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.
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”.