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.

Topics

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House with the support of the hon. member for Don Valley North to introduce my private member's bill, Bill C-344, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to introduce community benefits.

I would like to take this moment to thank the residents of my riding of Brampton Centre for giving me the opportunity to introduce the bill and for electing me as the first member of Parliament for Brampton Centre.

Bill C-344 would further strengthen the federal infrastructure investment in communities, such as in my riding, and throughout Canada.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the member for York South—Weston for his extensive work on his previous private member's bill. At the committee hearing, two amendments to Bill C-227 were suggested by the committee. Hence my bill, Bill C-344, is before the house today.

Community benefit agreements, referred to as CBAs, create socio-economic opportunities for local communities and neighbourhoods as well as environmental benefits as a result of federal development projects across Canada. These benefits include local job creation, apprenticeships, affordable housing, education, support for seniors, health care, and other key benefits for communities.

Bill C-344 would amend section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act. This would include a provision that would enable the Minister of Public Services and Procurement to require successful bidders on federal projects to report information on community benefits. This provision would ultimately create a platform to minimize possible delays and promote flexibility for community infrastructure development.

CBAs would enable the ministry of public services and procurement to formulate agreements with federal infrastructure developers with added input from community groups. These agreements would lay the foundation to encourage local communities to build partnerships with developers. Ultimately, CBAs would strengthen the socio-economic influence of publicly funded development projects.

For example, in my riding of Brampton Centre, federal investments into infrastructure have greatly contributed to social development in the community. The Züm bus rapid transit fund has revolutionized transit infrastructure across the City of Brampton and has attracted approximately $95 million of federal investment. Further, a federal investment of $69 million in a stormwater management project in Peel region has greatly contributed to improving the quality of life in the community. However, had CBAs been tied to these investments, the overall impact could have been much greater. Communities across Canada rely on federal investments to fund development projects, so if CBAs are tied to these federal investments, communities would thrive.

This was evident in the city of Vancouver, where the 2010 Olympic Village was built under a CBA. This initiative allowed communities to have a direct input on the project.

Bill C-344 would allow for comprehensive consultations with communities across Canada, consequently strengthening local infrastructure investments. It would also reduce red tape for small and medium-sized businesses and further accelerate the approval process for federal repair and construction projects.

Moreover, various business groups and organizations support the concept of CBAs. The boards of trade for Brampton, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, and various unions, have endorsed CBAs as strong economic policy and an optimal way to promote youth employment.

As a member of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, referred to as HUMA, I have first-hand experience of the harsh realities of poverty in Canada. This committee has conducted a study with recommendations on a national poverty reduction strategy that was submitted to this Parliament. It is quite evident that CBAs will promote increased prosperity and drastically reduce poverty in communities across Canada.

Further, a joint report from the Mowat Centre and the Atkinson Foundation found that CBAs have the ability to promote a better environment for unique areas. In Ontario alone, the provincial government will invest $130 billion into public infrastructure over the next 10 years. The federal government has committed more than $180 billion into transit, green, and social infrastructures. As such, this is the time to collaborate with communities so they can also benefit from such lucrative federal investments.

CBAs will ultimately enhance the socio-economic development of cities across Canada. CBAs have already been implemented in Ontario with the enactment of the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act. This act aims to remove any red tape so that the approval process for provincial infrastructure investment projects can be more efficient.

Furthermore, a number of organizations, including Metrolinx and the Toronto Community Benefits Network, have signed a community benefits framework, the first in Ontario.

The U.S.A. and the U.K. have already adopted the CBA concept into their respective infrastructure investments. In the U.S.A., CBA success stories include the Atlanta Beltline project, the Los Angeles airport expansion, and the Los Angeles Grand Avenue project. One stipulation on these projects was the requirement to submit reports on the benefits derived for communities. Provinces such as Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba are also in the process of adopting the CBA concept.

Bill C-344 would authorize the Minister of Public Services and Procurement to require bidders to provide a detailed explanation of how government-funded projects will benefit the community. It would also require the minister to report to Parliament on an annual basis on what community benefits have been implemented.

Bill C-344 is about implementing CBAs in the federal jurisdiction. This will give added responsibility to the Government of Canada to exercise leadership in implementing CBAs across Canada. Ultimately, CBAs will create the foundation for communities to earn their fair share of federal infrastructure investment. This will ensure that communities have reliable growth and meaningful employment while fostering a healthier environment.

This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario to have CBAs preserved in law. This can serve as a model for other jurisdictions to follow. It is about ensuring that future federal infrastructure projects would generate community benefits for all Canadians coast to coast to coast.

I therefore humbly invite all my colleagues in this House to support Bill C-344, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit) so that communities across Canada can have access to enhanced infrastructure developments.

Besides the tangible benefits offered by CBAs, they will also serve as a vehicle for the pursuit of dignity and rebuild the core infrastructure of Canadian communities that are eagerly awaiting them.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I know it is very honourable to present a bill and I understand it is a private member's bill, but certainly, with all due respect to the member, we must not have read the same bill, because he stated twice—not once, but twice—that the bill would reduce red tape. However, on the contrary, small and medium-sized enterprises would now have to produce a report to the minister that specifies the community benefit, and it is to his discretion concerning which benefits there will be.

Can the member explain to me how he can actually see the bill as a reduction of red tape when it is contrary to what is in the bill?

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill is with regard to communities, involvement of the communities, benefit for the communities, so that the communities get the benefit from the bill. There is no possibility of any delays or red tape, which my friend seems to be apprehensive about.

The communities will be involved. The communities themselves are willing to take these responsibilities. They will come forward to help developers, to help the government, to quicken the process of the bill, so there is no possibility of red tape. Rather it is a win-win situation, and the communities will have the best benefits out of the bill.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Erin Weir NDP Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am wondering if my colleague from Brampton Centre could clarify the scope of the bill. Does it apply only to infrastructure that is entirely funded by the federal government, which would be a very small subset of public infrastructure, or does it apply to infrastructure that is cost-shared among the federal government, provinces, and municipalities. If so, how would the government plan to negotiate community benefits with provinces and municipalities?

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-344 just addresses community benefits. Federal infrastructure spending investments would be invested into the local community. From that investment, local communities will get further benefit for the community itself.

The bill will involve government representatives and the local community at large, so this bill will give power to the community to collaborate with a partnership and have their own say about infrastructure. Surely they will feel that they are getting their fair share of the federal infrastructure spending, and they will get it.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Leona Alleslev Liberal Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my hon. colleague could shed some light on why this is such an important leadership approach, where the federal government is actually identifying and changing the conversation so that when industries invest in projects they are able to make them around community benefits.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, today there is a need for communities to be involved in the function of government and into infrastructure. They know that some infrastructure is going to be built in their communities, so they want to be involved.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Alupa Clarke Conservative Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will continue this debate in French. I wish to inform you that Her Majesty's official opposition will oppose this private member's bill and vote against it.

I hate to rain on anyone's parade, and I know the bill sponsor is not going to like this, but we will be voting against the bill for some eminently sensible reasons that I will explain.

I would like to comment on the member for Brampton Centre's speech. The government's role is to allow everyone to compete. When it grants contracts to third parties, parties outside the government, such as small and medium-sized businesses, big businesses, and organizations, it must ensure that RFPs are written so as to maximize everyone's opportunity. That means minimizing paperwork and constraints, which can be obstacles for some small and medium-sized businesses that want to bid. In Canada, such businesses have fewer resources than large construction companies, for example.

The member said the bill would provide flexibility in granting contracts. That is ironic, because the opposite is true. This bill will make the RFP process, which is open to everyone, more cumbersome.

He also said that this would help communities. I only wish that were the case, but after reading the bill, which contains almost no details and consists of only one page and three clauses, I can find no indication that any assistance will be provided to communities. What will happen, however, is that small and medium-sized businesses will be subject to greater constraints and more red tape. I would like to believe the member when he says he wants to help Canadian communities and municipalities, but that is not at all what the bill appears to do. I say this with some reservation, since that is my interpretation, although it is also how the opposition sees it.

In addition, speaking of economic benefits for local communities, the member referred to the Olympic Village in Vancouver. That was one of the largest projects undertaken in Canada in recent years, and it is hardly the kind of local benefits our colleague was referring to in his bill, in other words, infrastructure such as bridges and so on. The Olympic Village in Vancouver was a megaproject involving huge Canadian corporations that are accustomed to being very efficient and getting sizable returns. They have good relationships with the government and are capable of meeting project deadlines, as was the case for the Olympic Games.

Vancouver's Olympic Village was in fact the worst example that the member could have used to illustrate how his bill would benefit the community, or at least help small businesses.

The member said not once, but twice that this bill would cut down on paperwork and red tape and reduce the number of forms small businesses have to fill; that was the point of the question I asked him. In fact, the opposite is true. The specific focus of the bill is to now make small businesses fill out a form for the minister; the community benefits will therefore be at his discretion. The very purpose of the bill is to create paperwork. It is an incredible thing to say that it will cut red tape.

That was my introduction.

Last week, during my speech on the 2017 budget, I said that the purpose of most of the Liberal bills introduced over the past two years has been to benefit certain special interest groups.

These bills are not introduced for the benefit of Canadians in general, that is, all individual Canadians, but rather to help special interest groups. I believe Bill C-344 to be a prime example of this government’s legislative proclivity.

I would also like to remind members how the bill came to be. It was first introduced by the current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship as Bill C-227. It was then dropped from the Order Paper a few months ago, after the member was appointed to cabinet, only to return to it later.

The member said that this bill was significant, fundamental and necessary for Canada in that it will allow communities to make their needs known given the expected benefits of a given project. If that were the case, why is this not a bill that the government would want to introduce? Why is it not a government bill?

While I can appreciate that this is not within the current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship’s portfolio, why did he not bring this bill forward as quickly as possible? This could have been settled a few months ago. If this were such an effective and important bill, it could have been passed months ago.

The fact that the Liberals removed this bill from the Order Paper and then put it back shows that they likely thought it was inconsequential since there is not much to it. They probably figured that they would just hand it over to some MP so that he could introduce a bill. I know how it goes. It is good to give hon. members the chance to introduce bills, but this bill is essentially going to harm small and medium-sized businesses.

Let me get into the technical details of the bill before it is too late. We in the opposition have identified some problems. There are no criteria in this bill for how small and medium-sized businesses are to respond to the minister's mandatory assessment. There are no criteria, directives, guidelines, or substantive information in this bill indicating precisely how SMEs have to fill out the form.

There is no indication of the criteria, the length of the form, or whether anthropologists and sociologists will have to analyze every little spinoff from the project, whether environmental, economic, or social. What is more, subclause 21.1(1) of the bill states:

...any other specific benefit identified by the community.

I think we can all agree that this could have a major impact on what could be required of small and medium-sized businesses when they fill out the form. For example, if a municipality decides to assess the community benefits for a certain historic group, such as indigenous people, the input of anthropologists and historians will certainly be required. Just imagine if a small or medium-sized business in Toronto, for example, where the member is from, was required to hire anthropologists and sociologists before building a bridge. That is completely ridiculous.

Another problem is that it is left up to the minister's discretion whether a form explaining the community benefits will need to be filled out. The minister will also decide whether or not to present the report on community benefits to Parliament. The bill cannot be that serious if the minister can choose not to apply its provisions. The bill states:

A contracting party shall, upon request by the Minister, provide the Minister with an assessment as to whether community benefits have derived from the project.

I will close by mentioning the worst part, which is that the minister could request a report on the community benefits after the bids have already been submitted and after the SME has already finished the work. However, we know that contracting parties need to have a good idea of how much things will cost before work begins. What the government is telling them is that, after the work is done, they may have to meet other requirements that will cost them more money.

This is a truly a bad piece of legislation as it now stands. It must be sent to committee or even killed because it is just a source of red tape and does not contain any clear directions.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Erin Weir NDP Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, we have heard that the Conservatives will be opposing this bill because it lacks specifics but they see the potential for negative consequences. We in the NDP are a hopeful and optimistic party, so despite the bill's lack of specifics we will be supporting it because we see the potential for it to be quite positive legislation. We will also be proposing amendments at committee to try to set out some of those needed specifics. We certainly support the concept of community benefit agreements, trying to ensure that public infrastructure investment creates local jobs and local training opportunities and that it really enriches the local community.

One of the main purposes the government has provided for infrastructure investment is to boost the Canadian economy. Of course, infrastructure spending only boosts the economy to the extent that it employs Canadian workers and procures Canadian-made inputs. However, the current government has a very weak track record of actually making an effort to use procurement policy in that way.

We see, for example, the construction of the new Champlain Bridge using only 19% Canadian-made steel. Even as we have steel mills struggling through bankruptcy protection and laying off workers, the Canadian government is importing a huge amount of steel to build this new bridge. This would be a great example of where the concept of community benefits could be put into effect in a very useful way. Therefore, I agree with basically everything that the member for Brampton Centre said; I am just somewhat skeptical that this bill would actually achieve the laudable goals that the member set forward.

The first thing that is important to emphasize is that this bill would not require community benefit agreements. It would not even require contractors to provide information on community benefits. What it would do is allow the minister to require contractors to provide this information. Therefore, in the hands of a very energetic and proactive minister, it is possible that this bill could be used as a tool to help negotiate community benefit agreements, but it would not actually require the government to do anything of the sort.

Another very important issue is the scope of this legislation. I asked the member for Brampton Centre whether it would apply only to infrastructure that is entirely funded by the federal government, which is very little infrastructure, or whether it would apply to infrastructure that the federal government cost-shares with other levels of government. We did not get any kind of a clear answer to that question, but this is a real issue and it came up at committee when this bill's predecessor, Bill C-227, went before the transport committee. The government essentially tried to indicate that Bill C-227 would only apply to infrastructure totally funded by the federal government, which means it would not apply to very much infrastructure at all.

We believe that a more realistic proposal would be to apply this legislation to infrastructure that the federal government cost-shares with other levels of government, but of course that would require a lot more detail and a lot more information about how the federal government would reconcile its objectives in terms of community benefits with those of provincial and municipal governments. I believe there is the potential for the federal government to work together with provinces and municipalities in quite a constructive fashion to achieve community benefit agreements. However, that is something we should be acknowledging and discussing, rather than talking about this bill as though it would only apply to the very small subset of infrastructure that is entirely paid for by the federal government itself.

Another issue I would like to raise regarding this bill is the lack of evaluation or monitoring. If we were to have a successful strategy to implement community benefit agreements, we would want a very good mechanism to report back on whether the benefits were actually achieved.

What this bill talks about is the minister providing a report on community benefits, which could be almost anything. The minister could easily just pick and choose projects that had some community benefits, and highlight those and trumpet those. It would be very easy for the minister to just put forward a positive report without actually doing much analysis or without really evaluating anything.

We believe it would make a lot more sense for this bill to actually require the minister to report on whether community benefits were achieved, so that we have some actual evaluation of whether all the money that the government is spending on public infrastructure is actually creating local jobs, providing apprenticeship opportunities, improving local communities, and improving our natural environment. We believe that this bill requires a lot more detail in terms of reporting and evaluation.

Another issue that is very important to discuss is how this bill fits with international trade agreements. The government has been very aggressive in signing onto trade deals that limit the public sector's ability to use procurement policy to require local employment, the purchasing of local inputs, and that sort of thing.

One of the questions that came up at committee with this bill's predecessor, Bill C-227, was whether it actually fit in with some of the trade deals that the government has signed. We have not gotten a very clear answer on this from the government, but I believe it is an important question. I do not bring it up as an argument against community benefit agreements. I think we want to pursue community benefit agreements, but we also want to make sure we are not negotiating trade agreements that take away the ability of government to use procurement policy in that way.

What I fear about this bill is that it actually contains so little that maybe it does comply with international trade agreements but it complies with them only because it requires so little of the government or of contractors. It is essentially totally up to the minister whether to even require information on community benefits. It seems as though the bill may not actually apply to very much infrastructure, if it is only those few projects that are entirely funded by the federal government. I hope the answer is not that this bill complies with international trade agreements because it does not actually do anything and it does not require anything.

Now, of course, we do have a number of trade agreements that apply to infrastructure that is entirely funded by the federal government. Where our country has more latitude to use procurement policy in a constructive way is with provincial and municipal infrastructure. Fortunately, most infrastructure is indeed also funded by those levels of government. However, the government does not seem to want to say that this bill would apply to those projects.

The NDP very much supports community benefit agreements. We want to see public investment in infrastructure supporting jobs in local communities, providing apprenticeship opportunities, improving the local area, and supporting a clean environment. A way of actually achieving that would be for the federal government to negotiate community benefit agreements in concert with provincial and municipal governments for infrastructure projects that are jointly funded. That would have an effect on a lot of infrastructure and would also comply with international trade agreements.

Unfortunately, we are getting the suggestion from the government that this would only apply to those few projects that are totally federally funded and, in that case, might not fit in with Canada's international trade obligations.

In conclusion, we in the NDP are going to support this bill, but we are going to support it with the view to getting it to committee so that we can amend it into a constructive and positive piece of legislation.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs Québec

Liberal

Marc Miller LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-344, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, community benefit.

Bill C-344 would amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to provide the minister of public services and procurement with the authority to require an assessment of the benefits that a community derives from a construction, maintenance, or repair project. Under the bill, the minister may require bidders on a contract to provide information on a project's community benefits. The minister may also request an assessment as to whether community benefits have been derived from a project.

Finally, the bill would require the minister to table an annual report in Parliament on community benefits provided by construction, maintenance, or repair projects.

In simple terms, the goal of the bill is to ensure that taxpayer money invested in the repair and construction of federal infrastructure is used to produce useful local benefits, such as training, jobs, and environmental benefits.

The goals of this bill are laudable and I encourage all members in the House to support it.

There are three compelling reasons for supporting this bill. The first is that the government should use its spending power to create jobs, promote economic growth, and foster a more prosperous society. Certainly, this is one of our government's priorities and is in keeping with the mandate of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement.

The minister was mandated to:

Modernize procurement practices so that they are simpler, less administratively burdensome, deploy modern comptrollership, and include practices that support our economic policy goals, including green and social procurement.

Bill C-344 aligns squarely with these objectives. If enacted, Bill C-344 would help support the government's effort in leveraging procurement to advance social and green policies for the benefit of all Canadians.

The second reason to support this bill is that the concept of community benefits is already well established in the United Kingdom and the United States and is gaining popularity at the local and provincial levels here in Canada. Bill C-344 is a perfect opportunity for the federal government to show leadership and adopt the concept of community benefits on behalf of the entire country. For example, the concept of community benefits was applied in building the athletes’ village for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

More recently, Ontario passed the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015 and became the first province to include community benefits in provincial infrastructure projects, putting emphasis on hiring, training, and buying local. An excellent example of the results of this approach is the construction of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line in Toronto, a public transit project worth several billion dollars that now includes an agreement regarding community benefits.

As part of that initiative, provincial and municipal partners set the objective that 10% of trade and craft hours required for the project must be carried out by apprentices and journeypersons who live along the public transit corridor and who have had difficulty finding work. The cost is the same, but part of the cost of labour is better directed to advance things on the social front. That project has the possibility of changing the lives of young people, who will then be able to obtain training or a job.

At the same time, Bill C-344 would not impose much in the way of additional procedures on either the government or private sector suppliers. The bill does not call for changing the criteria in the tendering process. The minister's annual report to Parliament would simply provide an additional level of transparency and accountability to Canadians as to how their money is being spent and the positive impact it is having on their communities.

Third, this bill is consistent with the approach of the investing in Canada plan. The Government of Canada is making historic new investments in infrastructure, more than doubling existing funding to build the cities of the 21st century and provide communities across the country with the tools they need to prosper and innovate. Our historic investments are bringing about transformational change in our communities.

An example of a project that brings great community benefit is the Champlain Bridge, which crosses into my riding.

The new Champlain Bridge corridor is one of the largest infrastructure projects in North America. In addition to ensuring the safety of users, the proposed corridor will create thousands of jobs in the greater Montreal area and foster economic growth in Canada by improving the network's connectivity and the continuous and safe flow of people and goods.

Another great example is the Gordie Howe bridge. The Government of Canada is committed to the Gordie Howe international bridge, a strategic trade corridor with our country's most important economic partner. It is an example of the infrastructure investments being made to help grow the economy, create good middle-class jobs, and enhance trade and productivity in our local communities and across the country.

The Gordie Howe international bridge will encourage new investment between Canada and the United States and help to maintain and create thousands of jobs and opportunities on both sides of the border. The new bridge is of vital importance to the economic prosperity of communities and businesses on both sides of the border and is expected to create thousands of construction jobs in Ontario. In addition to the jobs created during the construction of the project, the new bridge will result in many permanent jobs for the future operation of the crossing. As well, it is expected that thousands of jobs will be created in businesses that will supply goods and raw materials for the project.

This is the opportune time to ensure that we are reinvesting in our communities. By investing in the things that help make our neighbourhoods better places to live, like affordable housing, cultural institutions, and recreational facilities, we can build stronger neighbourhoods and communities that we are all proud to call home.

I have had the opportunity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to go to different parts of the country and get full feedback from mayors and city councillors, some of the hardest-working people in the public service, and they tell me how important it is to get local feedback and talk about the expertise that exists in those communities and to reflect the needs in our infrastructure projects. We know that the federal government cannot just walk in and invest without consulting and without talking to the provinces. Frankly, the expertise lies in a number of these projects. We rely on them and we need them, whether it is talking to provincial governments, talking to community leaders, talking to individuals as to what their needs are, or talking to our indigenous communities. These are key things, and this is part and parcel of Bill C-344. It fits perfectly within the framework we are creating to build the 21st century.

By investing in infrastructure now, in the projects that Canada needs and in the men and women who can carry them out, we can strengthen and grow the middle class and make Canada a better place to live.

I see Bill C-344 as another way of ensuring that federal procurement helps the government obtain real benefits and results for Canadians and our communities.

I would like to take the time to congratulate the sponsor of this private member's bill, the member for Brampton Centre, for proposing a piece of legislation that is extremely difficult to argue against, particularly in light of his extreme advocacy in the community for the community benefits from any federal investment. The bill's underlying principles and objectives are laudable, and Bill C-344 warrants the support of the House.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 19th, 2017 / 11:50 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-344, an act that would provide the minister with the authority to require an assessment of the benefits a community would derive from a construction, maintenance, or repair project. The bill's author, I am sure, has good intentions behind bringing the bill forward, but we all know where the road paved with good intention leads.

The practical considerations of federal procurement and the effects of more regulations on small and medium enterprises when entering into the federal bidding process cannot be ignored. The federal procurement process is one of the most complex processes in government. It takes months to finalize an RFP, solicit bids, modify the RFP, narrow down bidders, and negotiate a contract, all to finally accept a proposal that could very well be cancelled or delayed. I am not sure it would be possible to design a more convoluted system if we tried, although it appears that the government has been working very hard to ensure that nothing surpasses it.

For example, the bid from Alenia Aermacchi North America weighed some 2,700 kilograms, while Airbus Defence and Space needed a U-Haul to deliver 1,500 kilograms of documents to Public Services and Procurement Canada for the fixed-wing search and rescue bid. Even with such a detailed RFP process, the government has managed to get us sued for not providing proper information to the bidders.

One of the significant reasons federal procurement has become so complex is that politicians have seen fit to increase the number of conditions required before a contract can be awarded. Some of the conditions are to ensure greater financial transparency and are objectively good and practically necessary to prevent corruption. However, some conditions, like those proposed in Bill C-344, are well-intentioned but serve only to make a complicated process more complex. It is one thing to propose that companies submit a community assessment as part of their bid, as per proposed subsection 20.1(2) of the legislation, but it is completely another thing to allow such ambiguous power to sit with the minister. “The Minister may...require bidders...to provide information”, it reads. It is not “always”, but “may”. It is not if the contract is this size or that size.

What better way to open this up to lawsuits than to give the minister such an undefined power? Who is to decide what is the best social benefit? What parameters are to be used to decide if an environmental benefit from one bidder is superior to another but provides no social benefit? Who decides if a slight social benefit outweighs a much lower price and therefore gets the contract? What is to stop the government from using such vagueness for partisan benefit?

Here is a list of investigations of actual issues that have arisen and have been published on the website of the Office of the Procurement Ombudsman. There are 31 posted, and all but five concern issues that would be made worse by such undefined items in Bill C-344. They read:

1. Ombudsman recommends compensation to bidder who was treated unfairly

With Bill C-344, we would have an unclear process.

2. Request for proposal with unclear estimates impacts a bidding process

3. Departmental delays impede a supplier’s ability to submit a bid

4. Were contractual obligations met by the federal organization?

6. The onus to demonstrate how a proposal meets the evaluation criteria...

Again, that goes right back to Bill C-344 and its vagueness.

7. Organization properly awarded the contract, but may have unnecessarily limited the pool of potential suppliers

8. Compensation recommended for a supplier whose proposal was improperly rejected

10. Poorly written solicitations can cause confusion for suppliers

11. Department's approach to soliciting proposals was not consistent with government policy

12. Was a supplier disadvantaged by an unreasonable criterion?

13. A mandatory criterion questioned

15. Excessive criteria for the work to be done?

The list goes on. I am not even halfway through.

16. Department did not indicate the basis of selection to award a contract

17. Compensation recommended for supplier whose bid was wrongfully rejected.

This goes back to who is deciding on a social benefit versus an environmental benefit.

18. Did the department adhere to the terms and conditions of the Standing Offer?

19. Are subject-matter experts required to evaluate proposals?

20. Supplier's bid wrongfully deemed non-compliant on the basis of undisclosed evaluation criteria

21. Did a department act in a fair, open and transparent manner?

22. Were suppliers discouraged from bidding and others given an advantage?

23. Evaluation criteria not applied as stated in the bid solicitation

24. Did the department evaluate supplier bids using the same criteria?

Again, there are no criteria set out in Bill C-344.

25. Mandatory bid evaluation criteria not identified or applied appropriately: Supplier compensated

This goes back to the Minister “may” ask for such information but not always.

26. Did solicitation documents include contradictory wording?

27. Was there a conflict of interest or unfair advantage in the award of the contract?

30. Mandatory evaluation bid criteria based on operational requirements but the rationale not communicated

31. Department did not act in bad faith but need for better communication

What is the cost going to be for taxpayers? In the operations and estimates committee, we asked both the deputy minister and the associate deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada if an analysis had been done of the effects of Bill C-344 on costs from the added red tape and bureaucracy, etc. Shockingly, for a government that goes on ad nauseam about evidence-based decision-making, neither had heard of Bill C-344, nor could they say if any analysis had been done on possible effects on the procurement process.

Seeing as the minister is on leave and her fill-in has been AWOL on such issues as Phoenix, the fighter jet procurement disaster, and the Shared Services paper shredding scandal, it is no surprise to see that this bill has had zero investigation into the ramifications.

I am not the only who opposes adding bureaucratic red tape to a process that is already the gold standard for red tape. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says:

Attempts by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to access federal procurement are consistently hampered by a confusing application processes, excessive paperwork and a complex system of rules.

One of the CFIBs suggestions was, “Make the procurement process an integral part of any red tape reduction initiative.” Note that it did not say to please add to the red tape.

The practical considerations of more bureaucracy are very real. The procurement ombudsman states that one of the continuing problems is that the complexity of the system scares small and medium-sized businesses away from engaging in federal procurement. In his 2015-16 annual report on procurement, the ombudsman noted examples of complaints from suppliers:

Cumbersome and burdensome solicitations, more specifically the amount of paperwork and time required to respond to solicitations, act as disincentives for suppliers.

Short bidding periods make it difficult for suppliers to respond to the often extensive requirements in solicitations....

Communications barriers or challenges, including in obtaining debriefs from federal organizations on the shortcomings of unsuccessful bids after the award of contracts or concerns about a perceived lack of details provided through debriefs....

Delays in launching procurements, or lengthy procurement processes, are resulting in increased costs for suppliers and federal organizations.

Take each item and relate it to Bill C-344's effects on the process. I cannot see how the legislation would make RFPs less cumbersome, less expensive, or less extensive or provide more clarity. Again, Bill C-344 ignores the existing problems within procurement and will increase complaints from small businesses.

As mentioned, Bill C-344 is vague in that it does not clearly define what constitutes a social, economic, or environmental benefit a community derives.

This problem of disincentives touches on another complaint heard by the procurement ombudsman, who noted that new businesses are unable or unwilling to break into the procurement market because of the substantial knowledge barrier to entry.

I support small and medium-sized businesses and believe that the government should be doing more to encourage SMEs to submit bids, create jobs, and grow our economy. Adding more requirements, bureaucracy, and ill-defined powers are not ways to bring down costs, simplify the process, and address the consistent concerns brought forward by businesses on the procurement process.

The minister's own mandate letter states:

Modernize procurement practices so that they are simpler, less administratively burdensome....

Bill C-344 would move government procurement in the exact opposite direction. The government should read the Prime Minister's own mandate letter to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and reject this bill.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Brampton Centre for bringing forward his private member's legislation.

I rise today in support of Bill C-344, which would require an assessment of the benefits that a community would derive from a construction, maintenance, or repair project. This common-sense legislation will have many benefits for Canadian communities.

In 2015, we campaigned on historic infrastructure investments. The bill would add community benefit to the our investment and construction goals. The ministry already receives submissions on cost and time of construction, however, there is no policy that requires contractors to assess what benefits a project would offer to our communities. Bill C-344 would address this gap in the current procurement policies.

Bill C-344 also speaks to the triple bottom line, which I have adopted, that emphasizes social, economic, and environmental innovation.

Community benefit agreements are a new approach to empowering local communities to partner with developers in order to respond to local challenges. CBAs can be used to address economic development and growth, but also poverty reduction and environmental sustainability in neighbourhoods across Canada.

The bill seeks to maximize the value of every public dollar invested in our communities. By requesting applicants to submit an assessment on community benefits, the minister can make a much more informed decision around community priorities.

Under this new system, the government can weigh the additional benefits each contractor will bring to the community, including additional information such as jobs created during and after, environmental benefit, and costs. The minister can move forward with greater confidence that money is being invested wisely in our communities.

The economic gains of procurement are clear. Public Services and Procurement Canada manages close to $15 billion in procurement on behalf of federal departments and agencies. These procurements multiply economic opportunities and community benefits across the country through direct and indirect effects.

Crucially, close to 40% of our overall procurement business goes to small and medium-size enterprises, which are almost always local. Using figures from the last three years, 98% of construction contracts awarded in Ontario went to suppliers based in Ontario.

This policy will also incentivize private construction firms to think more broadly about their role in communities, and is in practise already with many municipalities. This approach offers an excellent opportunity for businesses to increase the scope of their supply to include a focus on social innovation and environmental benefit. In addition, the platform includes a proposal for federal infrastructure projects as a means to ensure development of opportunities for veterans and other under-represented groups.

Bill C-344 also offers an opportunity for Public Services and Procurement Canada to engage in work with municipalities. No one appreciates and understands the diverse and unique needs of communities better than the people who live there.

Canadians require a procurement process that works for them and reflects their values. Alongside transparency and accountability, procurement can fulfill economic, social, and environmental benefits. Bill C-344 is an opportunity for Canadians to get the most out of their tax dollars, ensuring tax dollars work for them.

I again thank the member for Brampton Centre for bringing forward the bill.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Guelph will have six minutes remaining in his time for his remarks when the House next returns to debate on the question.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister of Small Business and Tourism

moved:

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.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague and I have been working together on a number of issues over the last number of months and although I disagree with the process and much of what she has done, I recognize the hard work that she has put into all of this. My question for the House leader is very broad. I will talk a little later about the specific proposals.

The Conservatives' biggest criticism was the way the government handled this and said that, whether there was a consensus or not, it would be making these changes. My question for the government House leader is very simple. When things change and the Conservatives are on that side and the Liberals are on this side, does she wish to be treated in the way that she treated the opposition? Does she think that the Conservatives would then have the ability to make major changes to the Standing Orders and ram them through the House of Commons, whether the opposition specifically likes it or not? Does she wish to be treated in the way she treated us?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I have said always, my door is open. Hindsight is always 20/20. Were there ways that we could improve the process if all members could agree to work better together? We have demonstrated that we are able to work together. We have been having good, tough conversations and I can assure all colleagues that I will continue to keep my door open. I will continue to advance the mandate Canadians gave us about working better together. That is something I heard on doorsteps. I believe all members can work better together and will definitely play my part in helping to make that happen.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to congratulate the government House leader for her speech and acknowledge the hard work that she has provided in recent months. In her opening remarks, she talked of “working together to put our country's interests first”, and in her mandate letter there is also talk of working “with Opposition House Leaders”. Therefore, is the government House leader now committed to only changing Standing Orders in the future, the very rules of how our democracy functions, where there is multi-party support for the changes proposed; or does she still think that her government can amend these rules unilaterally?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also would like to thank the member for his hard work. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we have been working very closely together and we have had some fruitful, meaningful conversations and I sincerely appreciate that. I know we can work better in this place. It will always be my endeavour to have those tough conversations and to keep my door open. I do believe that we can always find a way to represent our constituents. The perspectives that every member brings and that every role in this place brings are essential to the democratic process and to the health of our democracy. That is why I will always endeavour to work better together.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, there are many comments I would wish to make and, as the government House leader knows, I have submitted some substantial proposals, including for prorogation. We test the confidence of the House in an actual vote in the House. I am glad to see prorogation dealt with. The approach that was advanced in my paper came not from me but from some of Canada's leading political scientists including Hugo Cyr, Peter Russell, and so on. I also proposed on omnibus bills—and it is an improvement to be able to split them—for studying them, not merely for voting on them. Is there an opportunity in the debate we are going to have in the next several days only, to actually achieve consensus from all sides of this House on the changes that are now proposed?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that the member responded to the discussion paper that I had shared in good faith and endeavoured to have some tough conversations on it. I appreciate the work she has done on this file. We have also made certain that the member will be able to participate in this meaningful debate because we know that she shares perspectives and points of view that need to be raised in this place.

I believe that there is still much work to do. This is a step. These are the commitments we made to Canadians that we are advancing on. I believe the procedure and House affairs committee can continue this good work. I know it has started some work and it can broaden that scope, should the members of that committee wish to do so.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister and I both served as staff in previous parliaments and I think we have all been around to see some of the very interesting things that have happened here over the years. When I read this motion, I see a whole lot of things that would have helped us when we were in opposition and not a lot that would help us here in government. I wonder if the minister would agree with that assessment: this would help this place function by empowering opposition parties to do their jobs better.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, the opposition plays an essential role and the government has a responsibility to act on the mandate that it is given. This is about empowering all members of Parliament. Every member of Parliament was elected by his or her constituents to ensure that their voices were heard in this place. That is the vision behind everything I do. I believe that we need to ensure that the voices of our constituents, of Canadians, are heard in this place. It is something we committed to in the election campaign. It is something that Canadians received very well. This place belongs to the people, so I believe the motion before us would strengthen every member of Parliament through the important work that members are elected to do.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have two brief questions for the government House leader.

First, Bill C-49 is a wide-ranging transportation modernization act, so called. Bill C-51 is a very wide-ranging Criminal Code change. I wonder if the government House leader thinks either, or both, of these constitutes improper uses of omnibus legislation.

Second, I want to ask about the powers given to parliamentary secretaries because now, the way the Standing Order change is set up, a committee could theoretically bar members of Parliament who are not members of the committee from attending in camera meetings. That would mean they would have additional members of the government who are parliamentary secretaries who are able to remain in the room, but they would have other members of Parliament who might be interested in the discussion who cannot be in the room. Does the government House leader see a problem with that? Would the government House leader agree that any member of Parliament who wants to listen in to an in camera discussion if he or she is an elected member of Parliament, regardless of whether the member is a parliamentary secretary, should be able to do so?

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, these are exactly the kinds of discussions and conversations I was hoping to have when I released the discussion paper. I do believe that there are perspectives and opinions that members have to share, and can share, that would benefit this place and the work that all members of Parliament do.

In regard to the legislation the member is referring to, that is why we are saying we should provide the ability to the Speaker in this chamber to divide legislation by votes, so that members will not have to determine their support of legislation in regard to an item that is not along the same themes. We know that we need to improve the way we function in this place, and that is the endeavour and will always be the goal.

When it comes to parliamentary secretaries, we know that the parliamentary secretaries have access to a lot of information. We have seen committees do the important work that they are doing. If a parliamentary secretary can provide insight and information to members of a committee to help them do their work, I believe that is essential to the process. That is why this is a step in the right direction.

Changes to the Standing OrdersGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the government House leader for her speech, but it was certainly dripping with irony.

She said that omnibus legislation would never deal with unrelated themes, yet she had us in the House last week on a justice omnibus bill. I guess she is saying that witchcraft and duelling are related to some of the criminal procedure changes that were in that omnibus legislation.

The government House leader's deputy, the member for Winnipeg North, called omnibus legislation in the last Parliament “an assault on the House of Commons”, much like the omnibus bills we have been seeing in this House. The assault in the last few weeks has been with time allocation, omnibus legislation, and now the speech on Standing Orders today.

My question for the the government House leader is quite simple. Given the platitudes in elements of her speech, does she have any personal regret for the time allocation and omnibus legislation we have been debating and voting on in the last few weeks, based on where she wants to see the Standing Orders go?