House of Commons Hansard #159 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was seniors.


Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-32, Victims Bill of Rights Act, at report stage.

This charter codifies the federal rights of victims of crime to information, protection, participation and restitution. It also amends some related legislation. Basically, this charter is meant to grant rights to victims, who have often been the forgotten parties in our justice system.

We are at report stage, but it took eight years and countless photo ops and press conferences for the Conservatives to finally decide to introduce their bill. I would really like to believe the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice when he said that they consulted 185 groups and 300 online submissions, but I am not sure they actually heard the message.

All the parties represented on committee agreed on the charter, although we tried our best to improve the charter so that it would produce the desired results for victims. My heart breaks for these victims. However, this is a first step, so we will take it. It is important to be positive in life.

That said, we could have done so much better. We already spoke about this charter at length at second reading. The parliamentary secretary has already named a number of witnesses, and I will not repeat that. However, I will say that about 40 people appeared before the committee over the many days we spent listening, reflecting and presenting amendments that we felt reflected the concerns of victims.

At least we had enough time to hear all the witnesses we called in. As an aside, Saskatchewan submitted a brief in the form of a letter and Alberta's justice minister provided testimony via video conference to share his arguments.

It is too bad, because victims groups, victims rights groups, and legal groups all agree: the responsibility of enforcing this bill of rights will fall to the provinces. We all realize that. It is clear that the provinces will bear the burden of codifying these rights to information, protection, participation and restitution.

It is too bad that we did not get opinions from all the provinces, but at the same time, as one witness in committee said so well, this suggests that the provinces are not very interested in this Canadian bill of rights.

More often we were told that this bill of rights simply codifies federally what is already being done on the ground. The victims rights groups showed us that this is applied haphazardly and in different ways in various regions across our large country. That might be the good thing about this victims bill of rights, but the provinces still need to be on board. As a crown prosecutor who testified before the committee wisely said, if every tribunal applies these rights differently, then we are no further ahead.

We could have done so much better. The government rejected a number of sound amendments. I will read a few.

I am especially saddened to hear that victims rights groups, or the victims themselves, came before the committee to tell us that the problem with the charter is that there is absolutely nothing binding in it.

We often rise in the House to criticize the government for its mandatory minimum sentences and the fact that it basically forces the courts to go in a certain direction and does not let them be the judge or use their own judgement and experience to hand down the best decisions. We have a charter that offers too much flexibility, to the point that just about anyone can do just about anything with this charter.

The message for the victims is sad, but also positive. The positive aspect is that we are finally talking about the victims and we are all united in this. Something has to be done, something has to happen. A heartfelt plea has been made and heard. We must not allow this to be forgotten, so that in three, four, five or six years we will not have to go back to the drawing board and do things right.

I want to give some examples of how this is not very binding. The bill of rights provides for a complaint mechanism. We cannot tell the provinces how to do their job. At the federal level, no one is quite sure how this complaint mechanism will work. To whom do people complain? What we are being told is that if someone files a complaint, the decision will not be binding, so as not to create problems. This means that we have a complaint mechanism, but ultimately, it will not do much.

I also want to talk about the right to information. I think it is rather absurd to say that victims have a right to information, since victims will have to assert that right. The amendments that the NDP proposed in committee were basic amendments. They had nothing to do with how the processes work. They did not affect outcomes or protections for the accused. They were in full compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but at the same time, they made certain aspects of the bill of rights stronger, such as the right to information. All victims have the right to information, but not as it is currently set out in the bill of rights, which states that they must request it.

It is a matter of onus. The onus is still on the victims. Victims have to ask for their rights, whether it be the right to information or the right to be kept up to date. Things will be done only at the victims' request. In my opinion, the crux of this bill of rights is found at the very beginning of Bill C-32. That is the very heart of the rights set out in this much-touted bill of rights. Without that, it is just a bunch of statements of principle that do not amount to much.

The bill enacts a bill of rights and then states:


Every victim has the right, on request, to information about...

In clause 7, it reads:

Every victim has the right, on request, to information...

Clause 8 indicates:

Every victim has the right, on request, to information...

If we want to do right by victims, if we want to really give them rights, if we want to give them their rightful place in the justice system, then at some point we need to do more than introduce a bill filled with platitudes.

We are not objecting to Bill C-32. I agree with everyone that it is a small step in the right direction. I am pleased that the government accepted an amendment from the opposition, one of the amendments that I proposed. I am not trying to flatter myself because I feel as though my proposal was completely watered down. We were asking for the House of Commons committee, the Senate committee or the committees for both chambers designated or established for that purpose to examine the application of the enacted Canadian victims bill of rights two years after clause 2 came into force. The Conservatives changed the timeline to five years.

That is rather unfortunate, as is the fact that they did not agree to listen to the provinces, which were asking for a little more time to apply the bill of rights.

Money will be the sinews of war when it comes to the application of the bill of rights.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech and her leadership at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. She is a real leader in committee.

She spoke a bit about the amendments that the NDP proposed in committee. I feel that at least one of those amendments was very important, namely the one that proposed an annual report with statistics. I would like to hear the member talk about that.

As we say in English, “If you can't measure it, you can't manage it”.

I believe that was the point of the amendment.

Could the member explain why this amendment was important and talk about the reasons the government gave for rejecting this worthwhile suggestion?

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the hon. member for Charlottetown. I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to say a few more words. He is right, this amendment was extremely important.

Amendment No. 5 from the NDP created this new clause:


30. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada must prepare and cause to be laid before each House of Parliament an annual report for the previous year on the operation of this Act that contains the following information:

(a) the number of restitution orders [which our Green Party colleague spoke about] made under section 16;

(b) the number of requests for information [from victims] made under sections 7 and 8; and

(c) the number of complaints filed under sections 25 and 26.

We feel this is a vital part of ensuring that this kind of bill succeeds. In 10 years or less, victims will have faced this legal ambiguity first-hand, as it will likely come into force in the coming year. It would have been useful to have these statistics.

However, once again, as in so many other areas, this government is not very fond of statistics. It does not like any facts that could prove that this was all just a smokescreen. This charter presents well in polite company, but it needs a little more meat on the bones.

That amendment would have put more meat on the bones, but unfortunately, the Conservatives rejected it.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Craig Scott NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to thank my colleague, who has, not just on this bill but on countless bills, put in so much effective and hard work in the justice committee.

The question I had asked earlier of the parliamentary secretary touched on a bill that we worked on dealing with surcharges. One of the things I have learned about the government's attitude is the idea that support for victims from the federal perspective comes from one of two things. One is the perpetrator pays, which is a completely inadequate philosophy given how little money most have and how little that would amount to anyway, and/or the provinces pay.

I wonder whether my colleague would comment and agree with me, perhaps, that the understanding of the government about the criminal law jurisdiction of the federal government is entirely cramped and that it really stops at the gates of legislating for law and order purposes and really does not take into full account the responsibility of federal law for working with the provinces to deal with victims and their families, and the trauma and grief they experience, in particular.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will try to be brief, but we could hold an entire conference just on this subject.

When it comes to criminal justice, in particular, we often have the impression that the Department of Justice is a bill-making factory. Lawyers in the Department of Justice, whom I commend, work incredibly hard.

These are fine principles, the Canadian victims bill of rights and tougher penalties for criminals. However, once they are debated in this magnificent, beautifully decorated chamber, it is the real people outside these walls who must work every day with real victims and in real courts in the provinces and territories. It is the real world that is called upon to enforce these laws, which we spew out at at an alarming rate.

We need to proceed a little more thoughtfully when it comes to matters of justice, otherwise there will be chaos. If we think people have a bad impression of the justice system now, it will only get worse in the years to come.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-32, the bill on victims' rights. I am also pleased to indicate that the Liberal caucus will continue to support this legislation.

As the members opposite will fondly recall, supporting victims of crime has long been a Liberal priority. Specifically, I would point to the Liberal government's 2003 statement of basic principles for justice for victims of crime. This statement was collectively drafted by provincial and federal representatives to modernize basic principles of justice for victims.

As the Department of Justice states, those are the “basic principles continue to guide the development of policies, programs and legislation related to victims of crime. They also provide a foundation for the Policy Centre for Victim Issues' work”.

Further, in 2005, with the hon. member for Mount Royal serving as justice minister, the Liberal government announced new initiatives to support victims, including allowing them to apply for financial assistance to attend the National Parole Board hearings of the offender who harmed them.

I also want to acknowledge that victims' rights is an issue that has drawn multi-party support in the past. The Liberal government's progress built on earlier efforts from the 1988 Progressive Conservative federal government, which also worked together with the country's territorial and provincial justice ministers.

This is the sort of constructive engagement with the provinces and territories that many on this side fondly recall. This type of co-operation for the betterment of Canada has been eroded in recent years.

Bill C-32 contains a number of suggestions for helping Canadians who are victims of crime, violent crime in particular. This bill creates the Canadian victims bill of rights, which provides victims with a substantial number of legal rights.

Even though in many cases Bill C-32 simply codifies existing rights and practices, when it comes to helping victims, I am pleased to side with legal certainty.

What does Bill C-32 seek to accomplish? It seeks to create the rights to information and services that will give victims peace of mind during the criminal proceedings they will be involved in and thereafter. It will clarify the victims right to be protected, to submit a statement, and to obtain restitution from offenders. It will make it easier for vulnerable victims to testify, expand intimidation as a criminal offence, and amend an archaic statute in the Evidence Act in order to compel testimony from the spouse of an accused, a law that has already been subject to a number of exceptions.

However, though we generally agree with what the government seeks to accomplish, we wish the government would have followed the practices of former PC and Liberal governments by accepting advice on how Bill C-32 could have been improved for victims of crime. The committee process could best be described as a missed opportunity.

Bill C-32 is not a perfect bill. A significant problem is that it would increase the obligations on backlogged courts and the demands on prosecutors, without increasing the resources allocated to meet those obligations. In short, the bill would assign new work without providing new funds. Apparently, the government is operating on the assumption that our courts and prosecutors are underworked. Of course that is not the case, and the already overburdened provinces will have to pick up to the tab.

To the point on resources, I would like to share with members one example included in the Canadian Bar Association's recommendations, an example I shared with our Conservative-controlled committee in the hopes that it would seriously consider improving the bill. The example deals with the new requirement that prosecutors attempt to inform victims of plea deals.

I will read a quote from the Canadian Bar Association:

A typical experience for a front line Crown counsel dealing with the proposed legislative change might go like this:

A Crown counsel is dealing with 100 cases on a particular morning where the accused is scheduled to enter a plea. Lawyers for ten of the accused inform the Crown only that morning of a guilty plea.

The Crown has no time to contact victims of the ten accused to tell them of the proposed pleas. When the Court asks the Crown if victims have been informed, the Crown says no, in regard to the ten cases. The Court adjourns those cases, so the guilty pleas are not accepted. By the next appearance, four of the ten accused change their minds about pleading guilty and want a trial. Victims are then required to testify when they otherwise would have been spared the trauma of reliving their experience through vigorous cross-examination.

At committee I introduced an amendment to remedy this flaw in the bill, a flaw that without the provision of additional resources is likely to slow the administration of justice and traumatize a significant number of the victims we are all trying to help.

As the Canadian Bar Association recommended, I suggested that a victim only need be notified of a plea deal where there would be a joint submission on sentencing, that is, the deals that the prosecutors would more likely have made in advance. These are also the deals where the Crown would be suggesting a particular sentence rather than a plea to a lesser offence.

What was the Conservative response? Before the Conservatives voted against this particular amendment of mine, the parliamentary secretary and the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe said the following:

We're concerned that this amendment would lead to delays, and would place an undue burden on the crown prosecutor. The system has to function, and for that reason, we can't support this amendment.

The purpose of my amendment was to reduce the wait times this bill will create, but the Conservatives decided to vote against that amendment. I would like them to explain the logic behind that, but then again contradictions are notoriously hard to explain. That is just one of the amendments that I proposed.

In committee, the Conservatives rejected 18—that is right, 18—Liberal amendments that could have improved this bill. They did not reject the amendments because they were bad. They rejected them simply because they were Liberal amendments.

Honourable colleagues, this kind of behaviour is Parliament at its worst. With that in mind, let us look at other amendments the Conservatives rejected.

As I indicated in an earlier question at committee, we heard from a witness named Maureen Basnicki. Ms. Basnicki is a Canadian whose husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks. At committee, she explained that she had experienced difficulty in accessing victims' services because her husband was murdered by terrorists outside the country. She urged us to extend any lawfully available domestic rights to Canadian victims of crime that occur outside of Canada.

I would like to share some of her testimony with the chamber. She said:

....perpetrators of crimes are still demanding their rights as Canadian citizens when they've been successfully prosecuted for crimes outside the country, and I want to bring balance to this. This is not a new step. It's new for Canadians, perhaps, but other countries do this, many other countries. Most other countries do.

After listening to Ms. Basnicki, I introduced an amendment to capture her unfairly overlooked constituency, to grant domestically available victims' benefits to Canadians who have experienced serious personal injury crimes outside the country, or whose family members have been murdered outside the country.

The Conservatives refused to include the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the legislation, and refused to amend it after hearing from Ms. Basnicki.

We also heard from a representative of the Chiefs of Ontario, who wanted to bring some balance to consider the unique circumstances of aboriginal victims in the justice system. All of the amendments proposed by the Chiefs of Ontario were similarly rejected.

Bill C-32 is not a perfect bill, but it is a good bill. It will do good work for Canadian victims of crime, so the Liberals will support Bill C-32 and endeavour to improve on these efforts when we form the next government.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech. There is no denying that the Liberals unfortunately have little to show for their 13 years in power. In 1996, they promised to introduce a victims charter. However, like their Conservative friends, they merely made a promise and got a lot of mileage out of it while they kept on postponing any such initiatives.

I would like to know why, under the government whose party my colleague now represents, this measure was not established and implemented.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that the member heard my speech. The first paragraphs of my speech highlighted all the measures implemented by Liberal governments and the measures introduced by the former justice minister, the member for Mount Royal in 2003.

Perhaps it bears repeating. In 2003, the Liberal government passed a statement of basic principles of justice for victims of crime. In 2005, the member for Mount Royal, serving as justice minister, announced new initiatives to support victims, including allowing them to file for financial assistance to attend the parole board hearings of the offenders who harmed them.

I do not accept for a minute that the history and tradition of the Liberal Party has not been in support of victims. It absolutely has been in support of victims and will continue to be so.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Charlottetown for his speech.

It is true that the Liberals, my colleague from the Green Party and the NDP proposed several amendments. We did not do it for the fun of it, but to try to improve the bill and carry out our mandate as a committee. After second reading in the House, the bill goes to a committee where we have the opportunity to hear witnesses explain things and to listen to what they have to say. We take away the key messages, analyze them and try to incorporate them into the legislative process. Then we report to the House.

I wonder how the member for Charlottetown explains the fact that, committee after committee, and despite all the hard work we do, we inevitably get stock answers. The parliamentary secretary reads us an answer, which was probably written by someone else, telling us that the amendment is not acceptable and that the Conservative members will not accept it.

How does he explain that? Do members not have the responsibility, regardless of political allegiance, to do the work they are tasked to do as members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights?

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I share my colleague's frustration. She is absolutely right. The process at committee was not a real process. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a sham.

The process that we saw at committee, and continue to see, makes committees a bit of a joke. It is a perfunctory process. We hear from witnesses who have solid recommendations, including the Canadian Bar Association. That association, apparently, is worthy enough to be consulted when we appoint judges, but when it comes before the justice committee and makes eight recommendations to improve the bill, each and every one is rejected out of hand. It is a sad charade.

Motions in AmendmentVictims Bill of Rights ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The Chair must interrupt the hon. member for Langley at this time. He will have five minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 31 consideration of the motion.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to speak today to Motion No. 535. At the outset, I will be speaking against the motion for a number of reasons.

Although my hon. colleague opposite has suggested some very significant changes to the Standing Orders, in my view, they do not make a lot of sense. Specifically, they deal with three areas of how this Parliament, or any parliament, functions.

First, it speaks to the method in which parties can elect or appoint House leaders and whips of their respective parties. Second, it suggests a significant change to how question period operates. Third, it suggests very significant changes to the composition and selection process of members to parliamentary committees.

Let me start with the first suggestion the member opposite has on how parties should select or appoint their House officers.

The member suggests in his motion that House leaders and party whips should be selected by an absolute majority vote within their respective caucuses. While to some that may seem like a fairly reasonable suggestion, it is inherent with a lot of problems. Let me give just a few examples of where this could be very problematic.

First, let us suggest for a moment that some of the parties would have difficulty in determining which member of their caucus should be selected as their House leader. We could have two, or three or perhaps even more qualified candidates all having support within their respective caucuses, but because of that number, it would be difficult to find an absolute majority for one of the three or four candidates. If that were the case, then clearly that party would be under a very significant hardship because House leaders, as we all know in this place, play a very significant role in the smooth functioning of Parliament.

Second, that should not be the proper way in which House leaders and whips are selected because both House leaders and whips work extremely closely with their party leaders. The party leader must have absolute confidence in those two House officers. Therefore, it would be helpful if party leaders maintained the status quo and appointed who they wished to see as their House leader and their whip.

Third, the obvious, at least on the government side, is that every House leader in a government is a cabinet minister. Many times the chief government whip is a member vested in cabinet. Because of that, they are appointed to the cabinet based on recommendations by the prime minister to the governor general. What the member opposite has suggested in his private member's motion would take that prerogative away from the governor general and the prime minister. Therefore, it really does not look to me that this suggestion would be workable whatsoever.

The member opposite's second point is on how we make fundamental changes to question period. The member suggests that each member of the opposition should have at least one question per week. If my math is correct, there are approximately 170 questions asked weekly by members of the opposition. In the current configuration of Parliament, there are approximately 135 to 140 members of the opposition. Therefore, individual parties would have very little leeway in which to construct a strategic approach to question period.

Let me give an example from the not too distant past. We saw recently, and months previously, the leader of the official opposition would from time to time stand up during question period and ask the first 10, 12 or 14 questions, all directed at the Prime Minister. That was his strategic imperative. The members felt as a party, and he probably felt as a leader, that was the most effective use of their questions during question period. Perhaps it was to give him increased profile. Perhaps they felt he was the most effective questioner in their caucus. Regardless, in was the prerogative of the Leader of the Opposition and his party to determine who in his caucus would ask questions, in what order and how many questions that individual would ask.

Under the member opposite's suggestion, that right of opposition leaders and opposition caucuses would be taken away because, in effect, there would be a selection process where each member of the opposition would have the ability to ask a question each week during question period.

That may seem democratic to some, but I can assure everyone that it would very much curtail the abilities of opposition parties to form a strategic approach to question period. Many times, as we have seen, and we have certainly seen recently, opposition parties will hone in on a particular minister of the government, thinking they have an area to explore, some criticisms to try to exploit. If a caucus does not have the ability to design its own strategy in question period, it is really at a disadvantage.

We know that question period, primarily, is to the advantage of opposition parties, so why in the world would opposition members want that curtailment, which would prevent them from asking the most penetrating and effective questions of the government of the day? Again, it does not seem to make much sense to me.

Last, the member opposite suggested that in the composition of committees, it should not be done as it is now, with the whips of each party selecting members to sit on particular committees based on their levels of expertise or interest. The member suggested, basically, that a reverse order on the order of precedence in private members' bills be used to allow members to select their own committee. Again, I would point out that sometimes members may want to sit on a committee where they have absolutely no expertise, but they want to sit on it because it is something they find exciting or interesting, or they may even feel they have an opportunity to do some travelling. I know that may seem odd to some, but those of us who have been around here for a while realize that some members take that right very seriously.

With all due respect to my colleague opposite, while these suggestions may be, in his mind, an improvement to the way Parliament operates, I suggest it is just the opposite. Further, I would point out that, as the member opposite should know and I hope does know, we currently have a process in Parliament where after each new election there is a requirement for Parliament, through the procedure and House affairs committee, to do a thorough examination of the current Standing Orders and make recommendations for change if it feels it is deemed necessary.

I have been a member of the procedure and House affairs committee for eight of the ten years I have been in Parliament. I can assure members that the examination and reconstruction sometimes of the Standing Orders is not something to be trivialized. It is something to be taken very seriously. However, it is also an extremely onerous task. We have spent the last several years in Parliament examining the Standing Orders, all parties trying to come to some agreement in finding ways to make the Standing Orders better so they better serve all members of Parliament.

I can assure my colleague opposite, who put this private member's bill forward, that members in the committee worked very collegially and effectively. The approach we took was that any suggestion to change the Standing Orders had to be agreed upon by all members of the procedure and House affairs committee who were examining the Standing Orders. We believed that if there was not total unanimity, then it was not worth the attempt to change the orders, because Standing Orders govern and guide us all.

Using that approach, we have made a few modest changes to the current Standing Orders, but in years future, should there be a need to change the Standing Orders, it should be done in the current method before us, where the procedure and House affairs committee examines it at the start of each Parliament, makes changes that it feels necessary, and does not make changes arbitrarily through a private member's bill.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak to Motion No. 535.

First of all, I would like to thank and congratulate the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, my riding neighbour, for trying to address some of the dysfunction in Parliament and in the way we operate. Very few of us can deny that some aspects of our work in Parliament, whether it be in committee or the way we are chosen to speak in question period, are dysfunctional or could be improved.

Nevertheless, I cannot vote in favour of my colleague's motion simply because the solutions it proposes will not resolve the various problems. In fact, it does not target the main problems that have been identified by many members of this House.

As the parliamentary secretary mentioned in his speech earlier, this motion contains three main reforms. I would like to provide an overview of each one and tell members what I think about them.

The first reform calls for positions such as the whip, the house leader and caucus chair of each party to be elected by the entire caucus. I think that raises a phoney issue because it relates to the inner workings of a political party. The official opposition, the NDP, has a personalized approach to this situation, and I am sure that the other parties do too.

I do not think that the proposed solution can directly deal with that. I would even go so far as to say that, given the weight members have in caucus, if problems arise regarding the work done by the whip or the house leader, for example, those problems can be resolved by all of the members. In that sense, it is an internal matter that cannot really be dealt with in a motion like this one, which seeks to change the way the House operates.

The second reform would provide for a system ensuring that each opposition member in the House was entitled to ask at least one question per week. I appreciated the speech from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House, who said that we have a British parliamentary system. In our system, the parties can gain power by taking a strategic approach to question period.

Hypothetically, if there is a specific problem that requires immediate answers from the government, it makes sense—especially for the official opposition, but also for all members in the House—to ask questions about it. For example, let us take an issue that pertains to foreign affairs. Obviously, the official opposition should take the opportunity to question the government on this foreign affairs issue. However, the critic on this matter, the foreign affairs critic, would only be able to ask one question—or maybe two—that week. The same goes for the deputy critic. That would be it. According to this motion, if the opposition has a strategic approach, all the rest of the questions would have to be asked by various members in the House who do not necessarily have experience with the matter.

Ultimately, the opposition members, instead of gaining power by asking questions, would lose influence due to the lack of a strategic approach to keep the government on its toes. Again, it is clear that there are problems with question period. It has often been said that the non-answers we usually get from the government are a problem. However, that element of the motion is not really something that will help us resolve this type of problem, which is far more pressing in my mind.

The third reform would use the reverse order of the draw conducted to determine the priority for private members' bills and the order of priority for membership in the various committees. Once again, I do not really see how this would work. To begin, and this is a major omission in the bill, we need to acknowledge that parliamentary secretaries are not included on the list because they cannot introduce private members' bills.

They are therefore automatically excluded from committees. Besides, the organization of political parties in a British parliamentary system is such that each party can determine its own strengths.

I am pleased to be a member of the Standing Committee on Finance. I have some expertise on the subject through my education, work experience and training in the past. I could have sat on other committees, such as agriculture or natural resources, where my expertise could also have been helpful. However, I readily admit that I have less expertise in some other areas. For instance, national defence and foreign affairs are topics that I am interested in as a member, but I have a lot less knowledge in those areas than in finance.

If I were one of the lucky ones to be selected first among the members who get to introduce legislation, I would be the last to choose the committee I want to join. I could therefore not choose to sit on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology or the Standing Committee on Finance. I might even be excluded from all committees.

There is a provision in the motion allowing members to trade roles within committees. However, there is no guarantee, first of all, that members who were elected to join a committee will want to leave it. Second, to get to the point where we are today, where the strengths of each member are recognized and can be optimized in committee, it would be a lot of work to reorganize all the committees in relation to the requests we might expect.

In that respect, there is a major omission. I agree with the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia and all of the independent members of the House that independent members are not represented on committees. This is a matter that Parliament and the House of Commons should address.

This is an urgent problem because the procedure the government imposed for committee membership not only excludes independent members from the committee process, but also prevents them from presenting amendments and debating them in the House at report stage.

Instead, independent members are told to give their recommendations to the committee, where they can give a two-minute presentation, and the committee will then debate without them. I think that solution is totally unfair and takes power away from independent members.

I would really have liked to see some elements in this motion that would enable us to resolve problems related to the way we operate, problems that are a major cause of dysfunction in Parliament.

I really appreciate what the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia is trying to do. He is trying to solve a problem that is not really the House's problem or a problem related to how political parties work. This is about how powerless members whose party is not recognized in the House and independent members feel, how powerless they are. I agree that these members lack the power to adequately represent their constituents.

However, I have taken a close look at this motion, and I do not think that it resolves the main problem; it tries to resolve much more peripheral problems. That is why I cannot vote in favour of this motion, especially since it would be binding. There will be no opportunity to debate it in committee, for example. As soon as this motion is agreed to, if that happens, it will be binding and will immediately change how Parliament works.

If we want to address the issue of the lack of power of independent MPs or other dysfunctional aspects of the House, such as how question period works, there should be a debate. Therefore, I would have liked to see a bill rather than a binding motion. There would be a way for the parties to agree, because we have proposed a number of elements. We had a vote on adopting a mixed member proportional voting system for elections to Parliament.

The NDP supports motions, resolutions or bills that would increase the power of members and the power of the House. Therefore, let all of us discuss this. However, this motion has missed the mark.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I often have the habit of starting my presentations with a quote. I have another one today. All quotes have their shortcomings and do not apply 100%, but I would like to quote Blaise Pascal, who said that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. The spirit of this quote could apply here. The motion introduced today does not represent hell, but the means proposed are not in keeping with the intentions of the motion. I will have the opportunity to explain.

Members will have already understood that I will be voting against this motion for the good reason that we do not have before us a bill, but a binding private member's motion. Therefore, I will not be referring to the two hours of debate, because the two hours allocated for this motion will be two hours of discussion. We will have the opportunity to listen to the arguments for and against from each member who speaks, of any political affiliation, including independents. However, we will not have the opportunity to take this discussion to a higher level where we can ask questions of others or of ourselves and talk about where this motion could be taken further and improved.

Since we are talking about a binding motion, it means that even if we mostly agree with the motion, it would take effect immediately, without any further discussion. A bill would have to go through the regular process, which involves a clause-by-clause examination in committee and a more thorough debate. Most members could have likely gotten on board with that approach.

I understand the member's concerns, but good intentions must be combined with appropriate methods in order to achieve truly democratic parliamentary reform. That is the main weakness of this motion. The motion proposes a legitimate principle, but the methods suggested for achieving it are somewhat questionable or even completely inappropriate.

I want to say right away that I am opposed to this motion, as I already mentioned. Before getting into the mechanics of this motion, I would like to make an analogy, but once again, no analogy is perfect. For those who are watching at home, we are fairly fond of sports here in the House. If we compare a political party to a hockey team, it is easier to understand the problem. It would be one thing if we let players choose their position on the team. They might choose based on talent but they might also choose based on the fact that forwards have better statistics and score more goals than defencemen. If we also asked players to choose their captain, their coach and even their general manager, it is easy to see how this would cause problems that would negatively affect the team's performance. The success of a hockey team or any sports team, like the success of a political party, depends on the ability to put the right person in the right place to do the right job.

In that regard, we are still trying to maintain a balance between members' opinions and our party-centric parliamentary system. Concretely, we are trying to make Parliament work effectively while enhancing the independence of members and their role of representing the interests of their constituencies.

As hon. members know, the public pays close attention to question period. Beyond how it appears in the media, question period is an opportunity for our audience and our constituents to keep abreast of the most pressing national and local issues. For that reason, it is appropriate for a party to be able to develop a strategy for effectively exercising oversight over the government's activities. This motion hinders the opposition's ability to organize and to check and analyze the government's policy choices. The motion proposes mechanisms that totally exclude the strategic dimension of this exercise.

In examining the content of the motion, I get the impression that the hon. member does not know what a party is trying to achieve during question period.

We ask questions to draw attention to local and national issues and show the flaws and contradictions in the government's policies. The ultimate objective is to put pressure on the government and make it reconsider its positions or, quite often, make it do something.

With this motion, it seems as though my colleague wants to turn question period into a game in which the objective is for every member to ask a question. To make the game even more fun, my colleague is suggesting that members take turns, on rotation, asking the questions they want to ask.

We can already imagine, if not the disorganization, how difficult it would be to organize an efficient question period in which we hold the government accountable. I remind members that it is important for every member to participate in this process, but we must keep in mind that we need to see results from our right to ask questions of the government. The most important thing for members of a team is for the team to be successful and to hold the government accountable to the people we represent.

The objective, then, is to push the government to change direction and, more importantly, to reveal to the public the flaws, if not the failures, of its public policies, while putting forward our point of view regarding the day-to-day concerns of our constituents. The motion completely alters the role of question period, because it would prevent the parties from working together and coming up with a consistent, effective strategy for putting pressure on the government on certain issues.

I would remind members that on many bills debated in the House, our effectiveness in question period as the official opposition party has forced the government to make some compromises and back down on some important points. Consider, for example, Bill C-23, which we asked about on a daily basis until the government backed down on some of the more controversial parts of its election reform.

Another example would be rail safety. Our collective effectiveness pushed the government to phase out DOT-111 tank cars, thereby making for safer rail shipment of dangerous goods, particularly flammable liquids like oil.

I find it hard to believe that these issues could have been dealt with as effectively in the kind of random, arbitrary question period that this motion is proposing. What is more, how can this motion ensure that there will be equal representation of genders, languages and regions? Those values are central to our objectives and they will be completely overlooked by the parties if this motion is adopted.

The same can be said of the lottery that would allow members to choose the various committees they wish to join. Once again, it is clear that any team strategy could go out the window. I am not saying that it definitely would and that this is unavoidable. However, there is a real risk that people would choose a committee for the wrong reasons, because one has a higher profile than another or because they are hoping to get re-elected. The basic premise of the work we do as parliamentarians is that everyone's skills should be put to the best possible use. In other words, we should be putting the best person in the best position to get the best results. The lottery being proposed would not achieve that objective.

There are many other reforms we could have worked together on and even agreed on in order to promote the important role that MPs play in the House. I will just quickly mention the option that we put on the table, since I am running out of time. We proposed that after 2015, we no longer use this unfair election method where votes are not given equal value or importance in the House. Proportional representation would eliminate or alleviate many of the problems that this motion is looking to resolve.

I would like to conclude by, unfortunately, restating my intention to vote against this motion. I think that the gap between its objectives and the methods proposed to achieve those objectives is too great for me to be able to give it my support.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Raymond Côté NDP Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia for moving this motion. However, I have to agree with my colleagues who spoke before me.

When I read through the member's motion and saw how he envisioned the so-called debate, I had some serious doubts about what was motivating his proposal, what goal he was trying to achieve and his desire to build bridges, foster dialogue and negotiate better conditions for all members of the House.

Working conditions for the 308 members of the House are far from ideal. Some of our colleagues have little power to act, whether they belong to a recognized party or not. I have been aware of this reality for a long time. In 2015, I will be running in my fourth general election as an NDP candidate. It will also be the 10th year of my life as an NDP politician—I was a candidate in Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière in May of 2006. I made a very long-term commitment after decades of building my own awareness of the political reality of our country.

This debate reminds me of when I was young in the 1970s, imitating my dad, who tuned in to the six o'clock news religiously. The paper that was delivered every day was another ritual at my house. My father read it, and I followed his example on that score too. I very quickly became aware of the issues facing our society and the fact that politics is an unavoidable fact of our lives as citizens of this country.

Since my father was very involved in politics and unions, he ended up becoming a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party of Canada. Unfortunately for him, after the sponsorship scandal, he got mad and tore up his card. Fortunately, as he was deciding which party to turn to, his son gave him a good enough reason to consider supporting the NDP during the elections in the 2000s.

May 2015 will mark the 10th anniversary of my political career as an NDP candidate. One of my important roles has been to support and encourage good NDP candidates in the Quebec City region. I am very proud to have taken on responsibilities in the Quebec City region for the NDP.

In 2011, of the nine seats in the greater Quebec City area, including the two seats on Quebec City's south shore, there were six women and three men standing as NDP candidates. That was an extraordinary achievement. Of these nine candidates, four women and three men were elected, just on Quebec City's north shore.

In trying to meet the challenges of representing different genders, ethnicities and people all across our very large and diverse nation, which has very different social realities, a political party can be an extraordinary vehicle. A political party can direct and reflect the realities of this representation as fairly as possible in order to offset forces and a certain social legacy that can be quite a burden and misrepresent a reality to the detriment of certain under-represented groups.

With its lottery system and its very random system for representation on committees and during question period, my colleague's motion provides absolutely no response in that regard. On the contrary, this motion could lead to huge discrepancies on some committees, for example.

Of course, my colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques mentioned the Standing Committee on Finance. He was especially drawn to this committee, not just out of personal interest, but also because of his qualifications, which are widely recognized in our NDP caucus.

However, we could wind up with poor or absurd representation on committees. I am using the word “absurd” because of the approach proposed in the motion.

After reading the motion moved by the member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, I would say that the biggest problem that I noticed was that it does not resolve the issue of domination of the executive, an unfortunate reality in Canada. In fact, the motion could actually increase that domination. Experts have been discussing and debating this major problem with our political system and our democratic institutions for decades.

I remember buying a book published in the 1960s at a used book store that talked about some of the problems associated with the executive branch and accountability. Unfortunately, the problems with accountability and the domination of the executive have only gotten worse over the years.

Right now, the Prime Minister's Office is exerting so much domination over political life that it is embarrassing, particularly given Canada's democratic tradition, which is widely admired, and rightly so for the most part; however, this tradition masks the outrageous domination that has no place in other political systems throughout the world.

Young democracies throughout the world are doing much more than we are here to try to offset these problems and prevent this sort of domination, which they may have experienced in their history, under a dictatorship, before they built democratic institutions.

Unfortunately, my colleague is not trying to deal with that issue. On the contrary, he is going to tie the hands of the opposition parties and every member who is not part of the government party and leave them at the mercy of the whims and desires of the executive branch and the Prime Minister's Office.

In conclusion, unfortunately, this motion is inadequate and does not ensure that all members of the House will be involved.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

December 10th, 2014 / 6:10 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to this motion. I want to say right off that I appreciate the effort made by the hon. member to bring this matter forward. He is a very amiable member of this chamber, and I appreciate chatting with him from time to time on matters in the House.

I can fully understand, as I am sure everyone in the House understands, the frustration that would drive him to bring forward this motion. It is very hard for the independent members in this chamber, because they are not accorded the rights the parties are. That is what our system is. Why is the system that way? It is not that there are not a lot of changes that could be brought. New reforms have been proposed by the government side, individual members at least, and by our party.

Certainly, the way we operate in this place can be improved, but I think it is really important for us to recognize our responsibilities. We are here because we were elected, and we were elected in certain numbers, which resulted in three parties being represented in this place, and in certain numbers. We are between 90 and 100 members. The government has considerably more, another 20 or 30 members, and the Liberal Party has a certain number of members. Then we have some independents, who from time to time like to stand up and say that they are a party, but in fact, they are independent members.

Everyone here wants to make sure that everyone has a right to participate, because they too were elected by their constituencies. However, as a number have said who have been debating this motion, it is very important that we recognize the system and the way this place operates.

If I had my druthers, I would prefer that this place operate by consensus, but that is a dream for the far future. It is our dream in the New Democratic Party that this can best be achieved through proportional representation. Some of the members of the third party say they like that idea. Other members of that party say they like first past the post, because perhaps they could be the commanding party in the next election.

I think we have to recognize that our system is the system it is, and the electorate brings us forward and we are here representing the constituents. In so doing, we can change the system. We can try to improve it in some way.

One of the things we have tried to do on this side, certainly in our party, is try to be equitable in the way we represent our constituents. If others in this House had the opportunity to join our caucus, they would see a lot of the debate that goes on. One thing we have in common is that we agree that there should be gender balance. We agree that all regions of this country should have a voice in this place. We believe that both official languages should be represented in debates in the House, in question period, and in committee.

It is not always easy to bring that balance, but we certainly endeavour to do that, and we think it is a really important principle for this place that those basic principles be represented.

Unfortunately, while we know that the member means well and is trying to reform the place so that everyone has an equal, or at least a fair, voice, the proposals the member is bringing forward will not enable that to occur. Every member having a chance to ask a question per week would make it very difficult to provide any kind of cogent presentation in question period.

It is very important to recognize that the official opposition has a very important role in this place. It is our duty in the parliamentary system to hold the government of the day accountable, so it is very important that we have the opportunity to be strategic in doing that. To do that, we have to have the freedom to decide who will be raising the questions of the day.

The second aspect the member has raised is committees. Certainly in our party, we can recognize his frustration. We have our own frustrations as the official opposition. I myself have been very frustrated by the difference between this government and the same party but in a previous Parliament, where there was much more toing and froing on what we would discuss in committee, how we would discuss it, and the witnesses who would come forward. We also discussed amendments when the bill was before us, or even in a report.

There are enough frustrations. I do not think we need to make it more complicated with lotteries and those kinds of systems.

We have, from time to time, as some of my colleagues have pointed out, actually supported some of the initiatives of the independents. For example, we defended the rights of the independents when the government moved to constrain the right of independents to table amendments at report stage. We have been very clear. We should be given greater rights in this place.

We also supported the amendments to Bill C-23 proposed by one of my colleagues from the Edmonton area, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, that would have allowed independents to form riding associations and engage in fundraising between elections. We are open to good proposals that come forward and to giving everyone in this place who is duly elected greater opportunities to represent, speak to, and engage their constituents and speak for them when they come to this place.

Again, we have endeavoured to provide the same kind of balance in committees that we have in question period. We endeavour to have both official languages represented through our party, to have a gender balance, and most important of all, to develop expertise, which goes back to the proposals for changing question period. It is very important that the questions we bring forward are based in knowledge, experience, and work at the ground level on the issues of the day that are brought forward either by the government or other members in this place.

I would close by saying that I commend the efforts of the member in bringing the motion forward. He has taken his one spot to speak to a motion in this place to bring forward parliamentary reform. My hope is that the government will finally listen to our proposals and that we will bring together all the representatives in this place to come forward with procedures and policies to make sure that we actually work better together and co-operatively in the interest of Canadians.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we get under way, I will let the member for Hamilton Centre know that in order to keep five minutes remaining for the sponsor of the motion before the House, I will need to provide about seven and a half minutes for his remarks. I am sure he will be disappointed by that, and I am sure the House will be as well.

The hon. member for Hamilton Centre.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the disappointment is far greater on my part than the rest of the House.

I appreciate the opportunity to add my comments to the motion before us. Let me just say at the outset, though, that the best kind of reform we could bring to this place is proportional representation. If we really want to change things and make it better, that is the big move.

I also want to acknowledge the enhancement of independent MPs because this place really is structured around two parties. I will go so far as to say that there are rights that the third, fourth and at times fifth parties do not have. I will give an example and these are things that should be changed.

I was shocked when I got here, having been a House leader at Queen's Park, when it came to ending a bell. Members will remember that the reason we ring the bell is to tell everybody that we are having a vote and they should get their rear ends over to the House and get ready to cast their votes.

We calculate our time because we are all spread out across the precinct and based on fewer green buses because the government has laid off all the drivers. It is interesting that the ones who are driving around in their warm limos are the ones who cut the budget for the green buses that the rest of us have to ride, but I will not go too far on that one at this point.

When those bells are ringing, it is to tell members that the vote is going to happen and they need to get to the House. The bells can be shortened if the whips agree. For instance, if we are all in the House and we have just done something ceremonial, the whips will say that we do not really need to run 30-minute bells, we are all here, we all agree, and we will cut it off after 15 minutes. That is when we see the whips march up to the front, we do the little applause, they do a little bowing, the bells end, and then we move to a vote.

The problem with the process that we have here in this place in terms of the rights of minority parties is that the whips of the parties other than the government and the official opposition are not considered. On at least two occasions, back when there was a minority, the government and the Liberals worked in cahoots to deny us the right to be here.

It was a minority government and those kinds of votes mattered. We did not always really know what the outcome would be. Ending those bells had the effect of denying us the right to vote. All of that would be eliminated if the whips of all the recognized parties were a party to any agreement to shorten the bells. Instead, two parties can do it. Those who are in the other parties, oh well, too sad, too bad; that is just the way it goes.

In terms of reinforcing the rights of independent members and the other recognized parties, we have a lot of work to do because this place really is geared to two parties. Everybody else is sort of a bit player, and I say that with great respect, having been in both the third and the fourth party in my time. No one should be treated as a bit player here. We certainly have some sympathies with that.

In terms of all the various changes that are suggested, I want to commend the member for thinking outside the box. I see our friend, the member from Wellington, has been working for years now on bringing about changes. I think we are getting close to that. Those could bring some refreshing reforms to this place, again, modest but significant in terms of the dynamic of this place. We look forward to hopefully seeing that bill in its final form pass this place.

I compliment the member on thinking outside the box and adding to the list of ideas about how to make this a better place that works better for everyone. However, it is very problematic, certainly from my point of view. Next year, it will be 25 years that I have been in parliamentary places, both here and Queen's Park, and city council before that. It is not the same.

I see some real problems with the idea of electing all those positions. First of all, it has always been my personal position that the leaders of any party need to be able to count on their House leader and whip. If they cannot count on their House leader and whip, they are in big trouble.

There was a time in one caucus, when I was at Queen's Park, when we elected not just the caucus chair, but the House leader and the whip, and that is just a recipe for disaster. If we set aside our partisanship and just go with our personal experience, colleagues will agree with me that caucus meetings are not always Kumbaya, hearts, flowers, and pixie dust. Sometimes there are divisions and fractures—

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Let us just all love.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, now, I see my colleague from Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale is advising me that it is a big love-in whenever the Conservatives meet, so I stand corrected. The Conservatives never fight. They always get along, and everything is fine. I can accept that political defiance and political gravity.

However, it is a real problem. It is a problem of a leader who cannot count 100% on the House leader and whip. The fact that they can be elected means that those who may have just finished a leadership race from other camps could have these big positions and may decide that the election is not over, so we can guess what happens. It is very problematic.

On the other hand, I would like to take the last couple of minutes to support the idea of electing caucus chairs. I have always believed in it very strongly. In my own experience, I was an elected caucus chair when we were in government at Queen's Park. If we think that leaders are omnipotent when they are in opposition, we should see what they are like when they are in government. To me, the one and only mandate that does not come from an appointment by the leader is an elected caucus chair. When we are at caucus meetings, the leader still has all of the power that a leader has, but the caucus chair owes that position and that position only, with a few minor exceptions, in the caucus by virtue of the independent caucus mandate.

That is an important counterbalance to the overwhelming power of the leader, rightly, in our system. It provides a good counterbalance. The rest of it I find somewhat problematic.

If I can get this in at the end, a lot of people want us all to be more independent in the same way that they see in the United States, where the members of Congress can go here and there. The problem is that under our system, we run on a platform. The leader has every right to be able to say to the people who elected them to form a government, regardless of the party, that this is their policy and this is what they are going to enact and that the leader expects everybody to uphold that.

If people do not have to follow party discipline, which can go too far, and say that party discipline is not on at all, how can a leader go about enforcing a platform when people cast some of their votes for us individually—we like to think it is all of them, but that is not true—while others vote for a platform? The leader needs the ability to enhance that platform.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Forces et Démocratie

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

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise in support of Motion No. 535, which I moved. First of all, I want to thank all the parliamentarians who took the time to debate this issue, over the course of two hours of debate, to share their thoughts, to contribute to the discussion and to be thorough, as is necessary in any debate.

Are people afraid of change? Yes, the motion I moved involves some significant changes. These days people are cynical about politics. Parliamentarians should really be asking themselves some questions. We should be looking into why nearly 40% of people do not vote. Some people look to the voter and ask why they did not vote, but I look at us, here in the House, and I think that we need to change our processes. We cannot ignore the fact that democracy is ailing, and when someone or something is ailing—in this case, democracy—we need to make changes and fix what is wrong.

My fix would give more powers to the members. Over time, political parties have become more influential in the House of Commons. Originally, the House of Commons was designed as a place for elected members of Parliament to speak on behalf of their constituents. I understand that there are reasons, in terms of logistics and coordination, for the existence of political parties. I am not saying that they should not exist and should not develop strategies to get across a consistent message in their speeches, in order to score some points against the government or even other parties.

However, we cannot forget that at the very heart of democracy is the idea of electing representatives who have the power and even the duty to come to the House of Commons and to ask questions, pass laws and hold the government accountable. Over time, this power has eroded. Members have increasingly become champions of their party's wishes in their own ridings. Sometimes, they even become their party's spokesperson in their community, instead of being the spokesperson for their community, their region and their territory here in Parliament.

The motion I am moving today is primarily designed to correct certain shortcomings. It is not perfect, I admit. Each of us has a vision of how to reform question period. The motion I am proposing would give each opposition MP one question per week. Members would have had the time to take a close look at the motion. The question slot is assigned to an MP, who can allow the party to use it, trade it with another MP or agree, within the party, to use it in a way that would allow for that unity, that consistency, that powerful impact that each party wants to have in the House of Commons.

Currently, it is the party that determines which MP will be entitled to ask a question. I have heard from members who said that they have asked for the right to ask a question in the House of Commons, but they were not allowed to do so. For various reasons, their party denies them the basic right to question a minister, the government. This motion aims to change that.

I offered to make a presentation to all the parties, to answer questions, both to clarify the philosophy behind the motion and to explain how simple and workable it is. It was drafted with the House's legal experts. It was not drafted in a partisan manner. Every party can define their own terms to make it applicable in everyday life. Ensuring that MPs can have the power to ask questions is fundamental.

The second thing, of course, is to ensure that every member who has the qualifications and expertise can choose the committee he or she would like to sit on, according to the concerns of his or her constituency. That makes sense. Again, a very simple mechanism that would allow the member to trade places with other members, according to the party's strategy, or a strategy that would identify that member as the right person to defend the people of his riding in the interest of the party.

I invite all members to vote, to reflect over the holidays, ask me questions, contact me and see how this motion could contribute to improving democracy.

This is a good motion. Our cravings for democracy might not all be the same. Nonetheless, I invite people to chew on this during the holidays and change the practices of the House.

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



Amendments to Standing OrdersPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.