House of Commons Hansard #118 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was questions.


National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

moved that Bill S-211, An Act to establish a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, rarely in the House one discovers unity around an issue that brings together the people of Canada and their representatives rallied in a common cause. Occasionally, a bill to which we speak already has such broad support that it has gained sweeping support from coast to coast to coast, and sometimes in this chamber we witness a powerful unstoppable energy unleashed when Canadians unite in common cause to defeat a national adversary. It is a great honour to rise on one of those occasions today as I sponsor Bill S-211, an act to establish a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians, also known as the national health and fitness day act.

In the remarks that follow, I will outline the health and health care crises that led to this bill and explain how the bill responds to those needs. I will also pay tribute to some champions of health and fitness, and for those who decide to get involved, suggest some practical ways to do so.

We are facing a battle. An implacable adversary is slowly and insidiously killing Canadians and dragging us down as a nation. I say implacable because unlike a human adversary, there is no person or group to target in making the situation better. The adversary is a pattern of behaviour that has progressively undermined Canadians' level of physical fitness. What is it that I am calling our national adversary? Our national adversary is inactivity. It is costing us and it is killing us.

Canada's inactivity problem drives deep. It is rooted in our culture and wedded to the routines we have developed in our schools, our work and our play. The problem relates to the progress we have made in technology which enables us to communicate by computer seated in the comfort of our homes, of our classrooms and our workplaces. Similarly, screen time, whether in front of a TV, computer or smart phone, has taken our kids off playing fields and put them on chairs instead.

Statistics Canada has reported a continuous decline in sports participation which, from 1992 to 2005, went from 45% to 28% among Canadians age 15 and older. That is less than one out of every three Canadian adults who is as active as they should be. Less than 7% of Canadian children and youth meet the guideline of 60 minutes of activity daily six days per week. Among Canadians age 20 and older, two-thirds do not meet the recommended physical activity levels, that is, to be active at least two and a half hours per week to achieve a health benefit. That is only 20 minutes per day to meet the minimum standards for adults and we are not even doing that.

Statistics Canada has delivered more disturbing news. In the period between 1981 and 2009, measured obesity roughly doubled in most age groups for both sexes. Data from 2009 suggests that approximately one in four Canadian adults age 18 years and over is obese. In 2008 the combined overweight and obese proportion was 62.1%. Nearly two out of three adult Canadians is either overweight or obese.

This trend has dramatic implications since children who are overweight are more likely to be overweight as adults. Among other things, studies have shown that adolescents who are overweight have a fourteen-fold increased risk of a heart attack before they turn 50. Excess weight in childhood is increasingly linked to illnesses once seen only in adults, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, abnormal blood fats, abnormal blood clotting, and thickening of the arteries.

Psychologically, evidence suggests a positive relationship between physical activity and psychosocial health in employees, including emotional well-being, improved mental health, and reduced depression, anxiety and stress. They have all been associated with regular physical activity as well as reduced symptoms of fatigue, enhanced mood, increased quality of life and life satisfaction.

The support for the bill before us is not related to high-performance athletes, but instead to Canadians who are not necessarily involved in athletics. This is not a sports bill; it is a health and fitness bill.

As I biked to work this morning, I was thinking in fact of those Canadian heroes like Terry Fox and my friend Rick Hansen who have shown the world that participation in physical activity is not just for able-bodied people.

More and more persons with disabilities—I prefer the term “adaptive athletes”—have made the point really clear. Look at Jody Mitic, the Canadian veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan, who runs marathons anyway and is now campaigning to be an Ottawa city councillor along with Matt Fleury, another great champion of health and fitness.

Initiatives such as Soldier On and Ottawa's Army Run bring out many of our wounded warriors and others, inspiring with the realization that one does not have to be Wayne Gretzky or Nancy Greene Raine to participate and improve one's health through physical activity.

Our declining health and fitness rates are clearly an economic problem, not just a matter of life quality. The Public Health Agency of Canada has concluded that costs of obesity are estimated to be $7 billion. That is the total cost of the obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Members may have heard the quote from Roman times that a healthy mind relates to a healthy body.

In addition to direct and indirect health care costs, the quality and productivity of our work in Canada will improve if our people become healthier, if only by decreasing the number of sick days. Indirect costs of poor health include the value of economic output lost due to illness, injury-related work disability, and premature death.

It has been estimated that, on average, compared to an active person an inactive person spends 38% more days in hospital and uses 5.5% more family physician visits, 13% more specialist services, and 12% more nurse visits.

The bill that I sponsor today, Bill S-211, tackles problems that touch every Canadian in terms of our health, our quality of life, and our economy. The bill aims to increase the health of Canadians by increasing our physical participation rates.

Specifically, supporters wish to encourage local governments, non-government organizations, the private sector, and all Canadians to recognize the first Saturday in June as national health and fitness day, or NHFD, a day marked by local, provincial and national events to promote health and fitness.

The bill makes particular mention of local governments as they own and operate many of our nation's health and fitness facilities. NHFD supporters want to encourage local governments more aggressively to promote the use of such facilities. Furthermore, we encourage cities and towns to mark the day with local events and initiatives celebrating and promoting the importance of using local health, recreational, sports and fitness facilities.

People around the world know that Canada's mountains, oceans, lakes, forests, parks, and wilderness also offer recreation and fitness opportunities, and we ought to benefit from what we share collectively.

The month in which NHFD falls, June, is not only a time of great weather, but is also parks and recreation month, a time in the calendar already set aside to foster heightened appreciation of our outdoor assets.

The bill is an amended version of a private member's bill I introduced in this House previously which had widespread support, but for procedural reasons did not progress. To be clear, NHFD is not a legal holiday; it will not incur costs of lost productivity. In fact, it is not just a day at all. It is about a dramatic change in lifestyle.

On a personal level, my wife Donna and my children Shane, Jake, and Meimei have inspired me to promote the bill. Donna is a personal trainer. My children all earned black belts in tae kwon do at an early age and are dedicated athletes. I am a pretty active person myself, finding that physical activity keeps me healthy, energized, and effective in my public service.

With the privilege of representing West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country in B.C., I can say that constituents in the riding I represent are among the most active in the country. Where I live, people love the outdoors and are concerned about the physical inactivity problem Canada is facing. I personally learned much from the people in my community, who have inspired me to promote health and fitness as a gift they give to the rest of our great country. I bring Bill S-211 forward today in paying special tribute to the wonderful role models for health and fitness who live in the riding I represent.

The bill was tabled appropriately by my friend and everyone's athletic icon, Canada's female athlete of the 20th century, Senator Nancy Greene Raine. Senator Greene Raine, who is here today, Nancy to her millions of fans, is a proud British Columbian and an articulate spokeswoman for all Canadians in many areas of public policy, but in promoting health and fitness no one can surpass her. Demonstrating great leadership, Nancy won unanimous support for Bill S-211 in the Senate.

I also thank the Minister of Health and the Minister of State for Sport, who have gone out of their way to support NHFD at every turn.

I also want to thank my colleagues across the floor. This bill already enjoys a rare element of enthusiastic cross-party support.

Another distinctive aspect of the bill is the fact that it has already been implemented on a broad scale well before it has become law. Over 155 cities and towns across Canada have proclaimed the day, including Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Halifax, Yellowknife and Pond Inlet. I am especially proud that the earliest adopters included the towns and the cities in the riding I represent: West Vancouver, Whistler, Squamish, Sechelt, Gibsons, Lions Bay, Bowen Island, North Van district and Powell River.

Led by Premier Christy Clark and the energetic MLA, Michelle Stilwell, last spring B.C. became the first province to endorse NHFD, followed quickly by Yukon as the first territory.

On May 30, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities passed a resolution at its annual conference encouraging all member municipalities to proclaim the day, and just two weeks ago, the Union of Quebec Municipalities followed suit.

Members would be amazed at the number and influence of non-government organizations that have endorsed the bill and begun to promote its objectives even before it passes. These include: the Canadian Medical Association; Lisa Ashley and the Canadian Nurses Association; Chris Gray and the Heart and Stroke Foundation; Chris Jones and Physical and Health Education Canada; Bob Elliott and Sport Matters Group; Participaction; Debra Gassewitz and the Sports Information Resource Centre; C. J. Noble and Canadian Parks and Recreation; Richard Way and Canadian Sport for Life; Trisha Sarker and the Fitness Industry Council of Canada; Arne Elias of Canada Bikes; Canadian Interuniversity Sport; Rob McClure and the Ottawa Bicycle Club; Trans Canada Trail, championed by Laureen Harper, Paul LaBarge and Deborah Apps; and one of our recent supporters, Movember.

Additionally, I am grateful to private sector organizations for their support: The Running Room, Canadian Tire and Jumpstart, Kunstadt Sports, Glacier Media, Capital Hill Hotel and Suites, Tractivity, and GoodLife Fitness.

Like most good things in life, the bill comes about due to the efforts of a large team of people over many years. The broad public support for NHFD reflects a unity in this House that began in 2008 during the lead-up to the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. As a large part of the games was to take part in the riding I represent, I spent much time with people asking what we could do to ensure a lasting positive legacy from the games. While gold medals were a crowning glory, we wanted something that all Canadians could claim as their own on an ongoing basis.

The key tragic event that spurred us on was the untimely death of Tom Hanson, a renowned Canadian Press journalist who died in 2009 while playing pick-up hockey. Tom was a young man, only 41. The Prime Minister took the occasion to remind us that we needed to take care of our health.

I had Mr. Hanson's sad experience in mind along with the Prime Minister's words when I met two great heroes of mine, Pierre Lafontaine and Phil Marsh, who have left an indelible imprint on Canada for their advocacy of health and fitness. Pierre and Phil are the energetic coaches of our parliamentary fitness initiative, which I began in 2009 with the support of the members for Sackville—Eastern Shore and Etobicoke North, each of them from different parties in this House.

When I met Pierre in 2009, he was coach of Canada's national swim team. He continues in his role of promoting national health and fitness now as president of Canadian Interuniversity Sport. Phil Marsh is regional manager of the Running Room in Ottawa, who with his boss, John Stanton, is a major force in promoting fitness for all Canadians. Both Pierre and Phil are great men, generous with their time, who volunteer to coach our MPs and senators in running and swimming, each once a week whenever Parliament is in session.

I have also worked with others to create companion events that have supported NHFD, including Bike Day on the Hill, Bike Day in Canada and National Life Jacket and Swim Day on the Hill.

With all that support and all this national enthusiasm, I have to ask the most important question: will a bill like this make any difference to Canada's battle against inactivity? National health and fitness has far-reaching implications, including physical health, mental illness, life expectancy, school performance, national productivity, economic performance, and health care costs. If we do not change our current patterns, this is the first generation of Canadians who will die at an age younger than our parents. We must change our direction.

Bill S-211 will be Parliament's statement that MPs and senators wish to instill in Canadians an awareness of the significant benefits of physical activity, and to encourage our people to get more active. Supporting NHFD is not the whole solution, but it is part of the solution. I encourage all Canadians to take the field in the battle against inactivity, and to be sure to approach their mayors and councillors if they have not already proclaimed national health and fitness day.

I thank colleagues in this House for their support. I welcome them to join me in the parliamentary fitness initiative, for their own health and to demonstrate their commitment to their constituents. I ask that they support Bill S-211. Canada's health and fitness depends on them.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for introducing a worthwhile bill, Bill S-211, which is coming to us from the Senate. The NDP feels it is important to encourage people to engage in physical activity, for all sorts of compelling reasons.

This bill is about prevention, in my opinion, but no funding is being requested.

Does my Conservative colleague not think that the $36 billion in health care cuts that the government is making at the provinces' expense will limit the financial ability of the provinces and territories to invest in prevention? When cuts are made to health care budgets, prevention is often the first thing to go, unfortunately.

This bill encourages people to exercise and it encourages our partners to invest in prevention. However, health care cuts will limit their ability to focus on prevention.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I appreciate the support this bill is getting from the opposition benches.

This bill does not set any limits. It is an effort to spark discussions across the country and encourage the municipalities, the provinces and all Canadians to shoulder their collective responsibility to improve health levels in our country.

It is clear from the support for this bill that everyone understands this. We need to take immediate action to make Canada the healthiest country in the world.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate my hon. friend from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country for introducing this bill in the House, and to also thank members of the Senate and Senator Nancy Greene Raine for introducing this important bill in the other place.

My question to the hon. member relates to this particular issue, which in many ways follows upon the earlier question. There were reports from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who by the way is a well-known runner herself, about issuing a directive to her minister of education, as part of her ministry mandate, to encourage young people to have at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Would the hon. member like to comment on whether this is an important initiative that should be extended across all provinces, and perhaps something that should be considered by all education ministers across the country?

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have to applaud the premier for demonstrating her devotion to health and fitness, and would certainly invite her to have national health and fitness day proclaimed in Ontario, as it has been done in British Columbia and the Yukon.

Furthermore, we need all Canadians to pull together. Although education is a provincial jurisdiction in our country, we as legislators in the House have a role to play, both as role models and in encouraging our provincial counterparts to introduce what was once a national expectation that there be physical education in the classrooms.

We know what pressure our teachers are under. We have certainly seen that profiled in British Columbia in recent weeks with the strike that has just been resolved there. There needs to be more physical activity for students, one way or another.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is simple. This bill has had a bit of history. Often bills do not start in the Senate and come here.

Why is the history of this bill and how it got here important to its development and today's events?

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to highlight the major contribution of Pierre Lafontaine, whom I met in 2009 on a flight to Vancouver. He was the national swim team's coach.

We talked about the lamentable state of Canadians' level of physical activity in general, and we decided that something had to be done. We also talked about how MPs and senators should be role models for everyone.

That is how we came up with physical activity initiatives for all parliamentarians. Ever since, people on the Hill have been inspired. Phil Marsh, the manager of the Ottawa Running Room, got on board with the project and added running to our roster of activities. We now have two permanent, national-calibre volunteer coaches.

Every week, a group of parliamentarians energetically takes on the challenge of swimming and running. The snowball effect is taking over. This month, the Union des munipalités du Québec announced its support for national health and fitness day, and things are rolling along.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to speak to Bill S-211. I rarely agree with what comes from the Senate, but I have to admit that the bill before us today is excellent.

Bill S-211 would designate the first Saturday in June as national health and fitness day. The day would be an invitation to organize local events and initiatives to emphasize the importance of choosing a healthy lifestyle, and it would promote local health, recreational, sports and fitness facilities.

As my Conservative colleague mentioned in his speech, this day would not be a legal or statutory holiday. Rather, it is a symbolic day that fits in nicely with Canadian Environment Week, which is the first week of June. Such a day of awareness would serve as an opportunity to encourage Canadians to think about their physical health. As my Conservative colleague mentioned, the health of our young people could be a lot better. Some young people have unhealthy diets. Many young people—the adults of tomorrow—begin their lives in conditions that are less than optimal. Furthermore, inactivity rates are on the rise in Canada. Of course, all of this can lead to shortened life expectancy, as well as an increase in the number of health problems people have during their lives, especially in old age. This will put additional pressure on our health care system.

Given that the federal government plays a very limited role in providing direct health services, it is the provinces and territories that will be hardest hit. In Quebec, a significant portion of the budget goes to health. Over thousands of years of human evolution, we have learned the importance of investing in health. The saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” suggests that prevention plays a crucial role in the collective mindset. The bill fits in nicely with a preventive approach.

The NDP supports the bill because it meets our party's health objectives, which include prevention as well as an approach based on the World Health Organization's social determinants of health. As I said earlier when I asked my Conservative colleague a question, this is an excellent bill. I am pleased that there is a consensus on it, or at least I think there is. We will see when it comes time to vote in the House of Commons.

The Conservative government claims to be in favour of prevention and helping Canadians live healthier lives. However, in the past year, there has been a lot of media coverage of the $36 billion in cuts that the federal government is making. The provinces and territories will not have that money to maintain public services. A number of provinces are tempted to adopt a two-tier health care system and offer a smaller range of services. That concerns me. Before becoming a politician, I was a health care professional. I have always been involved in the community, and I decided to help people by becoming a chiropractor. When I was practising, people with health problems would come to my office. Some had acute health problems, while others had chronic issues. My work as a chiropractor was related to muscles and joints. Other social determinants that affected my patients' health were a lack of physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption and a poor diet.

Other health care professionals in Canada and I clearly see that social determinants of health, such as a lack of exercise, are risk factors for a number of reasons. The main one is that people who are not very physically active are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and depression. When we exercise, our brain releases hormones that make us happier, which mitigates anxiety. Exercising is good for a whole host of reasons.

It is important that the government promote this day, which is to take place on the first Saturday of June. However, we need to take a comprehensive and holistic view of prevention. We need to stress the importance of physical activity but also ensure that Canadians are eating right and making healthy choices.

The government has been dragging its feet when it comes to food labelling. It proposed a new approach to food labelling, but I am not convinced that that will make it obvious to Canadians what food is good food.

As a parliamentarian and a health care professional, because my former profession is still very dear to my heart, my goal is to help Canadians live longer, healthier lives. The $36 billion in cuts to health care will undermine the prevention programs provided by the provincial and territorial health care services. That is a shame.

When governments have to make tough budget choices, they often cut prevention programs, unfortunately. Even though this bill encourages people to exercise more, the government's other measures will undermine prevention programs and people will neglect their health.

Let us come back to the bill, since that is what we are actually talking about. We think that every level of government—the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments and even community governments—must encourage Canadians to adopt an active lifestyle.

A number of measures can encourage people to be more active. For example, we could make it easier to access federal parks and local physical fitness centres and get involved in community sports teams. The government cannot solve all the problems, but if it can be a facilitator, then all the better.

What is more, the NDP believes that the federal government should work with the provinces and territories to ensure that every child can lay the foundation for an active and healthy life. Many schools need breakfast programs because some children arrive at school with an empty stomach, which is not ideal for their bodies or their minds.

Still today, in 2014, not every young Canadian is lucky enough to start their day of learning and exercising in the best conditions. If our children do not eat a healthy breakfast, then it is very hard for them to have enough energy to be physically active.

I do not want to generalize because I know that there are difficult choices to be made. However, when I went to school, we had a lot of gym classes. Even though it was not my favourite class, in the end I reaped the benefits of physical activity. Therefore, I encourage everyone who makes decisions about the level of physical activity of children to remember that they need to be active.

Even though I do not consider myself to be athletic and am not really a cycling enthusiast, as the honorary chairman of the Tour Solidaire I cycled 265 kilometres over three days this summer. It was really tough.

However, I was in much better shape after this activity and so I want to keep up the good habit of being more physically active.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing a matter that I believe is very important for all Canadians: our health and what we can do to maintain or improve our health.

First of all, I know that this is not possible for everyone because, in some cases, serious illness prevents some people from being as active as others. However, in my opinion, people should do what they can.

Before us is Bill S-211, an act to establish a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians. I actually prefer the short title, the national health and fitness day act.

While the bill has already been passed in the Senate, it was introduced in the House back in June. I think it was June 16. I know its sponsors hope to have it passed by the end of the year.

In that regard, its sponsor in the Senate is Senator Nancy Greene Raine. At the risk of embarrassing her just a tiny bit, I have to mention that I was on the Ski Martock Nancy Greene ski league team when I was 12 years old, which is remarkable, considering she looks younger than I do. I do not know what that is about.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

John McKay

It has been downhill ever since.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

M. Speaker, it has been downhill ever since, as my colleague says.

While the goal of the bill is to make Canada the fittest nation in the world, there are tremendous benefits at all levels. The support that the organizers of the bill have pulled together is truly impressive. That is why this kind of legislation is very easy to get behind and is also something that will, I hope, touch the lives of millions of Canadians. Increased physical activity promotes not only physical health but also mental and emotional health.

I see my colleague, the sponsor of the bill in the House, out running in the mornings. He has kindly invited me to join the group that runs Tuesday morning. We sometimes cross paths. We will see. One of these days I will meet up at the right time with them and join them for one of these runs.

What I find is that one of the great benefits is the psychological benefit. People may not believe it, but this job can be stressful at times, and one of the great things about regular exercise is it lowers stress levels and makes people feel better emotionally and mentally. That is important.

For each of us in the country, our health, our outlook on life, our well-being, and our personal performance can all be improved if we ensure that we eat properly and exercise regularly—that is, those of us who are able to do so. Personally, it would be a lot easier if someone had not invented cookies or ice cream, but I digress.

As we grow older, maintaining a fit lifestyle becomes even more important. In fact, that is why I was delighted to have about half an hour or so yesterday to do a little kayaking with my wife. We put our kayak on the car and took it down to the water, to Bedford Basin, which is fortunately only a couple of minutes' drive away. It is salt water. We went for a paddle for a little while, and then we had to get back home because we had to have supper and I had to take off and come to Ottawa. However, it is good to get out to do things, even for these little bits of time, especially when we do them together.

We know that many Canadians are living unhealthy lifestyles, which leads not only to the risk of premature death but also to increases in chronic diseases. It impacts on our quality of life and puts pressure on our health care system. There are things that most of us can do to try to reduce this problem and reduce the cost to our health care system.

Those are just some of the reasons that I agreed to second a similar bill that was put forward by my hon. friend, the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, several years ago. It is also why I am pleased to support this legislation.

As many members of the House know, I strongly believe in the benefits of fitness and I do try to practise what I preach in this regard. In fact, I ran this morning, and I am training right now for the Valley Harvest Half Marathon coming up in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia on Thanksgiving Day weekend.

I am looking forward to running it with our eldest daughter, Kate. She is busy doing her law articles this year, but she is somehow finding time, not easily, to train for that as well.

It can be a challenge. I do not know if I will ever do a marathon, because a marathon takes a lot of time to train for, but we will see.

My hon. colleague spoke a moment ago about cycling; I cycle each summer in the MS Bike tour, and I also cycled to work this morning with my colleague. For me it is a pretty short ride, but the bike is great for getting around Ottawa to get groceries or to go for some exercise. I also run each year in the Blue Nose Marathon 10K, although not the full marathon.

This all helps, whether I am on the ice playing hockey or occasionally playing with the MP soccer team and trying not to look like a pylon in either case.

Of course, we are all aware here that Bill S-211, which originated in the other place, would designate the first Saturday in June of each year as national health and fitness day. The goal is to highlight the need to increase the level of fitness in this country and encourage Canadians of all ages to curb our bad habits.

Rates of obesity and lack of physical activity have continued to grow over the past several decades, and that is extremely worrisome. It should be worrisome to all of us. Many Canadians are living unhealthy lifestyles with longer work hours, consuming more and more processed foods, and finding it hard to fit regular exercise into their busy lives.

This trend is bad news. The good news is that we can change. We may need a little motivation, but I know we are up to the challenge, because Canada, after all, is a nation of doers.

Sometimes we just need a little incentive, and I think that Bill S-211 seeks to engage communities and Canadians in providing a bit of that incentive. It seeks to engage us in living healthier, more active lives. It builds on the fact that communities across Canada have already expressed support for a national health and fitness day. I am hopeful that more and more will support us in this effort.

In fact, it is my understanding that more than 150 Canadian municipalities have already proclaimed some sort of health and fitness day. In my home province of Nova Scotia, there is a strong commitment to promoting health and fitness, and there is a growing list of communities on board, including the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Chester, Guysborough, Halifax, Kentville, Middleton, New Glasgow, Port Hawkesbury, Hantsport, Lunenburg, Shelburne, and Stewiacke. I look forward to many more joining that list. Kudos to those communities and to the many more that we expect to follow suit.

My caucus colleagues in the Liberal Party have a long history of promoting healthy living. In 2005, the previous Liberal government invested $300 million over five years to the Public Health Agency of Canada for the integrated strategy of healthy living and chronic disease. One of the key pillars of that investment was promoting health by addressing the conditions leading to unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, and unhealthy weights.

To sum up, I am delighted to be speaking in support of the bill. I encourage all of us in this House to get out there and be physically active and lower our stress levels. That might help around here, as a matter of fact. Who knows what impact that might have in this chamber?

I look forward to voting in favour of Bill S-211.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to stand here today and talk about why I support Bill S-211.

I want to challenge my colleague across the way. On the same weekend that he will be running the half marathon, I will be running a full marathon in Moncton. It will be my eighth marathon, and I am trying to do one in every province. I will have Newfoundland and Manitoba left to do after this. I have done the Bluenose already, so I know the member can do it, and I want to congratulate him on his effort.

In the few minutes I have here, I would like to talk about the 10 top reasons that I support Bill S-211, an act to establish a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians. It is a coincidence that I am borrowing the top 10 list from talk show host David Letterman, who went to Ball State University in Indiana. My daughter went there on an athletic scholarship, so there is a bit of a connection with respect to health and fitness and stealing his top 10 list.

I am excited that this legislation seems to have the full support of all members in the House and that in the near future the first Saturday of every June will be a national day to promote health and fitness for all Canadians.

Let me mention all 10 of the reasons that I support this legislation in case I do not have time to mention them all.

First of all, this bill is universal. It affects everyone.

Second, the bill aligns with a motion I put forward in the House on obesity, a motion that was unanimously passed.

Third, it brings awareness to the problem. Nobody can fix a problem if they do not know that there is one. A day promoting health and fitness would let people know about the problem. It would coordinate efforts to promote health and fitness across municipalities, provinces, and the whole country. It would help to provide opportunities to promote health and fitness.

A national day would provide an opportunity to celebrate the success of those who have made a difference and are making a difference in their own lives and the lives of their families, communities, provinces, and country.

As the mover of the motion has said, this is not all about elite or pro athletes, and I will come back to that.

As a practical point, health and fitness reduce health care costs, and those costs affect every taxpayer across this country.

A national day to promote health and fitness would be a national statement. It would be about our country and where we are going in this particular policy area.

I would like to say a few nice words about the supporters of the motion, both in the other place and in the House, but first I would like to talk about the universality of a national day to promote health and fitness.

Health and fitness affects everyone from eight to 80. In my own family, a number of my immediate relatives have lived past 90. Health and fitness play a significant role in the quality of their life, as well as in the quality of life for young people, middle-aged people, and seniors. significant role in the lives of our youth and seniors.

Quality of life has several aspects. Having the financial support to look after oneself is also important, but one area that is absolutely under the control of individuals is their own physical health. They can take advantage of all opportunities available to them to make sure they do what they can to stay as healthy and fit as possible.

As I mentioned, I had a motion in the House on obesity that passed a number of months ago. I used myself as an example. I was elected to the House of Commons eight and a half years ago, and it did not take long for me to gain 40 pounds. On the Hill there are a lot of receptions and other things that go on, and I became a little heavier than I should have.

As a result, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There is no diabetes in my family, except for maybe my 95-year-old grandmother, and that onset came with age. There is no history of it in my family. It was obvious that physical fitness was one of the aspects that was missing, and proper and healthy eating was another part.

I have lost that 40 pounds. I have made a commitment to physical fitness, as I mentioned before. For me, it is running. I do not run because I love it, but because it helps me stay physically fit. I have a commitment to my family to stay physically fit, so I can be here when I am 96 to see my great-grandchildren. I have a grandmother who had great-great-grandchildren. I am hoping I am going to be one of those.

This motion brings awareness to the problem. I had not given it any thought prior to my own personal issues. I had very athletic, very active children. They went to volleyball, track and field, gymnastics, swimming. They were high performers. They worked out, sometimes for two different sports for three or four hours a day.

It was not that physical fitness was not around me, but I never considered it for myself. I did not think about it being a problem until it hit me at home.

A national day to promote health and fitness will bring that issue forward, at least on that first Saturday in June. It is an opportunity to make sure that we understand there is a problem, which was very well articulated by the mover of the motion. It would coordinate efforts and allow municipalities, provinces, and the country to have a focus. We can coordinate promotion and have the opportunity to talk about physical fitness and health on a particular day in the calendar year.

It has already happened in a lot of municipalities across this country. I hope it will continue, and that coordinated efforts will help bring that message to a higher level. Hopefully, that message gets through.

It does give opportunities to promote what is available to Canadians. It is not all about elite sports. There are lots of activities: walking, hiking, whatever the activity, as long as it is healthy.

In my area of Burlington, there are a tremendous amount of opportunities for a variety of different ways to get involved, to get active. This day will give organizations and individuals an opportunity to promote those opportunities.

We should be celebrating success. When communities, individuals, or organizations are doing a great thing on the physical fitness file, that day could be a day where we celebrate their success.

I have mentioned that I am one of those who watches pro sports on television. It is not all about being an elite athlete. I cannot outrun my daughter. I cannot outvolleyball them. I cannot outdo a lot of things they do. I may be a little smarter than them, but do not tell them that.

It is not about just sitting on the couch and watching; it is about participation. That is what is important. Being healthy simply reduces health care costs. If people can avoid going to the doctor and to the hospital, it reduces costs. It is not a hard message to understand; it is national in scope.

Finally, I want to thank the two key movers behind this motion: first, the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country—and I hope they change the name of that riding—for that member's efforts to promote a healthy lifestyle here on the Hill and throughout this country, and our national hero, Senator Nancy Greene Raine. She is a role model, and not just for physical fitness, but also for many women across the country. She has brought this bill to the forefront to have this day acclaimed in this country.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country and Senator Greene Raine for bringing forward this bill to draw attention, once a year, but hopefully every day, to the fact that we need to pay closer attention to our health. To do so, we need to pay closer attention to our level of fitness.

I am not a poster child for a person in great physical condition, but I used to be, until my knees gave out in my thirties. The arthritis in my knees has made it very difficult for me, as it does for many Canadians, to get the level of exercise we need to stay as healthy as we should.

This bill, by drawing attention to the issue of fitness, will hopefully draw attention to the problems that many Canadians face in keeping themselves and their children fit. Senator Greene Raine suggested in her speech that kids spend more time than ever in sedentary activities, such as looking at their tablets, phones, and other things, to play non-active games. She is right.

How many kids carry their baseball gloves or tennis balls to school anymore? How many spend their whole summer riding their bikes to frog ponds, parks, and neighbourhood pools? How many actually spend an hour or two every day playing tennis, football, soccer, or a game of tag in their local park? Fewer and fewer kids are doing that. By drawing attention to this fact, perhaps we can find a way to get kids active again. It is those kids who are going to take care of us as we get older.

“We need to change” were the words of Senator Greene Raine. Hopefully, this bill will be a catalyst for such change.

Sadly, my riding is mostly designated as a “priority” neighbourhood in the city of Toronto. Almost all of it is now a priority neighbourhood. It is designated based on 15 categories, sections of the city that need special attention. One of those categories is on the health of the residents in the riding. All of Keelesdale-Eglinton West, Rockcliffe-Smythe, Weston-Pellam Park, Weston, Mount Dennis, Rustic, and even Beechborough-Greenbrook, which has $2-million homes in it, are designated priority neighbourhoods by the City of Toronto, as places that need special attention. One of the reasons they need special attention is the health of the constituents, including the children, which is not great.

The social determinants of health are what we in the NDP like to focus on in trying to find ways to improve health, which is what this bill is partly about, through smart approaches to health promotion and physical activity. One of the things the government can do, for example, is to change the nature of the health and fitness tax credit. It is currently not a refundable tax credit, so it has almost no application in much of my riding. People do not have the ability to pay first and then wait for a tax credit that they are not going to get because they pay no taxes anyway. A single mom on Ontario Works or ODSP has absolutely no use for this tax credit. It is difficult for that person to have access to an organized fitness regime for their children.

The other thing in my riding is that as a result of financial pressures on our city, the city is closing the doors and locking away some of the sports facilities so that kids cannot get at them. They used to be able to kick a ball around in the Weston Lions Park soccer field. It now has astroturf and it is locked up tight. We cannot get in it unless we are part of a league or a team, and, even then, the leagues or teams are very expensive to join. These kids cannot afford it. We have shut them away from much of what they could use to become more fit.

The good thing is that being a priority neighbourhood means that recreation and fitness activities in my part of the city are free for many kids. The trouble is that they are only in the recreation centres, and only in the recreation centres in priority neighbourhoods, of which there is only one. We are chasing our own tail.

As MPs, we can do things to encourage people to be more fit. I ran a “Bike with Mike” day, where we gathered a bunch of people in the community, got on bikes, and road 15 kilometres down to the lake and back. We had a bus for those who could not ride back, but those people were active for at least a day. It showed them a beautiful section of the riding. There is a bike trail along the Humber River, which runs from the centre of the riding down to the river.

I have also encouraged the local tennis facility to share its facility with less privileged kids who cannot afford it. A kids' drop-in centre and training facility, called Frontlines, is going to be given free access and a trainer for some of the kids, starting in the next few weeks. It is a great example of how we can coordinate and get kids active who would not otherwise be able to do it.

In closing, I want to thank the movers of the bill from this House and the other place for bringing attention where attention is necessary to the state of physical fitness. We will perhaps save a few dollars in health care costs in the bargain.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business



Barry Devolin Conservative Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, ON

Mr. Speaker, I realize I only have about three or four minutes this morning.

Some of my colleagues may be surprised to see me on my feet speaking to this motion today. It has been six years since I stood in my place and participated in a debate. Given that I am not reoffering in the next election, this could be the last time that I participate in a debate in this place.

I am here today to support my colleague, the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, on this bill. I know it has come from Senator Nancy Greene Raine at the Senate, but the principal mover of it over the last several years has been my hon. colleague from the west coast. We often discuss whether people who talk the talk can walk the walk. In this case, I think my colleague from that riding lives the values that are embodied in this bill.

My colleague from Burlington, and others this morning, talked about some of the challenges of maintaining health and fitness while we are members of Parliament. It is a challenge. We are constantly offered free food that is very tasty, and it is easy to get busy and not take care of ourselves. I have also been on the roller coaster. I am not sure that the highs and lows were quite to the extent that the hon. member for Burlington has experienced, but they were along the same vein. It is something that we all need to work at.

I think a collaborative effort whereby the federal government takes leadership and we identify an aspirational goal for our communities, so that municipalities large and small across Canada can come together and make their facilities available on a particular day where we focus on these values, is very important.

Statistics around childhood obesity and health are common, and I think we all know those numbers. However, it is a delight to rise in this place today to discuss something we all agree on. That is a rare moment. It is something that I am pleased to participate in. Therefore, I would encourage all of my colleagues in this place to not only support this motion and vote in favour of it, but to get back to their communities and make it real, both in their own lives and in the lives of their constituents.

National Health and Fitness Day ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock will indeed have additional time to address the House and debate on this particular question. In fact, he will have seven and a half minutes to do so when the House next resumes debate on the question.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC


That Standing Order 11(2) be replaced with the following: The Speaker or the Chair of Committees of the Whole, after having called the attention of the House, or of the Committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or repetition, including during responses to oral questions, may direct the Member to discontinue his or her intervention, and if then the Member still continues to speak, the Speaker shall name the Member or, if in Committee of the Whole, the Chair shall report the Member to the House.

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the intelligent and well-spoken member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. She will take the second half of my time, and I have no doubt that her speech will be excellent.

We moved this motion today in response to the public's reaction to what happened last week in the House. People from all across the country called in to radio shows, sent emails, and shared their thoughts on television and in newspapers. They were all saying that question period needs to be improved so it can become an answer period too.

All Canadians want is that the government give intelligent and transparent answers when we ask an intelligent question—a question seeking transparency in an area of public administration, such as the questions that the leader of the official opposition asked last week. These answers enhance the debate so that everyone in this great country can understand the direction the government is taking. The answers also give the government a chance to defend the decisions it has made. It does not get any simpler than that.

That is why we are proposing today to amend Standing Order 11(2) to include the answers provided during question period.

The NDP is not trying to make a huge change today. We are simply saying that we already have rules about the relevance of debates in this House. As you know, Mr. Speaker, on numerous occasions you have enforced the rules on relevance that already exist for debates in the House, as you have also enforced the rules on the relevance of the questions we ask. The NDP is proud of the fact that we ask relevant and intelligent questions in the House. However, Mr. Speaker, you also have the right to say whether these questions are relevant.

All we are asking and all we want to do is to fix the loophole surrounding the answers to questions during question period and to ensure that the answers are just as relevant as the questions the minister was asked.

This is also not a huge change because these practices are already in place in other parliaments around the world. As we know, the speaker in the United Kingdom's legislative chamber has the right to question the relevance of answers. The level of debate is higher because the questions must be relevant, of course, but so must the answers.

On the weekend, like any good New Democrat, I did some research. That is usually what we do: we use research to delve deeper into the subject. I watched several clips from the Australian parliament, and the speaker of the house called the prime minister to order because his response was irrelevant.

What we are proposing today already exists in our Standing Orders, as well as in the rules governing other parliaments around the world. What is more, we feel it is a matter of respect. What we are asking is that the government and this Parliament respect the fine Canadians who have been questioning the standards in recent days. We want the House to support this motion, which is designed to establish guidelines for the answers provided during question period.

I would like to mention something else that I feel is important. There are fewer than 49 weeks before the election is called. In 2015, on approximately September 12, the writ will be dropped for Canada's 42nd national election. We hope that the NDP will form the government after Canadians across the country cast their votes. It will be up to Canadians to decide, and we will have to respect their decision, just as we respect the fact that recent comments from across this country have been very clear. We need to hear relevant answers to the intelligent questions that are asked in the House. We need to respect the will of the people of Canada.

I would like to take a few moments to mention another worrisome issue. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons will rise to speak in a few minutes. It is not yet clear whether the Conservatives support this motion. I hope that they will support it. Public opinion is clear. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has said that there is plenty of accountability in the House during question period because the ministers are always present to answer questions.

Good New Democrats that we are, we did our research over the weekend. We found that, since the beginning of this sitting of Parliament on September 16, parliamentary secretaries have responded to nearly 50% of the questions asked of ministers during question period. How can we speak of accountable government if parliamentary secretaries answer nearly half of the questions asked of ministers? Parliamentary secretaries are not supposed to be making decisions. They are not accountable to the people. They have no executive power. Ministers are the ones who are accountable. The Prime Minister is accountable. It is up to them to answer the intelligent questions people ask in the House. Nothing less. It should not be half and half. Ministers should not be answering just one out of every two questions. Ministers should be able to answer every question. From time to time, a parliamentary secretary might answer, but that is happening systematically and it shows a lack of respect for Canadians.

I was first elected in 2004 with my colleague from Hamilton Centre and was very proud of being elected. My first seat was right over there, in the corner. I had to get a shoehorn to get into it.

I remember the first time I asked a question in the House. I remember standing and thinking that it is a strength of Canadian democracy that I can ask a question and that a minister has to answer. However, I quickly realized, as all rookie MPs do in the House, that the question, yes, is powerful, but until we get to the point where the response has to be equally intelligent and equally relevant, we have not completed what is a fundamental part of Canadian democracy.

I represent one of the most diverse ridings in the country, where over 100 languages are spoken and people come from all over the world. They come to Canada because they believe in our democratic system. Even people in my riding who are strong Canadians, proud Canadians, new Canadians, many of them believe that question period should be improved. They believe that Canadians should be treated with the respect they deserve. They believe that intelligent questions asked on this side of the House merit equally intelligent and thoughtful answers from that side of the House.

Transparency requires that when any opposition member or government member asks a thoughtful question, the government's answer should be as transparent and complete as possible. It is not an idle dream. This is the basis on which our country developed. These are the parliamentary traditions, which came from other countries, that have helped to broaden and deepen, hopefully, the debate in the House.

Sometimes we reach the level that Canadians expect of us. One of them was just last week when the leader of the official opposition spoke very passionately on Iraq here in the House of Commons. That was a high moment for so many Canadians.

However, we also have low moments when answers do not correspond to the intelligent questions that are asked. That is why we are offering the motion today. We want to make question period a question and answer period so that all Canadians can benefit from transparent, thoughtful answers to thoughtful questions asked in the House.

We hope we get the support of every member of the House.

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario


Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech quite intently and I have read the motion, but it seems rather one-sided to me. It does not say anything about questions from the opposition member or any member during question period. It only talks about responses. It seems to me that we have all seen lots of irrelevance here on both sides. We will often see the same question asked six or more times by members of the opposition. They continually read the same talking point over and over again.

I wonder why the member chose not to include questions and responses in the motion in terms of relevance.

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is because you, as Speaker, already enforce the rule of relevance on questions. The member has been in the House long enough to understand that. The first day I stood as opposition House leader there were a couple of our questions that the Speaker chose to disqualify. We certainly raised them in points of order afterward, but the Speaker already has that power.

This is what is completely dysfunctional. The questions are thoughtful. They have to be relevant, have to be pertinent, but as we heard from some columnists as far as some answers are concerned, I am quoting Michael Den Tandt who said, with the reasoning of last week: now becomes acceptable for a government MP to say anything at all in Question Period. [A member from the government] could, when confronted with an opposition question, begin chanting in ancient Greek. He could speak in Sanskrit, or in tongues; he could say “Lalalalalalalala” while plugging his ears, the way kids do. He could read his grocery list. He could recite the ageless “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet.

He could do anything he wants.

That is disrespectful. That is why we want to have intelligent answers to intelligent questions. That is all we are—

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor.

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


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

Mr. Speaker, I promise I will not put forth any soliloquy for the member to mull over, but I do respect his speech. I think there were a lot of pertinent points. Good research being the exclusive domain of the NDP, however, I take issue with. Nonetheless, I do appreciate his speech. We both were elected in 2004.

I will launch into some of the main points he talked about in my own speech, but I have a quick question concerning what we regularly call S.O. 31s, or members' statements. Does he not feel also that members' statements, which take place only 15 minutes of the day, also constitute what I consider is an egregious error in the House by making them partisan attacks?

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member on our 10th anniversary of the class of 2004.

I believe the Speaker has dealt with these issues in the past. We have had a number of points of order around members' declarations. What the member states is true, about it being too partisan. There has been some improvement in that. There is still a ways to go.

The biggest hole right now in our Standing Orders is the hole that says it does not matter what the answer is. The question has to be relevant. Debate has to be relevant. Even members' statements have to be relevant, but an answer can be whatever it wants.

That is why we are offering what is a modest contribution. It is only half of a line, but it gives the Speaker the power to say: that is not a relevant answer, that is repetition. That will improve the aura of this place, improve the tone of debate, and it will improve above all the transparency of the government. It is a modest contribution that will make things work better here in Ottawa. That is what we are all about.

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

September 29th, 2014 / 12:20 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the member across the way, the Conservative member, said that the same question was sometimes asked six times in a row.

Is it because the government is not answering the question?

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the fact is that we never ask exactly the same question.

I should point out that we noticed the exact same intervention three times last week.

If the member opposite were to listen closely, he would see that questions about complex and complicated issues might be asked from several different angles. As the official opposition, our role is precisely to ask questions like that to get an answer.

After the next election, when the Conservative Party falls to third place and the NDP is in government answering intelligent questions, I hope that the Conservatives will ask intelligent questions. It would be so nice to have that kind of exchange between two parties in the House.

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for allowing me to participate in this debate.

In my opinion, the motion moved is extremely important if we want to give Canadians some hope and restore their confidence in our democratic system, especially during question period.

We have decided to use our opposition day to discuss one of my favourite subjects, that is the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. I am very pleased to be a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which gives me the opportunity to study the Standing Orders in more depth. Ultimately, the Standing Orders of the House of Commons are the foundation of democracy and Parliament. In my opinion, it is important to be able to make changes directly, that is in the Standing Orders, so that we can improve the system.

Our current goal is to give the Speaker the authority to apply the relevance rules to oral question period. As my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster just explained, this rule already exists and applies primarily to debates in the House of Commons. For example, if I am supposed o debate a bill and I start talking abut whales in the Great Lakes, the Speaker has the right and the power to call me to order by stating that my comments are not related to the matter at hand. What an MP talks about must be relevant to the subject being debated. No one questions the authority of the Speaker to call to order a member who is speaking about something completely different, because this is a simple and basic principle. The rule applies to debates in the House and committee meetings.

The chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs does an excellent job. I have seen him call to order MPs from all parties many times when their speeches were not really pertinent. This is not about partisanship. When an MP gives a speech that is not relevant or that is repetitive, the committee chair has the authority to call him or her to order so that they focus on the subject at hand.

Given that the Speaker of the House of Commons represents the entire democratic institution of Parliament, it is really important that he or she be able to apply the rule during question period.

We all know what prompted today's debate. Basically, it comes as a result of an exchange that we all witnessed last week. Indeed, last Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition asked some very specific questions about precise aspects of Canada's military involvement in Iraq. One of the responses was not even a semblance of an attempt to answer the question. There was not even any suggestion in the response that the parliamentary secretary had any desire to answer the question. In the end, the answer given was completely absurd and had nothing to do with the question. At that moment, for many Canadians, political commentators and people who follow Canadian politics, this crossed the line. For me personally, I think it is important to draw a very clear line. Of course, we know that the government's responses will not always be what the opposition wants to hear. The role of the opposition is to question the government and hold it to account. We will not always be satisfied with the answers we get, but there needs to be a limit. When it comes to relevance there must be a line we cannot cross if we do not want Canadians to start thinking there is no point in following Canadian politics because what we do here is nothing but a ridiculous spectacle.

I think the motion simply aims to draw a clear line to say that if the absurdity and irrelevance go too far, it will be up to the Speaker, the keeper of our democracy, to call the member to order. That is what happens when the person speaking does not stay on topic during debates in the House, during committee meetings and within other current institutions.

Members must be called to order when what they are saying does not even come close to an answer. Government members must provide relevant answers. We are not asking that they provide answers that satisfy the opposition, but they have to respond to the question that has been asked. This seems so simple to me that I have to wonder why we need to spend a whole day debating this issue. It is really too bad that it has come to this.

As a young woman who has been participating in the debates in the House since being elected in 2011, I must admit that it is sometimes very difficult to attend question period. I am not an aggressive person and I do not like to yell.

When I realized that I was in the House of Commons to work with all of my elected colleagues in deciding the future of our country and then I saw people yelling at each other like second-grade children, it was a rude awakening.

I think that there are many other steps we need to take before we have a more respectful parliament. In this regard, it would not be a bad thing if we were able to make some improvements to question period today.

There are many very interesting people who would do a great job in Parliament but who may have decided not to get involved when they saw the tone of question period, the insults being hurled and the yelling that goes on. As my colleague pointed out, this could also completely discourage some people from participating in democracy in the simplest way possible, namely by voting.

By making this small change today, we could show Canadians that we want to improve our system. This is not the first time that the NDP has moved motions or proposed small but effective solutions or changes. Two years ago, on an opposition day, I participated in a fairly similar debate on closure motions, since the government was breaking records in the use of this measure. It was a similar discussion because we wanted to give the power to the Speaker.

We are not saying that closure motions are always a bad thing. We understand that there may be urgent reasons that would justify their use. However, why not give our Speaker that power, since he is the keeper of the House?

Then, since he would be the one responsible for assessing the situation, he could decide on the relevance of the reasons given to justify the use of a closure motion. He could refuse, on the basis that the reasons were insufficient or that too many members wanted to speak, for example. This is the only place where members can debate bills, and it is our duty to do so.

We thought this excellent suggestion could be useful, but it was not passed. We made several other suggestions. For example, we suggested that omnibus bills be prohibited. They make no sense, because they sometimes amend 100 different acts in one fell swoop. This does not help Canadians regain their trust in and their respect for our democracy, which we have been losing in recent years. We could also change the rules with respect to prorogation. It is the same principle.

We could reform so many aspects of our parliamentary system to greatly improve our debates, to help us do our jobs and to help us better represent our ridings without the side show that is question period, during which members yell at each other without giving any kind of answer.

If I rose in the House today and started talking about any old thing in my speech, it would be in your power, Mr. Speaker, to stop me. I simply think it makes sense to apply this rule to question period.

I sincerely hope that we will have the support of all members for this motion.

Opposition Motion—Changes to Standing OrdersBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to follow-up.

As chair of a committee, we have orders of the day. We know exactly what is going to be discussed. In the House of Commons, we have orders of the day. It is in writing, what is going to be discussed.

It makes sense that the Speaker, or the chair, is able to rule someone out of order if they are not relevant to what is listed. Is the member advocating, based on that logic, that all questions to the cabinet and the Prime Minister would be in writing, 24 hours in advance, so that answers can be prepared?

People need to know that there is about 30 seconds to ask a question and about 35 seconds to respond. I think this place would operate better if everything was in writing. Speakers could then, in my view, rule whether an answer was relevant or not, if the questions were given in advance.

Is the NDP advocating for questions to be given in advance?