House of Commons Hansard #197 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was process.


Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, we were elected to this place to do important work. All members of Parliament have a responsibility to ensure they are representing their constituents.

It is important. The commitments we made to Canadians in our election platform came from when this party was in the third official status of this place. We know that under the previous Stephen Harper Conservative government there was an abuse of omnibus legislation. We know that we need to improve the way we can work together so that members of Parliament can actually advance the voices of their constituents, and that is the goal here.

We have had good faith conversation amongst the recognized parties to ensure those voices are heard and to ensure that we have a motion before us that we can work together to improve. I will continue keeping my door open and having those tough conversations to really modernize this place, and to ensure members are able to represent their constituents.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we go to resuming debate and the hon. opposition House leader, I will just make just a clarification.

Earlier when I was presenting today's motion to the House, the hon. member for St. Catharines and others were prompting that I perhaps dispense with the reading of all of the details. In fact, for clarification purposes, I could have accepted that suggestion in the case of such a lengthy motion. The motion is actually printed, of course, in the Order Paper for today, which can be made reference to. We could have proceeded in the usual pace to seek the consent of the House to dispense with the motion. Perhaps I should have done that. Nonetheless, it is a matter of history now.

Resuming debate.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, what a long road we have travelled to get here. The process leading us to today's motion has been a long and very frustrating struggle. It was a struggle where the opposition was forced to mitigate the excesses of a careless and arrogant government, a government devoid of any appreciation for what Parliament actually does, a government that insulted the House and dismissed the role of members who sit in opposition to it.

The process has been a sham from the beginning, despite the assertions that we have been hearing about a conversation, a dialogue, and working better together. Over the weeks and months of question period, the House has heard the full word salad from the government trying to defend and excuse its approach to Parliament, a bunch of jargon and buzzwords tossed together with very little substance and very little weight. Given the way the Prime Minister has handled this whole issue and refused for months to acknowledge the need for all-party support, Conservatives will be voting against the motion.

Let me take a few moments to review just how we managed to get here. On March 10, a Friday afternoon, just before we started our March constituency week, the government House leader posted on her website a so-called discussion paper. The House will recall that this Liberal discussion paper proposed, among other things, to reduce the opportunity for members to hold the government to account by eliminating Friday sittings, automatically time-allocating all bills, preventing the opposition from triggering debates on committee reports, and bringing sharp closure changes to committee. It was a shocking set of ideas to think about. Since it was less than a year since we had witnessed the Motion No. 6 fiasco, it was sadly par for the course with the government. The primary driving force for the Prime Minister has been to alter the balance between the opposition and the government by taking away the protections that the rules offer.

The Globe and Mail in an editorial at the time called out the Prime Minister on his ideas and I quote:

[The] government considers the opposition’s limited arsenal to be “tactics which seek only to undermine and devalue the important work of Parliament,” and which “sow dysfunction” and are not “rational” or “defensible,” according to a discussion paper....

Those contentions are cynical bunk. The...government is hawking a utopian vision of Parliament, in which members from different parties politely discuss the government’s proposed legislation on a schedule set by mutual agreement, and there are cheers all around when the House enacts laws that are a perfect reflection of the selfless compromises agreed to in a collegial fashion on committees and in the House....

There are just sunny ways passing beneath crisp rainbows.

They are sunny ways indeed. Had this discussion paper simply been just that when it was published, it would have been read, critiqued, and actually discussed with the flaws being pointed out and the interesting ideas build upon. However, that is not at all what happened.

Later that afternoon, the government House leader's colleague gave notice of motion at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to have the discussion paper studied, with everything wrapped up and recommendations made by June 2. Had the motion at committee simply been a proposal to add the discussion paper to its study of the Standing Orders, it would have been a natural idea and hard to object to. However, that is not what happened. The writing was on the wall. All of the ideas in the discussion paper, which coincidentally all were to the benefit of the Prime Minister, would be rammed through.

Let us fast forward to the procedural and House affairs committee on March 21. The Liberals wanted to pass their motion right away. The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston offered an amendment to observe the longstanding tradition around here of using all-party consensus to change our rules. The Liberals, to their credit, quickly signalled their disagreement with that perfectly reasonable amendment.

We were faced with a completely transparent plan from the Liberals to ram these awful ideas through the House. We simply would not allow this to happen. As a result, we had to stop this reckless Liberal power grab from getting rammed through, so we used one of the very few tools available to opposition parties, the one that the Liberals actually had wanted to remove, and that is the ability to filibuster. Over some six weeks with more than 80 hours of committee meetings, opposition MPs led the fight against the Liberal discussion paper.

I have to give credit to the three Conservative MPs who are members of that committee, the hon. members for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, Banff—Airdrie, and Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. However, it was not just them; this really was a team effort, and 29 Conservative members of Parliament participated at that committee.

In parallel to the committee proceedings, the NDP House leader and I offered a constructive alternative to the government. We suggested that the House set up a special committee with one member from each party, chaired by our impartial Deputy Speaker, to work on a consensus basis in reviewing our procedures and proposing improvements.

What we proposed was hardly revolutionary. Pierre Trudeau's government set up the Lefebvre committee, which recommended several changes to the Standing Orders, such as bringing in the first time limits to bell ringing, which were adopted unanimously.

Brian Mulroney's government set up the McGrath committee. That group tabled three reports, all adopted unanimously, on a whole range of topics, such as giving our standing committees permanent mandates to study topics on their own initiative.

Under Jean Chrétien, a special committee on the modernization and improvement of the procedures of the House of Commons was created. That committee codified the pattern of goodwill to its rules with an express requirement for reports to be adopted unanimously. Far from that being a veto—and remember that this was back in the days of five recognized parties—the committee managed to adopt six reports.

Most recently, Stephen Harper's government followed the tradition of the unanimity approach, not bringing in permanent procedural amendments with out all-party support.

Those governments proved that reforming Parliament can be done with a co-operative approach. The results were substantive, and they significantly strengthened the role members play in this place.

Indeed, I know the procedure and House affairs committee would have been up to that task. From following their debates, and from joining them for a night, I know that the members from all parties handled the task in front of them with civility and good cheer. They would have handled such a review in a professional and capable fashion.

Sadly, it was quite clear that the Liberals on the committee were under firm instructions from the Prime Minister's Office not to let their members' own better judgment carry the day. Indeed, far from being co-operative and far from her repeated claim to have an open door, the government House leader left the other House leaders hanging. For weeks on end, our letter to her went unanswered.

In addition to a committee filibuster and good faith proposals from the opposition parties, here in the chamber the opposition parties used many of the tools available to us to register our unhappiness and our frustration. The Liberal government desperately tried to get back on track, even shutting down a privilege debate and preventing it from coming to a vote. The hon. member for Perth—Wellington called out the government on this, and the Chair ruled that what the Liberal government had done was entirely without precedent. The Speaker wisely and bravely ruled, allowing the privilege debate to start anew.

Finally, admitting that the Prime Minister was staring at the risk of a total paralysis of his parliamentary agenda, the government House leader finally answered the letter that the hon. member for Victoria and I had sent her. In that letter she indicated that the Liberals were backing away from their discussion paper, but would be pressing ahead regardless of the opposition parties' thoughts with items referenced in the Liberal election platform.

The opposition cannot claim complete credit for the Liberal backdown. I suspect the Liberal House leader may have been under considerable pressure from her own caucus colleagues. Though caucus meetings are confidential, I believe that we witnessed the tip of the iceberg when the hon. member for Malpeque, a veteran of this House, offered this in debate on April 11:

...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.

Here we stand today debating government Motion No. 18.

First let me talk about something that we all expected to be in this motion. The headline proposal in every Liberal statement this spring about the Standing Orders was that there was going to be a dedicated Prime Minister's question period. We heard a lot about that.

The Prime Minister was gung-ho and looking forward to having to show up to work for just 45 minutes every week. The Prime Minister was going to show us just how well he could memorize his lines and put on a Broadway-worthy performance with dramatic delivery. He may even have put his hand on his heart a time or two.

We all saw how that experiment unfolded. The Prime Minister quickly saw that his glib platitudes did not give satisfying answers on the concerns of Canadians, the problems facing our economy, or his ethical lapses. It quickly became crystal clear to everyone that the Prime Minister failed to perform and bombed terribly.

Remember the Wednesday when the Prime Minister was asked 18 times if he had met with the Ethics Commissioner? That was May 10.

Although I cannot and I will not refer to the presence or absence of a member, I can say that the House did not hear another Wednesday answer from the Prime Minister until June 7.

John Ivison wrote just this past Thursday about the most recent Prime Minister's question period, noting that the Prime Minister“...did not look like he was having fun Wednesday, when he was pummelled for the entire Question Period on topics ranging from the big issues of the day—Chinese takeovers, rising debt levels—to more arcane subjects like potentially illegal activity at Shared Services Canada and autism funding.”

It is obvious that Liberal bigwigs decided that their leader's performance was actually a liability to the Liberal Party. His performance in question period specifically was a liability to the Liberal Party. If anything, the Liberals' last-minute withdrawal of this proposal only highlights the fact that the government's approach to procedural reforms has been guided solely by Liberal partisan interests. They only want to do it if it is in their interest. That has been made very obvious by their rather rapid withdrawal of a Prime Minister's question period.

Of course, the Prime Minister's good friend, Gerry Butts, was on Twitter Friday claiming that there would never be standing order amendments to create a Prime Minister's question period. To further his alternative facts, the PMO principal secretary then claimed that the Standing Orders were entirely silent on question period. I guess he obviously had not read Standing Order 37, for example, with the big headline above it of “Oral Questions”.

Setting that aside, in her response to written Question No. 1022 tabled Friday afternoon, the government House leader said, “The motion will refer to the commitments made in the platform during the election in relation to...increasing accountability in question period.”

The House leader also testified on Thursday afternoon at the procedural and House affairs committee, where she again reiterated that the Prime Minister's question period would be in the motion. Just a few hours later, though, her words did not match up to her notice of motion, with the Prime Minister's question period being noticeably absent.

We can only conclude that this was a very hasty, last-minute change of heart from the Liberals, likely following last Wednesday's flop by the Prime Minister.

Now that I have spoken about what is not in this motion, let me turn to what actually is in government Motion No. 18.

On prorogation, the Liberals wanted to prevent governments from abusing this routine constitutional procedure. One way to do that is to promise not to abuse it and then follow through on that promise. That would be the good, old-fashioned approach of integrity.

Instead, the government proposes that after prorogation, the government would be obliged to table its reasons, or its excuses, when Parliament reconvenes. Basically, that means that from this time forward, governments can table the press release that it puts out when it announces prorogation. That is really all this change will do.

This amendment makes no sense. It is meaningless. The Prime Minister should be embarrassed to put it on the Standing Orders.

With respect to the Liberal pledge on omnibus bills, we see something even more ridiculous and absurd. The Liberal proposal to end omnibus abuse exempts budget bills, the very bills the Liberals used to complain about. When we look at Bill C-44, which just passed, we see that it is little wonder the Liberals are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

On the other hand, for the few bills the rule might possibly apply, really nothing will change at all. There will be a few extra votes in the House, but no more debate would be held.

The real concern is that the Prime Minister will become more aggressive with omnibus bills. Sheltering under this half-baked reform, omnibus bills will be encouraged. The Liberals can claim that they will be absolved of any fault, because they have changed the rules. This is absolute rubbish. It is not hard to imagine the Liberals taking us to a place where we will soon see things like a throne speech implementation act, with everything thrown into one bill and just a lot of votes to follow. It is actually very worrisome.

However, we should not worry; they say there will be three votes instead of one.

In short, the proposals on prorogation and omnibus bills are so cynical that they are just jokes, plain and simple.

The next item is not as cynical, and it may even have some merit. However, to be successful, it requires the Liberal cabinet to follow through on a promise. Given their record on keeping promises, I have my doubts.

Without getting into a lot of technical detail, government Motion No. 18 tweaks a number of aspects about the scrutiny process for the main estimates. For Canadians not familiar with what the estimates are, they are the proposals that lead to Parliament's authorization for government spending.

The government wanted to achieve a better alignment of the budget and the main estimates. As a matter of principle, Conservatives do not object to this idea. However, the challenge lies in implementation, especially the timing.

Essentially there are two ways to address the timing issues: budgets could be presented earlier or the estimates could be presented later. The government wants flexibility in when budgets are presented, given fluctuating events. That is fair enough, since the previous Conservative government also insisted on the same thing when similar proposals were floated by committee five years ago.

However, last fall the President of the Treasury Board published his own discussion paper on this very issue. He called for a permanent change to the Standing Orders that would reduce the three months currently available to study the main estimates down to 30 days. The Treasury Board president had been promoting this reform, effectively saying that it would give us great documents—so great, apparently, that there really would not need to be time for parliamentary oversight.

Well, hold on. While recognizing the merits of aligning budgets and estimates, the Conservative Party does not want to sacrifice the time available for scrutiny of spending proposals, because we all know how much the Liberals love to spend.

Last fall the Liberals were quite itchy to get these changes through the government operations and estimates committee, but we managed to put the brakes on these hasty, bad changes. For that, I want to recognize the good work of our Treasury Board critic, the hon. member for Brantford—Brant, and his colleagues on that committee, the hon. members for Beauport—Limoilou and Edmonton West.

We were hardly doing this just be stubborn or obstructionist. Outside observers, including none other than our parliamentary budget officer, pointed out concerns with the government's optimistic plans. In November the parliamentary budget officer published a report explaining the promise of the President of the Treasury Board. The PBO had this to say:

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.

He went on to say:

This example [of last year's supplementary estimates] shows that it is unlikely that delaying the release of the main estimates by eight weeks would provide full alignment with the budget.

His predecessor, Kevin Page, penned an op-ed in The Globe and Mail, which also poured cold water on the Liberal plan. Kevin Page said:

How does that improve financial control? ... If you start from the perspective of financial control, Parliament should see the fiscal plan...before April 1.

Therefore, this is not just us expressing concerns. There were a number of other esteemed individuals who expressed concern with the government's plan.

More recently, the PBO, in reviewing the spring supplementary estimates, offered this skeptical take, noting his analysis:

...demonstrates the [Treasury Board] Secretariat is further away from its goal in 2017-18, rather than closer to it. This raises a significant question of whether the Government's proposal to delay the main estimates would result in meaningful alignment with the budget.

Basically, the Liberal government was saying to trust them on improving the estimates and wanted Parliament to agree to this change up front, while the evidence of the government's ability to do its part was completely unconvincing.

By standing firm through tough negotiations over the winter and spring, Conservatives reined in these Liberal efforts to slash accountability.

The amendment set out in government Motion No. 18 is now a two-year experiment, providing two months of committee study, twice the amount that the Treasury Board president had originally proposed. By insisting on a sunset clause for this change, Conservatives have ensured we can take an evidence-based decision after the 2019 election on whether the information made available to parliamentarians truly does improve leading to a reasonable trade-off with losing a month of scrutiny.

The ball is now in the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board president's court. Given the government's record, I am not holding my breath.

Finally, there is the amendment that will prevent ministers from sitting on committees. However, it will allow parliamentary secretaries to be ex officio members of committees, with all privileges except the ability to vote or to constitute quorum. They may participate at in camera meetings, question witnesses, and travel. Parliamentary secretaries will maintain practically every tool, except an actual vote, to shape and steer committee work.

Liberal parliamentary secretaries have continued to attend committees, and in some cases strive to shape the committee's work and decisions. This proposal would only further entrench their ability to do this, while claiming to honour platform commitments. How very clever.

If the Prime Minister has concluded that parliamentary secretaries are important to committee work, the Liberals should just admit that and assign them Liberal seats at committees.

The Liberal caucus has dozens of backbenchers with multiple committee assignments. This arrangement may work in the current majority context, but in a minority situation it could become quite an unsustainable burden on any government backbench when 70 or so office-holders would go without any committee assignments and 50 to 80 MPs would have to cover 24 standing committees, plus two joint committees and any special committees. I do not know if the government has thought this through, especially if it does find itself in a minority situation at some point.

A similar arrangement whereby parliamentary secretaries could not sit on committees that were related to their department was implemented in 1986, but it was later scrapped in 1991. We should not be surprised to see another U-turn in the years ahead on this particular change.

As I said in my opening remarks, this has been a long road that we have travelled down. At the beginning, I was not sure whether the Liberal House leader's approach to this whole issue was aggressively ambitious or just very naive, but over the subsequent months, the answer has become increasingly clear.

Shortly after the parliamentary battle launched in March, Andrew Coyne wrote a piece entitled, “Renewed attempt to rewrite House rules confirms Liberals are not to be trusted”.

The article stated:

The [first] 18 months of the...government have been an education in cynicism. Every time you think you have plumbed the depths, every time you believe you have pierced the many veils of their duplicity, you are delighted to discover still another con wrapped inside the last—usually delivered by some smiling minister tweeting variations on “Better is Always Possible” and “Diversity is Our Strength.”

Later the article says:

The latest chance to refresh our acquaintance with how deeply cynical the [Prime Minister's] people are—not have become: are—is the clutch of grubby expedients the government is now trying to stuff down the opposition’s throats, in the name, prettily, of “parliamentary reform.” Scholars of the [Prime Minister's] style will recognize the expression “reform,” like “merit-based appointments” and “evidence-based policy,” as a tell that some kind of humbug is afoot, and this is no exception....

We had an early foretaste of this with the infamous Motion Six... That alone ought to have signalled how sincere [the Prime Minister]’s frequent protests of his devotion to democratic accountability are: as calculated, as fake—and as useful!—as his feminism.

Well now the Liberals are back, with a new, more attack-proof House Leader...

That brings me to the current government House leader.

I truly believe the hon. member for Waterloo is very well-intentioned, but she has been set by the Prime Minister for failure, as a rookie parliamentarian, in taking on the important role as House leader and all that it entails, while at the same time picking this fight.

Veteran parliamentary observer Chantal Hébert recently penned her observations on a pattern of, as she said, “Rookie ministers turned into cannon fodder”. I will read from her recent column. It is extremely relevant and a very clear example. She has articulated very clearly what we are seeing the Prime Minister do with his rookie MPs, specifically women MPs, sadly. The article stated:

[The hon. member for Waterloo] is the first woman to occupy this strategic government position [House leader]. She also brings to the role less hands-on experience in the Commons than any of her predecessors.

To be able to read the mood of the House is an essential skill for one in [her] position. It is also a skill usually acquired over time.

As parliamentary neophyte, [she] would have had her hands full just keeping the government’s legislative agenda on track. Yet, shortly after her appointment she was tasked with implementing a controversial set of parliamentary reforms. Included in the government’s unilateral wish list were measures that would have curtailed some of the few procedural tools at the disposal of an opposition minority.

[The government House leader] might as well have set out for a stroll across a minefield. She pressed on with the plan until a predictable procedural war threatened to bring the House to a grinding halt. At that point she beat back in retreat — at cost to her credibility.

Even veteran Liberal Warren Kinsella reached this conclusion when he tweeted last week, saying that if she was forced to do yet another climb-down, her position would become untenable.

The passage from Chantal Hébert's column was about a broader point: the fact that our self-proclaimed feminist Prime Minister has put a number of earnest, well-intentioned, but inexperienced young female ministers into senior roles where they become political roadkill. As a female politician myself, it angers me when I see what the Prime Minister has done with his cabinet and those with immense professional potential. These are young people with huge potential in the Liberal caucus, and they are being put in these positions just to benefit his cynical feminist brand.

Basically, we are seeing some Liberal MPs being prematurely promoted into roles and responsibilities ahead of having the necessary experience to assume such weighty offices and then being asked to do the impossible for the Prime Minister. Some would call this the “glass cliff”.

I recognize that some of this could be inevitable when a party goes from being a third party straight into government. However, we have seen a pattern with the Prime Minister, which has been made much worse by a prime minister who is far more concerned with snappy sound bites and click-bait pictures than actually doing his own members right and putting them in positions where they have experience and are not doomed to fail. He simply does not have his eye on competent management and professional development within his own government.

As Ms. Hébert suggested, these young rookie ministers could well have become formidable forces in Canadian politics. I wish them well in their future, I honestly do. They would have been formidable forces in Canadian politics if they had a chance to mature in their career paths, but instead they have seen their potential sacrificed for the sake of some re-tweets and trending hashtags.

Speaking personally, I know the value of taking one step at a time on a career path. When I was first elected, I did a stint on the backbench and then I got to chair a committee. After that, I worked for a while as a parliamentary secretary and then was promoted into the ministry. Today, I find myself the opposition House leader, a role I am very privileged to hold.

Even though I am learning new things every day, it is not basic principles I am learning. I have had the benefit of adding my lessons to a base of experience and knowledge that I have acquired over almost nine years. Regrettably, for the hon. member for Waterloo, I do not think she has enjoyed the same benefit of incremental growth and development. However, the fault for that lies not at her feet but with the Prime Minister.

What is the lesson to take out of this whole episode from the March discussion paper through to today's government motion?

In a column entitled, “Liberals forced to swallow humble pie — again — on parliamentary rule changes”, John Ivison stated, “the Liberals have learned the hard way that the rules governing this most precious of institutions can only be amended by consensus, not by parliamentary cosh.”

We have long said that the rules of the House belong to all members from all corners of the House. Changes should enjoy consensus support before being implemented. The Liberals have learned this the hard way. Ideas for discussion and debate are to be welcomed. A prescriptive list of proposals strapped to a rocket for rapid implementation rightly rouses suspicions.

However, the government continually demonstrates its contempt for this institution and its history. Most recently, in his proposed nominee for Clerk of the House of Commons, we once again saw the Prime Minister dismiss the consultation process and bypass the established non-partisan professional development practice for career advancement with our procedural experts. There are some very serious and valid concerns with respect to how the nomination of the Clerk has come about.

Prime ministers, even those with majority governments, should not pick a fight with the House of Commons in a bald-faced power grab to neuter what tools this House has. After all, the core constitutional role of the House of Commons is not to pass bills but to hold the government to account.

Barely a year in office, the Liberals found this reality to be a pesky inconvenience. They tried to eliminate this, to remove the distraction from a government built on platitudes and selfies. The government has created a distraction, falsely called our calls for consensus to be a demand for a veto. It was not a demand for a veto; it was our right. There is a significant gulf between a demand for a veto and a consensus.

Negotiations and horse-trading inevitably lead to a result where one has to give up something to gain something. However, that is not how the government chose to approach the Standing Orders. It should not have ended up this way. It chose to provoke a procedural war in an effort to get its own way. As in every case throughout the centuries when power-hungry kings and governments sought to curb Parliament's powers, the House of Commons fought back. Just as in the past, the elected House won. We are grateful for that, and will keep fighting the government and doing our job.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Filomena Tassi Liberal Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, I can assure the opposition House leader that roadkill I am not. I am very proud of our Prime Minister and the confidence he has shown in the women on this side of the House. It is a confidence and commitment that is long overdue. It has gone a long way to demonstrate to the world what women have to offer, how their input is valued and how it will bring us to a far better place.

However, my question is not with respect to the opposition House leader's comments. I want to focus on the Prime Minister's question period.

We know the Prime Minister is participating in this question period in addition to the regular question period in the House. To date, the Prime Minister has answered 233 questions in the prime minister-specific question period in addition to the regular questions.

I want to correct the record. The opposition House leader had indicated we were backing off of this. We are not backing off. In fact, the government House leader has said that this government is committed to carrying this through. Therefore, I first want to correct the record that this government will carry on with this commitment because we believe it brings greater accountability.

Does the opposition House leader not believe that all future prime ministers should commit to keeping this practice?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, first I want to address the comments of my hon. colleague in regard to the positions that inexperienced ministers have been put in by the Prime Minister.

Nobody is talking about whether it is a good idea to put women in cabinet positions. We agree with that. However, we need to put the very best people in cabinet positions, and many times those very best people are women.

My colleague needs to ask herself this question, and maybe ask the former Minister of Democratic Institutions, the current Minister of Status of Women, or maybe ask the Minister of Canadian Heritage, who had to defend the minister's appointment of official languages commissioner, and the government House leader: why does the Prime Minister put inexperienced female politicians in positions he knows will be very difficult?

He has given them some of the most difficult things to do without a path to success. It is clear the Prime Minister is putting them in front of him. He is okay sacrificing them so he can get the glory he wants. As women, we need to stand up to that kind of thing, telling him that is all show and not substance. It is very clear.

On the other issue around question period, it has been really interesting to hear the Liberals talk on and on about putting this in their Standing Orders changes, and then it is absent. Maybe they want to stop talking about prime minister's question period. It is not in this motion.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud of how the hon. opposition House leader and I have worked together over the last few months in order to look after the rights of parliamentarians against the current government's power grab.

When the government House leader introduced her so-called discussion paper and then forced the Liberals at the procedure and House affairs committee to try to include it in their Standing Orders review, members will recall that the committee and House almost came to a grinding halt, slowing down the government's already lethargic legislative pace.

Would the hon. member agree that we likely would not have had to sit until midnight for the last four weeks if the government had simply used a consensus basis for proceeding to change the Standing Orders?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I also want to thank my hon. colleague, the NDP House leader, for the way we have been able to work together.

The fact that the Conservatives and the New Democrats, who disagree on pretty well everything, agreed on this showed how important it was that they could not ram changes through. It really showed the substance of our argument.

In regard to the long hours we have been sitting, it is clear how the Liberals have mismanaged the House of Commons and the very few bills it is trying to get through. The fact is that even a week and a half ago, while we were sitting until midnight, while they were using time allocation, the Liberals brought two motions before the House that we had to debate. They really had no lasting impact, whether we voted on them or not. There was one on the Paris agreement and one on foreign policy. It just had to do with the Liberals trying to find more ways to pat themselves on the back, and maybe try to divide this caucus, which did not work.

The fact that the Liberals had time to play those kinds of games and engage in that kind of self-indulgence really shows their motivation. At the end of the day, the Prime Minister does not respect this place. He does not think it is necessary. He does not want to be here. He treats this place like a nuisance, and that was clear in how he had his House leader try to carry out the agenda of the Liberals.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Victoria and the opposition House leader have talked a great deal about the need for consensus to change the Standing Orders. However, only six days ago, the NDP opposition day motion sought to change the Standing Orders on a majority vote.

In the last Parliament, Motion No. 489, the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, did change the Standing Orders of the House on about 58% of the vote.

There is a bit of sanctimony and hypocrisy in what the opposition members say on an ongoing basis. I was at PROC for almost the entire 80 hours of that rather long meeting on March 21. What happened was we brought forward a motion to have a discussion on the Standing Orders. It was a request for discussion. There were no changes to the Standing Orders. The motion did not even refer to the minister's letter. It was a request for an ongoing conversation with the opposition. I was hoping we would all have this conversation. If the opposition members did not like what came out of it, they could have filibustered at that point and stopped the report. It still would not have come back to the House.

Why are opposition members not interested in having any kind of actual meaningful discussion on changing the rules of this place?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is clear from what that member asked that the Liberals have not learned one thing from this entire episode.

We have given numerous examples where previous governments under Liberals and Conservatives did have discussions around the Standing Orders. No substantive changes to the Standing Orders can be made without a full consensus. That is a fact.

The fact that the member brought up the NDP opposition day motion is proof of our point. The only way the NDP motion would have passed in the House is if that party would have been able to build a consensus and been able to persuade opposition members that its proposal was a good one. It was not able to do that and the motion did not pass. That is the way it should be. What the Liberals did was the opposite. They are able to pass anything they want because they have a majority and they do not have to care about building a consensus.

The member's logic is flawed and his illogic proves our point, that being that we should only change the Standing Orders with a consensus. That means make the argument, persuade everybody that it is not partisan, and the change will happen.

We are seeing that everything the Liberals want to do is fully for their partisan benefit, and that is another reason they did not want to build a consensus.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with the points that have been raised, that changing our Standing Orders does require consensus.

It may not be fair to ask the opposition House leader about what was done in the Harper government, but for MPs in positions such as my own of being in a party with fewer than 12 here, instead of changing the Standing Orders, which would not be done with consensus, the then government under Stephen Harper used the device of writing a motion and then forcing every committee to pass it to restrict the rights of members in smaller parties to make amendments at report stage.

The Liberals then used the exact same device, thus changing the legislative process in the House through the parliamentary alchemy of forcing committees to pass motions. Committee by committee, identical motions first in a majority Conservative Parliament and then in a majority Liberal Parliament have the effect of changing the way legislation goes through the House without consensus.

I wonder if the member has any comments on that.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do recall quite fondly the 26 hours of voting that ensued at that particular time. I do recall the end result of what the member is referring to.

Obviously there are a number of tools that both the government and the opposition have to achieve the results that they want. The opposition has to do what it can to fight against what the government wants and the government will be held to account for what it does.

In this case, our initial approach to the government was for it to put a group together, whether a group like the Jean Chrétien model, the Pierre Trudeau model, or the Brian Mulroney model. If we could have at least started with that, we could have had more input even from other parties in the House, but we could not get to that base. We were stalled at every turn.

We are now at a place where we can somewhat agree on what we are going to disagree on. However, make no mistake: the government is doing this the wrong way. This is not the right process. This is not a success for the government.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to say from the outset that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly. I ought to say at the outset as well that it is with regret that the NDP opposes Motion No. 18. Had there been a better way, we would not necessarily have been here. This motion represents the final act of a failed attempt by the government House leader to unilaterally ram through changes that would overhaul rules that govern democracy and the House of Commons, and the government failed.

The Liberals would have done things that would have consolidated the power of the executive branch of government. I want to outline, therefore, how we got to this point. I do concede that many of the more odious things that the government wanted to slip in under the guise of a discussion paper never found a way into this motion, mercifully. Still, the government's wish list is mostly about trying to make the House function in a way that is simply more convenient to the government. That is not necessarily how democracy was supposed to work.

There are five things that this motion would do. I will address them in a bit of time, but they are the prorogation issue, omnibus bills, the timing of estimates, parliamentary secretaries at committee, and the use of filibusters at committee. I will examine them later, but first we need to talk about how we got here.

The Liberals promised to “Change the House Standing Orders to end the improper use of omnibus bills and prorogation”. That was in the mandate letter for the hon. government House leader. Instead, their motion simply would legitimize omnibus bills. It would do nothing as well to hinder the improper use of prorogation, which the Stephen Harper government used in 2008 and 2009. It would simply regularize that. Therefore, the cynicism in the standing order reform is really quite breathtaking. They also promised to make committees independent by removing parliamentary secretaries, but the motion would do nothing of the sort to prevent them from being there, from managing the agenda in the interests of their ministers, or from ensuring their majority membership voted the right way.

In 2015, the campaign platform of the Liberals made a series of promises about parliamentary reform. It said this, “A Liberal government will restore Parliament as a place where accountable people, with real mandates, do serious work on behalf of Canadians.” One of the things they said they would do would be to change the rules so members and parliamentary secretaries may not be, or stand for, voting members on committees. This gives, I think, the clear impression that parliamentary secretaries and ministers would not be on committees at all; not so fast, as we will see.

They also said they “will ensure that the Parliamentary Budget Officer is truly independent...properly funded, and accountable only—and directly—to Parliament”. The current parliamentary budget officer and the former PBO, Kevin Page, have just criticized the changes that the government has made in giving new responsibilities to the parliamentary budget officer, fearing that they would have to have their work plan approved by the Speakers of the House and Senate before proceeding, hardly something that enhances the independence the Liberals promised us.

The Liberals said they would end abuse of prorogation and omnibus bills. That was included, as I said, in the mandate letter to the government House leader. She was to “Work with the President of the Treasury Board to ensure accounting consistency between the Estimates and the Public Accounts”—I will have more to say about that in a moment—and, my favourite, “Work with Opposition House Leaders to examine ways to make the House of Commons more family-friendly for Members of Parliament.” That has certainly gone by the wayside, as we see a four-week marathon session to midnight, which is hardly friendly to young families.

In March 2017, as the hon. opposition House leader has outlined, there was a so-called discussion paper where the government House leader. laid out the Liberals' plan to overhaul the rules of the House, clearly rejecting the traditional approach of requiring all-party agreement for major changes to the way this place runs. The Liberals simply did not seek all-party consensus. They simply thought they could ram through their changes; again, many of which were simply to make the life of a government easier. They did not succeed, I am happy to say.

They promised to eliminate Friday sittings. They have resiled from that commitment dramatically. Allowing ministers to vote without interrupting cabinet meetings is no longer there. Adding sitting weeks in January, June, and September is out.

Have the House sit longer on any given day, eliminate the summer and Christmas adjournment date at the government's discretion, remove tools of the opposition from routine proceedings, replace the tool of time allocation with a more powerful tool called “programming”, and so forth; a lot of those things did not make it to this part of our parliamentary process. Now we have a motion with merely five things.

There was also something called a “prime minister's question period” that did not make it. As of Friday it was in, but it is no longer there. I will ask Canadians to draw their own conclusions as to why. We are supposed to assume that it will still be part of their practice. I do not know what we are to take from that.

We saw a filibuster at PROC. We saw issues as we used our procedural playbook in this place to disrupt the government's agenda, to get Canadians' attention. The media and stakeholders rose to the occasion. We simply said as opposition that we would not stand for unilateral changes to this place. I am proud that both opposition parties worked together to find common ground in protecting parliamentary rights.

However, I want to give credit where credit is due. It was not just Conservatives and NDP, there were well-meaning, experienced Liberal members of Parliament who also understood how dangerous the government's course of action was. I refer, for example, to the hon. member for Malpeque, who on April 17 said this:

The reality is there’s not enough getting done in the House. I’ve been a long-term member and I strongly believe that you have to have at least consensus from the main parties to change the rules of the House.

We also heard from many Liberal backbenchers, encouraging us not to give up, understanding we were dealing with their rights as parliamentarians as well.

Eventually, the government has backed down and now we have what can only be described as pretty thin gruel before us. The government has been very ineffective with its legislative productivity. The Liberal government has passed half the bills that were passed by this time in the Harper government's mandate. The Liberals have introduced 56 bills into either the House or Senate, and now have passed 25 since they came to power. Notwithstanding that there have been a lot of time allocation motions in the last while, I think most Canadians will agree that had they worked with other sides of the House, we would have had a more productive Parliament.

I would like to address the five things, very briefly. On prorogation, within 20 days of the new session following a prorogation, the government would have to submit a report to the House explaining the reasons why it prorogued. What will that achieve? It will achieve virtually nothing. It will not stop the misuse of prorogation that we saw under Mr. Harper. In fact, it would simply allow rubber-stamping of prorogation. How cynical is that?

On omnibus bills, it was Mr. Harper who traditionally used the budgets for his omnibus bills, so it is not about a budget implementation act. It is about others. The Standing Order change would simply allow the Speaker to have the power to divide omnibus bills for the purpose of voting “where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions”. We saw the 300-page budget implementation bill that is before Parliament making all sorts of changes, which this would not affect.

On filibusters, in the interest of time, I cannot say much more, except to say that was a positive change that came out of eleventh-hour negotiations.

On the budget and main estimates, the Treasury Board Secretariat could have time to have the main estimates reflect what is in the budget. That is a good thing. However, our concern as opposition is that this proposal merely reduces the amount of time the opposition and stakeholders would have to examine the main estimates.

The NDP must, regretfully, vote against the motion. We hope the government will never again attempt to unilaterally change the rules that govern all of us parliamentarians as we go about our duties in this place.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Arnold Chan Liberal Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. friend from Victoria for his contribution to the debate today on Motion No.18. Let me start with an expression of regret that the opposition parties cannot move forward in support of Motion No. 18, in spite of the fact that if we think about it, what really drove our attempt to bring the discussion paper forward, and many of the ideas for changing the Standing Orders, were the excesses of the previous government in terms of its overstep of its powers and our reaction to it, which ultimately made its way into our campaign platform for 2015.

As the official opposition House leader and the third party House leader were giving their narratives of the proposed changes to the Standing Orders, it seemed that the real reason they are opposed to them is that they object to the entire process. From my perspective, the substantive changes we are trying to advance actually strengthen the opposition's capacity to keep the government to account, as opposed to weakening it.

Does my friend actually believe that we are driven by some capricious, underhanded attempt to make this place less accountable?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, yes, indeed, we are utterly opposed to the process that brought us here, but that would be to not understand or grasp what I am saying about the content of what was left on the table after the cutting room floor. On prorogation and omnibus bills, the two things the Liberals bragged about as commitments they would make in their mandate letter and during the campaign, all they have done is regularize them. The Liberals will not change the content. They are simply saying, “Hey, we have a prorogation.” What does that do in terms of enhancing accountability?

There are things such as the estimates process, which, with work, can be improved, but to take away a lot of the time we have to do our jobs as parliamentarians is a pretty weak start. The content as well as the process are at issue.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government blames the previous government as the reason for the changes, yet when we look at the types of changes it is proposing, it is making things not better but substantially worse for a member of Parliament.

My NDP colleague was sitting in those meetings and listening to the members from the government talk about the changes and why they wanted to make the changes. Does he have confidence that the Liberals understand what the changes actually mean?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure they do, because they seem to drip of cynicism and hypocrisy. To simply talk about prorogation but do nothing about it suggests that they really do not understand the abuses the Harper government brought to that process. Regarding omnibus bills, the big one was Bill C-38, the famous Harper budget implementation bill that included everything under the sun. This motion would not touch those budget measures; it would, rather, touch other measures.

Again, one wonders if they are cynical or are simply trying to check a box on some campaign program and say that they delivered. Meanwhile, the Liberals talk about things today that are not even there, such as the Prime Minister's question period, yet we are still supposed to take it on faith that they really mean it. I find it confusing.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know if my colleague has reached the same conclusion as we have in the Bloc Québécois.

Not all committees that are struck are standing committees. For example, the NDP previously set up a committee on pay equity and a sub-committee on the appointment of senior public servants. Independent members are always omitted from these committees, however. Exceptionally, and at the request of the Bloc Québécois, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform included a member from both the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party. Reading the proposed amendments to the Standing Orders, I can see that Standing Order 116 would be replaced and that the Standing Orders shall apply in a standing, special or legislative committee. That means no special committees on which members of the Bloc or the Green Party could sit.

Has my colleague reached the same conclusion?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree that there have been some positive changes in this Parliament, such as the example the member gave of the electoral reform committee, which is something I was very proud of. I do not see why we cannot bring other committees in that would be more representative and have more independents on them. Indeed, there are standing committees and there are standing committees. We would also have a committee of parliamentarians established, under Bill C-22, which is not even within the realm of the Standing Orders. It is entirely separate.

Parliament is an infinitely adaptable institution. We have shown that in the examples the member gave and with the committee of parliamentarians. I think we can do better if we work together, but that is not addressed in what is before us in the motion.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing Motion No. 18. This is a motion in which we see the Liberals making some compromises after the fiasco that unfolded these last few months over their proposed changes to the rules and procedures of the House of Commons.

The government's efforts are doing nothing to improve things in Parliament or to increase government accountability, and neither are they solving the problematic use of omnibus bills and prorogation. However, those are the goals that the government set out with these changes.

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons was in appearance to testify on this very matter. During her testimony, she used an expression that I did not at all appreciate given what has transpired. She spoke of a lack of political will. I believe political will is necessary in order to adopt bold ideas and take risks. However, in order to do that and to hold the kinds of discussions the government claims to want to hold, we need a healthy process in which these bold ideas can be heard so that we may then show the political will to move ahead with this so-called modernization of Parliament, to use the terms used by the government.

The government's chosen approach to this issue is a product of its ultimate arrogance. The political will to discuss substantial issues was there. However, without a healthy process in which all voices can be heard, no progress can be made. Unfortunately, that is something the government still does not understand.

Listening to the questions that have been asked and the comments that were made since debate started this morning, it is clear that the government still does not understand.

I do not want to digress too long, because I want to talk about the substantial issues surrounding the motion, but I do want to touch on the question asked by the member for Laurentides—Labelle, for example, who spoke of our search for consensus. The member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley and the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, among others, worked hard for the entire NDP opposition day to try to end partisan appointments. They also worked with the government the entire day to try to come up with an amendment that might allow for consensus, to make the necessary concessions to get the government on board. However, the government voted against that amendment and then voted against the motion.

The member for Laurentides—Labelle accuses us of hypocrisy on this matter. I consider that unparliamentary language. He needs to look at himself in the mirror and acknowledge what has been going on for the past few months. This is not a new problem. We have been dealing with this problem since last year with the infamous Motion No. 6, which sought to remove some of the opposition's powers. When I think about this government's attempts to improve parliamentary life for all members, the expression “do as I say, not as I do” comes to mind.

Let us turn to the substantive issues in Motion No. 18, such as the item on omnibus bills. Instead of putting an end to the practice, to this scourge, which has a negative impact on parliamentary life and prevents members from doing a good job and properly analyzing some extremely important legislative measures, the government is normalizing and validating the use of omnibus bills.

We need only recall what the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons said in committee last week on the importance of themes. The problem with themes is that one can always find a way to justify that something relates to the budget. That is exactly what the previous government did with its excessive use of omnibus bills.

Bill C-44, the bill to implement certain provisions of the budget, contains legislative measures to create the infrastructure bank. This involves a fundamental change in how our infrastructure is funded. This has caused great concern among parliamentarians, civil society, and Canadians.

On Friday, I saw Senator Pratte on television saying that he was in favour of the infrastructure bank but did not understand why the government is bound and determined to include it in this bill rather than carrying out an appropriately thorough review of such an important measure.

Even senators who support the idea of the bank do not like its being in the omnibus bill, proof that the government crossed a line. The same thing could easily happen again, even with the changes proposed in Motion No. 18. The Liberal Party would have us believe that these measures will enable parliamentarians to study important legislative initiatives like this one, but what the motion really does is officially normalize the government's use of omnibus bills.

What is even worse is that, by making these measures part of the House rules, nobody will even be able to criticize them. Now, at least, we can say that it is an inappropriate use of legislative tools, but once it is in the rules, any government, current or future, will be able to say that this tactic is fine because it is in the rules.

Let us talk about prorogation. I remember in 2008 when Mr. Harper announced that he was proroguing Parliament. He was trying to get out of a situation where the opposition parties had the audacious political will to form a new government to replace the Conservative government. Let us not forget what happened when Parliament resumed after prorogation. Perhaps that is why the Liberals are not so keen to talk about prorogation and making real changes, because it seemed to have served them well in 2009. They came back and suddenly had nothing more to say about it. They were quite pleased to have Mr. Harper stay in power. However, I do not want to dwell on the past. I want to talk about the current government.

The government is proposing to table a report in the House of Commons outlining its reasons for using prorogation. It essentially boils down to a press release that would be tabled in the House. If the government does not see that any MP or its communications officer could quite easily come up with a justification for using prorogation, then it is dreaming in technicolour.

In that respect, I asked the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs whether there would at least be a vote on this report, as provided for in the Standing Orders of the House in the case of motions to concur in committee reports. She could not even say. She simply said that the use of this mechanism would ensure accountability. That does not mean much. The government is not even considering the possibility of allowing parliamentarians to vote on this report.

Once again, after promising to correct a mechanism that the previous government abused, the new government is simply giving us a fine press release. That is not showing respect for Parliament, quite the opposite.

The government also wants to reduce the time provided for the consideration of the estimates in committee from three months to eight weeks. Once again, I am wondering how giving parliamentarians less time to do this work shows respect for them and the job they do.

In closing, I would like to propose an amendment, but first I would like to say that nothing has been learned with regard to the parliamentary secretaries in committee. If the government really believes that preventing the parliamentary secretaries from voting or moving motions is sufficient to convince us that the PMO and cabinet do not have any power in committee, then it is dreaming in technicolour, because all that the parliamentary secretaries have to do is whisper their instructions to the Liberal members.

That is not the real change the Liberals promised. On the contrary, pretending that this is a real change demonstrates a greater lack of respect for Parliament than simply abusing the mechanisms. At least with the previous government, we knew exactly what it wanted from us. Now, we are getting stabbed in the back. That is not the way to show real respect for parliamentarians.

In conclusion, I move, seconded by the member for Victoria:

That the motion be amended in part 2 by deleting all the words in section 69.1(1) after the words “divide the” and substituting the following:

“bill thematically into separate and distinct bills, each of which shall be deemed to have been read a first time and shall be ordered to be printed. The order for second reading for the newly divided bill shall provide for referral to a committee or committees determined in consultation with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:45 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, listening to what the government House leader had to say when introducing the debate, it should be very clear.

The Prime Minister made a commitment to Canadians. What we are debating today is the fulfillment of that commitment. I understand and I can appreciate that the opposition has fought long and hard for all sorts of things. I will not go into the details of those things. The reality is that today's debate is all about a commitment that was made by the Prime Minister, and that commitment is being fulfilled by this government.

My question to the members opposite is quite simple. There was a legitimate discussion paper. There was a legitimate outreach from the government House leader. Now I am hearing opposition members saying that maybe we should have the PM question period in the House. We have a Prime Minister who is committed to it. He is fulfilling his commitments.

For whatever reason, the combined opposition feels it has to criticize for the sake of criticism, as if that is the only role it has to play on the issue of Standing Orders.

My question for the member is this. Would he not at least agree that it is important that the resolution brought forward today as part of the Prime Minister's commitment to Canadians should be respected and advanced?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a good thing the Liberals are referring to it as the Prime Minister's question period, because it certainly is not the Prime Minister's answer period, as we have seen up until this point.

If this is really following up on the Liberal Party's commitments from the last election, what are the Liberals actually doing with this motion? They are normalizing and formalizing the use of omnibus budget bills. Liberals are basically saying that they are going to prorogue and we should not worry because they will table a press release in the House of Commons, but they will not let us vote on it. Liberals are saying we should not worry about the parliamentary secretaries, because they will not vote or table motions in committee. The title parliamentary secretary means exactly that, and is a minister going to sit in on a committee? They represent ministers. Does the government House leader think that is appropriate?

I sat in this place in the last Parliament when that member lit his hair on fire, day in and day out, at the abuses we saw by the previous government. At least I knew where Conservatives stood. I thought I knew where that member stood, but I guess I was wrong.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is quite rich to hear the government attest its good intentions of how interested it is in following through on the Liberal platform.

How about the Liberals balance the budget four years into their mandate, as they promised? That would be something that is very important to Canadians. There are so many platform commitments that Liberals are completely ignoring.

I want to ask my friend a specific question about the role of parliamentary secretaries on committee. The government has said it was going to take parliamentary secretaries off committees, and now, it is trying to put them back on, not in place of a Liberal member but actually to effectively increase the number of government members present on committees.

This is a real concern for me, because we have seen cases of the government appearing not to want to have members of the opposition present at in camera discussions if those members are not formally members of the committee. This opens the door for the government to effectively exclude all other members of Parliament from being at in camera discussions, except the ones who are members of the committee or parliamentary secretaries. It is a way for the government to grow its contingent on committees while leaving parliamentary secretaries involved.

I wonder if the member could comment on how it strengthens committees if the government has through this—I want to say “back door”, but it is actually pretty explicit what it is doing—tried to increase its representation on committees.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Beloeil—Chambly, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the preamble to my colleague's question, if the Liberals defended their other promises with as much vigour as they have wanted to defend this one, maybe it would have gotten something like electoral reform done.

That being said, I want to address the question of parliamentary secretaries on committee. Some members may not know that it actually requires unanimous consent to have a member who is not a formal member of the committee at these in camera proceedings. Right now that means parliamentary secretaries.

What the government is doing here is taking away the opposition's ability to say no at in camera proceedings. The government House leader, when I asked her this question at PROC last week, gave us an answer that said it was in case members need information. Pardon me, but if I need information from the minister, we are going to bring the minister in front of committee. I do not need someone who is sitting there listening in on the proceedings representing the minister to give that information.

Moreover, we have those opportunities to question ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Committee work also means studies, clause-by-clause consideration, and things like that. Quite frankly, whether members can vote, or pass a motion, their mere presence has an impact on members, whether or not we wish to recognize it. It is too bad the government does not.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate with the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, I will let her know that there are only five minutes remaining in the time before the House proceeds to statements by members. She will have her remaining time when the House next gets back to debate on the question.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

1:50 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to present the views of the Green Party on changes to the Standing Orders, as proposed in this place earlier this morning by the government House leader.

I first want to notify the House that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Montcalm, who like me represents a political party with status before Elections Canada, with votes in this place and equal status to any other MP. However, as a Bloc Québécois member, he like me enjoys fewer rights because, historically, over a very long period of time, larger parties have worked to reduce the rights of members of parties who are not, at this point, in the big three. It is one of those areas that I wish we could revisit when we look at Standing Orders, because it is inherently anti-democratic that some members of Parliament, and therefore their constituents, have fewer rights than other members of Parliament.

I will mention parenthetically, because this is not the thrust of most of my remarks, that we are the only Parliament in the Commonwealth with this notion of two-tier members of Parliament. There are 650 members of the U.K. Parliament, and I have a lot of sympathy for my colleague the co-leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, Caroline Lucas, who serves in a Parliament of 650 members. However, there, the right and ability to perform functions in the House is not treated on a junior and senior basis as happens in this place, in a rather bizarre fashion when we take a long historical view of it.

We have certainly heard very good speeches so far this afternoon on the very key point before us, which is that we do not change the Standing Orders without political consensus among the parties in this place. Again, the bigger parties have exercised that without regard to those of us who represent parties. I am here not as an independent. The seating chart of the House of Commons makes it clear that I am here as a Green Party member of Parliament, but without the same rights as others. However, the reality is that the bigger parties reach consensus on changing the Standing Orders. That is the way it is usually done, and for good reason.

These traditions go back, in some cases, hundreds of years. It is terribly important that there not be unilateral changes made by the side of the House that has the most votes, because that would be a very perilous way forward. We are dealing with issues that are quite fundamental. This is an important and historic opportunity, for instance, to fix the rules around prorogation. We never had to have rules around prorogation because the glue that holds the Westminster parliamentary democracy together in Canada is a glue that is amorphous. It is not written down.

On the rules on prorogation, leading up to a confidence vote in this place, the NDP, Conservatives, and the Bloc decided to warn former prime minister the Right Hon. Paul Martin that his government would be brought down on November 28, 2005, a date of convenience that the three other parties decided upon to go to an election and bring down the government. It is important historically to reflect back on the fact that the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Paul Martin, did not prorogue the House to avoid a confidence vote he knew he was about to lose. I imagine it did not even occur to him to do such a thing, because it simply was not done. It had not been done.

If we look at the Commonwealth, of all the nations that have prorogation, of all the prime ministers able to dissolve their parliaments, there were only two examples up to the date of 2008 when a Parliament had been prorogued to avoid political embarrassment. The other example, to our chagrin, was our first prime minister, the Right Hon. John A. Macdonald. Sir John A. Macdonald prorogued over something called the Pacific scandal and, when Parliament came back, he immediately adjourned and went to an election. It was not as egregious as what happened here. To close down Parliament to avoid a vote one knows one is going to lose is not something we needed to have rules about, because no previous prime minister in Canada had done it so abusively as former prime minister the Right Hon. Stephen Harper did.

This is an opportunity to right that wrong and make sure it never happens again, but the proposal from the hon. government House leader falls far short of that. It creates some rules that, after prorogation, Parliament resumes and then gets to talk about the reasons.

I will resume on this point tomorrow. I know everyone will be on the edge of their seats.