That the Standing Orders of the House of Commons be amended as follows:
1. That the following section be added after Standing Order 32. (6):
“(7) Not later than twenty sitting days after the beginning of the second or subsequent session of a Parliament, a Minister of the Crown shall lay upon the Table a document outlining the reasons for the latest prorogation. This document shall be deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs immediately after it is presented in the House.”
2. That the following new Standing Order be added after Standing Order 69.
“69.1(1) In the case where a government bill seeks to repeal, amend or enact more than one act, and where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions or where unrelated matters are linked, the Speaker shall have the power to divide the questions, for the purposes of voting, on the motion for second reading and reference to a committee and the motion for third reading and passage of the bill. The Speaker shall have the power to combine clauses of the bill thematically and to put the aforementioned questions on each of these groups of clauses separately, provided that there will be a single debate at each stage.
“69.1(2) The present Standing Order shall not apply if the bill has as its main purpose the implementation of a budget and contains only provisions that were announced in the budget presentation or in the documents tabled during the budget presentation.”
3. That Standing Order 81 be amended as follows:
(a) by replacing each occurrence of the words “interim supply” in sections (3) and (17), and in paragraph (14)(a), with the following: “interim estimates”;
(b) by replacing the initial text in section (4) with the following: “(4) The main estimates to cover a given fiscal year for every department of government shall be deemed referred to standing committees on or before April 16 of that fiscal year. Each such committee shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than June 10 of that fiscal year, provided that:”
(c) by replacing in paragraphs (4)(a) and (b),
I. the words “May 1” with the words “May 8”;
II. each occurrence of the words “May 31” with the words “June 10”;
(d) by replacing paragraph (4)(c) with the following: “(c) on the third sitting day preceding the final allotted day, at not later than the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, the said committee shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the main estimates for the said department or agency; and”;
(e) in section (5)
I. by adding after the word “immediately” the word “after”;
II. by replacing the word “censé” in the French version with the word “réputé”;
(f) by adding a new section (6) to read as follows: “(6) Interim estimates shall be deemed referred to a standing committee or committees immediately after they are presented in the House. Each such committee shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than three sitting days before the final sitting or the last allotted day in the period ending not later than March 26.”; and
(g) by deleting the words “or interim supply” in section (21).
4. That the following sections be added after Standing Order 104.(4):
“(5) In addition to the members named pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order, the Chief Government Whip may, at any time, file with the clerk of any standing, special or legislative committee a notification indicating that one or more Parliamentary Secretaries shall serve as non-voting members of the committee. The Parliamentary Secretaries shall have all of the rights and privileges of a committee member, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.
(6)(a) A Minister of the Crown cannot be appointed to or cannot act as a substitute on any standing, legislative or special committee.
(b) A Parliamentary Secretary cannot be appointed to any standing, legislative or special committee, except as provided for in section (5) of this Standing Order.”
5. That the following subsections be added after Standing Order 114.(2)(d):
“(e) In relation to Parliamentary Secretaries named pursuant to Standing Order 104(5), the Chief Government Whip may effect a substitution of one Parliamentary Secretary for another by filing notice thereof with the clerk of the committee and such a substitution shall be effective immediately when it is received by the clerk of the committee.
(f) A Parliamentary Secretary named as a non-voting member of a committee pursuant to Standing Order 104(5) shall not be eligible to act as a substitute for a member of that committee.”
6. That Standing Order 114.(3) be replaced with the following:
“(3) Changes in the membership of any legislative committee shall be effective immediately after notification thereof, signed by the Chief Whip of any recognized party, has been filed with the clerk of the committee. Substitutions may be made in the same manner prescribed in section (2) of this Standing Order.”
7. That Standing Order 116 be replaced with the following:
“(1) In a standing, special or legislative committee, the Standing Orders shall apply so far as may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the election of a Speaker, seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.
(2)(a) Unless a time limit has been adopted by the committee or by the House, the Chair of a standing, special or legislative committee may not bring a debate to an end while there are members present who still wish to participate. A decision of the Chair in this regard may not be subject to an appeal to the committee.
(b) A violation of paragraph (a) of this section may be brought to the attention of the Speaker by any Member and the Speaker shall have the power to rule on the matter. If, in the opinion of the Speaker, such violation has occurred, the Speaker may order that all subsequent proceedings in relation to the said violation be nullified.”
That Standing Order 81 as amended take effect on September 18, 2017, and remain in effect for the duration of the current Parliament;
That the other Standing Orders as amended take effect on September 18, 2017;
That the Clerk of the House be authorized to make any required editorial and consequential alterations to the Standing Orders, including to the marginal notes; and
That the Clerk of the House be instructed to print a revised edition of the Standing Orders of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about our government's commitment to strengthen and improve Parliament. We believe Canadians cherish the House of Commons, the very heart of our democracy. We believe that what happens in this place, how we conduct ourselves, how we debate legislation, and how we hold the government to account is central to our country's democratic health.
The people who sent us here deserve to know we are doing our best to serve in their best interest and to make them proud of the work we are doing on behalf of them. They deserve to know that as their elected representatives, we are working together to put our country's interests first. Simply put, our constituents should be assured that we will all fight together for their interests. Those debates can often be drawn along clear and robust partisan lines, and that is good. This is part of what creates good public policy.
At the same time, it is crucial that all of us find ways to collectively maintain and strengthen the political institution where we debate our differences, our perspectives, and most important, the voices of our constituents. Indeed, the rules and conventions that govern this place date back through generations of our predecessors, and we have all done well by them.
However, there can always be improvements. We can always modernize. We can always do better. Today, it is time to do just that. We are here to debate our government's proposed motion to reform and modernize the Standing Orders in several key areas.
In this discussion, it is important to emphasize the reasons why these changes are needed and how they can serve to strengthen the House of Commons over the decades to come.
It is also important to emphasize how attached we are to implementing new practices, such as the Prime Minister's Question Period, which will contribute to making our government and future governments more accountable to Canadians.
As background, I would like to remind colleagues of some of the steps that have brought us here today.
Two years ago, as Canadians were preparing to cast their ballot in the general election, the Liberal Party released its campaign platform. That platform promised real change and pledged to give Canadians a voice in Ottawa.
The platform stated:
For Parliament to work best, its members must be free to do what they have been elected to do: represent their communities and hold the government to account. Government must always stay focused on serving Canadians and solving their problems.
The following are among the specific promises that were made in the platform that we committed to: introduce a prime minister's question period to improve the level of direct accountability; end the improper use of prorogation and omnibus bills; provide better parliamentary oversight of taxpayer dollars; and, strengthen parliamentary committees so that parliamentary secretaries do not have a vote on committee.
On election day in October 2015, Canadians made their decision on the type of government and Parliament they wanted in Ottawa. The result was clear: Canadians elected a government with a mandate to strengthen Parliament. The Prime Minister is committed to making that happen.
It is important to note the instructions he has given me in my mandate letter, which states:
As Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, your overarching goal will be to make Parliament relevant again and to ensure that Canadians once again have a real voice in Ottawa. Parliamentarians must have the information and the freedom to do their most important jobs: represent their constituents and hold the government to account. It is your job to help empower all Members of Parliament to fulfill these essential responsibilities.
Before going any further, I would like to insist on the fact that that is our main goal. Our intention is to give powers to members on both sides of the House. We want to give them the tools they need to be able do the work for which they were elected. We want to ensure that the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers are more accountable to the House.
As I have often stated in this place, I welcome the views of my colleagues. I have engaged in good-faith discussions with my Conservative and NDP counterparts about our approach to the specific reforms we have put forward. These were helpful discussions. Indeed, throughout both the public discourse we witnessed this spring, and more recently in my conversations with my counterparts, I listened carefully. Now, Canadians expect us to act. We have a plan on how to strengthen Parliament. It is reasonable and it is based on our mandate from Canadians.
First, let me address the changes to the Standing Orders in four areas.
With respect to the prorogation of Parliament, which signifies the end of a session and can occur with justification during a mandate, there have been times in the past that governments have improperly prorogued early to avoid politically difficult situations. If that happens again in future, Canadians deserve a formal explanation in Parliament. Under the change, the government must table a document outlining the reasons for prorogation within 20 sitting days of the next session of Parliament. That document must justify the government's decision to end a parliamentary session. The document would be deemed referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. This change will build accountability into Parliament.
Our government is committed to ending the improper use of omnibus legislation. I am not speaking here of responsibly drafted budget implementation bills that contain changes stemming directly from the budget; rather, I am referring to what should happen when a government introduces a non-budget omnibus bill that contains entirely separate and unrelated themes. We want to ensure that MPs are not faced with the dilemma of how to vote on a bill that is most supportable but contains a totally unrelated clause, a poison pill, that they find objectionable. We want flexibility for MPs in these instances. Under the proposed change, the Speaker would have the authority to divide bills for the purpose of voting for second reading, third reading, and passage of a bill. The Speaker would also be authorized to group a bill thematically. There would be a single debate at each stage, and members would then be able to vote on parts of a bill separately.
With respect to estimates, members of Parliament are responsible for keeping track of how the government intends to spend the public's money, yet the financial accounting system they are currently expected to use is inconsistent and incomplete. We need a better way. We want to better align the budget and estimates process so that the data means something and is truly relevant and timely for colleagues, resulting in better informed decision-making.
Our motion proposes changing the date on which the main estimates are tabled from March 1 to April 16. The date on which the estimates should be sent to the House by the relevant committee would move from May 31 to June 10. Pushing back the dates will ensure that the estimates more appropriately reflect the budget and will allow members to conduct a more detailed review. This will allow Parliament to provide better oversight.
Our government believes strongly that committees provide the backbone of much of the work that is done in Parliament. It is there that MPs can do some of their best work, scrutinizing legislation and hearing the views of experts, stakeholders, and Canadians at large. Indeed, it is at the committee stage where proposed legislation can be improved and members from all parties can constructively work together toward that end.
We believe there is a role for parliamentary secretaries to be members of committees. As link to ministers, they can provide insight and great assistance to other committee members as well. Under our proposed changes, parliamentary secretaries can be committee members, but they cannot vote or move a motion, nor can they be part of the count for quorum or act as a substitute for a member on a committee on which they have been named a non-voting member.
That is a summary of the changes to the Standing Orders that we propose.
I would like now to turn my attention to another matter that we also believe is important: the Prime Minister's question period, PMQP. Our Prime Minister is firmly committed to being more accessible to all members of Parliament in question period. This is why, this spring, he took the historic step of initiating a prime minister's question period, in which he answered all of the questions asked on Wednesdays. This special question period is in addition to the other days of the week when he attends the regular question period to answer questions with his cabinet ministers.
So far, our Prime Minister has attended six special question periods on Wednesdays, answering a total of 233 questions from members of Parliament on those six days alone. We have shown it can be done. We now have made it our practice that when the Prime Minister is here on Wednesday, he takes all the questions, and we will continue that practice. Let me make one thing clear. The Prime Minister's question period is here to stay under this government. Just as it became the convention and not something codified in the Standing Orders in the United Kingdom, it is our endeavour that it will become the convention here.
In closing, I invite members to support our proposals for strengthening Parliament. We promised Canadians two year ago that we would make these changes. Canadians gave us a mandate to do so. They gave us a mandate to act. It is time to work together and make our Parliament stronger.