Yes, and that's why the chair's going to make sure that doesn't happen again. I'll make sure that I'll get my stuff out there, and you can respond as you deem appropriate, Minister.
First off, on the parliamentary secretaries, again, it's almost like we come in now and it's Where's Waldo? I never know where he's going to pop up. He started over there, then he went to there, and now he's over there. I mean, it really does beg the question: why does the parliamentary secretary need to be on the committee if the whole purpose is to make committees more independent?
I say this from experience and partly as a confession. When I was parliamentary assistant to the finance minister back a long time ago at Queen's Park, I was on the finance committee. Make no mistake, I was there to ride shotgun. I was there to make sure that the government majority's will was exactly what prevailed. We weren't even pretending that it was any kind of independence. It was them and us.
That's the world we've had up until now. Your government has come in, Minister, and said you want to do things differently. We're hearing the words, but we're not seeing the action. If you really wanted to send a strong message.... Never mind technically whether the parliamentary secretary can vote or not. It's whether or not, as Blake has said, they're sitting here, orchestrating, as a general on the field, all the team and where they're going. They give a nod and that's where the vote goes. That's where the majority is, and they control this committee 10 times out of 10.
I say to you, in a sincere effort to respond to the effort that I think you've made to be sincere, that if you really want a notion or signal of change, remove the parliamentary secretary. There are still BlackBerrys, staff, and all kinds of means. If you really want to say that things will be different, that you want committees to work a little more independently and be less partisan, then please remove the one person who ties this committee work directly to the executive PMO and the control of the majority. I leave that with you.
Secondly, the PBO...excellent. I'd be interested in hearing what the time frame is to make them an officer of Parliament, given that the Liberals finally came around and agreed that it needs to be done. It's the same with the BOIE time frame. I know that we have House leaders there who can do this, but you're already up and meeting, and I haven't heard any time frame. I'd be interested to know what that might be.
For the estimates budget process with public accounts, you may know that I've sat on public accounts since I got here in 2004. I'm the longest-serving member. My advice would be to go root and branch, to go right back to the basics, so that the working understanding is good enough that if you're a new member, you understand exactly how that process works and then reflect that in the way we change things. Right now, the truth of the matter is that there are very few parliamentarians who truly understand in detail the estimates and the public accounts process that we go through. I think you've touched on an important thing, but please don't go halfway; go all the way. Let's just revamp this so that the public can follow it too.
Next, the family-friendly thing sounds great. The one thing we're a little bit cautious of is that the Liberals under former Premier McGuinty did this in Ontario in 2008. One thing they did was to change question period to the morning. Virtually everybody, and I'm advised that includes even the media gallery, acknowledged that it was done so that the government would have an opportunity to change the negative message coming out of question period and turn it into a positive message before the six o'clock rotation came around.
Regarding the Standing Orders, we spent a lot of time on this in the last couple of Parliaments. It took us I don't know how many meetings to come up with a report that we called the “low-lying fruit”. We all agreed, and it was the simple stuff. But that's the past. The heavy stuff is now in front of us. You want to make major changes, and I'm very interested to hear whether or not those changes will only take effect if it's a unanimous recommendation of this committee. Will you do it with just one opposition party, or is the government prepared to ram things through on its own?
With regard to in camera, I have a proposal in front of the committee right now. I'm sure you're at least aware of it. Perhaps you could give us your thoughts before I head into that debate and give some idea of whether you, as the government House leader, are prepared to entertain some rules around when we can go in camera and what we do there.
Finally, on prorogation, there was a ton of work done one or two Parliaments ago, back when we had minorities. We did a lot of work. Joe Preston was the chair. I would urge a revisiting of that as the starting point, because it addresses a lot of the constitutional things. We had all kinds of experts come in. It was a great civics lesson. We didn't come to a conclusion, but we learned a lot. I would just ask that you maybe consider that.
With that, Chair, I'll say thank you.