Mr. Speaker, I am taking part in this debate today because I notice that members of this House who may not necessarily be part of government have a responsibility to strive toward greater balance between the legislative branch and the executive branch.
It is within that context that I would like to address my remarks. This issue of leverage or equilibrium between these two branches, and the judicial branch as well, is fundamental to our system of government. Our parliamentary government affords us an opportunity, here in this House, where the executive and legislative branches work alongside on a daily basis and each tries to get the upper hand.
A problem sometimes arises when there is an imbalance of power. It is fundamental to strive towards a balance. It is also realistic to say that it is only natural that there be some movement. There is movement in our lives, in society, as everyone knows; things are not static. So things change. An incident may bring about a change, a political will to do things differently for instance.
There may also be a desire to change direction. In the past 30, 40 or 50 years, there has been a tendency to concentrate more power in the hands of the executive branch than in those of the legislative branch. I think we have come to a point in our parliamentary history where the legislative branch is expressing, in various ways, the desire to try to come back toward a better balance.
The pendulum seems to be swinging back, in the sense that, for many years—30, 40 or 50 years—the trend has been toward concentrating the power in the hands of the executive branch, even at the expense of the legislative branch at times.
I feel there is a need to gradually correct this situation. It is not a good idea to rush to introduce changes that affect the well-being of everyone. I am not the first to say this. I recommend that members read the book by Professor Donald Savoie entitled Governing from the Centre , which is being quoted widely.
Nevertheless, we get the impression that, since the 1960s, there has been a move toward greater concentration in certain executive bodies and, consequently, greater concentration of power in the hands of the executive branch as compared to the legislative branch. Our experts, Messrs. Marleau and Montpetit, who produced a very important procedure manual, also trace this evolution over the decades.
In this context we find certain tools of great importance to the legislative component. The first of these, in my opinion, at least the one I have been involved with throughout my many years here, is the committee, whether a standing committee of the House or a special committee. The committee structure itself is, in my opinion, the ideal tool for restoring some of the influence, some of the authority, some of the power, to the legislative branch.
In this connection, I trust that the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, along with others, whether within individual caucuses or all-party groups with an interest in this question, will take certain matters into consideration.
Where committees are concerned, for example, did members of each party have an opportunity to speak about the number of committees in place? Their number can be problematic; we are called upon to sit on so many committees that, in some ways, we feel we are no longer effective. Might certain committees be consolidated? Might others be created? Is there room for any more?
Society evolves and I had to go through this. In fact, it was the former Leader of the Opposition who suggested a standing committee on science and technology. Unfortunately, such a committee could not be created and it was attached to the Standing Committee on Industry, which is already a busy committee. While we cannot doubt the goodwill of committee members, we may question the committee's ability to do all this work.
Perhaps we should also look at the number of members who make up a committee. There seems to be a standard formula. It is understandable that some committees may generate more interest than others. It seems that there is always a great deal of interest for the finance committee or for the foreign affairs committee. Perhaps we could have more members on some committees and fewer on other ones. I realize that all the parties want to be represented and this poses a problem, but I think we should look at this.
I am also thinking about the staff of the committees. Why is it that the clerks of certain committees are replaced on a regular basis? During a session, some committees will have two or three different clerks, while other ones will keep the same clerk not only for the whole session, but for the whole Parliament. There seems to be something wrong here, depending on the committee.
The same is true for budgets, the resources available to all of the committees. I had the opportunity to sit on the liaison committee and I saw that the resources allocated to the committees are not sufficient, first, but also that they are not allocated fairly. So there is also this whole issue that should be considered.
There is also the issue of reports, which has been raised by other members. Incidentally, I will have to reread Hansard for yesterday—I read it quickly—and for today, in order to ensure that I fully understand all of the comments made by those who have taken the floor.
As for reports, I have a recent example in mind. The Standing Joint Committee on Official Languages issued a report on the situation at Air Canada and the company's lack of compliance with the Official Languages Act. I must say that I was very disappointed by the government's response. First, it took a long time. Yes, it was within the 150 days, which may be too long, but it was a flat refusal. We have here a situation in which a company that has responsibilities under the Official Languages Act continues to shirk them, and the government refuses to put any pressure on it. Perhaps we need a better mechanism to follow up on committee reports.
There is also the whole issue of parliamentary secretaries. Should they be members of committees or not? There are arguments for and against the idea. They could certainly attend, without any right to vote. This might be the best solution for everyone.
Finally, we need to affirm ourselves. Are members who sit on committees, and those who chair them really aware of all of the powers of authority committees have? I doubt it. I am not fully aware of them myself; I have discovered some of them, and exercised them and it was wonderful. Twice, witnesses did not wish to testify, and we summoned them to appear using the authority given to committees by the House.
Members of committees could learn more about the powers they already have and do not use. I think it would be useful for the modernization committee or some other committee to look into this, to really focus on the role of committees, but also the tools available to them to improve their effectiveness and their authority.
I also have a few quick comments to make on oral question period. I have always been fascinated by this question period where we give 35 seconds to someone to ask a question, then 35 seconds to another to answer it. The subjects being dealt with are often incredibly complex, and sometimes quite broad.
When there was an exchange between the Prime Minister and the four opposition leaders on our participation as a country in the effort in Bosnia, the rules were suspended for a while. For three quarters of an hour, perhaps an hour, the party leaders were able to ask questions. These were well thought out questions; they had had the time to prepare them and the Prime Minister had the time to respond. The 35-second rule was set aside.
I must admit that this was one of the best exchanges that has ever taken place in this House, and I would like to see more like it.
The matter of the Board of Internal Economy is another thing that bothers me. It is the board that administers the House of Commons, the members. All the members from the government side are appointed by the executive branch. The five representatives from this side of the floor are appointed by the executive branch, not the legislative branch, not the MPs. It might be worthwhile looking into that and having the representatives chosen by the elected members of this House. The only one who is selected by everyone is the Speaker, who is elected at the start of each Parliament.
I do not know anything about the agendas or the outcomes of decisions reached there. I do not believe I can even attend the meetings, whereas any other committee meetings, even in camera ones, are accessible to all MPs. I question the barriers built up around the Board of Internal Economy.
Finally, where private members' business is concerned, progress has been made, and I acknowledge that, but there is still one thing that needs changing, in my opinion. We must not have to depend on the luck of the draw to bring a bill or motion before the Parliament of Canada. This is still the case, and I think it needs reviewing. We must ensure, one way or another, that each member of Parliament can present his or her motion or bill, and there must be some kind of mechanism to ensure that these are examined publicly.