Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today as well on behalf of my party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, to speak to Bill S-34 which originated in the other place. It is a bill that provides an alternative procedure for the granting of royal assent to legislation while at the same time maintaining elements of the present system.
Bill S-34 did originate in the other place with the subject matter that other members have touched on and harkens back to the days of the McGrath committee of the mid-1980s. The origins however are somewhat betrayed given the snail's pace with which the government has embraced even the mildest form of parliamentary reform.
Be that as it may, this form of modernization, coming some 20 years late, should lead some members of parliament at least to rejoice in its small ray of light. Will it in fact be a symbol of change or merely a few crumbs from the PMO? I fear the latter.
When we look at the history of the legislation, it goes back to 1988 when the then leader of the Conservative government in the Senate, senator Lowell Murray, introduced a bill to modernize royal assent. The current leader of the Conservative Party in the Senate, Senator Lynch-Staunton, then took up the mantle in 1998 by introducing a similar bill known as Bill S-19. That bill had several incarnations and Senator Lynch-Staunton of the other place, a very clear thinking and hardworking senator, persevered and continued to bring this legislation back to the floor of the Senate.
What we have here in the final bill practically mirrors Senator Lynch-Staunton's good work and provides an alternative procedure for the granting of royal assent.
The practice we have seen time and time again in both this place and the other place where the Liberals would take an idea, denounce it when in opposition, then embrace it and call it their own is being followed again.
Many have argued over the years that there has been a need for an alternative to the practices which, some might argue, are time consuming, archaic and interrupt the flow of parliament. Some of the practical arguments that have been made to bolster and bring about this change talk about the practical problems. The ceremony itself has sadly fallen into some disrepute in that it is very rarely attended in any great numbers by members of this Chamber. The royal assent practice is usually delivered by a supreme court judge acting as deputy governor general. The judges themselves have raised concerns about the time constraints and the time consuming elements of their attendance.
Looking again at very practical concerns, we know there are times when the two Chambers are not sitting simultaneously, which might technically hold up or hold back certain legislation.
The royal assent ceremony is time consuming. There is also reference to the planned renovations to the House of Commons as being something that would create further challenges with respect to the practice of royal assent.
Numerous studies, including the McGrath commission, did look at ways to reform parliament and this is but one of those pearls of wisdom.
Given that the royal assent is held with such frequency, it is a ceremony as referenced that sometimes receives very little attention yet it has obvious longstanding, traditional origins with respect to the granting of the passage of bills.
There are some who take umbrage and exception to these practices, including members of the Bloc and in many ways members of the Alliance, nee the Reform Party, who were very much against the Senate until it got a senator of its own. Like some of the other practices, Alliance members have been noticeably kinder to the other places, much like their embrace of things like Stornoway, pensions and other parliamentary privileges.
With respect to the substance of the bill, the obvious reason to allow for written consents, as the bill now does, is that there are instances when the bill might be before this House while the Senate is in recess or vice versa. Often the Commons is required to technically resume sitting for the sole purposes of granting royal assent.
While I certainly respect the views of those, such as the Monarchist League of Canada, that has a branch in my riding in Nova Scotia in Pictou county, who argue that the traditional royal assent ceremony is very important, constitutionally and symbolically, it must be noted that Canada is the last commonwealth country to require royal assent be given in the presence of both Houses. We are somewhat languishing behind in the commonwealth country family in that regard.
Elsewhere in the commonwealth, including Australia, New Zealand and other countries, royal assent is usually delivered in writing. In fact this is what the bill will enable our parliament to do.
To further put to rest concerns that Bill S-34 does not require that the traditional ceremony be used, the bill allows at least once a year and for the first appropriation bill of the session, although this bill would not be invalid simply because the government failed to use the traditional ceremony within a calendar year, for the ceremony to occur at the will and whim of parliament.
The Progressive Conservative Party very much supports Bill S-34 as a snail pace, a gradual baby step forward in terms of parliamentary reform. Previous members did reference the fact that we bore witness to yet another erosion of parliamentary practice, which I think very much impinges upon the members of parliament, the members of the opposition in particular, to bring forward private and useful initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life and the workings of parliament. Two days ago we saw the government embark upon an unprecedented step of essentially killing a private member's bill, which again is a dark day for parliament.
Sadly, this incident resulted in another outburst which challenged some of the respect and goodwill that should exist around this place. Certainly the level of frustration continues to grow, not only among members of the opposition. I strongly suspect that this sentiment is shared by many of the backbench on the government side who feel these erosions of the last bastions that parliamentarians have to bring forward private initiatives and ideas is being cast aside.
Bill S-34 is one that at least symbolically shows that this place can change, modernize, adapt and become more relevant in the eyes of Canadians and in the eyes of those who participate in what sometimes seems like a circus.
The Conservative Party also wants to congratulate our colleagues in the Senate, Senator Murray and Senator Lynch-Staunton, for taking leadership on issues such as this over the years. We again commend the members of the other place for ensuring that there is an efficient use of parliamentary time and parliamentary privileges that at the same time respect the historic traditions of all who have graced these halls and all who have been fortunate enough to come to this place to represent Canadians nationwide.