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

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you very much, and congratulations on your election to Parliament. I hope that collectively we can find a way such that your four-year-old son will see his dad more often than perhaps other kids in different Parliaments saw their parents. That can be done in a way such that we can also serve our constituents and fulfill our responsibilities here.

On your comments about openness and transparency, I understand what you're saying. I came from a cabinet committee this morning on open and transparent government, so we have a cabinet committee focusing on these exact issues.

With respect to the Senate process, I hear what you're saying. In a different frame and a different constitutional context, there may have been a different way to do it. We are very much guided by the Supreme Court of Canada reference that Mr. Harper's government brought—we thought properly—to the Supreme Court to clear up what are in fact the rules. What is possible? What's not possible? It should bring clarity to the conversation around how to improve the Senate and to understand when you would or would not trigger a constitutional change.

Our commitment was to make incremental improvements while not reopening the Constitution. This more inclusive process, by which we hope the Prime Minister receives high-quality recommended names from a committee of people who are not strictly partisan advisers, we think is an incremental improvement.

On this business about releasing the names, we had a conversation about that, to be honest. Suppose the advisory committee gives the Prime Minister five names in the case of an appointment from New Brunswick. I'm not sure that the five people who may agree to be on that list to be considered as a potential appointment to the Senate would agree if they thought the list was to be made public, because to some extent it is a judgment on the four who weren't selected.

In a judicial appointments process, the Attorney General has a list of qualified persons determined by a judicial advisory committee. Every time we make a judicial appointment, we don't announce that there were 38 people on the list who weren't selected and we chose the 39th one. I'm just conscious from a human resources perspective about doing it in a way that respects privacy but also the professional and personal lives of the other people. That was the thinking behind it, but it may not be a perfect solution. In our view, it's a beginning and an incremental improvement.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Madam Vandenbeld.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I see that we have with us an independent member, Mr. Thériault. If he wants, I will yield the floor to him.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Thériault, go ahead.

11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

How much time do I have, Mr. Chair?

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

You have five minutes.

January 28th, 2016 / 11:55 a.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Okay. Thank you.

I listened carefully to what the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said.

You are all familiar with the situation of Bloc québécois parliamentarians, who are all elected under the same banner. Among the government's reform intentions, I would have liked the government house leader to say this morning that he wanted to respect the mandate the Prime Minister gave him and make it so every parliamentarian can benefit from the same means to have their voice and the voice of their constituents heard in the House.

You know that we do not have those means. We are proposing a solution. We have sent a letter to the speaker and to all parliamentary leaders. I want to tell you what we are proposing.

We do not want to be recognized based on the arbitrary 12-member rule, but, at the very least, given the parliamentary work we have to carry out, we should receive at least ten-twelfths of the budget that was considered important to be given to 12 members elected under the same banner.

We would like the Internal Board of Economy to adopt a rule, so that all members elected under the same banner would receive the budget they need. At this time, the Bloc québécois members have to use part of their constituency budget to pay their staff working on the Hill.

Of course, I appreciate being given five minutes to speak this morning, but under the current rules, we are excluded from committees. We have also been excluded from special committees. In order for us to be able to plan our work, we should at least be able to participate in each committee meeting to have a right to speak. I want to specify that we asked for a right to speak without a right to vote.

Earlier, the minister talked about giving more powers to members, so that they could carry out their parliamentary duties. He intends to meet with parliamentary leaders to find a common ground. The intentions are there, but they are not materializing.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you

How much time do I have, Mr. Chair?

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

You have two minutes.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Thank you.

Through you, Mr. Chair, I want to congratulate Mr. Thériault for being elected to the House. As my colleagues know, Mr. Thériault is an experienced parliamentarian who sat on Quebec National Assembly for a number of years. His presence in Parliament as an experienced parliamentarian will be even more valuable.

Mr. Thériault raised questions about the participation of the members of a party that has not reached 12 elected members. According to a number of Standing Orders of the House, those members are technically independent and cannot participate in committee meetings.

We are open to discussing the best way to enable them to participate in those meetings. I have had positive discussions with Mr. Thériault and his colleagues, as well as with the parliamentary leaders for NDP and the Conservative Party. I am very happy Anita gave Mr. Thériault an opportunity to speak. I hope this will be a tradition we could continue in committee meetings.

During speaking rotations in the House of Commons, I believe we offered our colleagues from Bloc québécois an opportunity to take the floor on a few occasions. That time could have been allocated to the Liberal Party. Through whips, we offered members of Bloc québécois to take the floor. I hope we could continue in that tradition.

To my knowledge, the Board of Internal Economy has not yet made a decision when it comes to resources. I have participated in all the meetings. Since the election, we have had only one one-hour meeting, when we had to approve the budget.

I think the problem will arise in the procedure of committee meetings. I was honest about that with Mr. Thériault when I explained the situation. Permanent committee members have very little time to ask questions and speak out. If, at some point, independent members who are non-voting members but participants were to take the floor, that would reduce the speaking time of the members of other parties that managed to have more members elected. The NDP had four times as many members elected as the Bloc, and the Conservative Party had ten times as many.

It is not easy to make a decision on this. We will continue the discussion, including with other House leaders, while respecting all members.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, colleagues. This brings to a conclusion something I know you've been looking forward to for many weeks, my appearance here.

I thank you, Mr. Chair.

I thank you, colleagues, for your suggestions.

I do hope, teasing aside, Larry, that you'll invite me back.

Colleagues, I hope that even informally we can work on things. It doesn't always have to be in such a formal setting. My office is just off the foyer, and I would obviously be happy to chat informally or in small groups or whatever you think is appropriate.

Thank you, Kevin, for joining me at the table. It's part of the evolution of Kevin's movement around the table.

You'd better watch out, Larry. He could end up in your seat at some point.

Thank you very much.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

The lunch is here, so we'll suspend for a couple of minutes.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

We had better get started or we won't have any time left. I have just a couple of housekeeping points.

Last time, we talked about having the names up front. I had a discussion with the boss of the clerk, and it's been a tradition not to have their names up front, for a couple of reasons. One is to keep them out of the spotlight. Also, sometimes they change during meetings.

I suggested that, as we did, as a compromise we would pass around a sheet with those names on it that you could have in front of you for the whole meeting, the names of the clerk and the researcher who happen to be at the particular meeting. That would serve the same purpose and we wouldn't be flaunting their.... We don't want to get them on our bad side because we need them.

Of course, for the new people, the proceedings and verification officer up here will turn your microphones on normally, so you don't have to worry about that. Also, the contact information for the clerk and our Library of Parliament researcher is on the committee website and in the briefing book you were provided.

There are two things that hopefully we can accomplish. One is that we have a motion. The other is that we have to decide—either us or the subcommittee—what we're doing at our next meeting next Tuesday. We haven't given any thought to that.

Mr. Christopherson.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

In light of the time, as it's pushing 12:30 and we need to have our business for the next meeting, I don't see my motion getting resolved today anyway, given the limited time.

Once again, if it's helpful to the committee, because this ended up being a notice of motion—the clerk can correct me if I'm wrong—I believe I have the option of either calling it or not. Therefore, I can pass on calling it and we could go to business. It might take a little longer than usual because we're not doing it as a steering committee. The worst-case scenario is that we do our business for the next meeting and we're out about 10 minutes early. Either that, or we can dig into it at the tail end and just start and then carry it over, but I kind of like to do things fresh.

Anyway, I leave that with you, Chair.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I appreciate that offer. I'll accept that offer, because I think it would be a very.... I hope our committee can accomplish something. If we can get something for the next meeting, we can keep going.

Thank you very much. That's very co-operative, and I think it's very helpful for progress in Parliament here. We will let you call your motion at another time, or at the end today if we have time and we'll start it. Otherwise, we should decide now what we want to do at our next meeting. I think we should decide now as a group, if we can, what we should cover in the next meeting.

We'll go to Mr. Christopherson and then Mr. Reid.

12:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Our plate is quickly going to fill, as I think members are beginning to see, and we'll be overwhelmed. Managing our time is one of the most stressful and difficult things for us to work out. The government House leader asked this committee if we could come to agreement on as many standing order changes as possible, to get those in the system and in place as quickly as possible, so that we could live under those new rules. It would make sense to me, although I would certainly be willing to listen to other thoughts, that this has the most time-sensitive nature to it in terms of changes. I for one am willing to support the aggressive agenda for changes, because I think those changes, if they live up to the words, will be good. That's why I'm prepared to move things out of the way and get at it.

Just as a cautionary note before I shut down, this is not nearly as easy as the minister led to believe. We spent—I see David over there smiling, because he remembers when we went through this—probably the better part of a calendar year just on what we were calling the “low-lying fruit”. In other words, it was the issues where we all agreed. It wasn't that complex. It wasn't controversial. If there was any controversy or disagreement, we set it aside and said, “Okay, that's not part of the low-lying fruit.” Everything got shovelled over there. It was all we could do to come up with a limited number of very minor changes.

I'm not overly optimistic that we can do it as quickly as the minister might like, but it seems to me that if they're serious—and I take them at their word that they're asking for our input as to how to approach this work—then beginning on the Standing Orders would be a good place, in light of the time sensitivity and the amount of time it takes even to just find the ones that we all agree on.

Before I relinquish the floor, Chair, I did raise this quickly in my little stream of consciousness with the minister, but I am serious. One of the things we used as a working tool when we were looking for what we called the low-lying fruit.... By the way, that report was issued, it did go through, and it was adopted by the House. They weren't big deals, but we did have the agreement that if anybody at the table, any of the caucuses, disagreed, it wasn't going forward.

I did ask the minister, although I didn't really expect he could answer it or would want to given the time available, but I put the question to you, Chair. I'd like to hear from the government. If we get into a crunch, and we're very likely to, on rule changes, how will the decision be made? At the end of the day, is it just majority rules and that's it—too bad, so sad? Alternatively, will we say, “No, if we can't reach unanimous agreement, we won't put forward changes to the rules”? Because all it will do is recreate a partisan fight in the House over rule changes that are meant to be non-partisan.

I would just leave that with you, Chair. Thank you.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Reid.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

I was part of that process too. Looking back at it, I think one of the approaches we had last time, and that I wouldn't recommend doing again, was that we wanted to have a single report. We went through all of the rules. We essentially were trying to see how many rules we could get agreement on and whether we could work it out. On some things we achieved success, and on some things we clearly weren't going to achieve success and we put them aside. But on the many items where we might have achieved success, we talked and talked and talked.

Basically, I think what happened was that the deadline we had to make our report dictated the amount of time we put in. It was a version of Parkinson's law: the debate filled the available time.

It was a different model. We got as much low-hanging fruit as we could manage. We got the easy stuff. Standing on our tippytoes, we thought we might be able to reach the stuff, but we did a little hop and we couldn't get it. That's my apple metaphor here. It was all under the assumption that the picnic is over at a certain time, but until that happens, we can keep on going.

I think this time I would suggest a different approach. If we can take an item and resolve it, then we should just have a little report and send it off to the House. This committee, of course, is always generating little tiny reports, far more reports than any other committee, and far briefer reports. I think that would be appropriate. Then we seek the concurrence of the House. Presumably we would have an agreement that any report we're issuing here will be concurred in. Obviously that's subject to the parties agreeing, but it's not to turn that into an all-day concurrence debate. It's not an excuse for that. It's just to get concurred in. Then we can get that rule in place and move along.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Depending on what the Bloc does.

12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

As long as we have agreement.

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

You're right. The Bloc and our Green member might say something different, but I think we should say that would be the agreement among the three parties who are actually sitting on the committee. That would help things along. In other words, I guess to channel Mackenzie King, I'm advocating for it being as piecemeal as necessary but not more piecemeal than necessary.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Lamoureux.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Having participated in that third party perspective, I think with the way it worked last time, it was very beneficial. I think that would be applicable this time around also, David.

I think what we saw from the government House leader's presentation is that he really and truly is approaching this with a very open mind. The feedback, from what I understand—and you can talk to your respective House leaders—is that there has been a considerable amount of dialogue on these issues already. To a certain degree, I think there might be an expectation, and the question is how we can best achieve and meet that expectation, which is universal on all sides of the House.

Before when we had low-lying fruit, it was really low. If we try to get into too many of the details.... If we have this general consensus that we want to change Fridays and have voting only on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and not have votes after three o'clock or whatever it might be, if we have the general principles, then maybe we can even approach the respective House leaders to see if they have some recommendations as to how they would like to proceed. I believe Dominic made reference to the fact that he's even open, if PROC wants to see it, to the government bringing in a separate motion. I think having informal and formal discussions would be healthy but they would not necessarily be about the low-lying fruit. Another way is to look at some of those tickets that can address those family issues that we hear about from all sides of the House and how we might be able to act on them.

I would expect that it would all be done through a consensus.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

I'm not hearing any objections to Mr. Reid's suggestion that we do an item at a time. If we were to do that, which item would you like to start the next meeting with? There were about five that the House leader suggested.

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Can I suggest that we actually start by trying to compile the...? Actually, I agree with Mr. Christopherson. I really wish the House leader had brought his notes, because then we could be going through them and discussing them right now. I can remember little bits here and there. I also wish I had made better notes, to be honest, so it's partly my fault.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I have the mandate letter. I can give you a copy of that.