House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.


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11 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think we have to respect the ability of each member in the House to decide an issue. Maybe there is a concern on the government side that they would not be able to control the agenda in the House of Commons. However, if we sincerely believe in democracy we would have faith in the members in this place to make the right decision. In fact, we have to put more of an onus on members to make those decisions in this place.

If we put the responsibility on MPs to listen to the debate and to decide on the merits of a motion or a bill or whatever legislation is introduced, they will begin to realize that if they are to do their job they have to listen to the debate.

Yes, there could be a concern that the government may lose track of everything in this place, but I have faith in the MPs of the House and in their ability to make decisions. That is why we have to make this key change. I hope that is an answer to the question that was posed, which is a very key and very important question.

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11:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the motion from the official opposition asking that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to draft by November 1, 2001, changes to the standing orders improving procedures for the consideration of private members' business.

First of all let me thank the hon. member across the way for this very constructive motion, which I and my party intend to support. I think it is excellent.

I perhaps neglected to indicate so at the beginning, but I wish to share my time with the hon. member for Durham.

The role of private members' business draws on a long tradition in the U.K. house of commons which allowed individual members to propose legislative initiatives to reflect their own interests and beliefs.

The government's 1993 election platform made commitments to give members of parliament a greater role in the development and debate of policy issues. In 1994 the government implemented a commitment for more free votes in the House of Commons by making every private members' business item a free vote. I want to congratulate the Prime Minister for this initiative.

We have also supported initiatives to increase the flexibility of private members' business so that it can respond to the changing interests of members and their constituents. The government has supported the view of members to continue the role of the subcommittee on private members' business in administering the draw of private members' items and determining which of these items should be votable.

As all members know, the current arrangement allows more items to be debated than would be the case if all items were made votable. Let me explain that. The reason for this is that a votable item is in effect time allocated. It is pre-programmed in the standing orders with three hours of debate at second reading and three additional hours that can be used in either report stage, third reading or a combination thereof.

To make an item votable, then, displaces five non-votable items because of course it takes six hours or thereabouts to get it through the House. I know that is a maximum of six hours. Sometimes they can get by more quickly. I understand there was a case like that last week where one item, which I believe involved Sir John A. Macdonald Day, was passed in one day. However, I still think the principle generally holds true. There is a cost in terms of time, then, for making all items votable.

Today's motion indicates that there is an interest among members in studying the issue further, and I agree. We are fortunate in having a considerable amount of work already done on the subject. As a matter of fact, I want to congratulate the subcommittee and of course the procedure and House affairs committee for the surveys on these issues carried out in 1997, in 1998 and again in 2001.

The 1998 survey indicated that 48% of members said all items should be votable and 50% said no. However, 70% felt that the system could be changed or improved. I think that is what makes the motion today so valuable. The 1998 survey was updated early this year and the Library of Parliament reported on the results in May. Now 62% of members feel that all items should be made votable while 37% say no, so there has been a change of opinion in the membership. In other words, there is a considerable shift, with 10% or so more MPs saying that these items should be votable. Of those who said no, some felt that more than the current 10 items could be made votable. The House procedure committee is continuing to study this issue.

On June 1, the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons tabled its report. As regards private members' business, the report of the committee chaired by the deputy speaker of the House reads, and I quote:

A great many of the Members who spoke during the debates in the House of Commons on March 21, 2001, and May 1, 2001, addressed the issue of Private Members' Business.

Among the suggestions that were made were that all items should be votable; that all Members should have an opportunity to propose a votable bill or motion during the course of a parliamentary session...

Considerable support has been indicated for making virtually all items of Private Members' Business votable, but serious concerns have also been voiced.

The report also dealt with this issue.

I believe that the modernization committee's report is consistent with the text of today's opposition motion in that it asks the House procedure committee to consider the issue of making more private members' items votable and to report to the House on this matter. As I mentioned, the procedure committee would benefit from the results of the modernization committee's report as well as recent surveys, such as the one I have described, indicating that a majority of members are now interested in this.

However there would be a cost to making all items votable. It may be that the cost is the proper price to pay. That is fine if that is the determination of course. As I said, that is something worth considering as long as we are not misled in our collective effort by thinking that there is no price to pay. It would multiply exponentially both the number of private members' items and the number of them that are votable, because in a way one could be achieved at the cost of the other.

In conclusion I would like to thank the member for Yorkton—Melville, both for putting the motion and for amending it yesterday in a way that makes it acceptable, hopefully, to all members of the House. It is clearly a matter of interest to all our colleagues in the House of Commons.

I am a minister now so therefore I cannot propose private members' items, but there was a period when I could. I was usually very fortunate in that draw. For reasons that I cannot understand, my name was picked often in the process. I also have been very fortunate in that some of the items I proposed actually were adopted by the House, so I can relate to the benefits of some of this.

Members will know that there is a statue on Parliament Hill in honour of Lester B. Pearson. Many years ago that statue was sculpted and subsequently erected on the Hill pursuant to a motion I offered to the House. Perhaps in the eyes of some this is but a small item, but I consider the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson to be a very great Canadian. I still do. He is a hero to me. I proposed the initiative to parliament and it was adopted. It is a grand day when things happen on the Hill as a result of issues about which we feel profoundly. I thought that this was important. Other members might think that their favourite criminal code amendment is important, or their favourite rights issue, or their favourite issue involving a whole variety of things.

Finally I want to pay tribute to members of parliament who propose issues. The mere fact that they generate these debates means that the issues come back as part of government policy later. I think of a number of colleagues on this side. I think of the member from Mississauga who, through petitions, private member's initiatives and so on, has raised the issue of fetal alcohol syndrome. I think of our colleague from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot and his initiatives on access to information. Several other colleagues have raised this issue. I think of the member for Kitchener Centre and her efforts, which have now found their way into government bills, to stop people from gouging consumers through the postal system and through 1-900 telephone lines. I think of the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge for his initiatives on competition policy.

Many good ideas have come from both sides of the House through private members' items. Some have found their way into law. Some have found their way indirectly into law. Many of them have made this place better with the quality of debate they have produced. Again I congratulate the hon. member and offer him my support.

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11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I quickly jumped to my feet to ask the hon. government House leader a question because it is such a rare opportunity. When he says he supports the motion I wonder if he is saying that he and his party will be voting for the motion.

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11:15 a.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, that is the intention of the government. The motion is about private members' hour but it is not a private member's motion. It is a supply motion so I can indicate clearly the government's position thereon, which is to support the motion.

As I said, it is a subject that we addressed in our modernization committee. I am sure all hon. members have read the report of the modernization committee and will know that we addressed many issues. We had to report by June 1 but we could not complete it as a result of work being done by the subcommittee and others and so on. We have addressed the issue. We welcome the opportunity. We encourage the committee to continue working on the initiative to make it better.

Something was said by the proposer of the motion today which disturbed me a bit. He sees a tendency to make less items votable. That is very unfortunate. I am sure it is accurate. That he has raised it, I am sure it is true, but it is unfortunate that I have not noticed that trend. If that trend is occurring as we are now told it is, I believe that to be very unfortunate.

When we made the rule to have a maximum of 10 items votable, certainly none of us at the time ever envisioned that the number would be progressively decreasing. That was not the purpose. It was meant to identify a critical mass of items that would be made votable to ensure that there was a healthy mix. I suppose the five party system we have now with the subcommittee operating on consensus with majority opposition and minority government membership is a rather strange construct.

Perhaps this is the opportunity to raise it. Whatever the committee recommends, it must find ways to ensure that if not all items are votable, should that be the conclusion, the reduction in votable items should be arrested forthwith and the trend should be reversed toward making it what it used to be, at the very least, what I call the critical mass of votable items. Anyway, I do not want to give the conclusions of what the committee will do because it will report however it wishes.

However I am concerned by the statistics given to us by the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville earlier this day. I do not think it is healthy if those numbers are decreasing, particularly at the pace which he identified.

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11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I express my appreciation for the hon. House leader's support of the motion and the government's expression of support for it. I do know from my work in this place that there has been a lot of support for making more private members' items votable.

The hon. member talked about cost. I know there would likely be a cost to making more items of private members' business votable because we would need more time. I am not sure when time would become available, but would there be support on the other side for making more time available in a week? Would there be support for having the resources of the House of Commons made available to have more time for debate?

If we go back in history, there was a lot more time given to private members' business. As we moved away from that there has been a kind of apathy developing among members and Canadians generally. Would more time be made available for this?

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11:20 a.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty hard to give a conclusion to that debate at the moment. Having heard what we heard earlier, unfortunately the difficulty is that we are not even using all the votable time available to us now. Getting into a debate on how much we need to increase it is rather academic because we are not doing that which we should be doing at the present time.

In any case, it is a little early to arrive at that kind of conclusion. I am looking forward to the report of that committee and to working in co-operation with the committee. I am sure I will be doing so along with other House leaders when the time comes.

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11:20 a.m.

Durham Ontario


Alex Shepherd LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to enter the debate on the excellent motion of the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville. I share the frustration of many members of the House in dealing with private members' bills.

Indeed in the 35th parliament my own private member's bill actually made it not only through first reading but also through second reading and was referred to a committee of the House. Then we adjourned for an election. After that I tried to reintroduce it and it was deemed non-votable. It seemed like a ridiculous procedure to me, so I certainly look forward to changing some of the rules that deal with private members' business.

From listening to the debate I have a couple of questions. The hon. member mentioned that in a sense there would not be a lot of rigorous machinery to make a bill votable. It seems there are two issues involved in that.

I do not know who will be the judge of all this, but what happens if a bill is totally ludicrous? In other words, we are all responsible for the House and for the image that the House portrays to Canadians. If bills that were totally ludicrous or totally unacceptable to the general public were made votable in the House, it would reflect poorly on the institution of parliament.

I understand we now have a rigorous procedure to go through as to whether it qualifies as a private member's bill. The hon. member seems to be talking about loosening up on that kind of jurisdiction, allowing almost all bills proposed by one member in one term to be deemed votable.

I have some concern about that. I am not sitting in judgment of other members' bills. Every member who brings a bill forward certainly thinks that the bill has a great deal of merit, but I wonder on a collective basis whether we need to focus on some kind of filtration system, maybe not one that is overly onerous but one that exists just the same.

There is a second issue I want to question. I visited Westminster, the mother of all parliaments, in London. I discovered that a system has evolved there with private members' bills such that lobbyists or private interest groups, often commercial private interest groups, whether the pharmaceutical industry or whatever the case may be, have discovered that a way to promote their cause has been to select a private member.

I am not saying that the private member is recompensed economically, but it would appear that is true. The private member then becomes an advocate of the particular policy because it is very difficult to influence general government policy. All members of parliament are allowed to have votable private members' bills before the house. For instance, if companies were trying to get their pharmaceutical processes approved in Great Britain, they may well choose a private member who would put forward a bill promoting their philosophies.

It seems to me that what we are talking about today would lead to that kind of process. I know members of parliament want to feel that they are important, but it could be that they are attached to private interest groups that possibly have other agendas. In that case it would actually do the reverse of some of the things the member is talking about. It would not actually enhance the democracy of the institution. It may go in the opposite direction.

We see that all the time in the United States where private sector groups do what they can to influence congressmen and senators to bring forward legislation which is of interest to them in particular. It is a lot easier to influence one person than a whole government. If those agendas can be brought to the House of Commons and therefore to the polity and to the media, it is a great avenue to use.

It would concern me that if we moved too much in this direction abuse could exist. I am sure what the member is suggesting is that we study how we can make it work. The House leader was talking about private members' bills that are looked upon as great successes. I know the Prime Minister is often quoted as talking about his private member's bill to change the name of TransCanada Airlines to Air Canada. I know all members of the House at various times have been involved in the private member process.

Historically, if we go back in time in the country, private members' bills were more common. It seems that as the parliamentary system matured we moved more toward government bills taking the onus of the day than private members' bills. To some extent the member is attempting to enhance the role of individual members of parliament. I applaud that process. We have to move toward more democratization of the House. We have to improve the rights and responsibilities of members of parliament.

I say responsibilities because quite often it is easy to hide behind a party platform and not take responsibility for the thought process. Lifting that veil comes with a cost to individual members who have to think out the process of their individual private members' bills. Ideally they will have to confront the public with them and justify them. I certainly see where the move toward a greater use of private members' bills is a good and positive move for the Chamber.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas. Sometimes we all think, whether we are the opposition or the government, we have a monopoly on good ideas, but there are a lot of good ideas in the country. This process would open up that concept, allow more good ideas to come to the floor of the House of Commons and allow us the opportunity to debate them. The member certainly has brought forward a compelling argument to proceed with greater democratization of the House. I look forward to that debate going forward.

I guess another aspect is that there is a cost to people who want to put multiple bills before the House. We can point to a number of members who have 30, 40 or 50 bills before the House. Obviously they will be at a significant disadvantage because only one of their bills will be votable. There may be a cost benefit relationship there. I do not know. I suppose they put forward that many bills so that they could promote various causes. They will have to find other ways to do it.

Many members decline putting forward private members' bills because of the whole concept that they will not be made votable. They put much work and effort into the process only to discover that it is not votable. It would be great if each member during the term of a parliament would have the right to put forward one votable private member's bill.

I certainly applaud the member for bringing the motion forward and look forward to supporting it.

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11:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the remarks that the hon. member made. I would like to pick up on something that he said, and that is no one has a monopoly on good ideas in this place.

He has asked some very key questions and I do not want to pretend to have all the answers. That is why we are having this debate and that is why a committee will likely have to deal with everything that members bring forward as a solution to the dilemma we find ourselves in.

Two of the concerns he raised are very legitimate. If a bill is ludicrous and it is deemed votable, will that reflect on the institution of parliament? It may but it will also reflect on the member who brings it forward. His constituents, the people of Canada, will I think render a judgment on an abuse of this provision to make all private members' business votable.

What kind of machinery would be put in place to examine private members' business? The devil is in the details. I said that in my speech. We will probably have to have some kind of a system, and I do not know what it will be, to examine issues that come before the House so that there is not an abuse of the system. I would welcome suggestions. I do not have a monopoly on all the ideas.

The concern for the abuse of the system is a legitimate concern. We have swung so far in one direction in having very little votable, that if we swing maybe all the way the other way, some other problems will develop. We have to try to foresee that and prevent that.

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11:30 a.m.


Alex Shepherd Liberal Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the spirit of co-operation, I think we are all trying to find answers to the same questions. I raised some of the ones that occurred to me because of my experience in other places. I am sure there are ways to resolve them. That is our great benefit, that we can study what has gone on in other jurisdictions and hopefully can cull the bad parts of those practices.

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11:30 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to intervene on this motion by our colleagues in the Canadian Alliance within the framework of opposition day.

On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I am intervening as a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and, like my colleague from Yorkton—Melville, as a member of the subcommittee on private members' business, because the opposition motion of today, on which we should vote in the House, addresses this directly. I believe it would be appropriate to read the opposition motion:

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to draft, and report to this House no later than November 1, 2001, changes to the Standing Orders improving procedures for the consideration of Private Members' Business, including a workable proposal allowing for all items to be votable.

I wish to indicate right off to my colleague from Yorkton-Melville that the members of the Bloc Quebecois support this motion for the various reasons I shall be sharing with hon. members in the next few minutes.

The motion per se addresses an element on which we should focus: that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs must produce a workable proposal; it must be realistic and realizable.

I will be suggesting some improvements. All of us here agree that there is room for considerable improvement. It is all very well to say that the government should do this or that, but we ought to suggest some improvements.

For the benefit of our listeners, whom I could describe as uninitiated, one of the problems I have noticed here in the House is that sometimes, when we deal with rather obscure technical details, we have a tendency to address our speeches to each other, as parliamentarians, and forget that we are above all democratically elected representatives of the public.

One of the reasons that parliament agreed to cameras in the House of Commons and in certain committees was to ensure that the public, those acting as watchdogs over the work of their elected officials, could take in the debates.

I think that we should begin by explaining the process as it now stands, what this opposition motion is all about, and what could be changed, so as to help the public better understand the changes we might suggest.

Right now, a member from either the government or the opposition side may introduce a motion or a private member's bill, as opposed to a government bill.

A member, whether he is a Liberal member, as he is in this case, or a member from one of the other four opposition parties, may introduce a bill on any topic he wishes, subject, of course, to certain criteria, which I do not have time to go into here. Any member may introduce a motion or a bill.

Since there are 301 members and the time allowed for consideration of these motions and private members' bills is quite limited, parliament has instituted a draw procedure so that all members have an opportunity to introduce a bill.

It is clearly understood that in 2001 we could debate at length this draw procedure. The names of members who want to table motions or bills at first reading are in a container, a sort of urn, or hat—well, not exactly—a sort of container from which the bills are literally drawn.

Since 1993, I have been thinking about a way to improve this procedure of the draw, because it might well be considered archaic, from another era. Sometimes we like our old symbols here in Canada. Sometimes they are holdovers from the monarchy or of the British system.

The best proof of that is the continued existence of the Senate here. We still have a Governor General, and lieutenant governors in the provinces. This is the product of a monarchy of another era, but at any rate we have not time here to go on at length on the subject.

They came up with the system I consider archaic. However, I cannot suggest anything better or more transparent or fairer than the draw.

When the name of a member is selected, following the draw, the member may want his bill to be voted on. There are members, though, who say when their name is drawn “I really do not care that much if my bill is voted on. I am happy to be drawn, to have my name drawn, but I only want to have an hour's debate on the issue, just to draw the attention of the House and of public opinion to it”. That is the member's choice.

I must admit that it is rare for an MP to decide that even if his or her name gets picked in the lottery his or her bill does not need to be voted on. The bulk of members whose names are picked come before the subcommittee on private members' business where they have to plead their case, no more and no less.

This subcommittee is made up of representatives of all parties. I can say, as a member, it is not seen as a partisan committee. The same party divisions are not felt there as in the others, be they on environment, transport or Canadian heritage. One is not aware of the same partisanship, the same party lines.

Each member of the subcommittee on private members' business listens attentively to the case being made by colleagues who have been selected, so that at the end of the process when all those whose names have been selected have been heard they can reach a consensus on which bill can be made votable and which not.

If the bill falls into the non-votable category, there is one hour's debate on it and then it dies at the end of the hour.

If the bill is deemed to be votable by the subcommittee on private members' business, then there are three hours of debate on second reading. These three are not consecutive. There is one hour on one day, a second on another, and the third later on. Once there have been three hours of debate, a division follows. That is, in a nutshell, the current procedure.

What the opposition motion suggests is, of course, that we should arrange things so that once all bills have been in the lottery and the subcommittee on private members' business procedure has been carried out—one of the rare committees, as I have already said, that is non-partisan and holds informed and consensual discussions—all bills should then be votable. However, if we want all items selected following a draw to be votable, we must basically eliminate the procedure involving the private members' business subcommittee.

This is not a major objection. Some of my caucus colleagues might have preferred the status quo, but we realize that there could be some improvement. All private members' business would become votable.

However, we must devise a formula so that interested members can always have their turn. Neither the Prime Minister nor the ministers introduce private members' bills. If we eliminate these 30 some people, it leaves 271 other members, not all of whom introduce bills or motions under private members' business. Technically, there is a considerable number of them and this is why the opposition motion provides that we should find a functional formula, a workable proposal.

This is why I will now make suggestions to improve things. As member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I have a suggestion to make on behalf of my party, but we will also discuss other possibilities. Among the realistic and feasible suggestions to deal with this issue, there is one that is of particular interest to me.

We could set aside one day for private members' business, even if this means extending sitting hours on other days or beginning earlier on other days. On Mondays we start at 11 a.m.; on Tuesdays we begin at 10 a.m.; on Wednesdays, because of the caucus meetings, it may be difficult to start before 2 p.m.; on Thursdays and Fridays, the House begin its proceedings at 10 a.m. Since we would have one day of debates on private members' business and the government would in effect lose one day to discuss its own bills, it would certainly be possible to make up for the hours lost on that day during the rest of the week by beginning earlier or finishing later.

I would see Friday as the day for private members' business, motions and votable bills. Fridays have become a bit of a joke. Those following the debates on Fridays can see that most of our questions are addressed to empty benches.

We see that on Fridays, 17, 18 or 19 of the 24, 27 or 28—I am not sure of the exact number—members of cabinet are missing on average; we can provide the statistics if members wish. Answers to our questions are given by parliamentary secretaries who are absolutely, totally and completely ignorant about the issues our questions address. I do not necessarily wish to imply that these parliamentary secretaries are themselves ignorant, but they are not familiar with the issues, with the result that Oral Question Period on Fridays, as any journalist following the business of the House can testify, is a farce, a circus.

In any event, most members return to their ridings on Thursdays. Canada is a big country, and members are returning to the Yukon, Labrador, British Columbia and Newfoundland. I do not have a problem with this but, as a democratic institution, are we effective on Fridays? Unless I am dreaming, unless I am not on the same planet as my colleagues, is Friday a model of parliamentary efficiency?

Mr. Speaker, you have been a member for quite a long time. You know the answer, but I know you cannot reply to my question. In your innermost being, you are telling yourself that the member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans is right.

We must take the bull by the horns and improve how things are done on Fridays. If Fridays were kept for private members' business, there would be ample time, even if it meant changing sitting times, to accommodate more members.

I have not drawn up any mathematical model or virtual timetable of what I am proposing. It will be up to us, to our clerks, and those connected with the business of parliament to suggest how this should be done. I personally would like to see the matter of Friday's sittings seriously re-examined.

The government House leader might come back with “Yes, but on Fridays we have time set aside for government orders. How could that be handled?” As I have said, we could start earlier or finish later the other days, so that at the end of the process the government would still have the same number of hours weekly. This is a non-partisan proposal, a realistic and practicable proposal I am making. The government might find this to its liking and would ensure that it was not deprived of its time for debating the bills it introduces in the House.

The private members' business subcommittee did a survey. My colleague from Yorkton—Melville is well aware that a majority of members recognize that there should be a new approach. These colleagues recognize that this matter could be improved.

As the results of the survey have not yet been officially tabled in the House, I do not want to discuss the results further. I want to preserve the confidentiality of the work of the private members' business subcommittee. I do not think I would run afoul of its confidentiality by saying that the feeling is largely shared by all of our colleagues.

What changes should be made? What should the new approach be? It will be up to us to develop it.

I close by saying that a piece of business from a private member is foremost the expression of the member's deep values. When a member is elected, in a way it amounts to telling him to take our words to the House. A member is there as well to express the wishes of his riding, and he must not forget this role.

In the context of this process, I introduced a bill that would enable mechanics to have the cost of their tools deducted from their taxes. Unfortunately, 91 Liberal members changed their opinion on this. Before the election, there was one attitude, after it, another. It had been debated.

Unfortunately, the bill was not passed. I was lucky enough to have my name drawn. A colleague may come along with an interesting idea—no one has a monopoly on interesting ideas in this House—and could have it debated if the procedure were changed.

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11:50 a.m.


John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to voice my support for the member's suggestion that Fridays should be dedicated to private members' hour. In fact, if the members so chose, I think the hours of sitting on Friday could be extended. If the members want to debate private members' business they should not be confined to 8 hours. They could do it for 10 hours or 12 hours so long as they wanted to carry on a discussion of private members' business. I think that would be a very progressive thing to do and might take some of the pressure off making all private members' bills votable.

I would like to ask the member opposite a very specific question, knowing that he has extensive knowledge of private members' business and the history of private members' business in the last couple of parliaments.

We used to have a 100 signature rule that enabled private members' bills to bypass the lottery. What it meant basically is that if a member could get all party support or the support of three parties in the House then a private member's bill would bypass the lottery and go directly onto the order of precedence. It did not work. We know it did not work. There is a variety of reasons why it did not work.

However, I wonder what the member thinks about a situation whereby if all bills are votable, rather than requiring the lottery only to determine whether these bills actually come forward, perhaps in this case the 100 signature rule might work in fast tracking bills of exceptional value to the House onto the order of precedence.

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11:55 a.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that I have no problem with the number of hours we sit on Fridays being increased, with the House beginning at 8 a.m. on Fridays or sitting for 12 hours in order to consider private members' business.

When a member has introduced a bill, it is in his interest to be there when it is debated. If he is told that his bill will be called the following Friday at 5 p.m. or 5.30 p.m., the member will arrange to be there. When we know the time in advance, we can adjust our schedules. This could be one solution to consider.

I find it strange that the member raises the issue of the 100 signatures. The private members' business subcommittee tabled a report recommending that the 100 signature rule be eliminated, and this was adopted by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

The problems we had came up as a result of one of his bills. He is the very one who brought all this to a head. Certain members said that their free and informed consent to the wording of a bill had been altered by amendments introduced by the member, with the result that the consent implied by the 100 signatures no longer necessarily obtained.

I am surprised that the member is bringing up the matter of the 100 signatures, because he is directly responsible. He can try to claim responsibility for the fact that everyone in the House wanted to drop this procedure, but it is not necessarily to his credit and I am not necessarily complimenting him. I personally would be trying to have the whole thing forgotten rather than drawing attention to myself.

We could perhaps discuss using the 100 signatures to replace the draw. We know that sometimes the 100 signatures resulted in bargaining. Sometimes members were uncomfortable because it was for a fellow committee member and there was the issue of fair play after all.

Even though we are adversaries—I am not saying the fight is fixed; we know that our political opinions differ—we are still able to respect one another. We ask for the respect of members whose opinions differ and we give them our respect in turn.

Sometimes this made us uncomfortable: “So and so is a member of my committee and I cannot turn him down”. I can tell the member that it would be studied. I do not know if that is the solution. As I mentioned earlier in my opening remarks, perhaps the draw, although not perfect, is still the best way of deciding.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2001 / 11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Before we get involved in more questions or comments, the Chair would like to make the following ruling on the point of order made earlier today by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough concerning the tabling of the report of the information commissioner. The Chair wishes to make a brief statement to clarify the situation.

I refer hon. members to Standing Order 32(1) which concerns documents deposited pursuant to a statutory or other authority. I would like to inform members that pursuant to this standing order the annual report of the information commissioner, 2000-01, was tabled with the clerk earlier today. Once a document is deposited with the clerk, it is in effect a public document. Therefore the report is available to members at the distribution counters across the Hill.

I thank all hon. members for the opportunity to make this statement.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

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11:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to express my appreciation for the constructive suggestions that my hon. Bloc colleague made to this debate.

I am really pleased to see that political stripes have been laid aside, that our partisanship has been put aside, because this motion goes beyond politics. It would benefit all individual MPs and would really enhance our ability to do our jobs.

The member supported the idea that Fridays could be dedicated to dealing with private members' business. That is probably a very good suggestion.

Would the hon. member support more time being allocated to private members' business if all bills were deemed votable? If we had one hour Monday to Thursday and six hours on Friday we would actually double the time that would be allocated to private members' business. Would he support more time?

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

Mr. Speaker, I think that if this evening, the hon. member were to take a fresh second look at the speech I just gave, he will see that it might be an excellent idea.

Personally, my focus or deep motivation will be to improve the effectiveness of Friday sittings and to see that six, seven or eight hours are set aside on Fridays, because it has now become ridiculous to sit here on Fridays. We are totally inefficient. I have no problems with setting aside other hours during the week.

I will conclude by telling the hon. member that this is indeed an issue that transcends party lines. It has nothing to do with being a sovereignist, a federalist, a member of the green, blue or red party, or a right or left wing militant, not at all. We are here first and foremost to represent the people. We were democratically elected by our constituents and I take for granted that everyone here wants to further the interests of his or her constituents.

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Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to the question, not the one which was just answered, but the previous one, and say that as a new member of this House I think it is important that a mechanism be put in place to ensure that all bills that may be debated really be debated.

The requirement to collect 100 signatures could result in something tantamount to lobbying, because one has to know as many members as possible to get signatures. If this were the case, a new member would prefer a draw.

I am very pleased by the motion of the Canadian Alliance, because it would benefit all members equally, regardless of the number of signatures collected.

I ask the hon. member: Does he endorse these comments?

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

Mr. Speaker, indeed it had escaped my mind, but we had 45 new colleagues from all parties join us after the November 27, 2000 election. My colleague from Châteauguay, who proudly and very effectively represents the people of Châteauguay, was one of these new members. As a result, as a new member he may not necessarily share the ties we have forged with colleagues from all parties since 1993.

This, the 100 signatures, is a kind of blackmail, a kind of begging, and I believe we ought to revert to the luck of the draw.

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Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it seems appropriate, given that we are debating a motion which has as one of its goals a workable proposal for allowing all items to be votable, to remember that at one point in this place no private members' business was automatically votable.

I say that with particular significance given the fact that the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa and the member for Burnaby—Douglas are in the House, and I am on my feet, and all three of us are the only surviving members of the class of 1979. When we arrived in this place, private members' business routinely came up for only an hour, was talked out and could only be brought to a vote then and there if there was unanimous consent. Generally that involved some kind of skulduggery on the part of people who were in the House at the time.

On the few occasions that things were passed with unanimous consent, they were certainly never voted on. They were only done if they were unanimously agreed to, and that was an unsatisfactory procedure. I say this for newer members of the House because perhaps it has been so long since that was the case that they no longer see the system that we now have as an improvement because what we have today has been the case since 1986. Fifteen years is a long time of doing things a particular way and we have found that it does not satisfy all members. There has been a recurring debate about the wisdom or even the possibility of all private members' business becoming votable items.

We in the NDP feel we can support the motion and intend to support it because we think it would be a worthy task for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to come up with a workable proposal. I register my skepticism about whether or not this can be done because it would seem to me that one of the things a workable proposal would involve, and this would be my concern with respect to making all private members' business votable, would be some kind of mechanism whereby the House would not be forced to divide on matters that would seem to be frivolous or not worthy of the consideration of the House of Commons.

The McGrath committee in 1985 recommended the procedure we have now. It was thought to be an achievement just to get six out of twenty items to be votable.

Having said that, the other perspective behind that was that there needed to be some kind of filtering or discerning mechanism to make sure that what came before the House for lengthier debate and ultimately for a decision was worthy of that kind of attention. Any kind of workable proposal would have to give the House, either by special committee, by negotiation or by some way that is not clear to me at this point, a way to make a discernment as to what should come before the House for lengthier debate and for a vote.

I wish the committee well in trying to do this. We are certainly not against the idea because this is something we have all been working on. It was part of the raison d'être behind the 100 signature mechanism, which I was skeptical about at the beginning and which ultimately did not work for a variety of reasons. Like a lot of reforms around here, they do not always work out exactly the way they are intended. They have unforeseen consequences, and that was the case with that reform.

However there has been a will, off and on, to try to come up with a better system than the one we now have. I am not standing here today to say that the system we have is perfect, but I am somewhat skeptical as to whether or not we can come up with a better imperfect system than the one we have. We shall see.

With respect to the idea suggested earlier by a Bloc spokesperson, if I understood him correctly, about devoting Fridays to private members' business, the member thought that Fridays were not exactly a highlight of the parliamentary week.

If he thinks the Fridays we now have are not the highlight of the parliamentary week, my fear for Fridays that would be used to deal only with private members' business is that they would make the Fridays we now have look exciting and well attended. We have to be somewhat more realistic about the number of members who would stay in town so they could catch a private member's debate on Friday morning or Friday afternoon.

Maybe I am wrong about this but one of the things we need to do, which would be much better to do and to some extent we do it already, is to embed private members' business in the ongoing routine business of the House so that people are here and so that it happens in a context where members are available and do not have to make a special effort for private members' business.

That is too bad in a sense. One would think, given a lot of the rhetoric about private members' business from many members and from all sides of the House, that people would be rushing in here to deal with private members' business. However anyone who has ever come to private members' hour knows that it is not necessarily the case.

I would like to put on record my own reservations. I am not necessarily speaking for my colleagues on this when it comes to the Friday analysis because it is not something we have taken a position on, so to speak. I am not sure that the notion of devoting Fridays to private members' business would work as well as some people think it would.

Some of the rhetoric that applies to developing a better private members' business model sometimes comes in the context of a larger argument for giving members of parliament more power as individuals. That is where we really have to look in terms of enhancing the role of individual members of parliament, both individually and collectively.

I say with regret that the modernization committee report which may be debated later today or tomorrow unfortunately did not really do that. It did not change the balance of power in this place so that members on committees, for instance, both individually and collectively, would have more power over the government and the cabinet and would have more independence. Those are the kinds of things that are all critical to empowering the private member, to empowering the individual member.

When the McGrath committee made its recommendations on private members' business, the recommendations with which we have lived for the last 15 years, it made them in conjunction with another set of recommendations having to do with committees that have not been implemented.

We should have taken the full spirit of McGrath and implemented it so that it was not just in terms of private members' business but also in terms of committees. Taking parliamentary secretaries or government coaches off the committees and keeping them off; giving members on committees, particularly government backbenchers, more independence from their whips so that they could not be removed at a moment's notice if all of a sudden they developed an independent thinking capacity or came to be critical of a bill or to see its inadequacies in a way that the government did not like; and changing the rules so that these people could not be yanked and replaced with others would go a long way toward giving individual members more power to do the kind of job that Canadians expect them to do when they come here.

I do not see any point in belabouring the debate. We are in favour of the motion. We hope the committee will be able to come up with a workable proposal. Of course we will do our part when the committee is engaged in that task.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Speaker, I just wanted to make an observation pertinent to the 100 signature commentary. I think we all agree that it does not work.

I observed that one of the flaws in making all bills votable would mean there would be 264 MPs who would have the potential of having a votable bill before the House. The problem with that is the reality is that the number of MPs who are actually active in private members' business and who have been activists is comparatively small. If we suddenly say everyone can take part and have a votable item, we will have a lot of people coming forward with bills that perhaps have not been thought out carefully or they are just doing it because they have an opportunity to do it and that kind of thing.

I would suggest to the member that regardless of the 100 signature rule, whether it works or not, surely in this context we need some sort of fast tracking mechanism, some sort of screening mechanism that will make sure that the House debates bills that are indeed worthy of the House's attention.

Would the member perhaps have a comment on that?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I think the member is trying to make a similar point to the one I was making. Whether or not it should be exactly as he describes it is another matter, but I think we both agree on the fact that we want to see the House debate things that either a representative group of the House or the House itself in some way has decided is worthy of the House's attention. It seems to me that that should be a guiding principle of whatever process we come up with.

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12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like to express my appreciation to my NDP colleague for support of this motion. I agree that we must change the balance of power and empower individual members. He made that statement, and I could not agree more.

He expressed a concern that the House may be forced to divide on matters that were frivolous and that we should have some kind of a mechanism whereby we would prevent those kinds of bills or motions coming forward. My response to that would be that I would rather rely on the common sense of MPs in this place to decide whether something is frivolous or not rather than put in place a mechanism that could be used by others to control issues that come forward here.

I would ask the hon. member: Why are we here? Is it not to make decisions that matter to Canadians, that Canadians deem to be important? Is it not incumbent on us to thoroughly examine and debate issues that are important enough to be brought forward? Should we allow government or certain parties to block certain issues from coming forward? If we put a mechanism like that in place, would it not then be abused?

I really cannot think of any examples of frivolous matters. Maybe the member would like to suggest that, but I would fear some kind of a mechanism that could be used to prevent issues from coming forward.

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12:15 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, there is a legitimate debate here between people who want to err in favour of protecting the institution of parliament from being perceived as a place where things are considered and voted upon that really are not worthy of the place, and people who would err on the side of the individual rights of members of parliament to cause the House, not just to debate but to have to vote on anything that tickles their fancy.

For instance, what if the member for Calgary West wanted to put forward a private member's motion that the honorary citizenship of Nelson Mandela once it is achieved be taken away? It seems to me that this is something that a committee or whatever process we might set up should have the ability to rule out and should have the ability to say that is a frivolous matter and it is not on.

The member may have some opportunity in procedure to bring it up for debate, and that would be regrettable enough, but to cause the House to automatically have to vote on certain things that would bring the law into disrepute and there are also certain things that would bring the House into disrepute, I wonder whether or not we should have some kind of mechanism for that.

However, I understand the dangers. I understand the worry but that is what we have in terms of the subcommittee. Although the subcommittee is like some courts, it does not have to issue an opinion as to why it chooses some things or not, which is good, because if it did then we would have all kinds of debate about the opinions of the subcommittee as to whether or not it was justified.

I think the system we have actually works not too bad in that respect, partly because the subcommittee does not have to give reasons. We are not then embroiled in a continuous debate about the appropriateness of its reasoning on these matters.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Rick Borotsik Progressive Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to rise in perhaps this next to last debate of this session of parliament, and to do so on a supply motion of the Alliance Party.

As for the motion itself, I will speak to that. I agree with a lot of what is in the motion, and certainly the party I represent will be supporting it for any number of reasons. I will get into that.

The first thing I should mention is that I had hoped that the final supply day of the Alliance Party could have put a topic on the floor of the Chamber that was a bit more pertinent to the issues of the day. I can think of any number. Perhaps Bill C-15 could have been one.

We sat in this Chamber and talked about the Minister of Justice not being prepared to split a justice bill, which I think each and every member of the House could accept, with respect to Internet pornography and stalking legislation. It simply would be a matter of splitting off what I consider to be two areas of Bill C-15 which have no business being in the omnibus bill. They are the issues of gun control and cruelty to animals, which are very specifically pertinent to me because I am a member who represents a rural riding.

That issue could well have been debated. In fact, the government of the day could have been taken to task for not doing something that it should have done in order to get the legislation through the House.

Another issue of which the member is very cognizant, and he certainly is a member who is prepared to have a lot of political capital expended on it, is gun control. We perhaps should have had the opportunity to have a debate on the floor of the House today, as it pertains to Bill C-15 as well.

We have a government that has not put a budget together for the House for almost a year and a half. It will be two years before we have a budget. That is a very important issue which we should be talking about today before we break for the summer. However, what we are talking about is private members' business, which is important, but not as I understand it of the most prevalent importance as we head into the summer.

I would also like to say now that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. He can take that particular concept from there.

Regarding private members' business, I sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and also on the private members' business committee, so I perhaps have some knowledge of which I speak. That may be corrected under questions and comments I am sure.

This is an issue, as the learned member from the NDP knows, the member for Winnipeg—Transcona who has been here since then, since 1979. We know there is an evolution with respect to private members' business. We know that ultimately there will be refinements and changes to a system. We as a society change over the years. We as a House change over the years. We as members of the House representing our own respective constituencies change over the years and require and demand more ability to stand in the House and speak on issues that are very important and prevalent to us.

The member talked about 1979 and referred to newer members in the House and not older members. Obviously since 1979 he would have to refer to himself as an older member. However, I have a lot of respect for the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona. Being here for that length of time, he knows how difficult it is to move this House and governments of any guise, whether they be Liberal or Conservative, to make the necessary changes within the procedures of House affairs.

I am one who specifically believes unequivocally that all private members' business should be votable. I can speak to some experience as recent as last week when I put forward a bill to the House which had been diligently worked on over the last number of months. I felt very strongly about the bill because it specifically impacted my constituents. It dealt with safety nets for agriculture because I felt it was very important that we come to some resolution on that issue. I put forward a bill which in my opinion would have taken us in that direction. Lo and behold the bill was deemed not votable.

A number of members from the Alliance Party and the New Democratic Party, and I spoke in favour of that piece of legislation. Unfortunately, it was limited to one hour of debate, was not votable and died when I gave my final five minutes of comments. That piece of legislation will no longer have a chance to go through the House.

I speak of my own personal experience but every member sitting in the House has had the same experience and can say the same thing. They believe very strongly that with their particular issue it is important to have the vehicle, not only to debate in the House but also to give everybody the opportunity to stand on his or her feet and say yea or nay to that particular piece of legislation. I would love to see the committee work toward that end, and we are. The motion by the member for Yorkton—Melville would also assist us to work toward that end.

Recently in committee we discussed suggestions to change the current model to allow all bills to be votable. There was some difficulty trying to massage this through the necessary model and process.

For example, it was suggested that 264 members of the House could have a private member's bill that was votable. What is the model? Does each member of the House get one votable bill per parliament? Perhaps. This would mean there would be 66 per year depending on when the Prime Minister called an election. That figure of 66 was based on an average of four years, but it could be three and a half or two and a half years. We do not know. However we will use the average of four years.

A survey was conducted and it was found that not all members wanted to have a votable bill or motion. Some did not wish to go through the process or they wished, for their own reasons, not to have that particular tool. That is their decision to make. Nobody should be forced to have a votable motion or bill. However, in my opinion, those who wish to have a votable item should have the ability to have at least one that is votable throughout a parliament. That can be accomplished.

It was also suggested that there should be some criteria available to stop what others may consider to be frivolous. What one person deems frivolous, another person may well deem very serious. Criteria have to be established. Currently within the guise of private members' business there are some criteria already established, but they have to be changed and massaged.

However, it is a fairly reasonable start to say that if a bill proposed by member x conformed to the list of criteria, then it should go forward as a private member's bill, votable within a parliament. If for some reason a committee felt that it did not conform to that criteria, there could be an appeal process built into the system. The appeal process could be to a non-partisan, all party committee. It could be an appeal process from the Speaker or an appeal process from House leaders. Maybe that would be the vehicle to use to make sure that the bill conformed to what we considered to be the criteria.

However what I am saying is that anything is possible. I think we all agree that members should have the right to have their bills voted on. We all agree that there should be a move in that direction.

The motion we have before us today says that the report should be tabled before parliament by November 2001, and I will add please. The committee is working toward that. The timeline may well be a bit limited. As the member for Yorkton—Melville well knows, the wheels of this place move somewhat slowly. Perhaps we will have a break this summer, perhaps not. We may sit until August, who knows. If that is the case, we can keep the committee going. If not, the committee will break. Only coming back in September does not leave a long time to have this report tabled in the House.

Suffice it to say the member is right and the motion is right. We will support it going forward. Hopefully an evolution of this Chamber, this House, ultimately will come up with a solution whereby all members will be happy. By the way, that solution may last for only a short period of time because not all members are happy with everything that is done. We may well have to look at adjustments in the future.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Joe Jordan Liberal Leeds—Grenville, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for that. I assure him that I listened to every word he said. He and I are veterans of the private members' process.

I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville for bringing this forward today. I think we are having a very good debate. I would like to make a couple of comments and then ask a question.

First, having experienced serve time, I guess, on the procedure and House affairs subcommittee on private members' business, I know that none of the members would want to leave the impression that the decision on whether a bill is votable is a partisan decision, because it is one of the few committees that does not have a Liberal majority. It has one member from each party, a chair who does not vote and it operates on consensus. I can say from my experience that given the job we were assigned to do, I thought it worked quite well. It was a case where the decision on whether an item was votable or not was a decision that was truly made by our peers.

At some point here I think some members might have been misinformed in some of the debate on private members' business, leaving the impression that this was a committee where the Liberals had the majority and the iron hand of the whip was dictating what was done. That simply was not the case.

The issue comes back to what the NDP House leader was talking about. It comes down to a numbers game. If we do not expand the hours for private members' business, and we do the math, we see that we need to have some kind of filter.

When I first sat on that committee we had about 12 criteria, which were known to members, and members' bills were vetted. When members went to the Table for assistance in the drawing up of their bills, they followed those criteria. When we changed those criteria from 12 down to 4, thinking that we were making the process more open, I think we threw the train off the rails. I think that it then became a subjective process as opposed to an objective process.

I intend to support the motion, but I will be on the receiving end of this in the procedure and House affairs committee and I think what we need is an expanded set of criteria. I think everything that meets those criteria should be votable, but we have to introduce some filters or the whole thing will break down, even with the best of intentions.

I would be interested in the hon. member's comments.