Mr. Speaker, I will be supporting the motion today.
Private members' business has been a big part of my career as a parliamentarian. Since 1993 I have had the honour of having over 20 bills and motions presented and tabled in the House. I also had about eight items selected in the lottery. Half of them turned out to be votable. I have had some success, and it was very rewarding. However the best outcome one could have for a private member's item is not going through the whole gyration and cycle and having the government adopt the item and implement it. That is what is most important.
In fact that is exactly what happened in the last parliament with Bill C-204 extending parental leave to a full year from six months. My bill was sat there for six months and never got drawn in the lottery. However the government decided to proceed on it and included it in the throne speech and the very next budget. It has now been implemented and is a very important and valued program for Canadians. The bill itself never got a moment of debate in the House other than on the budget. There are many ways to look at this.
Since we will support the motion, one of the things I would like to do is open the envelope a bit and propose to the House another way to do this. I do not believe that everyone can have a votable item. It is just not practical. I do not believe that everyone is interested in having a votable item either. Our history shows us that a very small percentage of House members even care to participate in private members' business. They have other responsibilities and are not prepared to do the work that is involved.
All members who wish to participate should submit their names. I do not how many that would turn out to be. Then we could have one lottery only to determine the order in which the members would bring forward their items. All we establish is their placement on the list so members can plan for when their items will come up. I think that is the best way to ensure we include members who want to participate, and to establish an order, which has to be done somehow. A lottery seems to be as fair as anything.
Regarding the issue of the private members' committee business, the credibility issue is something that will be very difficult to deal with. I believe the committee should continue to exist but it should be there to ensure that items meet the published criteria. The committee should say yea or nay. If it says nay a communication should be passed on to the member proposing the bill or motion that the criteria has not been met. That is its job.
How do we determine votability? Members who have been to the private members' business committee and have done their three minute dog and pony show know that there very few questions are asked. In fact, very few substantive questions are asked because the members are dealing with dozens of items. They cannot be prepared themselves. They cannot do the job. It really is not doing anyone's bill justice quite frankly.
Most members know that private members' items cannot be complex animals. They have to be quite focused and quite specific because we do not have a lot of time to grasp the attention or the interest of the House to support it. It has to be somewhat focused. We can see by those that have been successful over the last few years in the parliaments that many of them are quite straightforward.
The one I remember and thought was excellent had to do with employment insurance benefits and what happened to someone who was called on jury duty. The old law said people would lose their EI benefits because they were being paid for jury duty. It did not make sense because jury duty paid $10 a day and employment insurance paid something different. I thought it was an important bill. It was a small one but an important one because it was an inequity situation. I think those are good, solid types of bills.
With regard to the votability, I like the process that we went through recently. We operated under a committee of the whole procedure whereby members who were interested assembled around the Chair in somewhat informal fashion. I would like to see members whose bills or motions have met the criteria and have been approved by the committee come to the House, do their five minutes and give their best reasons and arguments why their item should be votable. They would then be subject to questions and comments from anyone who wanted to participate. A record and transcript would be available for people who were interested.
Members could ask questions if they did not understand something, or if they thought the motion was off base or thought it was a great idea. There would be some feedback, which we have never had. We would then have a process. Members would determine whether an item was worthy of taking up any more of the House's time and whether, was worthy of additional hours of debate.
We could take that committee responsibility and put it as part of a committee of the whole. We could let members stand in front of their peers, make their best case and ask their peers to consider it. I think in one evening, with a five minute question and comment on a five minute or three minute presentation, we could probably do six bills and motions in one evening. We could then have a vote on a scheduled day of votes to determine the items with which we would proceed. It would be open, transparent and fair. Members would have to do their work to earn the support of their colleagues for this.
Private members' business should have the same status as government bills. The process we go through has a subsidiary role in terms of importance in how it is dealt with in the House. Once this Chamber decides an item should be votable, it should be accorded all the attention that any other government bill should have. That would mean if members wanted to debate it for more than two hours or three hours they could.
Also, when a bill goes to committee then comes back, it should not have to go to the bottom of the list and wait 30 sitting days before it can be brought up again. It should depend on when the item should be called and there can be rules there.
I agree with many members that private members' business ought to be accorded the same weight of importance in this place because it is important not just for the members proposing it, it is also important to the people of Canada because their representatives are here.
That kind of process basically puts the challenge to members. It is an important challenge not to be frivolous, not to abuse the process, because if we come forward here and put items in front of our peers which are not meritorious of taking up the House's time people will develop a reputation. We know that to get a private member's item or anything passed in this place a member must earn the respect of colleagues on all sides. Members pay a price when they play partisan and petty politics in this place and do things that they should not. When they embarrass this place, they should not expect to earn the respect of the House for their bills or their motions.
The challenge is to us all. I think we are looking for transparency, but I do not think we should try for a panacea whereby everyone gets everything they want. That is just not possible. Let us be reasonable and professional. Let us be members of parliament and make decisions based on merit. Those who do good work and earn respect and credibility within this place are the ones who will be successful in parliament.