Mr. Speaker, I will begin my speech by addressing the issue under debate.
The question we are actually dealing with is a question of privilege around access to voting here, although the debate has moved to a very important debate on our standing rules. I plan to address most of my comments to that aspect by saying that there were very few people here in our 41st Parliament on a Friday morning when the government of the day moved a measure to remove our security and safety in this place from the hands and power of the Speaker of the House and to the RCMP.
This violated 500 years of precedents in which the Speaker, being neutral and not part of the government of day, provided security. I think our former sergeant-at-arms, Kevin Vickers, would have supported that. With no criticism intended to the RCMP, putting the RCMP in charge was a historic anti-democratic move that received almost no debate.
On that morning, there was only one other MP who was as upset as I was. It was the former member for Ottawa—Vanier, Mauril Bélanger. The two of us were asking how this could happen so quickly. We had not had debate. We had not studied it. To this day, we still have not had a public review of the events of October 22, 2014, to lead us to conclude what would be best in the public interest and best in the interest of democracy. No government, no prime minister, should have control over the security forces that govern access to the place where democracy takes place, which is this House.
Moving from that to the discussion of the Standing Orders, which is the tone of the debate today, I thank the government House leader for making it clear that she has withdrawn many of the controversial parts of the proposals that she made to change our standing rules. I want to start to dissect that development as best I can with the time remaining.
The theory of Parliament, as I have reflected on the question so far this morning and this afternoon, is that all MPs are equal.
We all here represent our constituencies. Each voter in Canada is equal. Each constituency is equal, so all members of Parliament are equal. At least in theory, the prime minister is described as “first among equals”. We are in a Westminster parliamentary democracy. We do not elect the prime minister. A prime minister is chosen from among those who have been elected to this place. The only reason there are very few questions after an election as to who the prime minister will be is the overlay of power of political parties.
I certainly think we need to examine what has happened to Parliament over the decades. This is our 150th year, and as a result of the overlay of political power and control from larger political parties, particularly from their leaders' offices with an eye to the next election, we have seen a steady and continual erosion of the role of the individual member of Parliament representing their constituency.
What we have seen growing over the eras is constant electioneering, which contaminates the work in this place. When the election is over, in theory we should all put down our sabres and clubs and say, “Enough of that. We've been elected by our constituents. It's time to work together and see what we can do for the people of Canada.”
The first large error in changing our democracy by acceding to the power of political parties was in 1970, by accident, when the requirement that the leader of a party must sign the nomination papers of every candidate was implemented. Up until that point, from 1867 to the early 1970s, the ballots in Canada only showed the names of the candidates and not their political party. Adding the political party meant the sign-off occurred.
I should certainly mention to my friend from the Bloc Québécois, whose speech I entirely support, that historically it was in 1963 that the larger parties decided they should have money. In 1963 this place passed a rule that if a party had 12 members or more, it would have more money. That piece of legislation did not touch on the things that occurred by tradition, without any rule, but it had become increasingly accepted that if someone represented a national party with fewer than 12 seats, that person was somehow a second-class MP. That person would not have access to sitting on committees and would not have as many questions in question period.
This is not something we see in any other Westminster parliamentary democracy. As a matter of fact, in the U.K., with 650 members of Parliament, individual members, and particularly members of parties with two or more, have the same financial support and the same access to questions and committees as any other MP. It is an oddity that is peculiar to Canada.
Therefore, in revisiting our Standing Orders, we are now looking at this question of allocation of power, and not among MPs. We are talking about the power between and among political parties. That is essentially a distortion of Westminster parliamentary democracy from the get-go. Political parties are not mentioned in our Constitution. We could improve democracy in this place tremendously with any steps we can take to reduce the power of political party apparatus over the workings of Parliament.
I suggested many of these things in my proposal in response to the Liberal proposal to change the Standing Orders. I certainly agree with the Liberals that we need to take steps to ensure prorogations are not misused. However, their proposal does not go far enough. We should follow the advice of political scientists like Professor Hugo Cyr and Professor Peter Russell who have said that we should hold a vote before a prorogation to ensure that at least two-thirds of Parliament agrees it is time to prorogue. Then we can prorogue. We do not want to ever again see the egregious abuse of power that the Canadian media and Canadians think just happens. Every now and then we get a prime minister who prorogues. Canadians need to know that within the entire Commonwealth of Westminster parliamentary democracy, only Canada has seen a prime minister use prorogation to escape political difficulty. Sri Lanka tried it once, but the Sri Lankan governor general did not let it happen.
Let us add a formal process, add a vote, move one step further, and look at the possibility of what we could call a constructive confidence motion. This is used in some places and is recommended by Professor Cyr and Professor Russell. We could put forward a motion that we are now prepared to say that the government has lost the confidence of the House but that we believe the leader of the official opposition, working with the third party, has the confidence of the House, or any other formulation, so there would be an opportunity to send the Governor General clear information from Parliament as to how, if a party leader lost the confidence of the House, we could proceed without an election.
Another issue we need to look at is adopting some of the Westminster parliamentary rules. I do not object to the idea of a one-day-a-week prime minister's question period. It does not require changing the parliamentary rules. The Prime Minister can do it any day he chooses, and, in the future, she chooses. However, for the moment we need to look at what the Westminster Parliament actually does.
When Prime Minister Theresa May reported to Parliament on the Brexit letter of exit she had tabled with the European Union, she took questions for two hours and 40 minutes from over 100 MPs, from backbenchers of her own party and from people on opposition benches. In other words, if we think we are adopting something from the U.K., we should be looking at everything the U.K. does. It does not restrict questions and answers to 30 seconds. There is more time for exchange. There is also a practice in the British Parliament of a member who is speaking yielding the floor on his or her own, without direction from the Speaker, to have a more animated debate. The Westminster parliamentary systems and the Palace of Westminster do not operate under Canadian rules now. If we are to look at one rule, then let us look at all of them and have a proper discussion.
There are many things that need to be addressed in the Canadian Parliament to ensure that while we take a moment to look at it, we fix some loopholes. One is that there is no requirement after an election for a prime minister to convene Parliament. The larger the Prime Minister's Office gets, the more executive powers are used, the more critical it is that there be a requirement that Parliament resume. Earlier today I gave credit to the current Prime Minister for stepping back from an all powerful PMO that controlled everything. However, we need to do more, and we need to lock it in for future governments. One way to do that is to ensure there be a mandatory calling of Parliament within a set period after an election.
With my remaining time, I want to make a plea that in this era, when the government claims it cares about climate change, that it think about the carbon footprint of this place. Let us work Monday to Friday and a half day Saturday, do it in a concentrated way for three to four weeks, and then be in our ridings for three to four weeks. This would cut the costs to the taxpayers of flying us home every weekend, it would significantly reduce our greenhouse gas footprint, and I believe it would make our lives easier. Although working six days a week might sound rigorous, since most of use work seven days a week anyway, it would actually provide a day of rest on Sunday.
I urge that this opportunity be one achieved by consensus and not by majority rule.