Mr. Speaker, I am just going to start out by explaining to the public watching TV, members here, the journalists, etc. what today's debate is all about.
Basically, all the mystifying procedures that happen here, the various votes, who is on committee, and all this stuff, are handled by 159 standing orders that we as MPs create. The huge number of new MPs—probably the highest number in history, in this Parliament—may find some of these procedures very mystifying, strange, or even bizarre. Some of those come from England's House of Commons and were established before Canada was even created. Today is those members' chance to change the rules of the House. Are they most effective for doing the business of the nation?
One of the 159 standing orders is number 51, which mandates today's debate. The Right Hon. Paul Martin wanted to give backbenchers and all MPs a chance to have a kick at the can in these procedures, so he put in the standing order that says that between the 60th and 90th days of a new Parliament, everyone gets a chance to have a take-note debate on the Standing Orders, which is what we're doing today. After this debate, all this information will go to the procedure and House affairs committee of the House to do with what it will, and it can make recommendations to the government on changes to the Standing Orders.
An example is that the last time we had this debate, on February 17, 2012, one of the suggestions was electronic petitions, which are now a reality; so members can make a difference.
On this side of the House, the present Prime Minister has the same philosophy as the Right Hon. Paul Martin: that this is not for the government. Today, this is for backbenchers, for all MPs to express their ideas, so the government is not providing any input. The government has no idea what we as individual backbenchers are going to say. I think it is going to be a very fun, non-partisan, creative brainstorming day to improve Canada's house of democracy for the benefit of all Canadians.
I'm going to have to talk very quickly to get through about 14 points, just for further discussion. I am not necessarily in favour of or against them, but they are points we might discuss further. I apologize to the translators for talking quickly, but really it is just a warm-up. If they think I am bad, wait until the member for Laurentides—Labelle gets up.
A lot of members will talk about decorum in the House. They have certain concerns, and members will hear that later today.
The first of my 14 points is that the shape of Parliament can actually determine attitudes. If we were in a semi-circle like in Sweden or in Congress, we would be all focused toward the Speaker, a common problem for Canada, and we are all trying to solve it together. It is the same in the committees. Why do we have to have it as adversarial, across the board from each other?
My second point is first nations, recognizing that we are on the traditional land of the Algonquin First Nation. First nations have run successful governments in Canada for centuries, for generations. Maybe we should look at some of their successes. Some members might be interested in reading how the Six Nations Confederacy was instrumental for the designers of the American constitution and Congress.
My third point is this. If an MP of today were given another job to add to all his or her other jobs, not only the MP work but another 28 hours of work that he or she had to do, would the MP find that frustrating? For 10 years, I have had to spend 28 hours every week commuting to my riding. When members revamp the Standing Orders, I ask them to please be sensitive and gentle for those of us who have to travel a long way.
My fourth point is that it is incumbent on all of us today to think of the procedures of the House and Senate and committees as being structured in such a way that the amount of legislation that Canadians need, regardless of who is in Parliament, can be dealt with without any draconian measures by the opposition or the government to get this work done.
My fifth point is that in Congress, if members watch it, at times there are two podiums and there is a person from each party at a podium, and they are debating back and forth for a few minutes. In this Parliament, we really get no chance to debate with each other. We get a 10-minute speech, we only get to speak once, and except for a question, there is really no ongoing debate. Ten minutes may be enough or not enough. One of the greatest speeches in history, the Gettysburg address, just took barely more than two minutes. So are the speaking limits too long or too short?
My sixth point is that the situation is totally different in committee. There members have unlimited chances to speak, instead of just once as in the House. Members can speak 1,000 times or for 10 hours each time they speak, as long as they maintain relevancy and avoid redundancy and repetition.
Seventh, not long ago in this place, MPs were not allowed to have papers or read a speech. There are some who would like to go back to that. I remember being here many years ago when all the MPs from one party were reading almost identical speeches, which was not very productive. I am not doing very well today because I have lots of paper here, but that is an idea some people had.