This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was debate.

Topics

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Simcoe North Ontario

Liberal

Paul Devillers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to comment on the motion on our standing orders, pursuant to S. O. 51(1).

I believe this is a worthwhile debate, even if some consider it a mere formality. The standing orders regulate almost every aspect of parliamentary procedure, and the legislative process could not function without them. Let us take the example of a debate that is still very fresh in our memories, and those of all Canadians, the flag flap. Without a concise set of standing orders, the House would find itself in a terrible mess from which no one would benefit.

In the time available to me I will not be able to address all questions surrounding the standing orders in any depth. I will therefore limit my comments to a few areas, and to some related issues of particular interest to me.

First I would like to turn to the issue of private members' bills, clearly a popular topic in today's debate. For many members, private members' bills are one of the most visible ways members can influence the debate of the House and reflect the particular concerns of their constituents. One current problem with private members' bills is the system of making bills votable or non-votable.

Currently a very limited number of private members' bills are deemed votable. This designation is decided unilaterally by a subcommittee of the House procedural committee. There is no appeal and no justification given for this decision.

The reasons for the designation of non-votable should be given to the MP sponsoring the bill. A right of appeal of the subcommittee's decision should be created. This right of appeal would be before the substantive committee most directly concerned by the subject matter of the bill. The committee would be asked to study the bill for a limited period of time to give the author of the bill a chance to present the problem and the context that gave rise to the legislation.

Without unduly tasking committee time this hearing would provide a more visible record of the myriad of concerns that members raise through private members' bills.

I understand that currently there is an examination of the legislative and procedural changes proposed in the last parliament by the House affairs and procedural committee. This report contained many suggestions designed to increase the number of private members' bills, to increase the number of bills that would be votable and to increase the number of those bills that could be adopted by the House.

As the government House leader mentioned in his presentation on this issue, any of these changes would require the House to perform the close scrutiny of private members' bills that currently occurs on government bills. It is clear that increased scrutiny would fall in many ways to committees. My suggestion about the right of appeal of votable designation would be a compromise between the present system and the proposals of the House affairs and procedural committee.

Committees and the House would not be overtaxed with frivolous legislation while private members' bills would get the hearing sponsoring MPs deserve and desire.

A related topic is the availability of legislative drafting counsel for private members' bills. Hon. members will be aware of the consternation expressed by some members during the previous parliament regarding the availability of legislative counsel for private members' bills. Essentially this problem arose as the private members' office lost legislative drafting advisers.

In my opinion the innovative project between the House and the legislative drafting masters program at the University of Ottawa should be attempted again. This kind of practical experience is essential for graduates. In addition, these students would provide an important service for members of parliament.

As lawyers, these masters students are well aware of the confidential relationship between the solicitor and their client. Furthermore, given the success of the policy in legal internships currently available to members' offices, I feel that a similar approach to legislative drafting would be welcome.

I would like to comment on the distinction to be made between bills that are financial in nature from those that are not. I feel, and I believe I am not the only one, that more and more private member's bills are financial in nature.

Subsequent to a reform to the standing orders in 1993, a member can, under certain circumstances, introduce a bill which involves public moneys, provide it obtains a royal recommendation before third reading. There is no provision, moreover, to prevent a member from introducing a bill which would reduce allocations of funds.

This raises matters of principle, however. The British parliamentary system has bequeathed us certain basic principles we have a duty to respect, including that of responsible government.

Canadians insist that their government be answerable to it for its decisions, particularly anything of a financial nature.

This can only be the case if we allow members of Parliament to introduce tax bills and if we pass these bills. We should probably review the related provisions of the standing orders, to ensure that the principle of government accountability is fully maintained.

Let me turn briefly to another issue that has been vigorously discussed in this parliament, that of electronic voting. Let me say from the outset that I do not support this initiative. Forcing all members to stand in their place and be counted is an important part of the job of a member of parliament. When sensitive issues are debated and decided members are forced to declare their vote or their lack of vote as the case may be. I feel strongly that electronic voting would remove some of the symbolic accountability from this place.

I have one last point before concluding. The standing orders provide that, during an opposition day, a member of the party tabling the opposition motion can amend the wording of the main motion. Since the standing orders also allow the member of the opposition party who begins the debate to share his or her time with another member, that second member has the first opportunity to propose an amendment to the wording of the motion.

However, this prevents any other member of the House from proposing an amendment to the main motion, and not only to the amendment to the motion. This procedural tactic is unfair, in my opinion, and the standing orders should be reviewed and amended accordingly.

I hope members of this House share my views on these issues relating to our rules. It is our responsibility to ensure the standing orders are as concise as possible, if this House is to operate effectively.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to enter the debate today. It is an interesting debate because it is one of those occasions where we actually have a debate in the House of Commons. People come with ideas and exchange them. Far too often we see ourselves here with our set pieces and not listening, but I think the debates on the standing order changes have been useful and helpful. Perhaps it is because they affect us all as parliamentarians.

In the brief time allotted to me I would like to talk about six different areas of the standing orders which I believe are in need of change. The first relates to the taking of votes and the practice of applying votes, the same practice we have been using since the start of the 35th parliament.

While every member of the House would agree that this practice has greatly reduced the time it takes to record votes, it is also true that this time and money saving measure can and has been denied by only a single voice. In other words, even though our vote is recorded in Hansard as having been cast, any one member can stand and say he or she wants everybody in the House to stand again, again and again, as many as 20 to 30 times in a single evening. Because what is most important is the vote itself that is a time waster.

My first recommendation would be that the procedure of applying votes by party should be institutionalized in our rules. Instead of requiring unanimous consent, what is now common practice, a minimum of five members would be required to force a traditional stand up vote. Such a standing order change would not infringe on the voting rights of anyone but would be consistent with the rule requiring five members to force a recorded vote. In that sense it is consistent, would speed things up and would make it a regular part of voting.

I would especially like to pay tribute to someone who works in our House leader's office, Mr. David Prest who first came up with this idea back in the last parliament and brought it forward as a time saver. One day, if we were ever to send to Mr. Prest the amount of money the House saved by using his original idea for applying votes, he could retire a very wealthy man. My hat goes off to him for that initiative.

The second issue I would like to address is that of House orders or motions which direct a standing committee on how to act. The problem I see is that the House may pass a motion, as it did in the last parliament, to create, for example, a victims bill of rights, or earlier in this parliament a motion to toughen up the drunk driving laws. Once that motion is passed by the House and sent to committee there is no guarantee that it will be dealt with or resolved in committee.

In both instances just mentioned, the motions were brought forward by the Reform Party and were supported by a majority of the members of the House. Yet no action was taken at committee. It is for this reason that I recommend that committees be required to report to the House on the progress of any order given to them by the House within a prescribed number of sitting days. There should not be any open endedness about these. When they are referred to committees, they should have to report back by a certain date.

Third, I would like to touch on a specific standing order which all parties in this House have spoken against at various times, Standing Order 56. Under this standing order when unanimous consent is denied, a minister can move a motion without notice, without debate or amendment to suspend the standing orders. While 25 members rising in their seats can have that motion withdrawn, 25 members is a far cry from unanimous consent. At any other time when someone asks for permission to table a piece of paper, to put a motion before the House, any one person can stop that by saying no to the unanimous consent.

Standing Order 56, which gives a minister special power to suspend the standing orders, is in my opinion dictatorial and an abusive rule. That is why I recommend that Standing Order 56 be deleted when we go through these standing orders.

The fourth item I want to address is Standing Order 73. It allows the government to designate that a bill be referred to committee before second reading. This process evolved, when I was first here, in the 35th parliament. It has evolved, I do not think intentionally, into a shortcut for the government which basically restricts one stage of the legislative process to 180 minutes of debate. The limiting of debate on any bill should be considered on a case by case basis which only the House collectively can decide. This should not be a decision left solely to the government which can unilaterally decide to limit debate on a bill. Therefore I recommend that Standing Order 73 be deleted.

During that debate on Standing Order 73 it may be that some people will say we need something in there to allow for the flexibility of amendments, in other words when amendments can come to the House. If this is the case, that is the only part of that standing order that should remain. If the House decides to amend rather than delete this standing order, I would recommend there be restrictions on the types of bills that are allowed to be considered by Standing Order 73. In other words, bills based on ways and means motions should not be allowed to proceed in this fashion. We do not want to see rules of the House used to limit debate. That is a decision for the House as a whole, not for the government side alone.

My fifth point relates to the question and comment period that follows most speeches in the House. Under the current rules the most important speakers—it could be argued the most important—cannot be questioned in debate. In other words, if the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition or the minister sponsoring the bill speaks on the bill, we cannot as members of parliament question the minister, the Leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister following their speech. What may be very intriguing or may set the agenda for the entire bill or the day's debate, instead of a question and answer and a give and take on that very important speech, there is nothing. We are not allowed to have an exchange.

The few times that we have asked for unanimous consent to allow that exchange to take place have been some of the best debates in the House. It is between a very knowledgeable minister, a very concerned backbencher on one side of the House or the other. That give and take has made for some very good dynamics and interesting debate in the House. A provision should be introduced to allow for questions and comments for those people.

Finally, I would like to address the issue of committee reports tabled in this House. The vast majority of these reports are never adopted by the House let alone acted on. The accountability of the government with regard to its response to committee reports must be improved. I think of times when reports come from the procedure and House affairs committee, a committee I sit on. It may have to do with a question of supply. It is tabled in the House.

The House adopts that it be tabled but there is no vote on whether it is concurred in. In other words, for the folks who are watching on TV, if we put a concurrence motion forward, we start the debate. I say I would like to debate the tabling of that report and I would like to debate the contents of that report. Here is my motion and away we go. We can do that. We start the debate. We give our points of view and maybe one or two others do. The government inevitably and repeatedly will get up and say it is a nice little debate here, folks, but we move we return to the orders of the day. As soon as the government does that, the debate is finished. Instead of dealing with that report, the report instead of becoming a report of the House drops to the bottom of the government order paper, not the House's order paper.

I say those reports are the property of the House and should be dealt with by the House. It is not right when they are defeated like that or a motion to go to government orders occurs that the report becomes a government order itself. That is not a government order. I would argue that is a committee report and it is not the property of the government.

In other words, the procedure where a concurrence motion becomes a government order once debate on the motion is concluded should be disallowed. It should come back at another date for further debate and a decision by the House.

The government should not have control over this process. That is why the further recommendation on that is that the House always be permitted to have a free vote on a committee concurrence motion, if it is in the interest of the House. Many of those motions are adopted by unanimous consent. They are routine motions and we do not want to tie up the House or the voting time of the House.

We will be having a report soon from the procedure and House affairs committee again on the referral about the comments of some of the members of the House and whether they were contemptuous. That will come forward in a report. It will be tabled in the House. I would like the House to decide on that. The report from the committee is one thing but because that was a decision of the House to send that to committee there is no decision of the House to put it to bed once and for all.

We end up with a motion or a report and it just hangs there. There is no final determination of what to do with it, whether the House supports it or opposes it. It just sits there festering away, waiting for a nice day.

Those changes would make the House more responsive. It would make it fairer to the House as a whole and not just the government side. I think it would make things quicker and therefore cheaper. It would be better all around for both the government and the opposition benches.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, today's Order Paper provides that we should look at the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees.

This is, in fact, a very important topic, given the government machinery and the legal and financial issues we look at here. I think it is extremely important that parliamentarians be able to say what they think about what is going on in the House, and especially outside it, in committee.

What I find unacceptable, however, is that no follow-up has been announced. Members talk, they talk for the sake of talking here, but I would love to see the government propose substantial amendments with respect to what goes on in the Parliament of Canada.

Some of the things that go on here are pretty strange. One example is how committees operate. Since I have only 10 minutes to speak, I would like to focus more specifically on the issue of committees.

Since 1993, I have had the opportunity to sit on various committees, including the Standing Committee on Justice, the Standing Committee on Finance, and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Each time, the drill is pretty much the same.

What is most disgraceful is that, when we look at committee minutes, we see that, when the Conservatives were in power, the Liberals made remarks about these committees, particularly about the way they operated. They were critical of the way committees operated, of the time allowed the opposition, of the way witnesses were questioned, and so on.

Now that the Liberals are on the other side of the House, they behave exactly the same way, and it is all right. This is the way it is supposed to be. Personally, I believe it should not be so.

Currently, the government has too much influence on directives and the way committees work. I believe it is bad, because MPs do not feel valued when doing very important work in committee, where they can have direct access to ministers and effect changes. This is the way it should be in a perfect world, but in actual fact this is not the case.

Also, I am taking this opportunity, the first I have had in the House, to draw the attention of the Chair to the issue of quorum and members who are late for committee sittings. I raised the issue this morning in committee because this happens all too often. Again this morning we had to wait for Liberal members who were late. A committee which was supposed to start at 9 o'clock started at 9.25 a.m.

As a Bloc Quebecois member from a riding in Quebec I have better things to do than wait for Liberals so we can have a quorum in committee. I know I am digressing a bit, but if we want to improve the way the House operates, government members should at least have the decency to arrive on time, especially when they have received proper notice.

This being said, I will return to the topic at hand, which is the recognition of the work done by committee members, among other things. Even though they do not talk about it any more—and I can understand why—the Liberals opposite will certainly remember the 1993 red book, which contained a whole chapter on giving MPs a greater role in the House and in committee.

In reality these red book promises were also broken. Do you know what is most frustrating for an MP who does his job as a committee member? I could give you several examples, but I will talk about a specific bill, the firearms bill.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard numerous experts and witnesses, worked hard and travelled across the country. Individual committee members travelled to various municipalities and regions to consult local people. We worked very hard to improve the bill. At the time, the Bloc Quebecois was the official opposition. This took place during the 35th Parliament, but I could also talk about the 36th Parliament. In this case, however, it was so obvious as to be a good example, in my opinion. The Bloc Quebecois worked like mad to propose a series of amendments to the government. During the hearings, which lasted not two or three days but entire weeks, the justice committee heard witnesses and experts of all kinds.

When the time came to adopt this bill clause by clause and for the official opposition, which was the Bloc Quebecois at that time, to submit its amendments, what met our eyes on the other side? Liberals I had never seen hide nor hair of in the justice committee, who had no clue what they were doing there themselves.

They had been given a very precise mandate, however, which was to help defeat every opposition amendment, and to get the bill through without any changes. That bill, on firearms, was highly controversial in all Canadian provinces, Quebec included. The Minister of Justice of the day appeared before the committee and we reached agreement on a point or two.

But as for the rest, the 45 amendments proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, only two or three were accepted, not during the committee examination but in negotiations in the parliamentary corridors. The Liberals who came just to help push the bill through knew nothing about these negotiations.

This is most deplorable, if one wants to make the work of members more relevant. Members are not here just to say yes or no, or to do what a minister tells them to.

Speaking of ministers, another thing that is rather frustrating to committee members is what happens when the minister responsible for this or that department comes to visit. Just yesterday, we had the Minister of Justice come to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights to debate her department's budget. What was involved was not $200,000 but millions. For the Supreme Court alone, the budget is $14 million.

The minister comes, grants us a mere two hours, and we are supposed to be grateful. There we are, 15 or 16 MPs with some fairly precise rules to follow, and very few concrete answers forthcoming from the minister.

What is more, the minister can take up half of the time allocated to us, when we still have a question or two to ask her. We ask her to come back, but it is not known when she will be able to do so. The Minister of Justice is a busy woman, and all the other ministers are equally busy.

I see that my time is almost up, but I think that if we want to enhance the contribution made here by members while improving the parliamentary system, it is time the government took a good hard look at this issue.

I would have liked to say a few words about references made by this House in the past, like the last one, which concerned the Canadian flag. In that case, which was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the decision made in this place had already been concocted by the Liberals and the Reformers outside this House to stifle the matter as quickly as possible. And then, to make themselves look good, they referred the matter to the committee, leaving the final decision up to members.

It does not work that way. There are things going on behind the scenes that the public does not see. To ensure that democracy is protected, time has come for government members opposite to take their responsibilities and perhaps to strike a real committee to look into this whole issue and improve the Canadian democratic system.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of today's debate seems to be the collective release of emotions, group therapy or the promotion of the existing system. As a young member whose experience is not as extensive as that of some of his colleagues, I will nonetheless offer a few suggestions or at least set forth a number of personal observations.

Of course, the purpose of today's debate is not to call the parliamentary system into question. One may not like it, complain about the government, and keep saying that committees do not operate as they should, but it is important to realize one thing: we must work together at enhancing the role of members of Parliament.

There is a price to pay for using British parliamentary rules and that is the fact that the government sits in this House, which is not the case in the American system. There are pros and cons. It only makes sense that when the government—that is the executive branch—sits in this House with the legislative branch, it must have some tools to work with. In politics, we use checks and balances.

I will not start moaning and say that the situation in committees is awful. Oddly enough, things work very well in the agriculture and agri-food committee, on which I sit, and in the official languages committee. We get along, there is no arm-twisting, contrary to what some members may claim, and the ministers do not come and tell us what to do. No, that is not the way we operate. We understand each other and we operate that way.

However, I want to deal with the role of a member of Parliament in the House of Commons. In my opinion, it is important to give a greater role to backbenchers, not only to members of the opposition parties, but also to government members.

Quite often, under the existing procedure on specific issues, there is a draw; we put members' names in a hat, and then there is a draw to determine which member can introduce a private member's bill, but it is a long and frustrating process. I understand that there used to be a fast track procedure in place.

I think that if at least 100 members support one of their colleagues who wants to introduce a private member's bill, this legislation should get priority. If several members representing all parties agree on a given bill and believe there is a consensus, but not necessarily unanimity, I think it would be appropriate to give back more power to the lawmakers.

All this would, of course, take place in the context of how parliament works. Earlier, someone alluded to back room dealings, saying how awful they are. We will not play holier than thou today, because there are some who can play that game really well.

If we asked members how many of them have read all the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, we might be very disappointed. I must candidly admit that I did not read them all. It is by working here that we learn how this place operates.

I remember the late Maurice Bellemare in the National Assembly, who became minister after Maurice Duplessis told him to learn the code of procedure. Those who know how to take advantage of the code of procedure can play a very important role. This is the way we should look at things.

Of course, the role of a member is to be efficient and responsible. However, this can be frustrating at times, especially when one feels that the government is taking too much space. But, as I mentioned earlier, that is the way the British parliamentary system works. We have to accept it and use the procedure to find ways to play a role.

In our system, the legislative and the executive are one. Therefore, to form the government, it takes a majority. A party must have a majority. Thus, Bloc members will always complain because they will never form the government. But one thing is certain: we are so democratic here that we let people say just about anything in the House, and we hear them often. Not only are the Bloc members allowed to say anything they want, but they leave with the furniture. Some are putting together a trousseau and taking the chairs. This is so democratic.

What is certain is that we have an important role to play. We must look into ways to improve operations. Earlier we talked about committees. I believe that when everybody is acting in good faith and interested in making things run smoothly, we can get along.

A case in point is the fisheries and oceans committee, which was supposed to enjoy greater autonomy. If there are people who still say that the government is twisting their arm, I think they should take another look at things, and rethink how it works.

When we listened to the chair, our friend from Newfoundland, it was very clear that he had done his homework. So, what am I saying today? If we all do our homework, if we learn our procedure and how things are supposed to be done, we can achieve our goals.

Now, it is clear that the member, despite everything, may feel undervalued. He feels that way because he sometimes has the impression that, as a backbencher or opposition member, he does not have direct access to certain things, or he feels that the government in power can run the whole show. I must say that I completely disagree. A member who does his work well and learns all the basics can achieve his goals.

Undoubtedly, there are times when we are overloaded. I myself sit on three or four committees. It is clear that we cannot always delve deeper and keep up with everything. That is when it becomes necessary to help each other and to find the best way of doing things.

We have often, however, discussed the issue of how voting takes place.

I must admit that I find it a bit tiresome when one person rises and calls for a recorded vote. As long as we agree to either support or reject a motion, the whip usually says that, with the unanimous consent of the House, the members will vote for or against.

It is clear that a member is not most effective when he must rise each time. Furthermore, it is clear that the whole issue of electronic voting has been the subject of numerous discussions, but sight must not be lost of the role the member plays by taking part. Taking the floor time after time on the same subject, whether on the amendments or something else, is an enormous waste of very precious time. For us, time is precious, and I agree with the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm on that. Our time is valuable, and sometimes there are other things we need to be doing.

Yet again, I am soft-pedalling it here because democracy is what this is all about. Respect for the institutions and traditions has made the country work. Compared to other countries, we probably have one of the best parliamentary systems in the world. That is why we need to be very prudent. We can make some improvements, adjust certain rules, but it is unthinkable to question the entire parliamentary system.

Our viewers must not be given the impression that it is not working, and that some shocking things are going on. On the contrary, I think we can give ourselves good marks. The MPs are doing a good job, and they have the capacity to assume a vital role and to represent their constituents well.

In terms of changes to the standing orders, as I have said, I do not have the experience my colleagues do, as I was elected less than a year ago, but it is clear from all of the debates that have gone on since the beginning, on all manner of subjects, that if MPs had more opportunity on the issue of bills, that might be worthwhile.

If we could enhance the role of members by improving certain aspects of private members' business, that might prove equally worthwhile. As for motions, if a little more time were available, not Friday afternoon or some evening in the week, and if we could address them in “prime time”, as they say, that too might be worthwhile. I believe that in this context changes need to be made.

I am, however, offended that a good system continually in use is still constantly being questioned, so that once again the impression is given that the institution is being devalued. I am therefore calling upon my colleagues to be very prudent. The baby must not be thrown out with the bath water, nor the building demolished just because the roof leaks.

We have a good system and I think we can still do good work, with a proper knowledge of things and perhaps a few small improvements. But, please, let us not devalue the institution.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Reform Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I begin by apologizing for my voice. I became hoarse by attending a trade fair. I stood listening to the people of Elk Island for so many hours that at the end of the day, from listening so much, I was hoarse. However, I will try to do my best.

In the few minutes I have available I would like to address two items. I could probably go on for a whole hour if I were given the opportunity but I want to address but two items.

The first one has to do with standing orders regarding the elections of the chairman of a committee. On this item my issue is really quite short. It is very succinct. The way we elect the chairman and the vice-chairman of a committee right now is totally inadequate.

For those people in the gallery or watching on television who do not know how this works, most of the time when there is an election to a position we accept nominations.

For example, in an ordinary meeting one would ask if there are any nominations. Whoever is in that group can stand up and nominate whomever they want. When the list is complete, either by secret ballot, by show of hands or however it is decided, the people will choose from the list the candidates they want. However, it is just not done that way in the committees here in the House of Commons, but it ought to be.

The way it is done here is that a person proposes a motion and moves the name of a member to be the chairman. The motion is put to a vote and when it is decided that is the end of it. The other people do not even get a chance to have their names put on the list.

As I have observed, what happens is that normally the first person to be recognized is a person from the government side. That may be appropriate, but it does not allow for any other names to be on the list. Therefore, instead of having a true choice here, it looks as if this is all orchestrated in advance and members are merely going through a charade in order to confirm what has already been decided in the back rooms. This is not good enough.

What I would like to see happen is that the clerk, who is the temporary chairperson of the first meeting of a committee, would recognize whomever wants to make a nomination and then keep on going until all the nominations are in. I know that in any committee I have been in not everyone wants to accept the nomination. In this process they would have to be asked if they are ready to accept the nomination and, if they are, they are put on the list.

This list could be easily done by putting the names on a board or whatever and then everyone could just vote by number in a secret ballot. The ballots would be counted and the results would be announced. This, to me, is so simple. It would be the right way of doing it, as opposed to the way it is done here where, by and large, everybody gets herded into the corral and prodded with an electric prod as to what they should do or say. I think this method would offer a lot more freedom and would be a more democratic choice.

It could be that a government member will still win. I expect most of the time that would happen because by the composition of our committees the majority of the members of the committee are on the government side. However, sometimes we miss the use of the talent of very good people who happen to be in one of the opposition parties who would probably do a very good job.

Maybe it would not be such a bad idea to empower more members of parliament than just those who happen to be on that side who have more colleagues than the other guys. A party becomes government by having more of its colleagues win.

That is my first point. The second point that I want to address today is the issue of private members' business. I have really become distressed with private members' business. I will concede that government bills are not unimportant, many are very important. However, I have observed that some of the best ideas, those ideas which more accurately reflect the wishes of the constituents out there, come from the people who make us hoarse from listening to them at trade fairs and other places. These are the ideas which are brought to the House by a member of parliament.

The member of parliament may agree with his or her constituent's idea and decide to put it in a private member's bill. Lo and behold, the member does that and it now becomes a process almost as unlikely as that of winning the lottery in Canada: Will this bill ever get passed? A private member's bill has to pass many hurdles and some are formidable. I will admit, having a House with 301 members, that it is not practicable for each member to have a bill every session. It would take an awful lot of debating time.

However, I really believe that the standing orders should be changed so that much more of the grassroots work that comes from our ridings is at least considered in this place where we can debate the issues and actually vote on them.

I find it particularly offensive when I look at the way private members' business works now. I will accept the lottery draw. For those who may not be informed, when we have so many members of parliament, a large number of them choose to submit private members' business, either a bill or a motion, and that is figuratively put into a pail and then they draw the names of the people who have submitted bills and motions. It is a random draw. They choose 30 such items to start with and then replenish from time to time as the list is used up.

It may be a very good issue, but if it is not drawn it will never be debated. I do not really know a practical way of overcoming that, except that I would like to see the standing orders changed to provide more time for private members' business so that more of these issues can be brought to the House of Commons for debate and vote.

In any case, once they are drawn, that assures one hour of debate. If it is a very good issue and it is drawn, the member will say “Whoopee, my bill got drawn. We get to debate it in the House of Commons”. They will stand in the House of Commons and some of their colleagues on both sides of the House will discuss the pros and cons and, in the end, they will say, “That was a great time. Let's go home. It is the end of private members' business”. There is no vote on it. The only ones that get a vote are the ones which pass the next, almost impossible, hurdle and that is the hurdle of being approved by a so-called all party non-biased committee.

Here again many good motions and bills are passed over because the people on that committee, for whatever reason, think “We should not really let the other members vote on this”. I know it is a time constraint because we do have a rule that there be two full hours of debate on a bill that is going to be voted on, but I would rather have half as many bills and have them come to a vote and at least give that individual member the pride of going back to his riding and saying, “I really tried”. But to just come with that idea or notion, make it into a lottery, not even get it voted on, really gives an empty feeling to an important issue.

I am talking about important things like concurrent sentencing. I am talking about things like Income Tax Act revisions which are so important and which the government just never gets around to.

Mr. Speaker, not only have you given me the signal that my time is up, but as you can hear, my voice is starting to say it is time for me once again to listen. So I will sit down and do that.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, seeing the clock I assume I will deliver half of my speech before question period and the balance after.

In the 1985 report to the House with regard to reform there was a quote which I would like to read into the record. It states:

The purpose of reform of the House of Commons in 1985 is to restore to private members an effective legislative function, to give them a meaningful role in the formation of public policy and, in so doing, to restore the House of Commons to its rightful place in the Canadian political process.

I believe that ideal, that objective, still is applicable today.

A number of members have commented on the process that private members' bills go through. I would like to deal with the issue of private members' bills in the time allotted to me.

I have had some success in terms of dealing with private members' bills. If I look back at the record of the 35th Parliament, I submitted eight bills, five of which made it through the lottery. One item was made votable and one in fact passed at second reading.

I also had four private member's motions, all of which were selected in the lottery. Two were made votable and both passed in this House. Based on that, I know that I have had more than my share of opportunity to bring issues before the House.

But there is the other side of the coin. There are many members of parliament who have worked many hours to bring forward issues that are important to themselves, to their constituents and, by and large, to Canadians as a whole. Many of those bills do not see the light of day.

The process that we have, a lottery, is basically a game of chance. I wonder in terms of the importance of issues of the day whether we should leave the fate of those issues simply to chance in a lottery. I am not a fan of the lottery process. In fact, I believe, as I see from the reform that has taken place in the House of Commons over the years, that a call for more efficiency within the House seems to be the order of the day. I for one, as a member of parliament, do not want to be in this place less. I want to be in this place more. I want to hear what members have to say. I want to hear their ideas. I want to hear what rationalization they have.

All of us cannot be up on all issues. All of us cannot be sensitive to the issues, regional issues and local issues. We learn from each other in this place. What has happened is that we have basically restricted the opportunities that members have to bring those issues forward.

All members of the House will know that when we go to committee there are witnesses who appear before us. The presentations of the witnesses are helpful and informative, but by far the most important part of those hearings is the question and answer period. That is where the dynamics take place. That is where we find out what the weaknesses are. That is where we find out where the strengths are. That is where we find out the most important information that we need to know to do our job.

I believe the same kind of principle should apply to private members' business. When I conclude my remarks after question period I am going to make a case as to why we should also have questions and comments on private members' business in the House of Commons.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I see, my colleague, that you received my signal for one minute left. You have approximately six minutes left in your discourse and you will have the floor when we resume debate.

It being almost two o'clock we will proceed to Statements by Members.

Armenian PeopleStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Liberal Laval West, QC

Mr. Speaker, on April 24, Armenian Canadians and all Armenians will commemorate the 83rd anniversary of the genocide of 1.5 million victims perpetrated in 1915 by the Ottoman Turks.

Modern Turkey has yet to recognize this serious crime, which has already been recognized by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the European Parliament, the Permanent People's Tribunal, Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, France, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Syria, Uruguay, Venezuela and, just a week ago, Belgium.

Closer to home, this genocide has been formally recognized by the Quebec National Assembly and the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

The Armenian genocide has been documented and its existence proven beyond any doubt. All unanimously agree that it should be recognized internationally.

I therefore urge the hon. members of this House to recognize the Armenian genocide and extend my most heartfelt wishes to the Armenian people, a building nation—

Armenian PeopleStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.

Hepatitis CStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Reform

Rahim Jaffer Reform Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to call on the government to end the suffering of two of my constituents, both of whom contracted hepatitis C as a result of government negligence and incompetence.

Allan Ordze contracted hepatitis C in 1975 and he wrote to me about his shattered dreams and his feelings of hopelessness. He fears every day for his family and wonders how he will care for them when his condition worsens.

Lisa Holtz contracted hepatitis C in 1985, just six months before the government accountants set their arbitrary date for compensation. Lisa too wonders how she will care for her three boys when she is sick and too tired to stand.

Allan and Lisa do not want the government's charity or apologies. They do not want to hear from any more government bureaucrats and accountants. They want justice and compensation for themselves and their children and they want it now.

Woburn CollegiateStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

John Cannis Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate a group of students from my riding of Scarborough Centre.

The Woburn Collegiate robotics team recently competed in the U.S. first robotics competition in Orlando, Florida. This competition is a national engineering contest that immerses thousands of high school students from over 150 schools in the exciting world of engineering and robotics. Woburn is the first and only Canadian team to ever compete at this competition and was very proud to carry the Canadian flag and represent our country.

The Woburn Collegiate robotics team produced an excellent robot for the competition and was awarded a prestigious judges award. Let me point out that only 15 of 166 teams received such an award, proving indeed that Canadian students are among the best in the world in science and technology.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the students and the teachers of Woburn CI on their hard work in reaching this terrific goal. I also thank the Secretary of State for Children and Youth and the Minister of Human Resources Development for their assistance with this worthwhile project.

Canadian National Institute For The BlindStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Steve Mahoney Liberal Mississauga West, ON

Mr. Speaker on March 30, 1918 Captain Edwin Baker, Dr. Sherman Swift and five other blind and sighted Canadians founded the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. For the last 80 years this private voluntary and non-profit organization has provided rehabilitation services for blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind Canadians across the country.

One of the CNIB's most important services is providing visually impaired Canadians with books, magazines, videos and other material in Braille and on audio cassette free of charge through the CNIB library. The library is the country's largest producer of Braille and audio materials.

The CNIB also offers educational scholarships to worthy clients. I congratulate one recent recipient, Kristy Kassie, a client at the CNIB Halton Peel district office who is pursuing post-secondary studies at York University.

I congratulate the CNIB on 80 years of dedicated service to Canadians.

Quebec Minister Of Municipal AffairsStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are still story tellers in the Quebec government.

After having accumulated a deficit in excess of $1.5 million as dean of the university in Rouyn-Noranda, running for the New Democratic Party of Canada in the 1988 election, having failed to deliver on promises made by Jacques Parizeau in the last provincial election campaign, Quebec municipal affairs minister Rémy Trudel soon found himself stuck, on April 7, in a meeting at his office in Rouyn-Noranda with people who had come to ask him for an explanation for his government's plans for social assistance reform.

In front of the cameras, Minister Trudel said there were thieves. If Minister Trudel has theft charges to lay against some individuals, Quebec has judges to hear his case. Otherwise, the citizens of his region are likely to think that his statement was off the mark.

Mr. Trudel, next time you find yourself in front of cameras, tell us a story about the Quebec mining fund promised by your government.

Drunk DrivingStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to remember a sad anniversary. One year ago on April 19, my very own son's birthday, three people were taken from the world in a head on collision between a pick-up truck and a Greyhound passenger bus on highway 43 just outside Fox Creek, Alberta. As is too often the case the driver of the pick-up truck was impaired.

On this anniversary a group of family, friends and Greyhound bus drivers gathered to remember. On behalf of the official opposition, and I am sure all members of the House, I extend our message of condolences to their families, friends and colleagues.

Let us remember their message: when you drink and drive someone is going to die.

BraveryStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to congratulate the 16 individuals recently awarded the medal of bravery for their acts of heroism.

The upcoming presentation ceremony holds special significance for Erie—Lincoln riding as two of my constituents will be decorated by the governor general in recognition of acts of bravery in hazardous circumstances.

The quick actions of William John Gordon of Dunnville saved several individuals from a burning automobile wreck. This gentleman acted without concern for his own safety to help in a situation that could have been fatal for all those involved.

I nominated Luis Rodriguez, a Honduran immigrant from Fort Erie, for the medal of bravery for saving the life of an American citizen who fell from his fishing boat in the frigid waters of the Niagara River. Mr. Rodriguez assisted the distressed gentleman into his boat and then swam to shore towing the boat behind him.

On behalf of my riding and all Canadians I thank Mr. Gordon, Mr. Rodriguez and all medal recipients for their selfless acts of bravery. They have our admiration and respect. They have made us proud.

Hepatitis CStatements By Members

April 21st, 1998 / 2:05 p.m.

Reform

Grant McNally Reform Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the Minister of Health to listen to the human side of his hepatitis C decision.

One of my constituents, Mrs. Joyce Smith from Mission, B.C., writes:

My three grown children are trying very hard to accept the fact mom is not the same. She does not smile or laugh as often as she used to. They do not want to talk about the fact that I am dying. I stare at our two beautiful grandchildren and wonder if I will live to see them grow up. I look into my husband's eyes and I know that he is afraid of the future. My husband and I have worked so hard, and raised our family, and now it was supposed to be our time together. But, the almost unbearable fatigue that I deal with prevents us from going very far or doing very much together.

Another one of my constituents, Mrs. Laura Stoll, urges me “to do the right thing and support compensation for all victims”. I certainly support compensation for all victims. However, how much longer will the Minister of Health continue to say no to people like Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Stoll? Where is his sense of fairness, his sense of human compassion? My constituents and all other Canadians would like to know.

National Volunteer WeekStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Chamberlain Liberal Guelph—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, this week we celebrate National Volunteer Week, a time to thank and honour the many people who donate their time to fellow Canadians.

I thank the thousands of volunteers in Guelph—Wellington who generously donate their time to better our community.

Canadian volunteers in the recent past have been called upon more than ever to help communities in need. Thousands of volunteers aided the flood victims in the Saguenay region of Quebec and the Red River Valley in Manitoba, while others assisted in the recent ice storm. Guelph—Wellington's 11th Field Artillery Regiment helped in devastated areas in eastern Ontario.

Volunteers are very important in communities across our great country. Guelph—Wellington has many generous volunteers. I congratulate and thank them all for their time and dedication.

Bettye HydeStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, today we celebrate Bettye Hyde's nomination for the Royal Bank award for Canadian achievement. The Royal Bank will remember Bettye Hyde. When it tried to close her bank branch Bettye rallied the neighbourhood and won.

It has been a lifetime involvement for Bettye Hyde, mother, community volunteer, early childhood educator and environmentalist.

That is why we like Bettye and believe that her achievements and life meet the criteria set by the Royal Bank with respect to this award.

Bettye Hyde, who is 80 years of age, is still an active person. Just imagine what it would be like if there were more Bettye Hydes in Canada.

Bettye was big enough to keep her money in the Royal Bank as long as it keeps its branch in her neighbourhood. Is the Royal Bank big enough to honour someone who fights for the way things should be, not the way those in charge say things have to be?

Whether the Royal Bank chooses Bettye, she is a winner and that makes us all winners. It is called community. It is something even a bank should understand.

NunavutStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Nancy Karetak-Lindell Liberal Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon to convey a message from my constituents of Nunavut.

Yesterday was to be a crucial day for us. It was to mark the beginning of the last leg of a journey that began many years ago. Yesterday was supposed to be about Nunavut and its creation. It was supposed to be about the formation of our new government. Instead the people of Nunavut are left disappointed. They feel confused and robbed of their day.

It is our responsibility as parliamentarians to act in the best interest of all Canadians. It is important that we remain focused on the tasks at hand and not let our personal agendas interfere with progress.

I remind the hon. Leader of the Opposition, on behalf of the Inuit, that quick implementation of Bill C-39 is essential. Any delays could destroy the hopes, dreams and dedication of many generations of Inuit.

EducationStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Mark Muise Progressive Conservative West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, federal cutbacks in provincial transfer payments have had a negative impact throughout Nova Scotia's educational system.

High schools and elementary schools have had to restrict the number and quality of programs being offered to their students. School board officials have increasingly had to rely on the dedication and devotion of our educators to devise new cost efficient programs to offer our students.

Such is the case at the Yarmouth Memorial High School where teacher Ken Langille has been instrumental in developing an award winning law program for his grade 12 students. A winner of four provincial, three national and one international awards for teaching, excellence and innovation, I would like to welcome Mr. Langille and his students who are seated in the gallery today, hoping to hear the government introduce positive solutions to the education crisis.

On their behalf and on behalf of all those concerned with education, we call upon the government to begin addressing the serious financial crisis facing education in the country.

Quebec FloodsStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Maurice Godin Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, only a few short months after the ice storm, several Quebec ridings, including mine, the riding of Châteauguay, were faced with yet another one of nature's vagaries, river flooding.

Thousands of homes were flooded and hundreds of families had to seek refuge with relatives, friends or in shelters. Municipal services, municipal councils and volunteers were stretched to the limit.

However, there were visible signs of solidarity, support and sympathy everywhere in Quebec, especially in Châteauguay. Thanks to the solidarity characteristic of Quebeckers, victims found comfort and support.

On behalf of my party, I would like to thank the many volunteers and those in charge of municipal services, and to the victims I say “hang in there”.

Port Moody—CoquitlamStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Rey D. Pagtakhan Liberal Winnipeg North—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, today we welcome the newest member of the House in the government caucus, the member of parliament for Port Moody—Coquitlam. An eminent municipal leader in British Columbia for a quarter of a century prior to his election, the hon. member will share his wealth of experience with us as he takes his seat and represents the people of his constituency.

His byelection victory is even more impressive when one considers that governments seldom win in byelections, let alone safe opposition party seats. During the campaign the Leader of the Opposition said “A lot of people are going to be watching this riding, not just in B.C. but across the country, because it is the first chance for the voters to say what they think of government policy”.

The voters of Port Moody—Coquitlam made known on March 30 their approval of the government's policies and accomplishments, all done for the well-being of our citizenry and country. I join others in welcoming our newest colleague and the newest member of the Liberal team, the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam.

Hearing Awareness MonthStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Hearing Society is once again proclaiming the month of May as Hearing Awareness Month. The regional office in Peterborough is enthusiastically participating in this initiative as a way of educating the citizens of Peterborough about hearing loss and raising awareness of the deaf and hard of hearing population in the community.

The theme this year is noise pollution. In May the mobile testing van will be travelling around Ontario offering free hearing tests at the regional offices. The Peterborough regional office is hosting an open house on May 25 in conjunction with the arrival of the testing van.

During May I encourage all residents of Ontario and Peterborough who have concerns for themselves or a family member to take advantage of this opportunity provided by the Canadian Hearing Society and contact their regional office for further information.

Our best wishes to the Canadian Hearing Society and the people it serves. We hope Hearing Awareness Month goes well.

Science And TechnologyStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the industry minister wrote in the 1997 report on federal activities in science and technology: “More than ever, people and innovation are key to growth and prosperity.—the life and work of every individual and business will be rooted in the new economy”.

Since it brought down its budget and announced a slight increase in funding for granting councils, the government thinks it will solve all the R&D problems.

However, the cuts imposed by the government have had a severe impact on the scientific and technological community. Since 1993, the number of federal employees working in the science and technology field has gone down by 5,400 person-years, a 15% decrease.

The government should realize there is still a lot to do to bring real stability back to research in Canada and to stop the hemorrhage caused by the drastic cuts it made in this area that is so important to our future.

New MemberStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that the Clerk of the House has received from the Chief Electoral Officer a certificate of the election and return of the following member:

Mr. Lou Sekora, for the electoral district of Port Moody—Coquitlam.

Lou Sekora, member for the electoral district of Port Moody—Coquitlam, introduced by the Right Hon. Jean Chrétien and the Hon. David Anderson.