It's an autumn 1997 Canadian Parliamentary Review. The title is “Obstruction in Ontario and the House of Commons”, by Chris Charlton. It reviews the Ontario legislature and it reviews Parliament, five or six Parliaments, and the work they did on behalf of constituents. I think it is important to use that type of data. One data point is one data point; as I used to tell my staff at both the HR Institute and the chamber of commerce, it is interesting but it doesn't really tell any story. A trend tells you a story, because it can tell you if the rules or procedures or ideas you have are up or down, and whether they are declining or rising. Having multiple data points is how we will get to whether or not we need to change anything.
I haven't seen anything, because there are really no numbers in the government's proposal. There are only areas of study that they proposed—that Mr. Simms moved through his motion—which is why we have moved this amendment.
I want to reference another member of Parliament, Reg Stackhouse, who was a member of Parliament for Scarborough West. This is from a revised submission to the task force on reform of the House of Commons of March 1985. I don't know whether all of his ideas were included in the final report. This is in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, summer 1985, and I have only one point to make from this article:
Debate is the esse of Parliament, and debating is therefore essential to a member's fulfilling his role. The legislator is not intended to be primarily one who gets things done, but one who uses debate to assess, criticize, amend, resist as well as to promote, advocate, motivate and advance ideas.
This is a member of Parliament saying this, so at the end of the day, the result is what you make of it. I know that for the government, the result it is looking for is for its legislative agenda to pass, but we're not here to pass its agenda. We're here to pass Parliament's agenda, and we decide which bills should be taken up. The government can direct us that this bill should be debated today, but it should not be able to tell the committees that it will have six days, nine days, or 10 days, or that Parliament must pass this in 15 days.
That is what we saw with the national energy program when it used time allocation and got it passed within 15 days. What a disaster that was politically for members on the Liberal caucus side. It also had a profound impact on the political culture of Alberta. Up until this very recent election, there were no members of Parliament elected from the Liberal Party of Canada. There are some now, but the impact on the culture and the beliefs and the ethos and the myths surrounding the national energy program are still there. It has had a very profound impact on constituents back home, and on all parliamentarians back home.
I think this is worth reviewing by all members here. It's called “Reforming The House” by Reg Stackhouse, member of Parliament, in the Canadian Parliamentary Review from the summer of 1985.
Now I want to reference an Ontario MPP. I found the most material, surprisingly, from Ontario. It was the easiest to find, I think, because many members have written. A lot of members have also moved on to serve in the Parliament of Canada, so they offer the opportunity to compare the two. This is from Sam L. Cureatz, MPP, who was a member of the Ontario Legislative Assembly for Durham East. He had been deputy speaker since 1981, at the time of this writing in the Canadian Parliamentary Review in the summer of 1983, so he had at least two years as deputy speaker in the Ontario Legislative Assembly, which brings valuable experience. The Speakers are there to enforce the Standing Orders of the House, so obviously they have a better feel for what the Standing Orders mean.
The title of the article is “Some Thoughts on Parliamentary Debate in Ontario”.
In Ontario, when the Minister of Revenue attempted to introduce legislation in connection with the May 1982 provincial budget, a vote on first reading was requested.
I've never seen a vote at first reading in this Parliament. I don't think it would add anything.
The official opposition left the Chamber, and the bells range for two and a half days until their return.
They were calling the members to vote, and the members chose to show their displeasure and unhappiness. They did return eventually, because the opposition also has a certain amount of responsibility. If we just stop coming here and all return to our constituencies, or we sit outside on the lawn of Parliament, I think a great number of Canadians would find that type of activity reprehensible. They would say, “Go back to work. Cobble together a solution”, which is why we're still here at this table trying to find that common ground. That's the point I've been trying to make.
Filibusters or delay is a long-standing democratic practice. Lots of different assemblies use it. It's a common practice, but it has to be used judiciously and wisely. I don't believe we have overreacted and I don't believe we have gone out of our way to obstruct. We are simply trying to make our points.
We come back. Every time, Mr. Chair, that you suspend the meeting and return us, we return. We return to continue the debate. We return to continue making points, and substantive ones as well. I hope I have been substantive in my commentary and that I have made a contribution because I feel that this amendment that we have proposed to the motion is reasonable. It would ensure that all of the opposition members who are here, including my friends in the New Democratic Party, will have an opportunity to be heard.
On these changes to the special orders, the temporary standing orders that could be introduced, our concern is that a report could be produced by June 2 that will be voted on by the majority. We will lose our opportunity to be heard and then, simply, the process will continue and there will be no opportunity for us to get involved.
My last example is actually a Nova Scotia House of Assembly procedural change brought in by the government of John Buchanan, which proposed substantive procedural changes. In 1978 it was a Conservative government. The Liberal official opposition of the day and the New Democratic Party protested, and the government proposed and subsequently set up an all-party working committee to reach consensus. They admitted that they needed to reach consensus.
The government then presented its proposal for these new rules. While these proposals contained only minor modifications of the proposals made by the select committee, they immediately encountered strenuous objection from the Liberal opposition and from the New Democrats. A two-thirds majority was required to enact the new rules, and government supporters in the House were not that numerous. The government therefore decided not to proceed with its resolution. Instead, it proposed to set up an all-party committee to narrow the areas of disagreement.
That's what we're trying to do.
Nova Scotia has an example that we could use. If you pass this amendment, we could narrow down the areas of disagreement. There are things we simply will not agree to. We will not accept to have our voices silenced at committee. We will not accept to have our privileges of debate further restricted. It's not something that we can accept.
The reason they set up this all-party committee, a working committee, and they admit this, was to try to narrow the areas of disagreement. I am sure that during those in camera deliberations or public sessions that they held they found things they simply could not agree on and they removed them. They took them off the table. Perhaps they went through a document like this that was produced upon the advice of the Legislative Assembly of Nova Scotia and they said, “On these three items perhaps we can find agreement, but this one most definitely we cannot” and they simply moved on and found a way around it.
They found a way 35 years ago to reach a solution to the impasse, so why can't we do it here? This is why I'm still speaking to this amendment to the motion because I think we can find agreement and then find a way to work together. I don't think it's unreasonable. This is just an amendment that would protect the opposition from the majority. As many members have said before, this is a protective measure for us to ensure that we are heard, that we do have a role to play here.
On the actual proposals, just so I can make some final points on this, in this document in the introduction.... I've already mentioned my problems about adversarial and my problems about modernization. There is a section that says, “Societal changes have also brought about the need to ensure greater predictability in the House for at least two important reasons”.
There are two important reasons in here to seek more “predictability” in the House. I would substitute “predictability” with the word “efficiency”. I think that's what they mean. One reason is “to ensure Members have a better balance”. It doesn't say “work-life balance”, it just says “better balance”. Another reason is “to encourage under-represented segments of society to seek elected office”. You've heard me talk about this. Nobody reads the Standing Orders before coming here. I think it's a great shock to them how many rules there are.
It says in here as well, “Technological changes should also be considered as we look to ways to make the House more efficient.” Absolutely, and we have had technological changes. We have the ability to look up the Notice Paper, Order Paper, and pieces of legislation online. I read them mostly on an iPad, although I still like the feel of paper, which is why I'm holding this paper. I'm reading from it because I can go back and forth on it, something I can't do very easily on an iPad.
I think those are two bad reasons to go ahead and change the Standing Orders. Those are two very bad reasons to proceed. There would have to be something more substantive than simply saying we need a “better balance”. A better balance of what—between the opposition and the government? You already hold all the cards. You set the agenda. You can use time allocation. You have more members, so you can outvote us. All we ask is for the opportunity to be heard. Don't propose to somehow change the rules without explaining to us where you want to go. As parliamentarians, not as the executive or the cabinet, where do you want to go with these changes?
I would feel far more comfortable if I saw more experienced veteran members, potentially returning members as well—members who were not there in 2011 but who were there before and then returned—providing us their insight and their feedback on the changes being put forward by the government, not by parliamentarians.
Under “Theme 1: Management of the House”, again, you can disagree with me, but I feel that Canadians work five days a week, and some work more than five days a week, so we should too. I know that members say that we work in constituency offices as well, that we travel to our constituencies on weekends and we do substantive work, but constituents expect us to be here and to work on their behalf here. I honestly don't mind if Friday becomes a full day, the way Mr. Simms has proposed, but I also don't believe that 45 days is sufficient time to consider that type of change. I don't want to use the word “radical”. That may be going too far. I need a synonym for it.
This would impact members like you, Mr. Chair, who has to travel to the Yukon. I think you'd be able to spend maybe a few hours at the airport before you had to turn back. It would not achieve the goal it was meant to do.
There may be changes to the House calendar that could be done to offer members more opportunities to have back-to-back weeks in their constituencies. Perhaps we could avoid doing what we've done now, which is that we have one week here, one week off, one week here, one week off. It breaks up the legislative process too much. I still believe it's worthy to have five days, and we should keep it the way it is. Again, that is my personal preference.
In terms of alternating days, sitting days on Fridays, and having more private members' time on Fridays, again, reapportioning hours would not be family friendly in any way. A previous report unanimously agreed not to do away with this. I believe PROC was the one that said not to proceed with changes to Fridays. I could be corrected on that. There are members who sit on the committee on a full-time basis who may have different viewpoints on this.
I mentioned electronic voting before, and my thoughts on this. As I think I mentioned very early this morning, Bill S-201 is a perfect example of when “on division” should have been accepted by the government side, and the cabinet rose to force a recorded vote.
We have a lot of recorded votes. They do serve a purpose. Mr. Simms raised the point that they do serve the purpose of accountability on individual members. I agree with him on that, but I don't think every single measure needs a recorded vote. We have to police ourselves. Is the right number of members five? I don't know. I would say that 25 is not the right number. Let's not get excessive here, but maybe there's a way to change that to something more reasonable. Again, that would have to be considered in a substantive debate, but we can't agree to that debate if you don't approve this amendment. You could change it to 99 or 100, in which case we would not be able to get a recorded vote on our side. I would hope you would not do something so drastic, so radical. I'll use the word “drastic” from now on, not “radical”.
It's mentioned here, under “House Calendar”, that “The number of sittings could be based on the demands to sit.” Who will set and determine who demands to sit? Parliament should determine when it sits. The government should have to bend to the will of Parliament, not the other way around.
I know there is prorogation, which is a method used for.... It's mentioned in here too: “where Governments have prorogued early in the session to avoid politically difficult situations.” It makes a reference to “governments” that have prorogued, but my understanding is that the Governor General prorogues upon the advice of the Prime Minister. Maybe that's just nitpicking but the more we confuse these fine lines between the different functions in the different places, the more we lump it all together so that the executive, the cabinet, the parliamentary secretaries, the government caucus....
People start saying, “You're in the government”. I have constituents who tell me that I'm in the government, “You work for the government”. I reply, “I don't work for the government. I work for you. You pay me indirectly through your taxes, but I am an opposition member.” When I bring greetings to an event I don't say it is on behalf of the Government of Canada. I say it's on behalf of the Parliament of Canada because I am not a member of the government. In schools I go to, I make a point to explain to them that I am not there on behalf of the government; I am there on behalf of Parliament.
It is perhaps not as glorious or as edifying to say that, but it's drawing a line of distinction that we should all be responsible for as parliamentarians who should love this Parliament the way Mr. Diefenbaker did.
Just a little more on prorogation, there are some ideas in here that are worth studying. Some of the reasons for prorogation should perhaps be set out in the Standing Orders, which should perhaps constrain the ability of the executive to seek prorogation, or perhaps there should be debate on it before it happens. I'm sure that could be studied. It could be considered. That could be an entire study on its own, prorogation in Australia and in the Westminster Parliament as well.
Private members' business is where I find the most interest, honestly, because I think there are more opportunities there, as parliamentarians, to do the work we were sent here to do and to actually legislate and to act on behalf of our constituents. If we have more opportunities to propose private member's bills, I think it would be better. I have two private member's motions that I have tabled. I know members who have already passed their private member's bills, but I also know members—Mr. Chan was mentioning it—who may never get the opportunity to table a bill or a motion that could be debated in the House.
It is one of those things members actually look forward to, and it is a question I have heard at the debates I have been to in communities. Many members have told me the same thing. They get asked the question, “What is the first private member's bill you intend to table?” It has become a question the public now asks us: “What is the idea you are running on? What is the one thing you want to do here?” If we could find more opportunities to do that, it would be an interesting idea to pursue.
Our worry is that if you pass this motion the way it is written now, you—the government caucus, the executive, whoever is going to make the final decision—could choose to take away our private members' business time. We have that time on Fridays right now, but we also have extra time on Mondays for it, or you could move it around during the day. We don't know. Maybe there could be Q and A during private members' business for every single speech, which would require more time.
Regarding “Theme 2: Management of Debate”, as I mentioned before in a reference to the House of Representatives, programming was talked about on an experimental basis. It was introduced in 1998 in the United Kingdom. It was made permanent in 2004. It took six years before they made it permanent. They considered for six years whether to keep it or not.
I think we are moving too fast with this. I am sure they did not reach that point without consent, broad-based consent, among the different parties. If we guard our privileges jealously, parliamentarians in the United Kingdom guard them even more jealously. They have brought down prime ministers because they have disagreed with the way a prime minister, an executive, was leading the country. Voters brought down David Cameron's government on a referendum, but it was also a referendum imposed upon him by his backbenchers, who demanded it on behalf of their constituents. Right or wrong, they got what they wanted, and Mr. Cameron eventually resigned after losing what is now called the Brexit referendum.
Those are important points. Members there guard their freedoms jealously, and we should guard ours too against an executive that has gotten larger, more powerful, and more able to offer us incentives and opportunities that we may not have otherwise. I came here to be a parliamentarian, not to be a cabinet minister. Obviously I ran as a Conservative too, so that probably simplifies things as well. I am not working hard to join the cabinet. I am working hard on behalf of my constituents.
If I should find myself on the government caucus side, I would hope I would not be punished with an executive position in cabinet. That would be a punishment for my wife and my family. I think they do extraordinary work, with those extra hours. I don't agree with very many of them and the policy objectives they have, but I respect them. I would hope they would extend the same respect to us, on the opposition side, because we're not here to obstruct without a purpose. We have a purpose, and it's to be part of the proceedings of Parliament. We're trying to maintain that, which is why we've proposed this very reasonable motion.
Don't exclude us. Don't cut us out.
I've said this before, but we just don't have that trust right now. We don't trust you to follow through with that—“you” being the executive and some of the government caucus members who may be active on behalf of or in conjunction with. I don't want to cast aspersions unnecessarily.
Continuing on lower down here, it does mention that “New Zealand and the U.S. House of Representatives also have measures to plan the business of the House that are similar in principle to programming.” I have just shown you, using a congressional procedures book, that the Senate is far more similar to who we are, as parliamentarians here, than who the House of Representatives is when this programming subject is....
I think just this one section here could be its own individual study. It could be its own separate study, but this motion says that you may do this by June 2. That is a quick pace to introduce such a measure as took six years for the United Kingdom Parliament, the mother Parliament, to say it was going to take this on and it was going to accept it.
We don't even know what your goals are at the end. You may produce a report with recommendations that will go to the House, and then you will claim, as Mr. Christopherson said when he was here before, that you have a majority decision from this committee, PROC, saying that we should proceed with the following changes and we, on the opposition side, will obviously disagree and we'll have a debate in the House of Commons that I fear will be just as divisive as the 1991 debates, just as divisive as the 1969 debates, and will not build long-term trust. That is my great fear.
I think the government, when it pushed forward on electoral reform, bent in certain ways and made an agreement with some other opposition parties to have a multi-party committee to consider the issue. In the end, the executive chose not to proceed with electoral reform. I think that was the right call, personally. I know my constituents think that way. I know that, because I surveyed all of them and I got almost 2,000 responses.
I see Madam Mendès also shaking her head. A great number of Canadians got engaged in something that would be considered “inside baseball”. With regard to the Standing Orders, if there is inside baseball, I think we're in the dugout with this stuff. The vast majority of Canadians—