My colleague from Yorkton—Melville is right. A fundamental issue of democracy is to have proper representation, and that is the way in which a standing committee should operate.
A lot of members of parliament from all parties question the work that can be accomplished and the amount of effort that is expended on standing committees. I have not had the opportunity to be around this place nearly as long as the hon. government House leader but it has been my observation over the past seven years that there is a huge variance in how standing committees operate. Part of it comes down to the way the chairperson chairs the meetings. The chairperson can set the stage for the operation of the committee, which may then operate in a quite non-partisan way and accomplish a lot of good on behalf of Canadians and parliament.
Conversely, I and many of my colleagues have had the misfortune of sitting on standing committees that operate in a very partisan manner. In many cases, for members from all parties who sit on such committees and endeavour to get something done, it is questionable whether they should even waste their time showing up.
With the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations starting off by taking this step, it was a gross unfairness to the official opposition. I made the comment that I shuddered to see where it would lead if the stamp that was put on the operation of the committee at its inaugural meeting was one of unfairness and partisanship. How can members of that committee be expected to put in the effort, to work hard and endeavour to accomplish something on behalf of parliament and of the citizens of Canada?
All too often we are constrained by time. When legislation comes forward we are given a 20 minute time slot in the House. When that is further divided in half it gives us 10 minutes to discuss issues of importance. We all know it is sometimes extremely difficult to get a point across in 10 minutes.
I recognize and have often had the opportunity to remark, when I speak in my riding of Prince George—Peace River, that in some ways I am becoming a politician. It now takes me 20 minutes to say what I used to say in three or four. Bearing that in mind, it is probably good that we are a bit constrained. Otherwise we would go on and on, dare I say, ad nauseam.
I wanted to bring that issue to the attention of colleagues, as well as to the Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations, which will soon be discussing, debating and calling witnesses on Bill S-2 and other legislation and projects that the committee wants to undertake on behalf of parliament. I wanted to sort of red flag that issue in the hope that we could negotiate some other agreement between members of that committee, but also between members of all the other standing committees. We need to get a structure in place.
I do not think my two colleagues and I are asking for anything outlandish. We are simply asking for fairness in respect to the numbers. I suggested that perhaps questioning at that committee, and indeed at all committees, should bear some resemblance to what was agreed upon for question period where there is a weighting according to the number of seats each party has in the House of Commons.
I believe it should be similar to what happens in standing committees, with the exception I fully respect that they are supposed to operate in a non-partisan manner. In fairness to Liberal members sitting on those committees, they should have at a minimum 50% of the questioning time because they have a larger number of members present listening to the presentations of witnesses.
I draw my remarks to a close. Hopefully the government will see fit to communicate not only to members of the standing committee on transport but of all standing committees that they should endeavour to launch the committees and indeed operate in as non-partisan a manner as possible, in fairness to all committee members regardless of the party they represent.
We would like to see this thorny issue dealt with as quickly as possible. Then the committee could get on with the important work I am sure it will have over the life of this parliament.