Evidence of meeting #3 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site.) The winning word was amendment.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Joann Garbig

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

You're basically changing Liberals and Conservatives in the second round.

Noon

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Exactly.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We'll have Mr. Christopherson and then Mr. Chan.

Noon

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Just on the off chance that Mr. Chan is going to agree, I'll let him take the floor before me.

Noon

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

I have two very quick points.

First of all, in terms of the overall composition of time I would simply note for the record that the government is actually ceding approximately 8% of total time to the opposition relative to its proportionality within the House of Commons. However, I take the point that you raised with respect to the risk that sometimes we don't get to the bottom order of the questions.

The other point I want to make is that I understood that this was already under significant discussion among the House leaders with respect to this particular order. That was my understanding.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Christopherson—

Noon

Liberal

Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Sorry, let me rephrase that. I should have said that among the whips it had been informally agreed upon.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Christopherson.

Noon

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

That point is very relevant. Could we get that confirmed?

I have to say in my briefing I was advised that there was agreement. The advice I was given by our whip staff was that we would support this because there had been an all-party agreement. If that's not the case then that's significant. Can we just clarify? Though we're not legally bound, we may be honour-bound. Was there a buy-in by all three whips' offices? Can we confirm that, yes or no? The only thing to keep in mind, folks, is that these things don't matter much to us but these whips still have to meet. If they had an agreement and it falls apart here, it makes it very difficult for them to do their business. I'm not hearing from the official opposition any sense of where their whip was.

I'll say my thing and then I'm done. I don't have a horse in this race. By virtue of our results I get screwed and there's nothing I can do about it. We don't have enough seats to change it. I don't have a horse in this particular debate but here's the thing. If there was a deal, a deal is a deal is a deal. If a deal was struck, then unless it's agreed to unravel it that deal should hold.

If there wasn't and it's coming to us with just a recommendation as opposed to a deal, then I would argue on the side of the official opposition that there is an element of fairness, recognizing the government was gracious enough to do the 8%. Normally, we try not to have the same party take the floor. There's usually rotation and this does change that. In effect, the government would get a 12-minute run on the floor, theoretically, with almost the same person. If they put somebody in for 15 seconds in between, they can get the floor back. Basically, a government member would get a 12-minute run. I don't really think that's fair.

In fairness, if the Liberals have their lion's share of the time, which they deserve, then at least the order should be government, opposition, government, opposition. Therefore, I would support the official opposition, but only in the absence of an unanimous agreement by the whips. If there was such a thing, that should hold.

I'm done. Thanks.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Ms. Vandenbeld.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

On the substance of this debate I would just point out that in terms of individual members of this committee, right now there are three Conservative members on the committee and there are three spots for Conservatives to ask questions. There is one NDP member who will then get two spots to ask questions. There are five Liberal members of this committee and four spots for Liberals. Already with this proposal, one of us would not have a chance to ask questions. I think it's probably more than fair. I just wanted to point out that I think the order is quite fair as it is. In fact, probably one of us would have less time to speak.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

In terms of fairness, I used to chair not a committee but a subcommittee on international human rights. We operated by consensus. We would have hearings and then we would ask questions.

Like in this proposal, we had opposition members at the back end, as the last people to ask questions. The only way we could ever accommodate them was by letting the committee run over time. We met just before question period. We met from one to two o'clock, two days a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Questions run over. Someone asks a question and then the answer winds up running over. This happens all the time. It may be different here, but we would have someone talking about their experience of being tortured, for example. As chair, you can't cut them off, so they go on, and what started off being six minutes winds up being seven or eight minutes.

In order to accommodate the people at the back end in asking questions, we would allow our meeting to run through the S.O. 31s. When I would realize we were running over, I'd send the clerk out and ask the people around the table if anybody had an S.O. 31 so we could change the order. I don't think we will have that flexibility, because the room we're in now will frequently be booked by somebody else coming in afterwards, so we won't have the ability to extend our meetings.

The point I'm getting at is that I think the chances that the NDP will get any of its three minutes at the end are very low. The chances that the Conservatives will get their five minutes, while not quite as low, are pretty low. I think this is a fundamentally problematic issue to be dealt with. I would say that it would make more sense, quite frankly.... I like what Mr. Richards was suggesting, but the fairest thing actually would be if the Liberals had the last spot. I'm not saying that they should have three minutes. They should still get six minutes, but it should be in the last spot.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Before we continue debate, is there any comment from any of the parties on the potential agreement the whips had?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ginette Petitpas Taylor Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

If I may comment on that, my understanding is that we had presented the information to the whips and asked for feedback, and we didn't receive any negative feedback from it. The parties seemed to agree on it.

Was there a formal deal per se? No, but we certainly didn't receive any negative feedback at all.

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Chair, I go to the meeting of the House leaders and whips. It happens every Tuesday in the afternoon, so in the event that we deviate here from what they're doing there, or with what they agreed on, there would be a chance to discuss it within a very short amount of time. I don't think we should feel ourselves absolutely bound by our.... I hate to use the term “honour” when we're talking about party discipline, quite frankly, but I could say by our vows of obedience and chastity or whatever it is we take vis-à-vis our party whips. With regard to this subject, I think we should look at making some improvements here.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Do you want “chastity” in the minutes?

12:05 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

We're in public. It's too late to take it back.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Christopherson, based on your earlier comment, do you have any comments on that as related to the whips?

12:05 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Yes.

At the end of the day, I think that's the case. Quite frankly, we don't have to honour that. I just wanted to make sure that we knew the context, but we're masters of our own destiny, as we like to say at each committee.

The only thing I would mention is that, yes, if we're going to be fully fair—and I very much appreciate Mr. Reid's sense of fairness—if we're going to make it so that it's not a 12-minute Liberal run and recognize that the bottom two often get dropped, then the fairest way to fix that would indeed be to move the six-minute Liberal in round two from the number one slot and move it into the five slot. That way, we're still maintaining that the NDP at least has a fighting chance of getting a couple of seconds of our three minutes, and the fairness of going government-opposition, government-opposition is maintained. I like that idea for self-serving reasons as well as for an element of fairness.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Is there further debate?

Mr. Richards.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thank you.

I wanted to respond, I guess, to Ms. Vandenbeld.

I know you had sort of indicated your feeling that it would shortchange one of your members. I would like to point out that if you look at the proposal I'm making in terms of an amendment compared to the original proposal, they're actually the same in terms of the number of slots that each party gets. It's only the order.

As to the reason the order is important, I think Mr. Reid actually did a fairly good job of explaining it. I also had the experience of chairing a couple of parliamentary committees in the past. Having sat on a number of others, I can say with quite a degree of certainty—I think it would be hard for anyone who's been in Parliament to disagree with this—that when we talk about a total order here, there are 50 minutes of questions and answers. As Mr. Reid explained quite well, we know it's very rare that six minutes will be exactly adhered to and that we will jump right from one to the other.

I know that every chair does things a little bit differently, but I know that when I was a chair, I tried to be very strict on the members in terms of keeping them to time. But with witnesses, when they're trying to answer a question and they've only been given maybe the last 15 seconds or something of the member's time, you do try to give the witness a little bit of a chance to actually answer the question. As well, there's always a little bit of a transition when the chair transitions from one questioner to the next.

The reality that exists here is that very rarely, probably almost never, would those last couple of slots actually be utilized. Therefore, what this does is weight the questions very heavily in favour of the government. Frankly, that's not a fairness.

If you were to flip the order so that the Liberal is not first in the second round, it actually would create a fair situation. If the government's intention here is to be fair, they would certainly accept this proposal. If not, it seems like it's another one of those smoke-and-mirrors situations, where they're trying to put something out that looks like fairness but we all know isn't.

The number of speaking minutes that each party would receive does not change here, only the order, so that in the event we don't get through the whole order, the opposition will not be shortchanged.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

If Mr. Richards could read the amendment again—

Sorry.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Lamoureux.

January 26th, 2016 / 12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Maybe I can address it in a broader way, if I can, Blake.

If we go back to the last series of PROC meetings, typically you would have the government start off debate. The government's the one that actually begins the questioning. Here in this proposal, it's the opposition that starts the questions. That is, I think, a progressive move, allowing for opposition to do it.

If you take a look at the last PROC series of meetings, the government always had five slots, so every member of the government side would be afforded the opportunity to speak. Under this new system, the government now is going to.... If every member were to speak, they would have to split their time. If you want to reflect in terms of the issue of just fairness and how it's changing, it actually works to the advantage of the official opposition.

David's right in the sense that he's guaranteed the one spot. It might be tough to get that second spot, but at the very least the NDP is guaranteed that their committee member will be afforded the opportunity to speak. More Conservative members will likely be speaking, because if you get two panellists speaking, the chance of getting that second series of questions will be off and on.

The deputy whip made reference to what has taken place. There was a sense of goodwill discussion, or an offering of what we were looking at here. The general feeling of the committee, from what I understand, was that there was some presentation made to the whips. The official opposition does benefit under this proposal compared to the previous way in which it was administered. The NDP will get, if in fact it's one presenter and it's a quick go-around, that second series of questions. In that sense there's a benefit.

The party that loses out under this new structure is in fact the governing party, because no longer are they the first to question and there's a very good chance they will lose one of their questioners. That's almost an absolute. I think maybe if you look at it from that perspective...unless you're suggesting that we go back to the way it was, where, for example, it would be the government that would start as opposed to the official opposition, but I don't think I'm hearing that.

In that sense, I think we should accept it. We have that House leadership meeting later on this afternoon, and we can raise the issue there, but maybe consider accepting it. The preference is to deal with it now.