Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.
As we talk about modernization once again, I want to put forward a few points that, as we talk about it over the coming years, might be put into the discussion, and some points which may not have been raised before.
Sometimes I get frustrated with the time we spend talking about procedures here when we are on the verge of a war where our sons and daughters and many innocent citizens could be killed, when people do not have shelter or enough food to eat, when many people in my riding and in others are unemployed, when fishermen have no fish and when farmers are in a drought. Hopefully we can get back to dealing with some of those issues quickly.
However, in that we have set aside two days for this debate, I would like to put out some ideas to think about in the coming years.
Last week I was in Washington observing the U.S. congress until it closed at three in the morning on, I believe, Thursday night. It is not that I am recommending we copy the American system, but there is an interesting structural difference in the shape of both of those houses, which are different than the two houses here. As we know, here we have sort of a confrontational system. In case the public does not know, we are actually a distance of two sword lengths from each other and, with the passion of today's question period and others, they might see why.
In the United States congress the houses are built in a half circle, with both parties sitting in the half circle facing a speaker in the centre. One can symbolize that as common people from a common country facing a moderator with a procedure or a problem. They are all trying to address a problem together as partners with different points of view, but the opposition is the problem facing the country, not each other. Whether or not that works, I think it might be interesting for further consideration.
Another thing the members of the U.S. congress can do, which is quite interesting, is share their time in debate. One of the previous speakers who spoke in the debate this morning had a 20 minute time slot. A person can get through a lot of points in 20 minutes. I will probably get through about eight or so in only 10 minutes.
In the American system, officials can stop and lend their time to one, two or three other people to make an intervention and then carry on. What happens then is that they get quite an animated debate with several people from each side offering different views on the point as it arises. It is quite interesting and something to think about.
Another long term thing to think about, although I am not necessarily advocating it but putting it on the table to consider, is finding a way of ensuring that members in cabinet have the technical expertise in cabinet, especially in an ever increasing technical world. For instance, in the American system and in the French system, which is a hybrid system, unelected members of cabinet or members who were experts in their field can bring a great deal of expertise to the portfolio, which has of course the deterrence of not having the moral authority but the advantage of having the technical expertise to lend for consideration.
We also should at some time consider the possible disconnection with the bureaucracy in the House, especially with people who are outside cabinet or a parliamentary secretary responsible for a particular department. If one were to go to a political science class and ask what the legislative branch of the federal government is, the simple answer that person would be given is this body. However that is really only the tip of the iceberg. The legislative process involves several hundred thousand government employees and ultimately the population, and reference to similar legislation in the world community.
In the months and years it takes the experts and employees of the government bureaucracy to develop legislation, a lot of knowledge, a lot of rationale and a lot of consultation with citizens of our country and other countries have gone into the legislation. When it gets to the House, members are rushed. They must deal with dozens of constituents, address many bills and attend many committees and meetings. I am not sure they have adequate time to ask questions, to consult or to have interaction with some of the people in the bureaucracy who have the expertise on a particular bill to be able to justify or explain any misconceptions. On the other hand, questions being asked by Canadians could then be asked of the experts who would have to respond, explain or do further research.
I also want to make a brief comment on the sitting schedule. I of course am the worst case in this situation because I am on a plane 6 out of 14 days. Perhaps the House should look at a way of having a longer number of days together, 10, 14 or more. We could then have more days off for travel time. I know there will be all sorts of varying opinions on that.
I also wish to comment on the take note debates which have been and can be a very successful medium for dealing in more depth on the urgent matters of the day. These matters have sometimes been left by the wayside as we carry on with the regular procedures on long time law-making of things that are worked over decades. The perfect example is September 11 when we were in the process of discussing some poison for ground squirrels and a take note debate for a number of days allowed us to spend time on a very serious issues at the time, given the appropriate time and input from all members of parliament because it can go on late into the night.
However, if we do hold those debates, which I think have been handled very well so far, I think it is incumbent on all the participants, and that includes not only the people in the House but the people in the government departments who are responsible for the particular area, to carefully analyze the many hours of debate and extract the salient points. As well, the employees of the minister should be taking notes so the minister and other decision makers can have those salient points to look at in a reasonable time without sifting through all the extraneous material. They can use that information to improve or solve the situation. The purpose of the whole debate is to find a better solution to the problem by using all the good ideas that come from all members of the House.
I believe this has been done to some extent in the take note debates so far. I hope that will become a practice, where there is that involvement and that sifting out of the very valuable information from all sides of the House.
One of the parties had suggested advance time on opposition day motions. Once again this makes eminent sense. Legislation can take months and years to prepare. If a motion is proposed the day before, how will Canadians know that we have made a thoughtful, reasonable and well researched decision on a major issue?
Those are some of my ideas. I would be delighted to entertain questions.