Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all members of this committee for asking me to appear before you today.
As members of this committee, you have a unique and important responsibility with regard to how the House of Commons conducts its work.
It is clear to me that all of you have a genuine interest in ensuring members of Parliament are able to represent their constituents well and do the job they were sent here to do.
I am thankful for the commitment you have shown, and I respect you all for the work you do on this committee.
I am pleased to be here to provide an overview of the changes that our government proposes to the Standing Orders and to answer your questions.
As background, I would like to remind members of the committee of some of the key steps that brought us here.
Two years ago, as Canadians were preparing to cast their ballot in the general election, the Liberal Party released its campaign platform. That platform promised real change and pledged to give Canadians a voice in Ottawa.
The platform said:
For Parliament to work best, its members must be free to do what they have been elected to do: represent their communities and hold the government to account. Government must always stay focused on serving Canadians and solving their problems.
Among the specific promises that were made in the platform: introduce a Prime Minister's question period to improve the level of direct accountability; end the improper use of prorogation and omnibus bills; provide better parliamentary oversight of taxpayer dollars; and strengthen parliamentary committees so that parliamentary secretaries do not have a vote on committees.
On October 19, 2015, Canadians went to the polls and made their decision on the type of government and the type of Parliament they wanted in Ottawa. The result was clear: Canadians elected a government with a mandate to strengthen Parliament. The Prime Minister is committed to making that happen. It is important to note the instructions he has given me in my mandate letter.
The letter says:
As Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, your overarching goal will be to make Parliament relevant again and to ensure that Canadians once again have a real voice in Ottawa. Parliamentarians must have the information and the freedom to do their most important jobs: represent their constituents and hold the government to account. It is your job to help empower all Members of Parliament to fulfill these essential responsibilities.
Mr. Chair, as we move forward, I would like to stress that this is our main goal.
Our intention is to give more powers to members on both sides of the House. We want to provide them with the tools they need to do their work.
We want to ensure the Prime Minister and members of cabinet are held to greater account in the House of Commons, not less. This spring, I released a discussion paper in good faith to foster a dialogue on additional ways that we could modernize the operations of the House of Commons. I had sincerely hoped we could all participate in a conversation on behalf of Canadians about how to improve the place where we work. That did not happen, and I regret that.
Members expressed heartfelt and legitimate views and concerns about some of the ideas in the discussion paper. Those disagreements had an impact on the work of the House, and indeed, of this committee. As you know, because the political will did not exist in the House of Commons to proceed with that dialogue on modernization, I informed my Conservative and NDP counterparts that we would not be moving forward with many of the ideas in the discussion paper at the present time. However, there are some changes that we committed to Canadians to making. They involve implementing the specific platform commitments that I mentioned earlier. All of these changes will strengthen the House of Commons and make the government more accountable.
I have always been committed to dialogue among House leaders about charting a path forward on these ideas. In recent days, I have been pleased by the constructive dialogue I have had with my Conservative and NDP counterparts on this issue. We have worked together collaboratively, in the spirit of what's in the best interest of Parliament and our country. Now Canadians expect us to act.
Our government will soon come forward with specifics of our approach on how to make the House of Commons a better place. I would like to provide a brief overview of what to expect.
On the Prime Minister's question period, our Prime Minister is firmly committed to being more accessible to all members of Parliament in question period. Our proposal to introduce a PMQP would significantly enhance the parliamentary accountability of the Prime Minister. Here's what it would mean: when the Prime Minister attends question period on Wednesday, he would answer all the questions that day. This special question period would be in addition to the other days of the week when he attends the regular question period to answer questions with his cabinet ministers.
Already our Prime Minister has shown that he is committed to this reform. He has attended six special question periods on Wednesdays, answering a total of 233 questions from MPs on those six days alone.
The prorogation of Parliament signifies the end of a session and can occur with justification during a mandate. There have been times, however, when governments have improperly prorogued early to avoid politically difficult situations. If that happens again in the future, Canadians deserve a formal explanation in Parliament. We would like to build accountability into the process and force the government to justify its decision and let the House pass judgment on it.
Next comes omnibus legislation. Our government is committed to ending the improper use of omnibus legislation. I am not speaking here of responsibly drafted budget implementation bills that contain changes stemming directly from the budget. Rather, I am referring to what should happen when a government introduces a non-budget omnibus bill that contains entirely separate and unrelated themes. We want to ensure that MPs are not forced to vote against some things they believe in as they cast their vote on a bill. We want flexibility for MPs in these instances.
With regard to the estimates, members of Parliament are responsible for keeping track of how the government intends to spend money. And yet the financial accounting system that they are expected to use is inconsistent and unclear.
We need a better way. We want to better align the budget and estimates process so that the data means something and is truly relevant and timely for members.
Concerning committees, our government believes strongly that committees provide the backbone of much of the work done in Parliament. It is there that MPs can do some of their best work, scrutinizing legislation and hearing the views of experts, stakeholders, and Canadians at large. Indeed, it is at the committee stage that proposed legislation can be improved, and members from all parties can constructively work together towards that end. We believe there is a role for parliamentary secretaries to be members of committees, but we also believe that those parliamentary secretaries should not have the right to vote on committees or move motions.
In summary, Mr. Chair, our proposals all stem from promises we made in the last campaign to improve Parliament. Canadians gave us a green light to move forward. They are waiting for us all to make the reforms they want. I believe we can work together to make that happen.
With that, I'd be pleased to take any questions.