That the Standing Orders of the House of Commons in force on January 28, 1994, be amended as follows:
I. That Standing Order 73 be amended
- By deleting sections (1) and (2) thereof and substituting the following therefor:
"(1) Immediately after the reading of the Order of the Day for the second reading of any public bill, a Minister of the Crown may propose a motion that the said bill be forthwith referred to a standing, special or legislative committee. The Speaker shall immediately propose the question to the House and proceedings thereon shall be subject to the following conditions: a ) the Speaker shall recognize for debate a Member from the party forming the Government, followed by a Member from the party forming the official Opposition, followed by a Member from each officially recognized party in the House, in order of the number of Members in that party, provided that, if no Member from the party whose turn has been reached rises, a Member of the next party in the rotation or a Member who is not a member of an officially recognized party may be recognized; b ) the motion shall not be subject to any amendment; c ) no Member may speak more than once nor longer than ten minutes; d ) after not more than 180 minutes of debate, the Speaker shall interrupt the debate and the question shall be put and decided without further debate or amendment.
(2) Every public bill, except for bills referred to a committee before being read a second time pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, shall be read twice and referred to a committee before any amendment may be made thereto.
(3) Unless otherwise ordered and except for bills referred to a committee before being read a second time pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, in giving a bill second reading, the same shall be referred to a standing, special or legislative committee."
- By renumbering sections (3) and (4) thereof as sections (4) and (5) respectively.
II. That section (1) of Standing Order 74 be amended by deleting the word "When" and by substituting therefor the words "Unless otherwise provided by Standing or Special Order, when", in paragraph ( a ), by deleting the words
or second speaker'' and substituting therefor the words, second or third speaker'' and in paragraph ( b ), by deleting the word
two'' and substituting therefor the wordthree''.
III. That the Standing Orders be amended:
- By inserting, immediately before Standing Order 76, the following:
"At Second Reading
- (1) The report stage of any bill reported by any standing, special or legislative committee before the bill has been read a second time shall not be taken into consideration prior to the third sitting day following the presentation of the said report, unless otherwise ordered by the House.
(2) If, not later than the second sitting day prior to the consideration of the report stage of a bill that has not yet been read a second time, written notice is given of any motion to amend, delete, insert or restore any clause in a bill, it shall be printed on a Notice Paper . When the same amendment is put on notice by more than one member, that notice shall be printed once, under the name of each member who has submitted it.
(3) When a recommendation of the Governor General is required in relation to any amendment of which notice has been given pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order, notice shall be given of the said Recommendation no later than the sitting day before the day on which the report stage is to commence and such notice shall be printed on the Notice Paper along with the amendment to which it pertains.
(4) An amendment, in relation to form only in a government bill, may be proposed by a Minister of the Crown without notice, but debate thereon may not be extended to the provisions of the clause or clauses to be amended. NOTE: The purpose of this section is to facilitate the incorporation into a bill of amendments of a strictly consequential nature flowing from the acceptance of other amendments. No waiver of notice would be permitted in relation to any amendment which would change the intent of the bill, no matter how slightly, beyond the effect of the initial amendment. (5) The Speaker shall have the power to select or combine amendments or clauses to be proposed at the report stage and may, if he or she thinks fit, call upon any Member who has given notice of an amendment to give such explanation of the subject of the amendment as may enable the Speaker to form a judgement upon it. If an amendment has been selected that has been submitted by more than one member, the Speaker, after consultation, shall designate which member shall propose it.
NOTE: The Speaker will not normally select for consideration any motion previously ruled out of order in committee, unless the reason for its being ruled out of order was that it required a recommendation of the Governor General, in which case the amendment may be selected only if such Recommendation has been placed on notice pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order. The Speaker will normally only select motions that were not or could not be presented in committee. A motion, previously defeated in committee, will only be selected if the Speaker judges it to be of such exceptional significance as to warrant a further consideration at the report stage. The Speaker will not normally select for separate debate a repetitive series of motions which are interrelated and, in making the selection, shall
consider whether individual Members will be able to express their concerns during the debate on another motion.
For greater certainty, the purpose of this Standing Order is, primarily, to provide Members who were not members of the committee with an opportunity to have the House consider specific amendments they wish to propose. It is not meant to be a reconsideration of the committee stage.
(6) When the Order of the Day for the consideration of the report stage is called, any amendment proposed pursuant to this Standing Order shall be open to debate and amendment.
(7) When debate is permitted, no Member shall speak more than once or longer than ten minutes during proceedings on any amendment at that stage.
(8) When a recorded division has been demanded on any amendment proposed during the report stage of a bill, the Speaker may defer the calling in of the Members for the purpose of recording the "yeas" and "nays" until more or all subsequent amendments to the bill have been considered. A recorded division or divisions may be so deferred from sitting to sitting. NOTE: In cases when there are an unusually great number of amendments for consideration at the report stage, the Speaker may, after consultation with the representatives of the parties, direct that deferred divisions be held before all amendments have been taken into consideration. (9) When proceedings at the report stage on any bill that has not been read a second time have been concluded, a motion
That the bill, as amended, be concurred in and be read a second time'' orThat the bill be concurred in and read a second time'' shall be put and forthwith disposed of, without amendment or debate.
(10) The report stage of a bill pursuant to this Standing Order shall be deemed to be an integral part of the second reading stage of the bill. When a bill has been concurred in and read a second time in accordance with the procedures set forth in this Standing Order, it shall be set down for a third reading and passage at the next sitting of the House.
After Second Reading".
- By renumbering Standing Order 76 as Standing Order 76.1 and by amending the said Standing Order: a ) in section (1) thereof, by inserting immediately after the word
committee'', the wordsafter the bill has been read a second time''; b ) in section (2) thereof, by inserting immediately after the word
stage'', the wordsof a bill that has been read a second time'' and by adding, at the end, the words,
When the same amendment is put on notice by more than one Member, that notice shall be printed once, under the name of each Member who has submitted it.''; <em>c</em> ) in section (3) thereof, by inserting immediately after the wordbill'', the words
that has been read a second time''; <em>d</em> ) in section (5) thereof, by adding, immediately after the wordsupon it'', the words,
If an amendment has been selected that has been submitted by more than one Member, the Speaker, after consultation, shall designate which Member shall propose it.''; <em>e</em> ) in section (6) thereof, by deleting the wordssection (2) of''; f ) by deleting section (8) thereof and by substituting the following therefor:
"(8) When a recorded division has been demanded on any amendment proposed during the report stage of a bill, the Speaker may defer the calling in of the Members for the purpose of recording the "yeas" and "nays" until more or all subsequent amendments to the bill have been considered. A recorded division or divisions may be so deferred from sitting to sitting. NOTE: In cases when there are an unusually great number of amendments for consideration at the report stage, the Speaker may, after consultation with the representatives of the parties, direct that deferred divisions be held before all amendments have been taken into consideration.'' ( g ) in section (9) thereof, by inserting immediately after the words
any bill'', the wordsthat has been read a second time''; h ) in section (10) thereof, by inserting immediately after the word
bill'', the wordsthat has been read a second time''; and i ) in section (11) thereof, by inserting immediately after the words
When a bill'', the wordsthat has been read a second time''.
IV. That Standing Order 113 be amended:
- By deleting section (1) thereof, and by substituting the following therefor:
"(1) Without anticipating the decision of the House, within five sitting days after the commencement of debate on a motion to appoint a legislative committee or to refer a bill thereto, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall meet to prepare, and shall report not later than the following Thursday, a list of members of such a legislative committee, which shall consist of not more than fifteen Members. Such a committee shall be organized only in the event that the
House adopts the motion for appointment or referral. Upon presentation of such a report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the same shall be deemed adopted."
- In section (3) thereof, by deleting all of the words after the word "meet" and by substituting therefor the words:
"within two sitting days of the naming of the Chairman and the adoption of the motion appointing or referring the bill to the committee of which the membership has been reported."
That Standing Order 68 be amended by adding, immediately after section (3), the following:
"(4)( a ) A motion by a Minister of the Crown to appoint or instruct a standing, special or legislative committee to prepare and bring in a bill, pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, shall be considered under Government Orders. During debate on any such motion no Member shall be permitted to speak more than once or for more than ten minutes. After not more than ninety minutes debate on any such motion, the Speaker shall interrupt debate and put all questions necessary to dispose of the motion without further debate or amendment. A motion by a Minister of the Crown to concur in the report of a committee pursuant to this section or to section (4)(b) of this Standing Order shall also be taken up under Government Orders and shall, for the purposes of Standing Order 78, be considered to be a stage of a public bill. b ) A motion by a Private Member to appoint or instruct a standing, special or legislative committee to prepare and bring in a bill, pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, shall be considered as a motion under Private Members' Business and shall be subject to the procedures in that regard set down in Standing Orders 86 to 99, inclusive. A motion by a member other than a Minister of the Crown to concur in the report of a committee pursuant to this section or to section (4)( a ) of this Standing Order shall also be taken up as a motion under Private Members' Business pursuant to the aforementioned Standing Orders in that regard.
(5) A committee appointed or instructed to prepare and bring in a bill shall, in its report, recommend the principles, scope and general provisions of the said bill and may, if it deems it appropriate, but not necessarily, include recommendations regarding legislative wording.
(6) The adoption of a motion to concur in a report made pursuant to section (5) of this Standing Order shall be an order to bring in a bill based thereon.
(7)( a ) When a Minister of the Crown, in proposing a motion for first reading of a bill, has stated that the bill is in response to an order made pursuant to section (6) of this Standing Order, notwithstanding any Standing Order, the bill shall not be set down for consideration at the second reading stage before the third sitting day after having been read a first time. The second reading and any subsequent stages of such a bill shall be considered under Government Orders. When a motion for second reading of such a bill is proposed, notwithstanding any Standing Order, the Speaker shall immediately put all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill without debate or amendment. b ) When a member other than a Minister of the Crown, in proposing a motion for first reading of a bill, has stated that the bill is in response to an order made pursuant to section (6) of this Standing Order, and if the bill has been selected pursuant to Standing Order 92, when a motion for second reading of such a bill has been proposed, notwithstanding any Standing Order, the Speaker shall immediately put all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill without debate or amendment.
(8) A Minister of the Crown may propose a motion for first reading of a bill based on an order made pursuant to section (6) of this Standing Order, whether that order was the result of a motion by Minister or of a private member, and notwithstanding the provisions of section (4)( b ) of this Standing Order, any such bill shall thereafter be considered under Government Orders.''
That Standing Order 81 be amended by adding at the end of section (8)( a ) the words ``In any calendar year, no more than one fifth of all the allotted days shall fall on a Wednesday and no more than one fifth thereof shall fall on a Friday.'' and by inserting immediately after section (6) the following:
"(7) When Main Estimates are referred to a standing committee the committee shall also be empowered to consider and report upon the expenditure plans and priorities in future fiscal years of the departments and agencies whose Main Estimates are before it.
(8) Any report made in accordance with section (7) of this Standing Order may be made up to and including the last normal sitting day in June, as set forth in Standing Order 28(2), and shall be deemed to be subject to the provisions of section (9) of this Standing Order."
and by renumbering the subsequent sections accordingly.
That the Standing Orders be amended by inserting immediately after the title "Budget Debate" and before Standing Order 84, the following:
"83.1 Commencing on the first sitting day in September of each year, the Standing Committee on Finance shall be authorized to consider and make reports upon proposals regarding the budgetary policy of the government. Any report or reports thereon may be made no later than the tenth sitting day before the last normal sitting day in December, as set forth in Standing Order 28(2)."
That Standing Order 83(4) be amended by deleting the period and adding the following:
"or to propose an amendment or amendments to a bill then before the House, provided that such amendment or amendments are otherwise admissible."
I.That Standing Order 24 be amended by deleting sections (2) and (3) and substituting the following therefor:
"(2) At 6:30 o'clock p.m. on any sitting day except Friday and at 2:30 o'clock p.m. on Fridays, the Speaker shall adjourn the House until the next sitting day."
II. That Standing Order 30(4)( a ) be amended by deleting the words
the mid-day interruption'' and by substituting therefor, the wordsoral questions''.
III. That Standing Order 30(6) be amended by deleting the words "Private Members' Business-from 5:00 to 6:00 o'clock p.m." and the words "Private Members' Business-from 7:00 to 8:00 o'clock p.m." and substituting therefor the words " Private Members' Business-from 5:30 to 6:30 o'clock p.m." and by deleting the words "Private Members' Business-from 3:00 to 4:00 o'clock p.m." and substituting therefor the words "Private Members' Business-from 1:30 to 2:30 o'clock p.m."
IV. That Standing Order 30 be amended by deleting section (7) thereof and by substituting the following therefor:
"(7) If the beginning of Private Members' Hour is delayed for any reason, or if the Hour is interrupted for any reason, a period of time corresponding to the time of the delay or interruption shall be added to the end of the Hour, provided that if the delay or interruption continues past thirty minutes after the time at which the Hour would have ordinarily ended, Private Members' Hour for that day and the business scheduled for consideration at that time, or any remaining portion thereof, shall be added to the business of the House on a day to be fixed, after consultation, by the Speaker, who shall attempt to designate that day within the next ten sitting days, but who, in any case shall not permit the intervention of more than one adjournment period provided for in Standing Order 28(2)."
V. That Standing Order 33(2) be deleted and the following substituted therefor:
"(2) A period of time corresponding to the time taken for the proceedings pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order shall be added to the time provided for government business in the afternoon of the day on which the said proceedings took place. Private Members Business, where applicable, and the ordinary time of daily adjournment shall be delayed accordingly, notwithstanding Standing Orders 24, 30 and 38 or any Order made pursuant to Standing Order 27."
VI. That Standing Order 38(1) be amended by deleting the words "6:00" and substituting therefor the words "6:30".
VII. That Standing Order 41(1) be amended by deleting all of the words before the word "unless" and by substituting the words "Whenever the business before the House is interrupted pursuant to Standing Order or Special Order,".
That this Order shall come into effect on the Monday following its adoption.
That Standing Order 51 be suspended for the present Session.
That the Clerk be authorized to make necessary editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders.
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs examine procedures regarding members statements, special debates, the taking of divisions of the House by electronic means, the conduct of Private Members' Business, especially with regard to Private Bills and to Senate Public Bills, any anomalies or technical inconsistencies in the Standing Orders, the reform of question period, measures to achieve more direct participation by citizens, including citizens' initiative, the right of constituents to recall their M.P., binding referenda, free votes in the House of Commons, debates on petitions and fixed election dates.
Mr. Speaker, the motion to change the rules of the House, which I am proposing today, is intended to implement a number of commitments that my party made in the recent election campaign and in the throne speech in order to revive and revitalize the House of Commons.
In the speech from the throne, the government committed itself to "enhance the credibility of Parliament". The changes they propose to make to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons "will give the hon. members the opportunity to be more actively involved in the development of government policies and legislation".
As I have said in quoting the throne speech, what we want to do is renew and revitalize the House of Commons. Of course changing the rules of the House does not alone bring about its revitalization. It is the extent to which the new procedures are used that will make the difference.
Today we are providing a framework for renewal. It will be up to all members, both government and opposition, to make these procedures effective.
It is to state the obvious to say that Canadians have in recent years, and I think especially over the last nine years, grown increasingly dissatisfied with the way the House of Commons has functioned. They have been unimpressed both with the process that the House has used to do its business and with much of the results. The changes to the standing orders, the rules of the House, proposed today make a beginning on improving the process. Our success in improving the process will, in my view, have a constructive influence on improving the product.
Our Parliament is an institution founded on developments many centuries ago. It is one that has evolved over the years to meet the changing expectations of society. We believe that the Canadian system of parliamentary government is fundamentally sound but that the recent practices of the House of Commons have become inadequate to meet the expectations of the Canadian people.
Canadians expect responsive as well as responsible government. Many Canadians have in recent years come to feel that the House of Commons has failed them in this regard. They also expect more transparency in government decision making. In this regard as well, Canadians have been dissatisfied with parliamentary proceedings. Also, our electors want us to conduct their business in an orderly and civil fashion. They have not been overly impressed with the record of the House in recent years on this front either.
However, the new government has been making a real effort to have the House operate with a more constructive tone and with a better sense of decorum. The opposition parties, I am happy to say, have been making a similar effort and the results have been a matter of favourable comment by many outside the House.
Members will note that the proposals in this motion do not represent radical departures from some of the ways in which the House has operated. They in fact reinforce the fundamentals of our system. By this I mean they seek to restore a more active role to our members of Parliament and to provide a better balance between them and the government. The proposals are the end product not just of the Liberal platform, but of intensive study in recent years both inside and outside the House.
There has been a growing consensus both inside and outside the House that proposals such as the ones we find in the motion before us are essential to the recognition by Canadians of the House of Commons as the central institution of our federal government. We do not apologize for what appears to be a national consensus. We are pleased to be able to act on this national consensus and this is what we are doing today.
I want to mention some of those who have contributed to the development of this consensus.
A year ago there was an important report prepared by the present minister of government services and the hon. members for Saint-Léonard, for Kingston and the Islands, and for Glengarry-Prescott-Russell. This report deserves our recognition.
Several months later the standing committee on House management made its very useful 81st report which represented work not only by the members I have just named but also by such members as the member for Winnipeg Transcona and former members, such as the hon. Jim Edwards.
There have also been many studies by academic and private sector organizations. There has been work over the years by the Parliamentary Centre for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade under the leadership of Peter Dobell. The House has benefited as well from commentary on procedural matters by journalists such as Hugh Winsor, Doug Fisher and, yes, Bob Fife.
In the immediate past weeks we also benefited from constructive discussions with the Official Opposition, with the Reform Party and with other members. I would like to thank particularly the hon. members Roberval and Kindersley-Lloydminster, the House leaders for the Bloc and the Reform Party, for making a number of constructive suggestions which we have been happy to incorporate into this motion.
I believe this kind of collaboration and consensus building is what the Canadian people desire of their elected representatives. I am confident all members who want to build a more vital and more relevant House of Commons will be able to support these proposals.
The House actually got a head start in its proposals last week when it unanimously approved a restructuring of the committee system. At that time the standing committees were realigned to match the new structure of the government to make it absolutely clear which committee would deal with which of the departments and agencies. One important feature of the reforms adopted last week was the confirmation that the standing committees and not the legislative committees would be the usual and customary route for the consideration of the committee stage of bills.
The motion before us today follows and adds to the changes made last week. I would like to now turn to its specific provisions.
The main object of today's motion is to put in place more of the parliamentary framework that will permit members to do what was promised by my party in the election campaign and in the throne speech. This promise was to enable members of Parliament to play a greater role in the legislative process before being limited in their scope of action by the approval in principle of a bill that is implied by second reading.
Second, our proposal will give members an opportunity to have more input in the preparation of annual departmental spending plans. This will be a considerable enhancement of their role in the present process whereby they merely review the estimates for the current fiscal year. Since these estimates bear the constitutionally required recommendations of the Governor General, they are procedurally difficult to alter.
Third, our motion would enable members to be directly involved in the consideration of proposals for the annual budget and in consultations about it before being confronted with formal tax measures to which the government must be constitutionally committed.
It is our proposal that these tasks be undertaken through the work of members in the standing committees of the House holding hearings, listening to witnesses and arriving openly at decisions and recommendations.
In a country as vast and complex as Canada every government decision represents a compromise. Every decision on legislation, on expenditure and on taxation affects different groups and regions in our country in different ways. No decision can be reached without consulting a wide range of Canadians, without considering the views of provinces and municipalities and without extensive consultations within the government itself,
that is among departments of the federal government. As a result virtually every government decision represents myriad compromises.
The difficulty that the present practices cause for our democratic society is that most of these consultations and compromises occur before legislation or financial proposals are made public in Parliament.
There is little transparency in this pre-parliamentary process which gives natural rise to suspicions, justified or not, about its fairness and balance.
The impact of this approach on Parliament is as a consequence often negative. Interested groups unhappy with the result of the process may simply seek champions of their opposition in the House and often find them in one or more of the opposition parties as well as in individual members on the government side.
Also ministers and their officials, having already been involved in extensive consultation and compromise, are very often highly reluctant to agree to substantial alterations of the bill in the House. As a result, what could be a constructive and potentially more unifying parliamentary process may well become confrontational and lead to more division instead of some reasonable degree of consensus?
It is true that in a regionally, socially and economically diverse country such as Canada, arrival at consensus on national policy is not easy. When attempts at reaching such compromise appear to be restricted to private and even secret processes, however, it is at the expense of the valuable educational and enlightening effects of more public involvement. All this merely exacerbates mistrust and suspicions and makes the arrival at some reasonable degree of national consensus unlikely or certainly more difficult.
Canadians have the sophistication and the generosity to cope with the forging of at least some of these difficult compromises more in public than has been the case before now. There may be some who doubt this but I am convinced that most Canadians are capable of understanding each other's needs and positions and are willing to sanction the kinds of compromises between regional, social and economic groups that are necessary to govern so diverse a nation as Canada.
What is more, it is important that a modern democratic government, more often than at present, more openly involve its citizens in this kind of decision making. The government must give more trust to its citizens and their elected representatives if citizens are to trust their government. Therefore we are proposing two new avenues, two new routes, for the House to deal with legislation in addition to the one already in existence.
The first new avenue, the first new route, would see the government introduce a bill for first reading but after a short debate of up to three hours and a vote, if necessary, the bill would be referred to a committee, usually a standing committee, before rather than after second reading and approval in principle.
The committee would be able to hold extensive hearings and would be able to make amendments to the bill unrestricted by the present limitations considered to be imposed by approval in principle at second reading. Committees would be in a position to make extensive revisions to the legislation. Amendments of a similarly broad nature could be proposed at the report stage after the bill was sent back to the House and this would be prior to the completion of the second reading stage.
When the report stage is concluded, under this new procedure a motion for second reading would be disposed of without further debate and the bill would be set down for consideration at the third reading stage at a future sitting.
The third reading stage as well as the earlier report stage would continue to provide broad opportunities for all MPs who wish to engage in debate of a more general nature on the bill in question.
The second new avenue or route would see a committee, on motion by a minister or by a private member, if it is a matter during private members' hour, charged with the responsibility of preparing a bill. Such a committee, likely a standing committee, could hold wide ranging hearings on what ought to be included in the legislation and would report to the House on the principles, provisions and scope of the proposed bill.
That report could include some of the drafting. Concurrence in the report would be an order of the House to bring in such a bill. The bill, having already been subject to extensive debate in principle during consideration of the motion to concur, would have to be given second reading expeditiously and referred to committee for detailed study of its legislative language. Subsequent consideration by the House would take place under already existing legislative procedures.
One of the features of this route would be that the government, if impressed with a private member's initiative, can move it for consideration as compared with the slow and difficult procedure usually applied to private members' bills.
As I have said, in addition to these two new routes the present legislative process will also be retained, the process of sending a bill to committee, only after the vote on second reading.
The House and its committees will need to develop the techniques and the expertise required to make the new procedures effective. We propose to make a relatively limited number of government bills subject to the new procedures in the
beginning. I foresee the two new routes becoming more and more the procedures to be preferred by the government.
The great advantage of these new procedures, these new routes, would be that members would be able to do what they and those who elected them have always expected, and that is to do more to develop legislation.
There is, however, an important additional potential benefit to be gained. The broad role of standing committees with regard to a bill dealt with in either of these two new processes could substantially reduce the quasi-proprietary attitude of ministers and their officials toward their legislation. By the time such a bill is ready for second or third reading, it could be as much the committee's bill as it is that of the sponsoring minister. It has been suggested that a vote on second or third reading of such a bill could as a consequence of this be more difficult to describe as, standing by itself, a confidence issue. Members on all sides of the House could find themselves freed more often of constitutional implications in voting and would be able to depart from party positions without concerns about defeating the government.
In other words, the suggestion has been made to me that these two new legislative routes could be one way of increasing the number of so-called free votes.
The new procedures also can help avoid situations that all governments face from time to time. They result from a bill's being developed within departments without sufficiently broad and open public consultation. As a consequence, things could be overlooked and the governments as a result are embarrassed, to say the least, when the bill must be dramatically changed or even withdrawn in the face of a strong expression of negative public opinion after that bill has been introduced.
I would like now to turn to our proposals regarding greater involvement of members of the House in financial procedures. Under present rules the House does not deal with government expenditure until the estimates, the spending programs for the current fiscal year as recommended by the crown, have been put before it.
The estimates are complex and difficult to analyze and are, for constitutional reasons, difficult to change. In addition, their consideration is subject to a rigorous timetable. Main estimates are referred to standing committees late in February and their study must be completed in committee by the end of May of the same year. As a result, the examination of estimates has become rather cursory and there has been no focus for parliamentary debate on government spending before its spending priorities are actually set.
We propose, therefore, that concurrently with consideration of the main estimates for the current fiscal year, each standing committee must also consider the future expenditure priorities for the subsequent fiscal year of the departments and agencies for which it is responsible.
The committees would be required to report their findings and recommendations by the end of June in order to fit into the government's administrative timetable for preparing the next year's estimates, a process that occurs in the autumn of each year.
The House would thus have the opportunity to provide the government and the public with its views on expenditure priorities before the estimates for the next fiscal year are prepared rather than being put in the difficult position of having to deal with what amounts to almost a fait accompli when the estimates are finally tabled.
Turning to another matter, the annual budget presentation by the Minister of Finance usually takes place around the end of February of each year. We are proposing in this motion, therefore, that the Standing Committee on Finance be required to undertake an annual public consultation on what should be in the next budget and in so doing to conduct extensive public hearings. This consultation would have to take place in the fall of each year between September and December so as to fit into the real timetable for budget preparation by the Department of Finance.
Having the consultation take place in this time period would make the involvement of parliamentarians meaningful and relevant. This would provide a forum for both parliamentarians and the public to air their views on these important matters well before the budget is locked in in order for it to be presented around the end of February.
This would also enable the Minister of Finance to test proposals and ideas with the public less hindered by the often misunderstood and often exaggerated concept of budget secrecy.
The idea is that while the minister would still take care to avoid giving unfair commercial advantage through advance notice of what the budget would actually contain, he or she would have the benefit of public and parliamentary comment before, rather than after, preparing the budget. Also this would be done because the study has to take place in the finance committee in the fall of each year before a budget is expected to be presented the following February. This would have to take place at a point close to when decisions are being made within the government on the contents of the budget.
I should add that the public could well benefit from a better understanding of the options, and by analysis of the committee proceedings hopefully would be more confident that the budge once published reflects its needs.
In addition to providing the framework for implementing our platform commitments and what was said in the throne speech, the motion seeks to regularize the hours of sitting of the House. Over the years evening sittings in my view have proven to be unproductive for legislation and not helpful to the health and family life of members and the staff of the House.
Evening sittings will still occur when the House is debating general policy matters that attract an unusually high level of participation, as we have seen in the last few weeks, or holding special debates on matters of urgency. However, we consider it desirable that the House not usually sit during the evenings in order to give members more time for committees, for work in their offices and perhaps, most important, time for some normal home life for those whose families come to be in Ottawa.
We wish as well to accommodate members' travel on weekends to their constituencies by reverting to an earlier adjournment time on Fridays. We would make up the time lost by sitting until 6.30 p.m. rather than 6 p.m. during the week and by doing away with the break between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
We are also proposing a measure that would protect the right of private members to have their proposals debated for the full allotted of time as well a measure that would recognize in the rules the need for the House to make certain amendments from time to time to tax bills that are already before the House.
There are a number of other areas of parliamentary procedure that have been subject to comment from both within and outside the House including what has been mentioned in the House management committee's 81st report of which I spoke earlier. These include such matters as the conduct of Question Period, special debates and Private Members' Business. I do not believe that these should be the subject of an initiative by the government at the beginning of new Parliament, especially one in which more than two-thirds of the members are new to the House. In addition there is the question of electronic voting, a subject that has engendered a lot of discussion in recent years.
These subjects as well as a number of other issues such as recall, referenda, citizens' initiatives, are among those that should be addressed in a parliamentary study. As a result we are proposing that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs put them on its agenda for early consideration.
Also the government has decided that as a part of its effort to enhance the relevance of the House of Commons, ministers must, whenever possible, make announcements regarding policy first here in the House and before meeting the press rather than after.
This enables members to hear first about such decisions in the House of Commons. This also facilitates formal responses by the opposition parties. We saw a good example of how this approach can work with a statement by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration just last week.
It is also the government's intention to continue the innovation seen in the last few weeks in which the government, on its own initiative, sets aside a significant portion of its own House time for general debates on policy issues of current and immediate significance.
I believe this enhances the role of members since their voices will be heard here in the House of Commons more often before decisions are made rather than afterward.
I want to turn to a subject that is not mentioned in the motion itself, but I anticipate that some of the debate on the motion will concern this subject. It is the subject of so-called free votes. I want to spend a few minutes discussing this important topic.
The subject does not appear in the motion because in our view it is not a matter that can be dealt with effectively by the rules themselves. In fact it is not a matter dealt with now by the rules, the standing orders of the House. Instead I have concluded it is a matter to be dealt with by each party and each party's members themselves.
A government may choose to declare a vote a free vote but it cannot oblige the other parties in the House to accept such a declaration. For example, in the last Parliament the House had before it a bill on abortion which government backbenchers and the Official Opposition regarded as a free vote but which the then third party declared to be as far as it was concerned a party vote, that is one of party policy from which dissent by its members was not acceptable to it.
We should also bear in mind that this question is as much one of self-discipline as it is of party discipline.
Most members of this House sought election on the basis that they were supporters of a particular party, its leader and its program. This is certainly the case for the Liberals who campaigned on a more fully detailed and developed platform than is usually the case. Electors likely expect their members to represent them in a manner that is consistent with the basis on which their members sought election.
A more complex consideration here is that the question of free votes is not only a matter of internal parliamentary procedure. We are dealing here with the Constitution. To be sure it is the largely unwritten part of our constitution but it is a vital part, crucial to the whole concept of parliamentary democracy.
It is a fundamental constitutional principle that the government in order to hold office must command the confidence of the House of Commons. Confidence means that the House does not only agree that the Prime Minister and the cabinet ought to remain in office, but in order to permit them to do so the that House is prepared to support their fundamental policies. This is a basic element of the unwritten part of the Constitution, that part which stems from the preamble to the Constitution Act which states that Canada is to have a constitution "similar in
principle to that of the United Kingdom". In other words, we are the heirs to hundreds of years of constitutional practice and are at the same time both liberated and bound by that legacy.
For more than 300 years it has been a constitutional principle in the United Kingdom, and later in Canada, that ministers in order to hold office must have the support of the House of Commons in the sense that they are assured of a majority on their central policies. They must demonstrate on an ongoing basis the ability to persuade the House to grant the crown the funds necessary to carry on the government, to raise the necessary moneys through taxes and to enact the laws the ministry considers essential for good government.
Under our constitution the House may express its satisfaction with ministers who hold office by passing motions expressing confidence or defeating motions of censure from time to time. But if that same House were at the same time to deny regularly to the ministers the funds needed to administer the government or the taxes to pay its bills or the legislation the ministers believe essential, those ministers would be shown to be unable to govern.
As a result, they would have to leave office or seek the election of a new House. The confidence of the House and the government is not simply something that is periodically voted upon. It is something that is also gained or lost on a cumulative basis.
Not long ago the Prime Minister was asked in the House to commit the government to a process whereby it could, after any defeat on any bill or motion other than an explicit no confidence motion, bring before the House a motion reaffirming the confidence of the House and the ministry and if sustained in that motion to carry on.
This process, if sparingly used, is a legitimate one. It was employed in the House once 25 years ago. This happened when a government, having carried a tax bill successfully through all earlier stages, was not sufficiently prudent and held the final vote at what proved to be the wrong time. Having been defeated on the third reading of that bill, the government later brought in a motion that specifically declared that situation not to have been an intentional declaration by the House of no confidence in the government. The House accepted the motion and the government carried on.
It is not however a device that is, if resorted to on a regular basis, at all compatible with Canadian and British constitutional theory or practice. A government, I submit, in order to remain in office must be able to count upon Parliament to support the essentials that the programs that it places before it and upon which its members were elected. Both the Constitution and the electorate expect the government to do something more than to simply cling to office. A government is expected to pursue the program on which it was elected.
This is not to say that the government must be on the winning side of every vote in the House in order to stay in office. Far from it. The Sir John A. Macdonald government between 1867 and 1872 absorbed many defeats both on legislation and on supply. The Trudeau government between 1972 and 1974 also carried on despite defeat, including some on supply.
The cumulative effect of votes in both of those parliaments however was supportive of these governments. By and large they got their legislative programs and their central fiscal policies adopted.
The question of confidence is far from straightforward. This was demonstrated during the debate on the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne in January 1973 when then Prime Minister Trudeau presented an exposition of the confidence convention and said:
Some things for us will be questions of confidence. Some things would mean the demise of the government. If, for instance, there should be a clear vote of no confidence in the government, if the government should be defeated on fundamentals, on basic principles-we shall go to the people-But I hasten to add that other questions, if they go against us, will not be interpreted by the government as a defeat of the government.
He was then followed by the then leader of the New Democratic Party, the late David Lewis, who summed up in his view what was Mr. Trudeau's position on confidence as being:
We will let you know whether it was confidence after.
Mr. Lewis begged to differ. He said:
I want to tell him that, as far as we are concerned, it will be parliament that will make that decision.
Constitutional experts tell us the fact is that both Mr. Trudeau and the late Mr. Lewis were correct. A government can always assert that the results of any vote in the House demonstrates that it enjoys the confidence of the House. However, in the final analysis it has to prove this claim on an ongoing basis by continuing to win crucial votes here in the House. This shows how complex the question really is.
Our Constitution differs from that of the United States. There the executive and legislature are rigorously separated. In Canada the executive and legislature are not rigorously separated as is the case in the United States. Our Constitution does not permit the executive and the legislative body to function almost independently, often working in opposite directions.
This is not to say that our Constitution is based upon the subservience of the legislature to the executive. Indeed in principle at least the reverse is true. It is the central thrust of our proposed procedural reform, the reforms we are discussing today, to reinforce the role of members of this House without sacrificing the mutually interlinked, the symbiotic relationship between executive and legislature that is the hallmark of a parliamentary democracy.
While this issue is as I have said more complex than some would have us believe, I do not wish in describing these complexities to leave the House with the impression that the government is reluctant to depart from the recent practice of treating virtually every vote in the House as a matter of confidence. In fact it is definitely not the intention of the government to treat every vote as a matter of confidence. There will certainly be more occasions than in the past when this government will not regard issues before the House as matters of confidence, whether these be on amendments, on bills or on other motions.
I think I should return to the motion before us and to say in conclusion that I want to repeat that this motion is intended to provide an important new framework for both immediate and ongoing parliamentary reform. However, it will still be up to members on both sides of the House to make it work.
I want to assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it is the government's intention, it is the intention of members supporting the government, to make these changes work. I believe this motion will carry out the government's commitment in the throne speech to enhance the credibility of Parliament by giving members of Parliament a greater opportunity to contribute to the development of public policy and legislation.
I urge this House to adopt this motion as a substantial contribution to achieving these important objectives which are aimed at restoring the confidence of Canadians in the House of Commons as the central institution of our federal government and of our parliamentary democracy.