Mr. Speaker, last week some individuals implied that the speech I gave last week might have been my last speech. I want to disabuse them of that thought, because I am standing here today. However, in the same speech I had indicated I was not sure whether I would have the opportunity for many more 20-minute slots. Today, in that case, I will leave some ongoing confusion. I only have a 10-minute slot today because it is my intention to split my time with the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle.
While I have the floor, at this particular point, I really want to thank my hon. colleague for standing in for me when my health challenge arose again. I recognized that my capacity to actually carry out some of my House duties would be challenging. He has so admirably stepped in for me when I have not been able to perform that particular function. I want to thank him for his service and for his friendship in many ways covering much of my duty when I was not able to be here.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to the addresses of the House leader, the opposition House leader, and the New Democratic Party House leader, along with the hon. member for Beloeil—Chambly. I will focus most of my comments in response to the opposition House leader's very lengthy address. I probably will not be able to get through all of the points that I want to deal with, but I will acknowledge that I think the opposition House leader provided fairly lengthy criticism with respect to the process that led up to this point.
I think the one thing that was missing is to back up and to look at how we got here, not just what has transpired in the last few months, but what transpired under the previous government. It is that history that I want to address a bit, which I think needs to be part of the record, in terms of how a lot of issues that are now reflected in Motion No. 18 ultimately became part of our electoral platform in response to how the previous government treated this institution of Parliament. I will deal with some of those particular issues.
The first one I want to deal with is the first major test of Canadians' confidence in this institution at the end of 2008, shortly after the election that led to the Stephen Harper government being returned with a larger minority Parliament but not quite a majority. What transpired at that time was the coalition of three of the parties, the Liberals, the New Democratic Party, and the Bloc Québécois, to potentially defeat the government on a confidence motion, which led former prime minister Harper to go to the Governor General to seek a prorogation shortly after that government had already tabled the throne speech and had barely begun the legislative session.
The point I want to make is that ultimately prorogation is a crown prerogative, and so the ability of this House to circumscribe the crown's prerogatives is fairly limited. The criticism that came from the opposition House leader's attack on the proposed change in Motion No. 18 was that she did not see it having any merit or any particular point.
The purpose of this particular proposed change to prorogation is simply to shed light on the actual advice that the leader of the government, the prime minister of the day, is recommending to the Governor General as to why prorogation ought to be granted. Ultimately, that is entirely at the discretion of the Governor General. However, what this process does is shed light on that request. That is all it can do. It has, essentially, a political consequence and nothing more. That is essentially the purpose of why this particular amendment is being proposed within the Standing Orders.
The second thing that came out under the Harper government was, of course, the excessive use of omnibus legislation, particularly related to unrelated themes or unrelated matters. That is the one thing that we are trying to change, with respect to the proposed changes under the draft section 69.1 of the Standing Orders.
I acknowledge that we could have been clearer in the electoral campaign platform with respect to budget bills because, by their very nature, all budget bills are omnibus legislation. The point we are trying to make under proposed subsection 69.1(2) is that, if the budget bill proposes to make changes to other consequential acts, those changes have to be directly related to the implementation of the budget. It would be quite inefficient to break up a budget bill into numerous component parts because it would essentially render the whole budgetary process unworkable. The key in this area is the transfer of power from the government to the Speaker to make the final determination as to whether a piece of legislation is considered omnibus legislation or not, and the discretion would then rest entirely with the Speaker.
The third proposed area that is captured in Motion No. 18 relates to the estimates. The purpose of that change is to deal with what is a backward process right now where information about the budget is not clear. The changes being proposed would give parliamentarians better information ahead the budgetary process of instead of after it.
The fourth element that is proposed within Motion No. 18 deals specifically with parliamentary secretaries. In the previous Parliaments under the Conservative government, particularly in the 41st Parliament, in many but not necessarily all committees we saw the parliamentary secretary of the day dominating the agenda and denuding the broad capacity of all members of the House, particularly on the government side, from seriously looking at legislation that was coming through. The proposal we are putting forth in the Standing Orders would clarify the role of a parliamentary secretary. Parliamentary secretaries would still play an important liaison role with both the minister and the ministries they represent, but we would take away their capacity to be part of quorum and to vote. However, they would still play a very important liaison function with respect to dealing more rapidly with any of the issues that may arise at committee, through their participation. That is the fourth purpose in Motion No. 18 as to why the proposed changes are being advanced.
With respect to the last item, which has not made it into Motion No. 18, with respect to a prime minister's question period, the government has chosen to advance that particular measure by way of an established practised convention. I hope that we would give some serious consideration to following the United Kingdom model where the big difference is that, unlike the model we are executing now, the questions are tabled two days in advance by the opposition, which gives the prime minister of the day the opportunity to have a more fulsome response. This is as opposed to playing gotcha, as we are seeing right now with respect to question period.
I want to wrap up by simply saying that there has been some suggestion that there is an underhanded attempt by this government to ram through changes to the Standing Orders. I am a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. If the House leader had every intention of ramming things through, rather than presenting the discussion paper that was brought forward to PROC, she would have simply tabled a motion directly to the House to change the Standings Orders and to ram everything through that the government wanted, which is probably what the previous government would have done. This government did not do that. I want Canadians to understand that was never the intent or purpose behind the discussion paper. The intent was to solicit honest feedback. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs was already doing very good work on a number of fronts, and this was to expand some of the other ideas that we felt merited discussion.
I am happy to take questions from any of my colleagues.