may be withdrawn, denied, explained away, or apologized for, but the impression created is not always as easily erased”.

When an incident such as this does take place, it is a source of embarrassment as it denigrates the dignity of us all as members of Parliament and of the House as a whole, but I digress.

Let me get back to the point concerning question period. Something else which I know is not in the Speaker's purview or a matter for Standing Orders but which we could also talk about is the substance of the answers in question period. As I just stated, I know that the substance of a minister's answer is not something on which the Speaker can rule. The Speaker cannot make a minister answer a question. However, there is something I would like to see and that is ministerial accountability. To be more specific, when a minister is asked a question, I would like the minister responsible to answer the question.

Also, the idea of having Wednesday's question period directed uniquely at the Prime Minister, as is the practice in the U.K., is an interesting proposal, which in my opinion merits further consideration.

In preparing for my intervention today I looked at the past two instances where we have had a debate such as this in the House. I would like to conclude by quoting the Hon. Jay Hill, a former colleague who knew the dynamics of this place and held the positions of whip and House leader during his tenure. In a speech on April 11, 2005, he said:

I would argue that the concentration of power in the Office of the Prime Minister, which is at the root of much of our democratic deficit, has grown not lessened under this Prime Minister's watch.

The multitudes of government powers that ultimately rest with the Prime Minister are staggering.

I am afraid he was right. However, in the past six years I could not agree with him more that things have not changed. Anything we can do to ensure greater democracy within the House and in the many parliamentary committee rooms will be welcomed, whether it be by resorting as little as possible to secret in camera sessions in committees, restricting the excessive use of time allocation when debating government bills, insisting that ministers answer questions directed at them—

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:45 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Denise Savoie

Order, please. The hon. member may add some more comments in response to questions and comments. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:45 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I want to ask my hon. colleague a couple of questions about some of the comments he made particularly when it comes to question period.

I agree it is appropriate that the procedure and House affairs committee review the current system in question period. I want to focus on one of the comments he made, and that is with respect to unparliamentary language and heckling. I would make two points.

One, a member of his own party very recently used extremely unparliamentary language when he called a minister of the Crown a piece of excrement, yet the member focused on comments made by others. He never seems to admit that his own party is just as guilty as anyone else.

Two, with respect to heckling, what I found most troubling is that the very member who is complaining about heckling was quoted in the Hill Times not too many months ago, after Jack Layton had stated that we would like to bring more civility and decorum to the House, as saying, “We will not abide by that. We will not be bound by that. We will not be silenced.”

In fact, as everyone in this place knows, if there is one party that is most responsible for heckling in this House and for disruptive behaviour in this House, it is the Liberal Party itself. This is the height of hypocrisy.

Standing Orders and Procedure
Orders of the Day

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Madam Speaker, I admit that I am mortal and I occasionally will say certain things, but I would also say that the Liberal Party is alive and well and we do not intend to stay silent when we hear some of the absolutely despicable nonsense that comes from across the way.

However, the member has a good point. We all have to watch our tongues on occasion. We are all prey to our emotions in the House. However, to suggest that we should not be able to voice some of our indignation on occasion in a polite and respectful manner, of course, is to run against human nature.