I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on April 14 by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, concerning the participation of independent members and members of non-recognized parties in Oral Questions.
Following up on the point of order that she raised on February 16, concerning their participation in Oral Questions on Wednesday, on which I ruled on February 23, the member focused on the number of questions allocated to them during each sitting week. Since the number of independent members and members of non-recognized parties has risen from four to eight since the beginning of this Parliament, she feels that the number of questions should also increase.
As the one responsible for keeping deliberations running smoothly, the Chair is aware of the number and distribution of questions allocated during question period. I should add that, while the member raised the question from a different angle, I am still obliged to reconcile the three fundamental elements to which I have already referred rather than to address it by limiting the matter to a simple mathematical formula.
The first element is complying with our established practice. In this case, that means the practice of allocating Oral Questions primarily on the basis of negotiations among the recognized parties in the House. I note that this practice has changed in recent years, which has made it possible to give independent members and members of non-recognized parties a larger share of the questions.
The second, and I find that this relatively recent development has certain limits, relates to the wording of Standing Order 30, since 45 minutes are reserved for question period. The Chair has to make every effort to ensure that this rule is respected as much as possible, similar to ensuring the rules of governing the management of speaking times during our deliberations are adhered to. Members have undoubtedly noticed, as I have, that for many years now, it has been difficult to respect this standing order to the letter.
The third is linked to my responsibility to protect the rights of all members and, as I stated in my ruling last February 23, to find “a balance between the rights and interests of the majority and of those of the minority. In doing so, the Chair must try to be equitable and fair, without tipping the balance too far on one side or the other.”
In keeping with my commitment as Speaker to encourage meetings to ensure that our institution has harmonious parliamentary procedures that are based on co-operation, and having always insisted on the importance of co-operation to improve the decorum, process and overall operations of the House, I encouraged the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands to continue her efforts. I continue to believe that this is the approach most likely to produce a solution. In the meantime, I cannot unilaterally alter the agreement and practices already in place, unless the groups concerned reach an agreement.
Because this question has been raised in the past, and given the parameters of the Chair's authority in the matter, I reiterate my request that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs study the question.
I thank the hon. members for their attention.