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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

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleagues, as you know, I take all questions of privilege very seriously in this House.

I address myself specifically to the member for Fraser Valley. Did I understand the hon. member to say that this particular matter was to have gone through the JIC, the Joint Interparliamentary Council, and then it was to go to the Board of Internal Economy? Did I understand the hon. member to say that? Could he address himself just to those two questions I have.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the document that I have, which is the appendix from the Board of Internal Economy about how we establish these associations if we decide to establish a new one, is quite explicit. It does not include the cabinet in any way.

There are two things I would like to underline here, that after a probation period of at least two years an ad hoc parliamentary exchange group which has already been established be given the opportunity to become a friendship group, and after a further probationary period this friendship group be allowed to apply to the advisory council, which has now been updated to the Joint Interparliamentary Council, to become a parliamentary association, and that the proposal for the funding for that be submitted to the Board of Internal Economy. In other words, it has to go through that process, I believe. None of that has happened to date.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for that specific information.

He also said that he has in his possession a copy of the announcement itself. I would like him to table that today. I want to take this matter under advisement and I will get back to the House.

I do note that four members of the Board of Internal Economy have addressed this particular matter today. I do note that the Board of Internal Economy is going to be meeting next Tuesday, unless my information is wrong. I want to put that on the record because that to me has a bearing on what I am going to be doing.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, in regard to that, you should also know that the issue will also be brought before the Joint Interparliamentary Council. It is on the agenda for the Joint Interparliamentary Council to address at its next meeting. The problem again is that it has not been addressed. I am not sure what the council may or may not do. My point of privilege is that that has been presupposed by the minister's announcement.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to join the whip of the official opposition in saying how important it is for members of the Board of Internal Economy to express their views on this issue. I would like to briefly express, if I may, the views of my party.

The problem facing us at this time is a very complex one in that, theoretically, we should have a system in which, as Montesquieu would put it, the legislative, executive and judiciary powers must be separate.

This distribution of powers under the British parliamentary system exists only in theory, however, since what we have in fact is the legislative power, with the House of Commons and Senate that make up parliament, and the executive power, with cabinet, the government and its employees.

Furthermore, we well know that the executive power rests with the majority party in parliament, which makes this distinction rather moot, as I just said. The problem facing us, and the whip of the official opposition referred to it earlier, is the fact that, for the fourth or perhaps even the fifth time in this Parliament or the previous one, the government jumped the gun in announcing measures that had not yet been considered, let alone approved, by this parliament.

In this respect, I would just like to add my voice to that of the whip of the official opposition in expressing concern about this government's tendency to take parliamentarians and their support for granted.

In my humble opinion, the privilege of this House has indeed been breached, given that, in theory at least, this House can freely decide, and members of cabinet must not presuppose what this parliament's decision will be.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank you, my colleagues, for your interventions. I reiterate that I want to take this under advisement.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

April 21st, 1998 / 3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, before question period I was discussing a recommendation that there ought to be questions and comments during debate in private members' business.

We just came through question period. The galleries were filled. People were watching the proceedings in the House. We covered at least 20 different areas of discussion on a sharp basis, with interesting insights on behalf of not only the questioners but the responders.

At committees we see the same thing. The interventions of the witnesses in committee are always interesting. There is no question in my mind or any members mind that the dialogue between the members of the committee and the witnesses is by far the most illuminating part of committee meetings. That is where we find out the strengths of arguments. That is where we find out the weaknesses. That is where we find out the raison d'être, for making decisions on interesting parts of bills, motions and other affairs that come before committees.

When we consider what happens when we debate government bills, during the 20 minute speeches with 10 minute comment, there is a lot of vibrancy in the House. There is a lot of interaction. There is a lot of information. When we get down to those 10 minute speeches with no questions and comments, the energy in this place goes away. Quite frankly it goes away because members can no longer participate. I suggest that the quality of speeches also deteriorates because there are no questions to be asked of that member. When someone says things which are very good, I want a chance to say they are very good and ask for elaboration. If they say things that are obviously off base or misinformed, I also want an opportunity to point this out so that is not going to be misinformation in the House.

Without questions and comments things can be said in this place which are not very helpful to any of the issues which come here. The situation is even worse when we get down to private members' business. In private members' business if issue is not votable, it is a 15 minute speech and a five minute wrap-up. One member from every other party gets a chance to speak for 10 minutes. Nobody else gets a chance to say anything. It is a tragedy.

The reason it is a tragedy is there are some very good bills which come here. Members should be told on the floor that they have a good bill but there is a problem here and here is what we think they should do. Members should be told they have a bad bill and here are the reasons. We need this interchange and this dialogue. That is when we find out what is good and what is not good. My recommendation to the House is that we do have Q and A during private members' business.

Earlier today I had an opportunity to meet with two constituents of mine, Gillian Barber and Laura Morris of Port Credit secondary school, who are here with the forum on young Canadians. One of the items on their agenda is the role of a member of parliament. I told them that today I was going to stand up in the House and try to do my best to raise some enthusiasm for private members' business. It is an area which I think is losing its impact in this place.

The issues of votability and the lottery are demeaning to members of parliament. I find it insulting that members of parliament, who have worked hard to bring items forward, have to go through some arbitrary chance process to get on the order paper. They then have to go through some other virtually impossible process to become votable so their item has a chance to live. The probabilities of those things happening are so close to zero that there are members in the House who will never get an item on the order paper. This is not right. Now is the time for the House to deal with these things. Now is the time for members to say now is a good time to do something about this. Now is the time to say that private members have a role to play. Not only do we have a role to play, but we have to be seen to be playing a role by our constituents.

I want to come here to talk about the local issues and how federal legislation reflects things that happen at the federal, provincial, regional and local levels. I want to hear what other members have to say about that issue as well. I do not want to think there is a member over there who never had a chance to rise in this place to do the best that he or she can to say here is what I think, judge me on my ideas, judge me on the rational thinking I am putting forward and give me your best shot because I know I have done a good job.

Members of parliament are not afraid to rise in their places to say what they believe on issues of importance to them. We should respect that more and amend the rules of the House so private members' business is not given less time but rather more time. This place does not meet from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. I would be happy to come here to listen to what other members have to say.

I have two final recommendations. When a member puts in a bill for drafting, that bill should be grandfathered so nobody else can submit a similar bill an usurp that spot. Once a member has reserved an issue, that member should have the courtesy of having that issue reserved. I have a recommendation with regard to the carry forward between sessions. When an item has already been picked we should carry forward at the same stage those items that have already passed at second reading. Anybody who is on the order paper who has passed the impossible test of going through the lottery and the votability thing should also be maintained and should also remain on the order paper.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to participate in this debate on the House of Commons standing orders. It is important not only for the members of this House but for the general public as well that we have the tools available to us to be able to act in a democratic fashion in the House of Commons. If it were not for the democratic tools, those rules and the standing orders, we would be at the mercy of a majority government that would impose its will on the people of Canada. That would leave us as members of parliament as nothing more than actors and the House of Commons as a mere stage.

I will devote my time today to a discussion of royal commissions and how they relate to the parliamentary system. Under the current standing orders, royal commissions are not included in the rules of the House. They are separate. We should review that. I hope the standing committee will look at some of the recommendations I bring forward today. In recent history we have witnessed some major commissions that have fallen short of what the public was hoping to see from them.

Commissions should be at arm's length from the government. They may have a fairly immediate impact on legislation that comes before the House. An example would be the Somalia inquiry. Now we have Bill C-25 which is supposed to address the changes in the National Defence Act in relation to the military justice system. However, the Somalia inquiry made it clear to many Canadians that royal commissions do not represent the unbiased and autonomous bodies they were intended to be.

It is with the Somalia commission in mind that I speak in the House today with the intent of establishing a practice where parliament is required to have input into the mandate of royal commissions. It should not just be the executive branch of government, but parliament would participate in the mandates of royal commissions. MPs would be active participants through the committee system in the appointments of the commissioners and they would be active in reviewing the recommendations of royal commissions as well. All such recommendations should be automatically referred to a standing committee. The committee would then be required to consider and report to the House. The House could then consider the report.

I will look at the Somalia inquiry which was established in March 1995. This government established the Somalia inquiry with pressure from opposition parties in the House of Commons. The commission's final report was cut short by the government.

As I mentioned, commissions of inquiry are to be at arm's length from the executive branch but in this particular instance the Government of Canada interfered with the commission and did not allow it to complete its report. That is interference. When a process where there is judicial independence is wanted, like a commission of inquiry, there must be that independence.

The incomplete report presented was comprised of five volumes and had 160 recommendations. The Prime Minister put the cost of the Somalia inquiry at some $30 million which in reality was closer to $13.8 million. I will get to that discrepancy a little later.

The minister of national defence stated that the government had created a commission with the most wide sweeping powers possible in Canadian history. That is a direct quote from the then minister of national defence.

The Somalia commission had the mandate to inquire into and report on the chain of command, leadership, discipline, operations, actions and decisions of the Canadian Armed Forces. It was to look at the predeployment of troops. It was to look at the deployment of troops and it was to look at the post-deployment of troops but it was not able to do that because again we had interference by the executive branch of government.

In other words, what I am saying is that because of the process, because of the interference problem with royal commissions, we have a system where the executive branch can ask commissioners to look at this much information in this much time and with this much money to do it.

The system is set up now by design, by the government, to fail. I think there should be a process where parliamentarians have the ability to look into those problems.

From the beginning, the commission of inquiry into Somalia became a battle between the commissioners and the Department of National Defence over documentation, altered documents, government interference on the inquiry's work, the decision to halt the inquiry before the work was completed and the final recommendations that followed.

This government cut the documents short but yet it took almost a year for the commission of inquiry which did not even have anything to start with, not even a paper clip. It could not get the information required from the Department of National Defence. And then when that issue was raised all of a sudden the material flooded in. Some 600,000 pages were delivered to the commissioners.

I have a quote from one of the commissioners: “These documents arrived in disarray, often without an explanation of their significance or context”. Questions arose about inconsistencies in the documentation. Logs were missing or they included entries that had no information in them. Entries were missing. They had duplicate serial numbers.

Commissioner Desbarats stated: “Because attempts were made to destroy some documents within national defence headquarters we are now embroiled in a detailed inquiry into the whole question of cover-up”.

We never got to the question of cover-up. The commissioners at the start of the inquiry said there was a possibility of a cover-up but by the end of the inquiry, in the middle of their investigation, they said there were no allegations anymore. It was the issue of cover-up. There was a cover-up and this commission was not allowed to continue.

Parliament should have been able to intervene and give the direction and find out from departmental officials what was going on. But at the time I stood in this House as defence critic for the third party in the House of Commons and each and every day the minister of national defence would respond to my questions on Somalia by saying let the commission do its work.

The government would not even let the commission do its work. That is inexcusable and that is why there must be some controls, rules and regulations in place for this House of Commons when it comes to commissions of inquiry.

I would like to touch on costs. I did mention earlier that the Prime Minister put the cost of the Somalia inquiry at some $30 million when explaining why the government wanted the commission to finish its work. This is when it was wrapping it all up, when the commission had not even progressed half way through the mandate.

That $30 million figure was inflated. It was absolutely inflated. We know that. The day that figure came out, the day the Prime Minister made that comment, I contacted by phone the Somalia commissioners who told me the accurate figure was $13.8 million.

It was a PR campaign by this government to tell the Canadian public we have got to stop, we spent too much money. It was a PR tactic. Unfortunately it worked. It should not have happened and it is wrong.

Finally, the minister of national defence acknowledged that 132 of the 160 recommendations of the commission were supported while others were simply put on the shelf because they did not fit into the plans of the department.

This is not even the true picture of exactly what happened because, as I explained, the commissioners of inquiry only had the ability to look at the predeployment phase and a portion of the post-deployment phase, never got to the completion of the deployment phase or the post-deployment phase which would have looked at the issue of cover-up.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Members get only one opportunity for a full debate on the standing orders. There has been great interest in changes to the standing orders.

I have been listening very carefully to the hon. member and I understand I think at least one point that he has made with respect to the standing orders. But I feel that most of the member's remarks do not relate to this debate which is required in the standing orders on how this House functions.

I would be grateful if the member would keep to the topic.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I remind the hon. member that he should keep to the debate as closely as possible. He has only 31 seconds left.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Reform

Jim Hart Reform Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Madam Speaker, I know how difficult it is to hear about how royal commissions relate to this parliament, but this is very much in the context of how royal commissions should relate.

In conclusion, I submit that the following be included in the standing orders of the House of Commons. One, that parliament is required to have input into the mandate, appointment of commissioners and recommendations of royal commissions.

Two, all recommendations should be referred to a standing committee. Three, the standing committee will then consider the recommendations and report to the House. Four, the House will then consider the report.

It is our responsibility to ensure—

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I must interrupt the hon. member at this point. His time has expired.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today to take part in the debate under Standing Order 51.

As a new member of Parliament, I will not delve into the history of parliamentary procedure. Instead I will provide insight into the practices that have proved their value to date in the 36th parliament and those which may require adjustments to further improve the operation and productivity of this House.

The structures which have been developed and put in place throughout the evolution of parliament serve as road signs for those of us within this House to do the business of parliament. They allow for an orderly progress of the business of the House.

One of the challenges facing parliament immediately following the last election was ensuring the equal opportunity of all parties represented in this House. Political commentators called it a pizza parliament and suggested it would have great difficulty in reaching a five party agreement as to party representation and participation in question period and on committees.

I would be remiss to portray this as an easy process. In reality, the whips and House leaders of all parties represented in parliament deserve recognition for endless meetings held prior to the commencement of the 36th parliament.

However, consensus was reached, basing representation on party proportionality, as explained by my colleague from Glengarry—Prescott—Russell earlier today. This consensus among all other tenants of parliamentary procedures and rules has laid a foundation for fairness. A demonstration of this fairness is evidenced by the election of the Speaker of this House, which included members of all political stripes, including an independent representative.

Party whips are key to the evaluation of fairness in negotiating all party agreement. A team is an apt analogy for the business of this House. A team relies on the input of all members in order to play the game. This House requires the work and participation of every member in it to carry out its daily business.

Yesterday, the member for Lac-Saint-Jean made a statement of sorts by walking out of the House of Commons with his seat.

Yesterday's event was an example of a member of this House dissatisfied with his ability to represent his constituents in order to feel he makes a difference. While it is unfortunate that personal frustration occurs, there are avenues where members can express their views. They can offer to enlighten their colleagues in this House. They can bring the concerns of their constituents forward to this legislative body and they can institute change.

There is always room for improvement through the use of standing committees, question period, members' statements, votes and private members' business as well as House debates. There are many routes with which members of parliament of any political view can move their envelopes forward.

Our current voting structure balances the philosophical overarching decisions with political reality. Regardless of the ongoing debate of our system that voting is archaic and that we should move to an electronic method, discarding our treasured tradition of rising at our seat, the act of voting will continue to be a blending of constituent concerns, party values as well as personal points of view.

The current committee structure is key to all party consideration and examination of a multitude of facets of any given issue or any piece of legislation. This forum is used for reviewing, discussing and amending legislation. In my estimation it is an incredibly valuable process. The procedure and subsequent ability of committees to hold public consultations across the country serves to provide Parliament with a regionally specific concerns on many key issues.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Finance I saw the importance of this consultation firsthand during last fall's prebudget hearings. It is a huge task to consider and incorporate the competing needs of Canadians in submitting budget recommendations. There is a great variance whether it is rural and urban needs, regional differences, the social demand for reinvestment as well as the realization of fiscal responsibility, the overall need for budgetary accountability.

The system of consultations worked and it worked well. The budget introduced by the Minister of Finance earlier this year reflected the needs of Canadians, the concerns of committee members, the input of cabinet and the calculated fiscal accounting of the Department of Finance. Members who feel they have no avenue for change need only to review the minutes of the finance committee's prebudget hearings and compare them with the budget documents to see the correlation that exists.

As for improvements to the operation and work done by standing committees there is room for more exploratory work, aiming at the proactive development of legislation rather than the reactive review of legislation once it has been introduced.

The nature of debate in Parliament is to bring together diverse views, both political and ideological, and find consensus or majority of opinion. The process is necessary in the evolution of legislation. Although government bills dominate the legislative landscape private members' bills allow individuals to lift personal causes or local ideas to a national stage in order to receive debate. Not all private members' bills become votable. In reality during the entire 35th parliament out of 408 private members' bills introduced in this House 119 were debated, 47 were deemed votable, while a total of 9 passed.

While on the surface this ratio may seem less than impressive, and I am not about to say that it does not need improvement because I believe it does, private members' bills bring issues to the attention of all members of this House, including the government. In some cases over time the issues percolate into government policy and although it may not be under the exact terms of the private member's bill the issue does get addressed.

Earlier in this debate the Reform whip suggested that the justice committee failed to report during the 35th parliament on an issue of the rights of victims of crime. This issue originated as a private member's bill. In fact, this is untrue. The justice committee tabled a report in the House last April. That report is available to all members of the House. The real truth is that Reform members present walked out of the committee just as the motion to approve the report was being brought forward.

A new committee has undertaken a national consultative process on victims rights. It will be held in June of this year and a further report will be tabled in September 1998. I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.

As my colleague from Mississauga Centre pointed out, change is needed in moving private members' issues forward. I listened with interest to her recommendation and also urge the committee to carefully consider an alternate means of dealing with private members' bills.

Of particular interest is the bringing forward of bills based on signatures of support versus the current lottery system. Through collecting support of at least 10 members of each party for a total of 100 members, private members' bills would have the opportunity to be debated based on their perceived importance to parliament and Canadians rather than merely left to the luck of the draw.

The structured and strict running of question period has allowed more effective use of the allotted time. Throughout the week it allows questions of importance to be raised with the appropriate minister.

A recommendation which has been made in the past and which I support is weekly in-depth question and answer periods involving a designated minister. I suggest that Friday question periods be scheduled with regional ministers on a rotating basis, allowing greater debate on issues affecting each region or, in a related vein, that each Friday an assigned minister would be available for in-depth debate on specific issues relating to their portfolios.

This would provide both members of parliament and their constituents the opportunity to have local concerns raised in a focused forum where the minister will, based on the region or portfolio chosen, provide regionally specific responses to the questions posed.

While much more can be done to improve the accountability and the procedure of parliament, I feel it is necessary that we continue to adapt parliament to the changing environment. We must safeguard democracy and preserve the valuable traditions of this institution.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Kenora—Rainy River Ontario

Liberal

Bob Nault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Human Resources Development

Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure this afternoon to talk about the standing orders and procedures of the House and its committees.

I have been a member of parliament now for 10 years coming up in November. Having come here in 1988 as a member of the opposition and now a member of the government, that should give me some insight at this point from an individual's perspective as to whether the House of Commons as I know it does work.

There are a couple of concerns that I have as an individual member I want to bring forward this afternoon. Before I do I want to talk about the obvious function of parliament itself. Parliament has two major functions. One is legislative and the other is accountability.

We should always keep in mind when we are having discussions in this place whether those two functions are being adhered to closely so that no matter what the government decides to do, the legislative agenda of the party in power is brought forward. That is obviously the wish of the people, having voted for that party to be their government for a period of time. I think it is also very important that there is an accountability process built into that program.

In the last 10 years one of the things that has interested me most about parliament is the issue of accountability. If there is anything that irks the people back home in Kenora—Rainy River, it is the fact that they always want to feel that members of parliament are being accountable to them the taxpayers. This brings me to the first issue which is very obvious to all of us in this place.

The standing rules and procedures of this House in the last number of years have changed dramatically. When I first came to this place a member could speak for 20 minutes as a backbencher. We could speak freely for 20 minutes on any particular topic. The lead speaker could speak for a very long time if he or she wished. Now under the procedures they have made it 10 minutes.

I bring to the attention of the House the unfortunate belief that we are going backward by restricting the freedom of speech in the House of Commons. We should be allowed to speak, within reason obviously, for as long as we would like to speak, as long as the government's agenda, the government's program is allowed to go forward by all parties in the House.

We seem to place restrictions on ourselves. The thrust of what we believe and what we hear from our constituents in the ridings is not brought forward in debate in the House of Commons because of the restrictions of time limitations which are put on us. For example, in the short time that I have, 10 minutes, it is very difficult to put a comprehensive argument together about what the House of Commons should and should not be doing. I will leave that for a moment.

The other issue is the one of accountability. I wanted to speak very strongly about accountability because it has two facets. Accountability to my constituents means the ability for me to stand up in the House of Commons as often as I possibly can to defend in this case the program of the government, the party I represent. I explain why we have chosen a particular program, a particular initiative for the good of the people as we see it. If I cannot do that because there are restrictions, because there are agreements between House leaders and between parties which restrict the amount of time we can have on a particular bill, I do not think it does anyone any good. It is one of the problems we need to look at very seriously.

The other is the issue of accountability in the committees. I want to speak specifically about committees. As a member of parliament for the last 10 years I have noticed that in committee even though the opposition likes to promote, as I did in opposition between 1988 and 1993, the importance of committees as it relates to accountability, whenever we decide we want to look at the estimates it is the least important thing to the opposition members. They will not say that publicly but in fact it is true.

It is not something which generates a lot of excitement by members of parliament in committee. They continue, as the opposition is now doing, to say we should look at the whole issue of the estimates for the human resources development department, which is the department I am presently on the committee with. There are huge amounts of dollars involved in human resources development, close to $60 billion. How often do we look at the estimates of human resources development in committee? So far this year, not at all.

There is now a filibuster in the human resources development committee on a piece of labour legislation because members of the opposition would like to delay the bill. They have been sitting on the same clause all morning. That will delay the ability of the committee to look at the estimates.

We need to seriously look at the importance of accountability in committees and give members of parliament the opportunity to reflect on those estimates. As boring as they may seem to people on this side or that side, it is one of the major functions of a member of parliament.

If we can get agreement by members of all parties on all sides of the House that they will allow the program of the government to go forward, we could then open the rules of this place. We could on the one hand speak on behalf of our constituents as a member of parliament and on the other hand make sure that the program we ran on as a party and as a politician is moved forward in the weeks and months we sit in this place.

That brings me to the third and I think the most disturbing issue of this parliament and other parliaments as I have seen it. It is the issue of private members' bills. For the sake of argument there is very little attention or care taken on private members' bills and private members' business. In fact it is non-existent if people in this place wanted to be very blunt and frank about it.

We will never get a good system for private members' business and for the bills that come to this place until there is an acceptance by the Canadian people first and by the members of parliament that private members' business is very separate from the government's business from the parties they work for and the business they believe in.

Even though we continue to stand up row by row, individual by individual, the fact remains that private members' bills are not looked at by the government or by the opposition as private and on which they can vote whichever way they choose. I have seen on numerous occasions in this place since 1988 not only the government but the opposition using private members' bills as an opportunity to send a signal to the Canadian people. Let me give one example.

It is well known to all of us that if we voted for a Reform private members' bill as a private member on the government side, they would take the opportunity to use that private members' bill and the fact that we supported it to try to embarrass the government and the member in the member's constituency. Because of this, there is no ability for members of parliament to feel free to support individual private members' bills.

If in fact we were to open up the process and if the Reform Party were to stop pretending that they do believe in private members' business and that they vote independently, then we could get on with the very important work of putting together a private members' process, one which would allow us to put forward our constituents' points of view. In rural ridings such as mine we do not have the opportunity to debate rural issues as often as we would like to do so.

As I mentioned earlier, the 10 minutes, the short time I had is finished, which does not allow me to elaborate on a number of other points.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Norman E. Doyle Progressive Conservative St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, listening to this debate today I have to say I was impressed that there have been so many positive references to the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons.

I would like to make all hon. members aware that many, many years ago this committee was chaired by the former member for St. John's East, the Hon. James McGrath. He represented St. John's East for many, many years. I think he was in this House for roughly 21 or 22 years. It is rare in my experience at least that a report which is 13 years old still maintains a certain amount of relevance here in parliament. It says a great deal about the quality of work that was done at that time by the Hon. James McGrath.

This morning the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough referred to the Liberal position paper on parliamentary reform which was published back in 1993. It was published at that time under the signature of the prime minister.

One of the changes the Liberals promised was for the opportunity for MPs to present their grievances here in the House of Commons. After all, this is what the people of Canada, our constituents, sent us here for. One of the changes they promised was the opportunity to present grievances here in the House of Commons.

The Liberals said that members of the House and more importantly the people they represent have to have the fullest opportunity available to place problems and grievances before parliament. The rules providing the vehicle for that, such as presentation of petitions and members statements, must be revised to facilitate that process. We do not have too many opportunities here in the House of Commons to present our grievances.

To give one example, a very important thing happened in Newfoundland recently. It affected the member for St. John's West, the member for St. John's East and the member for Burin—St. George's. It was the moving of the Marine Atlantic headquarters from Moncton to North Sydney in Nova Scotia. The member for St. John's West, the member for Burin—St. George's and myself wanted the opportunity over the last week or so to present our views here on that very important matter. However there was no opportunity for us to do so.

Statements by members are only one minute long. It is very difficult indeed to make a case on a very important issue in one's province in one minute. Even in petitions we can only speak for 45 seconds to a minute. It is very difficult to make one's case in that period of time.

The Liberals went on to promise that they would increase the time available for members statements but it has not happened. To date there has been no effort to do that and no dialogue on that issue.

I encourage the House to make more time available for members to raise many of these very important grievances which Canadians have against the treatment they receive from their government.

Earlier this year the House was asked to approve changes to the Constitution regarding the provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland, another very important issue. As the House knows, there are no special provisions in the rules regarding the consideration of constitutional amendments and there should be. Since it requires only the passage of a single question for the adoption of a constitutional resolution, there should be some protection and procedures laid out in the standing orders. There should be a mandatory committee procedure and a guarantee that local hearings will be held so that Canadians can have access to the members of the House of Commons.

Finally in the limited time I have available to me, I want to offer an observation about the way the House considers the important business of supply and estimates.

I spent many years in the Newfoundland House of Assembly as did my colleague, the member for St. John's West. It is a small house with 48 members but that house demanded a much higher level of scrutiny and debate before money was appropriated and expenditures authorized.

This House needs to look seriously at the estimates process. We owe that to Canadian taxpayers. We are spending their money. This will mean that ministers will have to be more available to committees. There will have to be less game playing on the part of witnesses. There will also have to be more time spent and more time made available for the very important business we have to conduct here.

I would like to endorse the feeling of the House leader who spoke this morning concerning the need to simplify private members' business. If there are ways that changes can be made and rules changed, then we on this side of the House, if it is to give additional time to members to make their constituents' cases, would support them.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Reform Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to join in this debate this afternoon. Hopefully this debate will move the government to make some much needed changes to the procedures of this place, to the standing orders and to the way in which we conduct business in the House of Commons.

I note that a number of those preceding me in the debate this afternoon referred to private members' business, among other issues. Certainly that is a very important issue for every member, regardless of which party they happen to represent in this place. Whether they are opposition members or government members, private members' business is a very important issue. In fairness, I think even the backbench members on the government side have seen the inherent problems in the process.

On a number of occasions when I have written newspaper columns at home, done interviews and held meetings in consultation with the constituents of Prince George—Peace River I have referred to the lottery system of private members' business. We have to be lucky in order to have our bills chosen. I think this is true of all members, or the vast majority of members. They put a lot of time, effort and thought into drafting their private members' bills. In many cases the bills address a specific need that they see is lacking in legislation. Perhaps it has to do with something specific to their particular riding or their area of the country. They put a lot of time into drafting their private members' bills, introducing them in this place and then they sit and wait, and wait, with the slim hope that they might be fortunate enough to win the lotto 649 and have their name drawn.

Then when they have their name drawn they go to the next step, which unfortunately is to go before a supposedly non-partisan all party committee to plead their case. They go on bended knee after they have been fortunate enough to be one of the ones to have their name drawn. They go before this committee to try to convince it that of the 15 drawn theirs should be one of the 5 that are fortunate enough to have their bill made votable. It is a process that I have been critical of, as I think a great many members have been on both sides of the House.

Reformers are system changers. Those of us who were elected in the first go around back in the fall of 1993 were sent to Ottawa to change the system, to change the way that governance is done in Canada. It is one of the prime reasons for which the people of Prince George—Peace River supported me as a Reform candidate back in 1993. They said “We want you to go down there, Jay, and try to change the system”.

Certainly Reform has been criticized many times over the past four and a half years for running up against the wall, the wall of the old traditional ways, the old system. We are constantly pushing the envelope and saying that we were sent here to change the system.

Yes, there are a lot of traditions that we respect in this place as very loyal, patriotic Canadians, but there are a lot that we question. We say “Just because it has been done that way for 130-some years, does that make it right? Does it make it the most efficient and the most effective way in which to govern a country as large and as diverse as Canada?” There are many areas where change is needed.

We were sent to Ottawa to change the system, to change the way in which Canada is governed. Of course, ever since our party was formed back in 1987 we had our blue book of principles and policies which contain sections about democratic reform. These were things that we felt, in broad consultation with Canadians, should be changed to make parliament more responsive to what I call the real world outside these hallowed halls, the real world in which the vast majority of Canadians live and work each day.

Therefore, this debate today is particularly appropriate for Reformers. We are talking about the standing orders, the procedures, the traditions and certain things that require reform and change.

Hopefully what we viewed yesterday we will not have to view again. A member of this place became so frustrated with the process and felt he was failing his constituents and all Canadians that he resorted to the atrocious stunt of stealing his chair and rushing out of the House of Commons to try to make the point to the government that the system needs some serious changes, that it is in serious need of a major overhaul. We are not talking about tinkering.

I would like to speak briefly to order in council appointments, the system whereby the government makes appointments. This process was widely criticized long before I ever decided to run for politics. I think it is high time we had a different process in place for the appointment of individuals to a lot of these boards.

As the agricultural critic for the official opposition I am very aware of this at the moment. Bill C-4 is currently being debated in the Senate. It has already passed this House. The bill calls for a board of directors to be set up in order to govern the Canadian Wheat Board. Of that board of directors, which will consist of 15 individuals, the government, in its infinite wisdom, only decided to have the farmers elect 10 of them. Five of the directors will continue to be appointed.

I think a lot of my colleagues, as well as myself, hear a growing resentment from Canadians about a lot of these appointments as we travel in our ridings and across Canada. I could run down a long list of some of the ones who are the most questionable, individuals who have been appointed to particular boards, many of them very highly paid. In fact, many of them are much more highly paid than you and I, Madam Speaker. They have been appointed to these boards with very high salaries and very questionable attributes. It seems that many times, at least on the surface, it is more likely because of party affiliation or who they supported that they get these jobs, not because of what they know or do.

Ironically, there is another bill which was being considered this morning in the standing committee on agriculture, which is Bill C-26. It also calls for the possibility of a board. In fact it states in the legislation that the minister for agriculture may set up an advisory board consisting of up to nine individuals, all appointed. A number of witnesses appeared before the committee this morning who raised questions about how the individuals will be selected and whether they will necessarily be the best people for the job.

I could have gone into a lot of other issues that are important. Time allocation and closure come to mind, as well as questions on the Order Paper. There are so many issues that on the surface seem dry and somewhat mundane. People probably do not have a lot of interest in them. But, in reality, once they are explained to the viewing public, they show a great deal of interest in them because they affect the way in which our country is governed.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Waterloo—Wellington—Prisons.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Liberal Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on the motion deemed to be put according to Standing Order 51, namely that this House takes note of the standing orders and procedures of the House and its committees.

In this brief period I would like to address two points, the first perhaps broad and general in terms of the work of members of committees, and the second being a specific recommendation to add a new standing order following Standing Order 98 in order to correct an obvious problem that continues to sit on the books.

Individuals come to this place with firm convictions that they can contribute and can add something to the big picture and, most importantly, they can make a difference on issues and matters that are of concern to their constituents. Members come here to serve their constituents. Members come here also as part of a political team, a party which reflects in a general way their beliefs, their values and their collective attitudes. An election result is the combination of the presentation of the individual candidate and the party that the individual represents.

A member's arrival in the House of Commons is an experience which I would suggest flattens the idealistic to the more pragmatic because this is, after all, a place of government by ministerial responsibility and it is through the ministerial system that one must work to see a result or an influence on policy and ultimately on decisions. Through the 18 standing committees an individual member of Parliament has an opportunity to directly influence decision making in the broadest sense of the word.

On October 22 of last year the Ottawa Citizen published a column by a writer known as Susan Riley in which she noted:

Everyone knows that the ordinary member of Parliament is a pitiful creature, shut out of important decision-making,—ignored by the media and ranked below lawyers in public esteem. Everyone has remedies for this sorry situation including more free votes, a higher profile and more travel for Parliamentary Committees, better decorum in the House and more opportunity for private members to introduce their own legislation. But nobody, including MPs themselves is willing to do anything other than complain.

In that column she addresses the role of committees.

In my experience the 18 standing committees of this House have little or no relationship with the minister responsible for the department. In a parliamentary ministerial government it is astounding to me that ministers only appear for perhaps two hours before a committee to explain why draft legislation is necessary. Is it not equally unbelievable that a minister will appear for a couple of hours to explain or defend the estimates of an entire department involving perhaps billions of dollars?

This is pro forma ministerial involvement in the workings of committees. It is an absurd method of paying lip service to committees, yet there is no real interchange between the minister on the one hand and the committee on the other.

Our system of ministerial democratic government is looking for change. As collectives, committees have seen less resources devoted to them in terms of support, staffing, travel allowance, access to the minister and freedom to travel. This skewers the function of this place. The executive and the legislative function of each department, which is vested in the minister, grows more powerful while the counterbalance, which is vested in the committee, continues to shrink.

The time has arrived for every member of this House to get serious about what this place is and what it might be. As my friend and colleague, the member from Rosedale was quoted as saying last year: “Valuable work is still done in committees. It is as if you're dropping a pebble into a deep well”.

Perhaps members of this House would like to give themselves something larger than pebbles to deal with. This is an issue which does not fall along partisan political lines. This is an issue which speaks to the office of member of Parliament and to the very institution itself. This is an issue on which we as members can agree to move back to committees a meaningful role for members.

We need to move the role of committees to a level of greater importance, and this can be done in a number of ways. We can allow some free elections of chairs or we can allow votes in committees as are conducted in the British parliamentary system. Most important, give back to committees the resources and support staff such as researchers and legislative counsel, in order that all committee members can receive objective, impartial and expert advice in the course of deliberations.

Standing committees are not intended to be puppets or extensions of the department with which they are aligned. They are to examine, test and recommend improvements in what ministers propose. Yes, there are political and philosophical differences in committees but at the same time one cannot assume that any department as represented by its minister is always correct or always perfect.

Yet committees have been disempowered. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should be looking at ways to return some modicum of real control. It is easy to say that committees are masters of their own destiny. Destiny I would suggest will always be an abstract idea without the supporting rules and resources to give that cliche meaning.

The other issue to which I wish to speak specifically involves the standing orders surrounding private members' bills, namely Standing Orders 98 and 99.

In fact, these private members' bills, after a review by a standing committee of this House and third reading, are sent to the Senate.

There, these bills must be treated like public bills. As we know, the Senate committee can take several initiatives. However, if an amendment is made during the review by the Senate committee and is approved at third reading, the bill will come back to the House, which must then reconsider the bill.

In fact, the House can accept or reject the Senate amendment. It is time we recognize that this is a major problem. It is simple: there is no means, no process to conclude debate on an amendment made by senators.

This is the ultimate catch-22. This is the treadmill that never stops yet moves nowhere. The fact is the rules are silent on this point with the end result being every time the bill, as amended by the Senate, comes before this House, there is no end to the process.

A private member's bill which has received the approval of this House and is amended, however slightly in the other place, can come back here and be hijacked forever. We know there are specific rules for debate, namely three hours at second reading and two hours at third reading. Yet when a private member's bill returns from the Senate amended, the rules say nothing. The end result is that private members' legislation can be debated forever without the closure that a vote on legislation as amended by the other place will bring. We can say this will never happen but it has happened.

In conclusion, this is a simple, pragmatic, easily accomplished change to the standing orders specifically which can be made to correct this obvious shortcoming. By adding after Standing Order 98 a new standing order, a limit of two or three hours can be imposed and a vote be required after the period of debate.

I hope the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will move to add this section and to correct this obvious problem.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on the Senate. Bills should originate in this House and only in this House. It is we, the elected members, who should originate bills. They can go to the Senate afterwards. That is the way it is meant to be. However, bills should not originate in the unelected, unaccountable Senate and then come to this House. They should originate in this House.

The standing orders should be amended to say all bills ought to begin in the House of Commons.

My second point deals with the estimates. Normally it is the practice with the estimates to bring the government department before committee. However, in the Senate this does not happen. In the 35th parliament it was the first time ever in parliament that it started in committee. I was on the public works committee. We passed a motion within our committee to ask the Senate to appear before our committee. That in turn required the unanimous consent of the House of Commons.

The chair of our committee brought that motion forward. There was unanimous consent of this House to send a letter to the Senate to appear before the committee to justify the estimates. The Senate refused. That is the crux of the problem. There is no vehicle available to Canadians to have the Senate appear before any body to justify the money being allotted to it. This is not a witch hunt. This is simply accountability. We are asking the Senate to be accountable.

The practice that sets a deadline to have the main estimates put to a vote in the House is practical when committees have the time and authority to summon departments and agencies to appear before them to justify their spending. That is the normal route with the estimates. As I said earlier, considering that the Senate is not bound by an order of the House of Commons or its committees, Senate estimates should be allowed to stand over and be considered on a day after the last allotted day. The estimates of the Senate would only be considered after the Senate has had an opportunity to send a representative to appear before a House standing committee.

At present, the only threat the Commons can make is to vote down or reduce the estimates of the Senate. A hold over might be less confrontational and would add another option to bring some accountability to the Senate.

Those sum up my two points. First, all bills should originate in the House. Second, there should be some vehicle for the Senate estimates to come before a body of this House for scrutiny.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Reg Alcock Liberal Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow I will have been elected 10 years. I was first elected to the provincial legislature in Manitoba on April 22, 1988 and spent five years there before being elected here in 1993.

I can recall on more than one occasion standing in the loges in the house talking to other members and collectively wondering what we were doing much of the time. We found ourselves involved in a series of activities, routines and rituals that grew out of the traditions of the house that left a lot of us feeling that they were simply a diversion from the work that brought us here in the first place. They were an impediment to doing what we thought we were elected to do.

Tactically it became important if we wanted to change the course of a bill to put pressure on the government by delaying the passage of bill through the house. We had a rule that allowed us to speak for 40 minutes. We had members getting up making speech after speech for 40 minutes at a time on subjects that they had no passion about, no feeling about, but simply because it was necessary to occupy that portion of time.

We would organize hundreds of witnesses to come before the house committees on bills simply to delay, not to add to the debate, not to add to the quality of the work that was being done, but to play the tactical games that dominated the activities of the house. However, there were some things in the provincial house that I rather liked when I contrast them with what I am doing here. I want to focus a bit on that. First I want to compare some of my experiences in the provincial house with the ones I had when I came here.

I find this place, strangely enough, even though it is almost six times the size of the provincial legislature, a more accessible place when I wish to speak. The work I do is no different from the work that everybody in the House does. I represent a number of Canadians. I spend as much time as I can in my home community working with people, meeting with them, hearing what concerns they have, asking them questions about things the House is seized with, taking their opinions and bringing them back into this place. It comes back in a number of ways.

Compared to the provincial legislature I was in, I find there is more accessibility to the floor of the House through S. O. 31s, through the question and answer period after speeches in most debates and through the late show. There are opportunities for me to rise in the House on a regular basis and put on public record the opinions, the feelings and the attitudes of the people I represent. For me it is a significant improvement.

I also note some changes that have taken place in the House over the last few years since I have come here relative to the work of committees that I think represent a first important step in what could be, not is, a substantial improvement in the functioning of committees.

The ability of committees to set their own agendas is an important power that committees could exercise more efficiently than perhaps they do at the present time.

Another is the lining up of committees with departments so that members of a committee are dealing not with just the legislation or just the estimates but with the whole picture of the department, the planning documents, the estimates, order in council appointments, all the legislation and the annual reports.

We begin to move in a cycle that allows a committee to really have input into the operations of a department throughout the course of a year. I think that is an extremely important structure and one that has come about in the last few years since I have come into this place in 1993.

However, it is a flawed process in two important ways. If we look at what happens in September with the consultations done by the finance committee there is a focusing of attention in the House on that process. A statement is made by the finance minister and the committee goes off to solicit opinion from Canadians that then gets reported back to the House and is reflected or not reflected, depending on the issue, in the budget that comes down a few months later. It is a process that receives a strong mandate from the House and a lot of attention from the House and produces a result that I think has grown in quality each year.

That process works because the finance minister takes it seriously. He pays attention to it. He works with it. He utilizes it as the tool it really is supposed to be. It is supposed to be all of us going off into our ridings, talking to people about the issues before the government at that point in time, and the finance minister works with the committee to frame those issues. We collect the opinion, we discuss it, we debate it in communities all over the country, then we bring it back on to the floor of the House and it plays a part in the final document presented in February. That is a big part of what we are here to do.

There are two ways that process falls apart. I have chaired a committee. I am on my third minister and I have a terrific working relationship with the minister which is very solid and I feel we are able to do some good work, but that is not always the case.

As the member from our side who preceded me pointed out, if the minister does not choose to work with the committee, the process falls apart and is invalidated. It is a flaw in way the standing orders are structured to hold ministers and departments accountable to the committees structured for that purpose.

Committees first came into existence as part of the accountability structure. Members representing constituencies from all over the country sat on budget committees and reviewed the expenditures of departments because only the House of Commons could grant spending authority. We went through the expenditures line by line very carefully. We questioned them and held the departments and ministers to account.

That still goes on in provincial houses. Ministers sit before those committees hour after hour after hour, day after day, until answers are arrived at. Here, as was pointed out, ministers come to the committees, make their hour or hour and a half presentations, and that is the end of it. As a result committees largely spend no time on the estimates because they are a waste of time.

One thing that frustrates me enormously is the attitude of the House toward new technologies. They are being taken up all over the world. We see all sorts of computers in all offices now. All sorts of technology are being used as productivity enhancements. They are used to automate routine tasks so people can focus their time and energies on those tasks where their expertise is most valuable. Yet in the House we refuse to adopt those same technologies.

How many times have members walked out of the House after spending three hours voting and asked “what was that for”? In five minutes I could register my opinion on bills my constituents are interested in, so why am I wasting my time on activities that could be better done in a more efficient way, which would leave me free to do the things I theoretically have the skills to do? I could meet with my constituents, coalesce opinion, bring that opinion here, debate with members from the other side of the House and debate theoretically and hopefully toward some sort of improved conclusion on a solution to some issue that confronts the country. That is what we are theoretically here to do.

If we could get away from the attitude that somehow technology is an evil that should not be brought into the House and embrace it, we may find that it frees us to spend more of our time doing the things that we would all prefer to do.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will speak to a couple of issues regarding the standing orders. The first is debates in the House and the second is Private Members' Business.

Shortly after I came here I made a very disappointing discovery. I suspected it to be true right from the beginning. It was confirmed on a number of occasions and is a sad situation. For example, I arrived here one Monday morning and it was announced on the board that there would be a debate that day on whether or not we should send troops to Bosnia. I remember that specific debate a few years back, the first time around.

The debate was put forward. Some people were speaking passionately for sending troops to Bosnia while others were speaking passionately against it. The debate was going back and forth, across and all around. It carried on until Tuesday night when the House took a vote.

We went through the process of a full two day debate. We went through the process of a 15 minute or 20 minute standing vote. I noticed in that vote that all government members supported the idea of sending troops to Bosnia, which is fine if that is the way they felt. Then we voted on this side of the House. The sad part of the whole thing was that the troops were already on their way on Thursday, before the debate even started.

Let us stop and think about that for a minute. We were here for two days. What did it cost—was it a million or $2 million dollars—to run this place, to be here debating an issue that was already decided? That to me was straight contempt of parliament.

In other words I have learned in the short four years I have been here that decisions are not made in the House as they ought to be made. They are made by the front row, the odd few. Chief bureaucrats could possibly be involved with a certain minister. Then they emerge from behind their closed doors and say what they will do with a particular issue, whether they will vote yes or no. It does not matter what kind of a debate takes place. Nothing will change their minds because they are members of the Liberal Party, are the government and will vote the way they are told. That is sad.

Then we get the courage and the conviction of some of them, one of them being the member from York South—Weston. He is now an independent member because he campaigned against an issue. During his campaign he strongly indicated to his constituents that when he got to the House of Commons he would push hard for what they all said they believed in, scrapping the GST.

When the budget came out that year and did not do as he had promised his constituencies, his convictions were so strong he had to vote against the bill. Consequently he got fired. Now he sits as an independent on this side of the House. That is a disgrace. It is an absolute shame.

I wonder if the people of Canada who vote for these old line parties realize that they are operating and living under a dictatorship of a few who make all of the decisions on our behalf. Regardless of all the compassion we put into our debates, regardless of how hard we fight for an issue that we know our Canadian constituents want, it makes no difference; the decision is made by the mighty few.

The Conservatives of the Brian Mulroney and Michael Wilson era did the same thing. I cannot think of an issue that was more obvious Canadians did not want than the GST. The message was loud and clear by all constituents from all ridings in all parts of the country. However, when it came time to vote the mighty few said “You will vote for this. If you do not you will be fired”.

Consequently we now have a member sitting in the Liberal government, the member of Edmonton Southeast. He voted against the government of the day because his constituents did not want it. I applaud him for having taken that decision. I do not know if he made the wise decision by moving to the Liberal Party because it is no different. It does the same thing. One day he will have to vote against the wishes of his people because his government will not let him vote otherwise. That is a shame.

Those kinds of things go on in the House far too often. Decisions are made daily by a few. We are here debating and it makes no difference. Consequently when the wishes of the Canadian people are not adhered to, we become about as popular as snake's tail in a wagon track. That is the opinion we will get from the people. How much lower can we get?

We are sent here by the people of Canada to represent them, to send their voice forward, hoping that it will have an impact. These people are our bosses. They are the ones who have the right to fire us, not the group sitting on that side of the House or any party. No people in Canada gave that authority to any party. They hired us through an election and they will get rid of us. Right now the only way they can do that is in the next election, and most of the time they will do that.

Let us look at what happened to the Mulroney government with the GST. No one will ever convince me that the reason the Conservatives went from the largest majority to a meagre two was nothing more than the pressure of voting for something the people did not want, the infamous GST.

I do not know what it would take to get rid of that kind of procedure, but it would be nice to tell members they have the freedom to vote in the House according to how the people want to be represented.

I heard a member on the other side talk about getting feedback from his constituents and coming here to represents their views. However it does not make any difference in that party because they have to vote according to the minister in charge of the particular bill and no ifs, ands or buts about it.

We live in a democratic country. Is that a democratic process? In a pig's eye. That has to change. I do not know what it takes to do it, but a free vote would be nice. We could legislate that. Maybe recall would even be better so the people of Canada decide whether a member belongs here rather than a government politician. That is not what they are here for.

Enough said about that. I want to move to Private Members' Business. A committee is struck to determine whether or not a private member's bill is votable. Even members of the government caucus have called a committee which makes a decision on whether or not something is votable a kangaroo court.

I will give an example. I presented a bill a couple of years ago that would simply give the police the authority to arrest upon sight, without a warrant, when people on parole were breaking the conditions of their parole. The committee in all its wisdom after debating it decided it was not votable.

A few months later one of my colleagues put forward the same bill with exactly the same contents. Guess what? That one was votable. I had spent a lot of time and money putting together a proposal that was denied, and one of my colleagues spent a whole lot of time and money putting together the same proposal that was accepted. I guess it is what mood they are in. I have no idea what helps them make their decisions, but that is wrong.

They set out the criteria for a private member's bill to be votable. If it meets the criteria that should be all it takes, but no. I have a hunch somebody over there is saying “don't make that one votable”. They are taking their orders from somebody else. We do not even need that committee. If it meets the criteria let us put it forward.

In conclusion, I admire the work of individual MPs on all sides of the House who have strived hard to bring forward a piece of legislation that makes things good for the safety of Canadians, for their health and for their welfare. They are thinking of the people. It is too bad their leaders are not doing the same.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Reform

Jason Kenney Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to debate the standing orders of the House.

I believe I am the first rookie member of the class of the 1997 election to speak to this debate. I am glad I have the opportunity to do so. One of the reasons I stood for election to this venerable institution was precisely because of my passionate concern about the state of democracy in Canada.

I would characterize the state of democracy in Canada as a crisis. Democracy in Canada, as democracy is conventionally understood, is imperilled not by any great spectre of tyranny or state totalitarianism but rather by the slow, creeping incremental gathering of power and authority by the executive and judicial branches of government at the expense of the legislative branch, the democratic branch, and particularly that branch of government as manifest in the House of Commons.

The history of parliament, the history of the development of this institution, reaches back over a millennium. The privileges which we here exercise, the right to speak on behalf of our constituents, on behalf of the subjects of the Queen, on behalf of the citizens of our country, are duties and privileges which people have shed blood to secure. Battles have been fought, wars have been waged and men and women have died in order to secure the liberties which this institution represents.

That conflict which has carried over a period of centuries was really a conflict between the authority of the executive branch of government and the democratic privileges and liberties of common people as represented in their democratic assembly.

As a first time member of this place, let me make it absolutely clear that I have enormous, inexpressible respect for the traditions this place represents. I am a traditionalist. I for instance am a strong supporter of our constitutional monarchy.

However, I support our constitutional monarchy, our institutions and our traditions as embodied in this parliament not for the sake of supporting tradition but because they embody something good. They embody a tradition of ordered liberty and democracy.

This unfortunately is a tradition which is imperilled by the fact that this legislature, a legislature which was created to provide a meaningful check and balance against the authority of the executive branch of government, effectively no longer does so.

As a member from the government said during his remarks, parliament essentially has two functions, that of a legislative body and the accountability function to hold the executive, the governor in council, the cabinet or the government accountable. I think on both those mandates of this place we no longer exercise the powers of an effective legislature.

I submit that the standing orders of this House have in a sense removed any meaningful role from this place and from members of Parliament as real legislators, people who can exercise the authority granted to us by our constituents within our constitutional framework to do the business of democracy here.

It has become a truism in this country to refer to our form of government as one of electing five year, temporary dictatorships. That is not just the words of partisans in the heat of debate, that is a sentiment expressed by many eminent political scientists, jurists and members of this place both now and in the past few decades.

What they see is essentially two devices of the standing orders of this place. The executive branch, the cabinet, the frontbenches, has managed to force members of parliament, essentially on the government side, to surrender any authority which they bring to this place from their constituents. The customs of this House do this by imposing a kind of party discipline unseen anywhere else in the democratic world, a party discipline predicated on the notion that if the government loses a vote on a question on a motion or a bill the government will somehow fall.

Therefore, as the hon. Leader of the Opposition said in debate this morning on this matter, we have created an impossible situation where government backbenchers are forced by their whips, their ministers, the Prime Minister and their government to vote with the government on every single conceivable matter except those occasionally designated to be free votes.

As we all know very well, there is never such a thing as a free vote for members of the government. There is always a party line with the government. Notes are always taken by the whip's office about how members vote. If they hope as a backbench rookie to become a parliamentary secretary or, heaven forbid, a minister, if they hope to get a fruitful position on a committee in which they have interest, then they must toe the party line. It need not be that way.

The other device used to impose this kind of outrageous party discipline is the failure of these standing orders in chapter 11 from sections 86 to 99 to permit private members to conduct legislative business here as legislators.

In a completely arbitrary system 30 bills and motions are drawn out of hundreds that are submitted for consideration. If they are lucky they get an hour of debate. If they are particularly lucky this star chamber of the private members' business committee will select five items to become votable.

So what happens is that very valuable legislative initiatives which are not on the agenda of the government and of the cabinet are almost from the outset given no chance of seeing the light of day. For instance, I have on the order paper a simple private member's bill which would recognize a period of two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day to commemorate our war dead. It is a motion supported by the Royal Canadian Legion and is a motion which I cannot imagine any member of this place in good conscience opposing.

If we amended the standing orders of this place to allow all private members' business to become votable, this motion I am sure would pass with unanimous or near unanimous support in the matter of a few minutes. I do not think it would require an enormous expenditure of the time and resources of this place to pass such a motion. All it takes is the will of the government to amend these standing orders to allow business like that, the business of democratically elected legislators to come before this legislature. That is all that it requires.

Indeed other jurisdictions have the flexibility to allow such business to come before their legislatures. The mother parliament in Westminster passed just such a motion because its private members are indeed legislators who can bring issues forward for consideration to be voted on.

The Queen's Park provincial legislature in Ontario passed a similar motion because its standing orders allow the same kind of flexibility.

We should take a close, long, hard look at our sister parliaments, at Westminster, at the Parliament of New Zealand, at the Parliament of Australia, at the the congressional system of the United States, and there we will see democratically elected representatives operating as representatives, operating as legislators, operating in the best interests of their constituents and not as voting flack for the executive branch of government.

I call on my colleagues opposite to put up or to shut up. We brought forward a concurrence motion in the fall which would have allowed them to make every private members' motion a votable motion. I am sure we will provide them with another opportunity to support that kind of fundamental reform so they can actually begin to represent their constituents.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario

Liberal

Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I am pleased that we are having this debate on the standing orders, the rules around which the House of Commons organizes itself.

The standing orders are one of the invisible building blocks upon which our society is built and too often we take those building blocks for granted.

The federal government's highly successful national infrastructure program sparked many discussions about the true nature of infrastructure in our communities. Some believe that the only real infrastructure is roads and sewers. Others said that theatres, arenas and municipal buildings are equally important.

This type of discussion is more important than it might appear at first since it encourages us to think about the truly important foundations of our communities.

“Infra” of infrastructure simply means under. Therefore the term infrastructure means the underpinnings or foundations. If we go to the great abandoned cities of past civilizations like Pompeii in Italy or Machu Picchu in Peru we find that their physical infrastructure, roads, sewers, theatres, arenas, public buildings and houses, is still very much in evidence. Yet these are clearly no longer communities. They died as communities while their physical infrastructures, their physical foundations, were still in place. They ceased to exist because their real foundations, the critical underpinnings or infrastructures that made them communities, failed.

The fact is the real foundations of any community are the invisible systems around which people organize themselves, including their laws, customs, methods of education and beliefs. It is systems such as these that allow people to build and maintain the physical structures of their communities.

Here in the House of Commons we work in the midst of extraordinary physical infrastructure, a wonderful chamber in a wonderful building. Yet one day this chamber will be empty, and I am not speaking of the long term. I mean in a year or two. This House is going to be moved into the cafeteria of another building while this room is renovated. When that day comes the work of the House of Commons will continue as effectively as it does here in this wonderful place. One of the key reasons for this is the standing orders, arguably the most important facet of the invisible infrastructure on which our parliament is built.

With the standing orders intact we could move the House of Commons into a field or a tent and it would work. Without the standing orders we could not function in the most lavish or efficient architectural setting.

Parliamentary procedure is the set of rules governing the activities of a legislative assembly. In the Parliament of Canada some of these rules are provisions in the Constitution and acts of parliament. For example, the quorum in the House of Commons, 20 members, is set in section 48 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

Most of the rules are listed in the standing orders of the House of Commons, the subject of this debate. Far from being a series of unchanging rules, parliamentary procedure, particularly as set out in our standing orders, is constantly evolving to adapt the capacity of parliament to deal with constantly changing environments.

The set of rules we know as the standing orders has evolved over many centuries, particularly of course since 1867. Over the years this body of rules has had to be durable enough to survive the stresses of successive parliaments while being flexible enough to fit a great variety of parliamentary situations.

As the government House leader pointed out earlier in this debate, the 35th and 36th parliaments provide excellent examples of the strengths and flexibility of our standing orders. In 1993 one of the largest ever groups of new MPs arrived on Parliament Hill. They came from very diverse backgrounds. Some had previous elected experience at the municipal and provincial levels but many found themselves in a parliamentary forum for the first time. That is what democracy is all about.

These new members depended on the standing orders as they found them to get started with the nation's business. As the parliament unfolded, like parliamentarians before them, the new members guided by a minority of experienced members made their own adjustments to the standing orders as if they were putting their own stamp on them.

Amendments made in the 35th parliament are contained in a motion by the then government House leader, now Deputy Prime Minister, on February 2, 1994. Those changes included a change to Standing Order 73 so that a bill could be referred to committee before second reading. This allows for a form of prestudy of legislation. Another was a provision that allows a committee to propose and bring in a bill rather than simply dealing with legislation referred to it by the House of Commons. Both these changes were designed to strengthen the role of individual MPs.

There were also a change in the business of supply to improve the consideration of the estimates and a new standing order empowering the Standing Committee on Finance to conduct prebudget studies each fall.

One of the purposes of these and other changes was to strengthen the role of individual MPs. The 1997 election produced a parliament with five official parties, most with a strong regional focus. This was a great challenge for the standing orders which were largely developed in two party or three party parliaments. The government House leader mentioned this in his speech earlier today. He pointed out what a great test the increase in the number of parties was of the strength and flexibility of the standing orders.

The number of MPs on each committee had to be changed to give full representation to the smaller parties. As this change created an increase in the size of each committee, it virtually required a decrease in the number of standing committees so that MPs and parties could cope with the increased workload.

The appearance of five parties required great change in the procedure of question period so that large and small opposition parties received their fair share of questions and supplementary questions. The five parties required changes in the operation of debates in the House, in the order and length of speeches and so on.

In general, all parties seem to agree that the changes made have been very effective. This parliament is working well for the people of Canada. Once again the House of Commons has adapted to a new national political pattern.

The trick with all adaptations of the standing orders is that they be effective for the particular parliamentary situation of the day without undermining the intrinsic long term strength of the standing orders, a foundation of our parliamentary system.

Standing Order 51(1) requires that a full scale public debate, like this debate, involving all MPs be held at a certain stage of each parliament. This is one of the checks built into the standing orders to ensure they cannot be harmed through neglect. This rule is a good example of the thought which has gone into our standing orders over the years. It encourages busy MPs to put their minds for one day to this important topic.

Over the generations each change in the standing orders has required the support of a majority of MPs. In this parliament the active co-operation of five parties was needed. While naturally there have been and still are disagreements among the parties and members about particular aspects of the standing orders, a feature of this parliament has been the active co-operation between the parties where the interests of the House of Commons are involved. Credit should go to the current House leaders of all parties. Most people would agree that particular credit should go to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Rules of procedure are only as good as the members of parliament and their leaders who use and amend them. The intrinsic strength of our standing orders is a reflection of the efforts of generations of parliamentarians in Canada and of generations of officers of the House of Commons who have watched over the standing orders like parents nurturing a child.

I am particularly pleased that the government House leader indicated that report No. 13 of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs proposing changes to the operation of private members' business will be acted upon soon. These changes will further strengthen the role of individual members of parliament which has been a continuing theme of the 35th and 36th parliaments. As chair of that committee I thank the standing committee and the subcommittee on private members' business for their fine work.

Standing Orders And ProcedureGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Reform

Mike Scott Reform Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, I take the opportunity to speak to this motion very seriously. I begin by recognizing some of the things my colleagues said earlier this afternoon, things which I think are very appropriate, particularly those by the member for Calgary Southeast.

I liken this House and this parliament to a situation I encountered not long ago in my riding. I was visiting a fellow in Smithers, British Columbia looking at his pasture and his horses. There was a beautiful horse running through the field. I told the fellow it was a beautiful horse. It was running free and the wind was blowing through its mane. It was obvious that it had a lot of spirit. He said there was a problem with that horse. He said he had to have it gelded so that it does not produce any offspring.

I look at this parliament. It has all the appearances of a fine institution but in fact it is like that horse. It is neutered. This parliament is neutered. MPs have no opportunity to really influence or affect what goes on in this House of Commons. We are, except for the executive branch, an impotent institution.

It has been said before and it is an often quoted parable by Lord Aitken that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is easy to say that. Most of us probably agree that that is the case at least to a certain point. Let me give a graphic example of this truism in action.

What did members of the government on the other side, Liberal members, say in opposition in the 33rd and the 34th parliaments when the subject of private members' business came up? They fought and they argued and they said that private members' business ought to be votable, that when private members, backbenchers, take the time, the trouble and the initiative to come up with legislation they want to bring into the House that at the very least it should be votable. What did the members opposite say when they were in opposition in the 33rd and 34th parliaments when it came to the authority of committees?

What a joke it is being on a committee in this parliament. It is an absolute embarrassment to me as an MP. I sit on a committee as an opposition member. I go there with my ideas. I try to represent not only my party but my ideas and put the best that I can forward in that committee. Other members do that as well, including members of the Liberal Party. The committee attempts to decide for itself what it ought to do and ought not to do, what recommendations it should make to the minister and what recommendations ought to go forward, for example what changes ought to be made to legislation when we are dealing with legislation.

The parliamentary secretary to the minister sits on the committee and guess what. At the end of the day in that committee which is dominated by Liberals, and in the previous parliaments when the Tories were in power it would have been dominated by Tories, the Liberals do what the parliamentary secretary instructs them to do. It is an absolute sham. It is an absolute waste of taxpayers' money. It is an absolute waste of my time as a member of parliament. When I go to the committee I am wasting my time.

Why is it so difficult for the House leaders to get their respective members to show up for committee meetings? I will tell you why. It is because the people who show up are not doing anything useful and they know it. Most of the people in this room, whether they are on the government benches or in other opposition parties, I happen to believe have something to contribute, even if I do not agree with their particular philosophy. But we are not able to contribute. We are closed off.

Our parliament is neutered in a hundred different ways. It is designed that way and is kept that way to make sure that people like me, opposition members or Liberal backbenchers, cannot affect or influence the outcome of the government's decisions.

The only way I have any opportunity to influence what goes on here is to hope that in question period I will catch a minister off guard or catch a minister on a bad day and end up getting a newsclip that night on CTV or CBC or maybe in the Globe and Mail . That is going to be my one opportunity as a member in this House to achieve something. Other than that I have no opportunity. I have no avenues.

The prime minister and the cabinet do not want to hear from me. I am the last person they want to hear from. The committee system is just a way to keep us busy. It is a way to keep us tied up so that we are not actually doing something which might interfere with the operations of government, so that we are not actually doing something which might get in the way of the plans and the intentions of the various cabinet ministers. It is an absolute sham.

Canadians may not know every rule. They may not know everything that this House of Commons does. They may not know everything about the committee structure. They may not know everything about private members' business. Many of us had to learn a lot of that after we were elected. I submit to this House that Canadians by and large know that their parliament is a neutered and ineffective organization. It is incapable of operating properly under the present rules. That is why the issue of procedure is so important. It is one way of getting at the root cause and one way of making change.

I further submit that there must be a real intention to open up the doors and allow power to be shared in this House. If the intent on the part of the executive is to maintain control over power, then we are not going to achieve any forward progress on this matter. We can talk about rules, we can talk about procedures and we can talk about all the wonderful niceties but it is not going anywhere. Again it is just a waste of our time.

If the House will bear with me for a minute, I would like to quote some of the things that members who are now cabinet ministers had to say while in opposition. This is what the Liberals said on time allocation when in opposition.

The member for Winnipeg South, who is now a cabinet minister, said while in opposition that using closure “displays the utter disdain with which this government treats the Canadian people”.

The member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell said “I am shocked. This is just terrible. This time we are talking about a major piece of legislation. Shame on those Tories across the way”.

The member for Kingston and the Islands said “What we have here is an absolute scandal in terms of the government's unwillingness to listen to the representatives of the people in this House. Never before have we had a government so reluctant to engage in public discussion on the bills brought before this House”.

I have another quote by the member for Kingston and the Islands. While in opposition and talking about the use of closure and time allocation he said “I suggest that the government's approach to legislating is frankly a disgrace. It cuts back the time the House is available to sit and then it applies closure to cut off debate”. That is a quote from the member for Kingston and the Islands. He is still a member of the House but now he is on the government side and guess what? His opinion has changed. It is now fine to use time allocation.

That is what Lord Aitken meant when he said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once the Liberal Party became government and got its hands on the lever of power its principles changed. I do not believe it is the people. I believe it is the whole philosophy behind the government in this country going right back to 1867. It has to change. The people of this country are demanding that it change.

We can talk about changing the rules and procedures which is fine and well, but until we develop a real will to change the system we will not have MPs satisfied with the jobs they are doing in this House. We will not have a real sharing of power. We will not have legitimate debates that mean anything in this House that will actually change the course of legislation.

In the end what we will have is democratic dictatorships where we elect a new dictator once every four or five years. Frankly, I do not think going into the 21st century that Canadians are going to find that very acceptable.