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House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was recall.

Topics

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ron MacDonald Liberal Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, the whole area of pension reform is not something the Reform Party, the Bloc or the Liberals can claim credit for.

The Canadian public, because of the way we have conducted ourselves in the past here, has had a pox on both our Houses, and I mean the other place as well as this place. Therefore the good members who sit here are constantly being questioned about whether or not they are paid too much or whether or not they give value for money. That did not happen 10 or 15 years ago. It has just happened recently.

I can think of nobody in the previous Parliament who did not fully justify the pay received from the crown for the job performed. I can honestly say I have never met anybody who served in this place, at least when they first came to serve in this place, who was here for self-interest. They were here because they wanted to better the country.

The problem we have as legislators is that there are people like Mr. Somerville of the national coalition who would have everybody in the world believe that nobody works up here. That is fundamentally wrong. Every member of Parliament knows, as the new members in the Reform Party, the Bloc and the Liberals have learned very quickly, that this is a very difficult job. It is a tough job but it is one we sought.

As far as pension reform goes, I have always said I do not believe people in this Chamber are overpaid. They are underpaid for the work they do. Far too many have to make choices with their families and they have to live with those choices long after they finish serving in this place. Nobody here should get rich, but nobody should be beaten every day in the media and by public interest and indeed by some members here because they take a salary home for a job well done. That is on all sides of the House.

The public wants pension reform. I will continue to say what I said during the campaign. I am fully in favour of an independent committee saying what we are worth here. Regardless of whether it says we are worth $100,000 or $30,000, or if it says we are worth a pension after 20 years or 10 years, I am quite prepared to live or die by whatever the recommendations are, if it is a truly independent committee. Other members have to be prepared to do that also. They have to defend whatever it is the independent committee recommends to their own constituents not just during election campaigns but as soon as that committee reports.

I am in favour of pension reform, but let us support whatever it is that comes in from the independent commissions.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first opportunity for me to address the House since the elections. First of all, I want to thank the voters in my riding for giving me a third solid mandate to represent them in the House, as I have done since 1984.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

A good choice, indeed.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard, QC

My hon. colleagues say the voters made a good choice; I thank them, and especially my constituents for their continued support. I want to assure them that I will do my very best to represent them well, as I have been doing for nearly ten years now.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Prime Minister for appointing me chief Government whip, a rather heavy responsibility considering the historic outcome of the elections.

Since October 25, 205 new members have arrived to sit on both sides of this House. Furthermore, two new parties have joined the mix, making it a difficult task to organize everything on Parliament Hill. With the co-operation of the other parties and of my colleagues, the Official Opposition whip and the Reform Party whip, I think a more civil tone has been adopted in this House and I hope that this can be maintained. That is what Canadians want. We have a House with 295 energetic men and women who want to make their views known. Given the fact that we sit opposite one another, we cannot liken our system to a round table meeting. At times, some animosity may surface, particularly during oral question period, but I think that every-

thing is going well so far and I hope that this continues to be the case. As chief Government whip I will try to set an example.

Everyone points to our famous red book and to the fact that during the election campaign, we made some very specific promises. From the moment the government was sworn in, the Prime Minister set the tone by slashing ministers' budgets and by following through on his first promise, namely to save $10 million per year. Immediately after taking this initiative the government cancelled the helicopter contract, as it had promised to do. It also carried out a number of other initiatives.

Not only the government, but all of us in this House have come up with a plan to cut $5 million a year in the expenses of the House of Commons. It is not much, a mere drop in a budget of $220 million a year, but this is just a beginning. In time, with your help on the Board of Internal Economy, Mr. Speaker, we will look for ways to make further savings. For the time being, we have a plan to save $5 million a year. The Board of Internal Economy has already adopted a certain number of measures and, hopefully, with the support of my colleagues, we will be able to go ahead with this plan at our next meeting.

As I said, we will continue to save a little here and there, not just for the sake of saving money, but to allow this place, this House, this Parliament Hill to be really operational and to adapt to a new reality, a new situation and new technology to be put in place. So, this is an important proposal, not only to cut expenses, but also to promote the efficiency of this place and allow us to represent our voters effectively, thereby sending the right message to our constituents.

This brings me to the subject of today's debate: parliamentary reform. I see my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary to the House Leader. We sat together on the Board of Internal Economy and now we both sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In the past, we have debated the issue of parliamentary reform at length in our committee and even in this House.

Now, just a hundred days or so after coming into office, the new government, the new House of Commons has put forward a motion on parliamentary reform, a rather important subject that we have already taken steps on, about ten days ago, when we adopted the new House of Commons Standing Committee format. Here is another measure relating to this reform to enable all members to speak to represent their constituents and their views.

Since 1984, I have had the honour and pleasure of sitting in this House as a member for nine years on the other side, and a few months on this side. But on one side or the other, there is one very important question that my colleagues and I have to ask ourselves in this debate today. We do not realize the implication of this change: to allow a bill to be referred to a committee after only a few hours of debate. This is a major change. I know that the Official Opposition mentioned it in their remarks, but this is of paramount importance.

Once this reform is implemented, every minister and hon. member will make a speech, but their time will be limited. We will not have the time previously provided for second reading.

How did we proceed in the past? Members on both sides of the House all made long speeches and took position and, when the bill was in committee, no one on either the government or the opposition side wanted to change their position. We would go through the same debate in committee and then, at the report stage, we would go over the same debate and the same amendments once again.

I think that the amendments proposed in this reform package will enable committee members from both sides of the House to look at bills and to invite witnesses and experts; they will then be able to go beyond preconceived ideas and to propose amendments to improve the bill.

If the bill is not valid and a lot of changes are made to its substance, I am confident that the government and its ministers will take this into account and withdraw the bill under consideration. This will make a real debate possible, unlike the shocking situation that prevailed in the past. We could spend hours, days and often weeks in the House on second reading of a bill. The debate in committee was just a formality since the government stuck to the position it had defended in the House at second reading and the opposition did the same thing.

I think that, for once, hon. members on both sides of the House have a real opportunity to make changes in committee and to improve legislation. That is the role of lawmakers, who must also put forward and review options, like the Minister of Human Resources Development who has just presented a motion to give committees the mandate to look at this whole important issue. Whether or not we agree with this approach, we had one or two days of debate to express our opinions and suggest ways to resolve problems, and all these options are now available to the committee.

Some members, especially in the Reform Party, may accuse us of not going far enough. There is the whole issue of free votes that has arisen since the opening of this Parliament. I can tell you that, as a whip, I consider all votes to be free.

Nowadays, it is unthinkable for a whip to tell members how to vote. That is just not done anymore. I think that members are free to vote as they wish. There are party positions, there is the question of leadership in each party and every one of us is big enough to face his or her responsibilities.

Many times in this House we have seen members decide to vote against their own party. Some regretted it, others are proud of it.

We must not say that is a small step; for me, it is a big step. Mr. Speaker, I hope-you are indicating to me that my time has expired-that with the co-operation of my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, who chairs the Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, we can look into the whole issue of electronic voting. That is very important.

We have already discussed this subject with my colleague, the chief opposition whip, and we are trying to have all votes held on Tuesday evening. The idea of voting on Tuesday and Wednesday evening is not bad; I think it would save time. That too is important. The members would all be here and while they are in the House, we could vote on several bills, one after the other, instead of always ringing the bells for fifteen or thirty minutes; and members could plan their schedules better.

I am glad that this reform will be implemented within a few days and I am sure that the House of Commons will be better for it.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to our whip's speech. I have a few questions for him. When I was in opposition I was always concerned about the fact that when we were sitting in committees, we as members in the committee could not bring forward any pieces of amendments to that bill that actually cost the government money.

As a result a lot of the proposals being put forward by committees, a lot of the good ideas that came out of committees, were always ruled out of order because they cost the government money. I am wondering if our whip can tell me whether or not that has been alleviated. Are there in place now some provisions to allow committees to actually do the work they were put there to do which is to bring forward ideas that the people of Canada want to bring forward in legislation and ideas that unfortunately may cost the government money?

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. He explained a situation that we have both experienced in committee. It has not changed. Unfortunately this parliamentary reform motion we have before us does not address that particular problem for the reason that there are some constitutional situations that do not allow us to go ahead right now. We wanted to make sure that we had some substantial parliamentary reform but naturally we could not address the whole package altogether.

What is important here, and I want to stress what I said before, is that after 180 minutes the legislation will be sent to committee. That is so early that I am sure members will be able to influence the minister and his officials. Therefore on those monetary amendments that the members will make I am sure the minister or the officials of the minister will agree to make them.

Indirectly we are answering that problem which would take a long time in the House and through lawyers and so on regarding how we can go about this constitutional impediment we have in terms of spending money because it is the crown and only a cabinet minister can do that.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Reform

Daphne Jennings Reform Mission—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned the whip and the whip's powers, so to speak, and the government does recognize free votes to a certain extent right now.

Keeping that in mind, I would ask the hon. member if the government would consider allowing free votes in the standing committees including free votes for chair and for vice-chair rather than have the whip tell the members who they will vote for for chair and vice-chair?

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard, QC

Mr. Speaker, a very interesting question. I would like to tell the hon. member that all our votes are free votes, including in committees.

The Prime Minister, a minister, the whip and the House leader can all express our opinions. We suggest our choice but members in a committee or in the House can stand and vote the way the member wishes to votes.

The idea that there is no free vote is a figure of speech. The member has the right to vote freely in a committee or in the House. The Prime Minister, the leader of the party, the whip, the House leader and any other minister or member have the right to say we should vote that way. It is up to the member in the end to decide.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

To begin with, Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Saint-Léonard. Saint-Léonard is the riding next to Bourassa and we have a lot in common, including an important Italian ethnic minority.

I also want to express my support regarding the committee's policy to reduce by $5 million a year House of Commons expenditures. This is an important message to send to the public, particularly in a period of economic crisis. I also want to say that I will support any measure to enhance the status of the work done by MPs, as well as to improve Parliament's effectiveness.

I have a question for the hon. member: When you looked at parliamentary reform and drafted the proposal which you tabled in this House, did you take into account the experiences of the United States, France and Great Britain?

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Liberal Saint-Léonard, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I said in my speech, in the last two to three years, my colleague the parliamentary secretary of the Government House Leader

and I have examined this whole issue and we looked at what was being done elsewhere.

In the case of the United States, we must of course consider the fact that their system is presidential, while ours is a British parliamentary system; it is therefore more appropriate to look at Great Britain, although we must take into account the Canadian reality-namely that Canada is a federation with some distinctive features. We also looked at the way things are done in France, and in other countries which have a British parliamentary system similar to ours.

Parliamentary reform is of course an ongoing process which is applied every day. Indeed, without realizing it, we often reach unanimous agreements which can later become regulations. Consequently, I fully agree with the hon. member for Bourassa that we must continue to try to make the role of MPs more effective, so that we can adequately represent those who elect us every four or five years. This responsibility which consists in representing the public and with-

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time for questions and comments is up. Resuming debate. The hon. member for Richmond-Wolfe.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Gaston Leroux Bloc Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to take part in this debate concerning amendments to the Standing Orders of the House. After listening to the previous speakers, you can tell how everyone is concerned about giving elected representatives more responsibility and more influence on how this House and the whole process work.

As my colleagues have done earlier, I would like to express my point of view and begin by describing some of the fundamentals involved here. The hon. member for Dartmouth talked about progressive elements. Instead of using words like "progressive", he should talk about rules or evolution, as his colleague from Saint-Léonard did.

The hon. member for Saint-Léonard reminded us that there are over 200 new members in the House. It is true that those new members have a lot to learn and to take in.

As for the proposed amendments to the Standing Orders of the House, according to the Constitution, Canada's sovereignty is entrusted to three entities: the Crown, the Senate and the House of Commons. In reality, however, that is not the case. We have learned from the history of Western parliamentary government that the real power belongs to the inner cabinet of the government party.

However, as we come to the end of the 20th century, the political power in Canada is based on only one legitimate principle, and that is the power given to the House of Commons whose members are elected to represent the will of the people. A minimum balance has to be struck between the sovereignty of the people, expressed by universal suffrage, and the efficiency of the modern state so that the spirit of democracy can survive throughout Canada as well as Quebec.

The primary objective of members of Parliament, who represent the various societies and nations that comprise the Canadian entity, is to control the actions of the parliamentary executive.

With the emergence of the welfare state, the postwar period marked the beginning of an era in which politicians were faced with an ever increasing number of laws that were more and more complex, mounting budgets and a more cumbersome administration. So, we are witnessing the progressive growth of the executive at the expense of the legislature. This is not in itself a serious problem, but it can become extremely dangerous for the democratic future of a geopolitical entity when, for example, the leader of the governing party states repeatedly in the House that no one in Canada or in Quebec wants to reopen the Canadian Constitution, thereby denying the very existence of the official opposition.

As I said, the contemporary role of the House of Commons is to control the government's actions, which implies the right of members to question and criticize freely and publicly the government and its legislative measures. The disappearance of the parliamentary balance and the emergence of a parliamentary oligarchy infringes on this right and reduces the democratic nature of the House of Commons.

The members of the Bloc Quebecois, the Official Opposition in this House, have a number of reservations about the proposed changes to the Standing Orders of the House put forward by the Liberal government, since the dynamics of the proposals are such that the sacred balance between the legislative and the executive powers would be destroyed.

These proposals call into question the very essence of parliamentary democracy. However, Bloc members did not receive a mandate from Quebec voters to reform federal institutions and, in this particular case, much less a mandate to reform the House of Commons which of all the institutions is the one largely responsible for Quebec's gradual, ongoing loss of political autonomy.

The Bloc's mandate in this House is clear. It is to defend the interests of Quebec, according to parliamentary rules and traditions, while there is still time. The Bloc has a fundamental obligation to oppose any reform which is aimed at limiting the role of opposition members in controlling government activity. This obligation involves protecting the interests of Quebecers.

Since this political party's primary objective is to secure the national independence of the Quebec state, it cannot help but advocate the decentralization of the decision-making process. In short, the Official Opposition acts as a watchdog in ensuring

the transparency and openness of the proceedings of the House of Commons.

It is written in the famous red book, the Liberal Party agenda so often waved about during the election campaign, and I quote: "The people are irritated with governments that do not consult them, or that disregard their views, or that try to conduct key parts of the public business behind closed doors".

This amendment put forward today by the same Liberal Party would enable a minister to make a motion to refer a bill to a committee immediately after second reading. It makes the Bloc Quebecois wonder what some of the statements contained in the red book are worth.

Also, the throne speech mentioned that the government was "committed to enhancing the credibility of Parliament". Basically, to make the House of Commons run more efficiently, the Liberals advocate providing members of Parliament a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of legislation. Again, the Bloc Quebecois questions the value, the usefulness of the government proposals in terms of referring bills to committee immediately after first reading, because that is the intent: to change second reading proceedings to allow the minister to ask for the bill to be referred immediately to committee. This would means that no amendments could be considered in the House. We do not think that abolishing debate in the House at the second reading stage is a measure that will increase transparency or allow members to make a greater contribution. The Official Opposition believes, on the contrary, that it undermines the legislative function of private members. Does this mean that parliamentary democracy is progressively disappearing? Is the member of Parliament not the front-line representative, that is to say the elected representative of the people of his or her riding, the riding being foremost in a system of democracy by representation? Those are the questions that we must ask ourselves.

The reality is the following: the time allocated to the consideration of private members' bills in the House of Commons has shrunk from three to four days a week in 1867 to a mere two to four hours a week in 1968. The exact same thing is happening now with regard to the time allocated to the Official Opposition, for this government proposal basically eliminates any debate in the House on the principle of bills being read for the second time. And that is an important stage! Second reading is the most important stage a bill has to go through. That is when the House gets to vote on the very principle of the legislation.

Again, the Bloc Quebecois has serious reservations concerning this measure put forward by the government to reform the House of Commons. One of the primary immediate objectives of the Bloc Quebecois will be to introduce legislation to increase the capacity to get involved, the legislative responsibility and the input of members of Parliament in the development of a decentralized Parliament. After all, Parliament is a rhetorical instrument in the original meaning of the word, that is to say one that allows public debate on matters of public interest. As I said, it also encourages the expression of dissent in a civilized way. Real political opposition is a necessary attribute of democracy, tolerance and confidence in the people's ability to resolve their differences peacefully. Opposition is essential to the parliamentary political system; otherwise, politics simply becomes administration.

With this in mind, the debate and vote on the principle of a bill at second reading is the most important way that opposition members have to oversee government bills and provides an opportunity to question the advisability of a bill before it is studied and debated clause by clause. By sending a bill to committee right after first reading, the government prevents members from criticizing the principle of a bill before its passage is assured.

Mr. Speaker, you will agree that it is difficult in committee, at report stage, to call into question the principle of a bill while it is being amended clause by clause. Once again, the Bloc Quebecois believes that this infringes the fundamental right of members to control government legislation.

With this reform, the opposition could no longer delay debate; from at least six hours allotted to the official opposition under the present Standing Orders, we would have at most one hour under the government's proposal. It seems that the power of backbenchers is being strangely eroded, as I already said several times, whence the reluctance of Bloc Quebecois members to approve such a measure. Incidentally, this same amendment does not restore Parliament's public credibility.

The government's proposal to amend the Standing Orders of the House concerns the committee charged with tabling a bill. Thus a minister can present a motion delegating to the committee the power to draft a draft bill and table it in the House. In its report, the committee can then recommend the principle, scope and general provisions of the draft bill, which implies a provision for an immediate vote on second reading, without debate or amendment.

The consequences of this proposal on the principle of parliamentary democracy and the importance of the role of the backbencher as a legislator are the same as in the case of the preceding proposal, namely that it prevents MPs from criticizing the principle of government bills. Indeed, nothing in this proposal indicates that a bill tabled by the government, following the report tabled by a committee, complies with that report. The government may well not respect the principle of the bill drafted by the committee when that bill is tabled for first reading.

With this measure, the government is trying to force the hand of the opposition by indirectly implicating it in the decision process, by enabling it, in theory since committees are controlled by the majority, to participate in the drafting of bills. The government is trying to get the opposition to support the bills which are tabled.

Although we do not systematically oppose this proposal, Bloc Quebecois members want to emphasize the importance of having a debate here on the principle underlying any bill, and they want to make this House aware of the fact that this measure does absolutely nothing to ensure transparency and to improve Parliament's credibility, two important election promises contained in the famous red book.

The Official Opposition deplores the fact that the government's proposed reform does not provide for special debates on bills deemed important by MPs. Indeed, emergency debates are rather rare in the House. The rules governing such debates are very strict, thus preventing this type of exercise on issues of concern to the public. The relevance of the proceedings of this House often is not obvious for the public, since in the absence of emergency debates these proceedings are not always related to current issues.

In order to better protect Quebec's interests, the Bloc Quebecois would like to enhance the status of the work done by the House of Commons. We therefore propose that a procedure be established to hold special debates on specific issues, as was recommended in the 81st report of the Standing Committee on House Management.

The Bloc Quebecois also deplores the fact that the government did not make any proposal for a special question and answer period on specific issues, during which some ministers would answer all the questions asked.

The eighty-first report, mentioned earlier, contained a recommendation that a special period for questions and answers be institutionalized on a weekly basis. The Standing Committee on House Management saw this as an effective means of dealing with regional and sectoral problems which, due to lack of time, could not be dealt with by the opposition during Question Period. The committee also saw this as a way to question ministers more systematically.

We therefore notice a lack of political will on the part of the government and an attitude that clearly contradicts the great principle of the election platform of the Liberal Party of Canada.

In this perspective, and to protect the interests of Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois proposes setting aside once a week, outside normal sitting hours, at least one hour for questions and answers on a subject or problem to be dealt with by a single minister. The Official Opposition would determine early in the week which ministers are to be questioned on what subjects, as well as the date and time of the proceedings. During these sessions, the House would sit according to a format similar to that of committees of the whole.

And, as a last point, I would like to draw the attention of the House to several government proposals concerning public spending and pre-budget consultations. The proposed reforms which empower the committee to examine the future year expenditure plans of departments before the last sitting day in June and to table a report advising the government on its future expenditure plans is a positive measure involving backbenchers in the budget planning process.

The item on authorizing consideration of proposals regarding the budgetary policy of the government from September to December is also a way of involving backbenchers in the budget process. The opposition sees this as a positive element as well.

Finally, the proposal regarding the possibility to amend the tax system in committee without previous notice before the introduction of a bill seems destined to give committees, with a parliamentary majority, all the flexibility required to impose tax measures. That way, the opposition would not get notices in the House and the government could introduce bills without saying immediately that their application would entail taxes.

Before I conclude, I would like to remind the federalist members of this House who might feel very patriotic that Bloc Quebecois members were not sent to Ottawa to reform parliamentary structures, but to defend the interests of the Quebec state. Need I mention it? We are sovereignist members and as such we denounce the proposed changes to the Standing Orders since they do not improve openness and are not, therefore, in the interest of Quebec.

Let me mention, as an example, the absence of any measure whatsoever which would allow the House to examine order-in-council appointments of officers of Parliament, judges, ambassadors, high commissioners, presidents and administrators of Crown corporations and of various people in regulatory bodies, agencies, and courts. It would have been very much in the public interest if, in the context of this parliamentary reform, a procedure allowing members to examine appointments before they became reality had been proposed to the House. In so doing, the government would have enriched and transformed the members' role and would have given back to Parliament its credibility. That type of proposal is essential to the openness of political decision making and seems to be a fundamental democratic measure if the people are to express their sovereignty since it would protect the country against patronage and political bias.

The Bloc Quebecois cannot help but feel concerned since it is not covered in the proposal for parliamentary reform. The lack of such measure shows how the government are against openness even though last autumn, during the campaign, they prom-

ised they would base appointments on qualifications and put an end to patronage.

In conclusion, I would like to quote the liberal member for Kingston and the Islands who said, on April 9, 1991: "That exposition of the importance of an opposition in Parliament to inform the people and to express their grievances in Parliament is a deep rooted one in the British parliamentary tradition" and "We believe that this country functions best when it has a strong and effective opposition". We of the Bloc Quebecois also believe that our country, that is Quebec, will have the opportunity to assert itself and gain political autonomy thanks to the presence in Ottawa of a strong and efficient Official Opposition. The voice the Bloc Quebecois is raising in protest against the centralizing views of the federal government and the lack of transparency of the parliamentary reform proposed today, is the same voice we hear, coming from the Canadian political scene, in favour of political independance for Quebec.

Therefore, the sovereignist MPs reject the government's proposal to refer bills to committees for review, immediately after first reading, on the grounds that it violates the guarantees granted opposition members, under the Standing Orders, to question and criticize the government.

The Bloc members deplore the lack of political will that would have allowed for real reform and put an end to the general disillusionment felt by Canadians for politicians as a whole. The same members deplore a partial reform which does not provide for this fundamental balance between the role of the government, which is to govern, and that of the opposition, which is to control the government's activities.

To conclude, we also deplore the fact that this reform of parliamentary rules, which challenges some fundamental principles of our parliamentary system, does not address the tarnished image of MPs.

In short, all the Official Opposition is seeking is that the rules of the parliamentary system be respected, and that decisions made by the Canadian political community be transparent, as requested by the Quebec people.

Quebecers have a good memory and they are not ready to forget the many years under the Liberals, when many decisions regarding the political future of Quebec were taken, with total disrespect for openness, and resulted in the Constitutional Act of 1982.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Richelieu-Cigarette Smuggling; the hon. member for Yukon-Tobacco Products.

House Of Commons Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the remarks that have been made in the debate today have been of considerable interest to the government. I will deal with the hon. member for Richmond-Wolfe in due course, but I wanted to start by speaking briefly about the remarks made particularly by the hon. member Mission-Coquitlam in her speech this morning. I thank all the members who participated in the debate for their contributions and suggestions which are of considerable importance to the government.

Members on the opposite side will agree that the government has attempted to consult with them in formulating the proposals that were put forward. The general thrusts of the proposals were ones set out in the red book and we have proceeded with those. However we have added to the motion changes as suggested by members in the opposition and in the Reform Party which we think have ameliorated the motion and made it a better one for all members and for the House in general.

The hon. member for Mission-Coquitlam referred to several of the items being referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs which really are in the last paragraph of the government's motion today. The number of items being referred to the committee for consideration is a very substantial one. I know it will take the committee some time to get through it and the date for return has been omitted from the resolution. The committee is free to report from time to time its findings to the House. I am sure it will do so on some of the issues as the study is undertaken and completed.

The interest in reporting on a large number of subjects at once saves time in terms of debate in this Chamber if there is going to be a debate on the adoption of the committee's report. On some of the issues no doubt there will be a desire on the part of members to have a lengthy debate. I can see that on an issue such as recall there may be considerable pressure to do that.

On the other hand, the committee affords an excellent opportunity for discussion. The committee can hear witnesses and members are free to make speeches in committee. They can arrange to have those printed and reported if that is the interest. I look forward to a lively discussion in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs concerning the items referred to there.

I remind hon. members on all sides that this particular committee has the standing orders, procedures and practices of the House referred to it on a permanent basis. It is free to launch a study on any aspect of the rules and practices of the House that it sees fit to do and may then report those findings and recom-

mendations to the House in the form of a report. We are not in any way restricted to the items listed in the paragraph at the end of this motion if the practice or rule that we are undertaking is already part of the practice of the House.

In the speech by the member for Mission-Coquitlam she indicated that her party was interested in restructuring the committee system. I am not sure how she intended to restructure it. We have restructured it a bit. The changes were made last week. The changes contained in the motion before the House today are significant ones and in my submission give substantial additional powers to the committees of the House, particularly in dealing with government bills.

The problem as described to us by members of the Bloc Quebecois is totally different. I believe that the person who talked to all Bloc members misrepresented the implications of this resolution, of this motion. They misunderstood our proposed change to second reading and referral to committee of a bill after the first reading. This change is very significant because in the past, because second reading always took place in the House, when a bill was referred to a committee, that committee had to consider the bill as already agreed to by the House.

The committee could not change the principles of the bill. As there were several principles at stake, it was very difficult to propose admissible amendments to a bill in committee. Now we practically have a free hand. When a bill is referred to a committee after the first reading, the committee can review the bill without restrictions. That is a major change to the Standing Orders of the House. It gives all members, on both sides of the House, the opportunity to propose such amendments. So it is quite important.

I say to the member for Richmond-Wolfe that he should read this again and not listen to whoever is giving instructions over there. If they read the changes they would see that this is significant.

In fairness, the members who have spoken were not in the last House. The member for Laurier-Saint-Marie who was here was never on a committee because he was not a member of a party. The Bloc Quebecois was not recognized as a party before the last election. Like the NDP and the Conservatives now in the House, they were not allowed to be on committees. They were struck off. Therefore he did not have experience on a committee and I can understand his making this mistake.

Had the member been there and tried moving these amendments he would have been frustrated to his wit's end. Quite sensible, ordinary regular amendments could not be moved because they changed the principle of the bill or were beyond the scope of the bill as approved by the House at second reading. That is gone and those restrictions are off.

When a bill is there to amend the Canada Elections Act, for example, and it is before a committee after first reading, other amendments to the Canada Elections Act could be added to that bill before it comes back to the House.

It gives tremendous scope to members of Parliament from every side to make changes in legislation that has been proposed. It is a very significant departure and one quite contrary to anything we have had before. It is a case of the government's giving up significant control of the legislative agenda in respect of a bill when it adopts this course and refers the bill to committee.

It will be interesting to see how it works and I invite members to wait and see how it works. However, to criticize at this point as depriving the opposition an opportunity to debate the bill at second reading is unfair.

It has that effect but the opportunities thereby created are so much greater that it is a bonanza for members, particularly members who are not of the cabinet, on every side of the House to participate in the legislative process.

I also know that the leader of the Bloc Quebecois comes from the Conservative Party. He was a Conservative before he founded the Bloc Quebecois. He approaches all changes in this House with the eye of a Conservative. I do not share his viewpoint.

I am a Liberal. These are Liberal changes. These are changes that members are going to appreciate and enjoy. The fact that the Reform Party is accepting of them in such a generous way indicates that they do meet some of the objections.

We have had arguments in the House that the House is unresponsive and there is a need for changes that allow for greater participation of members in debates of particular importance at a given moment.

I recognize that a government's legislative agenda may not allow for such debates. I am delighted to see members referring to the 81st report of the standing committee on House management, as it was then called, that came in during the last Parliament which did make some proposals for changes in the opportunities for members to ask questions of ministers and for special debates on different occasions that were not emergency debates under Standing Order 52.

Those are extremely rare. We had something like five Standing Order 52 debates in the last Parliament. They were extremely rare and very hard to get. They were subject to some comment by me in that committee, but most of the proposals that were put

forward by that committee are ones that I personally support and am urging the government to consider.

I am sure that in the new Standing Committee on Procedure and House Management the members opposite who have mentioned these with favour will raise them as proposals the committee could put forward to the House. I hope they will find some support among members of the committee on all sides. If we can come up with a recommendation to make such changes it would be delightful. I note the proposal for doing so is contained in the motion the government has put forward which indicates a willingness on the part of the government to consider this.

I may say the government has shown restraint in not wishing to touch on things like question period which are principally the domain of the opposition. Members of the opposition can come forward with constructive suggestions that will improve question period and the other opportunities they have as members to participate in the affairs of the House by questioning the government ministers.

I look forward to the opportunity. I look forward to the debate. I want to say how much I appreciate the very constructive suggestions being put forward today by members on all sides as we grapple with this problem.

The lack of confidence in members of the House stemmed in large part because the last government was so inattentive to the wishes and desires expressed by Canadians. It ignored Canadians. It failed to live up to the promises it made.

In proposing this motion we are trying to fulfil the promises we made in the red book. We are interested in allowing Canadians to participate in the committee process in a very meaningful and very direct way. In my view these changes which may sound small to somebody listening to this debate outside represent a revolutionary change in the way legislation is dealt with in the House.

I look forward to having these in place and having the co-operation of hon. members on all sides as we move forward to try bills in this new process.

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4:45 p.m.

Reform

Daphne Jennings Reform Mission—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for answering my questions from this morning.

He also inquired as to how I felt we could restructure the committee system. In keeping with the rules of the House I would like to reword my answer into a question so it will be allowed.

Would the government consider going to the extent of initiating and setting up a public accounts committee with all-party membership to look at the spending of two or three government departments for a year? In the process of one Parliament, which would be five years, we would be looking at 15 or perhaps 20 government departments after the fact. This would be a way to hold us accountable. Could I have an answer, please.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, under Standing Order 104 there is already a Standing Committee on Public Accounts created by the House which is chaired by a member of the opposition. It has been a tradition in this place that a member of the Official Opposition is elected chair of that committee. I do not believe the committee has yet met, but when it does I have no doubt it will elect a member of the Official Opposition to be its chair.

The public accounts committee includes, and I quote from Standing Order 108(3)(e):

Public Accounts shall include, among other matters, review of and report on the Public Accounts of Canada and all reports of the Auditor General of Canada which shall be severally deemed permanently referred to the Committee immediately they are laid upon the table;

Therefore the Auditor General's report, which was tabled the other day, is deemed referred to the public accounts committee. It is free to study as many government departments in a year as it wishes to do. It is free to study, because those are all reported in the public accounts of Canada, which are referred to the committee and the Auditor General's report thereon is also referred to the committee.

The committee is free to undertake the study of any government department it wishes at any time. It is under the chairmanship of a member of the opposition so there is pretty free rein granted to that committee.

The hon. member may have missed it as its reports are not widely covered by the media and so we do not hear about it, but it worked extremely well during the last Parliament.

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4:45 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Reform Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments of the hon. member with regard to the proposed changes to the standing orders.

I have a couple of comments and then perhaps a question. First, the door is open but we have not passed through it yet. I might say we have identified the right buttons but we have not pushed them yet. We are hoping that in the 35th Parliament we will not only identify the needed reform in this very institution but will also act upon those needs and implement them. I was glad to hear the hon. member say that the procedure and House affairs committee which he chairs would be willing to look at other issues with regard to parliamentary reform as well as the ones that are identified in the document we are debating today.

A particular interest of mine is reform of the other place by non-constitutional means. Perhaps once we have dealt with some of the issues on this paper we can get to those as well.

Another concern of mine is dignity and decorum in the House. I understand that the House is performing much better than has been seen in the past. As someone involved not only in campaigning in an election but also in candidate recruitment I found that young people were particularly turned off by this place. It would be appropriate for the House to do all in its means to change the appearance of this place so that young people would become excited about this institution and interested in the politics of their country.

Does the hon. member have some ideas on how that could be accomplished?

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a suggestion I would be interested in discussing with hon. members that would encourage young people to participate in Parliament.

When I was in university I had the privilege of working here as a summer job for one of the ministers of the then government. It was quite a long time ago and I enjoyed it very much. I found it a tremendously worthwhile experience.

We have two avenues open to us. One is to employ summer students. Many members may be able to afford this in their budgets and I think it is a great idea. I have done so since my election in 1988 and I found it extremely helpful.

The intern program that is currently operating in the House is a relatively small program. It involves a number of individuals who are assigned for periods of months to a member's office to work there. Something the House might look at is the expansion of that program with a view to providing additional assistance to members in their office work, at the same time giving students an opportunity to learn more about the way Parliament works.

I would recommend this to the House. It could possibly be accomplished by some change in the member's budget so that the service was provided by the House. Everyone would have an intern.

That is a possibility. It is something we might look at as a House. It is certainly not government policy. It is something suggested to me by others who have been involved in the intern program, or indirectly through the intern program, and it would be a good opportunity for more people to participate.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to the issue of parliamentary reform. It is one that has been my favourite since I was elected to Parliament in 1988.

I would expect that all members take some pleasure from the fact that the government has moved to make changes in the way we do business in the House and in committees. It has been done early in its mandate and in a manner that reflects both the election promises it made and the work of other members on both sides of the House, not just in the last Parliament but going back about a dozen years.

I would like to put the issue of reform of Parliament in context. It is a rather large context. I have to go back and at least make reference to the foundation document, the Magna Carta. I am not going to read from it but it is here. Part of the Magna Carta shows up in our statutory books of reference. It is actually an appendix to the Revised Statutes of Ontario if I recall my days of law practice. It is not an unimportant foundation document.

I refer also to the bill of rights of 1689. It consolidated many of the rights and privileges that had been given birth to since the Magna Carta and which we still rely on.

I have a photocopy of proceedings of the British Parliament in the year 1788 where an individual by the name of Harris and another unfortunate individual by the name of Lee were both arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms for contempt of the House in failing to attend and answer questions at committee. I have a long history of reform supplemented in part by a document I read on the weekend which was written by William Lyon Mackenzie and contained a proclamation from Navy Island, U.S.A., following the Upper Canada rebellion in 1837. There in print were many of the basic fundamental rights and freedoms that we required in this country at that time and which we still rely on today.

This House should always be reforming itself. We can reach back to 1837 and see the work and the lives lost. There were people hanged, people who followed Louis Papineau in Lower Canada and people who followed William Lyon Mackenzie in Upper Canada. But the work of reform of this House must always continue.

Who is reforming the House? Is it the government? No, it is not the government's job to reform the House; it is the job of members of Parliament. Anyone who uses the term government in reforming this place is in part misinformed. The government does have a role in that it collectively is the word that represents all of the members of the House who sit on the government side. The government must show leadership, but the government cannot by itself reform this place. The government is a manifestation of the crown, of the King, of the executive branch of government. The government does not run Parliament, members of Parliament do. That is something we must never forget.

The genesis of this round of reform, if we reach back about a dozen years, is the Lefebvre report, which I commend to members, and the McGrath report which dealt with a similar phase of reform. In the last Parliament we had the work of the House management committee, the work of the subcommittee to the liaison committee on committee reform and the work of our colleagues in the Liberal caucus, all of which has collectively

been, at least in part, manifested by the proposals for reform in this 35th Parliament.

I want to recognize a very important dynamic in parliamentary reform. One member can do nothing by himself or herself. Simply stated that is a fact of life; one person can do nothing. On the other extreme, we have a critical mass of people in parties, and a party can accomplish something, especially if we are the party on the government side and in the majority. But we must be careful to recognize that a party in majority is a party that holds virtually dictatorship powers. I say virtually because it is not often that a government will go to such extremes to impress its will on Parliament without listening to the opposition. Exceptions perhaps are the last Parliament. However we must all recognize this.

Where is the middle ground? What is the mechanism? The only mechanism capable of delivering a vehicle for reform and activity by members of Parliament greater than one but less than the party is the parliamentary committee. That is where we must look for reform.

I want to address two of the areas of reform very quickly. One is our absolute and utter failure to deal with the government's estimates. We have failed for years to do our work in monitoring the expenditures of the federal government. We are not alone in the western world. I know the British Parliament has similarly failed. I know that other Parliaments have failed. We do not want to continue this failure. We must recognize the challenge as it is. I believe the challenge is at the committee level. I am prepared to support the initiative in this round of reform that provides for a pre-estimates round of review that permits committees and members to impress upon government their views as to the spending in each envelope. I can only hope that it will work. I am not convinced that it will but we have to try it. We must start somewhere.

The other area is the new process of referring bills to committee after first reading. I am at first blush going to support this. We have to do something to improve the legislative mechanism here.

In my view it would be a wonderful institution if a committee could take a small piece of legislation, a small amendment, a one-page amendment, with the explicit or tacit consent of the minister, draft it and bring it into the House even during Private Members' Business as opposed to government business and have that amendment passed without having to gobble up the time required to develop cabinet consensus around the Privy Council table, back and forth among bureaucrats and back and forth through committee just to get one clause in a bill changed. It can take a year or two or three or four. I would love to see the new proposals accommodate that type of procedure. We will see if they do.

Finally I want to make a pitch for codifying and putting into statute the mechanism of the House for reviewing all the delegated legislation, that is the statutory instruments and regulations enacted by the Privy Council. There are over 1,000 per year. They are reviewed by the joint committee for scrutiny of regulations. This place and the other place share the workload.

At the moment there are some areas of delegated legislation and regulations that are excluded from the disallowance power of the committee. The disallowance power was used three times in the last Parliament. However, because the power is in the standing orders as opposed to being statutory, this committee is not able to provide for disallowance of regulations and statutory instruments made by agencies outside government such as the National Transportation Agency of Canada.

I would like to put it on record that it is my hope this will be an area for reform a little later in this Parliament. I want to join all members of the House from all sides who want to work to modernize Parliament's institutions and to make it a more effective place that will reflect the wishes of our electors and be efficient in so doing.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the unique pleasure today to compliment the member for Scarborough-Rouge River. About five years ago around this time I had the benefit of being his campaign manager. At that time I recall these same eloquent remarks being placed before the electorate and the fine people of Scarborough-Rouge River.

It is significant that this is my first intervention as the member for Ontario. I will have an opportunity at some point to discuss that.

Going very quickly to the question, how does the member for Scarborough-Rouge River feel these changes will impact him now that he is a government member? We know he has distinguished himself as a member of the opposition but now that he is sitting on the government benches it is very important for him to understand where his role is now in terms of government and how these new reforms will help him along.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Ontario for his question and comment.

I learned a bit about Parliament before I was elected to Parliament. It will not be a surprise that most of what I have learned was in my first few years here as a member of the opposition. In my first few months sitting on the government side of the House I want to confirm that I cannot and will not forget all that I learned in opposition. I will not likely change my views about what this place needs and how it should be run. Hopefully I can be true to what I have always believed and to the views I formed in opposition.

I realize that being in government has some additional responsibilities and on behalf of my electors I am certainly prepared to undertake all of those. Je me souviens. I will not forget what it was like in opposition.

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

George Proud Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure also to commend the hon. member for Scarborough-Rouge River on his presentation. It is a very happy day, I understand, for people on all sides of the House.

I want to say as a member on this side of the House that we have to look on things, hopefully not differently but in a manner better than for many years prior to this time in the House.

I say that many remarks have been made today talking about the reform of the standing orders, the reform of all our workings here in this institution. I know some of us believe that this is just a small chink in the armour but at least we are on the road.

We talked about this for the five years we have been here. I want to commend the member for his visions that he put forward over the years and for the other members from all parties who were involved in trying to get a presentation such as this and trying to see this actual day come to pass.

I want to ask a couple of questions and get the hon. member's views on what he would think of the possibility, as we go down the road, of changing or amending legislation and of writing policy. I wonder if he sees Parliament and the committees being in a position to write policy, to get actually to the point at which we will do those things as we reform this institution. What extent does he see this going to?

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. There is one principle if we are to proceed down the road to making the place work better and if we are to use the committee structure and that is the committee must, before it starts work, have a consensus as to what it wants to do. Without that all efforts will be scattered to the four winds and the committee will simply not achieve any goal, whether it be legislative or policy oriented.

I commend to all members who would be active in any committee area to build a consensus at the committee level before they start. One must accept a bit of divergence of views here at committee, but if they lose the consensus the committee will not impact on the government.

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Speller Liberal Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if the hon. member would give me his views on some changes that actually are not in this because as private members' bills go, everyone knows that we try to get up in this House and put forward legislation. Because of the system of the draw we have I was in a private members' draw for three years and never got drawn. I am wondering if the hon. member would agree with me?

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have to admit to the hon. member and to colleagues that I will be chairing the subcommittee on private members' business. I can assure the hon. member and all members on both sides of the House that we will be looking very carefully at possible reforms in that area.