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

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Good morning. Welcome to the 148th meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

I want to welcome the Conservative whip, Mr. Strahl, and Don Rusnak and Karine Trudel from the NDP, to the most exciting committee on the Hill. I'm sure you'll all enjoy yourselves.

I want to let the committee members know that you'll soon be getting two pieces of information that I've asked for some more research on. One is the number of members who normally attend the dual chambers in Australia and Great Britain, and the second is on when the exact legislation was passed that gave the authority for the parliamentary precinct to Public Works, related to things we've been discussing.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a)(iii), we are pleased to be joined by Charles Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons, to brief us on progress on the initiative to modernize the Standing Orders. As you remember, on February 27, 2018, he mentioned that this process was starting. These aren't substantive changes, but an effort at reorganization so that the Standing Orders are clear. It's hard for people to find things. It's that kind of work. You got some documents yesterday from the committee clerk.

The bells will sound shortly, so hopefully we can get through his opening statement soon.

Maybe I should just mention while we're still here what I propose for the meetings when we come back after April. The estimates have to be tabled this week. There are three panels of estimates that we would normally have. On the first panel would be the Clerk, the Speaker and PPS for the House of Commons estimates and the PPS estimates. On the second panel would be the Chief Electoral Officer for the elections estimates, and on the third would be the minister and/or the commissioner of debates for the debates estimates.

Does anyone have any problem with that schedule of having those panels for the estimates?

11 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I would like a little more specificity than “the minister and/or the commissioner of debates”—

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

That's up to the committee. Do you want the—

11 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Can we get back to you on what we would prefer?

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Yes. You can get back to me.

11 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

This shouldn't be a scheduling issue, unless one of the others has a scheduling issue of their own, but as to the actual breakdown, perhaps we can get back to you on what would be preferable from our perspective—

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

On that third one, everyone can get back to me as to who you would like for the witnesses.

Hopefully we can get your opening statement in before the bells.

Maybe I can ask for the permission of committee members. Is it okay for a few minutes after the bells have started—because it's just upstairs—to get his opening statement finished? Is that okay?

11 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

That's great. Thank you.

11 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Hope, BC

We'll stay for the statement.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay. Thank you.

Mr. Clerk, you're on. Thank you very much for being here again.

11 a.m.

Charles Robert Clerk of the House of Commons

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

When I became the Clerk in 2017, one of my goals was to unify the administration as one entity serving the members. In terms of procedural services, one way to proactively support the needs of the members was to review the Standing Orders. From my reading, I found them overly complex and not really accessible to members and their staff.

As a consequence, I launched an internally driven project to improve the style and organization of the rules and to enhance their accessibility.

Specifically, my aim was to rewrite the Standing Orders in plain language, using consistent terminology and eliminating internal references, and to reorganize the Standing Orders to improve the navigation of the document by adding a comprehensive table of contents with matching marginal notes, and I proposed a new numbering scheme that acts as a memory device and organizes related procedures in discrete chapters. Finally, I wanted to do this without making any substantive changes to the rules. This was my commitment to you at this committee at my first appearance.

The project has involved two phases of activity.

Phase one was to rewrite and reorganize the Standing Orders with a view to improving the logical flow of the rules, disaggregating complex and lengthy rules into subsections to provide a step-by-step understanding of the procedure and, where possible, combining certain procedures to improve the conciseness of the document.

Phase two was to work with the legislative services to ensure that there are no discrepancies between the English and the French text. To do this, we have involved jurilinguists on the project; these are specialists who work in the Law Clerk's office. This will also improve the level of French in the Standing Orders.

I know that you have all received a bundle of documents to prepare for the meeting. Three documents are part of it. There is a general information note describing the genesis of the project, the principles applied in the review and the approach adopted to improve the style and organization of the Standing Orders. There is a proposed table of contents and the first seven corresponding chapters, which provide a basis for the work done in the House. There is an appendix that draws members' attention to inconsistencies between rules, divergence between rules and outdated usages or rules.

Where possible, we have suggested changes to improve the internal consistency of the rules and to improve the alignment of the rules with our practices.

There has been no attempt to introduce new concepts or to recommend substantive changes to the interpretation of any rule.

Let me take some time to walk you through some specific proposals that are designed to improve the accessibility of the document.

Let's begin with the table of contents. As compared with the existing version, the proposal of a comprehensive table of contents using marginal notes or subheadings will improve the ease of navigation of the document.

Another thing users will note is the writing style, using plain language and the active voice. We also placed a premium on concision, which improves the clarity of the text and the ease of comprehension.

The removal of internal references is a major improvement in understanding the operation of the rules. For expert proceduralists, this may not seem to be an obstacle, but for new members and new staff who possess limited procedural knowledge, internal references represent a barrier to understanding the rules and how they work together.

In this same vein, we have added notes and exceptions under rules to explain linkages to other rules, exceptions to the application of rules, and references to statutory and constitutional authorities.

By using consistent terminology, we hope to eliminate the use of redundant text where the application of a term is different.

These are examples of how we propose to improve the writing style of the Standing Orders. Now here are some examples of how we organized the document to improve its navigation.

We found that certain groupings in long chapters were not particularly helpful in finding what the reader is looking for. For example, we reorganized the chapter on financial procedures. We took the procedures dealing with the budget debate and put them in the special debates chapter. We took the ways and means procedures and grouped them with non-debatable motions in the chapter on motions. And we kept the remaining procedures dealing with the business of supply in the chapter named after business of supply.

In addition to adding an index to the document, we are also proposing to include a glossary of terms that we hope will improve the understanding of the Standing Orders.

We have completed the first phase of the project for all the chapters, with the exception of the one on private members' bills. We have realized that the framework considered in the Standing Orders to deal with private members bills is archaic and inapplicable. So we are proposing options on the best ways to modernize that chapter.

I would like to hear comments on all aspects of the project.

We very much appreciate your views on how to improve the accessibility of our Standing Orders and on ways to make them best suited for your purposes as members of Parliament.

Over the next few months I will continue to provide you with new chapters as they become available. It is my hope that an iterative dialogue will lead to a revised set of Standing Orders that you and your colleagues will find helpful in your work as parliamentarians.

I'm happy to take any questions you may have.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Once it's all finished, my understanding is that this committee will review it in the next Parliament when we do the statutory review of the Standing Orders.

11:10 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

There is a debate that you normally have early in the new Parliament where you can discuss this. If you feel this project has been useful, you can raise it. Because you have the authority under your own mandate, you can pursue this project further to determine whether you think it appropriate to adopt these changes either on a permanent or temporary basis, to see whether they help you understand the rules and practices of the House.

April 9th, 2019 / 11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Before we go to the list, does anyone want to ask a question about the scheduling we were just discussing?

We'll see how long people want to stay when the bells start ringing, but we'll start with Mr. Simms for seven minutes.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Clerk, it's been ages. How have you been?

For those who weren't here last time, he was just here.

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

First of all, I think this is a fantastic exercise that you're doing. I think that in most cases it's long overdue. I don't claim to be the smartest person around any table—God forbid I'd do that—but sometimes I read these rules and in my mind I find myself trying to read the language and it's literally like Cirque du Soleil up here, trying to go back and forth between this, that and the other thing. It's just not friendly at all to the average reader or to anybody who is not a—I believe you used the term “jurilinguist”.

What flags initially arose that have brought us to this point where you have a document that's ready to go and ready to be looked at?

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Just before you answer that, I want to find out from the committee how long into the bells they want to stay.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Let's let seven minutes go by, and then—

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We'll go about seven minutes and then we'll break. Okay. Then we'll come back.

Mr. Clerk.

11:10 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

For me, in the attempt to be a proactive service to the members.... Whenever you read the Standing Orders and you see the word “pursuant”, you always think, “Okay, is this going to trip me up?” Then, this morning, I was just reviewing that again. I went to one “pursuant”—so I do check these—and it referred me to two other “pursuants”. I don't think that's particularly helpful. I think members are super-loaded with work. Any documents that you have to use that are critical to your work should not be a handicap to that effort. They should be written in a style that is easily accessible and understandable.

You should also be able to find it quickly. I was using the index this morning. I was looking for second reading; I was looking for a specific rule. I looked under bills—then went to public bills—no, I needed to go to government bills. So there is this jumping around that you sometimes have to do, which I think can be avoided. To the extent that we can either minimize that or even totally eliminate it, the Standing Orders will be less intimidating and more useful to you in trying to understand the practices that actually govern how you operate in the chamber or in committees.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

I've always been fascinated by your knowledge of the other jurisdictions. Have other jurisdictions undertaken this size of a project? I should say other countries, sorry.

11:10 a.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

Well, the other chamber of this House has done this. That project actually began in 1998—I'm not particularly trying to wish this on myself here—and didn't end until 2012.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Oh, my.