Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join the debate in this chamber. I started to make some points on this issue at committee, but I just did not have enough time there to get to a lot of the things that I wanted to say. Therefore, I appreciate the opportunity to continue that dialogue here in the chamber.
It is interesting how much this issue has galvanized the interest of Canadians. Even before I started participating in the work of the committee, I was receiving correspondence on all kinds of different channels from Canadians who are interested in this issue. Who would have thought that Canadians would be so seized with the activities of the procedure and House affairs committee here in Ottawa? Canadians take the strength of our institutions very seriously. They take the integrity of those institutions seriously. They take the process by which we see developments and changes to those institutions very seriously, because there is something very insidious being talked about and being intended by the government.
The Liberals use nice-sounding weasel words like “modernization” and “having a conversation”, but it is actually very clear what they mean in every case. On this side of the House, we are very willing to have a conversation in a collaborative way about how the Standing Orders might be changed collaboratively going forward. No set group of Standing Orders is perfect and I am sure we can always learn from the experience and look for opportunities to improve them. However, there is a difference between that collective process of evolution that we can undertake together where we work on possible improvements and what is being proposed by the government, which is nothing short of a Standing Orders revolution, where the Liberals come in independently as the government and decide what they would like the Standing Orders to say. It is their concept of what constitutes modernization and they are going to impose that on the House.
Government members plead, “No, this is not our intent. We are not going to necessarily do it unilaterally. We just want to leave open the possibility to do it unilaterally.” As long as the government members leave that possibility open, surely members of the opposition cannot trust their good faith. Why do the Liberals not just take that option off the table, the option of unilateral action, of revolutionary changes to the Standing Orders, and instead say they are going to do this in an evolutionary way where members put forward different ideas but ultimately have to agree on the next steps we take forward? That would be a productive way of gradually improving our institution.
We hear members of the government say, “Let us just get on to the discussion on the substance. We want to have a discussion about these issues.” It is interesting that this actually parallels the conversation we had during the electoral reform debate. Members of the government said not to worry about the issue of a referendum but to just get on to talking about electoral systems, because, in fact, what they wanted was to push their preferred system. What I think the Liberals realized as that process went through was that Canadians were paying attention to what the Liberals were trying to do, that Canadians cared about the process by which these decisions were made, and they wanted to know that there was going to be a fair process established up front before proceeding to have the discussion. It is great to have the discussion, but they have to define a fair process up front.
What we saw with the electoral reform discussion was that in response to that public pressure, eventually the government realized that it was not going to be able to get away with it unilaterally, so it dropped it and decided it was not going to do anything. That is probably where we are going to end up eventually with respect to the Standing Orders, but it is unfortunate that the government members have yet to learn this lesson. They still want to make a unilateral change that reflects their concept of what the Standing Orders should be rather than work with the House in a constructive way to evolve those going forward.
Frankly, I am very interested in having a conversation about possible changes to the Standing Orders. We had a take-note debate in the House of Commons about those issues. I put forward some specific ideas about changes that could be made to the Standing Orders. Those might be changes that are shared by some members of the government. They might be changes that some members within my own party do not agree on. That was an opportunity to put forward ideas, to have that conversation, and to move that forward in a constructive way.
The framework that we thought we could work under was one in which the procedure and House affairs committee would study these prospective changes, work on them, and look for ways of moving them forward. It would be a more genuine, gradual process of moving forward, not a kind of unilateral process of the government House leader or the Prime Minister or some staffer in the PMO deciding, “No, this is what we want to do.”
The Liberals plead with us to accept their good faith, but when we look at what is in the discussion paper, these are all things that work to the advantage of the government.
It is interesting going through the discussion paper. I read it and spoke about it in detail at committee on what the government House leader was putting forward. The government always uses its human shield, the young family, the family friendliness of it. That is always the Liberals go-to for trying to make changes to the House of Commons that works to their political advantage.
I take exception to this as a member of Parliament with a young family, always very seized with these questions of how we balance the needs of our families with the needs of the work we do. Let us remember, as other members have pointed out, this is not unique to members of Parliament. All Canadians deal with this in different forms. Many people in my constituency have to travel for work as well, whether they work in the energy sector or perhaps the military. This is not just unique to members of Parliament.
I put forward some ideas of things that we could actually do that would not be about the political interests of the government but would actually help young families. The Liberals talk about having fewer days but more extended hours. However, extended hours is a real problem for people with young families. If we are sitting for very long days four days a week, that makes it much more difficult for members to have time to talk on the phone or to meet in person with members of their family. That creates some new additional challenges for families.
The elimination of Friday sittings is really about taking away a day on which the government would have to be accountable. Even if we add those extra minutes to question period at other times of the day, we know, and the Liberals know, that if Friday sittings are taken away that is one less day on which the government has to stand and answer questions which could appear on that day's news. There are only four days instead of five days on which we get to ask the government questions, which then can appear as part of the broader discourse.
The Liberals are using young families as their human shield for this change they want to make, which is in their interests, when we could have a real constructive discussion about ways to move forward. One of the suggestions I put forward was reducing the number of days on which votes could take place, continuing to have the same number of days for discussion, debate, and questions, but maybe having one additional day on which votes did not take place. That would provide an additional level of flexibility but would in no way slow down the existing legislative process.
If we work together in a constructive, collaborative way in which we establish ground rules from the start, we could have some of these ideas given a full airing. These are things that I mentioned when we debated the Standing Orders earlier.
Let us talk about some of the so-called reforms to question period that the Liberals want to make. I think Canadians are interested in discussions about potential changes to question period, but one the suggestions put forward is that we make better use of late shows in particular as a vehicle for more substantive exchanges. Perhaps we could require that ministers make themselves available to be scheduled for a late show exchange rather than parliamentary secretaries. That is an opportunity where the minister responsible for a given file has to answer, in long form, specific questions that members of Parliament have. This idea would enhance accountability.
What the government has proposed in its reforms are not some of the changes that were put forward in a private member's bill by my friend from Wellington—Halton Hills on question period reform, which would have involved an expectation that ministers actually answer the questions. That is not in the discussion paper. We see the government only putting forward changes that work to its interests. It is obvious what the Liberals are doing.
Another example is what the Liberals are doing on time allocation. Their proposal entails time allocation effectively being automatic, that on every bill, the Liberals would be allocating the time. This is different. They would not only be allocating the time in the House, but they would also be allocating the amount of time at committees. Therefore, committees would no longer be the masters of their own domain and would not have the flexibility. This is really concerning.
What if in the context of the study of a bill a committee doing its job suddenly realizes there is a significant issue that it was not aware of before and it needs to dig deeper into that to ensure it understands what is going on, so it needs more time. The government wants to completely take away that flexibility. It would be really good for the government, but it would not be good for this institution, it would not be good for the important role that the opposition has, and it would not be good for Canadians. We need to have the proper amount of time to debate legislation.
Let us agree to support a unanimous decision-making process where we can make changes collaboratively that are in the interests of Canadians and the institution. Let us do it that way, not in a unilateral way that the government wants. Let us agree to do it in that way and then we can start moving forward.