That the Standing Orders of the House of Commons be amended:
(a) to add the following after Standing Order 14:
“14.1 For the purposes of interpreting the Standing Orders, at the commencement of each session or from time to time as necessity may arise, the Speaker of the House of Commons shall, upon receipt of a letter from the leader of a party or caucus signed by an absolute majority of party or caucus members, announce to the House the names of the House Leaders, Deputy House Leaders, Whips, Deputy Whips and caucus chairs.”
(b) to add the following after Standing Order 37:
“37.1 (1) Except as provided for in Standing Order 10 and Standing Order 11, and notwithstanding the usual practice of the House regarding allocation of a specific number of oral questions to Members of the governing party, each opposition Member shall have the right to ask at least one oral question per week or four oral questions per 20-day cycle during a session, as provided for in Standing Order 30(5).
(2) Upon at least two hours’ written notice to the Clerk prior to the time allocated for Oral Questions, opposition Members may:
(a) exchange this right with another Member;
(b) ask the Whip of their party or caucus to designate another Member for this purpose.
(3) Exchanges are recorded daily at the Table. Party or caucus Whips are required to ensure that their members comply with this Standing Order.”
(c) by deleting Standing Order 104 and replacing it with the following:
“104. (1)(a) At the commencement of the first session of each Parliament, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which shall consist of a minimum of eleven Members and a maximum of twelve Members when an independent Member wishes to sit on the committee, and the membership of which shall continue from session to session, shall be appointed. The said Committee shall report to the House, pursuant to section (2) of this Standing Order, within ten sitting days after the establishment of the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business provided for in Standing Order 87(1)(a)(i), and thereafter within the first ten sitting days after the commencement of each session and within the first ten sitting days after the second Monday following Labour Day, lists of Members to compose the standing committees of the House pursuant to section (5) of this Standing Order and to act for the House on standing joint committees; provided that the Committee shall not present a second report pursuant to this Standing Order between the second Monday following Labour Day and the end of that calendar year.
(b) When, pursuant to Standing Order 104(1)(a), more than one independent Member wishes to sit on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the Speaker shall consult with the independent Members and announce to the House the name of the Member selected to sit on this committee. A motion proposing that the Member be appointed shall be deemed to have been moved, seconded and adopted without debate or amendment.
(2) Based on such considerations as the proportionality of the parties and caucuses represented in the House, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall prepare the lists of Members designated to sit on the standing committees of the House provided for in section (5) of this Standing Order using, in reverse order, the results of the random draw to establish the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business stipulated in Standing Order 87(1)(a)(i). After removing the names of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House as well as the names of the Ministers of the Crown, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall ask each Member whose name is on the List, including independent Members, on which standing committee they would like to sit until all positions on the committees have been filled. If required, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall follow the procedure again to complete the lists of members.
(3) For each standing committee and standing joint committee provided for in this Standing Order, a list of associate members deemed to be members of this committee for the purposes of Standing Orders 108(1)(b) and 114(2)(a) and who may act as substitutes on this committee pursuant to Standing Order 114(2)(b) shall be established in accordance with the procedure stipulated in section (2) of this Standing Order.
(4) Notwithstanding the process provided for in section (2) of this Standing Order, when two Members of the same caucus or two independent Members have given at least 48 hours’ written notice to the Clerk stating that they wish to make a permanent exchange in the membership of the committee, this exchange shall come into effect once the said notice has expired.
(5) The standing committees, which shall consist of a minimum of eleven Members and a maximum of 12 Members when an independent Member wishes to sit on a such a committee, and for which the lists of members are to be prepared, except as provided for in section (1) of this Standing Order, shall be on:
(a) Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development;
(b) Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics;
(c) Agriculture and Agri-Food;
(d) Canadian Heritage;
(e) Citizenship and Immigration;
(f) Environment and Sustainable Development;
(h) Fisheries and Oceans;
(i) Foreign Affairs and International Development;
(j) Government Operations and Estimates;
(l) Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities;
(m) Industry, Science and Technology;
(n) International Trade;
(o) Justice and Human Rights;
(p) National Defence;
(q) Natural Resources;
(r) Official Languages;
(s) Procedure and House Affairs;
(t) Public Accounts;
(u) Public Safety and National Security;
(v) Status of Women;
(w) Transport, Infrastructure and Communities; and
(x) Veterans Affairs.
(6) The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs shall also report lists of Members in accordance with the same procedure provided for in section 104(2) of this Standing Order to act for the House on the Standing Joint Committees on:
(a) the Library of Parliament;
(b) Scrutiny of Regulations;
Provided that a sufficient number of Members shall be appointed so as to keep the same proportion therein as between the memberships of both Houses.
(7) If a seat on a standing or standing joint committee becomes vacant during a session, the first member of the caucus to which the seat has been designated who decided to become an associate member pursuant to the process provided for in section 104(3) of this Standing Order is automatically appointed to the committee, and that member’s name is removed from the list of associate members of that committee. If no member of this caucus is an associate member, the party or caucus whose member vacated a seat on the committee shall appoint one of its members to sit on the committee and shall provide the Clerk with written notification of the member’s name within 48 hours of the position becoming vacant. A position on a committee that has been left vacant by an independent Member shall be filled by the first independent Member who chose to be an associate member, pursuant to the process provided for in section 104(3) of this Standing Order. The name of the Member thus appointed to the committee is removed from the said committee’s list of associate members. If the said committee has no independent Members on its list of associate members, the committee will henceforth be composed of 11 members until a new list of members is established pursuant to section 104(1) of this Standing Order.”
that the new Standing Orders 14.1 and 37.1 come into effect on the first sitting day following a scheduled adjournment of the House, pursuant to Standing Order 28(2)(a);
that the amendments to Standing Order 104 come into effect at the commencement of the next session or on the first sitting day following the next Labour Day, whichever occurs first;
that the Clerk of the House be authorized to make any required editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders.
Mr. Speaker, we live in a time of political cynicism. People are losing interest. Nearly 40% of them no longer vote. Many wonder why they should bother electing an MP if that MP is expected to represent the party he belongs to rather than the people who voted for him. The big parties have lost sight of their fundamental role and that of MPs, which is to serve the people, represent them and express their desires.
If the House of Commons is supposed be a place where we lead by example and where democratic principles are rigorously enforced, we are way off the mark. The practices of the House do not measure up. The parties' practices do not measure up.
Even here in the House, some members are more equal than others. Some have the right to be on committees while others do not. Some have the right to ask one or more questions every week while others cannot ask any. Some, like party leaders, have the power to deprive their caucus members of all of the tools that enable them to represent their constituents and act on their behalf. It is time to fix that and fight the cynicism that is so pervasive in the political class.
That is why I am so proud to be debating Motion No. 535 today. This is a binding motion to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. If passed, it would immediately result in positive changes giving each MP the power to properly represent his or her constituents. If passed, this motion would strip leaders and their entourage, the unelected people who surround them, of the power to legally deprive MPs of the tools they need to do their work.
Basically, this motion would free MPs from the undue influence of their parties. It relates to a fundamental aspect of every MP's work: the ability to effectively represent the people of their ridings in the federal Parliament.
Over the past few years, many of us have noticed that the power of individual members in the House of Commons has been eroding. Power is becoming increasingly concentrated within the political establishment and the inner group that surrounds each party leader. They now have so much power that they can impose their will, depriving members who are not in their good books, or those who are not part of an immediate political ploy, of precious time that should be reserved for members for championing the needs of those who elected us. Membership on committees, the opportunity to speak in question period and the choice of House leaders and whips are all decided by the party leaders and their elite group.
It is not right that an MP's ability to do his or her job properly depends entirely on the goodwill of party leaders; nor is it right that an MP's ability to do his or her job properly can be negatively affected by considerations as frivolous as support during a leadership race or partisan motives to win votes.
My motion contains three parts but basically has one single objective: to take away from the political establishment the power to push members aside and arbitrarily deprive them of their ability to act. This motion reflects the discussions that many members who have already pointed to this worrisome phenomenon have had among themselves. Furthermore, since it was announced that this motion would be moved, many Canadians, as well as many members of the House, have approached me to learn more or to express their support.
This is what my motion is about. The first part deals specifically with the House leaders, deputy House leaders, whips, deputy whips and caucus chairs. My motion proposes that these House officers not be recognized as such by the Speaker of the House unless they are elected by the absolute majority of their caucus members. This approach is more democratic. It would prevent situations where House officers are imposed on members without their consent and where they participate in controlling the party with their unelected advisors.
House leaders and whips should not be tools to be used by party leaders and their entourage. Rather, they should ensure that caucus members' rights are respected and help those members act in the best interest of their constituents.
The second part is about each member's ability to ask oral questions and hold the government to account during question period. It is time for questions to come from the members, rather than the parties, so that everyone can participate in this fundamental democratic exercise.
My motion gives every opposition member the right to one question a week, so all members will have the opportunity to rise in the House at least once every week to hold the government to account on any subject they wish. To ensure flexibility for the members and the parties, the motion also includes a mechanism that will allow members to exchange or give away their right to a colleague, depending on the interests of members. Simply put, if this motion were adopted, opposition members would have control over their questions themselves in the future. They would not be bound by the total control currently exercised by party leaders, House leaders and whips.
The third part deals with members' involvement in committees. As is the case for oral questions, the party leaders, House leaders and whips are all-powerful and dictate which members sit or do not sit on parliamentary committees.
We had a good example yesterday when the NDP tried everything to take away the member for Repentigny's right to sit on the Standing Committee on National Defence.
Motion No. 535 would introduce a simple new mechanism, a fair approach to committee membership. At present, the order of precedence for private members' business is already determined by a draw. Those who are unfortunate to be picked last have no chance of introducing a motion or bill.
Without affecting each party's proportion of seats on a committee, my motion suggests that the last member to be picked to introduce a bill be the first to choose which committee to sit on.
As for oral questions, the motion proposes a simple mechanism so that members who have professional experience or expertise on a specific matter can trade places with one of their colleagues.
The motion also proposes adding one or two seats to every standing committee given the fact that 30 new MPs will be elected in the next election. That would allow all of us, even independent members—who are just as legitimate as the other MPs, do not forget—to sit on committees and advocate for our constituents.
At the end of the day, I am not proposing anything radical. On the contrary, I want to get back to basics, to the real role of MPs, which is to represent their constituents and bring their legitimate requests and their hopes to the House of Commons.
We need to be able to speak freely on behalf of our constituents. Members should not be muzzled by the party establishment. We need to have the tools to do our jobs without being constantly exposed to arbitrary sanctions imposed by the group that surrounds the leaders, House leaders, whips and caucus chairs.
That is one of the basic philosophies of Force et démocratie: respond to the public's desire to have elected representatives who are independent enough to advocate for their interests and beliefs.
Too many people are cynical about partisan politics. They want and hope for a party where each member's loyalty lies first and foremost with the people of their riding, their region, whether they are workers, unemployed, men, women, seniors or young people.
They are frustrated by rigid party lines expressed as canned speeches in bafflegab. The people want an opportunity to take back political power through MPs who refuse to play by the traditional rules of power.
They want a party that will change the concept of politics and the real role of an MP to break with cynicism and bring meaning back to politics. They want MPs to have their hands free so they can facilitate and develop their communities and work as partners with civil society. That can only happen if MPs can act unencumbered by the abusive control of party leaders and their entourage.
I believe that this will improve the political climate and help put an end to the permanently antagonistic atmosphere among the parties. Voters want MPs who are ready to collaborate and work with other political parties to make real progress for people in all regions. They want us to share our strengths in order to build a better democracy.
Through Motion No. 535, I am offering parliamentarians in all parties the opportunity to regain full control over and the full extent of their duties. I am doing so to help them better serve their constituents and the common good. After all, they are at the heart of the democratic process.
I am appealing directly to the leaders of the parties in the House and calling on the leaders of the Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois to give their members the chance to vote without restriction on this motion.
I am asking them to live up to their duties and call for a free vote. I am also asking them not to spread misinformation about this motion and claim that there are technical obstacles where there are none. This is a simple motion that can be applied without delay. This is a fundamental principle and a commitment to democracy.
This is an opportunity for them to show today that they refuse to buy into the ambient cynicism and they trust the elected members of their caucuses. Doing the opposite would further prove the need for this motion.
To sum up, I hope that all parliamentarians will have a chance to take the time needed to carefully analyze this motion. It is long, but simple. It aims to bring democracy back to the House. As many may recall, even if they were not here at the time, members from all regions used to scamble to defend their constituents and their region and speak on their behalf. Over time, political parties began taking over, for reasons of cohesion and organization, among others. They have taken over too much. Now political parties are undermining democracy. We have to get back to basics, to fundamentals.
Some members have told me that their parties were trying to claim that this motion is not enforceable. I drafted this motion with the help of the Law Branch of the House of Commons. We looked at everything that could present an obstacle to its practical application. This motion is enforceable; it will not have to be debated in committee. It will be enforceable immediately. It will allow MPs to take back their power and exercise their full fundamental role as representatives of their riding and their region.