Mr. Speaker, I am rising today to speak to the 11th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a committee on which I have served for over a decade. I am currently the longest-serving member of that committee. I am rising to speak to this not because of anything intrinsically important in this particular report. It is the 11th committee report. We have had a number of other committee reports before and since, and this one is of just average importance. I am doing it because this is our way, on the opposition benches, of drawing attention to the fact that the committee, and indeed this entire place, operates with the sword of Damocles hanging over its collective head.
The Liberals have proposed a motion in committee, a motion my colleague from Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas mentioned just a moment ago, a motion that, far from opening up debate actually ensures that debate will be shut down by a definable, very brief deadline on all the Standing Orders, which is that the committee will report back to the House on all matters dealing with the Standing Orders by June 2.
As a practical matter, no committee ever comes to an agreement without having procedural meetings that take some time on the day it makes its report, so we are actually looking at meetings that would have to wrap up, in practice, in terms of the new substance, some time much earlier than that, probably a week or two weeks at best.
The report would be imposed using closure within the committee, something committees do not normally do, something that is not normally tolerated in committee. That closure or guillotine or termination of debate is the reporting deadline of June 2. It is very brief. That is the fundamental issue here.
We hear talk from Liberal members here of a discussion paper that was produced. We have a discussion paper. Let us just discuss what is in that discussion paper. We have a discussion paper that is, I believe, 12 pages long, put out by the government House leader on March 10, right before our most recent break week but one. The very same day, the member for Bonavista introduced it.
I actually checked by going back and finding out when the paper was submitted by the House leader and when the motion was submitted to the committee clerk by the member for Bonavista. One hour and 11 minutes later, it might have been two hours and 11 minutes, but you will see my point, Mr. Speaker, the member for Bonavista produced a motion to impose closure. It is a motion that is almost a page long. It contains five subsidiary points, one of which has a subordinate list. We are to believe that the member for Bonavista produced this motion, all on his own, after he brought forward the government's paper, and got it translated, because the member is not bilingual, and got it to the clerk all in the space of a couple of hours.
What was really going on was that there was a great rush to ensure that this could be submitted two sleeps, as we say, two government business days, prior to the return of the committee to business so that it could be introduced at an in-camera hearing and the government could then push through this profoundly undemocratic motion at that committee hearing.
I raised the issue in the House and said that the Liberals were about to push this through at an in-camera meeting, and to his credit, the deputy government House leader said he would like this meeting to go in public, and in public we were able to raise our concerns, thereby forestalling this way of doing things.
However, if that motion were withdrawn, the dialogue could begin. The dialogue can begin, in fact, if the government will instruct its members on the committee to vote in favour of an amendment I put forward, and that amendment says, simply, “Nothing will come out of this committee as a recommendation to the government without the unanimous consent of all the members of the committee”, which in practice means without the consent of the New Democrats and the Conservatives as well as the Liberal Party members.
If the government members really want a discussion, if their words are sincere, the government has a number of options.
First, the government could agree to the motion, the amendment I proposed in committee, saying that we will not move forward anything without unanimous consent. That would allow us to get something done by June 2. As a practical matter, I think we would need a great deal more time to go through all the Standing Orders. We could start that work now, if that is the government's choice. That is the first thing it could do.
Second, the Liberals could withdraw the motion put forward by the member for Bonavista. After I do not know how many hours of debate in committee, it should be apparent to them that there is not all-party support for that motion, to put it mildly. Therefore, it could be withdrawn.
Third, the Liberals could move forward with some other motion. I actually submitted another motion to be ready to go in case the government did decide to withdraw its motion. It is a motion that calls for the discussion, on a piecemeal or subject-by-subject basis, of the various items on the government's agenda. There is nothing wrong with discussing Friday sittings. To the government's credit, it not only says that it thinks we should consider getting rid of Friday sittings. It also says it wants to consider the possibility of having the House sit all day long on Friday, making it a full day. There might be a willingness to move in that direction. However, to make the obvious point, we cannot do both of those things at the same time. Presumably, there needs to be a discussion of both of those.
Also, with regard to the Prime Minister's question time, changing the times of votes, and all the other issues that are discussed in the House leader's proposals, if we go through them, we see that they include topics as disparate as sittings of the House; electronic voting; the House calendar and sitting further into the end of June and starting earlier in September and January; how routine proceedings are conducted; and changes to private members' business, an item which, on its own, in 2003, occupied a similar committee of the House long enough for it to produce several reports over the course of a year. It includes prorogation, something that would be a vexed question to deal with, because it deals with crown prerogatives, so that would take a fair bit of time, some nuancing, and some expert testimony to deal with. It also includes time allocation, how question period is done, omnibus bills, and the management of committees. These are all topics. There is no way we could discuss these things by June 2.
That would be true even if it were not also true that our committee has been charged by the Minister of Democratic Institutions to, by the middle of May, complete its hearings on the Canada Elections Act. The Minister of Democratic Institutions spoke very eloquently to us on March 9, one day before this paper was released, explaining why it was important for us to get this done. She said that Elections Canada could not respond to the recommendations we would be making and that she, the minister, would be incorporating into government legislation, on a short-term basis. They need to have enough time before the 2019 election to put these things in place. The minister needs to introduce legislation in September. That means that we need to report back to her by the end of May, or the beginning of June at the latest, exactly the same deadline that has been foisted upon this committee by the motion from the member for Bonavista.
Therefore, the most sensible thing of all would simply be to withdraw the motion. Having said that, I want to make an amendment to this motion.
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
“The 11th Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on December 16, 2016, be not now concurred in, but that it be recommitted to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with instruction that it amend the same to clarify that in all of its reviews of the procedures and practices of the House, the committee will only make recommendations to the House that enjoy the support of all the members of the committee.”