House of Commons Hansard #5 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vice-chair.


Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

3:55 p.m.


Gilles Duceppe Bloc Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

It was never consummated, no. Absolutely not. It was wishful thinking, but they never got together. Out of sight, out of mind. The House was not sitting when this came up.

Looking at the way things have developed since then, we see that the Liberals in committee have just about all voted the same way, with a few exceptions when they could not agree on who to elect as chair or vice-chair.

The Bloc has always voted the same way and in each of the committees Reform members have all taken the same position and voted the same way. All the same. I would imagine then, if they are able of their own free will to think things through themselves and reach the same conclusions, that others are allowed to do so as well.

What is in question here and what is more problematical, I might say even with the potential to become dangerous if taken to the extreme, is that, regardless of personal qualities, regardless of the fact that they have been elected like everyone else, what is being said is that positions will be awarded according to what people think. From the outset, it will be decided that access to positions away will be denied certain people. That is the situation. They will say: "The people in the Bloc are competent and hard working, but they are separatists". Such a situation would be dangerous.

I suppose there is the risk that we would win all of Parliament over to our point of view. We do not expect that much, but we do think we have a point of view that deserves to be heard and that it is worthwhile for Canadians to hear, for the first time.

But now they have gone so far as to say that the ideas we espouse would keep us from those positions and, when it comes down to it, the whole concept of democracy is being jeopardized. What is the solution? They tell us there will be a secret vote. That is the only solution I have heard for changing the procedures, but it is tantamount to preventing the public from knowing how its elected representatives have voted. We, however, are not afraid to rise in this House to express our ideas, to be judged on our ideas, because there will be an election some day-there is one about every four or five years. We would then be told that we can sit in the House of Commons but, when the time comes to vote, we would not dare make a public statement. That is the Reform Party's position.

I think that this would be dangerous for democracy. There is an assumption that members who are not from the Reform Party cannot vote as they see fit, that we should hold secret ballots instead of publicly expressing our ideas. I will close by saying that this may be why an editorial in the Montreal daily The Gazette -which, as you know, is a staunchly sovereignist newspaper-expressed the hope that the Bloc Quebecois would win the election in Lac-Saint-Jean. Although it was an easy wish to make, The Gazette nonetheless felt that, at least, they would then be sure that the Reform Party would not be the official opposition.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak to and support the motion to amend the government motion concerning the list of chairs and vice-chairs of all the standing committees from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The points I want to make are all about common sense and fairness. The House leader of the Bloc Quebecois seemed to be saying that we were picking on the Bloc party. That is not the case at all. At least I am not speaking on this issue for the purpose of picking on the Bloc.

I want to point out that what is important in parliamentary tradition in a democracy is fairness, common sense and looking at the total number of seats in the House. As we all know, the government of the day is formed by the party that has the greatest number of seats. In this Parliament that is the Liberal Party. Thus, we have Mr. Chrétien as Prime Minister.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It must be monotonous to hear, but we are not allowed to refer to colleagues by their first or last names in the House.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4 p.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I stand corrected. I would have been okay if we had had only four weeks off. That extra three weeks totally threw me and I have forgotten some of the rules.

The party that forms the official opposition is the one that has the second highest number of seats. When we came here in October 1993 that was the Bloc Quebecois and they formed the official opposition. We were the third party. Any party that has less than 12 members is not recognized as an official party in the House of Commons. Those are the rules and they are good rules. I stand by them and I would defend them.

Now there has been a drop in numbers. Representation in the House has changed since prorogation and at this time both opposition parties, the Bloc Quebecois and the Reform Party, have the same number of members. We both have 52 members. I personally do not disagree with the ruling of the Speaker as to which party should be the official opposition.

Now I proceed to standing committees. There is a difference between how the rules operate here in the House and how they operate in standing committees. As the House leader of the Bloc tried to point out, we negotiated in October 1993. The Bloc negotiated from a position where they had two more members than the Reform Party. Now we have the same number of members. When it comes to standing committees, each committee elects its own chair. It makes sense to me that the chair of each of those committees should be a member from the government side with the exception of public accounts because that would be construed as a conflict of interest. The chairman of the public accounts committee should be a member of an opposition party.

It does not say a member of the official opposition should be vice-chairs anywhere in Beauchesne. The standing orders do not refer to official opposition, it just says opposition. I wish members opposite in the government would look that up. I challenge them to quote me differently and quote me the standing order that says official opposition.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

It does not say official.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:05 p.m.


Jim Silye Reform Calgary Centre, AB

It has now been acknowledged that it does not say official, it says opposition party. To apply some common sense, if Reform has 52 members and the Bloc Quebecois has 52 members, somewhere along the line out of 27 standing committees just one of the vice-chairs should be a member of the Reform Party. That does not happen. Not one committee has a Reform Party member as a vice-chair. The Reform Party and the Bloc Quebecois have the same number of seats. We have never had that.

We may have negotiated away one or two vice-chairs in October 1993, and I do acknowledge that did happen, but the Bloc members then had 54 members and we only had 52 members.

The House has been prorogued, now it is back and all new members and new chairs have been assigned. Some parliamentary secretaries were fired, chairmen of standing committees were fired so new ones were needed. That has been done and all new members were assigned.

In those standing committees now vice-chairs are supposed to be picked. There is a procedure to follow. The same procedure was followed as the first time around. They did not have any kind of duly conducted election that allowed members of both opposition parties because when it gets to committee we are not talking now about official opposition and third party, we are talking about opposition parties. It just so happened that all the vice-chairs went to the Bloc Quebecois again.

In defence of this the chief government whip, and boy does he ever change his mind when he is in government from when he was in opposition. Witness his defence of Motion No. M-1 that is also being debating today and how he flip-flopped on that issue. Now all of a sudden it is democratic to do that.

He is arguing that what the government is doing in naming all of the Bloc members as vice-chairs is democratic and is based on tradition. Tradition says opposition. That does not mean official opposition. If tradition says whoever is official opposition gets all the vice-chairs, fine, but we are now tied.

The Bloc has been named by the Speaker as the official opposition but in standing committees we have 52 members, they have 52 members. Why would the chief government whip not concede or consent, in the spirit of fairness, in the application of common sense, that maybe one or two Reform Party members be vice-chairs. There is precedence for this.

I do not know if my colleague, the current whip, has mentioned this but a member of the third party was a vice-chair in a standing committee of human rights and status of disabled persons on May 29, 1991. There are lots of examples where members other than the official opposition were vice-chairs. The chief government whip's assertion that they are just following tradition is faulty at best.

In the history of this country it has never been so crucial that we have some people representing the interests of all of Canada. If the Reform Party cannot be the official opposition, that is fine because of numbers and incumbency, but at least in standing committees perhaps Reformers could have a couple of vice-chairs. That would make sure the interests of all Canadians are being looked after, not just those interests that the separatist party of Quebec now represents. They would be only dealing with those issues, only trying to get those witnesses, only asking those questions which help to tear this country apart, not to hold it together. They are only interested

in showing that it is in their best interests to break away from Canada and to break up this country. Because it is not traditional to have this kind of a quirk in parliamentary history, we have a party sent to Ottawa from a region that is unhappy with the intrusion into their lives by the federal government, and justly so. In fact they are so unhappy that they sent a lot of them here to send this government a message. The message is: Do something about our problem. Do something to protect our interests.

That is no different from the Reform Party where the majority, with the exception of one lone Reformer from Ontario, my colleague who sits beside me, are all from the west. We were sent here to send a strong message to the federal government that it has intruded into our lives and that we want changes.

This is all about change. It is also all about change in the standing committees. It is about time that some of the government members grew up and applied a little common sense and fairness to this whole business. They cannot continue to believe in one thing and say another. I do not believe they can be in opposition and say that they believe in one thing-for instance, about reintroducing government bills after prorogation and the hue and cry that they set out here when they were in opposition-and then go over to the other side and say it is okay. At which point were they right? Are they right now and wrong when they were in opposition or are they wrong now and right when they were in opposition?

I state unequivocally that it is wrong when two opposition parties are tied, each having 52 members, that one party gets all the vice-chairs and the other party gets none. There has to be something wrong with that. Somebody coming from the outside who knows very little about it would say: "What are the rules? How come the Reform Party has none?"

The Prime Minister has even said that he would like to see more balance in the House of Commons. As a matter of fact when I first looked into what the Liberal members said when they were in opposition they also held the view, Mr. Speaker, that in the position that you are in right now that the Speaker should come from the government, duly elected, unlike what the House leader for the Bloc said. It should be by secret ballot, which is very democratic. The Deputy Speaker should be from the government side and perhaps an assistant deputy speaker should be from the government side. However they also maintain, and there is a paper to this effect that some cabinet ministers and Liberal members have written and believe in, that the other two speakers, deputy or assistant deputy speakers should be, guess what, from the opposition parties. That is what they said in opposition.

It is now two and a half years later in the second session of the 35th Parliament. The House has prorogued and come back. The

Liberals had their second opportunity, their second chance to get it right. This is their second chance to keep the promises they made, the systemic changes they put in their red book. It is in the red book where they talk about giving more recognition to the opposition parties in Parliament. Do you know why they said that, Mr. Speaker? Because they sat on this side of the House for eight years. They were frustrated by closure. They were frustrated by time allocation. They were frustrated by how they were assigned vice-chairs and how they did things. They were frustrated by who got to sit in that chair to monitor proceedings and to make sure the rules were followed.

They made all these promises to the Canadian public and they have not kept one. On democratic reform they have not kept one of their promises.

Perhaps I should write the Prime Minister a letter on the red book and ask him where he stands on these promises. Where does the Prime Minister stand on these promises he made of changes in the House and in the deputy chairs?

What I feel as a member of Parliament is very unfortunate. There is no way that we can hold the government accountable for the promises it made until the next election. It seems to me that the Prime Minister is proud of that. It seems to me that the Prime Minister is happy that he has all this time to not keep those promises, to renege on those promises.

He will not get another chance now to fulfil the promise he made on how we should be operating the Speakers in the chair and how two of them should be from the opposition parties. He will not get another chance to keep those promises that he would protect the civil service, yet 45,000 of them were let go.

When people make promises, when they say that this is what they plan to do, will do, given the opportunity to do it should they not do it? Should people not follow through on their promises?

Here we are with two opposition parties equal in the number of seats yet in standing committees, each and every one of them belongs to one party. Had the ruling been the other way, had the Speaker ruled that the Reform Party was now the official opposition, does anyone think for a minute that we would have asked for every vice-chair in the committees? The Bloc would have had some vice-chairs.

The irony is that here we have an important standing committee like public accounts where there are audits and reviews of the government expenditures. The auditor general submits a lot of work to that committee. I must admit right now that the member who represents the Bloc was the chair of that standing committee

and he did a fine job. He was an excellent chair of that committee. I am not picking on him as an individual. I want to make that very clear.

Having said that, I do not believe that in the public accounts committee the chair should go to a member of a party that has the equal number of seats as another party but which only represents a small regional, specific interest which is to take a part of the country out of this democracy, out of the union. I object to that. That is one area where the Reform could have been chair. Once again, the chair of that committee has done an excellent job. He was a good chair. That is not my point. I want to make that perfectly clear, because I do not want to hurt anybody's feelings.

The feelings I want to hurt are the Prime Minister's and those of the chief government whip because of the promises they made. They are the ones who are breaking their promises. They are the ones who are operating this House in a dictatorial fashion. Even the backbenchers cannot say anything. Government backbenchers cannot criticize the government. We see what happens to those members. They are left out; they are shoved out; they are put out.

That is not the way democracy should work. How can it ever hurt to have a few people who want to have a flat tax, to have a few people who want to get rid of the GST, to have a few people who want to protect the civil service? How can it possibly hurt when the government has the majority of members? It cannot.

To summarize, the tradition of the committee election process needs review. This whole issue should be reviewed by the procedure and House affairs committee. We have had filibusters in the past two years. In the year that I was the whip for this party I had to attend some fiascos in some of the standing committees.

Autocracy and heavy handedness was used by some of the chairmen from the government side, probably through ignorance because they did not know the rules. Nevertheless, they treated all members with disdain, just appointing and going through the election process without a concern. I was there. The chief government whip walked into the meeting and would say that this person would be the vice-chair: Bloc, vice-chair; Bloc, vice-chair; Bloc, vice-chair; Bloc, vice-chair; 23 times.

That is not a process whereby members of the standing committee are empowered to elect their chair and vice-chair. We know who should be chair; that is not a problem. But we could have had a couple of elections for vice-chair. We never had a serious one to put a member of the Reform Party there and we are now tied. It did not happen. It was all a sham and a scam.

No matter what the chief government whip tries to say to defend this, he knows what he told his people. The chairman of each and every standing committee, with the exception of public accounts, knows what he was told to do. What happened is a distortion of the democratic process. It is unfair now because we do have 52 members, the same as the Bloc.

Yes, the Bloc is the official opposition and it is welcome to the job, but in standing committees we should have a few vice-chairs. That is all we felt we should have. The signal and the sign we wanted to see from the government was that perhaps it was willing to accept the fact that some standing committees could use a vice-chair from the Reform Party. However, Liberal members were told what to do from on high and on high said no. They were not allowed to make vice-chairs of any of the Reform Party members who wanted and who sought to attain that position.

As it turns out, this government is behaving in the worst fashion. It is even worse than the previous government of the eight years before the Liberals took power. With all the things this government when it was in opposition said about the Conservative government and what it attacked the Conservative government about, prime ministerial travel, time allocation, closure, the Tory GST, nothing has changed. Only the faces have changed. We have not changed the system and until that happens, this country will pay a heavy price for it.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:20 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, what I have been hearing here for a little while now is both surprising and disappointing to me. I have heard two of our friends from the Reform Party claim that, because we advocate the sovereignty of Quebec, we Bloc members do not have the interests of Canada at heart, that we want to break or destroy Canada and that we are, therefore, not making a full contribution in committee but defending only very narrow interests instead.

I take issue with such statements because every Bloc member who sits on a committee carries out competently and honestly, not only as an individual but also as a representative of our party, the Bloc Quebecois, the duties that we have been assigned as the official opposition.

In committee, members take turns examining the various witnesses who come and share their views with us. Each opposition party usually has about ten minutes to examine a witness, with the official opposition party leading off, followed by the second opposition party; then, the government party, the Liberal Party, gets to examine the witness.

Sometimes our questions complement one another, they are along the same lines. Other times, one party or another asks questions which, while going in a different direction, benefit the debate and broaden our outlook on the issues raised by the people who appear before us. But in any case, we are committed to identifying the informative parts of the evidence presented to us. Of course, we are also committed to identifying those aspects

which have an impact on our region in particular. This is true not only of Bloc members, but also of members of all parties. I have seen-and there was nothing wrong with that-members from the Toronto area represent views and argue matters that were of more particular concern to the people of their ridings. That is their duty, and it is my duty to raise issues of more pressing concern to my constituents.

When I hear Reformers claim that it is not right for me to do so, I tell myself that they have an extremely narrow view of what true democracy is all about. This concerns me; it makes me sad. I cannot accept it in this House. This is the reason why I rose today: I want to set the record straight.

Let me also say that a Bloc Quebecois member has as much right to fill the position of vice-chair as a Reformer. I have nothing against a Reform member being a vice-chair, but do not tell me that Bloc members cannot do a good job as vice-chairs because they happen to be sovereignists. I strongly object to that. This is not only totally inaccurate, it is also an insult to our integrity and to democracy itself.

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that in the days of the iron curtain, people strongly condemned those communist countries that prevented individuals from expressing themselves on the grounds that they held dissenting opinions. Some people were imprisoned. Thank goodness this is not the case here, but I refuse to be muzzled.

Mr. Speaker, you and I know-and so do many members here-that civilization and society thrive on the exchange of ideas. If everyone held the same views, this would still be the cave age. It is because someone, somewhere, said "We must get out of the cave" that civilization started to make progress. The Bloc's role in this House, and within the Confederation right now, is to promote an idea and put it up against other ones, in a democratic, respectful and constructive fashion.

This is why I refuse to be muzzled by Reformers, simply because we do not share the same views. I respect the fact that they do not share our views, but they should do likewise.

We have been accused of wanting to break up Canada. Nothing is further from the truth. What we have been offering and reoffering-I am bidding it once again-is a new partnership, politically and economically with the rest of Canada.

The actual political situation we live in through Confederation is outmoded and obsolete. It is very expensive and unsatisfactory from sea to sea to sea. We are offering a new vision of what the economical Canadian space could be. We want to confront it verbally and democratically with those who have other ways of seeing things. This should construct a better solution. It is not as Reform members would suggest in saying to all Canadians that we want to break up the country that they are helping the solution to be found. On the contrary, it is through constructive debate that a solution will occur.

I cannot accept the attitude of the Reform Party toward the Bloc Quebecois. The electors, the voters, the people from my riding have the same democratic values as the people from the riding of any Reform Party member. The fact that half the Quebec population thinks sovereignty is an avenue to be pursued just stresses how important this vision is and it should be respected by all members here, including my friends from the Reform Party.

From a democratic standpoint, people in my riding have the same value as those from the riding of a Reform Party member. Again, I have nothing against a Reform member being vice-chair of a committee, but I ask that we respect the integrity and honesty of Bloc members; I ask that we respect democracy.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I should like to put a question to the member for Portneuf whom I have enjoyed getting into debate with outside the Chamber. I consider him to be a reasonable person, although obviously I do not appreciate the direction he would take Canada.

I bring him back to the question at hand. He has said, and this was by translation: "We do not accept that we be muzzled". It is not the intention of the Reform Party to muzzle the Bloc Quebecois. Unlike the Liberals who have chosen to muzzle the Reform Party in committee, it is not the idea of the Reform Party to muzzle the Bloc Quebecois.

Is it not rational, reasonable and responsible, as put forward by the member for Calgary Centre, that if his party and my party have 52 seats each, the Reform Party should not be muzzled as is presently happening because of the collusion of the Liberals?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question of my colleague. However, as he well knows, the Reform Party is not muzzled within a committee. The fact that we are a vice-chair just gives us the right to ask the first question in the first 10 minutes. After that they are second. They are not really muzzled. That is the answer to item a .

On item b , I have never believed that the Reform Party should not be a vice-chair in any committee. As far as I can see, it is up to Bloc members to decide whether they can or cannot be vice-chairs. We have one member in most committees whereas the Liberals

have many members. When the vote is taken we are not the ones who decide.

Why have they favoured us? That is the right question to ask. You should find the right answer; you might be in for a surprise. Why are we preferred as a vice-chair rather than you? What have you not done right to impress them? That is the right question. It is up to you.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

My hon. colleague has spoken such good English that I hate to suggest he should not use the word you. He should refer to them.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:30 p.m.


Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the hon. member for Portneuf. We have worked together on committees before and on a number of other parliamentary affairs.

He said something today which I think is very important and took be aback. He said in his intervention that the Bloc Quebecois was not here to break up Canada. I believe that is very important.

There are people who purport to speak on behalf of the Bloc. This past weekend, on a political commentary panel which discusses these issues week after week, Josée Legault of la Presse said that the Bloc had been fighting. She tried to find words. It was not distinct society. It was not veto. It was not special partnership, as the member would suggest. Josée Legault said very clearly that in her view Quebec wants nationhood. That statement flies directly against what the member has said.

Would the member address the position of Ms. Legault regarding nationhood and what he said today to the House, that the Bloc is not here to split up Canada?

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are just on the edge of the motion but it is an interesting debate. I will try to answer the problematic question my hon. colleague has put forward.

Whatever Ms. Legault thinks or writes are her own beliefs. I cannot read her thoughts so I will not try to do that. However, I know the specific agenda of the Quebec government and the one we are proposing. It is a partnership with Canada.

When the member talked about nationhood, the Quebec people as a whole are a people. As such they have a culture of their own, a way of seeing things of their own which does not preclude alliances with other people in Canada. I am not only talking about English Canada but also about the aboriginals.

We have to open our minds and find a way to build something that will answer the needs and the expectations of all people on this portion of the continent, not only for ourselves but for our children and the children of our children.

If I were to go any further I would certainly go beyond the nature of the motion in front of us, so I will stop now.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:35 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is important for Canadians to understand the significance of these vice-chair positions and the chair position with respect to public accounts which the Reform Party is talking about in the House.

We are talking about the group, the chair and the two vice-chairs who form the core of the steering committee for the committee as a whole. These are not just window dressing positions, or certainly should not be just window dressing positions.

Therefore the fact that the government whip and the Liberals have chosen to freeze the Reform Party out of vice-chair positions on committees is to freeze the Reform Party out of the ability to be able to act as an effective opposition in the absence or in the vacuum of an official opposition because of the specific regional interests of the Bloc Quebecois. The significance is that the Liberals have chosen to freeze the Reform Party out of the ability to be an effective opposition.

It has been said that a government is only as good as its opposition. It is for that reason the Liberals do not want the Reform Party to have any ability to come forward, to take charge and to be involved in any area of control within their jurisdiction. It is doing everything it can at the expense of our nation to freeze us out of that ability.

Lest there be any question about this point, I have in my hand the report of the public accounts committee on September 27, 1995. It is particularly instructive. I went to that committee as a member of that committee and took the floor at the start of the meeting which was convened to vote for and appoint the person who was to be the chair of the public accounts committee.

To expand on the comments of the member for Calgary Centre, the purpose of the public accounts committee is to take a look at well over $1 billion of current public spending that happens annually in Canada. The public accounts committee works very closely with the auditor general so that the people of Canada and their affairs are being looked after from a fiscal point of view.

It seemed grossly illogical to myself and to my colleagues in the Reform Party that the Liberals would be forcing a situation where we would have a separatist who would be the chair of that committee, because of the very confined and defined interests of the Bloc Quebecois as they have come to Ottawa.

We went to the meeting. We immediately put forward the name of my colleague, the hon. member for St. Albert, for the position of chair. It was really quite instructive because neither the government whip nor the Bloc Quebecois were in the room at the time I made that motion. Immediately following that there were people scurrying around, running around all over the place: "Oh, my, what are we going to do? What is going to happen now?" Whereupon the

government whip appeared in doorway and all was saved. Very shortly behind him came the Bloc Quebecois whip.

We then entered into a process of debate on the issue. My colleague, the hon. member for Fraser Valley East, had the floor. For simplicity and so that we do not run afoul of the rules of the House, I will refer to the whip and I will refer to the Reform member. The whip said:

I was wondering if our colleague would entertain a brief question. If this is an attempt to filibuster the committee, and he can indicate so right now, quorum will immediately cease.

Before I quote him further, the absolute arrogance of the government whip should be noted when he came walking into the room and said: "If this is not going the way I want then I am going to cease quorum". He went on:

There was an agreement between whips duly approved, ordered, and signed that we were meeting today to elect chairs. If this is a breach of that agreement, which it is on the verge of becoming, I'd like to know now. My colleagues and I will leave the room and quorum will cease. This meeting will not exist. Yes or no.

The absolute arrogance of this man is quite astounding. My colleague said:

I don't think you can ask me questions anyway-I don't think that's your place.

The whip said: "Thank you". My colleague said:

You can do what you like. I'm trying to address the concerns of the people-

The whip said:

You don't need a Hansard any more, clerk.

Now he is telling the clerk who is in charge of this committee: "You don't need Hansard any more. I am here; I have taken over''. Terrific.

Then my colleague said:

-about the election of the vice-chairs. So it's certainly within my prerogative to do that.

An hon. member said:

You can talk all day long. You're alone.

Then the government whip got his members in line and they dutifully followed him out of the room. The hon. member for Fraser Valley East was continuing to talk in the meeting when the whip from the Bloc Quebecois said:

Mr. Chairman, on a point of order, I would like to see if we have a quorum. If we don't, we should end this meeting.

The clerk said: "We only have three members here. I guess everybody has left".

We should note the absolute arrogance of the government whip representing the Liberals, coming into that meeting, taking over that meeting and saying: "It is not going the way the Liberals wanted so therefore we are down". For the Liberals to turn around and try to convince Canadians that they are not completely in bed with or in total collusion with the separatists is bit beyond description.

Let us talk about the Canadian heritage committee; I think that is the title of the committee. The decision was made there by the Liberals to anoint a Bloc Quebecois member as a vice-chair of that committee. Let us see what happened in that committee if only from the point of view of the record of attendance. I have in my hand the record of attendance which shows that the chair of that committee was there 13 times. Presumably there were 13 meetings.

We then have the record of myself, the hon. member for Medicine Hat and the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona, totalling 11 of the 13 meetings. We have zero for the Bloc Quebecois member from Quebec. The person who was anointed to be the vice-chair of that committee by the Liberals, the hon. member for Rimouski-Témiscouata, was there five times.

It has been reported to me by the hon. member for Edmonton-Strathcona that the Canadian heritage committee could not even have had a meeting and that there would not have been a member of the opposition had the Reform Party not turned up. Yet the Liberals have the audacity to keep on putting the Bloc Quebecois into these positions with the specific idea of freezing the Reform Party out of the ability to be able to do the job of an effective opposition. There can be absolutely no other reason I can think of that the Liberals might have.

I believe that the Liberals want to keep Canada together every bit as much as the Reform Party wants to keep Canada together. They may not have any idea how to do it. They may keep on flying trial balloons. They may keep coming up with all sorts of wonderful ideas, flying flags and all sorts of things because they do not have anything of any substance, but I do not question their fundamental intent to keep Canada together.

What I do question is the wisdom of the government whip. I do question the wisdom of the so-called brain trust of the Liberal Party in continuing to freeze the federalist Reform Party out of the ability to be an effective opposition.

I speak in the most forceful terms. I consider the actions of the Liberal government whip to have been out of control and over the top. I would hope, because the Reform Party has brought this matter so forcibly to the floor at this time, that as we get down to appointing committee chair and vice-chair positions that they would rethink their very foolish and ill thought position.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:45 p.m.


Bonnie Brown Liberal Oakville—Milton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it strange that the previous speaker, who obviously is a new member of the heritage committee, probably appointed in September 1995, would choose to use the attendance record as reasoning behind his quest to have a member of the Reform Party as the vice-chair of that committee.

As a person who sat on that committee for the 18 months previous to his arrival, I would like to point out that should he have regarded the attendance records of the first 18 months, he would have found that the Bloc Quebecois members were most regular in their attendance and surprisingly it was the members of the Reform Party whose attendance was highly questionable.

May I also point out that the Bloc Quebecois members in the first 18 months not only attended the public hearing sessions of that committee, not only attended the briefings by department officials, but they also attended the in camera sessions when for weeks we were seriously working on a written report about the future of the CBC. It seemed rather strange to me that the Reformers came to the meetings when the press was in attendance but not one meeting when the press was not in attendance.

As far as I am concerned, I think the vice-chairs of committees must be committed not just to those sessions of the committee meetings when the press is in attendance but also when the solid, quiet work of the committee is done in camera.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:45 p.m.


Jim Abbott Reform Kootenay East, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps that says something about the content of the meetings that took place last fall when only five out of thirteen meetings were attended by the vice-chair of the heritage committee, the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata. Furthermore, the member for Quebec did not turn up at all. I can only guess that in the judgment of the Bloc Quebecois, the heritage committee meetings in the first 18 months actually had some substance whereas in the second half, according to the way the member is thinking, only five out of the thirteen meetings had any significance.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:45 p.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a slightly different attack on this problem.

In my mind, the issue of who should become the vice-chairman of a committee is one that rests with the committee. With respect to the election of a chairman and vice-chairman the standing orders state: "Each standing or special committee shall elect a chairman and two vice-chairmen, of whom two shall be members of the government party and the third a member in opposition to the government".

This can become a very partisan debate, trying to weigh one opposition party against another. Frankly I do not think it should be just that. My suggestion for the government is very straightforward, that the election of the vice-chairmen be just that, an election and not a coronation. How many Bloc members would likely be vice-chairmen in that instance? Maybe all of them.

Surely there should be an opportunity in Parliament for a proper election, an election with hands raised so that the individuals making the choice would be known. My real question is: Why not an election? Why not an opportunity to at least say that these two parties, which are very close in numbers-after the byelections we hope to be ahead-would have that opportunity? Is that not fair? Why not be fair?

To the Canadian public, why would this choice even be in doubt? Why would we not have this election? Could there be a reason that is better for the Liberal Party? Could there be a reason that is better for the country?

I drew a little graph. Down one side of my graph, I put some of the reasons: balance, a powerful federalist opposition. Would it be better for a Bloc member to be a vice-chairman? Would it actually be better for the Liberals to have the Bloc in those vice-chairs? How could it possibly be better in every case to have that party as the vice-chair? Is there no room for an alternate?

I have come to the House with a fresh view of Parliament, a view that I hope is balanced. I have asked myself what the committee structure is really designed to do. Before I came here I had heard that the committees were the spot where the real work of Parliament was done. I have stood back from that and asked whether that is true. Are committees where the work of Parliament is really done? My answer is: Not true. They are not where the work of Parliament is really done.

I am going to give an example of an experience in committee. Our committee was faced with a challenge. We had order in council appointments placed before us which were to be voted upon. These were for individuals holding positions on very important boards. I asked when there had been a review of an order in council how often the appointee had been turned down. The answer I received surprised me: never in Canadian history had that occurred. There had never been a single appointee turned down.

The obvious question I asked then was why we did the review. What was the purpose of a review if there has never been an individual turned down? The response was that this system was not like the committee review system in the U.S. I then asked, should we not be reviewing order in council appointments at the nomination stage rather than at the appointee stage? A committee was struck to review that very issue but I said it was surely something the committee could decide that day.

It makes sense that if we are going to committee to review this issue that we bring the appointees to the committee. The committee

would look at them all and say which individuals were acceptable to the committee. The committee would go back to the PMO which would from those names pick the number of individuals needed. If the committee found that there were one or two people who were not acceptable for whatever reason, the residual names could be sent back. The power would still rest with the PMO. No power would be taken away.

However, a committee had to be struck. It sat through the summer and reviewed the issue with all the previous order in council appointments. It came to the very same conclusion in five minutes: that the review of orders in council should take place at the appointee stage rather than at the nomination stage.

I did a little review with a high school class at home. I asked them: How long would it take you to figure out at what stage to do a review of a group of people who were coming to sit on a committee of Parliament? Would you review it at the appointee stage or at the nomination stage? It took these grade 11 students about 15 seconds to decide the issue. And how long does it take the Parliament of Canada to come up with a decision? It has been six months in review.

I have watched very carefully. What has happened to the decision of the health committee on that issue since? We are now another 18 months down the road and the decision has fallen into the black abyss, the black hole of parliamentary gobbledegook. Who knows where it has gone? It was to go to the committee on procedure and House affairs. It was to be reviewed, but it is gone. And for what? So that the PMO can say that nobody can review any of the names, that the review is not real? This a problem with the committee structure. I tell that story so that no one can say I think the committee structure is perfect.

Since I am talking about committee structure problems, I watched to see how witnesses came to the committees. I sat on the HRD review committee which was looking at social program renewal in Canada. I tried to figure out who called and how the witnesses reached the committee.

I was disappointed to find that most of the individuals who had access to the committee were non-governmental agencies that had a lot of connection with government. Many received funding from the government. Many received payment from the government to come to the committee. I believe that their testimony may have been skewed. It is difficult for the average citizen who knows nothing about these issues to have a fair hearing. I do not think they have the lobby groups that would allow them to get a fair hearing.

The committee structure would be very easy to improve. It would be very easy to look at it from the standpoint of what should happen in Canada. Let me now go to what I think in a positive sense we should do to improve the committee structure.

The government is going to control the committee. The government will have a chairman and the first vice-chairman. Accept it. That is what the numbers allow. Why would we not have an election for the position of second vice-chairman which would usually go to the official opposition but might go to a meritorious individual in another party, the fourth party, another party completely? A meritorious election for vice-chairman.

I would hope order in council appointments could be made at the appointee stage rather than the nomination stage. I am convinced we could seek witnesses at these committees who are not so biased or narrow and who are not tied into the government agenda.

Is this a partisan issue? For me it is not. This is an issue of balance and fairness, for if every single vice-chair came from the official opposition and nowhere else, on merit, I would nod my head to those members and say bien.

However, if a committee vice-chair absolutely must be a Bloc member, that is certainly not equality. In my opinion, it is very clear that we ought to have the opportunity to vote in order to elect another member to the position of committee vice-chair.

The Canadian people are not willing to stand idly by and watch Parliament function in a way that is not fair. That is all this issue is about.

I ask, directly to the government, to allow for, conduct, and appropriately oversee a proper election for each vice-chair. That would satisfy me. It would satisfy my party. More important, it would satisfy the people of Canada.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.


Yvan Bernier Bloc Gaspé, QC

Madam Speaker, allow me to be the first member to make reference to your presence as the new Deputy Speaker of this House.

In response to the representative of the Reform Party, I must state that I am somewhat astonished to see in this House today that the Reform Party is concerned about will form the official Opposition and who will be vice-chairs, when we will be engaged this week in a debate of the highest importance on the budget speech. I must say that I would have expected instead that the members of this House would have focussed their energies, or husbanded their energies, for addressing the real problems Canada is facing, that is the attitude the Liberals across the way have taken toward managing the debt. In this connection, I believe that the two parties on this side can combine their actions to force the government to move, or

at least to reflect. But I have trouble understanding how there can be a drawn out debate on the choice of vice-chairs.

I thought Canada operated according to a certain tradition, with this or that responsibility for the official Opposition. That this was normal and that was how we operated.

As far as I am concerned, I can tell you that being from Quebec , yes, and I have nothing to hide in this regard, being a representative of the Bloc Quebecois, I defend a certain ideology, whether certain people like it or not, and it is important for the rest of Canada to know that. If we have become the Official Opposition and have certain related responsibilities to assume, that is not our choice but how democracy works. So I have difficulty understanding why there is this protracted debate. It seems to me to be superfluous.

Once again, as Mr. Bouchard himself has said in this House, perhaps the Reform Party is short on ambition. Rather than focussing on becoming the official Opposition, rather than seeking what goes along with that position, they ought instead to be seeking to combat the true scourge here, in other words attacking the Liberals, the Government. But no. It might be said that they have set their sights too low.

I would like to again express my astonishment on this, but this time about both sides.

While the third party in the House tries to diminish the importance of the work of the official opposition by saying that you do not have to be a member of the official opposition to be vice-chairman in this House, the new Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs-I think I am allowed to mention his name since he has not been elected yet, Stéphane Dion-says: "The distinct society status is not really a special status and will not bring any special powers".

The third party in the House says that the official opposition does not really have the attributes of the official opposition. At the same time, a government spokesperson says that what was voted on before Christmas does not really mean what it means.

So allow me to express my surprise as a member of the Bloc Quebecois and to ask: How is it that the bills that were voted on do not mean what they mean? How is it that the attributes of the official opposition, such as the office of vice-chairman, do not necessary apply because we are the official opposition? Maybe the time has come to tackle the real issue, to call a spade a spade, to go back to the basics, to look at who built Canada, that is the notion of two founding peoples, to try to understand and to respect the rules.

There are a lot of things I do not agree with in the way Canada is run, but I respect the rules. I hope that the third party in the House will respect the rules also and that we will close this debate which, I must say, I find totally useless. I hope we can get on with what is important, that is to prepare our response to the budget speech.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Madam Speaker, there is no question in this speech, but if possible I would like to read the following paragraph from our Standing Orders:

Each standing or special committee shall elect a Chairman and two Vice-Chairmen, of whom two shall be Members of the government party and the third a Member in opposition to the government-

It does not say a member of the official opposition, but simply a member in opposition.

-in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order 116, at the commencement of every session and, if necessary, during the course of a session.

Why is it always a member of the official opposition? It is not in the Standing Orders. I simply want a vote in private on the subject. Is it not possible? I personally think it is necessary.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.


Pierre De Savoye Bloc Portneuf, QC

Madam Speaker, to start with, I would like to congratulate you on being elected to this position you are occupying this afternoon for the first time. We are doubly fortunate in that it is an Acadian and a woman who was selected to preside, at least in part, over the proceedings of this assembly.

This being said, I would like to ask my hon. colleague a question. I assume that when he mentions that he would like the vote to take place in private, he is referring to a secret vote. However, members of Parliament are accountable to their voters. People in my riding have the right to be aware of the decisions in which I took part and to know how I voted. As soon as a vote is secret, people in my riding will no longer be able to find out how I voted and, consequently, whether I represent their interests appropriately. The whole democratic process must be transparent. Transparency requires open votes where each and every one clearly expresses his or her opinion.

If the kind of private vote my colleague is referring to was to deprive my voters, the citizens of my riding, of the ability to know how I voted, then I would say that it violates democratic principles. I would like him to clarify his position.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:10 p.m.


Grant Hill Reform Macleod, AB

Madam Speaker, the issue for me on this vote is so that each member might be able to vote for somebody with merit. I am trying to get away from the idea that this must be a specific party member.

Surely merit is better than party membership. The rules have said very clearly the second vice-president should come from a member of the opposition. We in Reform are members of the opposition.

The Canadian public would accept very well for every single vice-chair to be a member of the Bloc if there were an opportunity for that election to be based on merit, for surely there are members from the Bloc of great merit; but equally the chance that there might be a member in the Reform Party with some merit.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:10 p.m.

Lethbridge Alberta


Ray Speaker ReformLethbridge

Madam Speaker, welcome to the chair. We wish you the best in your new responsibilities.

The debate before us focuses on two very basic things. One is the question of parliamentary reform with respect to committees. The question must arise of whether the committees have the authority and the independence to choose their chairs, their vice-chairs and other such formats of the committees independently of external authority either from the Prime Minister's office or through the Liberal government whip.

The other question is what we observe as this unfortunate support the government gives to the separatist party for the positions in those committees, the vice-chair positions, chair positions with regard to the public accounts committee.

The member for Mississauga South earlier said that by tradition the vice-chairs went to members of the official opposition. I can understand why he said that. The Liberal whip continually gives the impression that is the way it is, that other opposition members, representatives of the Reform Party or from the NDP or the Conservative Party, are not part of the official opposition and cannot be one of the vice-chairs. That is the presentation the Liberal whip made to his own caucus and it is believed that is the way it is.

It is not that way. Some of my hon. colleagues have pointed out very clearly in the House that it is not tradition that the official opposition gets the chair or the vice-chair positions. I make that very clear. It is just one of the ways the Liberal whip is able to again have this love-in, as I call it, with the separatist party and provide it support in having a position of authority or power in the Parliament of Canada. I do not accept that in any way.

Speaking to these two points, parliamentary reform and more independence for the committees to choose who should be their chairs and vice-chairs, that is where the authority should lie. My hon. colleague from Macleod pointed that out very clearly.

In the 33rd Parliament the McGrath report was presented. Through that report a number of parliamentary reforms were brought into the House of Commons. I commend that report. I commend the 33rd Parliament for accepting a number of those recommendations.

One of those recommendations related to the independence of the committee. It also said the committee could establish its own agenda without interference by the government. Prior to the 33rd Parliament the government set the agenda for the committees. Any subject or matter referred from the House of Commons by the government to the committees was discussed. The committee had no latitude beyond that to make decisions, which was wrong.

In the 33rd Parliament the McGrath report changed that so that committees could set their own agenda, call the witnesses they wanted and at the same time elect their chairs and vice-chairs in an independent way. It was set up with that mind, but did it happen? It did not happen.

My time spent on the finance committee was a good experience. The chair was a good leader and allowed for flexibility within the committee work. We carried out a number of the recommendations of the McGrath report in a responsible way. Beyond that, what was happening?

I say to the people at home watching, they should be aware of how committee chairs are chosen by standing committees. The rules allow for an election, which is the way it should be. A member is nominated and then there is an open vote. If that motion is defeated another name is put forward until someone is elected chair.

Although our committee system has evolved with respect to what a committee can do, the Prime Minister in the instances here and during the current 35th Parliament, through his whip, still controls who shall become the chair. That person is told by the Prime Minister's office. The other Liberal members on the committee have to vote for the Prime Minister's choice. We in the committee do not operate independently or have the right to choose who that person is.

The backbenchers on the Liberal side do not have the opportunity to stand for chair if the Prime Minister has not chosen them. That is it. They have no choice. There is a vote but it is just going through the exercise. Certainly that is unacceptable.

We must well recognize that the Prime Minister has a lot of authority in appointing his cabinet, in appointing parliamentary secretaries, in appointing senators and in appointing a whole range of other political appointees. That is a lot of appointees.

Why does the Prime Minister interfere with the choice of chairs for House of Commons committees? That should be the responsibility of the committees, not the Prime Minister. The format is certainly there. Some of hon. members say that it is. However, we well know that before we sit down as a committee the Prime Minister's choice will be nominated by the Liberal whip, and if anybody gets out of line the Liberal whip will deal with them later.

All Liberals members are required by edict through the Prime Minister's office to vote for his choice. The Liberal whip sees to that in a very undemocratic way. That is the way it is and that is the concern we have here as members of the House of Commons.

In what sense can a committee be really impartial when we have such an external influence on our actions? There must be a change in attitude with regard to that matter. It is time to free up the backbenches of the Liberal Party so those members can choose who they want for chair, who they want as vice-chair. It does not happen.

If we really want parliamentary reform, if we want to again implement or reimplement the McGrath report, there must be a change in attitude and we must look at things differently in the House. The Prime Minister, the Liberal government, the Liberal backbenchers must look at this in a more open, democratic manner so that parliamentary reform can be meaningful at the committee level.

I talked about the appointment of chairs. It is the very same type of thinking for vice-chair positions. How much credibility does a committee chair or a vice-chair have if two people, the government whip and the whip for the Bloc Quebecois, get together and decide on who the vice-chair positions will be and what the committee positions will be?

Even a government backbencher should be offended by that kind of action. If I were a government backbencher and thought I would make a vice-chair, I would hope I would need only to seek the support of committee members and not have to rely on this sort of kowtowing to the government whip.

With a truly democratic process through which members would be free to vote for whomever they wanted, all choices would be acceptable because it would be done democratically. Even if a member did not support the one who got elected, it would be accepted because it was done properly.

Not all members of the House voted for the current Speaker, but all members give him the respect he deserves because it was done in a very democratic way. It was a secret ballot and not even the Prime Minister could influence members in that process when we first selected a Speaker for the 35th Parliament.

The other reform to our rules occurred in the last Parliament where for the first time there was a requirement to have one member from the opposition in either the vice-chair or the chair position. In the beginning of this new procedure and the only other time there was a set of elections outside this Liberal dominated Parliament, a vice-chair went to third party standing. In that Parliament, the third party had half the seats of the official opposition compared with the equality of seats in this Parliament.

For some reason the precedent of that Parliament is not in this Parliament. The Liberal whip and the Liberal members are convinced that the only person who can fill the vice-chair is a member of the separatist party.

There is precedent for something different. How can we continue to say in this Parliament that it should not be that way again? Since then, this Parliament has been operating on the notion brought forward by the chief government whip that electing official opposition members to all vice-chair positions was the tradition.

How is it a tradition when the only other time it was done it was not done that way? There is a tradition here, the support of this chief government whip on the other side of the House for the separatist Bloc Quebecois. That is the tradition that is really being set at this point.

We see it every day in committee and in the House. In any procedural argument the government runs to the defence of the Bloc. Even when Bloc members have little stomach for debate the government whip and his former sidekick, the member from Kingston and the Islands, come running to their aid. We saw that in an earlier debate.

They have the experience and the procedural know-how. They are absolutely happy to support Bloc members in their many efforts. Parliamentary reform was moving ahead, albeit slowly. Since the Liberals have taken over government, parliamentary reform has gone backward in time to the days of Mr. Trudeau who ruled his caucus with an iron fist.

That fist was beginning to loosen starting in the 33rd Parliament with the McGrath report and a little more in the 34th Parliament with other studies of the procedure and House affairs committee.

The Liberals do not know any means of governing except by way of past experience. No wonder this has happened. They dismissed and ignored not only all the parliamentary reform that was discussed on the floor of the House and in committee for years but also their own parliamentary reform ideas.

Let us not forget the recent reminder when the Prime Minister refused to appoint opposition members to junior chair positions as promised in the Liberal red book. This happened only a week ago.

It is time government backbenchers had a look at what is happening. There should be some consideration for back to parliamentary reform. We should also look at freedom in committees whereby committee members are free to choose chairs and vice-chairs. It is also time in the House to stop, and Canadians want it stopped, the bias between the government and the Bloc Quebecois in all that happens on the floor of the House and in committees.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:25 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Madam Speaker, every member of Parliament knows the Bloc is being favoured as official opposition. Any objective analysis would also demonstrate and come to the very same conclusion. This is a growing, daunting realization by the Canadian public. Whenever we have that kind of circumstance there is a reaction somewhere down the road. The government should think about that very seriously.

The government has its own agenda and I am not exactly sure what it is. However, with the majority the government holds it has a unique time in our history to really create a circumstance for democratic freedom and for improving the way this place works, but it is blowing it.

We have heard some very weak arguments from the Bloc, especially in my critic area of aboriginal affairs, as to how effective they are in the rest of the country. The Bloc has been happy to run around Canada encouraging spending and the inherent right to self-government among aboriginals as long as they are not in Quebec.

At the same time, I and other members in my party have as a matter of course worked in Indian country in Quebec where the Bloc has totally dropped the ball. Do we trumpet this from the trees? Do we run around making speeches about what a great job we have done in the province of Quebec? No. This is a much more heartfelt item than that. This is beyond politics. The whole area of aboriginal affairs should in many respects be beyond politics.

There is hardly a single thing done by the Bloc where the motivation is not to further the separatist vision of Quebec.

Why should I have to go into committee knowing full well that as an opposition member the government wants to favour that other party member over me? I have sought to remedy the electoral unfairness or favouritism which I observed in committee last September. This was very difficult. Committees are supposed to be masters of their own house and, for very good reason, the Speaker is reluctant to interfere.

The problem starts with the numbers. Government members on a committee outnumber the combined opposition members. The whip can orchestrate what happens in committee.

We obviously need a secret ballot in committee. How the House of Commons, where our federal democracy is supposed to be expressed, does not adopt this bit of progress to prevent the possibility of government backbench coercion is beyond me, other than the government likes everything that happens around here to be in its full control. To elucidate some of my concerns, I would like to read a bit from my submission of September 20 last fall to

demonstrate my observations on trying to even nominate a Reform chair or vice-chair to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs.

This committee has a history of past irregularities, including the case to which I have drawn your attention. The irregularities from yesterday are as follows.

First, as soon as the clerk's gavel fell I submitted a motion to elect a chairman. As Your Honour knows, under the standing orders the first item of business for an organizational meeting is the election of a chair for the committee. However, the clerk acknowledge my speaking and asked me to wait until he had read his first item of business. I asked that he recognize that I had given notice of a motion. After the clerk read the item of business he proceeded to recognize someone else first.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:30 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Typical. Very typical.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:30 p.m.


John Duncan Reform North Island—Powell River, BC

Second, once the chair was elected my colleagues repeatedly attempted to move a motion to elect a vice-chair, but the chair appeared to be intent on stalling so that a motion to elect a member of the Bloc could be put forward by the Bloc or by the government for the so-called opposition vice-chair.

The chair stalled by insisting that we were going to consider motions for government vice-chair. This is a false distinction. The standing orders do not recognize a government vice-chair per se. The standing orders only require that two of the three positions go to the government side.

As soon as a motion to elect a vice-chair is put forward, whether to elect a government or opposition member, that motion is surely in order. The chair made it clear that he was accepting no motions from the Reform.

Third, once a member of the government moved to elect the Bloc to the vice-chair, my colleagues and I asked for debate on the motion. We were not only cut off; we were not allowed to debate at all. As Your Honour knows, Standing Order 116 makes clear that there is no limit on debate on a regular motion in committee.

Fourth, when we put forward a motion to overturn the election of the Bloc member as vice-chair, the chairman refused to entertain the motion, which was surely in order. The chairman then summarily adjourned the meeting.

We appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to uphold the standing orders and our rights. This kind of conduct by committee chairs is surely less than acceptable.

This is just one more time when we ran into this but it is one that is documented. That is why I thought I would re-enter it into the record.

Why does the government want to regulate and control every aspect of activity in Parliament? Canadians are not being served. There is no long term vision being displayed of how non-regional representation can lead to the irrelevancy of this place. In the minds of many Canadians this place is irrelevant now and by carrying on this kind of behaviour it is only contributing to that perception of irrelevancy.

Why do the procedure experts in the Liberal government take such great delight in supporting the Bloc at every move and in every one of their tricks in this place to the detriment of democracy?

As I explained before, with the majority the government has, it has a unique opportunity, one that has not been seen for a dozen years, to implement considerable improvements in how committees work. That opportunity has not only been lost, but the committee structures, committee elections, and all that goes with it have taken a step backward. As long as this charade continues those committees are becoming more and more irrelevant.

When I go to committee I have very little influence on the agenda and subject matter to be looked into. The committee that I sit on, aboriginal affairs, has a whole classification of people who live under the Indian Act. They live under one department. There are no checks and balances beyond that department. The government is not only in control of the committee and the department, they are in control of those people's lives. If there is one place where opposition members need an opportunity to pry off the lid, to really try and get to the bottom of the serious things going on that are counterproductive to the aboriginal community and Canadian society as a whole, it is that committee.

Committees Of The HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:35 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Right on.