Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, colleagues, and thank you, Kevin, for joining me.
Mr. Chairman, let me begin by saluting your re-election as the member for Yukon.
Your chairman and I are proud members of the class of 2000. We were among 24 Liberals elected in the class of 2000. In the last Parliament, sadly, we dropped to four, but with your return, Mr. Chairman, we're back up to five, so congratulations.
It's a privilege to be here. I guess I'm the first minister to appear before a committee in this new Parliament. I'm obviously happy to be here with my friend and our colleague, Kevin Lamoureux.
I am here under the mandate given to me by the Prime Minister to cooperate in a concrete manner with the members of all parties and, of course, with our parliamentary committees.
I'm hoping that together we can bring a new tone and a renewed sense of collaboration into our House, and that we can make efforts to extend that new tone down the hall to our colleagues who serve in the Senate.
My goal of making Parliament more relevant and more effective requires your co-operation and your expertise in reviewing the Standing Orders with a view to improving accountability, making this place more family friendly, and giving members of Parliament the ability to fully participate in all activities of the House.
I'm sure all of you have read with great excitement the mandate letter the Prime Minister gave me. It was made public, but I'll briefly summarize some of the main priorities in it. The mandate letter, in my case, includes a mix of changes to the Standing Orders, some legislative changes, and what I would call some policy changes or improvements.
Many of the commitments that require changes to our Standing Orders come, of course, under the purview of your committee. For example, making Parliament a more family-friendly place is one of the things the Prime Minister has asked me to work on. It would include things like, perhaps, eliminating Friday sitting days to allow colleagues to travel to far-flung parts of the country to work in their constituencies and to plan more and better time with their families.
Another is adjusting the times we vote in the House of Commons. We all come back to vote at 5:30 or 6 or 6:45 some days of the week. We're all sitting there at question period at three o'clock. Might there be a way, in routine deferrals of votes, to take them while everybody is in the House at three o'clock, for example?
For sitting hours, maybe we can have two sitting days on a Tuesday if we're going to drop a Friday sitting day.
Those are all issues that have been around this place for a lot longer than some of us have had the privilege of serving here. I have had informal conversations with colleagues on all sides of the aisle. There is a lot of common ground. It has to be done properly and thoughtfully, and we have to understand the consequences of these changes, but I very much hope that you can help all of us arrive at some improvements in that regard.
For question period reform, we could possibly have some form of a prime minister's question period. You know that was a commitment we made. Just to be clear, that was never made to substitute for the Prime Minister's ordinary weekly appearance in question period. It was to be in addition to that, or one of the days, for example, might have that different component. There was confusion as to whether we were suggesting that he come only one day a week. That is not the case, but is there one day a week when his appearance could perhaps be more effective or different? Maybe there could be a longer time for questions and answers. Those are some of the ideas.
There's ending the abuse of omnibus legislation. We have some ideas for how that might work. There's prorogation, though that falls into a constitutional prerogative of the crown and is, perhaps, more complicated.
There is the issue of parliamentary committees and making them more effective and of giving you, Mr. Chairman, and your colleagues the resources you need. There's the issue of not having parliamentary secretaries as voting members of committees. I understand you've had some conversations at this table about that issue. There's ensuring that committees are properly resourced.
Some changes require legislative provisions, such as proposing amendments to the Parliament of Canada Act in order to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer an independent officer of Parliament, make the Board of International Economy public and reflect the new dynamic in the Senate.
There's working with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness on a proposal to create a statutory committee of parliamentarians to review government agencies with national security responsibilities. Again, to be clear, this was envisaged to include not only agencies under the purview of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness but also other national security agencies that would exist in other departments, such as National Defence, and conceivably, Immigration or other departments. It was a horizontal mandate across the government.
A committee of parliamentarians would obviously include members of the opposition. That will require legislation, and we're working on proposals in that regard.
I will also work with my colleague, Minister Brison, to implement a model that will guarantee consistency among budgets and public accounts, although I have not yet received any details regarding that proposal.
The objective is to improve the way the government reports on its spending to the House of Commons, as well as to help members carry out more detailed studies on the government's spending plans. That is one of the members' important roles, and we must facilitate their job more than we have in the past. I expect Minister Brison to obviously cooperate with this committee and with the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.
Scott Brison and I are hoping to organize, quite quickly, perhaps next week, a meeting to which all parliamentarians could come and informally offer some ideas of how to better coordinate the estimates and budget cycles to give colleagues more accurate and more reliable information in a more timely way.
My last set of mandate commitments would include what we would talk about in terms of policy changes. They could include, for example,
increasing the number of free votes, so that members can really represent the views of their constituents. That clearly affects our caucus more than other parties' caucuses, but I wanted to tell you about it.
We want to ensure that all agents of Parliament and officers of Parliament are properly funded and accountable only to Parliament. We would be prepared, at the appropriate time, to increase resources available to Parliament for these officers if they have identified certain gaps in their capacity to hold the government to account or to serve members of Parliament.
We will work with the Board of Internal Economy to enhance changes that we all collectively made in the last Parliament to require members of Parliament to disclose quarterly their expenses in a common and detailed way.
Finally, Mr. Chair, I will work with my opposition House leader colleagues and the whips to take further actions, as you may deem appropriate or as others may suggest, to make sure that Parliament is a workplace free from harassment and sexual violence.
In fact, all the proposals I just made are non-partisan. I want this committee to use its expertise to determine the best way to modernize the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, so as to give members more powers and enable them to better fulfill their parliamentary duties.
I look forward, Mr. Chairman, to working with all of you. I hope this is the beginning of a conversation we can all have collectively. Obviously you'll decide on your own agenda and your own priorities, but I would encourage you, at the beginning of this Parliament, to look at changes to the Standing Orders or other changes you may have in mind so that we can quickly put into play some of these changes for which there may be common ground and not find ourselves doing things next fall that we could do this spring.
That would be due to a lack of time or coordination.
I would obviously be willing to be helpful in any way I can.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.