Mr. Speaker, it is with great honour I rise today on the Standing Orders of this place.
I believe I speak on behalf of all members when I state that it is a great privilege to do the work that we do on behalf of the Canadians who democratically elected us to represent them. It is on behalf of those very same Canadians that I rise today to speak on a subject I believe of importance, one that I am concerned about.
Back in the spring of this year I became greatly concerned when the then government House leader was quoted as suggesting that Friday sittings in this place should be eliminated. I would like to explain why this was a point of concern for me.
Back in the spring of 2016, we were all collectively part of a newly elected Parliament. At no time during the election did any of the parties, and certainly not the governing Liberals, suggest to Canadians that when this place sits, we should shorten our workweek. To be clear, I am not implying that we do not work when we are back in our home ridings or that being back in our home ridings with our families or our constituents is not important. I believe we would all agree that it is very important. However, we must not forget one important fundamental principle in any democracy. We work for the citizens who elect us.
Perhaps it is just my own sentiments, but I believe when it comes to the subject of shortening the workweek, however well intended the motives might be for doing so, first and foremost we have an obligation to have a discussion with the citizens we work for. Canadian taxpayers deserve a level of respect and accountability from their member of Parliament. It is for that reason that back in March of this year, in one of my weekly member of Parliament reports, I asked citizens in my riding what they thought about taking Fridays off.
I am certain it will come as a shock to many of you in this place that the idea was not a popular one, and while many were respectful in passing on their thoughts on the subject, there were also those who were quite offended. Words such as “out of touch” were referenced frequently. I will remind everyone in this place that B.C. is a long way from Ottawa. When citizens there hear about $100,000 political staff moves from Toronto to Ottawa billed to them, or that the Prime Minister is charging for not one but two nannies, after claiming that million-dollar families should not get taxpayer-supported benefits, they become disillusioned, disengaged, in fact.
I realize that in a majority government there is a mandate for that majority government to implement change. However, in this case, at no time were citizens ever told about a shorter workweek in Ottawa before we went to the polls in 2015. Thus, in my view, there is no mandate from the public in support of a shorter workweek, and yes, I recognize there is an argument that hours could be extended during the other four days. However, let us not overlook that doing so would simply take all the staff who run this place away from their families and create a greater cost to taxpayers with overtime.
I would also question the merits of productivity when working extended hours and if there would be a diminishing return with such a change. However, the bigger question is this. If we were to eliminate Fridays, then would not Thursdays become the new Fridays, with many ministers and senior government members of Parliament leaving Ottawa on Wednesday evening? If that was the case, where Thursdays become the new Fridays, it would be most unfortunate.
Getting back to my member of Parliament report that I wrote on the subject of not sitting on Fridays, some local media ran polls on the very topic. Once again, citizens in my riding were very clear that they did not support the idea.
I am not certain what plans the government has on this issue at this point. However, I believe it is important that on matters such as these, we make our positions clear and give reasons as to why. In my case, obviously I oppose these changes, and from talking to many citizens in my region, I can state they are also strongly opposed to eliminating Friday sittings in the House.
The fact is that the vast majority of real, middle-class Canadians do not have the luxury of having a three-day weekend unless it is a statutory holiday. Again, I am not suggesting that we are not working hard back in our ridings, but I feel that out of respect for the people who sent us here, without having a mandate for a shorter workweek, we should maintain the current five-day House schedule that we were elected under, when, of course, the House is sitting.
Let us also not forget that there are many break weeks throughout the House calendar that allow us to get back to our home ridings often. We are also provided with a generous taxpayer-financed budget to hire staff who work in those home ridings. The majority of us also take advantage of some of the latest communication tools that, in many cases, are also provided to us by the taxpayer.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to admit that, yes, this is a challenging and demanding role, even more so for our families and spouses. I believe we all are thankful and appreciative for the consideration and support we receive from our loved ones for the time-consuming work we do here. However, let us not overlook that we are generously compensated. We have the ability to fly our family members to this place. Lastly, for six years of service, we are eligible for a generous pension that most Canadians are not. Granted, some major changes were made in the last Parliament, which created a more respectful compensation pension plan for both taxpayers and members of Parliament.
In summary, yes, there is an element of sacrifice, but it is one that we are well compensated for. Let us not forget that it is called public service. I submit that we must be careful not to forget that final point, because recent expense scandals by the current government, not unlike previous governments, can ultimately undermine public trust.
While it is easy for us to understand the unique challenges of being a member of Parliament to the extent that for some it is easy to say, “Yes, we should take Fridays off”, and I am sure many people could justify a whole boatload of activities to show that they would still be offering some value to constituents, there is a perception that we are forgetting to ask the very Canadians we work for what they think of the idea.
I believe that if other members ask local citizens what they think of the idea, they will receive similar feedback to what I received. As a result, I have taken time today to speak out against this idea under the current circumstances and I want to reiterate that I mean no disrespect to those who support the idea. I understand the arguments in support of it. However, in this case, based on feedback I have received from my riding, it is important that I state for the record that I am opposed to this idea.
Before I close, I want to go back to the point I made earlier. Ever since I was first elected, first given the opportunity to serve people other than my family, elected as a city councillor in Penticton in 2008, I have always been very clear that our job is primarily to maintain the public trust. There are differences in what is in the public interest. We could all disagree on that, but I hope we would all find that we must maintain the trust that Canadians have in our institutions, the trust that their elected leaders stand for them and do not dictate to them, but instead, serve them in a way which serves their long-term needs and also hears what they are saying in the short term.
The public trust is a responsibility that each one of us has been given and I contend in this very place that if we cut Fridays off, we will undermine that public trust. If we abuse the taxpayer resources we have, we will undermine that public trust. It is not an easy thing because we can disagree with what the public interest is or what the public trust is, but I suggest that we all should try to preserve that trust.
I would like to thank all members of the House for hearing my comments and for the opportunity to stand in this place and comment on the Standing Orders, an important part of our democracy.