House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was leader.


Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to the bill today. I am sure the House leader of the NDP, who has long been an advocate of parliamentary reform, will be in the House of course to listen to my speech since he called us all in a few minutes ago to be part of that. I am sure he will not be leaving momentarily to do anything else.

A lot of people have put a lot of work into bringing this forward and they should be congratulated. Although these are tiny steps in an effort to modernize parliament, they are good in the sense that something has been done. I thank the members who sat on the committee for their work. I know it is not easy to bring consensus on these kind of things, and they have been able to do that.

I hope that maybe I had a small part in this as well. In January of this year I brought forward a document called, “Building Trust”. At the time, when I was House leader, we made 12 specific proposals that we thought would at least help parliament be more responsive and help to build trust between constituents, Canadians and the House of Commons. The immediate reaction from the government House leader was that these were half-baked and preposterous ideas, and that they could not be done. I do not know if he was right or not but exactly half of the recommendations that I brought forward at that time are included in the report. So maybe they were half-baked in the sense that only half of them were accepted.

It is interesting that after the initial knee-jerk reaction of nothing can change, it always has to stay the same, we did make some progress with the report and the baby steps of change perhaps have started once again. Perhaps under a different administration, and I think that is what it will take, the important steps necessary for true parliamentary reform will take place. It is very important that change does take place.

In Maclean's magazine last year it did a poll amongst business people and concluded that 7% of business people believe that members of parliament have a significant impact on the actions of the government. Only 7% think that what we do here makes a difference in the laws of the land. When people want things changed do they go to their member of parliament? Knowledgeable business people frequently do not bother. They go to NGOs, business advocacy groups and to lobbying firms. They find that is more effective than talking to members of parliament because members of parliament are shut out too often from the important work of parliament.

I will read a quote from 1968 in which a person lamented:

So this is your Member of Parliament; whipped by the discipline of the party machines; starved for information by the mandarin class; dwarfed by the Cabinet and by bigness generally in industry, labour and communications; ignored in an age of summitry and the leadership cult.

That was said by John Turner.

If that was a problem in 1968, I can assure Mr. Turner that the problem is at least as severe now, perhaps worse.

Members of parliament are often the last to know about important government decisions and important government legislation. Time and again, in the last parliament and again in this parliament, we see members of parliament coming forward with points of privilege asking why it is that some industry leader or some advocacy group got a copy of a piece of legislation before it was tabled in the House. Why is it that ministers go to press conferences and make announcements or ministerial statements without bothering to even consult or tell the House or even announce it simultaneously in the House? We just read about it in the newspapers. The Speaker frequently gets up and says doing that is not good practice and urges the government not to continue to do it, but of course it just continues to do it.

It is important, for real parliamentary change, to enhance the role of members of parliament. Enhancing the role of members of parliament would not only allow us to recruit good candidates in years to come but good people who are willing to give of themselves in public service which would make this place more efficient, more effective and more relevant.

It would build trust again between our constituents and parliament, a trust that I think has been broken. It would also allow for better laws, regulations and communication between constituents, Canadians and the House.

It may be a pipe dream, but many of us, from Mr. McGrath on down, continue to believe it is a battle worth fighting for. The changes we are talking about today are small steps. I am under no illusion that they will break the log-jam of control that is currently exerted by the Prime Minister's office and through the bureaucracy to the privy council.

A few positive things have been done. I specifically refer to a recommendation I made in January which was adopted by the committee on the issue of closure. When the government wants to bring in closure it is obliged now to at least get the minister into the House of Commons to talk about why it had to do it. Is it time sensitive? Have there been hours, days and weeks of debate? Have there been obstruction tactics on the opposition side? He or she has to at least come into the House to explain.

Again that is a small step forward. Maybe the government will be a little more reluctant to use closure. It has used closure at a record pace, a pace that sets it in a class all its own, although not a good class. It has certainly used it time and again and just after a couple of hours of debate it shuts it down and we are forced to move on. The legislation is basically rammed through here like sausages through a factory, and that is unfortunate. This committee report will at least get the ministers to come forward, and that is a good thing.

Another thing I hope will be good is that candidates for speaker in the next parliament will be able to explain to parliamentarians what it is they hope to accomplish: their style, their modus operandi, the things they consider important, the things on which they want to do more. They will be able to explain their position and we will be able to vote on that position by secret ballot. It is important to know what we are voting on and who we are voting to support. I believe that is another small step forward.

The appointment of important positions like the clerk of the House and officers of parliament should be approved by parliament. That is also a step forward and something that I recommended in January. I anticipate no problems with that. In fact we have been blessed with good clerks and good officers of parliament, but people should know and perceive that those positions are non-partisan, that they have the support of everyone in the House. Canadians need to know that those important technical officer type positions are not partisan appointments in the sense of favouring one party or one government over another.

There are some other things that could have been put in the report, but one that is actually in the report is the greater use of ministerial statements. I have to agree again, as I so often do, with the House leader of the New Democratic Party on this particular issue. He points out how this fall we started off with what I think is a disgraceful example of not including parliamentarians in the important business of the day. That is why we feel the frustration bubbling.

People are concerned about terrorism right now. It is obviously dominating all our thoughts and prayers, but it is also dominating the business of the House, or at least it should be. However, instead of the government telling us in the House about the important announcements, decisions and tactics that it may be employing or initiating, or about the consultations that are going on, these things are told to Liberal fundraisers or told on Larry King Live . Decisions are announced at press conferences maybe coming out of a cabinet meeting but nary an important decision or announcement is made in the House of Commons.

I think to myself how much I would have appreciated it, and still would frankly because it has not happened, had the Prime Minister stood up on September 17 and said that parliamentarians would be included in this most important war of the 21st century. During the gulf war, for example, he invited the leaders of all parties to sit down with him for some private briefings about matters of the day so they would not have to stand in the House of Commons searching for answers. Members should know when things are happening and that security briefings are being given to the Prime Minister. We should not have to read about those things in the paper. We do not need to know the contents but we should know something about them because parliament is included.

I would have loved if the Prime Minister had said that he asked his House leader to take housekeeping legislation off the table and to immediately bring in an anti-terrorism bill that the House could debate and pass post-haste.

Would it not have been good to get parliamentarians involved right away on the issue of the day? Instead we have debated, for example, gopher control on the prairies. While that may be of some importance to farmers, it is not what is gripping the nation. We should have put housekeeping stuff aside and seized on the security issue until it was solved. It would have been good for parliament and Canadians would have seen that parliamentarians are as concerned as they are with security issues.

I would have loved if the Prime Minister had stood up and said that he had struck a special all-party committee to deal with the relationship we were going to have with the new home security secretary of the United States of America. That person is co-ordinating the entire security activities of the most powerful nation in the world and we have no relationship to him. We do not know what he is doing. We do not have a clue as to what our response could be. Maybe we could even help him in his very important business of making the United States safe, but by inference the world safe and certainly North America safe. We will have no influence on that because we have no means of talking to him, no committee, no structure other than what might be happening at the bureaucratic level. We do not even know what that is because we are not included in that.

We do not ask for any briefings or any publication of anything that could affect national security or any investigations of terrorists, but certainly it is the business of the House to make Canadians secure. We should be talking about the modernization of our military, about long term military procurement contracts, how that will be done and budgeting for that. We should be talking about the perimeter security issues of the country in a way that dominates the House and dominates the committees.

Instead we run the risk, I see it already in committees, of just following the regular course of events, regular business that happened to be on the plate last June as if nothing has happened.

I would say a lot has happened. While the business of the world must go on as far as the regular budgetary process and so on, right now parliamentarians feel frozen out of the process. We have a system now where instead of a budget that is brought in in a timely fashion--and that should be another piece of modernization, something where we can at least know when the next budget is going to come down--we are left here every day wondering what impact the recession and the world situation will have on the budget of the federal government. No one knows if or when we will have a federal budget. If it does happen the finance committee has an obligation to be part of that, to have consultations and to travel the country. Instead committee members do not even know if it will happen so they cannot even start the process of talking to people.

It is not right. It is something again where parliamentarians are sidelined. That is why only 7% of business people think it is worth talking to their member of parliament, and that is unfortunate.

Most parliamentarians I have met are willing, able and thirsting for a way to impact the business of the House on behalf of their constituents and Canadians but too often they find out that they are just an afterthought.

While the modernization report tinkers with a few things, and they are good things which I approve of, it does not get to the core of the issue which is respect for the role of the members of parliament to represent their constituents here and be an advocate for those positions. There is just not enough opportunity to do it. I do not think the report strikes at the essence of it, which is that there is too much power given to too few people who make all the real decisions.

A year ago Gordon Gibson wrote an article in his newspaper column lamenting about how it would not take too much to change things. This was just before the last federal election. He said all it would take to change things at that time was only six Liberal members of parliament. Many have complained about how irrelevant they are, how they are trained seals who have to vote as they are told, that they do not have real impact in committees and that the committees are a sham. However, at that time it would have taken only six Liberal members of parliament to stand up with the opposition to change the way we do business in here.

For example, the Canadian Alliance brought forward a motion about free votes. If six Liberal members had stood up and said that they thought that the defeat of a government motion should not mean the defeat of the government unless followed by an explicit vote of non-confidence, history would have been changed. True modernization would have happened in the House of Commons. The stranglehold that the Prime Minister's office holds on this place would have been broken. Instead, too often there is lip service about the need to change but too much cache put in the fact that allegiance to the party or the leader is paramount. I can speak with some personal testimony that while loyalty to the leader is a good thing, blind loyalty is not.

If true change is going to take place in the House of Commons, people are going to have to stand up and be counted. When they will not stand up and be counted even when they know things are not right, when they do nothing, then they are aiding and abetting the problem they are complaining about. Instead of standing and demanding things of the Prime Minister and the circle of people around him, they quietly go into the night. Then when an election comes around they wonder why they cannot get quality candidates. They wonder why they do not have any impact. They wonder why businesses just write them off as a joke. Only 7% of businesses even think they have any impact. Why even go to anyone?

That is a shame. What a difference it would make if we could say, “I know some members of parliament and you had better have your ducks in a row because when you go before committee and they give you a grilling and you cannot answer their questions, they will change that legislation and you will be behind the eight ball one way or another”. Instead we all know what happens. Legislation comes forward. The minister meets with people behind the scenes. They cook it all up ahead of time. They get it into committee and have some hearings. Then whatever the Prime Minister has decided just goes through that committee like sausages and it comes out just the way they wanted it to. That is a shame.

It is no wonder that MPs go to committees and in frustration walk away. They do not become experts in their field. There is often no point to it because they feel all their work is for naught. There have been committees where people have spent six months on a bill. They have become clause by clause experts on it, but then at the last minute when the clauses are actually voted on, the government whip has come in and changed the membership of the committee. All of those people who have become experts are taken off the committee and trained seals are put in their place for voting. All of the amendments are tossed out and that bill goes through the committee in a day.

No wonder people on both sides of the House get frustrated. It is going to take a few more people on the Liberal side since they have 100% of the power in here, to stand up and say that this is not just frustrating but it is unacceptable. Things like free votes in this place would be a great step forward.

I would urge the government, and the government House leader in particular, to consider looking at what other jurisdictions are doing. It is not absurd to have important international treaties negotiated by the government on behalf of Canada approved in the House of Commons. It is done in Australia and New Zealand. It is certainly done in the United States of America. Nothing can go through there unless the senate has given its approval. The president negotiates and the senate gives final approval. Why is it those sorts of things are considered taboo in this place?

What about looking at British Columbia as an example? Premier Gordon Campbell took office with a mandate to have fixed election dates. He was not constitutionally obligated to do that, but what a novel idea. Within 90 days of the election he said elections would be held the third Thursday in November every four years. People can count on it and put it in their diaries. If they want to take a holiday they can book it before or after because that is when the election is going to be. There is broad support in Canada for that kind of thing, yet for some reason those sorts of things are considered taboo.

The modernization committee steps are small ones. They are not going to break the ice jam. They are not going to change the culture of this place.

I urge members of parliament to consider that steps that enhance the role of members of parliament are what will enhance our reputations back home both with businesses and individuals. Canadians will thank us if real parliamentary reform and modernization brings about an important and increased role for members of parliament.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order which is not irrelevant to the debate.

Discussions have taken place between all parties with respect to adding names to the associate membership list of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find consent for the following motion: that a list of associate members to procedure and House affairs be now tabled; that the names of members on the said list be printed in Hansard as if read into the record; and that the said list be concurred in.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the member have unanimous consent to move the motion?

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members


Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a critically important matter to this parliament. Many members have described this parliament as dysfunctional. The member for Toronto--Danforth has stated in the past that parliament does not work, that it is broken and is like a car motor that is working on two cylinders.

I agree with the member for Fraser Valley that this is a great first step. I want to compliment him on the document entitled “Building Trust” which he presented after the recent federal election. It deals with trying to make parliament more functional.

The concern the House leader for the NDP and I have is that it is fine to put all of this on paper but is it actually going to change anything.

The events of September 11 were very important and critical to every Canadian. Announcements were made by the Prime Minister at events outside the House. The Prime Minister does not brief parliamentarians.

I would like the member to comment on the things in this report. Are they going to change things? Are we going to see a drastic change in the attitude from cabinet to make parliament more functional? I have concerns. It is great to put it on paper, but to actually change things or make that significant a difference, we will need to see a great willingness on the part of members on the other side to change their attitude.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is true that all organizations take on the culture of their leadership. It does not matter whether it is one's own home or business or in this case the Parliament of Canada.

The culture that has been developed here over the last several years is not one that rewards initiative, outspokenness, newness or new creative ideas. It just does not reward that. In fact it penalizes that.

I will quote what Gordon Gibson said in an article about the powers that are already in this place and vested with the Prime Minister:

The Prime Minister of Canada has the powers of a despot, to a degree unmatched anywhere else in the developed world. He or she appoints the head of state, and the heads of the military and national police. The PM appoints the political and the permanent heads of all government departments, plus the governor of the Bank of Canada and all senators. He or she appoints all of the judges of the supreme court who interpret the constitution, plus all other important judges, and the heads and most members of all significant boards, commissions and crown corporations.

The PM writes or approves all legislation, directs or approves all tax and expenditure decisions, approves or controls chairs of committees and the actions of committees and even the office space and the boondoggle-type travel of MPs. He or she calls elections at a time of unilateral choosing, and then has a veto (by law) over whether this or that MP can run again. Some countries have what they call “iron triangles” of power. We have a fully closed circle.

The problem is the culture. The culture is that if one speaks out, to quote the chair of our caucus, it is like that whack a gopher game at the fair. If someone puts his head up to say that he would like some change, the Prime Minister smacks that gopher right into the basement. If a little while later another brave soul peeks his head out and says that he would like to have more independence on committee, he is driven into the twilight zone. That is the problem. The culture is to do as one is told, take the orders and do not rock the boat. That is the problem.

The culture is never going to change under the Prime Minister. I have a great deal of respect for him for some things. He has been here for 40 years. However in a sense his strength is also his weakness. He is so cautious and worried about what might happen that change is unthinkable.

That culture has been developed over many years. People in the organization over there understand the culture. They do not rock the boat. They do not speak out aggressively. They do not buck the big guy. And if they do, he can refuse to sign their nomination papers. They will not get an important job or they will be taken away from an important job. There are important committees just begging for people like that, such as the Library of Parliament and a couple of others that meet once a year.

That is the truth and that is the problem. It is a cultural problem. It is going to take a change of government to break that. Until people start to believe that what they do here matters and they get the gumption to stand up and say it is important that they speak out, then nothing will change. That is unfortunate. It affects the type of people who can be recruited into this place. People sometimes wonder why we cannot get people with a big long pedigree of involvement in community service or extensive business background or NGO experience. Those people look on and say, “What is the point? I am more influential over here in my organization than I would be as a member of parliament”.

Those of us who fight for parliamentary reform fight because we want members of parliament to matter. We want them to count. I think of the former leader of the Reform Party who has basically said that he is going to retire at the end of this calendar year. Why? He is a person dedicated to reform and I do not just mean big R reform, I am talking about changes, someone who breaks the mould, who steps outside the status quo.

He has basically said that he can have more influence championing his position as the head of a university department and that he could have more influence on the course of action in the House of Commons by being a provocative speaker for the Fraser Institute. He has said that he could have a bigger impact if he were free to speak his mind, and free from the constraints of this place, as a regular editorial writer in national publications.

What a loss for this place that a man of that calibre feels so constrained by the petty games that go on in this place that he would take his interest and his love for this place and for parliamentary reform and democratic representative government, his passion for that subject, and say that frankly he has to move on. What a loss that he would say he has given 10 years of his life to it and it is time to ply his trade in other circles because he has concluded, like too many other good men and women, that it is more effective to be outside pressuring in instead of inside fomenting change from here.

That happens because of a culture, and the culture is that the leader is always right. Second rule? Look at the first rule. That is the problem and it will never change until we get somebody sitting in the Prime Minister's Office who says that he or she wants to involve members of parliament, that he or she has enough respect for this place that important decisions, announcements, legislation and so on are made here, not at Liberal fundraisers, not on Larry King Live , not at a press conference where there is the possibility of winning votes at a special conference of some NGO group, or not as happened a few years ago when a minister, and, Mr. Speaker, you will remember my point of privilege, went over to China and announced the creation of a Canada-China friendship group. He had no authority to do that. Those groups are creations of parliament and he announced, as a minister in another land, that parliament had approved something of which we had never even been apprised.

Until we break that culture, we will continue down the path that says it is my way or the highway, and important decisions, important innovative ideas and representing one's constituents will take third, fourth or fifth row seats behind loyalty to the leader and to the Liberal Party of Canada.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Fraser Valley for his speech but I will remind him, and he probably knows this, that it was not just the Liberal government that invented that type of culture. Previous Conservative governments also had that culture.

One thing I would like to reiterate in the House, and my colleague for Saanich--Gulf Islands was on our committee when we did this, is that the 1998 east coast fisheries report was a unanimous report by all members of the committee, including the parliamentary secretary. The nine Liberals and five political parties agreed to every single word in that document. It cost us over $180,000. My colleague from Saanich--Gulf Islands can easily say that people were out there pouring out their heartfelt emotions to us. We had a unanimous report and brought it to the House. Nine Liberals signed the document and then stood in the House on a vote of concurrence and voted against their own report.

I would like the member's comments on that.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a good example. I remember that report well, because there were also unanimous recommendations for the west coast for ditch maintenance and other things that were important in my own riding. I made submissions and I was pleased that it was a unanimous report.

However, it is not just the fact that the report was rejected after they had already voted to approve it. That happens all the time. It was like the ethics counsellor. They put it in their literature but when they are given a chance to vote on it they reject it.

What is important is the demotivation that takes place when members of parliament are asked to spend months of their lives and all of their political capital to come up with a unanimous report and then are told that their unanimous report does not even matter. That is what is wrong.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Discussions have again taken place among all parties with respect to adding names to the list of associate members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, should you seek it, I believe you would find consent for the following motion. I move:

That a list of associate members to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be now tabled, the names of members on the said list printed in Hansard as if read into the record and that the said list be concurred in.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Does the hon. member have consent to table the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened earlier with considerable interest to the speech of the government House leader. Like an orchestra conductor, he conducted all the leaders of all the parties. He was proud, clearly, of this unanimous report.

I should acknowledge the objectives I consider worthy in this report. What we want most of all is the modernization of the expression of democracy. A society necessarily changes, as do the people representing it. People change. We do not do things today the way we did 5, 10 or 30 years ago. We might even say we will never again do things the way we did before the unfortunate events of September 11. This is a clear illustration that society changes and that democracy must change.

I recognize the efforts of the government House leader and his role in the achievement of objectives that are solid and creditable. I also acknowledge the concern to incorporate changes in the rules of procedure that govern us as representatives democratically elected by the people. I recognize the merits of a consensual process.

As I understand it, the government House leader has agreed with the House leaders of all parties that changes to the Standing Orders would require not a majority but unanimous agreement, a consensus. I think this is to his very great credit and I congratulate him on achieving consensus on certain matters.

But this orchestra leader, the government House leader, who was conducting a symphony--in which we were able to pick out the House leaders of all parties--was unfortunately conducting Schubert's Unfinished Symphony . The government House leader would have to agree that his symphony is unfinished. Why? Because there are a few things missing from the report. If we question all 301 members of the House, excluding the Speaker, it will become apparent that there is consensus on what those things are.

I do not wish to hold up adoption of this report, because the member for Roberval, the Bloc Quebecois House leader, has very clearly set out my party's position. I would not want members to interpret my remarks as being inconsistent with those of my party leader. But it must be admitted that there are a few things missing. Certain undertakings given did not make it into this report.

As an example, I would like to mention the Speech from the Throne. The governor general, or the Prime Minister speaking through her, told us:

In this new session of Parliament, the Government will make further proposals to improve procedures in the House and Senate.

There is a reference to “further”, to certain small improvements. We could say that the government delivered only partially on this commitment made in the speech. The throne speech goes on to say:

Among other measures, voting procedures will be modernized in the House of Commons.

Why am I saying that the symphony that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was boasting about is an unfinished symphony? Because, among other things, the report is silent on the recorded division process that has been used in this House since 1867, since the first parliament. This archaic system, which consists in getting up to vote when a clerk calls our name, is totally obsolete in 2001.

The Prime Minister uses every possible opportunity, even when visiting dignitaries are next to him during a press conference, to boast about Canada being “the very best country in the world”, or something to that effect. He says that in front of heads of state. I can just imagine what these people think. It does make a visiting head of state feel very good to hear that he is in the very best country in the world. Does this mean that his own country is lagging way behind? So much for diplomacy.

Why do we still have this archaic roll call vote in Canada, which claims to be a modern democracy? Why can we not record our vote like they do in the United States, where they use a card about the size of a credit or health card to record their vote at a station? Some of my colleagues and myself have friends in the United States. We could go to specific stations and insert our card to record our vote.

I would like to clarify something. We discussed it within our caucus and we do not agree with the idea of voting from our riding offices, our cars, or by using our cellular phones. This is not the idea.

I am reminded that we are not allowed to use props in this House. I apologize for what I did earlier.

So, we could have stations where members of parliament would insert their card for identification purposes and where they could say yes or no, as is done in modern democracies, such as the United States.

While acting as a representative for my party at the Association des parlementaires de la Francophonie, we took part in a conference on developing democratic rules and we had the opportunity to see how they are being dealt with on a day-to-day basis in new, emerging democracies. I remember visiting Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1997. It is known as a new democracy. When Bulgaria cut the umbilical cord from the Eastern Bloc countries, it became a new democracy. I believe it was January 1, 1991, if my memory serves me well. So, we visited Bulgaria's National Assembly in Sofia. They have an electronic voting system. I think there is a significant difference in the average annual revenues of Canada and Bulgaria. It is an emerging democracy. The country had to put in place new institutions. However, when Bulgarians set up a democratically elected parliament in 1991, one of the mechanisms they chose was an electronic voting system.

There are numerous countries in Africa that I have not had the opportunity to visit. We spoke with colleagues from all of the parties while on parliamentary missions and in meetings of various international fora, such as the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. Some emerging democracies in Africa have electronic voting systems in both their parliament and their national assembly.

So, this is the first reason why I am describing this symphony as an unfinished symphony. The report is incomplete. The second reason, and I will speak fairly quickly on this point, is nonetheless quite important.

During certain discussions in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the Bloc Quebecois suggested a different approach to parliamentary proceedings, particularly on Fridays.

Mr. Speaker, you have sat here as a member. You have been a member since 1988. You yourself have seen the parody of democracy that takes place here on Fridays. It is a joke.

The opposition parties do a responsible job, starting very early in the morning--the Bloc Quebecois starts at 7.30 a.m.--so that we can prepare a decent question period, with questions which are coherent and which address the problems concerning Quebecers, and often even the problems concerning Canadians as well.

We make an effort and we do a good job of getting questions ready. However during oral question period on Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., and this is also true for 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. during the business of the House, and from 12 p.m. to 2.30 p.m. until the House adjourns, we find ourselves looking at a House that is literally empty.

I am not suggesting that members are all on the golf course or away at their cottage. That is not what I am trying to say. I am trying to say that members are often either on the road, headed for their riding or, on Fridays, actually in their riding offices.

It is too bad that is not mentioned in this report, but the Bloc Quebecois suggested that the whole issue of Fridays be given a second look. The government could say that it is easy for us, that all we do is criticize. Our answer to that is that yesterday, three Bloc Quebecois members outlined specific measures for helping the economy to recover in the wake of the events of September 11. These were specific, doable measures. That is something concrete.

We in the Bloc Quebecois are not content to criticize for the sake of criticizing. We have constructive suggestions. One suggestion for improving parliamentary proceedings on Fridays was to look at what is done in the Quebec national assembly.

Is it because the idea comes from Quebec that it is not worthy trying or modifying? I trust that is not the case. There is a system in operation for Fridays in the Quebec national assembly. The three parties in the assembly can be asked for references on it: the Parti Quebecois, the Liberals, and even the Action démocratique. Friday is question day. A minister is in attendance and is subjected to a barrage of questions by MNAs of all parties to answer for his actions.

This system merits serious examination but unfortunately the report does not mention it. One of the suggestions might have been--a suggestion I repeat here--to see what is being done in the Quebec national assembly when it comes to questions.

Our productivity would be increased if we did so, instead of debating to empty seats on Fridays, asking questions of parliamentary secretaries who do not have the slightest clue about the issues we raise and look as if they had just landed from another galaxy when asked questions, as if we were saying to them “Earth calling. Welcome to our planet”. That is how efficient Friday oral question periods are.

To those who are listening at present, I suggest they put this to the test tomorrow between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. They will see the quality of the answers given, and who is giving them”. Regularly, out of the entire cabinet of 24 or 25 ministers, there are 16, 18 or 19 missing.

Can we do an efficient job as parliamentarians? Quebec's system for questions should be given serious consideration.

As my second last point, I would simply like to state that I subscribe to the comments by the House leader of the Canadian Alliance to the effect that this opportunity--changing the standing orders--ought to have been taken advantage of to seriously examine the entire matter of electing the chairs and deputy chairs of each committee.

One can tell that the orders, the directions, are coming from the top. I have witnessed this in the standing committee on transportation, where the candidate was imposed by the PMO, or by the office of the whip, who gets all the dirty work to do. We had imposed upon us an MP who was totally incompetent, ignorant, and undemocratic in his management. The decision had, however, been made that this would be the MP who would chair the committee, while the committee membership included fine candidates and, by consensus, the opposition parties and government could have agreed on one to fill the job.

A serious look needs to be taken at the Canadian Alliance proposal concerning the appointment of committee chairs and vice-chairs.

In closing, this report is the work of the parliamentary leaders only. If our Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is a real, efficient and meaningful committee, I trust that we, its members, will be able to address certain matters and submit reports for system improvements, which will also be adopted by the government.

I have referred to certain matters that were not addressed, but if I had more time there are a whole lot I would like to suggest.

Our expectation is for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am a member, to do a proper job, instead of the government leader, in consultation with his fellow leaders, proposing amendments or changes.

I believe that something needed to be done, that certain matters needed to be looked at seriously, but that does not prevent the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs from being allowed to do its job effectively for the rest of this session.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Gérard Asselin Bloc Charlevoix, QC

Mr. Speaker, as all the leaders mentioned this morning, this is but a beginning. This is the beginning of a dialogue, the beginning of co-operation between the leaders in order to enable the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to improve certain procedures.

I want to congratulate the hon. member for Roberval in particular, the Bloc Quebecois's House leader, who did an excellent job representing the party on the committee and who argued the case for some of our requests to improve the system.

We have managed to lay the groundwork, to pour the foundation, and we hope that the government will not wait years before further improving the system, or building the roof.

That being said, the member for Beauport--Montmorency--Côte-de-Beaupré--Île-d'Orléans as far as Saint-Tite-des-Caps, just made an excellent speech, in which he touched on an element that interests me.

He spoke of electronic voting, and of voting stations that use a magnetic card. I think that we could—at least, that is the purpose of my question—take a step forward. We know that today, new technology, with computers and other electronic systems, allows us to do many things, and I think that it would be easy to vote from our seat. The best station is right here, in our seats in the House of Commons.

We were elected by the voters in our ridings to represent them here, in the House of Commons. With an electronic voting system, members could vote for or against a bill from their seats in the House, without having to stand up all the time.

Does my colleague not think that, for members, the prospect of being able to vote for or against a bill from their seats in the House of Commons is an excellent improvement?

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not know about the number of stations there will be in the House. I do not know how they should be arranged architecturally.

Are we talking about individual stations in front of each desk? Would this be a centralized arrangement, as I have seen in the States? As the bells sound, for 15 or 30 minutes, we come along with our magnetic cards, our vote is taken, we return to our seats for the result. I do not know about the mechanics of it.

I am sure that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs can look into having 300 individual stations or one or two central ones. We are more interested in the mechanics.

I think the member for Charlevoix joins me in wanting primarily to have the principle debated and passed.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Beauport--Montmorency--Côte-de-Beaupré--Île-d'Orléans and to congratulate the members of the Bloc Quebecois, who have proposed ways to improve proceedings and the work done here in the House.

Perhaps my reaction will appear naive. However, I just realized—and I am a newer member—that important decisions are being made in this House that affect Canadians and Quebecers, and we do not even have a quorum.

I find this situation appalling for the simple reason that the House of Commons and all within it and all the work done here is paid for by our constituents' taxes.

I say this in all naivety. Women in Canada and Quebec—I am speaking of the living conditions of women, since I am the critic for the status of women—need to be heard, to be lent an ear. If they knew that, today, in this House, we frequently had no quorum, they would begin to wonder. Sometimes when a vote is called, members swarm in like flies.

It makes no sense. It is totally ridiculous. I wanted to say that. Perhaps I should not have mentioned it. I just want people to know that changes are needed, and they are paying for changes to be made.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I go back to my riding on Fridays, by plane or by car, I think about what I will do during the weekend. I miss my family and my constituents, whom I am proud to represent. When I am feeling so-so—I do not want to use the word down—when I become bitter, I think about things such as those that the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville just mentioned.

We make speeches, we work, we have assistants and researchers who work hard to prepare speeches that are interesting, good, well researched and not just empty words. But unfortunately, these speeches are delivered in front of empty benches, in front of 177 empty benches or so. Right now, for example, there are two government members out of 177 who are listening to us. This gets to be discouraging. This is a depressing part of our job.

But we love our work and we try to do it as best we can. We are human beings with qualities and flaws. I think each one of us here will admit to not being perfect. We can all do better. But unfortunately, the reality is such that we experience situations such as the ones referred to by the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville, who was elected here on November 27, 2000.

I would like to tell her that if Canadians and Quebecers, to some extent, have lost confidence in politicians and in the parliamentary system as we know it today, it is perhaps because of situations such as these, because of speeches delivered in front of empty benches.

There are people who come to see us in the gallery. There are people up there. Are these people going to be favourably impressed after seeing 175 empty benches out of 177? Are those who are listening to us proud of this situation? These people will go back thinking that this is not a very good example of democracy at work. I appreciate the hon. member's comments.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Admittedly, I am replacing my hon. colleague in the Speaker's chair. But, on the strength of all my experience in the House, I wish to remind all members that we must avoid mentioning the individual or collective absence of members in the House.

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is probably one of the most important issues in this parliament that is not dealt with often enough. I note that you, Mr. Speaker, chaired the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons. I commend you for your efforts. However, I will speak somewhat critically not about what is in the report but what is not in it.

My colleagues, including the hon. member for Fraser Valley, spoke very eloquently about some of the positive changes. He also spoke about some of the shortcomings of that report.

It is important to note that the first order of business today is the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons motion on the report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons. It is ironic that we are talking about the modernization of this parliament. Yes, there are some positive steps. However, I was elected in 1997. I have looked at some of the things that have been said and some of the things that have happened since being elected, and the fact that we increasingly hear from our constituents how dysfunctional this place has become. It is true.

I have concerns that this report does not deal with some of those issues. I will quote a few members. The Liberal member of parliament for Toronto--Danforth said, “Parliament doesn't work. It's broken. It's like a car motor that's working on two cylinders.”

The member for Lac-Saint-Louis, again another government member, said, “Being in the backbench, we are typecast as if we are all stupid. We're just supposed to be voting machines.”

These are quotes from Liberal government members.

The current Minister of Finance said last year “We have been discussing the role of Parliament in enshrining the values of the nation and its response to change.” This is very telling. He went on to say “This is an empty debate unless it recognizes the role of the parliamentarians themselves. MPs must have the opportunity to truly represent both their consciences and constituencies.”

These words speak volumes. There are things that are not dealt with in this report and I will try to address some of them. I will read from the document entitled “Building Trust” which the member for Fraser Valley wrote in January 2001 and which has been widely circulated. I applaud him as he put forward some very constructive changes.

One change the hon. member talked about was free votes in the House of Commons. I will read a quote from the Leader of the Reform Party of Canada, the hon. member for Calgary Southwest. He said:

There is a myth in the House that lurking out there somewhere is the fiery dragon of the confidence convention, the erroneous belief studiously cultivated by the government that if a government or motion is defeated, or an opposition bill, motion or amendment is passed, this obliges the government to resign. This myth is used to coerce government members, especially backbenchers, to vote for government bills and motions with which they and their constituents disagree and to vote against opposition bills, motions and amendments with which they substantially agree. The reality is that the fiery dragon of the confidence convention in its traditional form is dead. The sooner the House officially recognizes that fact, the better for all.

This is not dealt with in this report. I would submit that if there is a government bill and there are government members who want to vote against it, it is probably a bad bill. It probably needs more work. It probably needs more amendments.

The wrath of the Prime Minister should not come down upon these members, as we have seen many times in the House. They are threatened with not having their nomination papers signed or the possibility of not being candidates for the Liberal Party in the next election. We have seen examples of that. Members literally have left here in tears because they had to vote against their constituents and their conscience. This a practice that has evolved over years and it has to change.

A government should not be defeated if a government bill is defeated. I would submit the only time there should ever be a confidence vote is on a throne speech or a budget bill, and that is it. Unfortunately, at the Prime Minister's own whim he can declare a confidence motion and the trained seals stand up and vote against their consciences.

I can give some examples, and I believe this is a serious matter. With respect to the ethics counsellor becoming a true officer of parliament, I will quote what the government said:

A Liberal government will appoint an independent Ethics Counsellor to advise both public officials and lobbyists in the day-to-day application of the Code of Conduct for Public Officials. The Ethics Counsellor will be appointed after consultation with the leaders of all parties in the House of Commons and will report directly to Parliament.

That comes right from the Liberal red book 1 campaign in the 1993 election. Of course the Liberals had an opportunity to vote on that. This was in their campaign promises. As we are fully aware, this was an opposition supply day motion, which was written word for word from the government promise, and the government members stood up one by one and voted against it. That is wrong.

If we are going to really empower parliamentarians, we have to bring a change of culture. As the member for Fraser Valley so eloquently stated, it is the culture that has to change. There are 301 members of parliament elected to the House, coming from five political parties at the moment. There is a lot of talent and expertise in so many areas on all sides of the House which is so often ignored. We could be a much stronger country, if these free votes and debates were allowed.

One NDP member asked a question a few moments ago. I was part of the fisheries committee when I was first elected in 1997 under the chairmanship of the member for Gander--Grand Falls. He did an excellent job chairing that committee. The fisheries committee wrote 13 reports. Eight of those reports were written unanimously by five political parties.

We sat down for hours of painstaking debate, making compromises, asking what was in the best interest of the country and the citizens in these fishing communities and how could we help them. We went to those communities and listened to those people. Sometimes we sat up until 2.00 o'clock or 3.00 o'clock in the morning in community halls listening to their concerns. Then those members sat down and wrote a detailed report with very positive, substantial recommendations. It was a unanimous report that would have made a difference in these people's lives and would have improved the commercial fishing industry.

When the report left the committee room and came into the Chamber, the opportunity to vote arrived. Guess what happened? Government members stood up one by one, including the people who wrote and put their signatures to it as a unanimous report, and voted against the report. That is not good for democracy. It is a scam. It is not good for the country. That is what needs to change.

Again, I submit that if there are members on that side or this side who want to freely vote for or against something because they believe it is in the best interest of the country and their constituents, they should do so. If they believe the bill is not right and needs further amendments to make it right, then they should put them forward.

Look at the immigration bill now before the Senate. That is another example. It desperately needs more work. The government opposed numerous amendments from the opposition members which would have strengthened the bill.

When that bill was before the House, we were told that it was critical that it be fast-tracked through the House of Commons because it was needed to deal with the boatloads of people arriving on the shores of British Columbia claiming refugee status and changes to the immigration system were needed.

Now that very same bill is before the Senate and the government is saying that the legislation needs to be put through to deal with terrorists. This is the same piece of legislation. It needs to be strengthened and the government needs to listen to some of the proposed amendments. It is critical that we deal with that. It has not been dealt with.

It is the culture that has to change. I encourage the government to take the opportunity with the acceptance of this modernization bill, as it is called, to modernize the culture rather than modernizing parliament. Let us bring back what Canadians really want.

There are so many other issues with which we need to deal. We often hear of the importance of having an elected Senate to bring back accountability and integrity. I fully support the need to reform the Senate, but the members of the House need to look in the mirror. The House is more dysfunctional than the Senate.

When we talk of modernizing parliament, we should talk about empowering all 301 parliamentarians from all parties to bring these ideas forward and make a difference. Some of the best work done in parliament is at the committee level. There we have committees of 16 or 17 members of parliament from all parties who bring in witnesses and have a great opportunity for debate.

I appreciate there are some changes coming with respect to the televising of these committees. I have to admit that I personally have some concern with that recommendation. As opposed to concentrating on the important work that is accomplished now, it may actually give rise to a desire to grandstand before the television cameras. I feel that committees are very effective. One of the highlights of my parliamentary career is my involvement with committees and the work that we have been able to accomplish. Therefore, I do have some concerns there.

Although, I believe committees do some incredible work, but the reports they write almost always sit on a minister's shelf collecting dust and never see the light of day. There are millions of dollars every year spent in committees. They go out and talk to Canadians, they research and study these reports and listen to witnesses, yet the report never sees the light of day. Everyone in the House knows that. There are numerous hard examples.

If we are going to modernize parliament, we need to look at how we can change the culture in the House. How do we empower parliamentarians from all parties? How do we remove the partisan chip that is there?

I appreciate that the government has a mandate to govern and that cabinet has to bring forward this legislation. I understand that, I accept it and I support that. However, that does not mean that it has to gag its own backbenchers and all the opposition members. Nor does it mean that it has to ram through closure to get a bill through.

There is a reason why this is happening. It is because there is an outcry from Canadians that this is not the direction in which they want to go. When it comes from government members and they are completely ignored, when they are forced to vote with the government or face the wrath of the Prime Minister that they may not be candidates for that party in the next federal election, that is wrong. That is what needs to change.

I appreciate there are some positive steps in this document toward modernizing parliament, I feel it is important to stand up and state that we must be willing to change the culture when parliamentarians bring forward these excellent private members' bills.

What does the government do? It does not make them votable. The committee has the power to deem which private members' bills are votable. There are many good ones that have never seen the light of day. The government votes against the ones that do. Once in a while it rewrites them into its own legislation. Why does it not allow us to pass these bills?

I would encourage a change in the culture, but I am not convinced it can happen under the leadership we have now. I hope we will see steps in that direction with this report. Whether the government is willing to change the culture and make a difference in parliament will remain to be seen in the years ahead.

Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of CommonsGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There being no further members rising to debate the modernization motion, pursuant to order made on Wednesday, October 3, 2001, the motion is deemed adopted.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed from October 3 consideration of the motion that Bill C-34, an act to establish the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada and to make consequential amendments to other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada ActGovernment Orders

October 4th, 2001 / 12:35 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the New Democratic Party as we give second reading to Bill C-34. It is always a privilege to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the NDP and of my constituents in the Churchill riding.

Bill C-34 would establish the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada. The independent quasi-judicial body would be made up of people with expertise in the transportation industry and would be an expansion of the Civil Aviation Tribunal. The mandate of the Civil Aviation Tribunal was provided for by part IV of the Aeronautics Act.

The Civil Aviation Tribunal has been extremely successful and has been recognized as a model for the enforcement of the Aeronautics Act. It makes sense that such a tribunal be available to other areas in the transportation industry.

At the request of interested parties the Civil Aviation Tribunal holds review and appeal hearings with respect to certain administrative actions taken by the Minister of Transport. Extending the tribunal to other transportation areas is a move that I believe would be welcomed. The creation of the transportation appeal tribunal of Canada would provide the marine and rail industries and the aviation sector with an impartial appeal and review system.

The transportation appeal tribunal would replace the internal review process that currently exists. In the current system, enforcement decisions made by inspectors are subject to review only by senior officials or the minister. It would be preferable to have a separate and impartial body to hear appeals.

If anyone does not think the Department of Transport needs a separate and impartial body to oversee its decisions, we should look no further than at what the department is doing to hours of service regulations for the trucking industry. The bureaucrats responsible for that file are trying to get Canada to adopt an 84 hour work week for truckers. In certain weeks truckers would have to work 96 hours.

I will not get into the mountain of evidence from scientific experts in the area of fatigue and sleep deprivation indicating the sheer madness of the proposal. That can be done another time. My point is that the minister can do this with no accountability. He can do it through an order in council on the advice of his bureaucrats .

Truck driver hours of service regulations would not be covered by the legislation. Nor should they be. However the issue serves as a useful example of how it can be useful at times to have an impartial outside agency in place to review ministerial decisions.

All this is to say that the New Democratic Party supports the general principle behind the bill. We welcome greater scrutiny and oversight into ministerial decisions. Bill C-34, by providing for an independent quasi-judicial body to review decisions in the transportation industry, is a step in the right direction.

Having an independent and effective review and appeal process for the transportation industry quite frankly makes sense. The tribunal, in helping deal with appeals and reviews of administrative and enforcement actions, would prevent action from being taken in court. In short, the tribunal would simplify and streamline the whole appeal and review process.

We will need to look more closely at some of the finer details of the bill. It is important that the tribunal have members with expertise in all areas of the transportation industry. It is perhaps worth considering having separate tribunals to deal with individual appeals and reviews in each sector.

It may not be appropriate for someone without knowledge of the rail industry to rule on issues concerning rail. However I am sure this and other questions could be discussed at committee. The NDP is prepared to support the bill in principle at second reading.