Evidence of meeting #148 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 changes.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Charles Robert  Clerk of the House of Commons
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Andrew Lauzon

12:30 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

It's better keeping it just Erskine May no matter who the editor is.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

You know what—you're 100% right about that. This is the better practice. It's a best practice.

I feel the same way about law firms, by the way, and their changing names.

What I want to ask is this, with regard to that volume: it makes reference to the Standing Orders such as they are. Of course they change. There is a problem. I don't know how to resolve this. If the Standing Orders are renumbered in some sense, then it will be difficult to make those references. That volume will be less useful until it's updated.

12:30 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

It will be unless you access it online. I think there's a way to track or trace the changes so that with hyperlinks—I'm not a computer wizard of any kind, but I think there are ways through the online version of the manual to incorporate the changes that would identify the new standing order relative to the old standing order.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Right.

I think we would want to have something that would meet with the satisfaction of all before we tried anything that involved renumbering, for exactly that reason.

I can't think of an area that is more clearly something that needs to have widespread consensus before you change it.

12:30 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

As for the difference between the annotated Standing Orders and the manual and the reason the manual tends to receive more attention, to be facetious, is because it's a bigger book.

The other thing is that the purpose behind the updates is to track the precedents, which simply continue to grow and grow through different rulings.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Right.

I just wanted to get that other point on the record.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the indulgence.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

Is there anyone else?

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I'd like to make some comments.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

It would be better if you asked questions.

April 9th, 2019 / 12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Okay.

I do have one that's come up. It's sort of tangential to the actual discussion, but you brought up House of Commons Procedure and Practice. How do we break the vicious cycle in Procedure and Practice? There are a lot of things in there, but my favourite example is about wearing a tie in the House. Procedure and Practice says that you have to wear modern business dress, which today is considered to include a tie, in the House. If somebody gets up without his tie on, the Speaker says, “You can't speak because you don't have a tie on”, because the book says so. The book says so because the Speaker says so.

How do we break the vicious cycle?

12:35 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

You present a report to the House from the procedure and House affairs committee saying that this is a ridiculous practice that we want to abandon.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Graham, you may remember that we tried that and we didn't get agreement.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I know. The point is only that it's a vicious cycle; it's not that particular example itself.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

May I?

I agree with that. The Speaker refers to the book.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Right, but the book refers to the Speaker.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I know, but the book is merely a compilation of previous Speakers' rulings. It's not that the book gets an independent authority, unless the book accidentally contains an error and therefore is being cited based on an erroneous assumption of about what was said by previous Speakers. I mean, the idea that ties are a part of modern business dress for men is something that may be a declining convention. That would be the argument presented by a number of our colleagues—including, for example, Mr. Housefather—and they might well be right. We have seen an evolution. The best evolution I can think of, or demonstration of this, is our attitude towards having your head covered in the House. At one time, that was not permitted. Then the moment came when a member who had gone through chemotherapy rose to speak with a head covering. There was universal recognition at that moment that something was changing when the Speaker recognized that individual.

So there is a way of doing it. I would suggest that if you can get widespread consensus informally and then have the Speaker recognize somebody and nobody comments on it, you are effectively demonstrating a change. But it requires a widespread consensus. Alternatively, one can simply get a standing order change that actually defines this. A statute always trumps an understanding.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Things like this aren't in the statute. They are by convention.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

That's my point: Conventions are always trumped by statute.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Right.

To what degree is the Speaker bound by previous Speakers' rulings?

12:35 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

They certainly have weight and have to be taken into account. If there's a distinction to be made, the circumstances have to be sufficient to allow a certain leeway for the Speaker to deviate. Differences in distinctions matter.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Right.

If we want to look at your suggestions in more depth—and I submit that we should, or at least look at them, because I think we have a responsibility to do that—what is the process? Would we look at them the way we do clause-by-clause, discussing them one at a time, or would this have to be taken as one change and you couldn't break it in little pieces easily?

12:35 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

If you're talking about the initiative to rewrite the rules, with your permission I would continue to do it. It leads to somewhere or to nowhere, however, depending on what you think about it.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

My point is that you have 70-odd changes suggested so far.

12:35 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

Those are just the yellow ones that I brought to your attention. I don't give myself the freedom to make it part of a simple rewrite. I think it's a bit more than that. As Mr. Nater pointed out, and he's perfectly right, if there are reasons that the choice was made to keep it the way it is, then it should be kept the way it is.

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Are a lot of the changes consequential, or can most of them stand on their own?