This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was opposition.

Topics

Canada Elections ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Public Service Employment Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

October 24th, 2006 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Art Hanger Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

In accordance with the order of reference on Tuesday, June 6, your committee has considered Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment), and agreed on Monday, October 23, to report it with amendments.

Fisheries and OceansCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in relation to federal marine service fees in Canada's Arctic.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-361, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (law enforcement animals).

Mr. Speaker, I thank my seconder of my bill for providing me with this occasion to introduce a bill that would make it an offence to wilfully or recklessly poison, injure or kill a law enforcement animal. It also would enable the court to make an order for restitution in respect to any such offence.

I wish to thank the Humane Society and the counsellors, Lindsay Luby as well as Dan Sandor, for their initiative.

It is important that we treat animals that are working within the context of law enforcement in the same way that we would treat those who are protecting our cities and our streets.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the 17th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Friday, October 20, be concurred in.

In essence, the report seeks to make permanent the Standing Orders of this House that were in effect on October 5, 2006, which include a series of provisional Standing Orders that were adopted in the last Parliament.

Members will note that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is permanently mandated with the review of Standing Orders, procedure and practice in the House of Commons and in its committees.

The Standing Orders are defined by Marleau and Montpetit's House of Commons Procedure and Practice as:

The permanent written rules under which the House regulates its proceedings are known as the Standing Orders.

I can certainly understand how most Canadians may find this topic boring and even foreign. I know you do not, Mr. Speaker, as you are a student of these Standing Orders. However, for a parliamentary system it is of the utmost importance.

According to John George Bourinot, Clerk of the House of Commons from 1890 to 1902, the rules that regulate our proceedings are essential for reasons that include the protection of the minority, the restraint of improvidence and tyranny of the majority.

These rules must allow the opposition in the House of Commons to hold the government to account and to answer for its actions. However, at the same time, these rules must not prevent the government from being able to govern. It is this balance that parliamentary procedure intends to ensure.

In addition to these permanent written rules, the House of Commons can adopt rules for a limited period of time. They are known as provisional Standing Orders. Provisional Standing Orders are adopted for a specific amount of time and are adopted on an experimental basis. They can be dropped, amended or made permanent if the House so wishes.

It is for that purpose that I move my motion today. I want the House to express itself on whether or not the provisional Standing Orders adopted in the last Parliament should be made permanent.

On February 18, 2005, the House adopted by unanimous consent a series of provisional Standing Orders that would expire 60 days into the 39th Parliament, which is our current Parliament. Before the 60 days, the House agreed to extend these provisional Standing Orders until November 21, 2006.

These provisional Standing Orders that are set to expire in a few weeks affect approximately 11 permanent Standing Orders. For example, under the provisional Standing Orders, all opposition motions on supply days are now votable. All speeches, including speeches by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are now subject to a question and comment period. All parties can now be represented on the liaison committee. Committee reports have a greater chance of being voted on in this House. The government benefits greatly by the fact that there is now a 48 hour period of notice required for all opposition day motions. This replaces the previous 24 hour notice.

I would like to take a few minutes to review in greater detail some of the rule changes and, in my view, the positive effect these provisional Standing Orders have had on how we conduct business in this place.

First, I would like to quote the Hon. George Drew, leader of the opposition on June 4, 1956. In an edition of Hansard he said, “The word 'Commons' means the people. This is the House of the people”.

Drew's statement is as accurate now as it was then.

One of the primary functions of this chamber is to allow people to debate. Opinions must be allowed to be expressed, questions must be permitted to be asked and decisions must be made.

One of the rules affected by these provisional Standing Orders is that now all speeches in the House are subject to a question and comment period.

Members will note that even speeches by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are now subject to a question and comment period. In the past, because their speeches were of unlimited time, members were not permitted to ask questions of either the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition after they gave a speech.

If the provisional Standing Orders are not made permanent, members will give up their right to ask the Prime Minister and/or the Leader of the Opposition questions after speeches in the House of Commons.

Why would anyone not agree to allow members of this chamber to ask questions of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition. Must we shield the Prime Minister from taking questions from the members in the House of Commons? I think most would agree that all speeches should be subject to questioning. After all, is that not the true nature of debate?

Another rule that I believe was positively affected by the provisional Standing Orders is that all opposition motions debated on allotted days are now votable. On the issue of allotted days, I would like to quote Marleau and Montpetit's House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 722 where it states:

The setting aside of a specified number of sitting days on which the opposition chooses the subject of debate derives from the tradition which holds that Parliament does not grant Supply until the opposition has had an opportunity to demonstrate why it should be refused.

On page 724 it goes on to say:

Members in opposition to the government may propose motions for debate on any matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, as well as on committee reports concerning Estimates.

Opposition parties put a lot of work into preparing their motions for debate on allotted days. In fact, these days are another tool that allows opposition parties as a whole to hold the government to account. Supply days allow the topic of discussion to be decided on by a party that is not the government.

However, it is thanks to the provisional Standing Orders that now all opposition motions on allotted days come to a vote. Reverting to the old Standing Orders would prevent opposition parties from having some of their motions come to a vote in the House of Commons.

I would like to turn now to the issue of committee reports. Most members of the House sit on standing committees and this is where a lot of the heavy lifting happens in the business of the House of Commons. Committees make their views, opinions and recommendations known to the House by way of reports. In fact, standing committees are permanently mandated with the power to report their findings to the House. It is essential to their role as microcosms and extensions of the House that they be allowed to do this.

I think all members would agree that standing committees work hard in preparing their reports on a variety of issues for presentation to the House. In the past, when a member would ask the House to concur in a given report, the government of the day would move a dilatory motion or debate on the report until an intervening item, such as question period or private members' business, would have the debate in the concurrence motion interrupted. It would then be up to the government to decide if debate would resume or not on the motion to concur in the committee report. The provisional Standing Orders adopted in the last Parliament increased the chances that committee reports will be voted on without any intervening items shelving them, as these debates are limited to three hours.

Therefore, the value of a committee's work is increased as it has the ability to continue meaningfully in the proceedings of the House. Its work is not ignored and committee members can bring important items to the attention of the entire House of Commons for debate and for a vote.

These small but important changes adopted on a provisional basis were recommended by the Conservatives in the last Parliament. The member, who is currently the chief government whip, and his party, then in opposition, championed these small changes to our rules. It was the Conservatives along with the Bloc and the NDP that proposed these provisional Standing Orders to the then governing Liberals.

The Conservatives believed that these rules would add to the fairness and the balance of our proceedings. They believed that because all opposition days would be votable and the committee reports would not so easily be ignored, individual member's work would be valued. We agreed with the then Conservative opposition when we were in government. In fact, on February 18, 2005, the government of the day asked the House to concur in the provisional Standing Orders as proposed by the Conservatives. By unanimous consent, they were adopted on a provisional basis.

It is true that on September 20, 2006 the House agreed to have the provisional Standing Orders remain in effect until November 21, 2006. Of course, after November 21, the old Standing Orders would come back into effect.

The Standing Orders, that would not include the provisional Standing Orders proposed by the Conservatives when they were in opposition, would in effect be over with unless something was done in the intervening time. That something is what my motion accomplishes today.

The House will express itself on whether or not the provisional Standing Orders should be made permanent, the same ones championed by the Conservatives. Some will argue that we should not adopt these provisional rules now as Standing Orders because they may need to be reviewed or amended.

It is true that other Standing Orders may need to be reviewed, however nothing prevents the House from adopting the rules that have been in effect since February of 2005. Did we say back then that the current provisional rules could not be adopted because other Standing Orders may need to be reviewed? Of course not.

The House of Commons Procedure and Practice reminds us that there have been countless reviews of Standing Orders. In fact, the first amendments to our written rules occurred only four months after the adoption of the very first Standing Orders after Confederation. I am sure our practice, procedure and privileges will always be subject to review and scrutiny, as well they should.

In conclusion, it is not my intention to hold up the business of the House with my motion today, however I do believe the House should permanently adopt the provisional rules as proposed by the Conservatives when they were in opposition, the same rules we have been following since February 2005, and that they be put into effect unanimously.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the chief opposition whip for her comments today. The comments might leave the incorrect impression in the minds of some members, or perhaps in the minds of the public, that these provisional Standing Orders, which were proposed by the Conservative Party when we were in opposition, are now opposed by the Conservative Party now that we find ourselves in government. It might leave the false impression that we favoured rules that led to openness and free debate when we were in opposition, but now that we are in government, we seek to shut these things down.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, that is the opposite of the truth. We favoured these things when we were in opposition. We favour such amendments right now. We favour working consensually to achieve a means of moving forward on improving the quality of debate in this House

It was for this reason that we opposed the manner in which these particular Standing Orders were brought in, through a motion with no notice, to the procedure and House affairs committee, thereby violating the collegial spirit that had led to the prior process adopted by unanimous consent in a meeting of the House leaders and the whips of all parties only a few days before this motion was brought to the procedure and House affairs committee.

That had led to the choosing of a date, slightly delayed, so that there would be time for the provisional Standing Orders to be reviewed consensually. It would allow us to look for improvements to them, on the theory that the first draft designed a while ago ought to be improved where possible in order to ensure that it could function better. That was superceded by this decision to push forward unilaterally and without notice, in violation of a resolution that had been achieved unanimously and adopted unanimously by this House.

I have a question for the member. Why did the opposition whip introduce a motion that superceded a unanimous decision of the House following a consensual agreement that took place in private, behind closed doors, that allowed for the smooth operation of the House and the improvement of these procedural rules? What was the reason for unilaterally violating that?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would concur that there is a collegial attitude in that these provisional Standing Orders were adopted unanimously.

My colleagues, who are whips of all parties of the House, speak on an almost daily basis, and I would underscore that there is a time imperative in order to make these Standing Orders permanent.

I am thrilled to hear that the government is in concurrence with the fact that these are valuable provisional Standing Orders and indeed, should be made permanent Standing Orders. That would lead us to assume that achieving unanimous consent for these to be made permanent should be an easy task to accomplish.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, under the rules of Parliament, within 60 sitting days of a new Parliament, there should be a debate in the House with regard to the Standing Orders. This is the opportunity of members not on procedure and House affairs to express their views on this matter.

That item had still not come up. I assume it has been deferred for good reason. I wonder if the member could advise the House as to whether or not the adoption of these rules permanently would impinge on the ability of other members to make commentary on changes or proposed changes to the Standing Orders.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend is becoming somewhat of an expert regarding the procedures and orders of the House of Commons.

No, as I stated in my speech, it was only four months after Confederation that Standing Orders were changed and they are under scrutiny and review all the time. My understanding is that if these are made permanent, that ongoing revision and scrutiny would always be available to the House should members choose to unanimously deal with any changes.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, at the outset of my remarks today I would like to indicate to the Chair that I will be splitting my time with the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre.

This has been debated in the procedure and House affairs committee at some length over the past few weeks. I must start out by saying, as I did in my remarks when the chief whip of the official opposition brought forward this motion, that I am actually quite disappointed, disturbed, and a little annoyed by the tactics employed by the official opposition in this regard.

My colleague just referred to the process in his intervention and question to the official opposition whip. As he laid out, and as I will reiterate, it is not that we are opposed to any or perhaps all of these provisional Standing Orders. The chief opposition whip laid out in some detail the process that led to part of the Standing Orders that the House operates under and I concur with the detail she provided.

These provisional Standing Orders came about through negotiations in the last minority Parliament, the 38th Parliament, in which the Liberal Party was government and the Conservative Party filled the role of the official opposition. They came about through negotiations initially between the opposition parties and subsequently with the government. They were adopted unanimously on February 18, 2005, as the opposition whip indicated.

They had an expiry date because they were provisional and the tradition of the House is that when we adopt things like this we try them out for a while, take them for a test drive as it were. She is quite right that written into the use of these provisional Standing Orders was an expiry date of 60 days into the following Parliament, which is the current 39th Parliament. They were due to expire somewhere around October 10, 2006, which was a week or so ago.

This is what I find so disturbing and annoying. As I said at committee, the House must operate on a basis of mutual respect and trust. We must have that especially between the four House leaders of the four parties and the four whips, I would argue. I have had the very distinct privilege and pleasure to serve four times as a whip and once as a House leader, so I think I speak with some authority and experience in the role of a caucus officer.

I hold very strongly to the tenet that one's word is one's bond. That is the way I was raised in northeastern British Columbia, Fort St. John in my riding. That is how I was raised on the farm. That is what my parents taught me. I have tried to bring that to the House of Commons in everything that I do. One's word is one's bond. We simply must as House leaders, whips and I would argue deputies as well, have the responsibility on behalf of Canadians to keep this place functioning. We must have that mutual respect and trust between all House officers of the four respective parties.

What unfortunately has happened in this particular process is that this trust has been broken, hopefully not irretrievably but it has been broken. Allow me to explain.

When it was getting closer to the expiry date of these provisional Standing Orders, the opposition brought it to our attention at the weekly House leaders and whips meeting. There is a weekly meeting, as you would know, Mr. Speaker, and I see you are nodding, as you served as the House leader for quite some time for the New Democratic Party.

We all know that you are very familiar with the process where the four House leaders, four whips and their senior staff meet once a week to decide on the agenda and how to conduct business in the chamber. We meet behind closed doors because we have to take the partisanship out of it and we have to work as cooperatively as possible in the best interests of all Canadians.

So what happened? On the meeting that was held on September 19 we talked about this. I think it was the government House leader who brought it to the attention of all parties at that meeting, because it had been raised earlier by the opposition.

On September 19 we came to an agreement. How do we know and how is it proven that we came to an agreement? Because the very next day, with unanimous consent and support, the government House leader brought forward a motion in this place to extend those provisional Standing Orders to November 21 to give us time to work through it.

The agreement was that the senior staff of the House leaders would get together. We anticipated that during the Thanksgiving week break from parliamentary duties they would get together and discuss how we could move this forward, and any possible amendments, because there was some consideration for amendments that we have raised.

The Clerk of the House of Commons herself had some suggestions for wording, not to change the intent, and I want to be very clear about this. It was not to change the intent of the provisional Standing Orders, but to perhaps make them work more effectively for all parliamentarians and for the institution itself.

We wanted to consult with the Clerk. We wanted to have our senior staff meet and work through these provisional Standing Orders, certainly well before the extension of the deadline to November 21, and come back to the House with these provisional Standing Orders, amended in a way that we all agree to, just as we did on February 18, 2005, and by unanimous support, with no debate, to just pass these and make the necessary changes.

Why I am so upset, as I have said, is because this House, to be functional and to operate in an effective manner, must be based on mutual respect despite our political differences and our partisan differences from time to time. Mr. Speaker, you know it, I know it, and anyone who has worked here knows it. The reality is that now this trust has been broken, because we had an agreement, and the official opposition, I would submit, for partisan reasons broke its word. That is the reality. The chief opposition whip knows it. There is no logical reason.

My colleague asked her the question. When the deadline has been extended through unanimous support, unanimous agreement, why is there this rush all of a sudden? She knows, as I know, that this is all about payback because procedurally we used to use a few processes in the House to try to push our agenda forward.

I have served almost my entire career in opposition. I know that procedurally, when one is in opposition, one uses any Standing Orders and processes that one can to try to promote one's agenda and stymie the government. We understand that, but not at the price of breaking one's word. That is the point. The point is not the provisional Standing Orders themselves although, as I have laid out, there are some minor changes that we would like to see. What the reality is, and the more important issue, is the breaking of one's word.

I submit that at the next House leaders' meeting, which is this afternoon--it is held every Tuesday afternoon--what is the point in trying to reach agreement on how the agenda is going to move forward if the next day or the next week we find those agreements broken? The House cannot operate this way.

I know, Mr. Speaker, because I have the utmost respect for you and the Chair in all the roles that you have played. You are the dean of the House. You have been here longer than any other sitting member of Parliament. I know that you know this better than I, this need for this trust and respect so that when people commit to something, they are committed to it. That is the issue that has to be dealt with today.

I understand that I have about one minute left. Time goes so fast when one gets emotional about these types of issues.

Mr. Speaker, let me say that in all of my 13 years in this House I have always tried to conduct myself that way. I have learned from some of the veterans, people like you, and people like past Liberal House leader Don Boudria, who conducted themselves in that manner, and that is the way I have tried to conduct myself.

At the end of my remarks, I would like to amend the motion today.

I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:

the Seventeenth Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on October 20, 2006, be not now concurred in, but that it be recommitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with instruction that it amend the same so as to recommend that Standing Order 106(4) be amended by replacing the words “five days” with the words “ten days”.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I might say at this time that there have been consultations with the Table and this amendment has been found to be in order. We shall proceed with the debate on the amendment.

First, however, we will have questions and comments on the speech given by the hon. government whip.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the comments that are made. I have to say, off the top, that I believe my hon. colleague is an honourable man. I think that is why we refer to each other as honourable members. I believe that all members of this House are honourable members.

I said in earlier comments that we speak on a daily basis about a myriad of things, such as how many speakers we are going to have. This place operates on the fact that whips talk on behalf of their parties to their counterparts. I find it of more than passing interest that when this motion was tabled in the procedure and House affairs committee, there was after that an intervening break week and I actually placed a call to my hon. colleagues suggesting that perhaps we needed to get this dialogue started.

I would like to underscore that we do speak several times on a daily basis and we are all busy people. This topic, in any kind of detail, had not come up. I understand that the third opposition party actually made an overture to the government asking when we were going to talk about these, recognizing that there is a time imperative, that there were two break weeks, and, I would point out, that these provisional Standing Orders expire the Tuesday after the November break week when we are all in our constituencies.

I had no return phone call, which I found a little puzzling. There also was an opportunity at a House leaders' meeting, as my hon. colleague has stated, which happen on a weekly basis. This issue was not raised by the government, so after that our House leader actually raised it with the government House leader, saying that perhaps this was something that we needed to have a conversation about. It actually did not come into effect until some of my staff contacted some of the government staff. They indeed did have a one hour meeting before the Thursday procedure and House affairs meeting.

I find it interesting that the chief government whip has put forward this amendment when we had talked about, in committee, how this may be something we could reach consensus on. There were other opinions. One of them expressed by one of my fellow opposition colleagues was the fact that when the government was then in opposition it used the five day rule quite effectively to bring in committees when we were dealing with things that were of a somewhat controversial nature. The public accounts committee met on very short order, I think, as did the foreign affairs committee. It is a tool that has been of use to the government when it was in opposition, so it needs to have some kind of discussion.

Again, I find it significant that these things all came out after we requested to have a meeting, when clearly this motion was before the procedure and House affairs committee, which we did not force having a discussion on. It was made very clear to us by the government members that they were planning to filibuster this. As a matter of fact, I appreciate the candour of one of my colleagues opposite in letting us know. So they had notice of motion, which is not required for procedure and House affairs, that there was a time imperative and it is interesting that there was no action--

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I am sorry to interrupt the member for Kitchener Centre, but she has gone on for some time, so much so that I thought she was making a speech. The hon. government whip.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me deal with the issues that were raised during the intervention by the official opposition whip. She tried to defend this action undertaken by the opposition by stating that during the break week she made a telephone call to try to reach me.

Again, I have had the great pleasure of being elected to represent the people of Prince George—Peace River on five separate occasions now. My riding is huge. It encompasses over a quarter of a million square kilometres up in northeastern British Columbia. It runs from the central part of the province all the way to the Yukon. I can tell members that because of my role as whip, and my constituents understand this, when I have a break week I am on the dead run from one end of the riding to the other. I try to get to as many events as I can because of the distance my riding is from Ottawa.

I know that she tried to reach me. During that week, I was unreachable by cellphone in many cases. The Rocky Mountains cut my riding in half. There are more regions of my riding that do not have cellphone coverage than regions that do. I was in I think five different cities and towns on five different days. I guess that is, by way of an excuse, my reason for not returning her call, but the pertinent point here is that she had already moved her motion prior to that.

On the Thursday prior to the break week, she moved her motion to shove this thing through without even consulting with the government, after having agreed to the process of extending it to November 21. That is the point. Yes, we did debate it at some length, and the motion was held over during the break week, but she moved the motion on Thursday, October 5. She still has not offered any credible reason for doing that when all four political parties had agreed to a process of dealing with it. That was our understanding. A senior staffer for the New Democratic Party contacted our senior House leader's staff to try to set up a meeting for the break week, asking when they were going to get together to discuss this.

It is not like there was no communication. At any point in time prior to her moving this motion to ram ahead with these provisional Standing Orders, she could have called. She could have called before the House even rose for the break week before she moved her motion. This was the point that I and many colleagues made at that meeting of the procedure and House affairs committee.

She went on to say in her intervention just now that perhaps we could have reached consensus. We did reach consensus. That is the whole point. We had reached consensus at the House leaders' meeting on how to deal with this issue. It was only the subsequent action of the official opposition on reneging on its word, going back on its word and breaking the trust that has to exist between House leaders and whips, that brought us to this position today.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is like most members, and obviously everyone in here is busy trying to do the best job possible for their constituents. I would like to ask the member a question. I think he has to help the House understand the fundamental question. There are provisional orders and the question is whether or not they become permanent. If they do not, if there is no appetite for these provisional orders to become a permanent part of our Standing Orders, then we will have some consequences. It means that certain things we have been utilizing for some time now will be pulled off.

I would like to get an idea from the government whip as to whether or not there is a plan to make the necessary proposals to reinstitute or to make recommendations for changes to the Standing Orders that would take into account some of those provisional orders, but I am more interested in which of these provisional orders the government would not be supportive of instating into the Standing Orders permanently.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party lays out, quite rightly, the process that is normally followed. Even in the Standing Orders there is a requirement that the Standing Orders be reviewed from time to time. Along with the other three parties, I think we are all supportive of that.

However, my amendment deals with one thing on which I thought we had agreement. I raised this at the procedure and House affairs committee when, according to the chief opposition whip, we were filibustering. It is arguable whether or not we were filibustering, and some people might consider that, but we were making a lot of points. One of the points I made, in response to my hon. colleague, was that Standing Order 106(4) be amended, which is the purpose of the amendment that I just introduced into the House of Commons and which we are presently debating.

We believe that the five day requirement, five days being the time that a chairman of a standing committee of the House of Commons be requested by a certain number of the members to hold a special meeting, be changed.

We believe, especially during the break times, the three months of summer recess and the six week winter recess, that if that were to fall over a holiday period, such as Christmas or July 1, three days are holidays and we would end up with only two days to get people together, agree on a date for the meeting and call the meeting. We believe it would be a minor change to extend that time to 10 calendar days from the existing 5 days. It would be a sensible solution to that problem.

We presented that and I believed that all the opposition parties agreed with it. Since it does not substantively change the intent of the provisional Standing Order, I thought we could move ahead with that type of change. The other four political parties may have amendments that we have not even had a chance to discuss yet.

I also pointed out that the clerk had indicated to me that she wanted to make some minor changes to the wording just to make the Standing Orders more effective and work better for all of Parliament.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that it is easy to solve the problem before us, and I do not understand the government's strategy at all. The idea is to make a major change to our Standing Orders official. This change has been tried over the past year or more.

Before we get to the bottom of things, hon. members need to understand that the sole purpose of the amendment that was just introduced is to delay acceptance of the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. That is its sole purpose: to make sure these amendments to the Standing Orders are not accepted within the timeframe allotted by the House, thereby giving the government the wiggle room it needs to postpone consideration of this issue by the House of Commons indefinitely.

For the benefit of those who are watching, all the amendments before us here were introduced by the Conservative Party, by Conservative members—with rallying speeches and talk of consensuses and discussions among the parties—when the Conservatives formed the official opposition. I would not want the people who are watching to think that the Liberal opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP are trying to pull a fast one on the government. One gets that impression, listening to the government whip, but it is absolutely not true.

I have here a memo dated September 7, 2004, in which the then opposition leader, now the Prime Minister, asked the leaders of the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party to proceed immediately with the amendments to the Standing Orders that have been introduced. Everyone who is watching needs to understand that all the amendments before us today originated in the office of the Conservative leader a year and a half ago, when he was the leader of the official opposition.

We are not trying to turn everything upside down or put the government in a difficult position. We are trying to make permanent something that all the parties had agreed to try temporarily, at the suggestion of the then leader of the official opposition, who is now the Prime Minister. We want to implement something that was introduced by the Prime Minister.

Let us stop this hypocritical chatter suggesting that we are trying to quibble, to engineer a conflict. This is something that was done with the consent of everyone and that, I repeat, originated from the office of the current Prime Minister when he was the Leader of the Opposition. Moreover, he worked on this with the same advisors he has now. I have the advantage of being an old parliamentary leader; I have been here for a while and I have seen them at work. These same advisors are still around today. They are the ones who drafted the changes to the Standing Orders, and pleaded for the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to support them. They are also the ones who pleaded for the Liberal government at the time to approve these regulatory changes.

Today, we are hearing that it is terrible, outrageous, that the spirit of cooperation is gone and that our workings had always been perfectly harmonious. I was about to use bad language. There is a limit to spewing nonsense. These provisional Standing Orders make the life of the official opposition easier. Indeed, this change to the Standing Orders allows the official opposition to better play its role. Take for example this debate we are having today at the instigation of this Parliament's official opposition; it could not have been held had the rules not been changed.

I would like the people watching us to suggest what they would call a group of politicians who say one thing while in opposition and the opposite once in government. That is what we have here.

The very people who proposed these changes to the Standing Orders and convinced everyone to approve them are now reticent to say too loudly, for fear of ridicule, that they oppose the Standing Orders. Still, they keep looking for ways to prevent these Standing Orders from being permanently, officially adopted.

Do they think we cannot see right through them? I was not born yesterday. I am most senior parliamentary leader in this House. It is clear to me what they want to do: they want to buy time so that these provisional orders will fade away come mid-November. Then we would no longer be able to debate them here in this House or to consider this report, because it is in the new Standing Orders. After mid-November, we will no longer be able to discuss this issue. Under the old Standing Orders, only the government can put the debate back on the agenda, if and when it chooses to do so.

I doubt the government has any intention of bringing back the debate. It no longer wants to hear about changes to the Standing Orders even though it proposed them when it was the official opposition. This behaviour is unacceptable. There will be collaboration in this House once we start talking to one another.

I have been a parliamentary leader for 13 years. Never have I had such little discussion with my counterpart opposite and my colleagues in opposition about parliamentary strategy. These people talk about dialogue. They do not want anyone to talk about the strategy they themselves came up with when they were in opposition. I would like to tell the Liberal opposition, which was in power at the time, that it could have put up more of a fight against the application of this Standing Order. The government House leader at the time, Tony Valeri, was aware that we could force their hand, in a way. So he invited us to discuss a number of things, and we discussed them. This Standing Order was the result of that discussion.

This is a big improvement that, among other things, makes it possible for our friends in the NDP to have an additional opposition day and enables Parliament to vote on all opposition days. All parliamentarians, all citizens with elected representatives in the House of Commons, want motions introduced in the House to be voted on, passed, or taken into consideration by all members of the House. That is a big improvement for democracy.

In return, members of the opposition agreed to make known in advance the subjects that would be debated here in the House of Commons. Why would we not accept such a change? They want to muzzle the NDP and remove one of their two opposition days; they want to remove the right of the official opposition or the Bloc Québécois to bring motions to a vote. That won’t hold water. That is the reason why when we are in opposition, we are better parliamentarians.

Indeed, these amendments, which are all excellent and essential to the good operation of Parliament, were introduced by a Conservative government in opposition.

It appears that we will be obliged to ask them to return to the opposition to regain those qualities that they had only a few months ago. That is the reality.

I would simply like to say that my colleague, the whip, makes me blush with shame, by proposing a motion such as this one, five days instead of ten.

Do you know what we told them? We will tell you: yes, there are some details that we are ready to discuss. There are some small points that we could examine if you like, now that you want to talk. There are some little things that we can do. We are prepared to examine the amendment to five days from ten.

Let us adopt the new Standing Orders as a whole, because they are a great deal broader than this little motion, than this small change that is proposed.

This is a pretext. It smells like a pretext. Let us adopt the new Standing Orders. Everybody likes them, except the Conservatives who produced them. Nevertheless, they will have to live with them. Sorry but when you are virtuous in opposition, you can also be virtuous when you are in government. I apologize to the Conservatives. They will have to live with their Standing Orders, and we will make them swallow it because we are all agreed that this is a good standing order; it is a one from which no one gains any special advantage.

We believed that the Leader of the Opposition at that time, who is now the prime minister, had produced a good text, which we supported for that reason, and which the Liberals and the NDP agreed was a good text, and because Canadians are better served by a good text. When we have one, we adopt it; and we are going to adopt it. That is what we want to do.

If there are changes to be made, from five days to ten, or commas, or minutes to move, we will be as open as the Liberal government was at the time to accept this text. We will have the necessary openness and we will ensure that the citizens are better served than ever. We will not allow the government to prevent us from adopting what we consider to be a good text. We will vote against the motion, against the amendment that says this will be sent to committee. The government wants to buy some time. We will not allow it to buy time at our expense—and especially not at the expense of the Standing Orders. And I asked citizens, throwing it back in their face: what do you think of a group of parliamentarians who behave one way when they are in opposition and another way when they are in power?

It was funny at the time to the Leader of the Opposition, the now Prime Minister, and his group of advisors, and the whip who was leader, and the leader who was whip. It was the same clique. They thought it was funny to impose this on the Liberal minority government. They found it funny and they liked it. They were pleased and happy that the Bloc and the NDP were in favour of it.

Today, we are the ones who find it funny to throw back in their faces the Standing Orders they came up with at the time and on which we collaborated. I am sorry, but this allowed the opposition to do its work better and I hope it does not bother the government to think that if we did our work better as the opposition, this might prevent it from making the gaffes that would send it straight to the opposition benches at the next election. The Conservatives should consider themselves lucky: things are working, the House is doing well, the Standing Orders are a good text and there is unanimity among the other parties to keep what they came up with in the first place.

I call this great unanimity. They should vote with us instead of using stalling tactics to put off this motion long enough so we can no longer pass it or have the chance to force them to accept it.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I really do not know where to begin. I guess I will begin at the beginning.

My colleague, the House leader for the Bloc Québecois, says that the amendment I have presented is dilatory. He says that I am embarrassing myself with it. It is quite the contrary. I would suggest that it is the opposition members that are embarrassing themselves on this issue.

He said at one point we were all in agreement as to these provisional Standing Orders. Yes, we were all in agreement. We were also all in agreement on how to proceed, and that is the point. The point is not whether we agree with the provisional Standing Orders as they are.

I used to have a tremendous respect for the Bloc Québécois in how it dealt with the day to day operations of the House. When the House leader for the Bloc Québécois states that we all are in agreement with the provisional Standing Orders, yes, I agree, but were we not also all in agreement on how to proceed?

If we were not all in agreement on how to proceed, then why in heaven's name did the Bloc Québecois give its consent on September 20 when my colleague, the hon. government House leader, presented the motion to extend these provisional Standing Orders to November 21?

If the Bloc Québécois was not in agreement, I do not believe for a minute it would have allowed us to present that order. My colleague, the government House leader, would never have presented an order unless it was unanimously supported, which it was because that is how we operate in this place.

At the weekly House leaders meeting, as I said in my earlier remarks, we decide on a process. He asks, why let the government stand in our way? It is not standing in the way. These provisional Standing Orders are in effect today and right up until November 21. The government is not trying to prevent their adoption. It is trying to improve them as per the agreement that the Bloc Québécois member agreed to at the September 19 House leaders meeting, as did all the members present.

I ask him this question. If we did not have an agreement on September 19 that was exemplified and evidenced by the motion that was brought to the House the very next day to extend these provisional Standing Orders to November 21, then why would the House leader of the Bloc Québécois have agreed to that process?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, that should not take long to sort out.

True, we agreed to an extension of these Standing Orders to November 21. I agree with that. However, the only new element that the government has brought to this file since this morning is an amendment proposing to replace the words “five days” by “ten days”, when a committee is convened by the majority of members. This is the government's only contribution. I therefore have a question for the government and I expect an answer.

What exactly does it not agree with?

Does it no longer agree with the fact that the Prime Minister or the leader of the official opposition can be questioned after a speech? That is one of the provisions of these Standing Orders. Does it no longer agree with the fact that members may share their time? This is another result of these Standing Orders. Does it no longer agree with the fact that motions to adopt committee reports can be considered here and resolved once and for all, rather than being left in the hands of the government? That is one of the provisions of these Standing Orders. Does it no longer agree with the fact that five hours of debate, instead of three, are required for referral to committee before the second reading of a bill? That is one of the provisions of these Standing Orders. Does it no longer agree with the fact that the NDP has an additional opposition day and that all opposition motions on such days are votable? That is one of the provisions of these Standing Orders.

These Standing Orders can only be beneficial. The only thing the government has come up with to persuade us that we should not adopt them quickly today is that the timeframe for convening a committee should be extended from five days to ten days, when a majority of members call for it. Well, this seems fishy to me.

What provisions does the government not agree with? I would like it to rise and tell us, to present amendments, indicating what sections it does not like. Yet, the people listening to us feel that everything is excellent. Facts are facts, and these are the facts.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the comments of the government whip and one of the things he said is that he used to have tremendous respect for the Bloc member with regard to his participation in these discussions on Standing Orders et cetera.

I think it is indicative that there has been a breakdown in the collegiality of the mutual respect and collaboration. That is unfortunate. We have ways to deal with these matters. We had a special legislative committee established to deal with changes to the Standing Orders. We had the work, I think the member would remember, with regard to the modernization of Parliament that led to many changes in the Standing Orders.

We have functions here, but it concerns me that the issue has become an issue of trust and cooperation, and we need to address it. We need to come up with a resolution of this and deal with it outside of the chamber because the chamber has the business of the nation with which to deal.

I would ask the member if he has some thoughts on it simply being not a matter of voting against the amendment. I think we also have to use the tools available to us to determine whether or not there is a way in which we can have a mutually agreeable strategy, to have a further consideration of the status of the provisional Standing Orders, and to have some consensus on whether or not there are items there that can no longer enjoy the consensus support of the House. If there are other items to be done, they have to be dealt with. What is the mechanism? What is the timeframe and how are we going to do this so that we can re-establish mutual respect and collaboration?

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I consider that to be a laudable effort. It is very kind of the member to try to bring his own contribution to the debate. However, I will point out to him that it is not my responsibility to raise points on which there is no longer consensus. In my view, and in the view of most of the people I have consulted, there is still consensus regarding the reform: we all want it to be applied. There is therefore no problem. That is the answer: there is consensus on all points.

The government whip is therefore the only person who does not support this. I understand why this may be, since there are some things he may not be happy about. But why, in his amendment, is the only change he is proposing for the committee that notice go from five to 10 days, knowing that a majority of committee members want to meet?

This is a detail. We can agree on that with no problem. But still, if there is no consensus on such a number of things, it is not my job to say so. In my opinion, there is consensus on everything and I support all aspects of it. The NDP and the Liberals also support all aspects of it. Only the Conservatives do not agree on all aspects. It is therefore up to them to tell us so.

However, let them not tell us that this is a matter of going from five to 10 days and that this question absolutely has to be examined. This thing is a dog’s breakfast. They are looking for reasons to try to delay adoption of the Standing Orders.

These Standing Orders were instituted by the Conservatives and represent one of the most worthwhile things they did when they were in opposition. We like these Standing Orders and we will be keeping them, at least as far as I am concerned. If there are other things that the Conservatives do not like, let them say so. Myself, I do not see any at the moment.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened very intently today to the discussion. It is about the operations of the House and how we move our democracy forward and has become a very emotional issue. The chief government whip expressed himself as being disappointed, disturbed, annoyed and upset. He also said that he used to have tremendous respect for another member in the House and that there would be a price to pay for what is happening.

My concern is how do we move beyond the emotion of this particular circumstance and look at the amendment that is specifically being tabled here today, that is, moving from 10 days to 5 days. The rationale of the government was that it could conflict with national holidays or times of other holidays that would restrict the timing of addressing House of Commons business.

I am not aware of any request in the past that has had that conflict and I would ask the hon. member if he is aware of any because I do not believe we have even encountered that situation to date.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to correct the record. I never ever said during my remarks that there would be a price to pay.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hope that there will be no price to pay because I will not tell you who will be sending the bill. We are going to agree on this. No one is going to pay the price, for having the right to debate the nature of Standing Orders. If there is a price to be paid, we will talk about it, but I will not tell you who will be signing the bill and who will have to pay it. That is the answer I wanted to give.

Very simply, I am not aware that there is any problem whatsoever. Of course, I tend to be available. During the time when Don Boudria was the Liberal House leader, we called each other four times a day. When it was Tony Valeri, we called each other four times a week. Now, unfortunately, we are calling each other four times a month. Certainly we understand each other less. However, in all sincerity, I know of no problem and I have never been told of any. The Chair is indicating to me that I have no time left for the answer.

I am sorry but I do not have the time to answer the hon. member. I will speak with my friend if he comes outside.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the hon. member for Vancouver East.

I want to look at the amendment to the Standing Orders and the provisional Standing Orders that were referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. A Liberal motion proposes that the Standing Orders and the provisional Standing Orders be made permanent.

There were discussions in committee. The Conservative Party made some suggestions. The Clerk even suggested that some wording could be changed because of technical problems and things of that kind. Then there was the Standing Order concerning the five-day rather than ten-day time frame for convening committee meetings. But it was very clear. As a committee member, I would have agreed to extend the time frame to ten days. I can say publicly that I was prepared to make this compromise. However, we would have had to be able to meet again in committee in a week in order to proceed.

The committee is its own master. It voted for this to be submitted to the House of Commons. The various parties clearly do not agree with the government. I want to join the leader of the Bloc Québécois in maintaining that the parties currently all agree on keeping the time frame at five days. The NDP is also in favour of a five-day time frame. We do not have any problems with that.

Let us assume that the committee really is its own master. I believe that all the committee members are reasonable people. If some day a special meeting of the committee is called when we are not here in the House of Commons—in July for example—I am sure that the members are reasonable enough to know whether they will be able to be there or not, whether they will be able to have witnesses on time or not. I really do not see where there could be a problem. We have been operating under these Standing Orders for a few years now—under the previous minority government as well—and have not had any problems that we could not live with.

It is important to agree on the five-day time frame. It is also important for committee members to be able to call a special meeting of any committee of the House of Commons because some things cannot wait ten days. Actually, it was the Conservatives when they were in opposition who convinced us of this and persuaded us that this Standing Order would be good.

For example, if the Standing Committee on National Defence decided to call a meeting very quickly because of an emergency of some kind, we would certainly not want to wait ten days while our country was at war and certain decisions had to be made in committee. There are all kinds of committees that can have emergencies and have to be able to meet.

For those who do not know and for those who are listening, how often has a committee decided to call witnesses on a Tuesday to appear on the Thursday, thus giving only two days' notice? How many times has it been said on Wednesday that they would like such and such a witness the next morning and every effort is made to have the witness appear before the parliamentary committee?

Thus, there is no problem. Then why propose an amendment here, today, when in committee we very clearly stated that we would adopt permanently the amendment to the Standing Orders and, if there were any problems, we could go back to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, propose a motion and resubmit a recommendation to Parliament? If there were any technical problems we would solve them if necessary. However, we must ensure that these Standing Orders are adopted immediately. They must not be set aside or lost in the fuss such that we suddenly find ourselves without our Standing Orders.

The majority in Parliament should be able to decide. It decided by introducing the motion in the House of Commons. It is clear that we must move forward. For that reason, personally and as NDP whip on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, I can say that the NDP is against the amendment. We want the motion to go ahead in order to make the Standing Orders permanent. Then, if changes are required, we will make them after. That can be done in the near future and quickly.