Mr. Chair, it does seem sort of strange to be here having been on the other side of this for 10 years.
First, let me say thank you to all my colleagues for the unanimous support I received in the House, and the good feedback that I've received from many people. In many ways, what we're doing today is formalizing many of the informal conversations that we've been having on this issue over the past few months.
Let me also apologize for not having prepared remarks, and remarks in French. I was going to do this in French, but the moment they said there were TV cameras, I thought better of it.
Let me go through a few basic points.
First of all is the history and background of where my suggestion for the study of election of committee chairs is coming from. Back in October 2002, there was an opposition supply day where the opposition parties—and it actually passed with a considerable number of government members supporting it too—proposed to move toward elected chairs, to a system where the committees themselves chose their chairs. Prior to that, they had been appointed. That has been the practice in many Westminster parliaments, although New Zealand and Australia do elect from their committees just as we do here.
In doing some research on this and thinking about what parliamentary reforms could be done, we came across the British model, which is election by the entire House. For members who would do further research, I encourage you to look through the supply day remarks of October 31, 2002. In my speech, I noted some of the remarks by the now Minister of Justice, and also Dick Proctor, the former NDP member for Palliser, who had some good comments on that.
What is the rationale behind the change that I'm suggesting you study and hopefully propose? It's not a criticism of the current system, but as I said in my speaking notes, it's good, better, best. Let's never rest until our good is better and our better is best. I think a change where we have a system where the committees are more directly accountable to the entirety of the House, and the committees become a greater function and their function is more direct toward the House, would be an improvement. I outlined some of these things when I spoke in the House. There's a vested interest that all members would have, because all members would vote and would have some degree of input as to who the chairs are. Again, there would be enhanced credibility and greater flexibility.
There are going to be a few questions, which I hope you will debate. I was deliberately not trying to be too prescriptive in my motion because I think we need to have consensus, if we're going to suggest this reform to the House, on some of the mechanics. I hope that as you discuss this and put some questions together here, you will concentrate on not just the general principle, but also on some of the mechanics, which is what you have to do.
Here are a few issues that need to be discussed, and I have suggestions for all of these issues.
First of all, does this apply just to chairs or also to vice-chairs? I deliberately left out vice-chairs in this because as a member of the governing party I did not want to put out the idea that with our larger numbers in the House I was trying to impose something on other parties. I was very clear. Personally, I have no problem with it, and in fact I would encourage vice-chairs to be included in this, but I think if that's going to be done, it should be done with both opposition and government support.
How do you repeal the chair? Again, I have some suggestions about how this would be done, because on occasion chairs don't function. I have some suggestions and some members may have some others. Do you elect the chair on a yearly basis? Do you do it after prorogation? How often would you elect or re-elect chairs? There are different ways to do that. Also, there are ballot mechanisms. Again, I have suggestions on all these. Later on Mr. Reid will be putting forward a ballot mechanism suggestion, which I think will be fairly applicable to this.
As you go forward with some of your more basic technical questions, I can issue my suggestions. They're suggestions to get you to think about how this could be implemented, and if this would be put to the House, how the House would best implement it, should the House decide it's a preferable suggestion.
Regarding my expectations for your study here, let me make some basic suggestions. This does not need to be fairly comprehensive. In many ways the experts on committees are—and this is unique in this situation—the people sitting around this table. I've lived this committee system for 10 years. Some of you have been here for longer than that and some of you for shorter than that, but this is what we as members actually know.
A quick literature review might be useful. An hour on teleconference with representatives of other Commonwealth and Westminster parliaments, particularly the British model, might be useful. Some input from past clerks, other people with expertise in the Standing Orders, and possibly previous members of Parliament from various respective caucuses might be useful.
There could be one meeting on testimony, perhaps one meeting to hash out some of the mechanisms that everyone could agree on, and a very simple one- or two-page report, or maybe slightly longer.
Those would be my expectations.
I realize that you have considerable time constraints, because you have other things to deal with, but these are suggestions to do a modest report to give guidance to the House if we wish to take up this issue again in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I very much look forward to questions from all members.