Mr. Speaker, the committee went on to table three reports, all unanimously. McGrath and Lefebvre proposed ideas that enhanced private members' business, strengthened the powers of committees, and enfranchised members with the selection of our Speaker by secret ballot, to name just a few.
The Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections recommended in a report tabled on December 6, 1990, important amendments that transformed private members' business. These rule changes were again adopted unanimously.
Under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and this was the specific one that we recommended, a Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons was created and chaired by then Deputy Speaker Bob Kilger. One of the rules of the committee was “That the committee shall not adopt any report without the unanimous agreement of all the Members of the committee”. This unanimity requirement did not deter the special committee. It tabled six reports to the House and the House adopted five of them. The committee made significant changes, such as allowing all items on the order of precedence of private members' business to be votable.
The Stephen Harper government also followed the tradition of the unanimity approach, bringing in reforms to improve private members' business and broadcasting rules for committees.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that not 100% of all changes were unanimous. Some required a vote. However, since the very beginning of Parliament these incidents were rare, and whenever more broad-based changes to the Standing Orders were adopted, the time-honoured practice of this place was to do so through unanimous consent.
That being said, there exists a very small and exclusive club, if one wants to be a part of it, of forgotten House leaders who rammed through changes, such as the closure motion in 1913, time allocation in 1969, and Standing Order 56(1) in 1991. I am at a loss to understand why the government House leader would rather join this group than be associated with the likes of McGrath, Lefebvre, and Bob Kilger, but I suppose that would not be inconsistent with her government's track record.
Members will recall that we had an electoral reform issue, the efforts of another minister, who turned that reform exercise into a fiasco that led to a full retreat and the firing of that minister from her post. Then there was Motion No. 6. The minister who gave us that doozy has disappeared from that job as well.
Let me take a few minutes just to remind the House of what Motion No. 6 was. Simply put, Motion No. 6 proposed to legislate by exhaustion. It offered unstructured, open-ended debate, potentially sitting 24 hours around the clock all summer long. The motion targeted the opposition and would have hamstrung its ability to hold the government to account. Essentially, it violated one of the fundamental principles of Parliament, a principle described in Beauchesne's, sixth edition, citation 3, “More tentative are such traditional features as respect for the rights of the minority, which precludes a Government from using to excess the extensive powers that it has to limit debate or to proceed in what the public and the Opposition might interpret as unorthodox ways.” That is what Motion No. 6 was and we know what the outcome was of that.
I want to speak briefly about another change that has not been talked about extensively in the House, but it is one of the changes to the Standing Orders that the Liberals are trying to ram through. It is an idea that has been proposed by the President of the Treasury Board in regard to the estimates.
Page 12 of the document says, “For parliamentary committees, the proposed approach trades off the longer period of time now available to study an incomplete Main Estimates...for a shorter time to study a complete Main Estimates”. That all sounds good. It sounds like there is going to be shorter time to study complete, thorough, and accurate estimates rather than having a longer time but with inaccurate estimates. The President of the Treasury Board should know that the House will always insist on full and accurate information and will never attach any such conditions to that right.
In its role in the supply process, Parliament would be foolish to voluntarily clawback two months of its ability to hold a ministry to account in exchange for flawed, unenforceable promises. Even though the paper says it would be accurate information, there is nothing incumbent on the government to provide that accurate information, which is why it is so important that the opposition has as much time as possible to look at those estimates and to scrutinize them.
Let me explain this by first putting forward this historical context. On page 114 of Josef Redlich's The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, it says:
The whole law of finance, and consequently the whole British constitution, is grounded upon one fundamental principle, laid down at the very outset of English parliamentary history and secured by three hundred years of mingled conflict with the Crown and peaceful growth. All taxes and public burdens imposed upon the nation for purposes of state, whatsoever their nature, must be granted by the representatives of the citizens and taxpayers, i.e., by Parliament.
Pages 404 and 405 of the fourth edition of Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice, published in 1916, state:
The cardinal principle, which underlies all parliamentary rules and constitutional provisions with respect to money grants and public taxes is this—when burthens are to be imposed on the people, every opportunity must be given for free and frequent discussion...[and] whenever the government finds it necessary to incur a public expenditure...there should be full consideration of the matter in committee and in the house, so that no member may be forced to come to a hasty decision, but that every one may have abundant opportunities afforded him of stating his reasons for supporting or opposing the proposed grant....
With respect to delaying the main estimates, I will quote from the parliamentary budget officer's most recent report, “Considerations for Parliament in Reforming the Business of Supply”. It states, “With respect to delaying the main estimates, the Government indicates that the core impediment in aligning the budget and estimates arises from the Government’s own sclerotic internal administrative processes, rather than parliamentary timelines.”
It says right there that it is about administrative processes, not parliamentary timelines. The report goes on to state:
PBO notes that the Government’s Supplementary Estimates B, tabled on 3 November, contained 51 measures that were originally proposed almost seven months earlier in Budget 2016.
This example shows that it is unlikely that delaying the release of the main estimates by eight weeks would provide full alignment with the budget.
That was in the PBO's report.
This is a lot of “inside Ottawa” and really diving deep into the estimates. However, the bottom line is that Parliament needs to be able to look at the government's estimates and should not have its time shortened. The President of the Treasury Board cannot ask us to trust that the government's estimates will be more accurate and that we will have a third of the time to study them. That is wrong. It is one of the issues that has not been talked about a lot, but is creating a lot of problems. As former PBO Kevin Page said, “This legislation creates the facade of independence…but on the other hand it completely takes it away.”
The other change the Liberals want to make and have done it in the omnibus bill, which is indicative of what they do, is to take away the power of the parliamentary budget officer. The former PBO stated:
The Government asserts that Parliament does not play a meaningful role in financial scrutiny. PBO disagrees with this view....
We note that notwithstanding the Government's performance information of admittedly poor quality, and their inability to reconcile the Government's spending proposals, parliamentarians have performed a commendable job of asking pertinent questions in standing committee hearings, Question Period and Committee of the Whole.
We know that even the parliamentary budget officer would disagree with those changes and has questions on them. We know the Liberals are currently trying to make changes to the ability of the PBO in Bill C-44, and on that he said:
The proposed amendments impose significant restrictions on the way the PBO can set its work plan and access information. Those restrictions will undermine PBO’s functional independence and its effectiveness in supporting parliamentarians to scrutinize government spending and hold the government to account.
In her remarks to you, Mr. Speaker, after your election to the office of Speaker, the then leader of the opposition and member for Sturgeon River—Parkland, the former interim Conservative leader, talked of the interrupted history of the office of Speaker, which began in 1376 when Sir Peter de la Mare presided over what is known as the “Good Parliament”. She pointed out that the title of “Good Parliament” was not due to the performance of the administration of the day but a reflection on the efforts of the members of that parliament to keep the government in check.
There was a significant principle developing in that parliament, a principle that should apply to this and to all parliaments. In Philip Laundy's book on the office of the Speaker, published in 1984, he had this to say about the Good Parliament:
Parliament was greatly concerned at the abuses in the administration which were threatening the welfare of the realm—
That sounds familiar.
—and encouraged by the support of the Black Prince it set itself to the task of correcting them.
Which is what the opposition wants to do. He continued:
After lengthy debates...the Lords and Commons again assembled in the Painted Chamber before John of Gaunt to give answer to the financial demands which had been made of them. Speaking on behalf of the Commons Sir Peter de la Mare boldly refused to grant supplies until the nation's grievances were redressed.
That was over 600 years ago, but it is still one of the cornerstones of our proud parliamentary democracy. We have made improvements in our approach over the years, but diminishing principles of accountability is the farthest thing from modernizing the procedures of the House. The Liberals keep saying they want to modernize the House, but all they want to do is take away the time-honoured and proven ways that we can hold governments to account. One day very soon, when we are back in government, the opposition is going to want us to be held to account, and the Liberals need to think about this.
During the remarks addressed in the Speaker's election, the member for Sturgeon River—Parkland referenced the “Bad Parliament”, but she did not get into the details of why that parliament's style was bad. We were at that point beginning the era of sunny ways, and who were we to spoil the mood? We were hoping it would be sunny ways.
As members know, as soon as that slogan was out of the box, it collapsed under the weight of dark clouds of arrogance and entitlement, and now serves to give a modern context to the story of the Bad Parliament that sat in England between January 27 and March 2, 1377. The Bad Parliament undid the work done by the Good Parliament, which brought in measures to reduce corruption in the royal council. The Bad Parliament approved reversals of the Good Parliament's impeachment of a number of royal courtiers. It also introduced a new form of royal taxation.
That sounds familiar too, does it not?
In addition, the Bad Parliament was forced to accede to the fact that the King could renege on political promises. Unfortunately, that does sound away too familiar to what is playing out in this Parliament.
I have one more parliament to reference. An even earlier parliament to the Good and Bad Parliaments was the “Mad Parliament” that met in Oxford on June 11, 1258. In Philip Laundy's book at page 11, he suggested that the Mad Parliament set itself against the tyranny of the court and owes its derogatory designation to those whose abuses it sought to check. If the government uses its majority to force through the changes proposed by the government House leader, the official opposition will be fighting its own form of tyranny. I assure members that the language used to describe the 42nd Parliament will be much stronger than just “mad”.
On a more positive note, though, I would like to reference a few distinguished parliamentarians, coming from all sides of the political spectrum. The Right Hon. John Diefenbaker, in an address to the Empire Club in 1949, had this to say, “If Parliament is to be preserved as a living institution His Majesty's Loyal Opposition must fearlessly perform its functions.... The reading of history proves that freedom always dies when criticism ends.”
In an address to the Canadian Club of Ottawa, January 27, 1959, Lester B. Pearson said:
In national politics during the years when I was in the government, I watched the Opposition perform their duty vigorously and industriously, with courage and determination. They rightly insisted on their right to oppose, attack and criticize, to engage in that cut and thrust of debate, so often and so strongly recommended by those concerned with the vigour and health of Parliament and the health of democracy.
In an address on March 21, 1957, New Democrat Stanley Knowles said:
The opposition has only the rules for its protection, hence the authorities on parliamentary procedure emphasize the greater importance to the opposition of the only protection it has, the protection of the rules. Only by according such rights to the opposition is it possible to achieve anything even approaching equality of strength between the two sides....
Finally, I would like to make reference to a more recent elder statesman, and I use the word in a very positive way. A respected senior member of this House, the hon. Liberal member for Malpeque, said on April 11, 2017:
However, this place is called the House of Commons for a reason. It is not the House of cabinet or the House of PMO. Protecting the rights of members in this place, whether it is the opposition members in terms of the stance they are taking, is also protecting the rights of the other members here who are not members of cabinet or the government. We talk about government as if this whole side is the government. The government is the executive branch. We do need to protect these rights.
I think those are very wise words, and we would like the government, the backbenchers to think about that in terms of this motion. We are fine sitting later hours. We know it will be long days for all of us, but let us do it. As my hon. colleague says, let us do the good work that Canadians have asked us to do.
However, we ask two things: allow us to have fuller opposition days, just like the Liberals are having full government days, and do not shut down the debate on the Standing Orders.
Mr. Speaker, I believe there have been consultations. I hope you will find unanimous consent of the House to propose an amendment. The amendment would restrict the use of closure on any motion proposing to change the Standing Orders during the period outlined in Motion No. 14, and would propose to treat opposition motions on allotted days the same as other government business.
Therefore, I seek the consent of the House to amend Motion No. 14 accordingly. I move that Motion No. 14 be amended by deleting all the words in paragraph (j) and substituting the following: “A motion pursuant to Standing Order 57 shall not be admissible for any motion dealing with amendments to the Standing Orders or changes to the practices of the House.”