Evidence of meeting #147 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was debate.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Charles Robert  Clerk of the House of Commons
Michael Morden  Research Director, Samara Centre for Democracy
Paul Thomas  Senior Research Associate, Samara Centre for Democracy

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

That would be an issue that would be worthwhile, talking to the elected members in those two countries: whether they genuinely became freed up from party discipline. That's what you want to have happen, so I think it would be really useful to find out. Did that actually happen in those parallel chambers?

We have media panels every day, and people are still saying the party line. All of a sudden because it's in a different room, I don't know if it'll change, if it is still broadcast. It's a challenge, but it would be interesting to find out in those two countries if in fact there was a transformation and people felt....

If it were more of a discussion as opposed to a debate—you're looking at an issue and everybody is coming up with innovative ideas—how are we going to resolve that? That's a possibility, but if you're debating a bill that has been in the House and those lines have already been drawn, it's interesting.

12:40 p.m.

Senior Research Associate, Samara Centre for Democracy

Dr. Paul Thomas

Could I add something?

This is the main benefit, to be honest. The Westminster Hall model allows members to suggest issues that are relevant to them or their constituencies. This week, for example, there was a debate on pancreatic cancer. The goal was, hopefully, across party lines, to secure better treatment for pancreatic cancer. Members from all places in the U.K. have constituents who might be affected. They came and raised their concerns, and the minister addressed it. It was not necessarily in a partisan fashion but as concerned MPs representing their communities. I believe that in the brief we submitted to the committee, we included a list of the debates that were held. Transportation infrastructure in Essex, for example, hopefully is something that all members could agree on and would not necessarily be committed to the overall partisan success or failure.

To be honest, part of it would be that, hopefully, members would push back against their parties should they find there would not be support. The history of Parliament is littered with innovations that were tried and did not succeed, but that does not necessarily mean not to try, I hope.

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

I think on studies in committee that happens sometimes, but not so much on a bill.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We're going to the open round. I have a lot of people on the list, so please keep your remarks brief.

Is it okay with committee members if Mr. Baylis has an intervention?

Okay.

Frank.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Do you want to go first?

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Linda Lapointe Liberal Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

It's fine, go ahead.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

There's a bunch of people after you.

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Okay. Sorry.

To your point, I know that when the parallel chambers were brought into both places, they were brought in on a temporary basis. You asked if there was a survey of the MPs, when they were asked to vote on it, and they were overwhelmingly in favour. There was kind of a temporary trial for a year or two. After that, it was resoundingly supported by the MPs because of the reasons that the two gentlemen have expressed, that aspect of a better debate, as you were pointing out.

I have a disagreement with one point here. You mentioned that we have time allocation because many members want to speak. A lot of time members are asked to go and read a speech, which, theoretically, is against our rules. We're not allowed to read a speech, but we do. Do they read the speeches? I understand they don't in the United Kingdom. Do they read them in either the second chamber in the United Kingdom or in Australia, or are they forced to actually give a true speech?

12:45 p.m.

Research Director, Samara Centre for Democracy

Michael Morden

I do think that in Westminster Hall some of the remarks are prepared but the exchange is much more dynamic as well. Often when a speaker gives way, the response is less scripted.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

So it's a less scripted environment. Is that the same in Australia?

12:45 p.m.

Senior Research Associate, Samara Centre for Democracy

Dr. Paul Thomas

On the Australian context, I don't know. I've been to Westminster Hall to observe those debates but I have not had the chance to do that in Australia to the same extent.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

I'm also aware that the general public is far more interested in what's debated in the second chamber. But if they were, like me, to listen in to the debates that go on in our hall, I'm bored to tears I'd say 90% of the time. I can't imagine anybody sitting and listening to CPAC, one repetitive, boring speech after another. I find that boring. That's not the case with the parallel chamber at least at Westminster. Is this my understanding, that they have far more people watching that than their main chamber?

12:45 p.m.

Senior Research Associate, Samara Centre for Democracy

Dr. Paul Thomas

It varies by debate and by the subject. Some of them are hyper-local, about the issues in a particular community. It might be some from that community who are interested. However, especially with the petitions, some of them can be issues of national significance. The main element there is the responsiveness so that it allows for citizens to be brought, and their concerns to be brought, into the chamber in a more direct fashion.

If it's something put forward by a backbench member, particularly if they have constituents who have been campaigning for a particular issue, they can notify them to tune in and be able to see a bit more of a dynamic response as compared to here where you might get an S. O. 31, a member's statement on a particular issue, but you make your statement and there isn't the response in the same fashion.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Baylis Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Thank you, Chair.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Graham.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I have just a couple of quick notes. I won't take long.

There is something that hasn't been said and I think it should be said.

If we recall in the 2000 election—I think Scott Reid that's when you came in the first time—there was the promise to have petitions create debates. Rick Mercer made a mockery of it with the Doris Day petition regarding Stockwell Day. It had three million signatures.

It's not always necessarily a good idea to say with petitions take it through the House, with this middle ground of the committee that controls the agenda. Once you have that middle ground that controls the agenda then they can do the agenda clearly for a secondary chamber. I think it's a good approach to doing it.

You were here in the audience for the previous panel. You heard my comments on having a joint chamber with the Senate. Do you have thoughts on that, having a single joint chamber that takes care of PMBs directly and where they're dealt with?

12:45 p.m.

Senior Research Associate, Samara Centre for Democracy

Dr. Paul Thomas

I would say that's beyond the current scope of our inquiry. It's an interesting idea. As was mentioned, there are precedents for joint House of Commons and Senate committees. In the U.K. they have something called the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is a joint House of Commons and House of Lords committee that's been quite effective.

On having two chambers try to debate bills simultaneously, however, I'm not sure if I've come across any international examples of that.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

That's not what I'm suggesting. I'm suggesting that instead of PMBs going to the House or the Senate and then we have to pass one House and then do it all again on the other side, because of the nature of it, having one chamber that does all the debating of it as the chamber. Instead of having “S” and “C” bills, you have “J” bills or whatever you want to call them. That would be the idea. This is the chamber where we deal with private members' business whether it comes from the Commons or the Senate as the singular place to do so. The main chamber becomes government business and opposition days as opposed to individuals' business.

12:45 p.m.

Research Director, Samara Centre for Democracy

Michael Morden

This is a fascinating proposal. I can't think of a comparable model, which just means that it might be that much more brilliant and worth exploring. I think at this stage we don't have a substantive stake to plant.

12:45 p.m.

Senior Research Associate, Samara Centre for Democracy

Dr. Paul Thomas

I think it would require more surgery to the Standing Orders and possibly some constitutional elements, given that, unless deemed in new laws to be legal, you go through both chambers. There would need to be something to make sure that such a body would be considered to have both processes at once.

In terms of the efficiency gains, it certainly would be worth considering.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Just as a quick note before I cede the floor, the U.K. Brexit debate was from 4:30 to 7:45 on Monday, April 1. I dug up the link if anybody wants it.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Reid.

April 4th, 2019 / 12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Maybe a partial answer to Mr. Graham's question about what one can do in the constitutional legal concerns, what one can get away with doing, in terms of creating parallel debates of both chambers, is that, ultimately, you have to pass a bill, for it to become an act, in both chambers. The rules about first, second and third reading are, however, as I understand it, entirely internal, and could be stripped away. This was actually tested before the courts in 1919, with reference to the Manitoba referendum legislation, which assumed that if a bill was passed in referendum, it would supplant the various readings in the provincial legislature, and would also be considered to have received royal assent. The courts ruled that royal assent must still take place. It's written down in the Constitution, but the courts ruled that the various internal stages of compressing or telescoping the various readings could be dealt with by means of.... I'm not sure if a statute could do it, or if you require changes to the Standing Orders. At any rate, they dealt with it. There's some reference point to go back to, if one's trying to figure out what is and is not permitted under our Constitution. That all deals with the 1867 Constitution, as opposed to what was added in 1982. It's still relevant law.

I wanted to comment, if I could, on Ms. Duncan's concern about the ubiquitous entry of whips, party considerations and partisanship into committees. That is what happens in most committees, most of the time, including this committee, frequently. My experience is that sometimes it doesn't happen.

There is one example on Parliament Hill of a subcommittee where party and partisan consideration has been kept almost exclusively out. That's the international human rights subcommittee of the foreign affairs committee, which I chaired for eight years. It already had that culture of not being partisan prior to my arrival. It retained it during my period there, and it kept that culture after I left. Whatever the reasons were for its arriving in the first place, I note that we just had to follow certain principles. We agreed that the Standing Orders still applied to everything we did in the procedures, but that we could, by a convention that exists only in the committee, agree to move forward only by consensus.

The world presents a vast smorgasbord of human rights abuses, the result being that we could pick ones where there was no obvious left, right or partisan division. If you debate human rights in Venezuela, the merits of the Maduro regime inevitably come into question, and that's problematic, because we have divisions on that. If you debate an issue about some other country, where there's a Canadian mining interest, say, you're less likely to have that problem. As a result, careful selection criteria, and some other internal rules—

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Then you could do that in the second chamber, presumably.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I'm suggesting something like that. If you had an agreement—