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.