House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was taxes.


SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Bloc Laval Centre, QC

Mr. Speaker, members of the official opposition will vote yea.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Reform Party members present will vote yes.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.


John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden, SK

Mr. Speaker, New Democratic Party MPs in the House today will vote yes on this motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, the PC member will be voting yes.

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.


Yvan Bernier Bloc Gaspé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I vote as I did earlier.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

SupplyGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion lost.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Daphne Jennings Reform Mission—Coquitlam, BC


That the Standing Orders of the House be amended by adding the following:

"97.1 A standing, special or legislative committee to which a Private Member's public bill has been referred shall in every case either report the bill to the House with or without amendment or present to the House a report containing a recommendation not to proceed further with the bill and giving the reasons therefor."

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to lead off debate on Motion No. 267. This motion is designed to continue parliamentary reform, a matter that began shortly after we came to this House in 1994 and has continued to the present day.

I want to begin by thanking the subcommittee on private members' business for deciding that Motion No. 267 should be votable. I also want to thank the member from Peace River who appeared before the subcommittee on my behalf and spoke so successfully that my motion should become votable.

As I said before, the motion is designed to continue the parliamentary reform, which has taken place already in this House of Commons. At the beginning of this Parliament, I argued in favour of freer voting by members of this House. I argued that the whips should not always be on government and opposition members, that there is nothing inherently wrong with members' voting occasionally against the party line.

Freedom of the private member had occupied a great amount of space in the seminal report on House of Commons reform. That report of the committee was chaired by the former member for St. John's east, Jim McGrath. He tabled it in this Chamber in June 1985.

In the ensuing years, little has been done to implement this part of the report. However, with a new Parliament with a decidedly new look it might be possible to introduce some freer voting.

After some debate, a motion was passed unanimously in this Chamber calling for freer votes, some bills to be sent to committee before second reading and other changes designed to give the private member some influence over the policy making process.

I am very pleased to say that we have made progress. I have never hesitated to give the government credit when it is due, and I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised that the government members have been freed up by the whips to vote as they like during Private Members' Business.

We have not yet reached the point where government members are free to vote against the party line with reference to government legislation. Unfortunately we are still faced with the scene of the Prime Minister disciplining members of caucus who have dared to vote contrary to the whip's orders.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Where is Jan Brown?

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Daphne Jennings Reform Mission—Coquitlam, BC

I think I am being hassled a bit, Mr. Speaker. But at least we have moved in the area of freer voting in this Chamber if only with reference to Private Members' Business.

The problem which this motion seeks to address is that while freer voting may be in the Chamber, the whips are still on the committee. They are on the committee with startling evidence. What this motion seeks to accomplish is to require a committee to give reasons in a report to the Chamber as to why it had decided not to report the bill back to the Chamber.

I will use my own private member's bill, an act to amend the Divorce Act to facilitate access of grandparents to their grandchildren, as the example which shows the need for passage of this motion and subsequently a change in the standing orders of this House.

Bill C-245, previously known as Bill C-232, was subjected as a votable bill to three hours of debate in the House of Commons. During that period a number of opinions were expressed but in the main there was positive support from all sides. I must say to be fair, the member for Nepean, the member for Ottawa West and the Deputy Prime Minister were all supportive of this bill.

It received unanimous approval from the Chamber at second reading and was sent for study to the justice committee. Again at that committee opinions were expressed both in support of the bill and in opposition to it, but at least to my mind no overwhelming reason was presented as to why this bill should not become law. In fact, the three family law lawyers at that time in committee as witnesses spoke strongly of the need for such a bill.

However, when it came to clause by clause review of the bill in committee the clauses were defeated and it was decided not to report the bill back to the Chamber. The government had decided the bill was not going to pass into law.

Quite frankly, that is the government's decision to make. If the government does not want a law passed which makes it easier for grandparents to gain access to their grandchildren and for grandchildren to see their grandparents, then it is its right. The government has a majority and we have not yet reached the stage in the evolution of our parliamentary process whereby free votes can take place in committees.

The consequence is that the bill gets mired in committee. This is what is so distressful. It is also very destructive. It is destructive to the democratic process.

The House is in favour of the committee process and yet in spite of the rules and regulations of this House when a bill is sent to the committee and not returned, we really have no recourse. We can make a motion in the House whether the members would support the bill's being returned, but if it is voted down there is no recourse apart from that.

I think it is important to point out to the members of the House right now that in this situation House members were unanimous in their consent of this bill. We are talking about my bill, but it could be any bill that gets unanimous consent. The committee members completely ignored the good witnesses on this bill in the committee proceedings.

This all took place in front of grandparents who could not believe what they were hearing. They were in the gallery the day it passed. They had just seen full support from the House of Commons. They could not understand why it was buried in committee.

More than that, I then had to go out across the country and speak to grandparents groups. I had to try to explain to them why this bill was not returned to the House. Really I had nothing to say. I was at a loss. Nobody had given any reasons. In the clause by clause nobody discussed the information that witnesses had given them in support of the bill. I really could not do my job as a member of Parliament. I was stymied.

If we do nothing else we have to be able to do our jobs as members of Parliament. We have to be able to report the business of the House back to the House so the House can then hear it and we have to know the answers.

Through the adoption of Motion No. 267 I believe the people of Canada would be able to find out why this particular bill got stopped in committee.

In preparing these remarks I took a look at the rules in effect in Great Britain, Australia and the United States to see if anything similar to what I was proposing was in effect in those jurisdictions. I can report that nothing similar exists but I would argue that it does not need to exist.

In the United States, because of the loose party allegiances, a great many bills are reported out of committee by votes which cross party lines. A great deal of brokering must take place before a bill is reported back to the floor of the Senate or the House of Representatives. These loose coalitions which can form are composed of Democrats and Republicans, both supporting the same

cause. So there is not really a need for this legislation because they already have something that is working in their area.

In Great Britain it has become common to vote against the party line even on matters of government business. This tradition began during the Heath administration and it continues to this day. This willingness among MPs to disregard the wishes of the party whips is also manifest in committees.

The present committee system in use at Westminster in England was introduced in 1979. One important feature for our purposes was that membership selection was taken out of the hands of the party whip. Members are chosen by a group of backbench MPs. Members are also free to elect their own chairpersons. We find this quite different from what we have. It is not unusual in Westminister to have a significant number of committees chaired by opposition members. I remind members that in this House we have problems even getting opposition members as vice-chairs.

In Australia and New Zealand voting against the party line is tolerated but the influence of the backbencher is at its greatest when there is a labour government. It sounds most unique certainly to any of us in Canada that in Australia the caucus elects members to sit in cabinet and the Prime Minister assigns the portfolios. This leads to constant interaction and communication between members and cabinet. Therefore there is little fear of sanctions being imposed if one votes against the party line in committees.

This international comparison illustrates that we are not near the point where the influence of the party whip will be lessened in committee. Having said this, what do we do with bills that pass through second reading, that are approved in principle in the House of Commons and then are virtually killed in committee?

It is my suggestion that our rules should be changed to require the committee to report its actions and to give reasons. We owe this as members of this place to those who sponsor bills and we owe it to the people of Canada.

I am aware that I have some good speakers on this motion and I would certainly like to give them a chance to speak.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Paul Zed LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as we open this debate I would ask members to bear in mind that this is the first hour of consideration on this item. I encourage members to refrain from making quick judgments one way or the other. As straightforward as the motion may appear and as my hon. colleague who moved the motion would understand, the motion entails the removal of an authority which our predecessors undoubtedly with good reason saw fit to delegate to committees. That is the authority to decide that a bill would not be reported back to the House and equally that a report to the Chamber was not necessary.

That is not to say that the proposal is without merit. On the contrary, I believe it may find support from all sides of the House. I only wish to draw my colleagues' attention to the seriousness of the question that is before us. Let us take a moment to examine this motion.

The motion proposes a carte blanche requirement that committees of this House report back all bills referred to them for consideration or that they submit a report with a recommendation not to proceed further with a bill. Clearly, this would impose a new restriction on the freedom of committees to determine issues before them.

If I understand it correctly, it would also tie the hands of a sponsoring member who, having succeeded in moving a bill to committee, discovered that it was substantially or politically flawed and wished to withdraw it. Under the terms of the motion, that member, the very person who brought forward the idea, could not secure the committee's agreement to set the item aside. No, as today's motion now reads, the committee would be obliged to prepare a report with its incumbent costs. Once submitted, that report could be subjected to a concurrence debate using up still more resources and precious time. Alternatively, it is not too difficult to imagine situations where a committee might insist on reporting a bill back to the Chamber despite the sponsor's wishes.

Do either of these scenarios represent the intent of the sponsor of this motion? What would be the impact upon the other private members' bills?

By its very nature, if adopted this motion will increase the number of committee reports and very possibly the number of bills reported back from committee. In the absence of other balancing changes to private members' business procedures, this gives rise to the possibility of a situation developing where once a session is under way and committees begin reporting bills back to the House, bills at report stage and third reading would block the access of private members' bills to the order of precedence for extended periods. I trust that this was not our colleague's intent.

This motion also leads to consideration of another well known but little acknowledged difference between private members' and government bills, namely, the level of scrutiny to which each kind of bill is subjected.

Each of us knows firsthand or through conversations with other members the energy which is required to bring a private members' bill to the House. Each bill is, I believe, a triumph to the sponsor's determination. Each of us also knows that no matter how much time and effort we put into a bill we cannot begin to match the resources, the time and the energy which goes into scrutinizing each phase of a typical bill that is sponsored by the government.

Bills pass through distinct phases of research, policy development, consultation, consideration of options and peer review and parliamentary study. Each government bill must successfully pass through intensive filters at each of those stages before becoming law.

Try as he or she might, an ordinary member developing a bill simply cannot match the minute level of scrutiny which government bills undergo. Yet despite this difference, each private members' bill has the potential to have the same impact on the day to day lives of Canadians as any government bill.

I must therefore ask: Is it really our desire that committees report on all the bills that are referred to them? Is it possible that some bills should stay in committee? Is it possible that some members wish to have their ideas expressed in the form of a bill considered by committee but do not wish to proceed further?

There are few among us who have not wrangled at the way this place works from time to time. Members on all sides have experienced the frustration of having what seemed to be perfectly good ideas stuck or worse, lost. But the disappointment of a few members of Parliament does not necessarily justify the change which is proposed today.

The simple fact is that this Parliament has made a great deal of progress with respect to private members' business. All votes on private members' business are now the subject of a free vote. Under this system 13 bills have completed passage in the past three years, including a private members' bill which required and for the first time in Canadian parliamentary history received a royal recommendation. Members may wish to note that in the eight years prior to this Parliament, only eight private members' bills completed the legislative process.

It is important to consider that within the context of this current Parliament. Each time a change in the standing orders is proposed, we need to stop and remind ourselves that this system is the product of hundreds of years of parliamentary practice and precedence.

Ultimately we may decide to support this motion or improve a version of it, but I for one am reluctant to do so at this point in time. As we have benefited from changes implemented by our predecessors, we of this Parliament have an obligation to ensure that any changes we make would make improvements as well. Would this motion, as it is currently worded, represent an improvement? Does it recognize the inherent ability and inventiveness of committees to develop their own solutions to issues associated with the review and reporting of private members' business?

For example, I understand that at least one standing committee has implemented a monthly review of all private members' business referred to it. I would remind the House that we have already asked one of our own committees, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, to examine private members' business procedure. That committee has already heard from several witnesses on a number of topics, including committee study of private members' bills.

In conclusion, I would like to see that committee examine some of the issues associated with the hon. member's motion. As a matter of fact, I think it would be both consistent and a courtesy to our colleague to ask that the committee include this motion in its review.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am really a bit disappointed in the speech by the member for Fundy-Royal. In one way, I was expecting the member to be truly democratic and open to a proposal, a motion that strikes me as just as essential as the one presented by the Reform member.

It is sad to hear a recent arrival in the House of Commons, a young person, doing everything he can to have us move backwards and be less democratic.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Paul Zed Liberal Fundy Royal, NB

That is not true.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Suzanne Tremblay Bloc Rimouski—Témiscouata, QC

That is the discourse we have just heard. You did not perhaps write it yourself, but that is what we heard. It is backward and antidemocratic and its purpose is to prevent members from doing their work seriously.

Forcing a committee to table a report in the House is the least of it. The committee should examine the bill. The member has left, and he will be even more furious if he hears this from his office, but I am going to propose an amendment shortly, at the end of my speech, to force committees to work to reasonable deadlines.

I think it is extremely important that they stop making fun of people. We are here as legislators. What matters is that we make legislation. The government makes legislation, imposes gags, goes to committee, expedites studies, clause by clause. We can have bills with 272 clauses, like the one we have just debated on the GST. The government has done its work so badly that it is proposing 100 amendments in committee that we must examine one after the other. Even at the very last minute, before tabling the report in the House, they found a way to table another 13 amendments.

What has happened to Bill C-234 is simply disgraceful. The House sent this bill to committee. The committee was to examine it clause by clause and we do not even know if the committee did its work. It never reported back to the House. We are not asking the committee to agree with the bill, but it is not up to a few individuals sitting around a table in a committee with a government majority to decide if the bill deserves to go to second reading, third reading, the Senate or royal assent. It is not up to three, four, five or six Liberals to decide for 295 members. This is the forum for democracy. It is

here that we must sit. It is not up to the committee to decide for everyone else.

The decision has to be made here. And I think it is too bad the hon. member for Fundy-Royal decided to argue in favour of the motion. However, he did not manage to convince me, because I could not go along with what he had to say.

The question of privilege raised by the Reform Party is, in my opinion, essential to the problem. Unfortunately, the Chair rendered an impartial ruling, very middle-of-the-road, saying that our rights were not breached when a committee decided to keep our bill. But this may be a way for committee to sabotage a service that is available to every member of this House: to introduce private members' bills.

So there should be a way to force the committee to report back to the House. Private members' bills often address issues raised by constituents who want the matter dealt with through legislation. Or maybe they reflect the concerns of members, of a party, of a group of people, a riding, a region, whatever. But we must not forget that if we are here to pass legislation, we also have the right to draft private members' bills. We have the right to debate them in this House, and we have the right to take them through all stages until eventually they can become law.

To kill a bill in committee shows an utter lack of respect for the members of this House and for our constituents who sent us here to work for them. It is also a way to gag the opposition. All sorts of ways to muzzle the opposition have been found, and now another one has been developed: bills sent to committee are left to die there. Sometimes they die on the Order Paper. This one will die in committee-it will be given a first class burial in committee-and a committee, we must remember, comprises a majority of government members.

This is also a way to kill a bill of a member of government who has introduced a private member's bill that does not suit the government. So it gets muzzled too. We are talking about an ordinary backbencher, whose opinion differs from that of the majority, so arrangements are made for his bill to remain in committee.

Statistics show that, since the Liberals formed the government in 1993, fewer private bills have come to a vote in the House. Things were better under the Conservatives. So it is important that the government realize that opposition members are just as entitled as government members to avail themselves of the possibility of introducing private member's bills.

Of course, the government wants to avoid dissension within caucus and it does not want this dissension to become public. We saw this recently with a bill introduced by a member of the majority; the majority of members voted in favour of this bill, leading to dissension within the government. The ministers, in particular, did not want to vote in favour of this bill.

So I feel it is important to point out that, in the motion presented by the Reform Party member, all that is being requested in the end is a change to the Standing Orders.

A standing, special or legislative committee to which a Private Member's public bill has been referred must in every case either report the bill to the House with or without amendment. How has it been examined? What are the results of this study in committee? Let it provide us with a report.

If the report says that the members of a committee have thoroughly studied the bill and that it is not logical, would be too costly, or ought not to be proceeded further with, the committee would be entitled to do this. The members of the House would learn to work very seriously in this connection and would take committee reports seriously.

If only it was felt that the government was open to having all members, even the backbenchers on its side, work on improving the legislation we have, in order to solve the problems we are experiencing in each of our ridings.

The committee would be required to make a report, to present to the House a report in which it would recommend whether or not to proceed further with the bill and give the reasons for recommending the one course of action over than the other.

I hope that we shall debate this motion and that the necessary lobbying of all members will be done to ensure that they really understand the meaning and importance of this motion. The Bloc Quebecois is in favour of this motion and we are adding an amendment.

I move:

That the motion be amended by adding after the words "in every case" the following: ", within six months from the date of the bill's reference to the committee,".

We are adding to the Reform member's motion the words "within six months". Let me explain our amendment. After six months, the committee must report to the House. Its report could say that it had not finished its examination. This gives enough leeway to allow follow up on all bills tabled in the House in order to develop a more open-minded atmosphere and mechanisms which would encourage democracy.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I declare the motion in order.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here this evening to speak in favour of MotionNo. 267. I understand that it is a motion which speaks to Standing Order-

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, a point of order. Did I miss something in the speaking order? Would I not be next as the member for the Reform Party?

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member is on my list to speak after the member for Sarnia-Lambton.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am speaking in favour of this motion, which would amend the standing orders, specifically Standing Order 97.

As I understand it, the hon. member for Mission-Coquitlam wishes to require that a private member's bill, if defeated in committee, be reported in the House that, first, it was defeated and, second, why it was defeated.

I listened to the amendment proposed by the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata. We are talking about two subjects here. As the standing orders now stand the rules allow that a bill, if defeated in the committee, the committee need not report back to the House that the bill was defeated. The chair of the committee is instructed not to report it to the House. This is, in effect, not correct.

At the same time, I have to acknowledge that this whole business of private members' business is being studied by a House committee. A process of evolution is occurring. Since 1986 when private members' business was given an earlier statutory amendment, it has evolved a great deal in the last 11 years.

The member in question for Mission-Coquitlam was the author and sponsor of Bill C-245, which was an act to amend the Divorce Act. As a member of the justice committee, yes, it was rejected by the committee. I was the person who moved that it not be reported to the House because the clerk of the committee told us that the rules only allowed that when a bill was defeated. There was no other alternative. We had no choice but to move that once the bill was defeated.

Also, this was a bill that was not whipped. There was no intervention or interference from the whip's office. It was a bill that was not discussed in the sense that, on one side of the table, we arrived at a consensus. It was a vote based on the merits of the legislation as proposed.

I would suggest that Bill C-245 was rejected for two reasons, namely, that the Divorce Act already has a provision for grandparents' access and that Bill C-245 was fundamentally flawed in that it would include custody and access rights equivalent to parents at the time of the divorce when those grandparents did not have those rights prior to the divorce writ being issued.

It seems to me that, as a parent, we would not want to give rights greater to grandparents than what they had prior to the divorce. No one would want to engage in litigation when a divorce, which becomes a rather crazy piece of litigation at best, could have added another four petitioners or respondents to that type of action.

Although the intent of the sponsor of that bill was correct and undoubtedly there is some room for amendments to the Divorce Act to accommodate that, nonetheless I voted against the bill because it was not the best piece of legislation.

The fact that the bill was never reported back to the House is the sad part of the process. I, for one, can speak from personal experience that a private member's bill is a lot of work. A lot of heart and soul is put into it. The House agreed in principle that this was an idea worth examining. The fact is that it went to a committee and the committee did study it. Then we add the ultimate insult not only to those on the committee but to the sponsor of that bill by saying we cannot under the rules report the bill to the House is a great tragedy.

In the end it was the House that referred this bill to the committee, and the committee should be given the right and the authority to refer it back to the House and to say that yes, in this particular case the bill was defeated and here are some of the reasons why it, independently or collectively, defeated a bill. Then let the House decide if it was a good and valid reason.

Obviously the committee system in this place is not intended to be the terminal point of pieces of legislation. Committees are there to examine legislation at greater length than can possibly be done in this House. They are there to summon witnesses and experts and to determine if there are flaws, shortcomings or problems that were not contemplated in the House which should be considered. They are there to consider if legislation should be fine tuned, amended or defeated.

After the committee makes its collective decision obviously the House which sent it there would like to hear what the collective or individual opinions of those members might be with regard to the meaning of legislation, apparently or unintended.

To terminate a piece of private member's legislation in a committee is wrong. It is not proper; it is not fair. We have a chance now to do that which is proper, right and fair. We can move to amend the standing orders so that in the end we give to the House, not to the committee, the right to decide whether the committee was correct or whether the committee had enough evidence or whether the committee, based on the evidence presented to it, came up with the right conclusion.

We have a lot of boards in this country. For example, in Ontario we have boards to determine whether an individual should be issued a liquor licence. If the board turns the application down, the individual can at least appeal to another body which can ask based on the evidence before that board, did it follow the rules and arrive at the right conclusion. That is what the courts are for and that is

why we have laws dealing with administration. The administration act in Ontario deals with this.

It seems strange that fundamental laws of justice that apply in the courts of this country are in some way short circuited. I do not think it is a deliberate attempt, but the ultimate consequence is that a committee can short circuit the collective judgment of this place. I do not believe that was intended but that is what is happening, which is why this motion should be adopted.

I have heard the other argument about the amendment that it should be in six months. In the justice committee we have a rule that every month private members' business will be reviewed by the committee with respect to the status of items, including when we will deal with them. I believe that is what the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata was talking about.

We must also give private members' business the courtesy it deserves. We should ensure that committees deal with it. In the justice committee it works. I was the sponsor of that motion before the committee, and the motion passed. At least private members' business does not die in the in basket. In fact, it is dealt with. Not everybody likes the results of how the committee deals with it but if we follow this motion things will at least circuit back to the House where we can let the House collectively deal with them.

This motion has great merit and I urge others to examine it and to support it.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of Motion No. 267. I would first like to agree with the member from the Bloc who indicated she was quite disturbed by the speech given by the first member on the government side, the member for Fundy-Royal. It seemed like a very aggressive attack on the intent of this motion.

The member for Mission-Coquitlam spoke at length about the changes that have happened in other parliamentary democracies to free up the process. They have abandoned the restrictive practices that we still see practised here in Canada. Even the mother of our own Parliament in the U.K. has abandoned a lot of these restrictive practices we still see in this place.

What the member for Fundy-Royal called hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition is more like hundreds of years of parliamentary repression. We really need to break through that cloak of protection that the government has and get some of the people's business on the table.

Motion No. 267 addresses a very serious problem and I am sure it is one that has touched almost every member of this House in one way or another. All too often a votable private member's bill gets shuffled off to a committee never to be seen again, making a mockery of the entire parliamentary process.

In addition, because deliberations at the subcommittee, which determines which bills are made votable, are held in secret, no one ever knows why the bill was or was not made votable in the first place. Frankly, the frequency with which these tactics of repressing private members' bills are used is alarming, particularly when one considers that it was this government that promised during the last election campaign that it would overhaul the processes of the House and make Parliament more transparent and democratic.

It is all very well for the government side to allow its MPs a free vote on a private member's bill in this House, but now it is using the committee to stall the bill instead of stalling it here on the floor of the House of the Commons. What did we really achieve? If anything, all it has done is put it behind closed doors so that the public cannot see the government side rejecting it or manipulating the rejection.

In fact, this entire problem that we are discussing here today is only a symptom of a larger malaise which has plagued this House for decades, namely that almost all the power is wielded by the Prime Minister and a small group of people around him, leaving the rest of us, and unfortunately our constituents along with us, having almost no say in the way the country is governed.

I am frequently reminded of the sorry state of democracy in Canada when constituents ask me whether MPs are actually able to serve any useful purpose if they are not allowed to act independently of the leader or the party when they need to represent the views of their constituents. When I am asked that question, it is pretty difficult to identify any situation in this House where a voting machine could not produce exactly the same result. It seems to me that maybe the entire government side could be automated and connected to the Prime Minister's chair and not even bother turning up. There could just be one button for the Prime Minister to press.

This is precisely the kind of arrogant, patronizing, top down control that the people of Canada are starting to reject. We really have to see the system opened up a bit.

Not only are ordinary Canadians pretty well unable to participate in the legislative process, they are not even informed of the reasons behind the decisions that are made. Bills put forward on their behalf by us, their elected representatives, often simply disappear into committee, as most of the members have said here today, whether or not they are made votable.

It is time to bring a measure of true democracy to our parliamentary system and open the entire private members' business to public scrutiny. That means the subcommittee that decides whether or not a bill should be votable should also be open and we should

see its decisions so that our constituents can find out the reasons why our bills are not made votable.

I have an example of my own, Bill C-333, a bill which would deport criminal refugees in lieu of sentence when they are found guilty of breaking Canada's laws. That bill was put together with the assistance of the lawyers of this House and by a crown counsel in my riding, a Liberal supporter, a person who has put himself forward for nomination as the Liberal candidate in my riding, an experienced person who knows how the system works. What happens? The bill is made non-votable. I do not know the reason why. I have no idea. I write to the minister to ask for support for the bill and I get a non-committal letter back saying how interesting it will be to hear the debate.

There should not be a situation where skilled people put together a bill that is warranted, that needs discussion in this House and we cannot even get it votable.

This sort of action allows the government to put a stop to private members' bills without going through the embarrassing process of actually voting on them. If the government wants to defeat a bill, it should do it right here in the public view where everyone can see what is happening, instead of it being restricted as it was in the case of the member for Mission-Coquitlam to a few grandparents who were able to travel all the way to Ottawa to sit in on a committee meeting and see what happened in that place.

All I can hope for is that they have gone back to their ridings, to their groups and organizations and are telling people the travesty of democracy that can occur in these committees.

Too many pieces of good legislation that have passed through this House are mired in committee proceedings and never come back.

The single most powerful argument in favour of this motion is that when a bill receives approval at second reading, the elected representatives in this place are approving it. We have given a message to the people of Canada openly in public in this place that we approve of this legislation. It should not be up to the committee to find personal reasons, as we heard with due respect from the member opposite, why committee members do not like the bill. It should be their job to make it work.

In the instance of the bill of the member for Mission-Coquitlam there were witnesses before that committee, lawyers, who said this bill is needed, which contradicts the personal opinion of the member opposite. There were plenty of examples from the United States where similar legislation works.

It is not up to a committee to thwart the will of the House. The committee should have reported this bill back with amendments, if necessary, ways in which the legislation could be made to work, not a rejection of a decision of this House.

While Motion No. 267 will not solve all the problems associated with our parliamentary system, obviously there are many areas to fix, it does take an important step toward making the committee process and the private members' business process much more democratic.

The motion, if passed, will be of benefit to all MPs, indeed all Canadians and as such I urge all members of the House to support it. My only fear is that the motion, if passed, will end up in a committee somewhere and have the same fate that so many bills before it have had, which is to disappear forever and to make no difference at all to the way this place operates.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Hamilton—Wentworth, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this motion which I think is a very good motion. I do support it in principle.

However, I am not sure that in addressing a very serious and important problem it actually has all the answers. So when I support the motion, when I vote for the motion, as I expect to do, it will be with some qualification.

I am a player in this debate in the sense that I also had a private member's bill that passed second reading and went to committee. It was Bill C-224. It was a bill that would require charitable organizations to disclose the salaries of their executive officers. That bill left this Chamber to go to committee with the unanimous consent of the House, so it had the full support of the House.

When it got to committee it caused a great deal of controversy. Many witnesses came before the committee, some for and quite a number, I am sorry to say, against it in principle. I was actually in the course of a private member's bill before a standing committee subject to attack ads in the Ottawa Citizen . It was a full page that read: ``Do you have no sense of decency, Mr. Bryden?''. It was perceived by some people that wanting charities to disclose the salaries of their executive officers would cause disclosures that some charities were not prepared to endure.

The original bill that I put through to the committee received a lot of support in committee but it was seriously flawed. Consequently I went back and with the committee's co-operation I made a number of very important amendments to the bill.

But such was the controversy that the bill raised that the government pre-empted the amendments that I was to bring forward for my bill and implemented the changes by regulation. I found myself in the situation where I had actually achieved my target. In fact, Revenue Canada stiffened up the procedures for the reporting by charities of their executive salaries. As a matter of fact, Revenue Canada improved the measures which were proposed in my bill.

Suddenly I was faced with the situation where the bill need not go any further than committee. I spoke at committee to this dilemma. I approved of what the government was doing. It did not provide the penalties which I proposed in the bill. My bill addressed only one fragment of the problem of the accountability of not for profit organizations. I could not see going forward with a bill that was incomplete in addressing a wide array of problems when 90 per cent of the bill, such as it was, was addressed by the government in its changes to regulations.

My colleagues on the committee, on all sides, concluded with my agreement that the bill would go no further.

We were left with a dilemma. How would we tell Parliament? How would we tell the world who saw the attack ads and who were aware of the news stories that I had brought in with this controversial private members' bill? How would we tell the world that the government had been very accommodating and that in fact my private members' bill had succeeded?

As it turned out, there was no way. We discussed in committee at some length the possibility of my submitting a member's statement; at the beginning of question period each member has an opportunity to speak for one minute on any subject. I still felt that I would not be returning to Parliament with the message that the committee had considered the bill and had come to some decision with respect to the bill.

The more we examined the issue, the more it became very clear that there was no easy way to take the message back. As a government MP, the irony was that there was no effective way for me to report to the people of Canada that my government had paid attention to a private member's bill.

So often we hear the criticism that private members' business does not go anywhere, yet my bill was an example of private members' business achieving something substantial. However, I could not in any way effectively tell Canadians that the government gives great weight to private members' business and in this instance acted in my mind very responsibly and very promptly to the initiative proposed in Bill C-224.

The reason I have reservations about the motion and why I support it in principle but not necessarily in content is that the parliamentary secretary raised the issue that if we report back to the House, then the House has an obligation to consider the report and there would be further debate. That raises the very real issue of House time. If we take up House time, then other members who may have similar private members' bills to put forward will not be able to do so. If I take up House time with debate that is no longer necessary, then I am depriving my colleagues of an opportunity to do exactly what I did and have the same success which I achieved.

This is a very serious problem. As I understand it, there is a committee of Parliament studying the whole issue of private members' business. I want to say that private members' business is very important in Parliament. Previous Parliaments have not given it the place which is its due. They did not exploit the contribution which private members can make to the legislation of this country by introducing bills which do not come from the bureaucracy, which do not come from government, but which come from individual members who reflect the interests of their constituents.

Private members' business does need to be reformed. This motion addresses an area of reform to which we should give due attention. While supporting this motion, I hope it will lead perhaps not to the implementation to the actual letter of the motion, but that it will lead to a furthering of the examination of the problem. Perhaps in the very near term we will come to a solution that will accommodate the concerns very legitimately raised by the member for Mission-Coquitlam.

Standing Orders Of The HousePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

If the hon. member for Hamilton-Wentworth wishes to proceed next time he will have about three minutes and five seconds left. The member has indicated he is finished.

The time provided for consideration of Private Member's Business has now expired. The order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Standing Orders Of The HouseAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak out on the very important issue of the federal Liberal government policies on pensions for Canada's elderly.

In October 1996 I questioned the Minister of Finance concerning proposals by some provinces to cut pension benefits to seniors by taking away full inflation protection. At the same time some members of the Liberal caucus have suggested that it may be necessary to cut the benefits of current pensioners in order to make the Canada pension plan sustainable.

I questioned the Minister of Finance at the time as to whether or not he was prepared to reinforce the commitment of the Liberal government to the basic principles of the Canada pension plan and in particular whether he would support proposals made by the NDP governments of Saskatchewan and British Columbia which would strengthen the plan and ensure its viability.

Unfortunately we still have no indication of in which direction the Liberal government is moving on the fundamentally important question of reform to the Canada pension plan. At the same time many seniors in Canada are deeply concerned about the government's proposed changes to the old age pension and the guaranteed income supplement.

What the Liberal government proposed in the last budget is to effectively abolish the universal old age pension and as well to get rid of the annual age credit and the annual retirement income tax credit. This would take us back to the days when pensions were effectively a form of welfare. Clearly that is totally unacceptable.

The seniors benefit would eliminate universality and income support for seniors. At the same time it would seriously erode the autonomy of Canadian women. It would mean that the split which currently takes place in which women are entitled as a right to their pension would be ended by the calculation of family income.

I want to voice very serious concerns on behalf of my colleagues in the NDP on those proposals. Certainly I hope that when the government tables its legislation on the seniors benefit that it will back off on that serious assault on the basic longstanding principles of the old age security system in this country.

On the Canada pension plan, I want to suggest to the government that it slow down this rush to suggest that the Canada pension plan is in a state of crisis and instead that it adopt the proposal of the chief actuary in his 15th report on the Canada pension plan. He suggested that there be some modest changes to the CPP contribution rate. In fact the proposal would result in a combined employer-employee contribution rate rising to 13.91 per cent of contributory earnings by 2030, just under 14 per cent in some 35 years time. I point out that combined level of contribution is already significantly lower than that in many other OECD countries.

I suggest that we put the plan on a very firm financial foundation by adopting that recommendation of the chief actuary. At the same time there are a number of other proposals that have been made which the government could look at. An example is the proposal that has been made by British Columbia finance minister Andrew Petter and supported by Saskatchewan finance minister Janice McKinnon to broaden the contributory base. There are a number of similar proposals.

It is fundamentally important that we acknowledge that we should be strengthening public pensions in Canada. If that means that we have to look at the current very generous tax benefits for private pension plans and for RRSPs at the top levels, then I think the basic objective should be to strengthen public pensions. This is particularly important at a time when more and more Canadians are relying on public pensions. Many Canadians simply cannot afford to make contributions to RRSPs. Record numbers of Canadians are cashing in their RRSPs and fewer and fewer workers are employed at jobs in which they actually have workplace pension plans.

In closing, I want to appeal to the government to strengthen the Canada pension plan, to scrap the regressive elements of the seniors benefit and, more importantly, to look at the impact of its proposals on the retirement income of elderly Canadians. This is tremendously important because so far all that has been looked at is the spending side. The government should recognize that the impact of its proposals will be particularly serious to women and other people who are disadvantaged in the work force.

Standing Orders Of The HouseAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

St. Paul's Ontario


Barry Campbell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, the federal government is not trying to push a particular package of cuts to the CPP, including changes to indexing.

The federal government is trying to find changes which will ensure that the CPP will be there for Canadians when they retire, something all Canadians want and deserve. I must remind the hon. member that the responsibility for the CPP is shared among the provinces and the federal government. Therefore, changes require the agreement of two-thirds of the provinces with two-thirds of the population. The federal government is, therefore, working with the provinces to find a package of balanced changes which all provinces, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the federal government can accept.

We cannot simply side with one or two provinces, as the hon. member suggests, and expect to obtain the support of the other provinces which are necessary to amend the CPP. That is not the way we will find federal-provincial consensus.

However, the federal government has acted clearly and decisively in its own jurisdiction for old age pensions, old age security and the guaranteed income supplement with the new seniors benefit, which when implemented in 2001, will continue to be indexed 100 per cent to inflation. It is a response to concerns about the sustainability of those supports. Most seniors, and most particularly senior single women, will be better off under the new system.

I therefore suggest that the hon. member take these matters into consideration.

Standing Orders Of The HouseAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m.

(The House adjourned at 6.57 p.m.)