Mr. Speaker, we are moving to 10 minute speeches now so I will have limited time and will briefly make a few comments on items that I hope the procedure and House affairs committee will look at in reviewing the standing orders for this parliament.
I want to make a few comments first on the importance of the standing orders. I think it is important for our constituents and for all Canadians to understand that the standing orders are the rules that parliament adopts for itself to govern and how we carry on the business of the House. They provide an important protection not only for the institution but for each and every one of us. They are an assurance that we can come into the House and freely speak on behalf of our constituents without fear of being insulted, cut off or treated less favourably than other members of the House of Commons.
These are rules which we as a parliament have accepted and we have also accepted the principle, certainly since I have been in parliament, that the rules change by consensus. When there is agreement among the parties that there is a need for changes to make the House work better and allow each and every one of us to be more effective then those rules will change.
That is why I was particularly perturbed by the so-called flag flap a few weeks ago when one party chose to bring into the House a debate regarding the rules and to make it a partisan issue.
What has preserved civility and respect for one another in this House is that we have adopted rules by consensus, by agreement and not through partisan confrontation. That is why this debate today is so important. All members have the opportunity to put on record those things about the rules which they think will help make Parliament work better and help make their jobs more effective.
I want to mention a few items I hope will be addressed by the committee in its review of the standing orders. First, during the last Parliament we had the so-called Boudria solution, when the then whip of the government party brought in procedures which allowed us to more expeditiously take votes in this House without spending countless hours in standing up, being counted and sitting down, over and over again. It is time to look at incorporating those rules into the standing orders so they become part of the normal procedure of the House and the House can count on how they operate.
The issue of televising committees, in particular, is extremely important to how Canadians understand the work of their parliament and their parliamentarians. My experience is that the work of committees is carried out generally in a non-partisan way. Committees work on issues that the members have a common interest in and try to move forward the agenda of public policy in the public interest. It is extremely important that, as often as possible, Canadians have the opportunity to see their parliamentarians working in that collaborative way on issues that are important to them. Therefore I encourage the committee to look at expanding the use of televising committee meetings.
The other issue which the committee has dealt with in a small way, and I hope that we will continue, is the clean-up of the standing orders with respect to gender. I was very pleased to have the support of all parties in the House when we made a recent amendment to the standing orders to get rid of the “he” in reference to every person of importance or position who operates in parliament. I trust that in amending the standing orders further we will get rid of the archaic reference entirely in the standing orders to every important position in this House in male terms.
I want to also speak about members of parliament and the changes that have been made in how parliament functions, to better recognize that members of parliament have roles in their constituency, roles in parliament and also, however little, a personal life. Changes have been made in the procedures and in the schedule of the House to allow members of parliament to better plan their lives and have a better balance between those many different functions they perform. Again, I hope that the committee will look at the schedule of the House of Commons, the length of the week, the length of the days, to see whether there are further improvements that need to be made.
I briefly refer to the work done by the subcommittee on the business of supply which in the last parliament conducted a very thorough review of how to increase the effectiveness with which this parliament holds government accountable for and has some influence over the expenditure plans of government. A report was tabled in the last parliament and will be dealt with again by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I hope it will be tabled again with a request for a response from the government.
To implement its recommendations requires changes in the standing orders such as the establishment of a continuing standing committee on the estimates; various other measures to give committees the opportunity to amend the estimates, to improve the responsibility of the government to respond to the work of parliamentary committees that have an impact on the estimates; to request the finance committee to give priority in its prebudget consultations to those committees that have done reports on the plans of departments on the estimate and to take into consideration the report of those standing committees.
Dawson said in 1962 that there is no part or procedure in the Canadian House of Commons which is so universally acknowledged to be inadequate to modern needs as the control of the House over public expenditure. Yet this is the core function of parliament, to decide how much money the government may have, how it may raise it and how it may spend it.
I trust that the committee will spend some time on that report and incorporate its recommendations into its changes to the standing orders.
Finally, very briefly I want to speak on the issue of confidence. The official opposition in particular raised the issue of free votes. If anybody examines the records of voting in this House they will find that the government caucus, the government party, has more often expressed differences of opinion in its voting than any of the opposition parties. I urge them to examine their own consciences before they talk too stridently about party discipline.
It is also important for people to recognize that governments of whatever party run on making certain commitments to Canadians. While this is not directly related to the standing orders, it is important for parliament and for Canadians to recognize that some measure of solidarity behind those commitments made to the public during an election campaign is what allows a government to keep its commitments. That is one of the most important things in restoring the confidence of people in their institutions.
I challenge all other parties to do as I believe my own party does, to have a very open and frank caucus process which allows legislation to come to this House having been thoroughly debated, discussed and influenced by all members of the caucus. I am not sure that happens in other parties.
The committee has important work before it. The procedures, the standing orders which we accept as parliamentarians, are what allows this institution to function in the interests of Canadians and in the interests of each and every one of us to be able to do our job of representing our constituents. This debate is an important contribution to the work of the committee and I look forward to what will be said during the rest of day.