House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.


Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2Government Orders

1:25 p.m.


Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, certainly, I have been in contact with farmers within my riding. It is a very agricultural region.

There are several measures contained within the budget. One was just mentioned, which is the extension of the capital gains exemption, which of course is financially advantageous to parents who sell their farms to their children. This is advantageous for getting youth and young people involved in farming, which is one of the challenges that our farm sector faces today.

I also spoke about the small business tax credit that is related to EI. Many of our farms are, indeed, small businesses. They employ less than 15 people. They will benefit from that tax credit regarding EI.

Last, in wrapping up, I will mention that we have lowered taxes and the tax burden on small businesses. I believe, if I remember correctly, that the budget contains wording about small businesses now paying about 30% less or the cost of doing business with the government is about 30% less for—

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2Government Orders

1:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please.

Resuming debate, there are three minutes remaining this afternoon for the hon. parliamentary secretary for public safety.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Scarborough Centre Ontario


Roxanne James ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Speaker, I would be pleased to speak for those three minutes.

Our Conservative government's proposal for a missing persons index is being brought forward as part of the economic action plan 2014. Every year in Canada, approximately 60,000 Canadian men, women, and children are reported missing. While 85% of those missing are found within a week, the tragic reality is that some 100 new missing person cases go unsolved each and every year. This means that there are thousands of families across Canada who wait in the dark for years, wondering if their family member will ever come home. In other cases, knowing that their loved one has been murdered, they wait in vain for closure and for justice to be delivered to whomever has harmed their loved one.

This is why DNA can play a vital role. DNA analysis is one of the most powerful tools that police have at their disposal when they investigate crime. Unfortunately, as it stands today, our national DNA data bank has limited use in the investigations of missing persons. Under current and existing laws, using DNA for national identification purposes is strictly governed by the DNA Identification Act. Through the national DNA data bank, police can only access two different indices. These are the convicted offenders index, which contains court-ordered DNA profiles of individuals convicted of a designated offence, and the crime scene index, which contains DNA profiles from biological material found at crime scenes of designated offences.

This information is critical to police investigations, and the national DNA data bank has been highly effective in helping to bring criminals to justice, exonerating the innocent, and linking crime-related incidents together. However, the act does not allow DNA to be added, retained, or matched to support missing persons or unidentified human remains investigations. In other words, there is no mechanism by which DNA, on a national basis, could be used to help advance missing person cases and hopefully bring that closure to grieving families.

For several years, Canadian families have called for changes to the system. They have advocated for a system in which DNA analysis could be used to link missing persons to unidentified human remains to help reveal their identity and their location. With Bill C-43, we will move ahead with these changes to help bring closure to these families and help our police with their criminal investigations.

We would amend the DNA Identification Act to create a new humanitarian application of the national DNA data bank. This would include creating three new indices. As I just mentioned, we would create the DNA-based missing persons index, which would contain the DNA profiles of biological material found on personal effects of missing persons. This index would be used to help find missing persons and identify previously unidentified human remains by comparing these profiles with profiles contained in all of the other indices.

Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2Government Orders

1:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I must interrupt at this point. The hon. parliamentary secretary will have seven minutes remaining in her speech when this matter returns before the House.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2014 / 1:40 p.m.

Forces et Démocratie

Jean-François Fortin Forces et Démocratie Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC


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;

(g) Finance;

(h) Fisheries and Oceans;

(i) Foreign Affairs and International Development;

(j) Government Operations and Estimates;

(k) Health;

(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.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia for his speech

Members on this side of the House have and will continue to advocate for greater independence for members in the House. One measure instituted by the Prime Minister's Office at various committees was designed to prevent independent members from introducing amendments to different bills at report stage in the House, as was their right. As a result of a ploy used in committees, this power was taken away from them. So, we decided to fight. We have a very thick file about this.

When I studied the motion, I noticed that a basic reform that we had asked for was not included. I am referring to the issue of parliamentary secretaries who sit on committees. That was previously not the case. It was not a tradition, on the contrary. Parliamentary secretaries are members of the executive, even if they have a peripheral role.

I would like to know why this particular item is not included in a motion to introduce reforms and to increase the independence of members.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Forces et Démocratie

Jean-François Fortin Forces et Démocratie Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. We are good friends from neighbouring ridings.

It is important to understand that this is a step in the right direction. Many things could have been added to this motion. This is a fairly long motion, as we noted when the Speaker read it earlier. It had to be long in order to be detailed, enforceable and put in place without delay.

Other aspects could be dealt with by introducing other reforms or motions, but this is a step in the right direction. I truly hope that the members of all parties will examine its merits. I am available to meet with any member who may have questions and I will take the time to provide a proper answer.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, in the past, whenever we have put forward motions or bills that have affected the Standing Orders, in a lot of cases, as a preamble, we have recommended that they go to the procedure and House affairs committee for study first and that members come back with a proposal. They would then put forward a motion based on the findings of experts, parliamentarians, former parliamentarians, and even Speakers of the House.

I have no doubt that what the hon. member has before us stands in good order, but I wonder if he considered that as a first option.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Forces et Démocratie

Jean-François Fortin Forces et Démocratie Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question.

Indeed, there were two possibilities: the motion could be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, or it could be binding, that is, enforceable immediately after the vote. We chose to make it enforceable, because in the past, we have often seen motions referred to committees, especially the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, only to be eviscerated. We wanted to ensure that the motion could not come back, be accepted and then debated.

The purpose of this binding motion is to give all members the right to rise freely and say they want to effectively bring democracy back to the House.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

His efforts here are very important. I am proud to support him, because in the Parliament of Canada, real democracy is being threatened by the extraordinary power held by the major parties

We are here now as members of Parliament. Those of us who are in smaller parties, such as the Green Party, are also joined by those who are independents. We are now 12. We are not just 12 individuals. That is 12 ridings across Canada, all equal but with unequal rights in this place, without any justification.

Surely we should be at least able to get the rights this member has put forward in this motion.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

Forces et Démocratie

Jean-François Fortin Forces et Démocratie Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank the leader of the Green Party.

The fundamental role of an MP, regardless of party, is to stand up for his or her constituents. All members of the House have the same rights and should have the ability to articulate their constituents' desires.

It is therefore important that all members regain the power that has been taken away from them by the political parties so that we can, by establishing new Standing Orders, restore democracy and return to members the privilege of effectively representing their constituents.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the private members' business motion brought forward by the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

This rather lengthy motion would amend the Standing Orders to provide the following. House leaders, deputy House leaders, whips, deputy whips, and caucus chairs would need to be endorsed or elected by an absolute majority of party or caucus members. Each opposition member would be entitled to one question in each question period per week, with rules established for the transfer of that entitlement to another member if desired. Committees would be expanded from 10 to 11 members, or 12, if an independent member wishes to sit on a committee.

Members would indicate their desired committee assignments, and taking into consideration the proportionality of the parties and caucuses represented in the House of Commons, the right to pick committee assignments would be based on the reverse order of the lottery of private members' business. In other words, the last person on the list for consideration for private members' business would have the first choice of committee assignment.

The 40th and 41st Parliaments have seen a number of proposals to reform the Standing Orders. There have been proposals to reform question period, the rules on time allocation and closure, the means for electing the Speaker of the House and the chairs of committees, and the system of petitions.

I would like to speak first to the motion's proposal to reform question period. On April 24, 2013, the House debated a Liberal opposition day motion concerning the reform of members' statements. The proposal would have changed the Standing Orders to require an alphabetical rotation, subject to an exchange mechanism respecting each party's share of members' statements.

The key points that were raised during the debate on the above-mentioned opposition day motion applied to the debate on the motion before the House today. First, the proposal appears to fetter the Speaker's authority and discretion to recognize members. At pages 594 and 595 of O'Brien and Bosc, it states:

There is no official order for the recognition of speakers laid down in the Standing Orders; the Chair relies on the practice and precedents of the House in this regard. The Standing Orders simply authorize the Speaker to recognize for debate any Member who seeks the floor by rising in his or her place. [...] Although the Whips of the various parties each provide the Chair with a list of Members wishing to speak, the Chair is not bound by these. [...] While the Speaker has complete discretion in recognizing Members, the Chair may follow such informal arrangements as may be made...

The motion seeks to establish rigid rules on the operation of question period. The vast majority of the rules for question period are not established in the Standing Orders but rather in other practices of the House. The rules governing question period have developed through traditional and practice, and occasionally have been clarified through a Speaker's ruling.

For example, the current practices for the length and order of questions were developed in 1997 after consultations between the Speaker of the House and House leaders of the recognized parties, and are renegotiated at the beginning of each Parliament. Specifically, the motion's proposal to reform question period would provide each opposition member with the right to ask at least one question per week, and members could exchange that right with another if they so desire.

The result would be considerably less control over question period by parties. It would thereby reduce an opposition party's flexibility to manage questions by its members as part of its role of holding the government to account, including limiting the central place of party leaders and critics in an opposition party's question period strategy. If adopted, the proposal could create an uncoordinated and possibly ineffective series of unrelated questions to the government, with little to no opportunity for supplementary questions.

Further, the motion does not contemplate any extension of question period beyond 45 minutes, as is the current allocation. This would have the effect of limiting or, worse, reducing the time allocated to party leaders and recognized parties more generally.

The proposal would appear to hamper each party's ability to manage its internal affairs and could potentially disrupt the effective functioning of the House of Commons. Of course, these points are directly applicable to the opposition parties, so I will be listening attentively to see what views they will be sharing on these matters after I sit down.

The first point to make with respect to the effect of this motion on the effective functioning of the House of Commons is that two hours of debate is not a lot of time to assess the implications of the motion. As we have seen with other private members' business motions concerning changes to the Standing Orders, those motions have called on the procedure and House affairs committee to study proposals.

Let me turn next to the portion of the motion related to the participation of independent MPs at our committees.

The Standing Orders provide that any member may participate in the public proceedings of any committee but may not vote, move motions, or be counted for the purpose of quorum. Moreover, independent members have had increased participation at committees. For example, each of our standing committees has adopted a motion that allows independent members to submit their recommended amendments for consideration during the clause-by-clause study of a bill at that committee.

Last year, when the procedure and House affairs committee was given an order of reference to study the role and mandate of the Board of Internal Economy and its potential for replacement, the House made special provisions to allow independent MPs to participate in that study, given that the changes to the arrangements for members' offices could have had an unforeseen impact on those MPs who do not sit in a recognized caucus.

Political parties have also made arrangements to accommodate independent members. For example, in the 39th and 40th Parliaments, the Conservative Party gave one of our committee spots to André Arthur, the then independent member for Portneuf—Jacques Cartier.

Motion No. 535 also provides, as mentioned earlier, that membership of committees should be determined by using the reverse order of the list for the consideration of private members' business. However, parliamentary secretaries are ineligible, by virtue of their offices, to move private members' business items for debate in the House, pursuant to Standing Order 87.1(a)(ii). As a result, Motion No. 535 appears to prevent parliamentary secretaries from being members of committees. Maybe that was not the mover's intention, but it seems to be the effect of his motion. If it was not his intention, that goes to my earlier point about major changes to our rules being proposed yet being subject to only a two-hour debate.

This seems odd, since parliamentary secretaries perform the important role of assisting ministers in the discharge of their parliamentary duties. They also serve as a key conduit for information from parliamentarians, especially opposition MPs, to the minister. Certainly the conversations between parliamentary secretaries and opposition critics, collectively the subject matter experts, help inform the conversations that take place among our House leaders.

Finally, speaking of House leaders, that brings me to the aspect of the proposal in the motion that would provide for the election of House leaders, whips and their deputies, and caucus chairs.

The member wrote to all members of the House to inform them of his motion and to seek their support for the motion. In the member's letter, he characterized this element of his proposal as an election. However, the way the amendment to the Standing Orders is worded, it is unclear that an actual election would be required. Specifically, the proposal would add a new standing order to require an absolute majority of party or caucus members to endorse the appointment of the party's House officers by co-signing a letter, with the party leader, to the Speaker naming that party's House officer.

Therefore, the election process contemplated in the motion would effectively provide a veto power to party or caucus members, as opposed to directly requiring an actual election. I would add that the election process for House officers would not prohibit parties from conducting elections if they wished.

I would like to draw to the attention of the members the situation that could arise through such an—

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The member's time is expired.Could he quickly wrap up?

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

I can do that: thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was probably the most gracious wrapping up I have heard in ages.

First, we need to remember and take note of the context in which our colleague opposite spoke. This motion is a take it or leave it deal.

We are voting on a motion that, if adopted, will immediately amend the Standing Orders. These amendments will not be sent to committee and will not undergo a more in-depth legislative review.

That is quite important, because my hon. colleague across the way has already pointed out a couple of problematic parts of the motion that are not mere technicalities, as I think the sponsor might suggest they are. Rather, they are mistakes in the drafting of the bill, which suggests there may be others that we have not yet found.

The motion seeks to increase the independence of members who belong to a recognized party in the House and the rights of independent members. These are principles worthy of our support.

However, this motion does not give sufficient consideration to the legitimate and critical role that parties play in the Westminster system and tradition. It therefore does not establish a fair balance between the rights of members as individuals and the effective operation of the parties and thus of the House of Commons and this Parliament.

The motion does not make it possible to strike a fair balance between promoting the independence of members and maintaining the legitimate role of parties in our British-style parliamentary system, which is party-oriented. This is particularly true when it comes to the changes proposed to the methods used for selecting committee members.

I would like to point out that the NDP has been proposing democratic reform initiatives for years, the most recent of which sought to give the Speaker more authority. We are working on more practical and balanced reforms that will increase the independence of members while still allowing this Parliament to operate.

This includes defending the rights of independent members, as we did when the government wanted to restrict the right to propose amendments at report stage and when we supported the amendments to Bill C-23 proposed by the hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert, which would have allowed independent members to form riding associations and raise money between elections.

The NDP continues to work on other balanced reforms in order to increase the independence of members, including during question period and in the work in committees, and to make Parliament work. We will present those in due course.

Let us now talk about fairness. The lotteries form the basis for the proposal by the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia for forming committees. The lotteries are purely formal exercises of fairness, because they leave no room for a conscious effort to promote real equality. It would be impossible for a party like the NDP to ensure that both sexes are equally represented in committee with the hon. member's proposed reform.

The whip and the House leader pay attention to these criteria when they designate members for the committees. We would not be able to be as proactive when it comes to other considerations regarding diversity, including regional representation, and the ability to communicate in both official languages.

We can also consider things that have an impact on the effectiveness of Parliament. In our system the opposition—especially the official opposition—must be in a position to resolutely hold the government accountable for its actions. In many ways, the domination of the executive, primarily as a result of the combined powers of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Office, has so compromised the role of the House of Commons during times of majority government that we need to protect the remaining tools the opposition has to remain effective. We need to ensure that the most informed opposition members sit on the committees that study the issues they are knowledgeable about or that are related to their role as critics. We also need to ensure that the role of oral question period is not compromised by a weakening of the coordinated strategies that the opposition parties sometimes use during this period to ensure that the questions being asked of the government—sometimes over a period of several days or weeks—are consistent and persistent.

One recent example was Bill C-23, the so-called Fair Elections Act. Members of the NDP asked questions every day for weeks. The government ended up making concessions in some areas, which is very important.

My colleague's motion would hurt the opposition's ability to hold the government accountable during question period by making this period less organized and less effective.

I would finish by returning to the point made by my colleague across the way. There is a drafting problem in the motion, which basically says the lists for composing committees are taken from the list for the consideration of private members' business. The member's draft then says that ministers, as well as Speakers and Deputy Speakers, shall be removed from the list.

In fact, ministers would not be on that list in the first place, because it is the list for private member's bills. Also, parliamentary secretaries now appear not to be part of the list draw because they would not be part of private members' business, but it was clearly not the intention of the member to exclude them. Therefore, my worry is that there are other drafting problems, and that is certainly one of them.

I would end by saying that probably the most important reform, apart from reforms that we will be bringing forward on question period and on the composition of committees, has to be how we structure the House of Commons in the first place.

In the NDP we believe strongly that our electoral system is broken and is unfair. We believe that if we had a proportional representation system, the way in which the House is elected would profoundly change the way the House works. That would include how question period would work. It would create a rebalancing of the power of MPs within parties and it would create a more collegial environment that would be more open to compromise.

At some level, the member's motion has to be lauded, because the underlying concern is real. He is concerned about Independents who are not part of a recognized party in the House, and he is obviously also concerned about the independence of members who are in a party but who at any given time may feel they are not getting the roles they would like, either in question period or at committee.

These are real concerns and they do have to be addressed, but I firmly believe that the way that the motion has been drafted and the fact it would be immediately implemented if we voted for it mean that we have to wait for reforms that will accomplish some of what the member is trying to do with a differently drafted reform.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Resuming debate, there are eight minutes remaining today for the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:20 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, within the eight minutes, I hope to shed some light on the debate. However, many of the points that I wanted to bring up have already been covered by all three of my colleagues here in the House, including the mover of the motion, the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia.

There was certainly a lot of work involved in this proposal. The motion is quite broad in scope, with sweeping measures that would be brought in with one particular vote.

For that reason, I share some of the concerns of my other colleagues, outside of the mover of the motion, in that once it is done, it is done, and then the changes would take place within the Standing Orders. It has been common practice here to take reforms of this magnitude before the procedure and House affairs committee to study. The committee then calls certain experts in the field, along with former parliamentarians and Speakers of the House. Once that is done, the procedure is to come back and report the findings to the House of Commons, and at that point any of the members, excluding cabinet and the Speaker, could produce a motion that picks up on it.

I have no problem supporting some motions that would make changes to the Standing Orders. Some of the particular instances that the member has here have quite a bit of merit and I would vote for them outright, but on others I would want to have more answers before I could decide to move on them.

For example, the hon. member from Ontario, the mover of Bill C-586— the reform act, as it was called across the country—brought in measures prior to that pertaining to question period and its function. The hon. member who spoke on behalf of the government also brought up that point. He quoted from O'Brien and Bosc and talked about how the conduct of question period is based more on precedence and tradition than on what exists in the current Standing Orders. However, my hon. colleague from Ontario was talking about the fact that at the end of question period there would be more flexibility to allow an individual member to stand up and ask a question. Most likely it would pertain to the member's particular riding, as opposed to a particular strategy or news of the day that was national in scope. That is something I would vote for outright.

The allowance for individual members' questions is outlined here in O'Brien and Bosc and our current Standing Orders, which describe the function of question period and how it operates. The motion before us would codify some of what has been performed more by tradition than anything else, and for that I congratulate the member, because more clarity around how we behave is certainly welcome.

The member talked about the three main measures. I spoke about the one pertaining to question period. Another measure is the constitution of certain committees.

As others have said, and as I thought when I first read it, it is a novel concept, because people who do not have first chance at bringing private members' bills would, at least on the other end of that, have a chance to sit on the committee that they desire.

For example, the largest industry in my sector is the fishing industry. I would love to be on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, but it is difficult because we only get one seat. This measure would give me a better chance of doing that. For that reason, yes, I would agree with it.

However, the problem is that parties here in the House have to weigh the national interest with regional interests, gender interests, and so forth. For instance, if someone in the caucus is a member of a visible minority, that person would be beneficial on a particular committee.

By way of another example, if a member formerly served in the Canadian Forces and has a genuine interest in sitting on the veterans affairs committee, I think it is legitimate to ask to do so. However, it is best for that member to make the case in front of people who make the decision and not do it through a draw or a lottery. That said, these are the two ways that we deal with it.

Again, I applaud what the member is trying to do here, because the power of the individual member of Parliament has been eroded for quite some time.

I defend what he is doing, which is why sending it to the procedure and House affairs committee would have probably been a better route. Certainly whether this motion succeeds or it does not, maybe we should consider asking the procedure and House affairs committee to go forward with a study anyway, to see how we can increase the role or the powers of individual members of Parliament.

Again, I would turn to the example about interest: regional interests, gender, and visible minorities. This is what we do in selecting cabinet. When the governments of the day select a cabinet, they use those criteria. It is not just about a particular person who is well suited for that job; they have to consider regional interests.

Right now there is nobody sitting in cabinet from Newfoundland and Labrador. That is because there is nobody on the government side who was elected from Newfoundland and Labrador. There are no Conservatives who have been elected there. I have always said they are a smart bunch in Newfoundland and Labrador. I have always given them credit for that, and I continue to do so, of course.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


Gary Schellenberger Conservative Perth—Wellington, ON

Well, that is just rude.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

My apologies, Mr. Speaker. I went off on a bit of a party tangent.

However, I will say that we do this for a reason, for national interest, to allow someone to sit at cabinet from any particular region of the country, in the same way that the constitution of committees would also benefit from that. I do understand that he is saying they can trade, if need be. A lot of that might happen under his particular motion. However, it is rather prescriptive in how it handles this. Remember, we only get one vote for this and then all of the rules are changed instantly. I would go back to that argument about the procedure and House affairs committee.

The other part with regard to committees is that I have no problem with there being more members, allowing for the fact that there are 30 new seats coming into this House. That is right: we are going to go from 308 members to 338 members across this country.

My final point is that I agree with my colleague from the official opposition. On Bill C-23, we also supported the voice of the independent member of Parliament by allowing that person to have more power within the committee structure. It is a bit difficult to do, but nevertheless it is legitimate. When that person runs as an independent member of Parliament, some of the freedoms and obviously some of the rules that benefit certain parties should benefit that member as well.

As the Liberal Party, we have made moves lately for reform, such as transparency of all of our expenses. We would take the partiality out of the Senate.

We look forward to this debate, and hopefully within the next hour of debate we will also shed more light on all of the topics that my hon. colleague has brought forward, because it is quite—

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

2:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order, please. The Chair must interrupt at this time. The hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor will have two minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

However, it being 2:30 p.m., the motion that the House do now adjourn is deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, the House stands adjourned until Monday at 2 p.m., pursuant to an order made on Monday, October 27.

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)