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

February 1st, 2018 / 11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mostly, Mr. Christopherson. That's why I miss this committee sometimes.

I think the point of the motion is just to have more information, which is perfectly reasonable. My experience on other committees—I sit on the Standing Committee on Finance—is that more information, especially for committee members, is always useful, especially for those of us on the opposition side. It helps us figure out better recommendations that we can try to input into the committee report. At the end of the day, the committee report is tabled for members of the House of Commons to consider, including the minister, who in this case is a member of the House of Commons, but not solely in the relevant duties that she has. Our purpose is always to try to influence the government through our recommendations and to improve the decisions in the legislation it proposes.

My experience has been, so far, especially on pre-budget consultations, that the government tends not to listen always to all the great ideas that we have and include in our reports. This sometimes seems odd because the government caucus members have a majority, so I would think they would be able to discuss it with their relevant ministers. That just goes to show that there are sometimes differences of opinion among caucus members on what should be done.

To a point that Mr. Christopherson made, he doesn't know what I think on this particular issue, and I don't even know what I will think on this particular issue yet, until I see what this committee has determined to be the right set of recommendations to suggest to the House of Commons.

I don't believe the committee will be able to do this issue justice unless it has all the information available that the minister has, if it is to provide her with the best recommendations. Just as Mr. Richards said, we're only talking about a few extra days, not that many sitting days of the House, that we would have to wait in order to get this information. That's not delay; that's just careful deliberation. You also have an entire session that we could complete, and you have many opportunities to meet. This committee is master of its own domain. You could choose to sit more often. Evenings, I've heard, have been used in the past; early mornings as well, especially by this committee. Then you could provide a fulsome report to the House of Commons on what we believe are the best recommendations for the House of Commons to consider on this particular issue, and then the minister would have them. You can hold as many meetings as you wish for careful consideration of this.

Delay is not an excuse, and this motion is not delaying the committee. It is simply calling for full information to inform the committee's deliberations on an issue for its recommendations. I don't see the problem with having more information. It's an issue of transparency. After all, the minister runs a portfolio, not gifted, but set upon her by the Prime Minister, with the Governor General's acquiescence, and the content of her duties are really up to us to determine and to hold her accountable for.

We also shouldn't only be holding her accountable for task set in her mandate letter, based on the Prime Minister's view of her job, but also upon the recommendations this committee provides on particular issues, and seeing whether those are taken up in the report, including any potential dissenting reports, maybe. You probably saw a dissenting report being tabled today from the heritage committee. That can also happen.

I'm just suggesting there are good ideas, including potential consultations that are now undertaken by the Minister of Democratic Institutions, that you may want to avail yourselves of in order to know everything there is to know on a particular issue, so you're not in a situation where you're suggesting things on which the minister has heard opposite views, which might be well informed, by an expert or a group of Canadians who have thoughtful recommendations for the minister.

Those are just my words. As I said, I don't want to belabour the point. I've done that already on this committee.

It feels as if there's been way more than the number of meetings, Mr. Chair, that you have mentioned, but I'll leave it at that and look forward to the rest of the debate on this.

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Some of them were long.

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Yes, they were indeed.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

One of them was a 30-day meeting, actually.

Go ahead, Mr. Fillmore.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I would like to come to the question of timeline because it's a very important one. I think most of us share the objective of getting this in place as quickly as possible. As we know from when the minister visited us in November, we do have the web portal, so that all Canadians can weigh in on this. You made reference, Mr. Christopherson, to campaign promises. We also campaigned on a promise to include Canadians through consultation in the decisions that impact their lives. That, of course, is what this is all about.

The web portal is open until late next week. As committee members will know from their lived experience on committees, it takes four or more seeks for a sensible, credible, and legible summary report to be created, so we're into March. As well, the output from the round tables needs to be worked into a credible report, which we can assume will be some months away as well.

We're not talking about a delay of a couple of days; we're talking about a delay of three or four months as a result of this motion. While we don't have an exact deadline, Mr. Christopherson, for sure the exact deadline whatever it is, is within those two and half months, and we would miss it.

The final point I'll make is that the output documents from the round tables and from the web portal will be completely available to members, as it will to the public. Knowing the minister, I know she will always welcome and value any feedback and put to good use any feedback that any member of the committee would have, based on their review of those documents.

I think the path we have before us already achieves the goals that the mover of the motion is trying to achieve, but if the motion is passed, it will frustrate your goal, Mr. Christopherson. I believe we should just proceed with the work as we've already agreed to.

Thank you.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Christopherson.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

I'm listening carefully because it's an important file to me personally, as well as to my caucus.

Could any of the information you have be made available? Help me out here. Is there's something that's still timely, because I stand by the time thing. I hear you, and I agree. That said, I would just ask if anything is available that we could still get, even if not in its entirety.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Unfortunately, there's not.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

You're not helping.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

The portal is still open. The summary report for the round tables is in process. A tremendous volume of information was received. It will take some months to turn that into a legible report.

However, as as I've said, as soon as that is available, it will be provided both to the committee members and to the public at large.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

All right.

Well, Chair, I've pushed this as hard as I can. It seems to me from my perspective that it is reasonable to talk about how long it would take to turn that information around if they're still gathering it.

Chair, I'll say to my Conservative colleagues—not that we have the majority—in this case I'm sure the government would like to have the cover of at least one of the opposition parties with it on any major decisions, especially on a file that involves our elections. That's why it matters. Otherwise you guys win every time. That said, I'm willing to listen to anything my Conservative colleagues have to say now. I'm supportive of the idea of having as much brought forward. I'm cautious of you guys because I think you would delay it to kill it if you could. That's just my opinion. I would do the same thing if I were opposed to it—make no bones about it.

I give you a chance to convince me that the government's arguments are not legitimate on of the information this motion seeks. That's where I am for what it's worth, Chair.

Thank you.

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Nater.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

John Nater Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to Mr. Christopherson for his comments as well.

I have an incredibly difficult time accepting that there is no information available in a usable form from the round tables and that it would take a series of months. I spent time working in the public service. I worked as a policy analyst with Treasury Board Secretariat and I was a grievance analyst with Correctional Service of Canada so I have worked on the public service side of things. I've actually worked in academia as well. Frankly, a couple of graduate students on a couple of late nights I'm sure could turn the information from the round tables into a usable format pretty darn quickly. I'm sure I could find a handful of graduate students who would be willing to do that work if Her Majesty's public service needs that help.

The fact that the public service or the minister's staff can't turn the transcripts of meetings into a usable format in a short period of time frankly shocks me. I've very certain that notes were taken of the meetings, potentially even transcripts of those meetings; and that this can't be translated and provided to the committee, shocks me. I have great faith in the public service. I think we have exceptional public servants who work hard every day. I'm very positive their internal documents, transcripts, and interim briefing notes on each of those round tables have been provided to senior public servants and to the minister's office. The fact that we're being told that there's no usable information available on a relatively small number of round tables shocks me. It honestly shocks me that no information is available. I will just leave it at that.

If the department needs some graduate students who are looking for a few hours of invaluable real-life experience in the public service, I'm willing to give an extensive list of those people who'd be willing to help the minister's office out on that.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you for your offer of assistance, Mr. Nater.

I have no more speakers.

Mr. Christopherson.

11:55 a.m.

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mostly, I just want to ask the government to respond to what they just heard, because there's some reasonableness to that.

Given the fact that the government came in and said, well, we want to try to pass this today, and Mr. Fillmore told me that there are important deadlines and then at the same time said it's going to take the minister months and months to get her information and her act together, again, I'm sorry, but things just aren't hanging together here, and the government is not being helpful.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Fillmore, do you want to respond to Mr. Christopherson?

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Andy Fillmore Liberal Halifax, NS

Ever so briefly, and I'm sure the public service appreciates the fine and well-deserved compliments that Mr. Nater offered.

In the case of the online portal, it will be the analysts who prepare that report. As we know, in the case of the round tables, it's the Institute for Research on Public Policy that is conducting that report, not the public service.

I just wanted to make that clarification.

Thank you.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Richards.

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

I am going to quickly address some of the stuff that has been said. This idea of delay, that somehow this is the Conservatives trying to delay things, I think having Mr. Kmiec here is a good reminder of exactly how capable we are of delaying things for a vast amount of time if we choose to. The fact that we're not filibustering or doing long, lengthy speeches here should be evidence enough that this is not our intention. If that were our intention, we could certainly do that, but we're not trying to do that at all. We simply want to ensure that the committee has all the information available. I don't need to reiterate the points made by my friend Mr. Nater, because I think he outlined it pretty well.

I don't buy the argument that nothing could be provided to this committee. Maybe the full report in a hardcover book would take a few months to come up with, but there has to be something that is accessible now, something that would provide us with at least some general information as to what was heard through those consultations. There has to be some information provided to us. We've heard a lot of testimony. From what we heard as a committee, I don't think there was a consensus on how this should look going forward. Maybe some further information would give us some idea of what that consensus is.

Just to summarize, this is not an attempted delay. If that was what it was, you'd know it. It wouldn't be very hard to figure out. I don't understand or buy the argument that there isn't some information that could be provided here. I don't understand why the government is so reluctant to provide it. Hopefully, they'll think better of this and provide something that could be helpful to this committee. That's all this is about. I hope we can all agree that we should have all the information.

I would think as parliamentarians each of us should take a look at this and say, “Hold on. Our job as legislators is to try to make sure that we're making the best decision possible”. I don't like the idea that we have to rush to make a decision today rather than wait until Tuesday or whenever. It wouldn't take long to get that information to us. The information could probably have been presented in the amount of time or less than we've spent arguing about it.

I appeal to those on the other side to try to do their jobs as legislators and make sure we have all the information required to make proper decisions, as opposed to rushing to make our decisions a few days earlier without the information we need. I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to do that.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Thank you.

Mr. Christopherson.

Noon

NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thanks, Chair.

Any rookie can delay things by doing theatrics, but it takes some political skill to delay and not make it look like you're delaying. That said, I'm still not persuaded by the Conservatives. Although I have some sympathy for them and continue to have criticisms of the government and the way this has been done, the priority for me has to be getting this report done and trying to get the legislation in place and not seeing again what happened before in our democracy. For what it's worth, my one little vote is going to be opposed to the motion.

Noon

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I think we've heard everyone at length. Could we have a vote on Mr. Richards' motion?

(Motion negatived)

We'll suspend now so we can go in camera and start discussing the report.

[Proceedings continue in camera]