Evidence of meeting #87 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 information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Andrew Lauzon

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Bittle.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.

When the minister came to testify, she said these processes were going to happen. There wasn't any objection to that when the minister was here. Months later we seem to have some objection to that. My understanding is that a report on the round tables will be issued and will be available to the public. There will be a report on online feedback. If members wish to bring a motion to supplement our findings at that point, they can. This just seems to be a way to delay this process. We've had a less than enthusiastic response from our Conservative friends on whether this entire thing should go forward as is. We're getting to a point where 2019 isn't that far away. We want to have something come forward and to have this committee's findings before the minister, because decisions will have to be made to have processes set up before the 2019 election, if it's the will of the committee to do so.

I can't support this motion, and I hope we proceed to the draft report.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Christopherson.

11:25 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thanks, Chair.

Could somebody please give me a drop-dead deadline that we have to have our work completed by to accomplish what Mr. Bittle has just outlined? Somebody in the know. There are enough parliamentary secretaries around here, somebody must know something.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

It's our intent to have the debates commission in place for the 2019 election. Everything we can do to expedite our work here will improve the odds of the success of meeting that goal. It would be my preference—if you're interested in that, Mr. Christopherson—that we would get through the report today so the committee could move on to other business later in the week and next week. The sooner the better is the answer. The odds of having this in place for 2019 decrease with each passing meeting. .

11:25 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Yes, but given what you're saying, I didn't hear a deadline. You guys are as anxious to have it in place as I am, so you're not going to play that on me.

I have been equally concerned about the process, and I did my rant at the last meeting. I won't repeat it, but I think Mr. Richards' points are legitimate, and I don't think this process is.... It's a shame, too. There was no need. That's what I don't understand. It could have been a nice, clean, neat process. Instead, the government muddied the waters by a bit of a parallel campaign through the minister, which is fine, but you needed to say that. Tell us we are one small part, or that we're just feeding into it.

The way it was presented to us and from time I met with the minister alone to the time we agreed to start doing this, the government's idea was that they ran on a platform that committees were going to be more independent than they had been and were going to live up to their role as masters of their own destiny, etc. One of the things in the context of that campaign promise is they would like us to take a look at this issue and see whether this is something we should do, and if so, what might it look like. Okay, fine, that's how this system works, excellent.

We set down to work. Then we start finding out there's this parallel process. Remember the document...? I can't get into details, but Mr. Bittle came in with a document that was just like more tactics.... I felt like it was marching orders coming from the minister. I'm thinking what the heck, if the minister wants to do it, do it, or Mr. Fillmore—I'm sorry, I don't care, Parliamentary Secretary, honourable all.

My point is that this thing has not been exactly as advertised. Having said that, the government knows—and I've made no bones about it—I'm as anxious as anyone to avoid the disgrace that I saw last time, where one of the leading contenders to be prime minister of Canada wouldn't attend the debates. I'm as infuriated as any government member is over there. I want this done, and I want it done in a way that will allow us to have it in place for the next election, but I want to underscore that that's valid. Unless there's a drop-dead deadline, which I didn't hear, why wouldn't we take the time to listen? Or is this really just pro forma, almost like the Conservatives used to do in the last Parliament, but with a nicer face and a better hairdo? The fact remains that it doesn't feel like this is where the real work is.

If it is, then it would make very good sense that if we have advice that the minister has received from Canadians, why wouldn't we introduce that into our thinking? What is so outrageous about that? Having said that, twice now I've heard the government say, gee I hope we get this report passed today. I have to tell you, I look at the report, and to me all we've done so far is very clearly identify what the issue is, what our options are, and some of the decisions that have to be made within those options, depending on which one you decide. The heavy lifting starts after that.

The heavy lifting starts with which option do we want to go with, and then some of those areas that need identifying. I thought we were going to do that kind of work. Again, this is where I'm kind of at sixes and twelves here in terms of what the government's really up to. If we pass the document that is there now, I have to tell you that could almost be done at the staff level—almost. The real work, the political value added is when we start detailing some of those recommendations. It's only our best thinking; the minister still has the power and the right to do everything she's going to do, and that's fine. To me, passing the report the way it is, I see a parallel campaign going on with the minister and her parliamentary secretary. Again, it feels like, oh yeah, House of Commons committee...check.

For those on the other side who think we're done, to me, we're just rolling up our sleeves, and we actually have to get at some of the real work. That's my macro view of things right now.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

Mr. Nater.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First and foremost, maybe I think it's worth reminding ourselves that the committee is not a tool of the minister. We do not report to the minister. We do not provide a report to the minister. Our role as a parliamentary committee is to report to Parliament, so to hear the language from the Liberal benches that we need to get our report to the minister, that we need to advise the minister.... That's not our role. We report to Parliament. First and foremost, we are a parliamentary committee.

The second point, to echo something Mr. Christopherson said, is that we don't take our marching orders from the minister either. At the same time, we know that the minister is operating on this parallel track. We know that there's been an online portal. We know there have been round tables that have been closed to the media.

We are in a position where there is information available. I strongly support Mr. Richards' motion, because I don't think there's such a thing as too much valuable information. Having the opportunity to have access to the information provided by Canadians through the online portal...I think all of us have seen the portal and know that there is a disclaimer that the information and the names can be shared as appropriate. There have been experts who have attended these round tables, and academics, those involved in the field. It's valuable information. Some of it may be duplicative of what we've already heard, and that's fine.

That information has been collated, I know, and put into a usable form for advice for the minister. I would be under the impression that it would take very little work and effort to have that advice and information forwarded to this committee. I don't think it needs to be a long, drawn-out process. We all know how bureaucratic functions work. We know that information is readily available in a usable format. As for who exactly presents it to this committee, I don't think it matters, as long as that information is provided to the committee.

I would support Mr. Richards' motion. I don't think it would draw out this process much at all. As Mr. Christopherson mentioned, we didn't get to the recommendation portion of this report yet. It sure would be nice if we could do that in the next hour and a half, but I don't think an important matter such as this will necessarily come to a conclusion within the next 90 minutes or so. I do think it's worthwhile to have the information provided to this committee.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Bittle.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair. I don't understand the delayed outrage on this.

The minister was here before this committee on November 21 and testified that this was going to happen. There was no outrage then. She said she was looking forward to the committee's report but was also going to engage in other activities. We discussed the timetable of this report. There was no mention of this being brought up. There was no concern. There was no call for additional witnesses.

It seems to me that this is just another opportunity to delay, and that's fine, but let's call it what it is. These reports will be made public and the committee will have the opportunity to review them, as every Canadian will, but I don't understand why, two and half months later, after hearing it directly from the minister, we're now in a state of feigned outrage about this.

If you were really outraged about it, you would have questioned the minister about it. I can't support this motion.

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Ms. Sahota.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

I agree with a lot of what David was saying earlier, that there is some need for detailed recommendations as to how this process would move forward for debate, but I thought that's what we were supposed to be doing here today—I have some details that I would like to insert into the report—and that's when we were going to start having this conversation. Hopefully, you can excuse me from thinking that, because I've provided quite a bit.... I have a lot of things to insert.

Maybe this conversation will take longer than a day. That's fine if it does, but that's the part we're at right now: to get those recommendations into this report. I think we should discuss what we've heard from all the witnesses we called and now try to make this report as meaty as possible. The analyst put this together and did a really great job, but now it's our part, to insert our thinking into it, and I would just request that we move on and get to that.

I also feel that there is a bit of exaggeration as to how much more desire there was on the part of all the members on the committee—not everybody—to have more witnesses come forth and to have more information from those witnesses. We ended early with the last witness we had because there were no more questions. I felt that we were moving along the path where we all developed an idea of where we were going and what we wanted to recommend. That was the feeling I was getting at that point when we got to the last witness.

That would be my only request: let's move on to the report and see what comes out of it, before we pass it, of course.

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Richards.

February 1st, 2018 / 11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to respond to some of the discussion that's been happening. There's this idea that somehow this is meant to delay. I don't understand where that one comes from. I don't understand how anyone would really credibly argue that there's going to be a huge delay based on this. We hear this idea of outrage. Well, I don't know who is outraged, because I'm certainly not, and I'm the person moving the motion. Although I'm kind of starting to get there, because these accusations are a bit odd that we're somehow delaying all of these things.

This is the party over there that talks about wanting to do everything based on evidence and all the information. Well, that's what all this is about, simply to make sure that we have all of the information and evidence that's available to us to make decisions about what recommendations we might make as a committee, knowing that these consultations are taking place and are under way.

I had a look just now, and those online consultations close on February 9, so when I think about that, and we talk about this idea of delaying, well, obviously, the minister isn't going to be moving forward with anything she is going to do before February 9. I'm sure she wouldn't do that without having all the information and the feedback from Canadians. It's Thursday today, and some members have suggested that maybe we could have completed a report today. I don't know, it may be possible. I will say from my perspective that I'm certainly prepared to deal with the report as written, to have a look at it, knowing that we haven't had it for a great deal of time—a couple of days I guess it is.

In terms of making recommendations, some members may be more prepared on that than others, but I think we can certainly get started on that, but personally, I think, why wouldn't we want to have all the information that's available? The consultations close on February 9, so if we were able to get a good start on the report today, we'd get the briefing on Tuesday, and we'd finish, hopefully, at that point on Tuesday or thereabouts, assuming it could be done within the course of that meeting and that there aren't great arguments about what should be in the report. We're talking literally about going from today, if people were to believe that we could finish today, to Tuesday, and that's still prior to that February 9 end of the consultations.

It's not as if the minister is about to bring forward a bill, so if this is something the minister would like to have access to to help inform what she does, I don't see how this would prevent it from happening. It's not as if we're talking about six weeks to get some information on what was said in the consultations. As indicated by other members, I would assume that's probably quite readily available and probably in a spreadsheet or something like that. It could just be provided to the committee verbally, or however folks want to do it.

Why couldn't we just have that happen on Tuesday? We could still get started on going through the report today. It's not going to prevent that from happening. I fail to understand the logic. I don't get it, I just don't get why the government has such a problem with sharing the information with this committee, because the only conclusion I can draw is that's the problem here. They don't want to share the information, and why wouldn't they want to share the information? That makes me suspicious now. I wasn't before, but now I am. I can't imagine what the reason would be.

Again, there's this idea that somehow a delay is happening here. We're talking about Thursday to Tuesday to be able to get a little bit of briefing, and that's even assuming we could otherwise finish today. That's a maybe, an if, a possibility. It may not delay it at all, and if it did, it would be literally three business days, still prior to the conclusion of the minister's consultations, so, obviously, nothing would be moving forward before that.

I fail to understand this idea that it's an unreasonable delay or will prevent something from occurring prior to the 2019 election. We're talking three business days, Mr. Chair, and I just don't understand why there would be such difficulty in getting some information to the committee, which would help it to make its decision, from a party that claims that it's important to have all of the information and evidence before making decisions.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay.

Mr. Christopherson.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I have no doubt that if the Conservatives could delay this so that it does not happen, they would. That's why the first question I asked was about whether there is a drop-dead deadline.

However, I thought that the request for the information made sense. If it's available, it's more information, but again, that's assuming that what we're doing is real as opposed to just make-work or a cover for what the minister really wants to do.

To me, if it fits our time frame, let's not give the Conservatives any phony targets to go after on the process, because I really think this is important. This is close to my heart. When the minister said to me that this is what she wanted to do, I was elated. I was so thrilled because what happened is obscene. It's such an affront to democracy.

That said, again, I keep bringing this back to the government. The Liberals ran on a platform that committees were going to matter. The Liberals were the ones who said that there would be no parliamentary secretaries on standing committees, and I'm looking at two of them. And then—I wish I could go into the details—there was a meeting, an in camera meeting. I think it was Mr. Fillmore—I stand to be corrected—as parliamentary secretary, when we were talking about the initial directions for this report, and he had written pages. Well, I don't think that just came out of something he thought of the night before. When I was a parliamentary assistant to the provincial minister of finance, I didn't do an awful lot on my own. That's a career-limiting move.

Therefore, I have to assume that that's what the minister wanted. That was my first alert because up until then I was naive enough to believe that we actually were doing what the minister said and asked us to do.

To recap, I don't want to delay this. I, more than anything, want this in place so we never again see that happen, but I want to make sure that we've followed a proper process. I don't want to give the Conservatives, who I believe do not want this, for obvious reasons.... I believe they would try to delay, and that's why I asked about the deadline. However, if it doesn't delay the ability of the government to have this in place for the next election, why wouldn't we at least take it into account? It's the public. The money was spent. The minister wanted to hear what the public had to say. If it's available, in a timely way.... If not, then fine, leave it, but if it's available in a timely fashion that still allows us to meet a deadline that lets the minister bring in the legislation that we need, then why wouldn't we? That's my point.

I'll end on a positive note. I was very pleased to hear Ruby's comments. I watched you. I saw you sort of pass the nod test; as I'm talking, you're nodding. We really do have a lot of work in here. The real work is still to be done, but if this other information can help inform our final report, why wouldn't we? That's my only point.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Kmiec, welcome back to the committee.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's so nice to be back. There are so many friendly faces. It's nice to see nothing has changed here, as well.

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

I remember most of you from the late nights as well, so thank you for having me back.

Mr. Christopherson, I missed you.

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

11:45 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I missed you too, buddy.

11:45 a.m.

A voice

On division.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

On division, that's right; beautiful words.

I don't want to belabour the point here, but when “outrage” was mentioned, I think one of the great losses in the Hansard of the committee when it's printed is that the tone of words isn't conveyed. I don't think there's any outrage on this side. I don't think anybody's outraged; we're all pretty reasonable individuals at the table. Hansard won't show that, but I just want to make sure I say that nobody here was hollering or yelling or pointing fingers in any way.

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!