Evidence of meeting #4 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 things.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Andre Barnes  Committee Researcher

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We hate to keep the press waiting, so this is meeting number four of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a), we're having a briefing on the ministerial mandate.

Our witnesses today are the Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, PC, MP, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and Kevin Lamoureux, MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

This is a session for roughly one hour. I'd like to thank the witnesses for coming so we can get on to substantive work, which I know the committee would love to do.

11 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I have a point of order.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We have a point of order.

Could you make it quick? I don't want to take time away....

11 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Yes, of course.

I believe it requires the consent of the committee to have a new witness added on, and for Mr. Lamoureux, who is gradually rotating his way around the table—

11 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

11 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

—and will have to actually cross the floor to make a complete circuit and then rejoin the Liberals at the end of the whole process, I think we have to approve him. I don't want to not approve him. I just think we should go through the formality of actually approving the new witness.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Is anyone—

11 a.m.

An hon. member

Agreed.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Is anyone opposed to having Mr. Lamoureux as a witness?

Okay. It has been agreed to by the committee. I'm not sure we had to do that, but we want to get going quickly.

11 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Chair, do we have copies of opening remarks?

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

No.

11 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

What happened to openness and transparency?

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We have opening remarks of up to 10 minutes.

Mr. LeBlanc, you're on.

January 28th, 2016 / 11 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

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.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc.

As we agreed at the last meeting, the first round would be a Liberal round of seven minutes.

I don't know who is speaking.

Ms. Vandenbeld, you have the floor.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to split my time with Ms. Petitpas Taylor.

I want to thank you, Minister, for coming before the committee and for being so forthcoming on some of the things in your mandate letter. I must say I am very pleased to see in the mandate letter mention of a more family-friendly Parliament and to hear you elaborate a little bit about what that might look like with regard to things like the Friday sittings. Obviously, as an Ottawa area member of Parliament, I am not affected as much by that, but I've had a number of conversations with my colleagues who have young children and who are often flying first to another city and then to a rural area, which takes an additional three or four hours. As a local member, I can't even imagine how they are doing that with young children, or in some cases with responsibilities for aging parents or other things.

I would very much appreciate if you could elaborate a little bit on some of the things this committee could do in terms of not just a family-friendly Parliament but a more inclusive Parliament. I know that the all-party women's caucus in the previous Parliament was discussing this and had a draft report that included other things like the use of technology. When this Parliament started 100 years ago or more, we couldn't dialogue with one another unless we were in this place. Now we have multiple means by which we can have testimony from across the country. We can do things remotely and that might allow members to have more opportunity to be with their families and with their constituents but still participate in the dialogue and discussions here.

I've heard from other members with a young child and they have had difficulty with parking on the Hill. There are people with mobility challenges. How are we going to make this a place where we can do the work we have been elected to do here and also make sure that everybody is equally able to do so, especially in a Parliament where we have more women than we've ever had—26%—and we also have a younger group of members of Parliament, who probably have more caregiving responsibilities.

Thank you.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Ms. Petitpas Taylor.

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Ginette Petitpas Taylor Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you very much.

Minister, thank you for joining us this morning.

As a new member of Parliament being here for the first time, I was a bit surprised by the tone in the House. Many of the senior members are telling me that the tone is probably better than usual.

What we can do to improve decorum in the House and to make it more respectful and more productive?

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and through you to Anita and Ginette.

Thank you for those questions. I'll take the last one first, and then try to conclude with an answer to Anita's question.

Mr. Chairman, the tone.... I saw David laughing and with good reason.

For those of us who have been around or served in other legislatures, the sad news, Ginette, is that the tone is actually massively better than previous Parliaments. To be fair, it's not a partisan judgment; it includes when there were previous governments in office. I hope we can make this tone last. I've talked to my colleague House leaders. There is a broad desire because Canadians expect that of their parliamentarians, to work respectfully with one another, and to disagree, of course, and have vigorous debates.

I have friends on all sides of the aisle in the House of Commons, people I really like in every political party. We should focus on that, on the things we share in common, and not exasperate the points of difference. It starts with things like perhaps not heckling in question period. Certainly for my colleagues in the cabinet, it starts with answering the questions. That had become over time a practice that was rare: ministers getting up and answering the question, even saying, “You know, it's a difficult question, and I'm not sure there's a clear answer. Here's the best shot we have in answering it.” We're trying to do that. It won't be perfect. Old habits die hard, but I think we all need to make a greater effort.

The new members like you, Ginette, and colleagues in all parties are setting a better example perhaps than some of the old warhorses, like your chairman, who have these old habits that die hard.

Anita, with respect to your question, you're right; it starts with saying that it's not about taking Fridays off. There's nothing more irritating than when we have a break week and we hear, including from our own families and friends, “Oh, you have a week off.” Well, actually, no, we don't. I've loaded up a pile of events, activities, or meetings in a constituency one time zone away. Some people here are from three time zones away. We work in constituencies. People who elect us expect us to be present in our ridings. Many people travel a lot further than Ginette or I do from Atlantic Canada.

When my father was elected here 40 years ago, our whole family moved to Ottawa. I went to high school in Ottawa. We sort of reversed the route that I do now, where I go home on weekends to New Brunswick. We lived in Ottawa the whole school year and went to New Brunswick in the summer. That would be politically, and I think in a parliamentary concept, much less acceptable now than it was a generation or two ago.

To reflect that, I think we look at sitting hours. I think we acknowledge amongst ourselves that we're one of the few legislatures in the country that sits five days a week as a routine. People travel the furthest to get here than any other provincial assembly. I think we can use technology to make time more effective and save money when we're in constituencies.

With respect to the Friday, the challenge will be that if we take 20% of the sitting days in theory out.... It's not the hours. As a government, we have an obligation to have a routine where we can pass government legislation or at least bring it forward to be considered, so you'd probably have to take those hours and reallocate them to the other sitting days.

Again, colleagues should understand that if the conclusion is that those four and a half hours—because Friday is a short day—should be tacked on to other days, we're wide open to that. If colleagues don't want to lose Standing Order 31 statements and want to apportion them on other days, we're wide open to that. If people want to take those questions and reallocate them in some sensible fashion, we're open to that. It's a conversation we can have. Certainly some members in all parties—I won't out them—say that it would be a great idea, so we have to resist the temptation to say, “I can't believe they want to take a day off.” We all have to resist that race to the basement and have an open conversation about what would modernize this place.

That's one of the examples, but there are many others. The NDP whip talked to us about finding a child care space, as I understood it, not necessarily a child care supervised facility. That's a separate issue. There is one that's available. It may not be perfect, but it can be adjusted. It's about having a space where you could be with a small child for a brief period of time.

We should be open to all of this. Some would be for the Board of Internal Economy and some for your committee.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you, Mr. LeBlanc.

Mr. Richards.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thank you very much.

Welcome, Minister.

I have a few questions today. I listened with interest to some of the things you were discussing, at least in concept at this point. I certainly picked up on the idea of adjusting the voting times. It's something that I know many of us around this place have talked about for a long time, and it would make sense. Certainly, it sounds like there are some things there that we can agree on with you.

When you're talking about concepts like these, I think that a lot of times, of course, it's the details that matter. What we've seen so far from your government—I hate to say it, but it's the truth—is that talk is different from the actions. We've heard a lot of talk about openness and transparency, but what we're not seeing is the action and the follow-through on it.

Look at the first days of the government under former prime minister Harper, when the accountability act was put in place. That was creating accountability. What we saw from your government was removing accountability, the first nation to first nation accountability, for first nations people to be able to hold their leaders to account. These are the kinds of things we're seeing.

We can talk about the Senate. You promised change. Well, what you've created is a secret process that creates secret recommendations that the Prime Minister will either choose to accept or not, and they'll all be done in secret.

What we're hearing in the talk is different from what we're seeing in the action. I guess here's what I would want to know. You've talked about some of these concepts, and they sound interesting, but give us some details. Tell us some details of what you're proposing, of what you think some of these changes will look like.

Give us a sense of the process you're looking to go through in making these changes. Give us an idea of the timeline in terms of making those changes. How will all parliamentarians be involved? Give us an idea of some of the processes, some of the details here, because that's where the important points are.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Through you to the member, it won't surprise you that I don't share entirely your characterization of some of those initial moments of our government. We could have a conversation. I could address them all for you, and it would be entertaining, perhaps, for you and me and for others.

Let me focus on the last part of your question. You want details. I'm suggesting that we cancel the Friday sittings and reallocate those hours that would have been on a Friday to other sitting days. We could decide on what days make the most sense. If you and your colleagues want to take those questions and Standing Order 31s and, again, allocate them over a bunch of other sitting days, we would be open to that.

My suggestion would be that Tuesday may have to be characterized as two sitting days, because it may be a very long day in order to accommodate people travelling on the Monday. You could use those two days in a Tuesday. I'm told by the clerk that some other parliaments have done this and have characterized that as two sitting days, because as you know, for government legislation, often the Standing Orders talk about how many sitting days there are for particular dispositions. You'd have to look at the supply day consequences of getting rid of one of the sitting days. We would be open to those kinds of changes.

I would agree with you, Blake. Let's take, for example, as a matter of routine, deferring votes to three o'clock on the following day or at the end of question period. Private members' votes held on Wednesday evenings at the end of government orders, instead could be held at three o'clock on Wednesdays. We could change the committee schedule, obviously, to accommodate that.

We would be wide open to all of those. Those are just a few concrete suggestions, but the reason I wanted to come here, frankly, is that you asked how all parliamentarians would be engaged. That's by doing exactly what I'm doing this morning, coming here and asking for your advice. Those changes are properly and correctly the purview of your committee. I would welcome—and I know my cabinet colleagues would and Kevin would as well—the benefit of your advice, your report, and your suggested drafting of any of these changes.

As for other ideas, the list is by no means exhaustive. If you have other ideas, we would obviously welcome them enthusiastically.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Okay. I appreciate a bit more detail there. We'll look forward to some more detail, hopefully in the days to come.

While we're on the topic of some of the promises that maybe are not being kept fully at this point, I think one of the things in your mandate is to ensure that parliamentary secretaries are no longer part of committees. Certainly, I suppose in some ways you could claim that it might be the case, this having and not having. We only have the one committee that's up and running at this point and Mr. Lamoureux is sitting down there with you today.

In the previous meetings we've had, he's certainly been here, directing the government members and being the main participant on the government side. One could certainly argue that despite his not being a voting member, he's still a very active member of the committee, even though he's not officially a member. Certainly, even when we were into some of the details of how we would have our routine motions work, he was very involved in that effort and the negotiation that took place around that.

When you have parliamentary secretaries here participating in everything that's going on—he's obviously here with you now—how will that work? Explain that to us. Is that how we'll see it in all committees? Is that what's going to happen? Is the parliamentary secretary still going to be very active in directing exactly what's going on in the government side? Is it the intention of the government to do that? Is that what we should expect to see?

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Obviously, it won't surprise you that I disagree with the way Blake said that the campaign commitment was that parliamentary secretaries would not be on committees or serve on committees. To be precise, as you picked up at the end of your comments, it was to not be voting members of committees.

As you know, I think it's Standing Order 114—

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Sorry to interrupt.

I guess what I would have to ask, then, is: how is that a change? Not voting doesn't mean that they can't direct how everyone else votes. It doesn't mean that they don't direct what's going on at committee, so what change is that, really, other than in some kind of theoretical world? How is that a change?