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  7. 2008-09-16: Tory dissenters 'idiots, turds'
  8. 2008-09-02: Canadians willing to ride bus, but transit systems are letting them down: survey
  9. 2008-08-19: Guelph transit riders happy with 20-minute bus service changes
  10. 2008=08-06: More people riding Edmonton buses, LRT
  11. 2008-08-01: U.S. border agents given power to seize travellers' laptops, cellphones
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  15. 2008-07-09: MPs took donations from firm in RCMP deal
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2017-03-21 PROC 55

Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

(1105)

[English]

The Chair (Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.)):

We're now in public. We have a speakers list, Scott Simms and Mr. Richards.

Mr. Simms.

Mr. Scott Simms (Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, Lib.):

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

When I was first elected in 2004, I came here with a great sense of wonderment, anticipation, and excitement, and when I came here, I was overwhelmed by the amount of work that was involved in understanding how the House operates and how we go about our business, juxtaposed with the role of the member of Parliament. It is a multi-faceted job that is overwhelming, and certainly I'm not alone. I think everybody in this room understands just how overwhelming, but very special, this job can be. For me it's the job of a lifetime.

I'm very proud today to move this motion, which I am doing for several reasons.

Let me start by saying that a few weeks ago, the Honourable James McGrath, former MP for St. John's East passed away, and he left behind many legacies, one of which was a report from 1985 by a committee that he chaired. Some of that has been talked about. It was talked about earlier in the session, in the take-note debate we had on October 6, and some of that was also reflected during the modernization committee of 2003.

I've had several discussions since returning following this last election. One of the things I've always wanted to do in addition to all my other duties has been to help make this place work, not just for a sitting government, not just for the executive, but for every member of Parliament who exists, for every member of Parliament who has existed, and for all future members of Parliament, so we can look at the best practices by which we can improve this place.

This is not just a static event. This is a living, breathing organism of democracy that we exercise, and every other healthy democracy does the same thing.

I just recently returned from the U.K. where we visited the Houses of Parliament at Westminster and of course the Parliament of Scotland. I had several meetings about how they conduct their business, and the role of their members of Parliament. Over the years they have had some great discussions about how they do that. Back in the late 1990s they had a great discussion, and they followed that up with ways to improve. The record shows that they have improved the way they organize their debates and their committees and the way they sit and deliberate over the country's business.

I've had several discussions with the current House leader about ways to improve this, and we have agreed on many things.

As we all know, and as was reported in the media, there is a discussion paper, which I was very impressed with as we poured our ideas into this on October 6, 2016. I really liked that take-note debate. I thought it was amazing. I think just about everybody in this room had a way of providing input into that take-note debate, which I thought was incredible. We came together in the spirit of goodwill so that each member of Parliament could represent their constituents and by the same token allow the government's business to be done.

That being said, in the spirit of the Honourable James McGrath, I want to move this motion, and I want to do it under the three overarching themes we've talked about for years, all the way up to our take-note debate on October 6: the management of debate, the management of the House and its sittings, and the management of committees.

I think there's a great deal of improvement to be had, and I'm really looking forward to hearing not just from the people who have the experience here. I came here when Mr. Christopherson did, and I know he too has a lot of good ideas, many even better than my own, but I also want to hear new ideas.

There are elements of this that I would like to see reflected in a study—things like electronic voting, things like committee business that can be improved upon, and the sittings of the House, and how we structure debates so that they are more effective for the country to run and certainly more effective for planning for each member of Parliament.

I'm asking all committee members here today to deeply consider that we now have the opportunity to make a change, reflecting upon the studies of the past and all that we have discussed up until this day, whether someone is a senior MP or a junior MP, and no matter what part of the country someone comes from.

I happily move this motion, and incorporate within it points A to E. I hope all committee members, in the spirit of goodwill and of democracy, more than anything else, provide the government with a guideline by which we can improve how democracy operates on the federal level.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Could you read the motion you are proposing?

Mr. Scott Simms:

I move: That, in relation to the Committee's study of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees, and in addition to the proposals outlined in the October 6, 2016, take note debate on the Standing Orders, the Committee broaden the scope of its study to undertake a comprehensive review of the Standings Orders of the House of Commons as follows: a) The study shall be divided into the following 3 overarching themes:

1. Management of Debate

2. Management of the House and its sittings

3. Management of Committees; The Clerk of the Committee be instructed to write to each Member who is not a member of a caucus represented on the Committee to invite those Members to participate in the proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 119 and file with the Clerk of the Committee, in both official languages, any recommendations they may have as it relates to changes in any of the 3 themes outlined in (a) and prior to consideration of the draft report;

I've heard many great ideas from many independent members and smaller parties over these past 14 years. c) Parties submit their list of proposed witnesses to the Clerk of the Committee no later than 7 calendar days following the adoption of this motion; d) The Committee complete its study and report its findings and recommendations back to the House no later than June 2, 2017; and e) The Committee meet outside the regular meeting hours as necessary to complete the study pursuant to paragraph (d).

Again, I thank the committee and you, Mr. Chair.

(1110)

The Chair:

Thank you.

Mr. Richards.

Mr. Blake Richards (Banff—Airdrie, CPC):

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I listened to Mr. Simms. I listened to what he had to say, and it doesn't line up with this motion. We talk about democracy and all these things, and I have a lot of respect for Mr. Simms, but I know that this isn't his motion. I know that this has come from the Prime Minister's Office. There's no question about that. It comes within minutes, I think, of this draft that we received from the House leader in terms of what they want to do to impose changes that would lessen the accountability of the government to Canadians and to this Parliament, that would require the Prime Minister to only be here once a week for question period so he has less accountability. Liberal MPs want to have a day off, so they don't have to work Fridays.

None of that is about democracy. Although I have great respect for Mr. Simms, I don't really believe this is his motion. That's why I won't cast any doubt on his thoughts because I don't think that.... This is something that he has been put up to, obviously.

That's unfortunate, because I really think that what you have here is a type of motion that shows exactly why it's so important that the opposition maintain some ability to hold the government accountable. A lot of the things that they're trying to remove, when you look at that letter from the House leader, are to prevent exactly what is being done here, trying to force through things.

When you look at, for example, the report that we've already done looking at Friday sittings, clearly, the report says that we wouldn't make any recommendations for change in that regard, yet we have this letter from the House leader now saying we're going to try to move ahead with this anyway.

In my mind, it certainly appears as though this is an attempt by the government to try to force through some of their changes, and they're trying to force this committee to provide them cover. They have a Liberal majority, obviously, and they could do that if they chose. That's what they're trying to do. They're trying to force through changes that will benefit them, that will lessen their accountability to Canadians. Frankly, it's disgusting and pathetic.

I can tell you right now, although I know that when we look at some of the other things in the letter from the House leader, obviously none of the members here would have had an opportunity to have discussions with their caucus about this yet. I can tell you one thing and it's that there has already been an indication and this committee was an example. It was unanimous. The suggestion of this committee was that we not make a change to Fridays, for example. Any attempts by this government, and this is clearly what it is, to lessen their accountability to Canadians and to this Parliament will be met with every bit of resistance that can possibly be met with by this party, and I'm sure by all of the opposition parties.

If this is the kind of approach that they're planning to take, they had better be prepared for that.

I guess beyond that, the only other thing that I would add is that, with something like this, I would want to see some kind of commitment, obviously, that these meetings will all be conducted in public, because it is important that Canadians have the ability to see what the government is trying to do in terms of lessening their accountability to Canadians.

Those are some of my initial comments. I'll probably have a lot more to say on this, but this is sad and pathetic, Mr. Chair.

(1115)

The Chair:

Mr. Reid.

Mr. Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, CPC):

Was not Mr. Christopherson before me?

The Chair:

I'm sorry.

Mr. Christopherson and then Mr. Reid.

Mr. David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, NDP):

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Mr. Reid.

I share the sentiment of my colleague, Mr. Richards, and I want to hearken back to the election campaign where the now government, the Liberal Party, at the time made all kinds of promises, highfalutin, high-sounding promises, about how they were going to change the relationship between committees and Parliament. Committees were going to be respected. Committees were not going to be browbeaten by the government to toe the party line, and parliamentary secretaries weren't going to sit on the committee and direct things.

Most importantly, they said they were going to bring back the independence of committees as they were originally conceived when the parliamentary system was first thought of. That was the promise. I tell you it's been a struggle to recognize where that's been honoured. It has in a few occasions and I have said publicly that's a good thing.

My favourite part of being an MP, other than being in my riding with my constituents, here on the Hill is committee work. I love doing committee work. I've gone out of my way, when the government has shown some respect and lived up to what they promised, to say so in the hope that would further it and continue it. This is the antithesis of that.

If I can, Chair, I also want to share my thoughts with Mr. Richards in that I agree with him and I'll defer at any moment to give Mr. Simms the floor, since I'm about to talk about him. I'll give him that. I have great respect for Mr. Simms, and that's why I agree with Mr. Richards that I don't believe that this really is Mr. Simms' idea. If he wants to take complete ownership of it, that's fine, but I think we all know that it's kind of a poor ruse. This is from on high. This is directly out of the Prime Minister's Office, marching orders given to the House leader and then all the way down to here at the committee.

Again, that was not supposed to be the way this government was going to be with committees. That's why I'm so furious at this, because this was a good thing that the government was saying. I made it very clear that if we couldn't win—I wanted us to win—then I did want them to win. I liked a lot of the things that they were talking about. A lot of them were the same things as us, like breathing more democracy into this place and bringing back a lot of the traditions and respect that used to be here that got lost over the last decade—all good things.

So what happened? Because there's no goodwill. I'm sorry, my friend said he was doing this out of goodwill but I don't see any. Had there been goodwill, this would have started maybe at the House leaders' level where they would have said, look, here's what we're considering doing. How do you feel about that? It would have worked its way through and found a way to the committee. We'd have been seized of it in a way where it would be, “This is something we'd like you to take a look at in a respectful kind of way”, and then we would go about, with the steering committee, putting together what a plan might look like. That's how we would do that and that's how we've been trying to function.

I have to tell you it feels like I'm back in the last Parliament. This is the kind of nonsense we used to face with the Harper government every bloody day at every bloody committee. It was supposed to be different. This doesn't feel different. The government tried to bring in some of these changes. You know, context matters. There was government motion number six, an odious piece of parliamentary business if ever there was any, and clearly enough it was, because ultimately the government had to back down, big time back down.

Then, as Mr. Richards has said, we took a look at some of these issues—not all of them but some of them—in the family-friendly Parliament review we did, and some of these things were rejected. Now they're back, not for consideration or for discussion as they're putting it. Make no mistake, this is being served up to be rammed through.

I haven't heard the government talk about what we're going to do about the issue of the normal history of all-party agreement on these things. I think this would be a great opportunity to reintroduce the Cullen model. It worked very well in democratic reform and this is somewhat similar. We're dealing with rules that affect all of us. We want to give everybody an opportunity to have input. You try to find compromise where you can or at the very least reach majority with more than one party.

(1120)



The Cullen model in the Special Committee on Electoral Reform gave us that opportunity. The government hasn't talked about that at all right now.

I have to agree with Mr. Richards, again, who had the opportunity to speak first and lay out some of these important issues. It looks like the government is prepared to change the rules of our House using their majority. How the hell is that fair? How does that even come anywhere near what you promised in the campaign? Every one of you promised that you were going to be different, and Canadians bought it and gave you a huge majority. Here we are now, facing Harper 2.0. This is really serious.

We have, as part of our mandate, a job to review the Standing Orders anyway. It's part of our mandate during this Parliament. Parliament did theirs, and they did it within 90 days. We have a mandate that we're supposed to review the Standing Orders. Normally that's done in a collegial fashion. We're not doing that. The government has reached in, cherry-picked certain things it wants, and stuffed them into this motion. From all accounts, it looks like they are prepared to just ram, ram, ram. That's just Harper, Harper, Harper.

Not only that, to add insult to injury, we haven't even had a chance to take it to caucus yet. The discussion paper was dropped last week, followed by the motion. Now we're back here. Tomorrow is caucus, yet today the government is so anxious to ram this through that it hasn't even given us an opportunity to take it to our caucuses so that when we speak here at this committee, we have a mandate from our caucuses to speak on behalf of our colleagues. They're looking at this in terms of, “We have a majority. We're going to ram it through.”

Take a look at my speech on Bill C-23. It's very similar, because this action is very similar. I say to my colleagues across the way, you can't be feeling good about this, as everybody busies themselves with their notes.

This is not a good day for Liberal promises about committee work and Parliament. At the very least, give us a chance to take it to our caucuses before you start ramming. At least let us do that. Let us check off the box that at least you gave the caucuses a chance to talk before you rammed through your cherry-picked changes to the way our Parliament functions.

With that in mind, Chair, I would move adjournment of this debate to allow us an opportunity to consult with our caucuses.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Is that debatable, Mr. Chair?

The Chair:

No. It's non-debatable. Those in favour of adjourning?

(Motion negatived)

Mr. David Christopherson:

Really?

Chair, do I still have the floor?

The Chair:

Yes, go ahead.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I'm not starting yet. Don't worry. You'll know.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I have a point of order.

I don't know how else to do this, but I want to communicate something to Mr. Christopherson.

As a thought, given that you have the floor, I wonder if you'd consider the possibility of asking that the debate be adjourned to some specified future date—the nearest one seems to be Thursday—thereby allowing people to go back to their caucuses. That would also allow our witnesses, who came with the expectation that they would be dealing with that, to have us move back to their material. We could discuss how we're going to deal with the issue of juggling the Elections Canada stuff, for which we have a tight deadline, which is Mr. Simms' proposed deadline of June, without having the threat of giving up the floor and having the thing passed through hanging over our heads at every moment. I'm just suggesting it as a possibility.

Mr. David Christopherson:

That's an excellent point. I think it's an improvement on what I was attempting. It still gets this off our plate right now but lets us also continue to do the work we were ready to do. I can't remember the exact wording, but I would move the adjournment of the debate until at least our next meeting on Thursday to allow our caucuses an opportunity to consult. It would then allow us a chance to continue the work we came here to do originally.

Does that cover it, Scott?

(1125)

Mr. Scott Reid:

That gets it. Yes.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Clerk, does that get me through as a motion? If not, I would seek some guidance. You know my intent.

The Chair:

The clerk informs me that this is a substantive motion, but we have a substantive motion on the floor already, so we can't deal with that at this moment.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Chair, through you, may I ask for advice from the clerk on what an appropriate motion might be to achieve.... You know I'm trying to adjourn this debate right now. I know that I can do that on a main motion, I just don't have the right wording. Can you help me?

The Chair:

The clerk suggests there is no other procedure. You've tried. You've had your motions, and there aren't any other.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Mr. Chair, again it's a point of order. Is it not possible to suspend the debate until next Thursday? Would that work? I'm not sure that's not just saying the same thing in a different way, and I'm not sure if it's a solution to the problem.

The Chair:

No, that wouldn't work.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I don't want to belabour this, Chair, and I promise to drop it if it's going nowhere. Normally, in parliamentary procedure there is the ability to table a motion, so that you can set business aside, if the majority decides to, and then you continue with the agenda, which I think is an improvement over what I offered earlier, which was a straight-up adjournment of the meeting that would allow us to continue working.

There is some means, a motion that allows us to set aside a debate that we're having right now. I don't have the exact wording. I don't think it's a motion to table, but that effectively is what it is.

I know it is in Robert's Rules.

The Chair:

You can do that, but you have to have unanimous consent.

Mr. David Christopherson:

It takes unanimous consent to table? Short of saying no, I'm unclear. Help me.

The Chair:

To not proceed with this debate that we're in right now you would need unanimous consent.

Mr. David Christopherson:

The clerk is saying no, Chair.

The Chair:

You can adjourn the debate with the consent of the committee, which you didn't get. Then, to present a substantive motion, which was your next attempt, you need unanimous consent, which you don't have.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Chair, I'm going to relinquish the floor to my friend, Mr. Reid.

The Chair:

Mr. Reid, you're next on the speaking list.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I was going to a point of order for further guidance from you and the clerk. What about the possibility...? I think everybody knows what my objective is, which is to get us to Thursday before we take up this debate again.

I'm wondering if I were to propose an amendment to Mr. Simms's motion, which states that the debate be suspended and taken up again on Thursday, would that be permissible or is that also just a workaround that is not permitted under the rules?

Effectively the amendment would be adopted. The main motion would be held up until such time as we come back. Would that work or not?

(1130)

The Chair:

That wouldn't work either because once you got the amendment, even if it passed, then you would still need to vote on the entire motion to put that amendment into effect.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I see. Okay. That's helpful to me.

In that case, I do have some things to say with regard to the main motion.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I have a point of order first, Mr. Chair, if I may.

Clearly, there has been an indication here that both opposition parties are not comfortable with proceeding with this motion until they've at least had a chance to talk to their caucuses. Obviously, some very significant reservations and concerns have been expressed by both me and Mr. Christopherson about the motion. Obviously, attempts have been made to adjourn the debate. I think it's fairly clear that this motion will not be coming to a final vote today.

I see our Elections Canada officials sitting at the end of the table. There are probably other things they could be doing other than watching. Maybe they want to stay and watch the debate, I don't know, but maybe you could ask for unanimous consent to let them be dismissed, so they don't have to sit here.

The Chair:

That's a good point.

Does anyone object to allowing our...?

Thank you very much for coming. I congratulated you in the House yesterday for all your work on the two very important reports we did, which, as I said in the House, are going to change elections and make them much smoother. Thank you for that.

Hopefully, we'll see you soon.

Ms. Anne Lawson (General Counsel and Senior Director, Elections Canada):

Thank you.

The Chair:

I'm sorry for your coming all this way and not getting a chance to provide input.

We'll carry on with Mr. Reid.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm going to try to go through this systematically, if I may.

Mr. Simms' notice of motion was received by the clerk of this committee on the Friday before the break week, so in a sense it was received by us some 10 days ago. In practice, many of us were unavailable. I was on another continent, actually. It was submitted for the minimum allowable time under the parliamentary rules before this debate came up.

It was given to the clerk at 3:11 p.m. on the Friday before a break week, which is to say.... Everybody understands what that means. In a way, it was designed to be as obscure as possible. It was released and given to the clerk....

Forgive me; I don't know. Did you receive it in both official languages?

The Clerk of the Committee (Mr. Andrew Lauzon):

Yes.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Okay, so it was translated.

I don't think I'm being unkind to Mr. Simms when I say that he is not as fluent in French as he is in English; let's just say that. Hence it had to be done by somebody other than Mr. Simms.

I don't mean to be unkind.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I took it as such.

Mr. Scott Reid:

All right.

An hon. member: It was probably somebody in the PMO.

Mr. Scott Simms:

You're right.

Mr. Scott Reid:

The government House leader discussion paper was released at 1:00 p.m. on Friday. That is an approximate time, to be fair, but assuming complete accuracy, that was 131 minutes prior to the motion of Mr. Simms. The government House leader's paper is pretty meaty. I think it's eight pages long.

I would argue that it is somewhat implausible that.... Although Scott can correct me if he chooses to do so, I would argue that on its face it is somewhat implausible that Mr. Simms received the paper, read it, put together the motion—it's a very thorough and well-worded motion with five subsidiary items, one of which has three sub-subsidiary items, so two enumerated lists in it—and had it translated and submitted to the clerk all within two hours and 11 minutes.

There appears to be complete consensus on the Liberal side that this is the right way to go, so he either got the consent of his colleagues afterwards, without this being coordinated by the House leader's office or the PMO or.... I could go on and on this way. You get the point that clearly this is a coordinated effort. There is nothing wrong with coordination, for goodness' sake.

I think it is problematic to say, as someone in Mr. Simms's office did to The Hill Times—not Mr. Simms himself—that this was an entirely independent effort. That is not a plausible narrative, and I'm glad that Scott didn't say that because it is obviously not the way things really were.

Anyway, the motion has two primary characteristics. I'm referring to the motion now and not to Ms. Chagger's discussion paper on the House rules. I'll come to the discussion paper in time.

The motion has two primary characteristics, as far as I can see. First of all, it is an omnibus motion. That is to say, it takes all of the Standing Orders and puts them into a single motion, rather like an omnibus bill. We will divide it up into three overarching themes. Actually, to be honest, these are not the themes I would have divided things up into if it had been me writing this. I don't think these are the three natural divisions. They are nonetheless, “Management of Debate, Management of the House and its sittings”, and “Management of Committees”. By definition, it's already omnibus, but there are other things I think don't fit easily into those headings that are within the Standing Orders.

It deals with everything in the House leader's discussion paper, and also the take-note debate, which is required under the Standing Orders to occur within a set period of time following a general election. That took place, in practice, on October 6. That is a debate, I regret to say, in which I was not personally able to take part because I was travelling with a parliamentary committee on electoral reform. I can't remember where we were. I think we might have been in Iqaluit. We certainly weren't here, and for what it's worth, my input, therefore, did not make it in. That's nobody's fault. That's just one of those unfortunate results of parliamentary scheduling—the vagaries of parliamentary scheduling.

However, you see that it's omnibus in several senses. I don't know whether you know what an omnibus is or was. An omnibus was a tract vehicle originally pulled by a horse. It was the answer to a streetcar in places like London, and you would go along a track. In order to help pay for the cost of running the omnibus, people had tickets, just like they do on a streetcar in Toronto today, or any other city that has streetcars or a bus. In fact, with regard to buses, the kind that you get on here in Ottawa, the name comes from omnibuses.

On the side of omnibuses would be ads. If you looked back at the Victorian etchings, illustrations, things that were in the Illustrated London News or The Edinburgh Review in, say, 1850, you would see illustrations of omnibuses. People complained about the traffic problems in those days. Horses have their own form of exhaust, and they complained about that. It wasn't always removed as promptly as it should be.

(1135)



Crossing the streets in long dresses was a problem. Gentlemen in those days wore spats. Do you ever wonder why people don't wear spats anymore? Okay, the reason is because we don't get poop on our shoes when we cross the street. That's what spats were for. Shoe shines would clean off the leather portions of your shoes but where the laces were, you can understand why that would be problematic.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I understand why now.

Mr. Scott Reid:

The spats covered the laces. You can't get spats anymore. As someone who is an afficionado of steampunk, Mr. Chair, and is trying to acquire an entire Victorian outfit for.... Top hats are easy to find. Spats are hard to find. Clean spats are impossible to find.

Anyway, on the sides of buses, just to defray the cost of running the omnibus, they would put up illustrations, ads. I guess you remember some of these things from looking at these illustrations. Pears soap is advertised on the side; they are still around. There's Bovril, a kind of little gelatin cube, and so on.

What you saw when an omnibus went by were all these completely unrelated things, advertisements, stuck to the outside. An omnibus was a metaphor for a whole bunch of unrelated things, all being dragged along in the same direction by a vehicle whose purpose was ultimately entirely different. Thus we have omnibus bills, and in this case, you can see why I say this is an omnibus motion.

There is no small degree of irony in the fact that this omnibus motion is dealing with inter alia, the issue of omnibus bills and how to deal with omnibus bills, something that the government has said it wants to deal with. It wants to change the way these things are done. I'm not in a position yet to confirm the depth of commitment to that promise but certainly this is not a positive start. I would chastise or reprimand Mr. Simms if I thought he was actually the author of this thing, but I don't.

I do chastise the government for creating an omnibus motion to deal with a series of subjects that, while they are united in being Standing Orders of the House, are not united in any other way. We are a corporate entity of the House of Commons with a history, and the history, of course, includes the rules we apply to ourselves, a history that goes back centuries. It doesn't just go back to Confederation. Our Standing Orders and our practices go back, of course, to 1867, but they were not created de novo at that point. They were taken from the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, and therefore, go back to 1840, at which point they were not created de novo.

In fact, those Standing Orders were taken from the two prior assemblies of Upper and Lower Canada. The Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada and the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada both of which had held their first elections in 1792 and their first actual meetings in 1793, and adopted the Standing Orders at that time. Those Standing Orders were not created de novo at that point. They came from the House of Commons in Britain. There are Standing Orders adopted in the House of Commons in Britain that survive in an unchanged or almost unchanged form to this very day in our Standing Orders.

Not only that, if you look at the congressional rules, the ones that cover the House of Representatives in the United States, you'll see that they have some identical rules to ours. This happened because the Americans adopted a set of rules designed by Thomas Jefferson, after struggling without a set of well-established rules for their first years as a republic. He presented a set of rules that he had adopted from the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. So, we, the Brits, the Americans, and I should add virtually every other country in the Commonwealth, also every American state, because they have a similar lineage there, and every Canadian province, every Australian state, all have a set of rules and practices that have a common lineage, which is why we can have precedence that goes between these jurisdictions.

We have a long and distinguished heritage. We do not change these things in one shot as an omnibus measure. It may be that it's happened somewhere. I don't know. It's an obscure piece of history. I do know that in our own history we take very seriously the need to do these things bit by bit. I do not mean to suggest that at any given point in time the previous existing Standing Orders are fully acceptable, but I do mean to suggest that we deal with these issues one at a time.

(1140)



There is on the wall of the legislative assembly chamber in Quebec—this would be the National Assembly chamber now, but it was originally the legislative assembly chamber—a beautiful mural, quite an impressive painting of the very first meeting of the legislative assembly, it's ancestor, the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, in either January 23 or 26, 1793. I can't remember which of the two dates. The reason that date stands out in my mind, despite the slight imprecision, is that by a curious coincidence that debate in the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada took place on the very same day that King Louis XVI was beheaded in Paris.

What happened in that debate was that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, which had been adopted and put in place for the legislative assembly of Quebec, had a very obvious flaw. They were only in English. I don't know if they even stated the language of debate, but it was clear that the language of debate was to be English. This had to be resolved, so the very first debate was over the Standing Orders, and changing them, and allowing the use of either French or English in debates of the legislative assembly. That event is recorded.

The Standing Orders are important, and dealing with them piecemeal, one at a time, is the right way to go about them. We are a precedent-based collegiate body. What we do is done not be revolution but by evolution, a step at a time, not by omnibus measures, not by trying to do all at once, which is what this does.

In section d) the motion states, “The Committee complete its study and report its findings and recommendations back to the House no later than June 2, 2017”. We would, in fact, deal with all the subject matter, every Standing Order, and have it done by June 2, 2017. I haven't worked out the number of days between now and then, but it is not a large number of days.

I could talk of what a rush that is. I will talk of what a rush that is, but as a starting point this says there will be nothing left. It will all be taken care of. If we don't have enough witness testimony, it doesn't matter; we'll be sending our report back. This is a problem.

Here's the clever rhetoric I was working up to. That's closure, clearly. We're ending debate. It's all over. We're done. In Britain, they call it the guillotine.

Do you see how clever that is? I linked back to the guillotining of Louis XVI on the same day.

(1145)

Mr. Jamie Schmale (Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, CPC):

That was very clever.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Isn't that clever?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I thought it was extremely clever. Well done, Scott.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Actually, I think that's a really good way to describe it. The British term “guillotine” says it all. We cut off debate, whether or not that will have catastrophic results. I think that is very imprudent, so that's an issue. I just can't see how we would deal with this.

I want to cite some of the things that this reminds me of, and then I will turn to some other issues.

There are three items this reminds me of. The first and perhaps the most obvious is government motion number six from May of last year. Government motion number six would have...on a temporary basis. I believe it was for one year, if memory serves.

Actually, I could check that. I have a copy of motion number six here. It was going to impose certain limits on the ability of opposition parties to do their work. It was going to limit their ability to use the procedures of the House to slow down and sometimes, procedurally, to stop government business until some form of compromise is achieved. The motion would have remained in effect, as I understand it, for a year.

It was met with astonishment by the other parties. It was presented in a very interesting way. At the time, I was deputy opposition House leader, a position which, both on the opposition and government sides, I had had in one form or another for a decade. Motion number six was the first occasion where I had seen a motion presented in this manner without first being vetted and discussed. It was only a temporary suspension of the rules, but it was nevertheless a change to the rules without consensus and without consent. It was met with very considerable anger.

At first, the government was going to tough its way through. The opposition to doing things this way included efforts on the part of the opposition parties to slow things down. The New Democrats took their time taking their seats in the House of Commons, and as we all recall, the Prime Minister, angered by this, thrust his way across the floor of the House of Commons and grabbed the opposition whip, my colleague, Gord Brown, by the lapels, and dragged him through some New Democrat MPs, elbowing one of them as he went through. This led to the the name “Elbowgate” as the description for this event.

That was all caused by the resistance that the opposition was trying to put up within what is permitted under the rules, in order not to see the government engage in a further suspension of opposition powers and the opposition's ability to do its job. That unfortunate episode led—wisely, I think—to the then government House leader, Dominic LeBlanc withdrawing the motion. I'm afraid I don't have the exact quote in front of me, but what he said at the time was that the government had heard the concerns of the opposition parties and was withdrawing the motion in favour of looking for a more consensual approach.

By the way, I think I should tell you that I had the impression from the start that motion number six was not Dominic LeBlanc's own initiative, though as House leader he introduced it. Everybody knows he's a pretty easygoing guy, and that kind of draconian thing is just not, in my view, something he would have designed independently in any way. No House leader designs the rules to change the House without getting the approval of the Prime Minister.

I don't think I have to demonstrate my case for that, but Mr. Christopherson was in government at one time and he may have seen his House leader act without telling Premier Rae—

(1150)

Mr. David Christopherson:

No, otherwise he would be a former House leader.

Mr. Scott Reid:

You wouldn't get it through the House, believe me, if the Prime Minister or premier were caught off guard. This was Justin Trudeau doing this. Also, now Bardish Chagger has taken over as House leader, and in general terms, I think, has—and I've told her this personally but I don't mind saying it publicly—done a remarkably good job for someone who was thrust in with so little experience. That is not an easy role for anybody, let alone someone who is new to the game.

I don't think this new motion is her production, either. I think the same brain trust that produced the last one has produced this one. Rather than trying to push it through as a government motion in the House, they're trying a different mechanism, a discussion paper followed by an omnibus motion presented ostensibly by a private member who just wants to get on with business.

I think all that gives some explanation as to the parallel with motion number six.

I do want to mention that the whole thing that led.... Motion number six may have been in the works for a long time; I actually don't know. When it was presented, though, Dominic said something that I thought was really extraordinary. He came in, threw it down at a House leader's meeting, and said that this was their response to the shenanigans that were being carried on the previous week. The shenanigans he was talking about were that a vote that was called at the instigation of the opposition—as the rules permit—which the government came close to losing. It was called at the instigation of the New Democrats. I can't remember the specific thing it was over—and perhaps Mr. Christopherson recalls—but we came within a vote or two of the government losing on some measure. That's not a shenanigan, Mr. Chair. That's using the rules the way the rules are written.

Faced with a near defeat on one motion or vote out of goodness knows how many, the appropriate response is not to.... If people vote against you following an election, the appropriate response is not to take the hand that cast the ballot and cut it off; it's to accept the fact that this is the way the rules work.

If you want to change the rules, you have to give a reason why. Maybe that rule is unreasonable. Maybe it could be adjusted slightly. Governments in the past, even when they are capable of using the rules to their advantage, have sometimes recognized that it's inappropriate to do so. I've admired that.

Let me give an example that comes from a Liberal government to show that this is not simply self-praise I'm engaging in here. When I was serving for my first time in opposition to a majority government, when Jean Chrétien was prime minister, it sometimes occurred that a committee would be meeting at the same time the bells were ringing for a vote in the House.

Of course, that still happens. What happens now is that, as soon as we hear the bells ringing—and every committee room is wired so that we can hear the bells ringing—we stop and have to find out if there is unanimous consent to consider continuing the meeting. That is done to make sure members can return to the House without changing the structure of the committee and allowing something to be pushed through, something which can only be taken advantage of by a majority government. Minority governments can't do this because they don't have the majority on committee. Opposition parties can't do this. Only a majority government can take advantage of that. This led to MPs being forced to stay in committee to prevent these such things from happening, essentially filibustering right through a vote in the House, not appearing there.

Recognizing that the absence of a way of dealing with this had led to mischief, even though it was to his own government's benefit, the House leader of the day, at the initiative of James Rajotte, a Conservative MP who had this problem with the finance committee, with the co-operative work of the Liberal House leader Don Boudria—an outstanding House leader, by the way, which is something I've said on numerous occasions and still believe today—and with the co-operation of their House leaders, they agreed to look at changing the rules. A rule change was adopted, just the one standing order, but a standing order that put in place the rule we have today.

(1155)



There you go. That illustrates how something can be initiated and change the Standing Orders piecemeal. It also shows how a majority government can, when it takes democracy seriously.... I don't think Jean Chrétien is the greatest democrat in our history, from either of the two governing parties, let alone the other parties. Nonetheless, he took democracy more seriously, I would say, than the current Prime Minister does in allowing that to be passed. Of course, that rule change also would not have gone through without the Prime Minister's consent. That is how things ought to be done.

All right. I discussed motion number six and some parallels. Some of the subject matter here is very different from what was in motion six. Some of it deals with things that were not dealt with in motion six, such as removing Friday sittings, creating a special Prime Minister's question time, and so on. But the basic theme will put in rules that deprive the opposition of its ability to prolong and delay debates, to slow things down to give it effectively what would be known, if we were talking about constitutional law rather than the internal laws contained in our Standing Orders, as a suspensive veto.

A suspensive veto is what, for example, our Senate has over constitutional amendments. It can veto a law. If the Senate doesn't pass it, a law doesn't go through on amendment, they can suspend it for six months. That is what oppositions have, to varying degrees. They have a real veto when there's a minority government. I know this by having served in a minority government, both on the government side and on the opposition benches.

All these rule changes, by the way, that I'm concerned about would be much less powerful in the context of a minority government, but with a majority government, you already have, my goodness, all the levers of power in your hands. This takes away the suspensive veto, or it makes the suspension so cursory as to be meaningless. That, I think, is both regrettable and, let me suggest, it is also a straw in the wind indicating a lack of respect for democracy, a lack of desire for democracy, and here I'm talking about the Prime Minister himself, not about the Liberal Party in general. A frustration, I think, with the fact that a democracy, in the procedural sense, democracy as a process, keeps him from getting his way....

I think the Prime Minister sees himself as having a great vision for the country and sees mediating institutions as being problems in achieving that great vision. He cannot take Canadians and make us better people than we are right now prepared to be, thrust us beyond what our own expectations of ourselves are, unless he takes away our ability, built up over centuries, to limit his power.

We see, for example, the really quite extraordinary display that took place over electoral reform.

I see my colleague Ms. May was here. Has she left the room?

(1200)

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Yes, she has.

Mr. David Christopherson:

She saw she may not get the floor so she....

Mr. Scott Reid:

That's fair. I did not realize she was seeking the floor, but anyway, she was on that committee with me.

Mr. Christopherson was intimately involved in this, as was Mr. Richards, who travelled around the country with me and with Ms. May. For that matter, Ms. Sahota travelled with us as well. I thought we formed a special bond doing that. I thought Blake formed a particularly special bond with Elizabeth—

Mr. Blake Richards:

What's he trying to say here?

Mr. Scott Reid:

I just noticed the way she sought you out as her dinner companion every night no matter where we were across the country.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I'm a popular guy. What can I say?

Mr. Scott Reid:

What happened there was the Prime Minister indicated an openness until the whole process was over, and then he said no.

I'm sorry, I've lost my.... This is not a delay tactic. I've simply lost my train of thought.

An hon. member: Was it an omnibus train of thought?

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Scott Reid:

Yes, very appropriately it has been. That's right. I've moved on from the Pears soap to the Bovril soup cubes.

The other thing we saw was that, after it was over, the Prime Minister said he was actually never willing to consider proportional representation in the first place. First past the post was unacceptable for reasons he went on at great length about at one point; we would be seeing the last election ever under first past the post. However, when proportionality was presented as an alternative.... As you know, the majority of the committee, the consensus of the committee, everybody except the Liberals, was in favour of a referendum on a version of PR to be chosen and designed by the government, which was to be subject to certain parameters—it being five or less on the Gallagher index—versus the status quo, or first past the post.

When PR was presented as an alternative, the Prime Minister said that he didn't want that. He had his Minister of Democratic Institutions say that her mandate letter said, “I am not to pursue this”. Then the Prime Minister came out and explained himself. He was quite specific about this, saying that he was not one to consider PR, “it's divisive”—I'll let him speak for himself on that—and “I was never willing to consider it. I've been quite consistent. Look, here's what I was saying back in 2012.”

It was extraordinary, a bit like—and I'm showing my age—that entire season of Dallas that turned out to be a dream that Pam Ewing had.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Scott Reid: It had all not actually happened.

I think the reason it hadn't happened was because it was not the outcome the Prime Minister was willing to consider. That happened to be the outcome that guaranteed he would get a majority of the seats with as little as 32% or 33% of the vote, a system which, thanks to an excellent research study that was mentioned in our report, indicated that in every one of the elections of the past 20 years, the Liberals would have won a greater number of seats than they would have under the current system. In fact, based on the excellence that was provided to that committee by Professor Byron Weber Becker of the University of Waterloo, it is the only system that produces better results than first past the post, literally the only system you can devise that produces better results for the Liberals than the current system. That was the only one he was going to consider from the start.

Here's your parallel: “We are in favour of democracy, electoral democracy, electoral reform to create a better electoral system. There's only one outcome, and I'll give the impression that I'm willing to consider multiple options until such time as they are taken seriously. At that point, given that I was unable to nurse you into the appropriate decision, I'm now reneging on that decision.”

This is one of those premises that was not unambiguous. The fact that it was repeated.... Some heroic person in the New Democrats figured out how many times it was repeated. I'm told it was repeated 852 times, or something like that, by various Liberal speakers in the House of Commons. It would have led a casual observer to think that they were more serious about this than they turned out to be.

But there you go. If hey don't get what they want, which just happens to give the Prime Minister more power, then they're not willing to move.

On motion number six, you saw the same thing. They were going to push that through come hell or high water. They hadn't anticipated the very unexpected phenomenon of the huge backlash following the equally unexpected phenomenon of the Prime Minister manhandling Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the House of Commons, a matter which, as you know, came before this very committee as a matter or privilege. They had to back down in the face of that crisis.

That was extraordinary. I've been here for 17 years, and that is the only time in the House or in committee—or actually in a number of sports bars where some of us may not have been completely sober—that I've ever seen a member of Parliament manhandle anybody else, except for the time that Jean Chrétien grabbed Bill Clennett, the protester, by the ears.

(1205)



An hon. member: [Inaudible—Editor]

Mr. Scott Reid: I'm sorry. What was that? It was the throat. I stand corrected.

At any rate, it was—

Mr. Blake Richards:

You should come and watch me play hockey sometime, Scott, and you will see a member of Parliament manhandle all kinds of people.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Fair enough, I take your point.

Certainly, it wasn't the only time that had happened. It used to happen all the time in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it doesn't happen now. The king used to also enter the House of Commons with armed men and seize members who were going to vote the wrong way and lock them up until they decided to change their minds, but we don't do that either, all, by the way, as a result of making small changes rather than omnibus changes to the Standing Orders, one of which is that the king can't enter the House of Commons.

All right. I was saying that there were three things this reminded me of. Government motion number 6 was the first. The second one was electoral reform. The third was the assisted dying bill. Here, there's a parallel between the process behind the assisted dying bill, the process for considering electoral reform, and the process for dealing with the Standing Orders.

The parallel is this. In each case, the government has, at stage one, announced some kind of apparently consensual goal that's likely to have broad-based support—in all fairness, the assisted dying bill isn't really about government powers—but does not extend its power or reach and does not diminish the well-being and liberty of others. Then it engages in a very long, amorphous consultation period, which is different in kind and certainly in order from the way in which we normally would deal with bills or legislation. Then it creates a panic and a rush to get things done in a great hurry and suggests we should do whatever it takes—throw on extra meetings, meet late into the night, be in on weekends—to get things done by a very tight and artificial deadline.

At about that point, it became clear that their agenda was actually entirely different. It was to increase their own powers, and they hoped that the process of spinning their wheels and creating an artificial crisis would accomplish their goal.

This happened with the assisted dying bill, where they delayed things so long through the committee hearings, which should have taken place after the government had produced its bill but instead took place beforehand as an information-gathering exercise.... They were up against a deadline. Now, in all fairness, the government had sought an extension from the Supreme Court, which refused an extension, but we know that the deadline, which we wound up missing, in June of last year.... June 23, I think it was. Forgive me. I can't remember, but it was a day in June—

(1210)

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I can't remember, but it was in June, yes.

Mr. Scott Reid:

That would not have led to the nightmare scenario that the government was fearmongering about, where doctors would be running around with poison-filled syringes in their hands, euthanizing people merrily in the streets lest we pass a bill to restrain them. Au contraire, had we done nothing, which actually was my preferred course of action, the common law would have guided us towards a sensible way of dealing with the vexed and difficult question of the right to die, or the right not to be impeded in providing for your future—however you wish to describe it. I'm trying to avoid the value-laden language that was used by various sides at that time.

Mr. Blake Richards:

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I'm really enjoying the remarks from Mr. Reid, and I can tell he's just getting started. I can even see he has a lot of notes here that he hasn't been able to get to yet, so he obviously has a lot more to say and I think we're all very interested. I know that in fact there was so much excitement for some of the members—the parliamentary secretary and Ms. May, who were here—that they just couldn't contain themselves any longer and they had to leave the room because it was just too much for them to take. There was so much excitement about what Mr. Reid had to say here.

I notice that Kady O'Malley is still here but it was, again, too much excitement even for a number of members of the media who were here, and they couldn't contain themselves any longer.

I know Mr. Reid does have a lot more to say, and we look forward to hearing it because I can see he has lots of points to make, and so far it's been quite entertaining and informative, no question. I also notice that many people have tried to get up more than once to sustain themselves with more nourishment, for example, because of the fact that it's so entertaining, but my suspicion is that he may even have so much to say that maybe he will need most of the time until we end at one o'clock today or maybe even all of it. I don't know.

I know there are other people on the speakers list so I'm just kind of curious, Mr. Chair, if maybe the Liberal members want to give any indication if their intention would be then to bring this forward again, because obviously our agenda would be that Thursday would be with Elections Canada officials again. I wonder if they might give us some indication as to whether they intend to bring this motion forward should it go to the end of the day, and it certainly looks to me as if it will go to the end of the meeting today, in terms of the debate about this motion.

Would they be intending to bring this forward again on Thursday? I just wonder if there is anyone who would give us some indication of that, first of all, and then maybe I would have a follow-up question to that. Could someone maybe give us an indication there?

Mr. Scott Simms:

In response to that, I put a motion forward that I feel is very important, for reasons that I've outlined earlier, and I'd like to have a vote on this. I'd like for us to get started on this because I think after years of talking about this....

My colleague Mr. Christopherson talks about how, in the past, the House leaders would have a discussion about this, but our House leaders have been having a discussion about this for decades, or even longer.

I like to think that we can do some serious stuff here by action. All the things that you've incorporated in your speeches, including the history of the guillotine, which I hate.... Don't get me wrong; I'm not correcting you. You said the guillotine was used for closure, but it was actually used for allocation of time. Now, one may say that it's six of one and half a dozen of the other, but you are a man of detail and I just want to point out that it was done in 1887 on the guillotine motion and it's been used several times since then in various forms, in various amendments, and so on and so forth.

I, personally, am not a fan of the guillotine, and I will tell you why. When we say yes—

Mr. Scott Reid:

[Inaudible—Editor]

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes, that's right. When we say yes to doing this study, I would love for you and I to have this conversation about it and incorporate it into the study as to why I think it has to change. I'm not sure if you feel the same way. I think you might, but I shouldn't say that, and I won't know until we vote.

The other point I want to make is...directions from the PMO. I appreciate the comments from Mr. Richards—

(1215)

Mr. Scott Reid:

Actually, on a point of order, Mr. Chair, I just want to stop....

Procedurally this is unconventional. I don't mind it, but I assume I still have the floor—

The Chair:

Yes.

Mr. Scott Reid:

—and this is sort of a sub-heading of that or something.

The Chair:

It's Mr. Richard's point of order.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Okay. All right, as long as we're clear about that.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I'm speaking to the point of order.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Okay. I just wanted to make sure that was the gist of that

The Chair:

You'll get it back, though.

Mr. Scott Simms:

He did talk about directions from the PMO, and I have had this discussion with so many of my colleagues, as I was a former critic of democratic reform. That's where it all began. My directions came from experience, much like yours. Mr. Richards talks about directions from the PMO with an incredible amount of clarity, which one can only experience through experiencing just that. The only thing he probably should have added at the end is, “and trust me, I know that”.

Anyway, I apologize. That may have been a little bit over the top because I do have a great respect for Mr. Richards, as I always have had, so I'm just jabbing back a bit. Forgive me, but I do want to engage in all that has been said here. Through this study, once we do it, I want to use the time that we have so that we can get this done, and I want to put this in the hands of the government and incorporate all our thoughts about this and reach that consensus.

I don't know if that does a—

Mr. Blake Richards:

Mr. Chair, I'm not sure that I got really.... It certainly sounded to me like the intention would be to carry on with this and to try to “ram” it through as has been put so well by Mr. Christopherson. I wish I could believe that this was really about trying to get consensus and it was really about trying to bring everybody's viewpoints in.

I know it was noted earlier by Mr. Reid that he wasn't able to be there to provide input for the Standing Orders debate, for example. Of course, a number of us weren't and it was another one of the failed Liberal attempts to fool people with the electoral reform initiative that brought us away from here for that.

I don't think anyone is under any illusion as to what this is about. It's clearly about the idea of giving the Prime Minister one day a week he has to show up here to be accountable to Canadians. It's clearly about giving Liberal MPs another day off. We want to make sure that Canadians have an ability to hold this government accountable. Obviously, there is some significant concern here.

If the intention is to continue to try to ram this through, as it appears to be, and that means that they want to continue with this on Thursday, Mr. Chair, I wonder if it's just a question for you about how you intend to deal with the Elections Canada officials. I hate to put them through this show of coming here and then having to be dismissed and things like that. Obviously, that's an important study and one that we think we should be carrying on with as well. I don't know why suddenly— it seemed like not that long ago that it was such an important thing for the government and we had to really move forward with it. All of a sudden, the Standing Orders changes are trumping it.

I don't know what has happened in the interim, but somehow they've decided they want to be less accountable to Canadians and that takes priority over changing the election rules. I'm really confused as to where we're headed here and if there's something that we need to do with the Elections Canada officials to notify them of this change from the government about this desire to immediately be less accountable to Canadians.

The Chair:

Thank you, Mr. Richards.

Mr. Arnold Chan (Scarborough—Agincourt, Lib.):

We're debating a point of order.

The Chair:

I'm definitely sensitive to the witnesses and as this procedure unfolds, I will make sure we can give them the best information and timing that we can.

We'll go back to Mr. Reid. You have the floor.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Mr. Chair, before he gets going I want to make a point of order, if I could too.

During Mr. Reid's amazing words—and I learned a lot actually, so thank you for that, Mr. Reid—our friend, Elizabeth May, did some minor fact-checking and we want to correct the record a bit, Mr. Chair, if we could.

I believe that Mr. Reid said that he and the electoral reform committee were in Iqaluit on October 6, but it appears they were actually in Prince Edward Island. I think it's very important to have that record corrected. I'm sure Mr. Reid didn't intentionally mean to mislead the committee.

The Chair:

Thank you, Mr. Schmale.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I just wanted to make sure everyone knew that.

(1220)

The Chair:

Mr. Reid, you have the floor.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you.

My goodness, I got a lot wrong there. I was on the wrong island

Mr. Scott Simms:

You were just slightly off.

Mr. Scott Reid:

They are very similar, you know. It's easy to make that mistake.

For what it's worth, I actually ended up liking Iqaluit a lot more than I thought I would. I knew Prince Edward Island would be nice, but I had never been to Iqaluit. It was actually a pretty cool place.

Thank you to Mr. Simms for the history of the guillotine. Regrettably, from my work in the human rights subcommittee, I'm more knowledgeable about the history of the other kind of guillotine. I will add the corrections that Mr. Simms offered today to my list of useful but obscure facts.

When we left off, I had gone through the assisted dying bill and the electoral reform process and pointed out the way in which there has been a long, heel-dragging process, followed by a rush. I'm not sure—I want to emphasize—this is necessarily always the result of a dastardly master plan. I don't mean to suggest that somewhere out there there is an aspiring Bond villain plotting out these things so that we see a mechanistic repetition of the same centrally planned nefarious plot in which a single plan unwinds like clockwork.

I think that in each of these cases there has been a bit of impetuousness. I've long believed and I've often said that with regard to electoral reform, what the government appears to have tried to do was simply find policies they could use to poach New Democrat votes in the 2015 election. The electoral reform proposal was one that was taken word for word from the motion that Craig Scott had proposed and the New Democrats had introduced in the House of Commons, which was debated in December of 2014. It was literally word for word, although there was a semicolon in that motion that went on to advocate MMP, and that was where the Liberal motion stopped. The words about 2015 being the last election held under first past the post, that was word for word an NDP motion. I think its purpose was to win NDP votes, pure and simple.

I think—although I don't know this—that the Liberals did not anticipate winning a majority government. I think they thought at best they'd be a minority, or there was a good chance they'd be the main opposition party in a minority government, but at any rate, they wouldn't have to actually fulfill this. But when the election took place, I think they then said, “Here's our main chance. Maybe we can take something that was meant to be a promise of the species of universal child care.” That was a perennial Liberal promise in 1993, the election of 1997, the election of 2000, and I think it was still there in 2004. Finally it just kind of faded away. I think it was meant to be one of those things. It would draw votes over and over again, without actually having to be fulfilled.

When they found themselves in the position where they could follow through, they chose to follow through with a system that appears to me to be designed to ensure that only one alternative to the status quo would be available. That was to drag their heels for a long time—they did it for six months—and then to hold committee hearings and report back after it was too late to actually put forward any option as an alternative to the status quo other than preferential votes, which, in single-member districts, have the advantage of not requiring a redistribution.

Every form of proportional representation requires redistribution. Redistribution takes two years, so then they could say, “Gosh, if proportionality was a valid option.... Here we see the deadline we have to pass. We see it in our rearview mirror; we just drove past it. We're so sorry, but we have this sacred promise. We've repeated it hundreds of times. We have promised that 2015 will be the last election under first past the post.” Then they go ahead and introduce preferential voting. I think that was the plan.

(1225)



I wrote an editorial to that effect in the Ottawa Citizen in May of last year, and then went out of my way to collect all the information I could from the Chief Electoral Officer as to whether it would be possible to achieve any of these other systems by the deadline the government had set up.

Speaking of P.E.I., I missed the committee's hearings in St. John's. I flew back to Ottawa to ask the Chief Electoral Officer some additional questions like whether the time it takes for redistribution could be expedited. I built on questions that Ms. May and others had asked in previous committee meetings. You were chairing it, Mr. Chair.

Then I flew back to P.E.I. on my own to meet the committee and to continue meeting witnesses. We were able to demonstrate that it would be possible to have electoral reform that involved changes to the layout of the seats, and therefore made proportional representation possible by 2019, while still meeting the government's deadline.

This allowed us to say we can achieve the government's bottom line; the NDP bottom line, which is PR; the Conservative bottom line, which is a referendum. We can do it all. Here's our report. Here are the backup facts. The report of the committee consists largely of those demonstrations.

The government's discussion paper was submitted on the Friday before we went away. It contains some items that I, at least initially.... These are not actual alternative standing orders. Here's the study. Column one has a standing order on... and the way it is now, Standing Order 2 shows its alternative. But they do lay out the general issues to be considered, which structured this way would take a substantial amount of time to go through.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Go ahead.

Mr. Scott Reid:

No, I actually—

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Take your time.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I didn't mean for me today; I meant for a committee over a period of months. That's very different from—

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I think you should start now.

Mr. Blake Richards:

You have 32 minutes now. Go ahead.

Mr. Scott Reid:

All right.

I don't fault the House leader for doing things this way. Taken on its own, and without the omnibus motion and the artificial deadline imposed by that motion, it's not bad in many respects.

I am a bit puzzled why some of the things are in there, because we did discuss them at previous meetings of this committee and rejected them. The most obvious item is the proposal to abolish Friday sittings. We indicated we didn't support that. That was actually reported back by this committee, so it seems odd that we're being asked to consider it again.

There are others that haven't been discussed, including, for example, electronic voting. The electronic voting issue was discussed, as noted here, by the McGrath committee. It was discussed and a report was actually issued on electronic voting—true fact—by the committee on standing order improvements set up by the Chrétien government. It was a special committee, as I mentioned. It issued six reports.

I have not had a chance to read those reports—although, obviously, I would want to do this. We would all want to do that. We'd probably want to enter them into evidence. Six reports, one of which was on electronic voting the time, were issued. Things have changed. Systems have changed for electronic voting. I'm guessing they're more reliable than they were in the past, and as the government House leader's report observes, we are moving to the West Block.

The House of Commons will be there, I think, by the end of this Parliament. I'm not certain of that, but, if not, it will be where we open the next Parliament. So as one is installing desks, one could put in electronic voting systems. There is an obvious logic to that from an infrastructure cost point of view, and so on.

There are things in there that on their face strike me as reasonable. By the way, I don't want to launder the details of that proposal, but that's one kind of electronic voting. You can also vote without actually going to the chamber. That's how they do it in the U.S. Congress. I don't like that. I think we should be in the House. I won't say we have no lessons to learn from the American representatives, but that is not one of the lessons we have to learn from them, or if we do, we have to learn the merits of doing things while actually being in the Commons for what it's worth.

There are a number of things in here, and I'm not belittling the report. I did say I didn't really agree with the arrangement of three themes. Theme one is management of the House, of which the subsidiary headings include the issue of sittings, including Fridays, and then electronic voting. Those are just different topics. They're not two subsets of the same thing, but different topics going back to the omnibus point I was making earlier about the House calendar, whether we should start sitting earlier in January, earlier in September, whatever, and the nature of routine proceedings.

There would be another review of private members' business, which involves a number of technical changes. Let's go through private members' business to make the point about the difficulty of trying to do all these things within the very tight deadline suggested by Mr. Simms' motion.

Remember I said it was theme one of three themes. Within the rubric of management of the House, we have the subsidiary headings of the sittings, electronic voting, the House calendar, routine proceedings, private members' business, and prorogation.

Prorogation is obviously also an entirely different topic and not a simple matter, because it involves moving from the House and its privileges to the nature of the crown, and what the Constitution, particularly the unwritten part of the Constitution, the conventions, say about prorogation. I think prorogation is a very important issue. I spent a lot of time reading about it in the midst of the crisis that led to prorogation in 2008. Given the tiny number of people who know anything about this at all, I regard myself to be in the upper one per cent of the Canadian population in my knowledge of prorogation, at the risk of sounding a bit self-promoting in that regard. We could spend an entire Parliament dealing with the issue of prorogation in itself. It might be a good topic for us to look at.

(1230)



We'd look at conventions. We'd have to look at how what we report affects conventions. Conventions are the practices that are seen as being particularly weighty in public opinion, the things that it is outrageous to violate, even though there is no law to that effect. Those take form in a particular way, and if you want to change a convention or affect it, or systematize it—which I think is really what we're trying to do here, to systematize it—you have to act in a certain manner.

A committee report can be very valuable in that regard. A committee report that just mentions this thing in passing as part of a rush would be very unhelpful. One of the things that happens in scholarly disputes is the issue of does a convention exist here, is there still that usage or has a convention eroded and one that previously existed does not exist. You'd have to bring yourself up to date with some very significant scholarship on this. Albert Venn Dicey, the great 19th century English writer, wrote Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, the classic text that created the term “convention”.

Lord Bryce, who would be named the British ambassador to the United States, in his book The American Commonwealth, in which he wrote about the American political system for a British audience, pointed out to his British audience that although the Americans thought they had a purely written constitution, they had conventions too, and he listed examples of the conventions that existed. Conventions are restrictions on a power that nominally exists, an unwritten restriction, or at least an uncodified restriction, not written down in the statute of the Constitution, the violation of which would result in profound sanctions.

One that existed at that time was that the president, who in theory could serve unlimited consecutive terms, would serve no more than two, following the precedent set by George Washington. That convention prevailed until 1940 when Franklin Roosevelt ran for a third term and was not punished for it. Voters voted him in, but sometime within the Eisenhower presidency Congress and then three-fourths of the states passed identical resolutions amending the constitution so that couldn't happen again. No president can serve more than two terms. It is not a slight against Franklin Roosevelt to say that a lesser man with an equal temptation could use that office and the perpetual holding of that office in ways that the framers of the Constitution, and obviously the majority of Americans in the 1950s when that amendment was passed, did not think were appropriate. And so a convention was codified to ensure that it could not be overridden again.

It's all about conventions when it comes to prorogation, and it was not clear what the conventions were. So I'm not saying that prorogation shouldn't be here. I think it's a really great topic to study. I'm just saying that it can't be studied as one of a three-part list, part one of which has six subsidiary parts, one of which is something that is so vast that you have to get into.... I didn't mention Ivor Jennings, another great scholar we could look at. If we did study prorogation, the amount of work would prevent us from having time for anything else. And we've got to do this by June 20th?

We have to come up with witnesses, according to Mr. Simms' motion, if we adopt it today, by Tuesday of next week.

(1235)



In terms of the chief authorities on conventionality and on the way in which prorogation is handled and historically has been handled in Commonwealth countries, these precedents are taken very seriously by our main scholars. They could not be located within seven days. In some cases, we would have to find out who these people are. How do we know? We're not specialists.

That's just for prorogation. I'm only mentioning it because it's the one that my eyes stopped upon as I went down this list. It's not because it is the standout, but maybe it is the standout.

On private members' business, here is what is written. The House leader's report or discussion paper frequently cites the McGrath committee. It reads: A principle objective of the McGrath Committee report was to find ways to give Members a more meaningful role in the legislative process. A well-functioning House depends on the extent to which Members feel like they are involved and contribute to the legislative process.

That's the first paragraph. You can't object to that, except to say that for making members “feel” like they're involved, I would say that it's more about the extent to which members are actually involved, but that's okay. That's a minor thing.

Here's the next paragraph. I want you to keep track of all the different potential ways in which we could change private members' business. There aren't bullet points here, but I'm going to number them. I'm quoting again: A key way to empower Members is through Private Members' Business. Possible changes to Private Members' Business could be examined to achieve that objective.

Some examples include: ...adding another rubric for Private Members' Business each week; examining the possibility of allowing Members' to exchange places on the List for the Consideration of Private Members' Business under certain conditions; and ways to manage Senate Public Bills that delay the replenishment of Private Members' Business, possibly by having a separate rubric for these bills.

There you go. There are three separate subsidiary pieces of business under private members' business. Our three-part program of adjustment to our rules, which turns out to include, in the case of theme one, six separate substantive subheadings, now involves a third level of subheadings. It's starting to look like a statute: section 1, subsection 1(a), sub-subsection 1(a)(i), etc. It's kind of looking like that.

There is a lot of substance here, and we're supposed to find the experts who can deal with this within seven days and to have all of discussions done and a report back by June 2.

Let me tell you about the experience of the electoral reform committee of which I was a member, with its December 1 deadline. That did not mean we had open discussions and were getting new and fresh ideas up until November 30. That is not what happened. We had to take a considerable amount of time towards the end to go through it. We could go and look it up, but there was a three-week period or so during which we simply could not add new material and have it translated. The professional staff, the analysts, and the clerks were, as is typical here, of superb quality, very hard-working, and very long-suffering.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Scott Reid: There is a consensus on that.

They did what they could to give us as much time as possible and to put off our decision points on various things as long as possible. We were able to put off the recommendations later than the rest, but we had a substantial amount of summation of witness testimony.

I don't see how you could accomplish that given the June 2 deadline, which in practice means, I don't know, a May 15 deadline for starting to sum up the witness testimony or for complete.... Actually, it would be earlier than that, probably, but we can go back and examine that. The records of the electoral reform committee exist and provide as close a parallel as I can think of to this sort of thing, where you're dealing with something that's very amorphous in its initial conception, as opposed to a committee being presented with a bill, where there's a whole different system we go through, or as opposed to us dealing with a matter of privilege, again, in certain situations.

(1240)



When it comes to this kind of thing where you have an amorphous subject matter and you have to turn it turn it into recommendations, a substantial lead time must be taken into account. Your deadline is actually much earlier than it appears to be. That is a significant issue for us as we work toward this deadline.

Mr. Simms' motion proposes that we be prepared to engage in extra sittings.

Where is that...?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

It's at the bottom.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Oh, yes. This is it: e) The Committee meet outside the regular meeting hours as necessary to complete the study pursuant to paragraph (d).

Wow. Even if you didn't have any competing agenda items for this committee, you'd have a lot of difficulty, as I've suggested, with that deadline. In fact I'll state baldly that the deadline is simply incompatible. I'm not so sure the deadline would have been incompatible if we'd started on the first day Parliament came back and said that we were going to produce a report on the last day before Parliament rose, with a series of recommendations to be given to the next Parliament, because the subject matter is so vast. It is an omnibus rewriting of everything.

It is like creating a new law code. It is the code of Justinian for the Parliament of Canada. Justinian, the Roman emperor, sent out four great scholars, whose names I can't remember—I think one was Trebonius—to different parts of the empire to gather up the best of the laws they could find so that they could produce a single code. They went off and did their work, and the stuff survives. Their reports and his code were produced, but it took decades. It was a long, slow process to codify everything in one single place.

The Criminal Code is a similar sort of thing. It's a codex, a single place where all the criminal laws are connected. We developed that. It was a project of the Canadian Parliament to collect all of the different criminal sanctions and various laws and put them in one spot, the logic being—the sound logic, I think—that it was better to have one place where all the criminal laws were codified. Then nothing outside of that could be subject to criminal sanction. It was for greater certainty and the greater liberty of individuals. That theme has been a consistent part of our parliamentary heritage and our history.

That took place, if I am not mistaken, in the 1890s, but it was not the work of a year, or even of a single Parliament. It was a vast undertaking. I submit that if we approach this as an omnibus measure, then the same problems arise. That's assuming, as I say, that we don't have alternative draws on our attention. But that is not the case.

The Minister of Democratic Institutions met with us just last week. In fact I believe she met with us on March 9, the day before the discussion paper came out and the day before Mr. Simms submitted his motion.

I believe, Scott, you were there at that meeting.

Mr. Scott Simms: Yes.

Mr. Scott Reid: Okay. Then these words will seem familiar to you.

She expressed a very valid and I think businesslike concern with the time required to implement some of the recommendations that this committee was likely to make to the proposals contained in the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, which he submits, as required by statute, following every general election, including following the 42nd general election. He produced this report.

We were to produce a response to it. We were in the process of doing that, step by step and bit by bit, working on the easy stuff first, the stuff where we have a consensus. We may not have a consensus on everything, but of course we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

At any rate, at that meeting she said that she had to get on with introducing legislation in the autumn. Therefore, she made the following comments in her opening remarks: The road to the 2019 election is getting ever shorter. I am committed, as I know all members of this committee are, to improving our electoral system before the next election to the benefit of all Canadians. To accomplish this goal, Canadians need us to work together. I hope to continue to receive your valuable input to inform the direction of improving our electoral process to make it accessible, efficient, and equitable for voters. Elections Canada needs sufficient time to implement any changes made to the Canada Elections Act before the next election and would like to be election-ready well in advance of an expected writ. The more time Elections Canada has to prepare, the better. We must also take into consideration that other legislative changes may be necessary to implement your recommendations.

(1245)

The development and preparation of this bill, and the important discussions and debates in the House of Commons and Senate, shouldn't be rushed. To give Elections Canada the time it needs, as well as to give parliamentarians the time they need, my hope would be to introduce legislation before the end of this year that would build on your hard work with respect to the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations. It is our responsibility to take the time to get this right. It is also our responsibility to get it done. It's what Canadians expect.

Now here's the key part: If the House could have your next report before the House rises for the summer, preferably by May 19, I think we would be well positioned to advance some significant reforms that would improve the electoral process for Canadians.

That's where she wants to go. I literally have no idea how we would achieve that, given that our days would be consumed by that, and to hold these very extensive hearings at the very same time. Her deadline is almost identical with the de facto deadline this committee faces.

Later on she made the observation that, after all, there were over 130 recommendations, which was, as she put it, “quite the task”.

Mr. Chair, having gone through all of that, and as we have just 10 minutes left here, I did have some other things I wanted to talk to with regard to the main motion that Mr. Simms has put forward. But I think perhaps it might make better sense at this point to move to the method I have suggested for improving upon it—let's put it that way.

Mr. Chair, I move that the motion presently before us be amended by: (a) deleting “2017; and”, at the end of paragraph (d), and substituting “2017;”; (b) adding, immediately after paragraph (d), “(e) notwithstanding paragraph (d), but consistent with the Committee's past practices, as discussed at its December 8, 2016 meeting, the Committee shall not report any recommendation for an amended Standing Order, provisional Standing Order, new Standing Order, Sessional Order, Special Order, or to create or to revise a usual practice of the House, which is not unanimously agreed to by the Committee; and” and (c) relettering paragraph (e) as paragraph (f).

I regret, Mr. Chair, that I have only an English translation of this. I don't have this in both languages, although we are, I'm told, working on getting one done, so I can't distribute it to all members. I apologize for that, in fact.

(1250)

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

You could have got it, Scott.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Well, if you had me translating it would be interesting.

Anyway, let me submit that to the clerk, if I could.

A voice: It's done.

Mr. Scott Reid: Oh, you did. Thank you.

Dennis, my assistant, has already done so.

The Chair:

Okay, the amendment appears to be in order, so now we're debating the amendment.

Who wishes to speak to the amendment?

(1255)

Mr. Scott Reid:

I will move it normally.

The Chair:

Okay, Scott.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I think that's the normal practice.

The purpose of the amendment is to deal with an issue that I think is.... I'm trying to figure how to put this. I'm not directly addressing the two things. I'm directly addressing one of the two things that I raised. I expressed my concern about de facto closure being imposed; so that's part of it. I'm not directly dealing with the nature of the omnibus measure. What I'm really saying is that once we've said we're only going to pass things that everybody agrees to—which have the support of the NDP, the Liberals, and the Conservatives—we've effectively eliminated anything that anybody believes is too big a chunk to bite off.

As a practical matter, for example, I would make the suggestion that the prorogation element is too large a chunk to bite off, unless it's being done on its own. Even then I'd have doubts about the prorogation item, so there you go. You start taking that omnibus, to use the colourful metaphor, the actual vehicle with all those posters on its side, and you essentially say, let's focus on the Pears soap and not on the Bovril gelatin cubes, because we can get a consensus here.

If I were choosing my druthers, I would be looking, for example.... That long list of items is under three rubrics, or three headings, but as I mentioned, there are many subsidiary topics that are the real substantive topics. I would think that private members' business is a legitimate thing to be discussed. I would love to deal with that. I think we could probably get some consensus. I don't see any evidence from its actions to date that the government is unreasonable in its approach toward private members' business as a whole. That's a positive trend that we've seen developing for some time. The Chrétien government improved over its lifetime and was clearly, by the end, much better than the Mulroney government had been in this regard. The Martin government was too brief to really count; it was a minority Parliament, so it was hard to get private members' bills through. We had another majority under Harper, and again it was an improvement. I think we can see a trend heading generally in a positive direction, and coming back and working on that, making the kinds of changes that are suggested here, might very well prove beneficial. But we have to be careful about it. Anyway, that would be one I would suggest.

On the discussion of management of debate, I think you'd have a hard time getting consensus on that, in that in practice this appears to be about giving government greater control over the agenda, which is the opposite to the direction that opposition parties always want to go. I would say it actually is not truly necessary to achieve a majority government to get a reasonable agenda through. I think you'd have trouble getting consensus, but it doesn't matter, because that's the point. Once you agree that nothing goes through without consensus, everybody agreeing, we simply find that one drops from the agenda.

It reminds me, Mr. Chair, very much of the way in which we dealt with things when I was chairing the international human rights—

(1300)

Mr. Blake Richards:

I have a point of order, Chair.

The Chair:

You have a point of order.

Mr. Blake Richards:

As interested as I am, I do note that it is now one o'clock, and this might be something we can continue on Thursday.

The Chair:

Go ahead, Mr. Chan.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

I would like to respond to my friend's point of order.

Mr. David Christopherson:

You're not going to—

Mr. Arnold Chan:

While it is the practice of committees to informally adjourn, it's the time that we discussed—

Mr. David Christopherson:

You've got to be kidding me.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

I would direct the chair to consider O'Brien and Bosc, chapter 20—I have the floor now, gentlemen—page 1087, that this would normally be done informally; however, a “committee chair cannot adjourn the meeting without the consent of a majority of the members”.

Mr. David Christopherson:

War...is that what you want, war?

Mr. Arnold Chan:

Given how riveted I've been with Mr. Reid's presentation, I am prepared to continue to listen to this. I would also direct the chair to consider the ruling of Speaker Lamoureux in the Debates of March 26, 1971—

Mr. David Christopherson:

Really?

Mr. Arnold Chan:

—on pages 4639 to 4640, that “no committee meeting can be adjourned unless a consensus, or the general consent of a majority of the members then present, is obtained.”

I assume that Mr. Richards is moving a motion to adjourn.

Are you moving a motion to adjourn?

Mr. Blake Richards:

Mr. Chair, what I was suggesting is per the usual practice, of course. If you note our agenda for today, you'll see that we were to sit from 11 o'clock to one o'clock, so I was indicating to you that your ordinary practice would probably be to end the meeting at one o'clock. That's what I'm suggesting.

The Chair:

Do we have the consent of the committee to adjourn?

Mr. David Christopherson:

Wow. You are serious.

The Chair:

Who had the floor?

Mr. David Christopherson:

And you think you're going to win this? Suddenly you're Harper, all of a sudden, and you're going to get away with this, and everything else is still going to be sunny and wonderful?

The Chair:

Order.

Mr. Reid has the floor.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Forgive me. Normally, the meetings just....

I'm still on the point of order, before I go on. I just want to make sure I understand it. One thing about these things is that they are a great chance to improve your understanding of the rules and the practices, so this is my chance to do so and make sure we are in order.

What I'm trying to find out, Mr. Chair, is just this. Normally when the committee ends, we don't go through a motion to adjourn, as one would have us do under Robert's Rules of Order. Does not the meeting simply end?

When I was chairing the international human rights subcommittee and we had a witness who wanted to go over the time, I always made a point of seeing the clock. We'd have our meeting, starting at 1 and ending at 2, and I'd say that I saw the clock as being not yet being at 2 p.m. Now the clock said something else, but this was done according to the practice that clocks used to be unreliable and that the time was whatever the House or a committee said it was. We still do a version of this; usually we see it as later than it is. We can therefore all agree, it being 3:30 on a Friday, or whatever it is, that the House adjourn.

That was a way of getting the consent of everybody to set aside the actual time—because our clocks are pretty accurate nowadays—and to agree. As this might give us our only chance to hear a fascinating witness on human rights, who had gone through terrible things or witnessed terrible things, our reasoning would be, “Let us extend ourselves all the way to question period.” I always did that.

In all fairness, I never sat down and had a discussion with the clerk on whether this was the only way of extending the meeting, so I'm just asking the question. I thought that was the only way to extend the meeting—to pretend that you had not yet arrived at the time—or else to ask, “Do we have the consent of the committee to push on?” I'm now asking that question.

The Chair:

Sir, the clerk has pointed out to me that according to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, page 1087, “The committee Chair cannot adjourn the meeting without the consent of a majority of the members”.

(1305)

Mr. Scott Reid:

Mr. Chair, I appreciate that it says that, but my interpretation of those words, unless I'm corrected, would be that the chair cannot in the midst of a meeting—say at 12:30 rather than at 1—say, “I'm adjourning the meeting”. He has to get consent. This committee has ended its meetings early on numerous occasions under your chairmanship. You've always seen whether there was consent to end the meeting, and then we adjourned at that time.

My understanding is that the purpose is to prevent you from adjourning early. It's not to say that a meeting scheduled from 11 to 1 is actually an indefinite meeting at the call of the government.

I stand to be corrected on that, but I'd like to actually be corrected on it, if I'm mistaken.

The Chair:

Well, it's definitely different from what I read out of the rules.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I follow that, but the rule is that you can't adjourn the meeting early without the consent of the committee. It's not a matter of the scheduled time for the meeting to end.

The Chair:

It doesn't say “early”. The word “early” is not there.

Mr. Scott Reid:

No, I understand that. The chair cannot.... It doesn't say the meeting can't end. There's a distinction.

Look, the clerk advises you—not me. I don't want to seem inappropriate. I'm turning to the clerk. Could you advise the chair as to whether I am misunderstanding or correctly understanding the way the rules work in this regard?

The Chair:

In response to your question, the clerk informs me that the committee adjourns with the consent of the committee and, unless that's available, the committee doesn't adjourn.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Does it not take a motion to extend the committee to allow it to keep going? Again that is my understanding, and I stand to be corrected if that is not the case. I would have thought that what is required is a motion during the normal hours of the committee, and that would have taken precedence over the motion I was presenting, to extend the....

The Chair:

The clerk says that's not the practice.

You have the floor, Mr. Reid, on the amendment.

Mr. Scott Reid:

That's correct. I'm not in a position to challenge your ruling, although I must say that is not the way I've ever seen things done, but perhaps I've never been in a parallel situation. I am racking my brains.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Bill C-23 was the last time this manoeuvre was used.

Mr. Scott Reid:

And we sat for—

Mr. David Christopherson:

It was exactly the same. I was going to filibuster for an hour and a half. They wouldn't let the committee adjourn, and I ended up filibustering for umpteen hours.

An hon. member: Eleven hours.

Mr. David Christopherson: You guys brought it on yourselves.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Well, by a happy coincidence, none of us will face this problem because Mr. Simms will ensure that opposition members are completely emasculated from the committee, so we'll get home early and be utterly powerless.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Yes.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I mean, this is the fundamental problem with what's going on here, a despicable attempt to gut the way our Parliament works. Our Parliament has been the foundation of the move from the autocracy we once were under, serving an all powerful king, to become, bit by bit, the foundation stone for democracy, not just in the United Kingdom where this started, but also in Canada, in Australia and New Zealand, across Africa, and in India, the largest democracy in the world, through a transformation I've described, and a revolution in the United States. The foundation of our democracy is that we have a Parliament in which there can be people who are loyal to the Constitution but not loyal to the government of the day, people who follow a higher law and who are able to express that. Under our system, the Westminster system, we are able to present a loyal opposition, loyal to the Constitution, the crown, and to the things that make us great and not to an agenda with which we disagree.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Scott Reid: Now, that is true when the Conservatives are in opposition. It is true when the New Democrats are in opposition. It was true when I was in the Canadian Alliance and we were in opposition. It was true when Justin Trudeau was in opposition. It was true when Jean Chrétien was in opposition. Both Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier were in opposition. It was true then and every single time every one of the people I've mentioned has wound up in government, every single one except Justin Trudeau has understood that it should remain that way when they are in government. But this man, this would-be tyrant, this would-be Juan Perón thinks that he ought to be governing without any mediating institutions and that no law should stand between him as the direct channel of the will of the people, as he interprets it. This man thinks he can throw all the rules aside because we know, Scott, you did not design this motion you put your name to. We know the statement you made is an absolute lie. We know that. We know that's why you didn't say it but got your staff to say it, because then you wouldn't be lying. But this tissue of lies this government is acting on, this contemptible abuse of our system, is beyond anything I have seen. It is typical of the kind of arrogant, selfish, rude individual who goes out there and elbows other members aside. I've never seen that happen either. I've never seen anybody other than your Prime Minister go out there and physically assault a member in the House of Commons.

There have been hundreds of members in the Commons, maybe 1,000 or more since I've come here, and never once except for your leader have I seen someone physically assault someone else. Then he got up in the House of Commons and used the language of a physical abuser when he defended himself, saying that “mistakes were made”, using passive language. He had to go through three apologies. The third one was written by somebody else, but his actions were contemptible. This is contemptible. Your willingness to be involved in it is equally contemptible. Your attempt to shove it through when we're having a budget hearing—because there will be a bad-news budget, you'll focus on that instead of on this—that's contemptible too. My goodness, this is a shameful government. I did not think I would be saying this. I'm not given to flights of rhetoric, as everybody familiar with my reputation for being boring is aware.

Now, I have a businesslike proposal for dealing with this. We will work as the Harper government did, as the Chrétien government did, to try to seek changes to the Standing Orders on which there is consent from all parties. I thought the part of Mr. Simms' motion suggesting that all members could make submissions was reasonable. That's why I didn't suggest amending it. People who are not members of a caucus—that includes Ms. May, for example—would be able to participate in the proceedings and file with the clerk of the committee any suggestions they have. It's a good idea, but it's an irrelevant idea when the Liberals in this committee just ram through whatever the fuck they want—I withdraw that word—without regard to what ought to be happening here. This is an abuse. I agree with Mr. Christopherson when he asked, and you think you're going to win this? I don't know, maybe you think you can just keep on sitting here, hour after hour into the night, tonight and tomorrow. We'd have to suspend for the votes, to come back, and it will exhaust us.

(1310)



I assume that's your goal: just keep doing it and hopefully the media won't notice because they'll be so upset over whatever bad news you're dropping into your budget, they won't be paying attention.

Mr. David Christopherson:

A point of order.

The Chair:

Mr. Christopherson.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Mr. Chair, you can see where we are, especially, sir, compared to where we've been, notwithstanding our little kerfuffle over Bill C-33, which derailed us for a short period of time. Some of us went out of our way to help get this committee back on track, if you'll recall. Most of the time, we've been very respectful of each other and of each other's rights. We've listened to one another politely, even when there is no media, nobody, around. That's the way we've been functioning. I've been on this committee for quite some time—not as long as Mr. Reid—and the committee works best, Mr. Chair, when we have that. You're our leader, helping us work collectively as a team, a team that includes each of us in the opposition too. It's easy from the government side, but we in the opposition have offered up that willingness to be part of a team and to work collectively on the issues that we have, especially on this committee because most of the things we do are non-partisan. The rule changes in the House should be non-partisan.

Mr. Chair, I'm appealing to you in your capacity as our chair. You have the authority to adjourn. I am personally, as a matter of privilege, asking you to please step in, preserve what's left of the ability of this committee to work as a single entity, and allow us to approach these rule changes in a way that's as fair and respectful as we've done everything else. I'm asking you to use your unilateral authority as the chair to adjourn this session. Allow us to get to our caucuses tomorrow to talk about this. Then let's come back on Thursday. That is not some gymnastics of parliamentary athletics. That's just polite common sense and respect. We haven't even had a chance to take this to our caucuses. Where on earth does the government think it's going to get the credibility to go out into the public and defend not just what you're doing, but how you're doing it? I'm asking you, Mr. Chair, to save the government from itself. Preserve the good work of this committee, the spirit of co-operation that exists, and adjourn this meeting. Let some fairness, common sense, and real democracy enter into this procedure. Mr. Chair, I implore you to please do that on behalf of this collective.

(1315)

The Chair:

I appreciate your description of how well we work together when everyone has a chance to input. However, I have to follow the rules, which the clerk has pointed out to me: “The committee Chair cannot adjourn the meeting without the consent of a majority of the members”.

Mr. Reid, you still have the floor.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you.

The purpose of this is to create a situation in which changes can't be made without the consent of the other parties. Effectively, that is all this does, but in so doing it resolves both the timing problem and the problem of this being an omnibus measure. I've explained a little bit about how it reduces the omnibus provision.

As for the timing, here's what I think would happen if this amendment were adopted. We effectively would have to send a report back a report to the House by June 2. We have a manageable amount of subject matter because we would take the lowest hanging fruit and deal with that first, like the things on which we are most likely to achieve consensus.

If someone says, I think we may have less consensus on this, but we can achieve something on this or there are other items that are more important and maybe we can achieve consensus on that, that would be fine. It would effectively be an interim report. It would not be so different from what the committee has been doing vis-à-vis the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations for the 42nd election. We have been nibbling away at them a bit at a time, so we'd have June 2.

We'd presumably have further discussions later on. If the committee wanted it to happen, these could take place during hours other than the normal ones, which is something permitted under the rules already and is a part of the motion that I've left in. We would still be able to have sittings in the evening or on alternate days.

The nature of the work we've established would allow us, if we chose, to continue during the summer. I'm not necessarily recommending that, but committees do meet in the summer sometimes. I've been on a number of them, including the electoral reform committee last year, and we could look into other issues.

Essentially, Mr. Simms' motion, as amended, becomes the opening of a process of formal study of the Standing Orders and goes from being an abuse of process to being a very reasonable adjustment to our processes. I think that would make plenty of good sense. I think that is a good argument for us.

Let me point out some of the difficulties you've got if you try and do things without some kind of sense of realism as to how much you've got, even if we had agreed on everything. Let's say for the sake of argument the committee passed a resolution that said, “We delegate to Scott Reid the job of rewriting the Standing Orders by June 2 and we'll approve whatever he says”.

I couldn't do it and do a decent job. I could make a decision and come back and report to the committee and say, “Look, I've taken some of these things. I've got a bunch of private members' business. I have left aside a bunch of other things, like prorogation hearings that would involve just too much data and information collection and learning the very diffuse source materials that are out there”.

I would not be able to do it. I know a little bit about this. I have written two books, Mr. Chair, as you may know, and co-edited a third with Mario Silva, a former Liberal MP. I have a little bit of experience in what it's like producing something of substance.

(1320)

The Chair:

I'm sorry, what were they on?

Mr. Scott Reid:

Sorry. One was on official languages. It's called Lament for a Notion: the Life & Death Of Canada's Bilingual Dream. That was my second book. The first book was called Canada Remapped. It was about the issue, then current, that in the event that Quebec was to secede from Canada—and parts of Quebec were not in favour of going along with secession and wanted to remain loyal—how would we deal with the so-called partition issue. In my view, that was the most vexing of the questions that Canada then faced in the context of the separation debate. Those books were both published in the nineties.

Mario Silva and I co-edited a book on anti-Semitism called Tackling Hate: Combatting Antisemitism: The Ottawa Protocol. You were in Parliament at the time we had hearings with a group called The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat AntiSemitism. It was an informal all-party committee that met, produced a report, and then published a collection of the essays that had been submitted to us.

Anyway, the point of these parallels is the time that it takes. One of the smaller of the books, maybe the size of a report, took me a year. The larger one—I had a lot more experience—still took me two years, with a couple of research assistants. Doing something between now and then is hard to do.

In my illustration, where I'm writing the entire thing just to suit myself, I just go through and look at what's out there, and what I think are the best examples in my own exclusive discretion. I am kind of mentally assuming that I don't have a day job, so I'm also not going back and attending events in my riding, which we all have to do. I think everybody on this committee has to travel further than I do. I'm assuming I don't attend question period. Someone subs for me when the committee is doing other things, like the hearings into the minister's agenda on changes to the Elections Act.

All of these things, Mr. Chair, are burdens that we can't free ourselves from, and we've given ourselves, if we adopt this motion, an impossible task, reporting back on everything. I'll get to what the negative implications of that are for democracy, process, and rule of law in a second.

Let me first just take, again, another illustration from page 7 of the government House leader's report. It makes the point very clearly: The House could examine the application of a “Made-in-Canada” programming scheme for Government bills, motions and for the handling of Senate amendments. It could include a range of time for all stages for the consideration of a bill, which would be negotiated between House Leaders then would be subject to debate, amendment and a vote in the House. It would be useful for any programming model to have the ability to accommodate more debate when desired. Including a mechanism for additional debate would make the programming model more responsive to the needs of opposition and back-bench government Members who wish to participate in debate.

It says, “Made-in-Canada”, so it implies we're not looking at international models. I don't know if that's meant literally. Sometimes the term “Made in Canada” gets thrown out because it just sounds good, kind of the way that people's sounds good in front of the word republic. However, if it's literally to be something designed de novo, without regard to foreign models, then that requires a significant amount of craftsmanship. It's also just not the way we do things, because you always look for the best models and take what we can from them.

Anyway, with regard to a “programming scheme for Government bills” to handle this, I would note that some of the things we have looked at aren't made in Canada. They're used elsewhere, but we've discussed the idea of a parallel chamber for certain items like private members' business of various sorts and statements where the equivalent of S. O. 31s could take place.

(1325)



That's the way they do it in Australia. They have a parallel Federation Chamber. It's a very fancy committee room, where quorum requirements are reduced. Essentially it allows for more words to be said by members than the number of hours the House is sitting permits. That's how they deal with it.

It's an innovation in the sense that it's part of the Hansard. Just as we are able to suspend time by seeing the clock at a certain time, we can cause two things that are happening in separate rooms to appear on the record as if they happen in one, for the benefit of those who happen to read Hansard. That's not, I think, the way most of us interact with our members of Parliament and their statements; we interact with them now through electronic media, seeing them on Facebook or Twitter, giving a little talk in the House, or whatever.

Looking at that kind of model and then figuring it out that would take a fair bit of time. That in itself is a subject that could consume a significant number of meetings until we figured out what we want. Then we would have to do the actual drafting. Then we'd have to review the drafting. That wouldn't happen quickly. That in and of itself would be very time-consuming.

It says we would negotiate among House leaders. That would involve taking the informal House leader meetings, which happen every Tuesday.... They happen right after question period. The House leaders meet in camera, and the meetings are purely informal. They have no formal authority; they have a conventional authority, in the sense that everybody expects that everybody else at the meeting will not reveal what happened at the meeting, and that is firmly honoured. I know of only one case in the decade I spent as a deputy House leader when someone leaked the content of what happened in one of those meetings. That is an indication of how seriously it is taken, because it's a better record than most caucuses have. In all fairness, there are fewer people in the room, but nonetheless it's pretty impressive. They take this seriously, then. There's no formal rule. You're not in contempt of Parliament if you say what happened at a House leader's meeting.

That informal process is going to be formalized, I assume. It involves a substantial rewriting of the rules, if we're to do this, because this is about changing not the conventions but the Standing Orders. It means that you can't draw on conventions. We've drawn conventions into our Constitution, as when we speak in the preamble about the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick desiring a Constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom. That is shorthand for saying we are drawing on the convention of responsible government that exists in the United Kingdom and importing it to Canada. That's what it means.

At these informal meetings, which are purely conventional and where we try to find common ground, sometimes there isn't common ground and the government will just say they're going to move ahead on something. this. But they'll also ask, “Are you opposed to this motion that we're proposing, this bill that we're proposing”, whatever it is, “because you oppose it to your roots and you want to fight it tooth and nail, or are you opposing it because you have a few people in your party for whom this particular issue”, whatever it is—child care or firearms, or whatever is their...I don't want to say hobby horse, as that makes it seem shallow, but their special interest...?

Then you have to give them a chance to speak and get their views on the record. How much time do you have to allocate for it? That's how allocation of time in the normal course of events works, and it works better or worse depending on the personalities of some of the people who are involved, but on the whole it does work.

We would, then, be talking about changing this and formalizing it. That's not necessarily a bad idea, though it's not necessarily a good idea either—I actually don't know—but which on its own would consume all the available time between now and June, if that were the item we decided to privilege. I'm not sure we would come to a consensus, although we might, because it's conceivable you could go through the process without actually taking power from the opposition and giving it to the government. It's a possibility, but again, my goodness, it would take all the time we have to deal with this, and there are so many others. That particular item is under “Time Allocation”, which is one of the subheads under the second of the three themes, “Management of Debate”.

(1330)



It seems appropriate at this point, Mr. Chair, to illustrate another point that my amendment would allow us to sever. Page 8 of the government House leader's discussion paper addresses omnibus bills, so there's a certain irony in what I'll read, although I think it may have some merit. The Government committed to end the improper use of omnibus legislation. Omnibus bills can be defined as a bill that contains separate and unrelated themes packaged into one bill. Members are then forced to vote for or against a bill that could have elements that Members would support or oppose. The only recourse for Members has been to seek to divide omnibus bills in committee, but these motions rarely come to a vote or are agreed to by way of unanimous consent.

I'll pause before going to the second paragraph of that point and point out that they rarely come to a vote or are agreed to by way of unanimous consent, which means that they sometimes are, which is a not insignificant point.

The reason they are, if you look back, is that something becomes contentious. Thanks to the tools of delay and being able to bring things to public attention, the government becomes aware that the opposition is succeeding at that and says they have a little water in their wine. They don't need to blow their credibility over this. Yes, they have a government. They are in power. Yes, if they are a majority government, they have all the reins of power. Nonetheless, if they face an election, it will be costly for them to have a record of opposing these reasonable changes, and so sometimes bills are divided.

It happens. It happened in the last Parliament. It has happened in Parliaments before that. Not all the time, but surely part of the reason for that is that not every bill is an omnibus bill. Nobody argues that. They argue that some bills are omnibus bills. They argue in particular that budget bills are omnibus bills and contain a whole bunch of stuff that shouldn't be in a budget. This may not happen. We don't know. There will be some irony if the upcoming budget turns out to contain omnibus provisions at the very time we are debating this here, but we don't know if it will.

At any rate, let's continue: Since the Clerk of the House has the power in Standing Order 39(2) to divide written questions, a similar approach could be used by the Speaker to divide omnibus bills. The Speaker’s authority could be prescribed by criteria to define and establish “a unifying theme” of the bill. This approach would allow for the divided bills to be debated together at second reading, report stage and third reading but would be subject to separate votes at each stage. In addition, the divided bills could be sent to separate committees if the subject matter of the bills warranted such action.

That is an interesting suggestion. I don't know if it's a good suggestion, a bad suggestion, or has a precedent—that is to say, this is how they do it for the sake argument in the Parliament of India or some other Commonwealth jurisdiction. If so, has it worked out well for them or not when we look to these examples?

(1335)



I think it's legitimate to find out more about this on its own. I think it would be hard to get this done by June 20 if it were on its own. It's not inconceivable. This is, if I may say, a more completely thought-through approach than some of the others. Again, it makes the point I'm driving at when I talk about the problems of dealing with all the subject matter at one time. I have to assume that this thought did not just occur to the government House leader out of thin air. It came from somewhere.

An hon. member: Absolutely.

Mr. Scott Reid: Yes. Everything comes from somewhere. Occasionally, something interesting does occur out of thin air, the very first time, but I suspect it's not the case here. I suspect this is something that is precedented somewhere. I'm just guessing that. If there was a footnote to this, we'd actually have some idea where it came from, some authority would be cited, but we don't have that. So how do we find out?

I suppose if I had thought of it, I could have asked the government House leader on Sunday, because I ran into her at Pearson Airport. We had a brief chat. She was on standby, so she was distracted by the need to rush up to the desk and get her boarding pass. It was a nice chat. There could have been a Liberal caucus meeting on that airplane, by the way. It was amazing. Anyway, there were a lot of people on that plane, and she was one of them. I could have asked her then, “Hey, where did you get this idea from?” But I didn't think of it. Now I literally can't ask her because I am in this committee holding the floor in order to make sure that something doesn't get through, which could be disastrous, I think, for the way the House of Commons runs. I can't go and ask her where she got this from.

Then we could go and look at that example, where you got it from, and whether it works there. How does it work? How good is it? Is it a successful sort of thing or not? It may have positive features. It may have features that look positive at first glance, but aren't so good once you look at it in a little more depth. That happens a lot.

That was the feeling I had when I looked at the Australian Federation Chamber. It's the room where the parallel debating takes place. It sounded better at first than it seemed as you investigated in more detail—at least that was my impression.

This might be brilliant; it might not be brilliant. I do wonder. The Speaker, of course, is meant to be independent. But he's independent in a way that essentially allows him to garner increasing independence from the agendas of the parties as time goes on, so a new Speaker has less gravitas than a Speaker who has served several years. This would be true with every Speaker, regardless of how much intrinsic gravitas they have. It's true of the current Speaker; it's true of his predecessor, Andrew Scheer. It was equally true of Peter Milliken, who came very well-equipped for the speakership, but who nevertheless grew in his job as time went on.

Here we're getting the opposite starting to happen. The Speaker is supposed to define a unifying theme for the bill. Maybe there's academic literature out there he can draw upon to say here's a unifying theme. Maybe there isn't. I actually don't know. But you'll notice when the Speaker actually has to make a ruling on something, a tie vote, for example, he almost magically has in his hand a piece of paper that he reads, which says that—and I'm paraphrasing—whereas the underlying principle of Parliament is the continuation of debate, and it is second reading, and my vote against this would cause debate to be precluded, thereby also precluding the possibility that a majority of the House will find on one side or the other; therefore, I'm voting in favour. Whereas we are at third reading, and voting in favour of this motion would cause it to cease to be within the purview of the House where no more debate could occur; therefore, I'm voting against.

(1340)



He is breaking a tie vote, but he's breaking it in a way that is entirely based on precedent. His authority is all based on the will of the House. I wasn't sure if you wanted to....

The Chair:

Carry on.

Mr. Scott Reid:

It's all based on going to precedents. He never stands up and says we're doing this because it's what I want—never. He always makes a link, regardless of who is in the chair, to either a standing order or—in the absence of a standing order—a practice of the House, which is our version of a convention. The Standing Orders take priority. They sweep away practices if they contradict them, but with practices otherwise governing the way he behaves.

No actual rule requires the Speaker to vote the way he does when he breaks a tie. I would be astonished at a Speaker who breaks a tie in a manner different from that. Indeed, I think it would be the end of that person's career as Speaker. I think they would bring down condemnation on themselves for having failed to represent the practices of the House.

Here we are with a unifying theme. I get the idea behind this. I don't know how a Speaker steps in and effectively separates a bill into two parts on his or her own without engaging effectively in a discussion of what the unifying themes are. I guess the Speaker could rely on an advisory group, but where does he get that advisory group? How is it constituted? The normal way is that it would be some kind of committee. That means the committee is set up, a committee like this one. Actually it would be this committee or something parallel to it, which is a replica in miniature of the House. The government members don't divide the bill. The opposition members say yes, divide the bill. They might very well say, “We see different unifying themes here.”

If you get a bill that says “a bill to protect animals from abuse and make certain changes to the Elections Act”, that's got two unifying themes that are nice and clear. But in all fairness, that particular unifying theme, that kind of omnibus bill, you don't see. You see something more like this. The omnibus is appropriate. You see a budget bill. Within the budget bill, you see a bunch of stuff that is not really about the allocation of funds and could have been put outside. But you've got a whole bunch of these things, so how would you as a Speaker go along and pare off the bits that are not about taxes, revenues, tax credits, and the allocation of funds, that become stand-alones? I really don't know how you would do that.

Maybe, at a technical level, the clerks who design legislation at the Library of Parliament, the Justice Department, and the PCO, could do that stuff. But for the Speaker, it's not his area of expertise. It could by chance be someone who formerly filled one of those roles, where he could have expertise added to him, but that's....

Do you start to see what I'm saying when I note there's a lot of stuff here? We are being presented with the entire smorgasbord on a cruise ship and told, it's your job to eat this before you're allowed to leave the room, and you've got to leave the room by half an hour from now or something like that.

(1345)

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I note that Mr. Reid is laying out his very compelling argument, which I appreciate. He also mentioned “cruise ship”, which kind of got me thinking.

I have a question for or through you to the government. As question period approaches and we're all expected back in the House, can we get an idea from the government on its thoughts about adjourning so that we can attend the question period, or are we expected to go right through? Scott, I'm sure, can keep talking for hours.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

Is this a point of order?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Yes—through the chair to the government.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

I'll respond to the point of order.

As I say, we would like to get to a vote on both the amendment and the main motion. If committee members would like to proceed to that point, then we can adjourn the committee at that time, once we've dispensed with the amendment and the main motion.

If there isn't the will of the committee to proceed to that particular point, it would be my intention—

An hon. member: My way or the highway.

Mr. Arnold Chan: —to continue to listen to your compelling arguments about why we should or should not support the amendment, or the main motion.

An hon. member: Harper couldn't have said it better.

Mr. Arnold Chan: The alternative that we can propose, if you're all compelled to be in the House for question period, is that we can suspend and then return at an agreed-upon time. But I don't believe the government is prepared to adjourn the committee at this time.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

So you're ready to suspend.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Well, we would like to exercise our right to be there for question period.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Absolutely. I think that's fair on our side too.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

So my offer is to suspend, and we'd like to do that, but we're not prepared to adjourn.

Mr. David Christopherson:

When do you want to come back?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Through you, Chair, when would you like to come back? Thursday is good for us.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

Well, my request is to continue until we get to a vote.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Christopherson:

Did you see that? The staffer told him what the ruling was going to be. Mr. Independent.

You guys are a joke. What a joke. What a joke. Simms trying to pretend he wrote this, Arnold trying to make independent decisions and getting whipped—what a joke.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Chair, I think—

Mr. David Christopherson:

You clowns think you can pull this off? Really? This crowd?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Chair, I think we had some compromise going. We agreed to suspend to allow us to get to question period. It's our duty to be there.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Arnold got overruled.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Arnold, I'm disappointed.

The Chair: Order.

Mr. Jamie Schmale: We know you're a very reasonable guy.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Her hand went right up the back of your shirt, and your mouth said just what she said what she told you to say.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I'm very disappointed.

Through you, Chair, can we—

The Chair:

Order.

We're back to Mr. Reid—

Mr. Jamie Schmale: I'm not done, Chair.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

I would withdraw my comment. I've said my last point, and it is what it is.

Mr. David Christopherson:

What are you here for? She's telling you what to do.

Mr. Jamie Schmale: Can we go back?

Mr. David Christopherson: Why do you bother here? You're under false pretences.

(1350)

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I think there's some negotiation. I think his original intent was to suspend.

The Chair:

The point of order is finished.

Mr. Reid, you have the floor.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you.

My point is that in one paragraph of the government House leader's paper, you have to deal with conventional arrangements, dealing with the House leaders' meetings, that have been in existence for a long time and that have done a great deal to keep the sand out of the ears around this place. You have the problem of the impartiality of the Speaker, who I think wants to go to great lengths to keep it as impartial as possible. Any sane Speaker does.

Again, maybe there's a way around this that I can't think of. We would want to go and speak to actual Speakers who've dealt with this sort of thing before.

Mr. Chair, you weren't here in the last Parliament.

Who was here in the last Parliament?

Mr. David Christopherson:

I was.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Yes, you were.

Blake was here.

Is that it?

Arnold, you were here at the end of the last Parliament. You got elected in a by-election partway through, so you were also here.

I proposed an amendment to the Standing Orders toward the end of the last Parliament that was actually adopted. It was an amendment to change the way in which the Speaker was elected from the former runoff system to a preferential system.

Notwithstanding my reputation for not liking preferential voting, I just want to be on the record as saying that for certain situations it's actually the right system.

An hon. member: [Inaudible--Editor]

Mr. Scott Reid: Yes, for this sort of thing it is. It also works well for electing party leaders.

An hon. member: It's not nearly as much fun.

Mr. Scott Reid: Whether it's a matter of fun—

An hon. member: [Inaudible--Editor]

Mr. Scott Reid: I do not agree with that. I do not enjoy those: all day.

An hon. member: [Inaudible--Editor] conventions.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I'm still trying to meet all the people I would have met that day.

Mr. Scott Reid:

It speeds things up considerably.

We'll see how much fun you think this is and we'll be here until three in the morning.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I'll stop heckling you.

Mr. Scott Reid:

That has actually happened with the election of the Speaker. I think it went on for 13 hours.

Mr. David Christopherson:

A great time was had by all.

Mr. Scott Reid:

In my research, I looked it up. They had almost as many candidates for Speaker, I think in 1988, as we have for leader of the Conservative Party right now with a version of the same problem. We actually have a problem where we can only get 10 names on the voting machines, but not on the ballot, because they just assume you'd never get more than 10 candidates, and we have 14.

I think they had 11 candidates and it took about an hour or an hour and a half to go through.

Mr. John Aldag (Cloverdale—Langley City, Lib.):

Hey, Scott. How are you doing?

Mr. Scott Reid:

I have completely lost my train of thought. Help me out here someone.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Do you want to go back to cruise ships?

Mr. Scott Reid:

No, I do not. I have avoided cruise ships my entire life.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Well, we've got to get you started on that. I think that's the way to go.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I have a niece who works on a cruise ship. I promised myself I would actually talk about things that were relevant here, so I'm trying to get back to that because I was on a relevant theme that I lost.

Mr. John Aldag:

May I take over?

Mr. Scott Reid:

I was building on all the different things that you have going on here. The Speaker is supposed to divide omnibus bills.

I remember where I was going.

I'm trying to illustrate here, by means of a parallel to the amendment that I proposed, how it takes a long time. I had this idea that we should be electing the Speakers this way. My primary reason was not to save the time, actually, involved in Speaker elections. It was the idea that you're more likely to get a consensus candidate under a preferential system, someone from the middle of the road. For the same reason that it doesn't work in a federal election—you'll always elect the guy in the middle of the road, which means the Liberal—the same thing happens here. You elect a person who's acceptable to all parties. That's the virtue of it.

I had to design the thing, so I came up with a concept. I actually wrote a memo to the Prime Minister, saying there was no point in my pursuing this if he wasn't going to support it, so here was my suggestion and what did he think. I dropped it off with his chief of staff, Ray Novak, and it made its way up to the PM who got around to it and eventually got back to me. Then I took it, went off, and started writing.

It went from being about as long as this paragraph I've been dwelling upon regarding the Speaker and omnibus bills, to then designing a section of Standing Orders. It's now in the Standing Orders, so you can take a look in there and see it. It's about a page long to deal with all the different things you have to deal with. It deals with multiple ballots. You still have to keep in the parts of the Standing Orders that relate to people who forget to remove their name from the ballot—we're all candidates, so you have to withdraw your name as candidate—so it deals with that.

The whole drafting process took me about a month. Frankly, I came very close to not making the deadline because of all the different unexpected wrinkles that were involved in what had appeared conceptually to be a very simple change and what ultimately looked like a relatively simple change when you saw it on paper. There was nothing straightforward about it. Then it went off to a committee, to this committee. I recused myself from my seat on the committee for the purposes of that discussion. I sat as a witness and presented why I thought it was a good idea.

The committee came back with a report. Interestingly enough, I think it was actually the first time this has happened where.... It came before this committee because it changed the Standing Orders. That's where changes to the Standing Orders go. Even if they're initiated as a matter of private member's business, they come to this committee. If it had been a private member's bill, it would have gone to some other committee. It came here and the committee did something that I don't think it's ever done before, which is that it said it was not endorsing and not rejecting; it simply heard my testimony. I can't remember if the report had some other considerations in it, but it didn't actually endorse or oppose.

Then it went to the House, and we had a vote in I think the last week of the sitting. I'd wanted to get every member from my party to vote in favour of it. That didn't happen. A significant number—I think about 25 or 26—did not, which meant we didn't have a majority large enough to push it through without the support of other parties, but it did get the support of many NDP members. I can't remember how many, but not the full caucus. They'd had a free vote on it. I think it was the only completely free vote they had in that Parliament. I think, but I'm not sure. It got the support of most, but not all, Liberal MPs. Mauril Bélanger voted against it, Mauril whom I respect enormously. The late Mauril Bélanger, as you know, had been someone who'd been a potential candidate for Speaker and he had some thoughts that were, if you will, idiosyncratic to him, but they were thoughtful and intelligent as was everything he did. He voted against it, but the rest of the Liberals voted in favour of it. It had a version of all-party support.

I was actually using this to illustrate one point, and I realize I've actually illustrated another.

(1355)



The primary point was to illustrate how long it takes to get something as apparently simple as changing the manner in which the Speaker is elected through. It was not a quick process. The committee part of the process wasn't quick. The drafting part of the process, which in my case was entirely done by myself—it was entirely extra-parliamentary, there were no other parliamentarians involved in it—was not quick. It doesn't get faster when you add more chefs to the kitchen, as everybody knows. I would have had trouble doing just that within this deadline.

The second point to be made based on that story comes back to the theme of unanimity. There wasn't unanimous support in the House for this amendment. In the end, there was all-party support.

In theory, the government could have taken the approach this government appears to be taking, which is, we'll produce changes, use our majority and force them through, and have a tight deadline for it. We'll bring them into the House and have a vote on party lines. That could have happened in that case, but it didn't happen.

I think there can be merit in individual members bringing forward items for which there is not a consensus but for which there is majority support across party lines, and introducing them in the House of Commons. As I say, I've done it myself. That is so different from the approach being taken here. The amendment I propose would bring us back to a situation in which that would prevail. That is the reason for the motion.

In regard to the idea that we can rush to conclusions on things, let's talk about electronic voting. Electricity is not new. Electronic voting, conceptually anyway, has a long history. It was discussed, in the case of the Canadian House of Commons, as far back as the mid-1980s. Thirty odd years ago, the McGrath committee recommenced electronic voting. This is cited by the government House leader in her discussion paper. It recommended electronic voting. The Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, in 2003, made a similar recommendation. I don't know if the recommendations were similar, but they weren't rushed into place. Creating a situation in which we could have electronic voting may have merit, I think actually a lot of merit, but again, it's not something that you can rush to a conclusion on. In fact, if you read carefully, you realize that what is being proposed here is not necessarily one form of electronic voting, it's a discussion about many different kinds of electronic voting. How we would choose one of these in a limited amount of time is difficult for me to see.

In this case, the minister makes reference to a number of sources, so it's more helpful than the discussion about dividing up omnibus bills. She says, “The United States House of Representatives has implemented an electronic voting system, as has the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.” I don't know how the Scots and Welsh do it, but in the U.S. House of Representatives, you don't even have to turn up in the house. It's clear that she is at least considering that as a possibility because she says, “Ringing of the bells and the taking of recorded divisions is a time-consuming exercise.”

The taking of recorded divisions is overcome by the pressing of a personalized button on your desk and then going to the next vote. But ringing the bells, that's summoning you to the chamber. There seems to be an assumption we'd move to votes without having a ringing of the bells, without that 15 minutes on Mondays.... Sorry, I can't remember if it's 15 minutes on Mondays and 30 minutes the rest of the week or the other way around. At any rate, it's without that time. That seems to be assuming you could vote from wherever.

How wherever is wherever? Is it with an electronic card as they do in the States, with that little ID card you insert and then vote with?

(1400)



There's more than one electronic way of voting. You need a simple push button on your desk, separately wired like a kind of scoreboard. Frankly, you need technology that is quite literally a century old. They could have done it in 1917 as well as in 2017. I'm not even sure you need electronics; you could probably do it with a system of bells. My steampunk mind is working here. In Downton Abbey they pull a cord, a bell rings, and you can see which room it came from. It's not so different from that, but it does assume you're in your seat.

There's actually a debate to be had over what you mean by electronic voting. The minister is at least hinting that she is open to both of our systems. I actually don't know, because I haven't read the reports, whether the McGrath Committee in 1985 favoured that kind of electronic voting, where you aren't even there, or electronic voting from your seat.

As for the special committee in 2003, again, I don't know. Actually, their report is online and my omnicompetent legislative assistant Dennis Laurie has put together a document with links to it, but I have not had the opportunity to find that particular recommendation—it was one of their six reports—and look through it.

But there you go—there's more than one way of doing it. Electronic voting is not necessarily a bad idea, and the House leader is entirely right that “Given that the House is to move to West Block in 2018, and while Centre Block is being refurbished, this would be an excellent opportunity to implement a system of electronic voting as a pilot.” She's right. I agree with that.

Here's a question, to give you an example. Given the time constraints we have between now and June 2—or our real deadline, which is before June 2, sometime in May—how do we determine whether we need to rush to get this through? Maybe they're at the point now where they're going to be installing the desks soon and setting up the apparatus for electronic voting depending on what we say, and it is something that needs to be rushed, or maybe not. Maybe, if we have another year, we could deal with this. I have no idea.

Do we make this an expedited item? My suspicion is that here, of all items, is one that is unlikely to produce a great deal of dissension. Here is one that just stands out as being something on which there's been consensus in the past. We had it with that all-party committee in 2003, which made all its recommendations based on unanimous consent.

Notwithstanding my colleague Mr. Christopherson's enthusiasm for circulating around the House and meeting other members during votes for the Speaker, I think he will agree with me that all-night voting sessions—where we go through one amendment after another to a piece of legislation, as we did with the back-to-work legislation in June 2011—are not a great time for kibitzing with others. You're stuck in your seat. This would reduce the amount of time there.

By the way, it would do so in a way that happens to fit in with the government's agenda of speeding things up and depriving the opposition of tools that can be used to slow things down. It might actually, nonetheless, be in a manner that we would all find reasonable and that could get all-party support. That is meaningful. There you are. There's something sitting right there that we could all agree to, and here we are instead, trying to avoid coming to an agreement.

(1405)



Looking through her report, I see other areas that are more problematic. I'm looking now to question period. It seems appropriate to address it as we are just moving into question period right now, where I anticipate that the hearings of this committee will be the subject of questions. That seems like a reasonable guess.

There's a little bit of rhetoric here, but then we get on to the substance of what the government is proposing. The discussion paper says: Question Period is where the Government is held to account for its policies and for the conduct of Ministers. The Government committed to reform Question Period so that all Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are held to greater account.

This is all rhetoric so far: Reforms to Question Period could include instituting a Prime Minister's Questions time, as is done in Britain, and could also include lengthening the time allotted for questions and answers.

These are two separate topics. The Prime Minister's question time and changing the time allotted for questions and answers are separate items.

It goes on to deal with written questions. I want to stop there for a second and talk about the time allotted for questions and answers.

Late show questions used to take the form of a brief question and a brief answer. If memory serves, it was a four-minute question and a four-minute answer at the end of adjournment proceedings on some issue about which an MP said that he or she had not received an adequate answer. The assumption made was that the reason these adjournment proceedings exist at all is that if there were more time, issues for which they could not get a decent answer in 35 seconds, they could get a decent answer for in four minutes.

But what has happened?

This was the status quo when I arrived in 2000. The member would arrive, make his little speech about what was wrong with the government's policy and probably about how evasive the government was. Then not the minister but the parliamentary secretary would stand up and read a prepared answer.

You're a former parliamentary secretary, Mr. Chair, so you know how this works. You aren't actually designing the policy. You have to read the policy. You can't do it on the fly—and that's not a prudent practice for ministers either—and you really can't say “the government”, because you're not a member of cabinet, so all you can do is say, “Here's the response that was prepared for me.”

I do remember once getting up back in those days and asking a question to Larry McCormick. He was a great guy, a Liberal MP who was from a riding to my west and then they merged our ridings and I had to run against him. I was asking a question, and in the four-minute ask I moved from the narrow, original subject matter to something else. He said, “I came prepared to answer the question that I thought Mr. Reid was going to ask based on the question he asked in the House, and now I can't answer the stuff that I don't have notes for, because I have to answer with what's given to me.”

I thought it was a very charmingly honest answer. “I'm not the minister. I can't just invent something here. I wish he'd told me.”

Here's how we would try to adjust and improve on this. Back during that period, which I'm beginning to make sound like a golden age and I don't mean to, in the Chrétien government when the special committee was reporting on changes to the Standing Orders, it reported that we should make a change to the late show question. Instead of it being a four-minute question and a four-minute answer, it would be a four-minute question and a four-minute answer and then one minute of rebuttal or further commentary from the MP and a further minute from the parliamentary secretary, which allowed for a little bit of freedom. It's not as much time as you get in a four-minute question, but it allows you to stand up and say, “You didn't deal with this part of my question”.

The parliamentary secretary, while he was no freer than he had previously been to say, “Here's how I will use my own discretion to deal with it”, could say, “All right, let me deal with that”. It allowed for a somewhat freer discussion. I do not mean to suggest that this was utopia. The late show is still a largely scripted event, but it's better than it was previously.

(1410)



I had the great honour of asking the very first question under the new rule. That rule was adopted as a one-off based on a consensus of all parties on that committee. They have something that they can go on in the time allotted. There is no panacea, and there's no single way of doing this. You could change the time. It's only length. I agree that making them shorter would be very problematic. Making them longer, perhaps....

I remember an experience that is germane. I used to live in Australia, as I think many of you may know. On one occasion in the 1990s, I was driving from Sydney to a place in the New England highlands. There's a part of New South Wales that is called New England. There's a university, the University of New England, there. That detail is very confusing. When many people think New England, they think of the northeastern part of the United States, but there is a New England in Australia.

Anyway, I was going there to go through the university's archives to look for information about the New England separatist movement. In the 1960s, there had been a movement for New England to separate from the rest of the state of New South Wales and become a separate state of Australia. The New South Wales government actually held a referendum to facilitate this, but ultimately the referendum failed, largely because of the inclusion of the city of Newcastle on the coast. This was really an inland, rural rebellion against urban-centred state government.

Anyway, I was on my way to do some research in the archives. The materials of the New England separatist movement had been put into the archives at the university, so up I went to take a look at them. You have to drive up a big escarpment and at the top of the escarpment is a big plain. As I was driving up the escarpment, the number of radio stations I had the opportunity to pick up on my car radio diminished. They diminished to the point where the only station I could pick up was the live broadcast of the debates from the Australian Senate.

It just happened to be question period in the Australian Senate, where they, as I recall, have two minutes for questions and two minutes for answers. You might think this would lead to more substantive questions and more substantive answers. I regret to say that in the particular round of questions I heard—which were about Australian natural resources policy, something completely out of my expertise, and therefore, I'm in no position to say who was right and who was wrong—a minister responding to a question started his response by saying, and there's obviously no rule in Australia about addressing the Speaker, “You are just pathetic.”

The two-minute questions and answers had not automatically translated, all other things being equal, into greater decorum, I regret to say, but that doesn't mean there isn't merit to discussing it. It means we want to look at examples like the Australians, the New Zealanders, the Brits, and so on, about the questions. It might be that questions should be different in length from supplementals. That seems like a reasonable possibility. It's one that is actually incorporated into late show questions, where a one-minute snapper round comes after the four-minute question and four-minute set piece answer.

Another possibility.... This is from a different trip, one with this committee. In 2005, we travelled to Australia and also to New Zealand. We were examining electoral reform at the time. We travelled to those two countries and had the opportunity to attend question period in the New Zealand House of Representatives. We sat up in the gallery reserved for visitors, and we were introduced in the same way that visitors are introduced to us in our House. We stood up and received applause. It was very nice.

(1415)



We got to watch their question period and they have a very interesting system in which a lottery is conducted to determine the topics that will be up for debate in question period. The lottery determines what will come first. In the first round of questions.... Because they have a multi-member proportional system, they have more parties than we do. They have maybe five parties or a party status of six. I can't remember and this is historical information. It's some number greater than the number we had back in 2005. They have a different number of seats and the number of questions, as with us, is allocated differently for each party.

You have the equivalent of our leader's round where you get a larger number of questions for the main opposition party, and then a smaller number for the next opposition party, and then it goes around, but they all act on the same topic. If, as was the case when we were there, the topic is fisheries, it is not appropriate for me to stand up—In fact, I think I would be ruled out of order if I stood up—as Leader of the Opposition or as an MP, and proceed to ask a question about agriculture, but it can be anything within fisheries.

I think the way it's divided up is by departmental responsibility. I'm not sure of that, but I think that's essentially how it works. There's a first round, second round, third round, and so on.

First to go is the first opposition party. Let's say it's the Labour Party, and then you go to the National Party, and then to whoever comes next, with diminishing amounts of time. You complete the questions on fisheries, then you come back to deal with the next subject, which might be natural resources.

Okay, so it—

(1420)

The Chair:

Can you tie this to your amendment?

Mr. Scott Reid:

It does come up.

I'll give you the overarching theme that I'm getting at here. The change is complicated for me to explain because it is inherently a multi-faceted change to the status quo. It may be good or it may be bad, but it's not something that could be dealt with rapidly. It's not something that can be dealt with by merely looking at one example. I'm giving two examples from my own experience; others who have attended the sittings of other jurisdictions have different reports to give.

I'm a comparative historian by training, and this is how I approach everything. When I looked at the issue of the potential partition of Quebec upon secession, I looked at other jurisdictions and how they dealt with it, for good or ill. The illustration I gave was what seemed to be the least bad and the best solution with no separation, no need for petition, an intact Quebec, and an intact Canada, obviously.

However, there's an example of a Swiss canton from which a part succeeded. It was the Jura canton and its separation from the canton of Bern in the late 1970s. Another example, which partitioned Northern Ireland from the rest of the country of Ireland, was an example of what not to do. I went through that and there were a number of other examples that I looked at.

I think the same thing ought to happen when you're dealing with these things. It's difficult to do a comparative study of all subjects at the same time. If you're just talking question period, it is possible, but it's not possible to do it with the deadline proposed by Mr. Simms. It's possible to devote several months to it, and it might be something that would yield a meaningful improvement.

There are many complaints, some not justified, some very much justified, about the nature of our question period, although I have to say that on the whole it has been getting better. There's a secular trend for it to get better over time in terms of decorum—decorum is the main thing we focus on—compared with where it was when I first arrived here. If the stories are to be believed about what it was like in Sir John A. Macdonald's day, it was a good deal worse, including people coming in drunk and people throwing things at each other. Some Parliaments still do that. I'm told that they bring bags of shoes into the parliament in Iraq, people rushing the chair and so on. It has been better over time. It's actually a long-term secular trend.

The point to be made here, relating back to New Zealand, is that this is a complicated matter. This is a matter that cannot be dealt with in the proposed time frame. While question period is almost certainly one of the items we'd want to discuss, and is potentially, depending on the direction that the government is willing to go, one in which we can find consensus, I would submit that it is inconceivable that we would come to a consensus that does more than a very tiny amount of change if we stick with this deadline.

That's if it were the only item we were discussing on its own, but of course, it is not the only item we are discussing. There are numerous other items. That's the issue of the length of time.

I also went on to show that you could look at things like.... It's not mentioned here, but seeing as the ministers are from all over, you could look at the idea of rotating questions, as they do in New Zealand.

By the way, although I thought that was good in some respects, it did lead to some peculiarities, and it did not stop ill-tempered, ill-advised commentary. One parliamentarian, a man named Winston Peters, stood up and gave what I thought was an outrageous statement. It was quite an offensive gay-baiting statement in the question he asked. It's hard to get that stuff out of parliamentary life.

(1425)



In all fairness, I don't think the minister is suggesting that what she has put forward here is utopia. She merely suggests that it's an improvement. I happen to think that utopian changes should be avoided at all costs. We are all about incrementalism in the way we deal with our Standing Orders and rules. We are evolutionists, not revolutionists. We do well to methodically work things through. I think, when it comes to this, that is the spirit that she too is imparting.

Let me turn to the Prime Minister's question time as done in Britain. I'm not sure whether Britain is the only jurisdiction that does this in the Commonwealth; I actually don't know.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Scotland does.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Does Scotland have it as well? Okay. I don't know whether they are identical or not. We would want, if we were looking at this, to take a look at that question.

There's the Prime Minister's question time, then. There are also set question times for other key government ministers.

That's something you'd want to look at; you wouldn't want to rush into it. You certainly wouldn't want to rush into it without consulting and finding out those who think it's a good idea and those who think it's a bad idea. You'd be trying to schedule in some people who are not necessarily easy to pin down in being scheduled as witnesses. You would definitely have to have hearings outside of the normal hours, as we did when we were dealing with my proposal that we change the Standing Orders to allow for a preferential ballot for the election of a Speaker.

We'd have to do this because you'd be trying to get people who are involved in the system who are busy, who have day jobs. We actually, for example, interviewed by video conference link the clerk of the House of Lords. The proposal I was putting forward was based on the way in which the Speaker of the House of Lords is elected. He was a good, impartial person. He had actually supervised the elections that take place.

Of course, when a new Parliament arrives, you don't have a new Speaker yet for the House of Commons, and under their rules it is now true of the House of Lords as well. The clerk has certain very clearly circumscribed but nonetheless critical responsibilities to undertake. He provided us with testimony, but we had to adjust to his schedule. He was not a person of leisure. He wasn't just sitting at home eating bonbons; he was working. Something similar would happen. You would have—

We got away with that, however, because it was a very limited change with a very limited witness list. I'm not sure that would be possible when dealing with the Prime Minister's question time issue. I think that would take longer.

Now we turn to—

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Could I just jump in to ask a quick question?

I don't know whether it's the discussion or Scott's inspiring words, but does anyone else feel as though it's 1,000 degrees in here? I'm just curious.

A voice: Yes.

Mr. Jamie Schmale: Yes? Okay. It's not just me, then.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham (Laurentides—Labelle, Lib.):

Is that deliberate?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I was just curious whether it was just me. It might have been Scott's words.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I think not.

An hon. member: Or it could have been hot air.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you.

Concerning written questions—

(1430)

Mr. Scott Simms:

I have a point of order.

I just got a copy of the amendments. Does everybody have a copy of the amendments here? Are we doing all right?

A voice: Yes.

Mr. Scott Simms: Okay. This is the amendment that I'm looking at. It's deleting “2017” at the end of paragraph (d), and adding, immediately after paragraph (d), “(e) notwithstanding paragraph (d)”. Is that what I'm looking at here? It's paragraph (b), and then “(c) relettering paragraph (e) as paragraph (f)”.

I just want to make sure that we're still on this particular amendment before I get a chance to argue it. I have a few points to make about it, because the—

The Chair:

Yes. This is just a copy of the translation.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Right. This is the translated copy, as I'm trying to get across to Mr. Reid.

I have a few points about it, obviously, dealing with the fact that this is a valid discussion—

The Chair:

You have to get on the list, Mr. Simms. That's debate.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Right.

The Chair:

We go back to Mr. Reid.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I confess that I just stepped out of the room briefly, and I'm trying to determine.... Had Mr. Simms raised a point of order seeking to clarify what the amendment is? What was going on here?

The Chair:

He wanted to make sure this piece of paper that was just distributed was the same amendment.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I see.

The Chair:

Now that it's been translated, every member should have a copy. It's the same amendment that was read out, but now it's been translated.

Mr. David Christopherson:

He was going to give Scott Reid a break.

Mr. Blake Richards:

You've determined that it is in fact the same amendment that was made then. We're comfortable with that. Is that what has been decided or...?

The Chair:

It's the same one. It was just translated. You can ask Mr. Reid if they made any mistakes.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Maybe we could just give Mr. Reid a minute to look through it so he could determine that it is in fact the same as what he had brought forward. I think it would only be fair to him to do that. He has been talking for some time, so he might need a second to clear his head and just determine that.

Mr. Scott Reid:

This is the one.

I thank my colleagues for their care in this.

I turn now, with your permission, Mr. Chair, to the question of unanimity. The substance of what is being proposed here, the substance of the words, the majority of the words, is the new paragraph (e), which is all about making sure that you must have unanimity to move forward.

The practice in the House has been not to move forward without substantial consent. There's this debate about what constitutes consensus. First of all, there's majority. If you have majority, near majority is not consensus. It's something more than that, but what is it? In certain circumstances, when you have to actually quantify it in law, it can be two-thirds.

For example, if you want to change the fundamental rules of corporate governance of a corporation, you need to get the consent of two-thirds—a supermajority—of each of the classes of shareholders. If you have classes A through F preferred shares, you have to get two-thirds of the holders of each of those classes of preferred shares. I have some experience with that, and it can be a time-consuming enterprise to put together. There's that kind of thing.

You can have three-quarters. You can have some other number. In our Constitution, we have the 7/50 formula, but the point is that consensus is something more.

So what is it? We've put down unanimity here, and I suppose one could argue that unanimity is too much. But in practice on something like this, I think it's reasonable to expect that we are not acting as individual agents, dividing with our colleagues from the same party. We are acting as agents for our respective parties.

I'm here as a Conservative member of Parliament. Mr. Chan and Mr. Simms are here as agents for the Liberal Party. Mr. Christopherson is here as an agent for the New Democratic Party. Since there's only one of him, the practical result is that if we want to make sure that all parties are involved, we have to say that the consent of all members is required, thus the reference to unanimity.

I have a question about when you go to the House and you need unanimity there. Would, for example, Elizabeth May on her own be able to say no and stop everything? That's not part of this motion. It is a reasonable question to ask. I suspect that if you took an inclusive approach, she'd be on board too. I think the things that she would find objectionable would very likely also be found objectionable by other opposition members if they were proposed. While I think the things that she would ultimately like—I shouldn't be speaking for Elizabeth, but I think I'm accurate in saying this—as proactive changes might be things that wouldn't be acceptable to the rest of the House. They might involve additional privileges for members who are not part of a recognized party. The Bloc Québécois during the hearings on the electoral form emphasized this. They didn't have party status, and they felt that the lack of a research budget had hurt their ability to act. They would have liked to see us change that. They didn't want to change the Standing Orders to something; they just wanted a change.

(1435)



That's fair enough. We have unanimity down here. I could see an argument being made that we should set a lower consensus bar, but—and here I really am very tightly addressing the proposed amendment—the amendment requires unanimity in this committee. I actually think there is sufficient material and we will have no trouble finding standing order changes for which there is unanimous approval. The logical way is to start and say, as we have always done until now, “What is the low-hanging fruit? Where do we see the likelihood for such unanimity to emerge? Let's focus on those things; let's not focus on the others.”

Before I go through and try to point out some of those items and distinguish them from some of the others, which would be less likely to be the object of a consensus, let me first.... I'm just trying to think of what would make the most sense. I'll go through these and point out some of the things I think could be items that are likely to have consensus.

The paper starts with a bit of history, as these papers tend to do. It explains the justification of using three themes. As I mentioned, I am not necessarily supportive of the three themes, but we bounce up as the very first subsidiary item.... There are six subsidiary items under theme 1, which is “Management of the House”, and the first of these is what is called “sittings”, which means the days on which the House sits. The statement is made that.... I'm actually not sure that this is a factually correct statement, to be honest, but it says: Among the provinces and most international legislatures, Canada is unique in regularly sitting five days a week. Most legislatures have either the Monday or the Friday as a constituency day. The exception is the United Kingdom, which tends to sit on 13 or 14 Fridays out of 36 sitting weeks (i.e., 38 per cent of Fridays). In terms of provincial legislatures, Nova Scotia sometimes sits five days a week. As a result, the House of Commons sits many more days and hours each year than provincial and territorial legislatures. While the House does sit five days a week, certain procedural and time limitations on Fridays make these sittings less effective than other days.

I might disagree with that. It's a less effective day for getting business through—there are certain things you can't do—but it is actually effective at what it does. At any rate, let's go back to the text. All recorded divisions on bills are automatically deferred on Fridays, which means in some cases, the business that is taken up on Fridays cannot resume on Mondays. Additionally, Friday sittings provide for no more than 2.5 hours for Government Orders and committees do not meet.

The argument here is that we shouldn't have the House sit at all. This is not an area where we are likely to get consensus. I'm surprised that it's here again, because we had it come up in the past and it met with considerable opposition. Yesterday, it was the lead-off point for a number of the questioners in the House of Commons in question period. Their questions were, “Canadians work five days a week, so why shouldn't we?” Of course, constituency work takes place on Fridays and on weekends, and it is real work, but the work of the House of Commons, our legislative work, ought not to be subsidiary to our work as members of Parliament.

(1440)



It was as recently as the 1950s and 1960s that members of Parliament started introducing constituency offices. They didn't have constituency offices before that. People elected them to go to Ottawa to deal with legislation on their behalf. The member would typically take the train, if you go back to the days before the airplane. They would go to Ottawa, stay for the sitting life of the Parliament, and come back. If you were far enough away, even a week off was not very helpful to you in the days when it took several days of train travel to get to the west coast, for example. You would just not visit your constituency at that time, so we developed the pattern. I shouldn't say we developed, but we retained the inherited pattern that the British had of long breaks over the summer and long breaks at Christmas, and then a compressed period of sittings.

I think we're moving away from that bit by bit. The schedule that was agreed to at the House leaders' meeting last autumn, which involves the one-off, one-on period, so the week-on,week-off arrangement that we now have, is a move we all agreed to, maybe against our better wisdom, I don't know. We all agreed to the move, which had the effect of causing us to very significantly....

I will just make the obvious comment that this would not have happened in the 19th century, or indeed in the first three-quarters of the 20th century, when it was too difficult to get back to some areas.

Take one of your predecessors, Mr. Chair. There was a Speaker of the House whose name, if I'm not incorrect, was George Black, from Yukon. When he was a member of the House back in the thirties and forties, getting back from Ottawa to the Yukon could not have been something that happened quickly enough to get a week in—the turnaround time. It's still not convenient for you. I know this from the adjustments you've made to your schedule, notwithstanding the vast improvements in transportation technology.

People came to Ottawa with that expectation. Now, effectively, you can see our adjusting bit by bit the same number of sitting weeks. Let's spread them out differently so that we have a week on, a week off, then a week on, a week off. Then I think it's two weeks on, two weeks off through the period of February, March, and April, after which we get down to the old-fashioned four on, one off, four on. I think that is the remainder of our parliamentary calendar to the summer.

The first thing to observe about this is that it was agreed to through informal negotiation, which led to a one-time-only 2017 suspension of the sittings that would have prevailed. We put them in place. In fact, this particular part of the Standing Orders are designed to be subject to constant revision to accommodate that. Every year there is a very substantial debate at the House leaders' meeting in which party allegiances break down and people are aligned by province, based on when their kids' school break is, as to when our sitting weeks and non-sitting weeks will be. It's the Ontarians against the British Columbians against the Quebeckers against the Albertans, based on everybody wanting to make sure they can have a vacation when their kids are off school.

That shows, number one, the virtue of doing things informally, and number two, the virtue of flexibility and doing things informally at the House leaders' meeting, flexibility as to the ability to adjust from one year to the next and actually build that flexibility into the rules. Number three is the virtue of not trying to do things in an omnibus manner.

All of that is there to be seen . All of that is relevant to the search for unanimity. because although in those meetings we don't all agree, we manage to come to a consensus every time. I've never seen the House sittings and the way they work imposed by a majority, by one party, or by the government imposing itself, and saying that we're going to do it this way. We've never needed to. We've always managed to find a consensus solution on something that is genuinely contentious and on which emotions run high.

Partly what happens is that the House leaders use the parties as their mediating bodies to go back to enforce a certain discipline upon the various caucuses. But whatever the mechanism, that works better than doing it through formal changes.

(1445)



All right. Working us back now to the Fridays, Friday sittings don't provide much time for government orders, and committees don't meet. Those are absolutely true facts. This situation lets people get back to their ridings. It is a reflection of how we have adjusted our behaviour to permit MPs who are from further away to trade duty days. This is an informal system that has sprung up in every caucus so that they can be away from the House.

I actually am from near the Ottawa area. When there's no traffic, it takes an hour to get from here to my front door out in Perth. It feels like a million miles away, but it's actually a one-hour drive away, when there's no traffic. When there's traffic, it's a different story. I regularly take the Friday duty days of other MPs. I will sit for them on Friday, and they will sit for me at some other time, freeing me up from, among other things, committee work here.

That is a sign that things are working. This is presented as not working, but actually it's working well. You get 2.5 hours of government business on a Friday, which is 2.5 hours more than zero. You can have committees meet on Fridays, if they choose to do so. I was on one just last autumn that did that. It also met in unusual locations and at unusual hours. This committee has met at various times, although admittedly not on a Friday. It's a flex day.

I could go on and on about the history of weekends. Weekends used to.... Saturday was considered a half-day. Students would go for a half-day of school on Saturday. It was a half-holiday, they called it. Nobody got a two-day weekend. Before that you'd get the half-holiday. The week was that on six days you laboured and one day was the Sabbath. That's the Biblical way of doing things. Before that, in the ancient Roman empire, they had an eight-day week, with only one day per weekend. That really sucked.

The paper goes on to suggest options. It says: One option would be to reapportion the time on Friday sittings to other days, and another option would be to make them more like other sitting days. It should be recognized that the important work of Members takes place both in the House and in their constituencies.

Now, it's true that constituency work is important, but as I say, a century ago people understood that they looked to their MP to go to Ottawa to vote in a certain way, according to the platform of the party to which that individual belonged.

I do want them to represent their constituency, but their representation would normally take the form of making sure, if a lot of cattle producers were in my riding and a lot of people in the fishing industry were in Mr. Simms' riding, that I did not sacrifice the interests—in, say, trade negotiations—of our cattle producers to our fish producers. His constituents would send him here with the same understanding in reverse.

They didn't, however, say, “I need a passport. I'll go to the MP's office to help me out with that.” They didn't say, “I'm having a problem. My Canada pension plan cheque is an incorrect amount. I want the intervention of my member of Parliament” or “The flag on our service club is wearing out. I'm going to get a Canadian flag”.

We can do all those things, and while those things are important, they are not actually our primary responsibility. I'm constantly trading time with people who say, “I have to get back to my riding for this event. It's absolutely critical.” When push comes to shove and it's an important vote, nobody expects you to be at a high school graduation or a 100th birthday party or a bar mitzvah or a Santa Claus parade. They expect you to be in the House. Which constituent would have been happy seeing their member of Parliament at a Santa Claus parade, important as it might be, instead of voting on, for example, the assisted dying bill?

Maybe that's a bad example because that was in June and Santa Claus parades are in December, but you see my point. In the end, even the people who say, “You have to come to our event” are more upset when you're not doing your duty in the House. That's our primary duty.

(1450)



I am editorializing on concerns that I have with regard to the way in which this is laid out to show that this might very well be an item on which we would not be getting a consensus.

I'll just finish the last part here. Should Friday sittings be reapportioned, it would be important to reallocate any lost time to the remaining four days including time lost for opposition or for question time and private members' business. This could be accomplished by having the House meet earlier on certain days. Alternatively, if Friday sittings are retained, they should look like any other sitting day with the possible exception of having two hours of private members' business at the end of the day to allow some members to leave earlier to travel to their ridings. Somehow, maybe that's an option that we could actually get consensus on. In all fairness, I speak as someone who doesn't have a long travel day on Friday, and perhaps that could achieve success.

All right. I'm going to pass over with your permission, Mr. Chair, to electronic voting. I think there's a real potential for a consensus but I did deal with that earlier, and I'm anxious to be respectful of the other members who have all been listening intently and will not want me to repeat myself.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I don't mind if you repeat yourself, Scott.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I don't want to hear my own words again.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

No, I do. I thought they were very inspiring, very inspiring.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Yes, the electronic voting was the high point of this talk.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Yes, it was. Absolutely.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Could you email your comments?

Mr. Scott Reid:

No, I don't have....

There's the House calendar. This is an item that is intimately related to the Friday sittings. This goes back to the problem of.... I think I should deal with these two together. If you try to deal with these two together, it is conceivable you can get them done by the late May, early June deadline. I don't think you deal with them separately. My own recommendation would be they be pushed back and we deal with the electronic voting first. On the House calendar, the House leader's paper reads, “Should the House decide to move to a more efficient week, consideration could be given to having the House sit earlier in January, later in June and earlier in September.”

I assume that these are presented as a set of three as opposed to three alternatives from which we can choose on the basis that you'd lose about a week once you sever the Fridays and you'd need to get about three weeks back. You need to get back a week in each of these three places, so I could delve into those things.

Actually there's a thing I don't understand here, it says, “There is a correlation between the size of the House (number of Members) and the number of sittings.”

Anyway, the House, it says here: For example, the House has nearly three times the number of Members than the largest provincial legislature. The House currently has more sitting hours than Ontario and Quebec even though the legislatures have approximately the same number of sitting weeks per year. A greater degree of flexibility could be built into how many sittings the House has in any given year. The number of sittings could be based on the demands to sit. Urgent and important matters before the House should be given their fullest consideration despite certain time pressures. Allowing the House to agree to sit beyond the dates of adjournment and to sit longer on any given day, would provide more opportunity for Members to participate in debate. Another obvious benefit would be to calm the acrimonious proceedings leading up to the summer and winter adjournments. While there are mechanisms to allow the House to sit beyond adjournment dates, they are usually implemented by unanimous consent or by the use of closure.

In terms of “While there are mechanisms to allow the House to sit beyond adjournment dates, they are usually implemented by unanimous consent or by the use of closure”, there's actually a factual error in this. It says “usually”, but there's a possibility that's not stated here, which is you can go beyond adjournment dates with the support of the majority of the parties in the House, a supermajority. This was done in 2005 as a way of sitting extra time to allow us to enact the same-sex marriage legislation.

The Liberals, NDP and the Bloc, which I think had party status at the time, were in favour. That was sufficient to allow an extension thereby permitting the passage of that legislation in the House and sending it off to the Senate prior to the summer by allowing for some extra days of sitting.

With regard to the idea of greater flexibility, I think you could achieve that. I think you could achieve it in ways that the government might not like. You can, for example, summon a hearing, a meeting of a committee, if a certain number of members, less than a majority of the committee, ask to have it summoned. I think if I'm not mistaken—and here I'm looking to the chair for correction on this—it's four members of the committee. Am I right? Four members of the committee can summon it back or call for it to be called back for a special sitting. I believe that's right.

(1455)

The Chair:

Yes. It's Standing Order 106(4).

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you. I knew you had it on the tip of your tongue.

Not only do we follow the practices of the House, but here's one where the House could follow the practices of the committee, the idea being that the.... You notice it's fewer than half the members. That rule is designed to allow the government to call a committee back or the opposition to call a committee back. In practice, in our multi-party system, it almost always means that you would have to get the agreement of more than one opposition party.

We have two parties right now with official party status that are in the opposition. We would have to get the consent of the New Democrats and the Conservatives to make that happen, but that can be done. Also, of course, the Liberals could do it on their own.

You could do something like that where you say, look, either one could call the House back. This would all assume it's not prorogued of course. Prorogation is not within our powers to stop. Prorogation is important for us to discuss, but it's something that is a crown power, and it is just not part of our Standing Orders. When we're prorogued, that's it. That's cemented externally, and you have to live with it. But when we're not prorogued, when we are merely not sitting for the summer, you could call us back. Government can really do that anyway via the Governor General, so that might have some merit.

Again, this is not a simple matter. It's not something we're going to get discussed and sorted out by early June. We could discuss it. I mean discuss them—there are actual multiple topics in here. The number of sittings could be based on demands to sit. We could change the order in which things come before the House, so urgent and important matters before the House are given their fullest consideration despite time pressures. That suggests some kind of new system for reallocating business. We could discuss allowing it to sit longer on a given day. You would have to be careful you don't design it so you get extra time for debate during which the proceedings can collapse when members are trying to get off to the airport to get back for business in their ridings. Those things take time to discuss and sort out.

These are technicalities, but everything in the Standing Orders is technicalities. It's all technicalities.

I should comment on the acrimonious proceedings leading to the summer and winter adjournments. I guess there's some acrimony. It seems to me that they are simply very time-consuming, and they go late into the evening, which is different from being acrimonious, I would assert.

There has been acrimony, for sure. We're trying to get business done. Also that is the point at which you frequently get substantial co-operation of pushing some business through. The acrimony is in seeing how much the government can push through by holding out the threat of sitting late into the night every night. It's just normal government business. It's kind of like the people who, during the electoral reform hearings—I see Erin, our very talented.... We are joined by one of the analysts for the ERRE committee.

There were some utopian people coming and saying we need to get the contention, the acrimony, out of politics, and they had a system that would do that. But you don't have a system that will do that. You might improve it in a variety of ways, but politics is by its nature the battle for political office in which there's one seat and multiple candidates. It's inherently confrontational. It's unavoidable.

That's why a large number of words, including one I used earlier, are considered unparliamentary, and that's why we have a whole bunch of other things meant to tone it down. I don't think the kind of acrimony they are describing can be avoided by giving us an extra week. I think it would have the effect of causing our acrimony to occur a week later, frankly. I disagree with that.

(1500)



There is a reason for why we have the allowance for the late-night sittings in June but at no other time. You have a choice here. You can sit late into the evening or, if the government has business that's important in the government's eyes and there's a majority, the government can move a motion and extend the sitting into the summer. You won't like that, but you'll dislike it in a different way from the late-night sittings. Maybe we could agree that you'll limit the number of speakers getting up for debate. That's kind of the government's bargaining position.

The opposition parties have similar bargaining positions. They all assure each other behind closed doors that their members are raring to go and would love to stay all summer if that's what it takes. Of course, that is not how the conversations are actually transpiring in the various caucuses. We all know that it's a bit of a fiction. Like the chest-beating displays of gorillas in mating season, the fact that nobody really wants to get into a fight is not communicated directly but through indirect means. Ultimately, you come up with some kind of solution. I've never seen it not happen. It's not always a solution that makes everybody happy, but the rules are surprisingly sophisticated.

The same-sex marriage bill was a great example. When there is something that is closer to a consensus than a mere majority, as reflected in our party system, you'll have a majority of the parties in the House agreeing to something and then you can extend the sittings. That is a way of saying that we're going to allow the spirit of consensus to trump the ability of those who oppose to put up endless speakers on the list, which is something that every government feels a desire to do.

This now brings me back to the Prime Minister's motivations. He is frustrated, as every holder of executive office since the pharaohs has been, both the dreadful ones and the great ones. It is frustrating to have to go through a process that frustrates my will, but the system is designed to frustrate your will. It is designed to ensure that there must be some degree of buy-in, of what Minister Monsef, when she was the Minister of Democratic Institutions, called “broad buy-in”.

That's right, you need to get something.... If you have a majority, sometimes you can get two-thirds or three-quarters, depending on what you're talking about. It can be a majority of parties. It can be the 7/50 formula. You see patterns all over the place, in the House of Commons Standing Orders, our Constitution, our corporate law, and our internal rules of corporate governance. It's in Robert's Rules of Order. The ideas that you have for different situations are everywhere.

If we were to hunt down the history of that section.... In the annotated Standing Orders, there's typically an explanation of the history of each section. I don't know the history of that particular one, but my suspicion is that some kind of situation arose where a party was blocking progress in the House of Commons, by everybody speaking to their maximum time, and slow voting, and all that stuff.

After that crisis was over and everybody could see it was a problem, the Standing Orders were adjusted so that kind of use of process by the opposition, which used technical rules in a way that violated the spirit of the House, would be corrected. As in the law of testaments and wills, the technical rule trumps the spirit in our parliamentary Standing Orders. However, when that is used in a way that is clearly contrary to the spirit, the majority ought to be able to decide, and when it's more than a majority, a smaller minority should not be able to hold things up in such a way as to prevent moving forward.

Ultimately, a change was made when everybody was not invested in one side or the other in that particular dispute. A system was found, which, although it was used in a way that was against my party and against me in 2005, I have to concede was not wholly unreasonable. There is a lot of that kind of thing in there.

That is a bit of a discussion about the House calendar. You'll see in that discussion, which I am now wrapping up, that again, there is a lot of meat in there.

(1505)



I actually said you can't discuss this on its own. It has to be discussed in conjunction with the discussion about the length of our workweek and the hours we sit every day. This, on its own, in conjunction with that, would be too much for us to discuss and complete by June 2, although it might not be too much for us if we were to set it aside to discuss and complete by the end of the Parliament or even by the end of 2017, although that seems wishful to me.

If we had a separate committee dealing with this—this is not what my motion recommends—much as there was a separate committee under the Chrétien government meeting full time with regularly scheduled meetings— it could be twice a week or whatever— I think they could get through a lot of this stuff and make the same kind of progress that committee made. If we agreed to the consensus part of it, either that committee or we—it remains in our hands, as my amendment proposes—could have the effect of dealing in a businesslike fashion with those items on which there is consensus, of which as you can see there are several—several aren't and several might be—we could make real, meaningful progress. We would leave the 42nd Parliament, or if you like, we would create the 43rd Parliament better than we found the 42nd, which is not what's going to happen if we go the way the government is proposing doing this.

Now I turn to routine proceedings. Routine proceedings are the stuff that has to get done. This is the least exciting, and frankly, probably the most important part of the House when it sits. Some people want to drive a car because they want to get from point A to point B. Other people love flipping up the hood and tinkering with the internal workings and adjusting the pistons and all that stuff. People like that are the ones who like routine proceedings. People who just want to get from point A to point B find routine proceedings a drag, but it structures the business of the House.

Now I am going to read what the government House leader has to say: However, certain rubrics of Routine Proceedings have been used to give rise to debate. The rubric of “Motions” allows Members to move a debatable motion that could, on certain days, deprive the House of the ability to deliberate on the intended item for debate during Government Orders. This not only applies to items emanating from the Government (i.e., debate on a bill), but could also apply to items standing in the name of an Opposition Member (i.e., an Opposition Day motion). More often than not, it is either a motion to concur in a committee report or a motion of instruction to a committee. The House should examine different ways to schedule debate on such motions.

I can tell you this is one area in which the government is simply not going to find consensus. By the way, in the event that the government is successful in wearing us down, passing Mr. Simms' motion in the middle of the night, and then pushing through what is going to be a non-consensus report, then there would be a concurrence debate, voting on party lines in favour of it and emasculating the opposition. If all that happens, I predict this will be in there. It's probably illegal to bet on government business, or at any rate, we should go to the Ethics Commissioner before we engage in laying wagers. I would be willing to bet of everything here, this is the one that's going through.

The ability to take away the opposition's power to move concurrence debates as a delaying tactic is something that every majority government wants rid of. It's less of a problem in minority governments, though it happens, and for an interesting reason.

(1510)



Given the debate we all had, in which everybody expressed the virtues of minority governments, I just want to say, as somebody who has lived through both, that I observe that in minority governments.... I'm not sure they are better than majorities, actually. In some ways they are and in some ways they aren't. That is a subject for a discussion over a beer.

In a minority government, the fact that you are going to be defeated on a measure anyway if you're trying to push it through means that you have to compromise with the parties earlier in the process. You have to compromise by getting one other party to sign on with you, depending on the size of the parties. When Stephen Harper had a minority government in two successive Parliaments, he had to rely on the support of the Liberals, the New Democrats, or the Bloc—any one of the three would be enough. When Paul Martin was in power, it was a similar kind of dynamic.

I think that was something else. I don't think it's us.

The Chair:

Is there a vote?

We are suspending for the vote. We'll be back right after the vote.

(1515)

(1600)

The Chair:

We'll come out of suspension. When we left off, I think Mr. Reid was speaking.

For people who are new here, if you are speaking, you are speaking on the amendment of Mr. Reid, so make sure you address your remarks to that amendment.

We will carry on with—

Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):

Could I just be added to the speaking list?

The Chair:

Okay.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Forgive me, Mr. Chair, I did not put my speaking notes back in the right order here. Yes, I was speaking to the amendment, and I've now found it.

The amendment leaves most of Mr. Simms' motion intact, including the date of June 2, even though I think June 2 is problematic. The reason is that it focuses on the critical issue, which is the need for broad-based buy-in, for consensus, for a supermajority. We actually say unanimity, but as I tried to illustrate earlier, it's a need for something broader, which in practice—given the structure of the committee—really has to be unanimity. I went through and explained a bit of that. We're only changing a tiny bit of paragraph (d) and paragraph (e), and we're creating space between the two to drop in a new paragraph (e), which emphasizes the need for unanimity.

It also emphasizes....

I apologize, Mr. Chair. I have a cold, and as a result my nose keeps on shutting up as I'm talking. I may be more staccato in my delivery than I would choose to be.

The Chair:

If there's anything we can help with, let us know.

Mr. Scott Reid:

No, I have Kleenex. Thank you.

The goal here is to require unanimity in the committee, and the amendment states that this is consistent with the committee's past practices as discussed in its December 8, 2016, meeting. At our meeting on December 8, 2016, we reviewed what our practices in the past have been on this committee. We sometimes use majority consent in this committee. In other words, party line votes, and ultimately, when it's a majority government, the government gets it's way; that's how it works. However, we try wherever possible to be consensual. We single out certain things for a greater expectation of consent than other things. For some things, we just say, “It's going to be party lines. That's the way it works.” For other things, we say, “No, we have to treat this differently.” It is the nature of this committee to have more of that kind of business submitted to it, and above everything else, that includes the Standing Orders, our constitution.

The fundamental law that rules us, the rules of the game, the rules of engagement, if you will.... I mention all of this to bring around the important parallel—partly because it's so important in its merits, and partly because it's so important as a parallel, as a high-profile illustration that anyone can understand—of the electoral reform debate that took place earlier in this Parliament. This committee was not directly involved in it, although some members of this committee travelled across the country: Ms. Sahota, Mr. Richards, and myself. If you actually stop and look at what they were saying, the way the parties approached this was different in its details, but the same in this important, this foundational, respect. If you're changing the rules of the game, as you'd be if you were changing the electoral system, then you must have something more than mere majority support, especially in a situation where majority means one faction, the largest faction.

The way my party, the Conservatives, expressed that was by saying that there should be no change to the electoral system without a referendum whereby the new system is approved by the voters of Canada. They are the ones who get to establish what is legitimate and what is not legitimate. If they approve of a system, then, whatever that system happens to be, it is legitimate, assuming you have a clear majority on a clear question. That's a standard set by the Supreme Court.

The Liberal approach was to say.... They didn't say this initially, but they did by May of last year. Minister Monsef stood up in the House of Commons and said that they needed broad buy-in. She didn't define what broad buy-in was, and earlier in my remarks I indicated that I felt that was a bit of a moving target. The term “consensus” came up as a stand-in for the term “broad buy-in”, but it was never clear exactly what that meant, and that was a problem. It clearly did not mean a majority of fifty per cent plus one of committee members, fifty per cent plus one of the House. I think everybody understood that.

(1605)



Looking at her remarks, and even though we confronted each other in the House of Commons, I think I always maintained a respectful approach towards Minister Monsef, who I felt was, if you will and are knowledgeable about poker, “playing a bad hand” as well as she could. I thought she was doing a creditable job, and she's also a very nice person. I enjoyed bantering with her. I compared this once to Archy and Mehitabel.

The broad buy-in she was talking about clearly also included, in that case, some form of broader consent from the Canadian people. We did an e-survey for the committee, which got 22,000 responses. People were asked about the possibility of using what's called a citizens' assembly to see whether that provided, in the minds of Canadians, a legitimate level of extra consensus.

People were generally favourable towards it, although they didn't seem to see it as the definitive indication that Canadians had bought in—when I say “people”, I mean the 22,000 respondents—I think perhaps because a citizens' assembly is really a process that occurs earlier in the drafting and development process, not later on. It's not really a ratification process. It is a design process. Having said that, it was an attempt to find consensus.

The New Democrats said that what you needed to have was the support of at least one opposition party as well as of the government. I don't think I'm being unfair to the New Democrats when I say that this was actually meant as a kind of bargaining offer—“Come to us, and if you're willing to find something that we can agree to and you Liberals agree to, we have a deal”—and not a referendum. Ultimately, they agreed, in a great generosity of spirit, to put the question of electoral reform to a referendum.

The point I'm getting at is that everybody agreed, on all sides of the House, that when you're dealing with the rules of the game, the rules of engagement, the Constitution—the de facto constitution, because the electoral system is not a strictly constitutional matter, or at least in most respects it isn't—you have to have a higher level of buy-in.

We have conventions about this. These conventions are then the practices of this committee, or the usages of the committee, if you wish. They are reflected in the way this committee has dealt with its standing orders in the past. As well, they are the way the House of Commons itself has dealt with the Standing Orders in the past. The House of Commons has normally, when dealing with a change in Standing Orders, tried to seek unanimous consent through the channel of getting the House leaders to agree among themselves, through some back-channel negotiation among themselves.

Then eventually, someone stands up—one of the House leaders—and says the words we all know: “Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion.” This is usually preceded by, “There have been consultations” or “All parties have been consulted”, or some other statement that indicates that the Speaker should take this seriously, and that there actually has been a way of finding agreement.

We're permitted to do that. It doesn't mean that the actual rules of the House are suspended for more than that vote, and there's no precedent-setting value to a unanimous consent motion, because we understand that it is the exception. But the Standing Orders themselves are the exception. They're the exception to the way the House normally works. The Standing Orders are, as I say, the rules under which we operate, under which we conduct ourselves, so they get special consideration.

The last time the House tried to significantly bite into the Standing Orders and take a real chunk to make a significant change, 14 years ago, it set up a special committee to deal with it. The special committee operated by unanimous consent. It approved nothing. There were no dissenting reports, because there was no dissent. Nothing on which there was dissent was put forward by the committee, which recognized that it had a wealth of material to work with and therefore had no need to focus on contentious items. It thus focused on items for which consent was going to be found on a unanimous basis.

(1610)



In the interim, while the vote was going on in the House, Mr. Chair, I had the opportunity not to read, unfortunately, but to download the reports of the special committee chaired by Bob Kilger, the Deputy Speaker of the House at the time, whose seniority indicates the seriousness with which the House took the business of looking at the Standing Orders. The culture the committee members applied—I actually don't know because I didn't get a chance to read their discussions, nor the discussions that took place in the House as the motion was going forward. It may be that these were very limited discussions. It might be one of those things where they got unanimous consent by having House leaders talk about it. This is before my period serving as deputy House leader, so I would not have been privy to any of those discussions.

Although I was an MP at the time, June 2001, I was very, very junior and was frankly just lost a lot of the time when it came to what was going on at a technical level. A lot passed me by. Like any new MP, I was still discovering which local events were actually important and which were really important in the minds of the people who insisted that I had to be there. All MPs go through that in their first year.

At any rate, that approach, that consensual, unanimous approach, was adopted by the House in that round of hearings. That explains, to a large degree, why the legacy of those Standing Order changes that were made upon the recommendation of the committee have stood the test of time. I think at this point, 14 or 15 years is a good indication of the test of time. We live in a world in our Parliament where we have Standing Orders that in some cases have been on the books via our Parliament and the mother of parliaments in Westminster since the time of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Some of them go back that far.

The rule that prohibits the king or the king's men from preventing a member from entering the House of Commons goes back to the time of King Charles I, who was in the habit of sending thugs—and they didn't have hotels in those days, so they slept in a room over a tavern—great big guys, who could just stand at the door and make it impossible for MPs to get out if they were going to vote the wrong way. MPs would have to climb out of second-storey windows to try to get to the House of Commons to vote.

(1615)

Ms. Ruby Sahota (Brampton North, Lib.):

Really?

Mr. Scott Reid:

Yes, that's actually true.

So they put in this rule that you can't prevent members from attending the House. Obviously, those days are past. But that's where the rules come from. You can see that. They have a long history.

I don't know if, through that entire history, standing order changes were always adopted by unanimous consent. I only know the latter part of the history and the odd colourful items from the very early days. But there's been a general trend in our parliamentary system—it is the predominant trend in our parliamentary system—that we constantly improve over time based on the criteria that are the most important to us. These criteria can change from one generation to the next in some particulars, but in general the criteria could be summarized as the importance of freedom of speech. This is why in the House, on the one hand, no member can ever say another member has lied, and you can't say through the back door what you're not allowed to say through the front door. You can't say indirectly what you can't say directly. You can't say or imply that another member has lied or deliberately misled the House.

But on the other hand, if you actually do mislead the House, that is a really serious offence. That's a contempt of Parliament. You do so at your peril. It's interesting the degree to which members, ministers, and others, will avoid actually telling a known untruth. They may dissemble, hint, lead, misdirect, but actually outright lying, it's amazing how rare it is, and not because of the severity of our sanctions, but because of the skill with which we have matched minimal penalties: the loss of prestige, essentially, in the eyes of your colleagues, in a world where prestige in the eyes of your colleagues and constituents is everything for your continued parliamentary career.

I mentioned that we had a discussion when Mr. Simms was here earlier about the appropriate use of the word “guillotine”. Looking at literal guillotines, the kind that were used during the French Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French scholar—

(1620)

The Chair:

You are tying this to your amendment, right?

Mr. Scott Reid:

Very much so. He wrote a book called Democracy in America. What he said about the United States, writing for a French audience.... He, like Lord Bryce, was writing a book explaining America—what was going on over here—for the benefit of an audience back in Europe. He commented on the American Congress in a way that applies to our Parliament.

He was struck by the mildness of the penalties for misbehaviour on the part of members. In France, at various times, they chopped off the heads of members of the National Assembly who went the wrong way. First, the revolutionaries did it to the Bourbons; then, when the Bourbons got in power, they did it to the revolutionaries. In between, there was Napoleon, who probably was not as bad as either.

Several decades after this, De Tocqueville looked back at the legacy of this and wondered, what's going on in the States? They have very mild penalties.” He said that the importance attached to the unofficial prestige or reputation that people need to maintain in order to have a successful congressional career was ultimately what allowed the sanctions to be so mild. He described impeachment, which is actually inherited from Westminster, though we think of it as an American concept. The process of impeachment, which itself seemed remarkably mild to a nation that had gone through the Reign of Terror, is almost never used. Milder sanctions are in place. This is true in the judiciary as well.

What he said about the United States is equally true of Canada. Even in those days, in the 1840s, we were the other great civilized force in North America, the other model, with sanctions just as mild. This has been our tradition, that we use the mildest possible approach, especially when it comes to the key orders, the key rules, the Standing Orders of the House. This is how we behave. Back in those days, I don't know if we always had unanimous consent for standing order changes, but it has been the practice going back through the last two governments, one Conservative, one Liberal. Beyond that, I'm not sure about the specifics.

I look at other aspects of how the House operates, though, and I see, because we rely on consensus for our most important changes, a general trend in a positive direction on almost everything. I use the election of the Speaker as an example, because that was the most recent standing order change. It was initiated by me as a proposed standing order. The change took place not by a consensus, but by a vote in the House of Commons in which party lines were dropped. It had the support of members from all parties, but not the overwhelming or unanimous support of any party, including my own.

I look at the election of the Speaker, which is now done by a preferential ballot. Before that, it was done by a series of runoff ballots, a less good system. I say that objectively, because it was less good in the eyes of the majority of members of the House of Commons, who voted to change the system. That system was an improvement on the previous system, in which the Speaker would be nominated by the Prime Minister and the nomination would be seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, which of course involved a consultation beforehand. But when you look at the history of the consultation process, you see that the further back you go, the more cursory the consultation was. As time went on, it became a more meaningful, real consultation, which had the effect of taking a speaker who initially had been a quite partisan figure and making him less and less partisan.

This takes us back to the interwar period. The Speaker was nominated by the Prime Minister, and if you had a partisan vote in the House, then the Speaker was a very partisan figure. In that area, you can see a clear move toward something that is, I think, objectively superior. The Speaker is doing that which he is supposed to do objectively, upholding the rules of the House in a way that is manifest and transparent. That's the general direction. You can look at order in the House of Commons.

(1625)



As every journalist knows, the easiest story to write when you are stuck for material is about how “back in the golden days of Parliament, we did not have the terrible lapses of decorum that we now see”—about how decorum is worse than it has ever been before.

As someone who has served here for 17 years, I can tell you that this is not true. The improvement we have seen, more or less a straight-line improvement—well, it's not a completely straight line, but it has been generally and consistently in one direction, towards greater respect—is that there's been less mere noise going on during the life of a majority Liberal government, a Liberal minority, a Conservative minority, a Conservative majority, a Liberal majority. I would argue that there has been almost a straight line over that period—the trend line has been very clear—through the development of practices that empower the Speaker; that make him more and more powerful, but only because he more and more fully represents the will of the entire Commons.

The example that's happening right now that I think is salutary is the practice—I don't know whether the Speaker developed this himself or whether someone suggested it to him, but it's an excellent practice—at certain points, such as after question period, for example, when there's a lot noise and people are having discussions....

I frequently am an offender in this regard; I'm chatting with someone who has stopped by my desk, or I've stopped by their desk to compare notes on some point. We're chatting. It's hard to get on with business, because you can't hear whoever has the next item of business.

The Speaker encourages others to say “shhh”, and that indicates the will of the House in a way that everybody gets. It is much more effective at quieting the House and letting us get on with business than anything else I've seen.

It's not incorporated into the Standing Orders anywhere; it is a practice. But the point of this.... I saw you giving a little hand signal that means “tie this back in”, so I'm tying this back in by pointing out that it is in the direction of developing greater consensus and moving away from doing things by vote, which is the default to be used only when consensus or wider consent is not possible. In the amendment, I would be talking about the need for consistency with our past practices.

I want to talk a bit about the general direction this government, very unconventionally, has taken with respect to levels of consent. It differs in this regard from the previous Conservative government and the Liberal government before that.

I know that my colleague Mr Christopherson, who was here in the last Parliament, will stoutly maintain that Stephen Harper was no angel, and while he is objectively—

Mr. David Christopherson:

What? I don't think I would put it that mildly.

Mr. Scott Reid:

—mistaken, which I could provide an objective demonstration as to why, in his belief that Stephen Harper was no angel—

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Hear, hear!

Mr. Scott Reid:

—I will temporarily, and for the purposes of this discussion, accept his premise and say that even if Stephen Harper were no angel, he nevertheless respected the practice that we don't change the Standing Orders without widespread consent.

Looking back further, we had another angel in human form, Jean Chrétien, in office, and he, too, respected this practice. But this government has been different. We've seen this twice with the Standing Orders, this time, and with motion number six, a year ago. Both times the government said, “We're going to change these without consent. We don't care. We don't care about what the practice was in the past, or alternatively, we are not aware of what the practice was in the past.” I'm not sure which of the two it is.

I say “the government”. I do not mean to suggest that there aren't people in the government who are aware. There are some very smart procedural people in the government. But the government acted on the whole as a single corporate individual, and is either unaware or uncaring about the way in which these things have worked, in the same way that its proposals on electoral reform turned out to be a matter of, “Well, if we don't get what want, we won't move forward. If we do get what we want, we can move forward, but not otherwise.” These are departures from practice in the past, where the governments had been more reticent, more cautious.

I would argue, looking at the Prime Minister, that the changes he's made to the Liberal Party constitution.... Although in that case he was working with a willing audience, one that was willing to accept his changes, they also moved in the same direction of wanting to get rid of the intermediating institutions and rules that permit others to slow down the government's implementation of what it wishes to do, which, to be clear, always means pushing aside other individuals. Ultimately, it is the individuals who exercise powers under the rules that exist at that point in time. Ultimately, he's trying to concentrate power in his own hands.

I do not believe this is because he wants to be our dictator, but I do think he has a vision of his role that is profoundly at odds with the political culture that has been deeply internalized by most of his recent predecessors, and I suspect most of his more distant predecessors in this office. It's the idea that you are inheriting a mantle of office in a great system, a great machine, that is, from a political point of view, greater than you, the individual; and you serve it and make it better.

(1630)

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I just want to raise, for the benefit of all members, that while I'm really enjoying what Mr. Reid is saying, it's a bit difficult to hear when there's conversation going on around the table while this is happening, including while I'm discussing this point of order.

The Chair:

Mr. Graham.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

It certainly is possible for members to maybe step outside the door and have those conversations there, so that we can participate fully in the debate without those kinds of interruptions. Maybe it's just me, but as I'm working through this—

Mr. Scott Simms:

No, me, too.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Mr. Simms shares my concerns here. It's good to have some unanimity on this point at least.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Thank you, Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Reid, you're on.

Mr. David Christopherson:

If he gets two people with unanimity, he'll run with it.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Christopherson: You know what I'm saying. The sharpy lawyers—

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Mr. Chair, I'd like to strike those comments from the record there—

Mr. David Christopherson:—over there are keeping an eye on you.

Mr. Luc Berthold (Mégantic—L'Érable, CPC):

Mr. Chair, I just want to apologize. I didn't want to disturb my colleague.

The Chair:

Okay, thank you.

Mr. Reid, you're on.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you.

But after the election of 2000, the agreement of two people was considered unanimity in the Canadian Alliance Ontario caucus, of which I was 50%.

Mr. Scott Simms:

And the PC Caucus.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Yes, and for the PC caucus in 1993, which was giant compared to our current Atlantic caucus.

At any rate, I think there's a pattern here, which I think is unwise. Look, we speak here in committees and in the House for the purpose of conveying messages back to others—to those who are in the room. But given that some of the decision-makers are not in the room, and in this case it's certainly true that the key decision-makers on how the government will act are not present in this room, as I guess is always true with committee business, I am trying to convey a message to Justin Trudeau that I think he is mistaken.

Leaving aside what his end goals are for Canada, leaving aside where he's trying to take us as a country in terms of social justice, environmental stewardship, a renewed relationship with our first nations and aboriginal populations—I'm just going through the substantive things where he has a substantive policy, and those are some of the highlights. There are others, but those are three that come to mind. Leaving those aside, I would submit that I think he's less likely to get to where he wants to go if he tries to remove intermediating institutions than he is if he respects them, if he recognizes that ultimately, as part of a large machine—and the Prime Minister is a part of that machine—I wouldn't just say a gear in the machine, but as part of the machine, as opposed to being the entire machine—or if you wish to use the analogy of a driver or a pilot, he's not on his own in this matter.

I think these rule changes and the way in which they're being done takes us profoundly in the wrong direction, and ultimately will redound against him. They will make everything that the rules try to do look like dictatorship. A media that is anxious to tell the story about how the honeymoon is over—which is what all the cool kids in the media are saying now—will be all over this. Of course, there's the new media, which isn't controlled by anyone in particular, which will also be all over this. This is a mistake in direction, and I think it will push him further away rather than bringing him closer to the ultimate achievement of those goals.

I am not so sure, when I look back at the three Harper governments—two minorities, one majority—that the majority had accomplishments that, from the subjective point of view of Stephen Harper's own policy preferences, were that much further down the road than those achieved during his minority governments when he had to make compromises in order to get the support of other parties in the House. I'm not so sure that absolute administrative power is quite the prize that it appears to be, and therefore I counsel against moving in this direction in this way,

That's as opposed, Mr. Chair, to moving forward on some, and perhaps many, of the items in the discussion paper, piecemeal, one at time, which my motion would allow us to do. The motion effectively has the practical effect of saying that we'll only have those items we can agree upon unanimously by the June 2 deadline. It does not say that we can't return to other items after June 2. I anticipate that we would do so either at this committee, or perhaps the House would elect to establish a separate committee similar to the special committee on modernization and improvement of the procedures in the House of Commons, from the last decade, to accomplish that. My point is that this will allow us to stream all of these things forward.

(1635)



I'm just debating now whether I want to return to the other items in the House leader's report to indicate which of them I think would be best to proceed with.

Some of the things that we're unlikely to achieve consensus on may be found in government motion number six. The reason the government is taking the approach it's taking right now—a discussion paper followed by a motion in this committee—is the enormously negative reception that it met when it tried doing it by a different means back on May 17 last year.

The government actually proposed changing, or at least one of the items in Minister Chagger's proposal is that we look at, the sitting different hours. The government proposed sitting different hours and said specifically in motion number six: (a) on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, the House shall continue to sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment until such time as a Minister of the Crown or a Parliamentary Secretary moves a motion for the adjournment of the House, such motions to be deemed adopted without debate or amendment

Just to be clear, the government can decide when the House sits at its absolute discretion and consult with nobody. It's automatically in place. It goes as late as we need to and we can cut things off as early as we want to, but only the government and specifically only members of cabinet can decide. That, of course, means the government and the ministry speak with one voice. The Prime Minister gets direct control over this. It's consistent with the theme I've been illustrating. The motion continued: (b) the House shall continue to sit beyond June 23, 2016;

That's relevant to the matters going on at that time.

And then it stated: (c) matters to be considered pursuant to Standing Orders 52(9) and 53.1 be taken up at 10:00 p.m. and, upon conclusion of each said debate, the House shall resume consideration of Government Orders;

Just to make the point of what that's about, I think you have the Annotated Standing Orders. May I have those?

(1640)

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Yes.

They're heavily annotated, but I'm sure you can still find it.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Wow, you really get some use out of that, apparently.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Yes, I have to read my kids something before bed, so....

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Good for you. That's like bathtub reading, that's incredible.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Okay. In Standing Order 52(9), we get to that. This deals with the emergency debates. We're dealing with emergency debates in the House of Commons: If the Speaker is satisfied that the matter is proper to be discussed, the motion shall stand over until the ordinary hour of daily adjournment on that day, provided that the Speaker, at his or her discretion, may direct that the motion shall be set down for consideration on the following sitting day at an hour specified by the Speaker.

The Speaker has discretion. The Speaker is the representative of the consensus of the House. Looking back here, the Speaker loses that discretion.

Under the heading of “Take-note Debates” is Standing Order 53.1: (1) A Minister of the Crown, following consultation with the House Leaders of the other parties, may propose a motion at any time, to be decided without debate or amendment, setting out the subject-matter and designating a day on which a take-note debate shall take place, provided that the motion may not be proposed less than forty-eight hours before the said debate is to begin. (2) A take-note debate ordered by the House pursuant to section (1) of this Standing Order shall begin at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment and any proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38 shall be suspended on that day. (3) The rules to apply to a debate under the present Standing Order shall be those applied during a Committee of the Whole except that:

It lists the distinctions between that and the standing order. Again, you see this reflected despite the fact that there was consensus against government motion number six....You see this change moving from motion number six to Minister Chagger's discussion paper. After we've all just discussed the importance of consensus and working together, we see something that was rejected a year ago was brought back. In all fairness to Minister Chagger, it hadn't been discussed in-between, so maybe this was the way of bringing it back for potential discussion because maybe this was not the point on which motion number six was rejected. There was no discussion in-between. The government didn't float any balloons, ask questions, or raise things at House leaders meetings. It just came forward now with a tight timeline, which is fitting a pattern of the government dragging its heels and then suddenly declaring this a crisis that must be dealt with instantly through a suspension of the normal practices of the House. That's problematic.

The next thing here in motion number six was, proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38—

(1645)

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

We're going to have to vote soon.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Sorry.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

We have another vote coming up. Keep going.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Sorry. Is that relevant to what I was saying?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I was just giving you a heads-up.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Okay. I'm sorry.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I know you're deep in thought. I was just trying to give you an idea of what you were looking at.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Actually, I'm checking on a health emergency in the family and my wife is texting me. I just check every so often. That's what that is about. Thank you for that.

The Chair:

Remind us of where we are in relation to your amendment.

Mr. Scott Reid:

We're at motion number six.... What I've been doing in the amendment is trying to show the importance of consensus as reflected in the practices of the committee and this House in the past and by tying these to Motion 6, the confrontational way in which it was brought up, the way in which it was withdrawn, and the statements that were made by the then House leader, Mr. LeBlanc, at that time, all of which indicate a pattern of expected future behaviour—future from the point of view of a year ago—that is not being followed through on. I'm trying to demonstrate that point.

Forgive me, I left off on proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38 under paragraph (d): proceedings pursuant to Standing Order 38 shall take place at 6:30 p.m. on Mondays or at the conclusion of the taking of any recorded division deferred pursuant to paragraph (e)(ii), whichever is later; at the expiry of the time provided for Private Members' Business on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and when the debate on the matter or matters raised pursuant to Standing Order 38 has ended, the motion to adjourn the House shall be deemed to have been withdrawn and the House shall resume consideration of Government Orders;

And then there is paragraph (e): subject to paragraph (f), when a recorded division is requested in respect of a debatable motion, including any division arising as a consequence of the application of Standing Order 61(2) or 78(3), but not including any division in relation to the Business of Supply or arising as a consequence of an Order made pursuant to Standing Order 57 (i) before 2:00 p.m. on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, it shall be deemed deferred until the conclusion of Oral Questions on that day's sitting or (ii) after 2:00 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, or any time on a Friday, it shall be deemed deferred until the conclusion of Oral Questions on the next sitting day that is not a Friday, and any vote deferred to Monday taken up at 6:30 p.m.

Just for those who are wondering, regarding 61(2)...Garnett knows this stuff by heart, but for the rest of us, Garnett's kids aren't here to answer the question and so I'll just tell you that 61(2) is dealing with previous questions, an item that is a procedural tool available to the opposition, so that effectively obviates that.

Next is 78(3). I'm not going to read all of 78(3), which is a page long, but this has to do with the procedure in cases where time is being allotted. It's about time allocation. Section 78 in general is about time allocation. This effectively gives additional tools to the government with relation to time allocation.

I have a little bit more on this to go on with, but I want to stop and draw the attention of members of the committee to something else that I think is very significant.

Early in his mandate, Minister LeBlanc appeared before this committee. He at the time was House leader, and as is traditional with House leaders following an election, he came before this committee and said, my job is to fulfill my mandate letter. My mandate letter dictates what I must do, he said, and my mandate letter dictates that I must work on improving and modernizing the House of Commons' Standing Orders.

His mandate letter, to the best of my knowledge—and I'm actually going to check this out—was inherited unchanged. So at least this aspect was inherited unchanged by Bardish Chagger when she became the new House leader, and so she has the same mandate.

She hasn't had a chance to talk to the committee about that. This will hopefully be resolved soon and we'll invite her, I would hope, to discuss her discussion paper.

(1650)



Indeed, I would have liked to make our first order of business rather than Mr. Simms' motion. At any rate, his mandate letter effectively is the mandate that guides him and that to which we are responding.

I want to make this point about it. Not everybody in this room was here at the time, but a number of people were here when he came to this committee. He put a strong emphasis on his mandate letter and he made kind of a humorous interaction where he said it was meant to be very inspiring. I said it was so inspiring that I read it to my kids at night before they go to bed. This is where I fess up and admit that I don't actually do that; I just said it.

At any rate, we did have a discussion about it, and I said one of the things of concern to me was that this was a lot to bite off. There's a lot of meat here. Do you think it's necessary for us to deal with this as one mega-study, one mega-set of amendments, one unified whole? I didn't use the word “omnibus” at the time, but should we deal with this as one omnibus measure? I was trying, as I think MPs from a recently defeated government ought to do, to save the self-righteousness for later in the government's mandate. If you've just been dealt a defeat, you ought to be very respectful of their new mandate.

So I asked whether it was okay to deal with this on a piecemeal basis. Would that be acceptable? I mean, you're not our bosses, but we have to work together here. Your desire to change the rules, the Standing Orders, is not in conflict with our desires. We may disagree on specifics, but not on the general policy.

He indicated at that time that a piecemeal approach was okay with him. Now I recognize he's not the House leader anymore, but I took that as being the way the government was going to approach things while he was minister. After Bardish Chagger became government House leader, it continued to be the way the government, or so I thought, was approaching things. There was no indication during the debate required under our Standing Orders about the Standing Orders, the debate that took place on October 6. I wasn't present for it, but I have read through some of what transpired that day, not perhaps with as much attention as it deserves, but in all fairness to me, I did make the assumption that we'd get some kind of warning that this was going to be the next thing on our agenda, and I would have turned my reading to it.

In the interim, I've been reading about electoral reform and then more recently about other aspects of the election law, because we anticipated right up until this committee sat down at 11 o'clock this morning that we would be dealing with the Elections Act, with the report on the 42nd election and our response to it. We received from the same government at our last meeting a request from the relevant minister to make that our focus in order to give her the time to sign legislation. That was where I was going, and now we see this change.

The amendment I'm proposing allows us to return to that piecemeal approach, which is more consensual, more precedented, more likely to produce high-quality changes. It is striking how few Standing Orders have to be altered to revert to more loyal, more basic underlying values of our Parliament, which are about freedom of speech and openness, adequate discussion prior to the implementation of measures. All of that is better encapsulated in the motion I propose than in Mr. Simms' unamended motion. I'd also say it is a better reflection of what the government House leader indicated was the direction the government was willing to take when he first addressed this committee. It actually may be the only time he addressed this committee. I can't remember for sure.

(1655)



Anyway, that was the right direction to go in then, and I think it's still the right direction to go in now. It does not permit the radical transformation of our system into one where we have an emasculated opposition. The system would be, if not unique in the jurisdictions that share our Westminster heritage, but certainly unique among first-tier jurisdictions: those that have large parliaments, a long history of self-government, and a profound internalization of the values pioneered or developed or evolved at Westminster and elsewhere. It would be unique as in unlike, and in opposition to the spirit that we see at Westminster itself, and in the parliaments in Canberra, Wellington, Delhi, and the other first-tier jurisdictions. I can't speak to those countries that have lapsed into dictatorship and come back out. That does not probably enhance the ability of a parliament to develop a really sound body of Standing Orders. But in the first tier, we'd be the only ones going in this direction.

There's been a lot of talk of working together. Mr. Simms, in his opening remarks, talked about the importance of working together. When I ran into her at the airport in Toronto, we did not have a long discussion, as I mentioned, and she was a little distracted, but the government House leader did say, “It's just a discussion paper. We're trying to bounce ideas out there”, something which is profoundly at odds with what's happening now. But I think she was sincere.

This doesn't correspond with anything that's happened here: the minimum period of notice; the extremely unrealistic timeline. It's hard not to get the feeling that in this government, certainly on this issue, and it's maybe true on several issues, it's as if the left and the right hands are not talking to each other. There appear to be those who want to move forward in the traditional manner, the manner, it seems to me, that was followed by the Chrétien government and others before it; and those who want to, I'm not sure what the right term is, adopt a very aggressive approach of “Let's go for an absolute victory. Let's go for the absolute transformation of our system.”

Had electoral reform gone through in the manner proposed by the Prime Minister, we would have had a preferential ballot, we would have had a radical or permanent and very negative change to our democracy, where, in practice, only one party would stand a realistic chance of forming a government in any election, and in which it could get fewer votes than its main opponent, and still form government, and in which it could get fewer than one-third of the votes and still form a majority. That's pretty radical stuff.

It's true there, and it's true here as well. So that's the maximalist approach. Let's use the minimalist and maximalist approach, or the evolutionary versus revolutionary approach. In my less-guarded moments, I say the Gladstonian approach versus the Juan Perón approach. But one is suited to our system, and one is just not reflective of the values of Canada. We are an evolutionary people, not a revolutionary people. That is notwithstanding my respect for those who have engaged in rebellion, like the rebels of 1837. But we are an evolutionary people.

(1700)



We have felt that a loyalty to the practices that undergird our Constitution is the best protection for our liberties, our freedoms, and all the values that we hold dearest. That includes accepting a series of conventional limitations on actors who, in law, could go further. This is how you achieve evolutionary change as opposed to revolution.

In revolution, you overthrow the king, and depending on what country you're in, you chop off his head or.... Last week, we passed the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Tsar in Russia, so if you're in Russia, you shoot him, or you.... Anyway, that's revolution.

In evolution, you take the king—Henry VIII was a dictator—and you gradually reduce his powers, even though on paper, monarchs can still, for example, veto any law, to this day.

The fact is that no monarch has exercised the veto since Queen Anne. In 1708, she vetoed the Scottish Militia Bill, back when Scotland was still a separate kingdom, shortly before the Act of Union. That was the last time a monarch exercised the veto.

In Canada, that veto is exercised by the Governor General. It is never exercised in practice. If the Governor General were now to say that he's not signing a piece of legislation, even though the two Houses of Parliament had passed it, and even though on paper he has the power to withhold his signature, we all understand that what would happen is that the Prime Minister would get on the phone with the Queen and say, “I think the Governor General has lost his marbles. Could you appoint a successor?” The Queen would take the call and that's what would happen.

Some version of that happens any time a convention is breached. The more serious the breach, the more profound is the consequence, up to and including removal from office, or in the case of the government, defeat in an election. That's how we do things.

That brings us back to the point about consistency with our past practices and the need for unanimity. There is no rule that says you have to have unanimity. It is a practice, but the reason for my lengthy comments is to make the greater world aware of the fact that something unconventional in the proper sense, against convention is happening here, and that convention must be respected. It must be enforced.

If the public finds that what's happening here is unacceptable, it will indeed confirm that a convention exists, and the government will back down. The breach of a convention carries a penalty severe enough that it obviates the action that was being attempted by the actor within whose nominal power it was to take that action. That's what defines it as a convention.

Now, maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe the government is right in what I think is a calculation that I and the other members of the committee from the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party will sputter out and lose energy somewhere in the middle of the night, and they'll be able to move the motion and get it through on a partisan vote without the world paying much attention. Then, tomorrow, there will be a budget, which of course is the real reason we're getting this motion now. I'm pretty sure the budget is going to be a bad news budget, and the negative attention on that will consume all the available negative energy.

As a matter of fact, when I saw this coming out, when I learned about Mr. Simms' motion, my reaction was, “Oh wow, it's going to be a bad news budget,” because if it were a good news budget you wouldn't want negative coverage of this to get in the way of the budget. It's the same reason that governments of all stripes release vast swaths of documents with unfavourable information in answer to order paper questions, all on the same day. Get all the bad news out there at once. It's just the way communications work.

(1705)



If the government does all of this in this way, achieves the end I think it's aiming for, gets away with it, and is able to proceed to have a report before this committee on June 2, which will certainly not have anything remotely resembling a consensus, it will be a report that the Liberal members will push through over the opposition of Conservatives and New Democrats, who will write dissenting reports.

If they do that, and they go to the House, and they get it through, and they have a concurrence debate in the House and adopt it, again on a divided vote over the lamentations of the opposition, and the public puts up with it and says yes, whatever, summer's coming, then we'll have established that a convention actually doesn't exist, and that in the end it was just a practice that was not that important in public opinion. That is how you test a convention, according to Albert Venn Dicey, a great scholar, who developed the term “constitutional convention”.

I'm calculating that's not the case. I am laying out the case that this is a sufficiently deeply internalized belief among Canadians that opposition will build in a way that the government has not anticipated. Therefore, my suggestion would be...because I am not a maximalist here. Whether it's on behalf of the government's agenda or any government agenda that my party has, whether my party's in government or opposition, I'm always in favour of taking the smaller, surer bet of tactical rather than strategic victories—of modest achievements instead of massive achievements—which ultimately lead to a massively positive result. Our history of modest and incremental approaches to democracy issues have made us in Canada one of the most democratic and stable countries in the world. Our history of applying this in the law has led to us being one of the most law-abiding countries in the world. Our history of doing this in other areas has led consistently to improvement, even in the areas where our heritage is one of which we are now either uncomfortable or even ashamed.

I thinking here of our treatment of our aboriginal people, of the way in which the people on the Komagata Maru were....There was no Canadian citizenship in those days. They were British subjects, just like us. As citizens of the British Empire, they had a right to be in Canada. The Laurier government invented a law. I'm an enormous admirer of Laurier, but not of this law, which allowed them to take British subjects and ship them back to another country. We're ashamed of that, justifiably.

We're ashamed of the internment of Ukrainian and Galician Canadians in the First World War. They were loyal British subjects but they came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so they were rounded up and sent off to labour camps. We are ashamed, with justice, of our treatment of Japanese Canadians in World War II—loyal Canadian citizens, again British subjects because we didn't get Canadian citizenship until later, but loyal to our laws and institutions—purely on the basis of race. And we are not ashamed, but only because we're not aware, of the fact that the government of the day actually tried to deprive these people of their citizenship and kick them out of the country, even people who were born here after the war was already over. It's a profoundly racist action that is deeply shameful.

I mention all these incidents, but in each of these areas we see improvement. We see it because we act incrementally. It is not a lack of ambition to want to act incrementally, to want evolution rather than revolution.

(1710)



I think of revolutions as being parallel to volcanic eruptions. The tallest mountains in the world are not volcanos. Mount Everest is not a volcano. It is the size it is because of the slow acting of plate tectonics—evolution rather than revolution. While that is purely a metaphor, it does make the point about which is the better way of doing it. Evolution and consensus go together. The wider the group of people you have to bring in, the smaller the changes you are able to make.

Bringing this back to my amendment, this is, in essence, introducing a notion that in academic terms would be referred to as Pareto optimal. Pareto optimality is a concept named after an early 20th-century Italian scholar. I've forgotten his first name—Vilfredo, I think. He said that there are different ways of achieving optimal outcomes, depending on what your standard of optimality is. You can adopt the Benthamite approach that the good of the greatest number is the optimal approach, but it may not seem optimal from the point of view of every participant in the process. If we are together on a raft that is sinking low in the water and we all agree that the solution is to throw my colleague Garnett here to the sharks, that is perhaps optimal for the rest of us. It's not optimal for Garnett. That would miss the test of Pareto optimality. Pareto optimality is where you make an adjustment so that the outcome is better for all participants and no one is worse off.

You can do this as a mathematical formula where you simply assume that everybody in the room has $100 and you have to come up with a new system for allocating wealth. You can use that kind of numerical measure, but you can also—and I think this is the more robust way of doing it when you're dealing with systems that can't easily be quantified.... They think systems that can be quantified lend themselves to Benthamite calculations. Let's redistribute income so that—and I'm not sure I believe in the myth of the 1%—the Bill Gateses and Warren Buffetts of the world pay more so that we can adequately fund our food banks or something like a welfare state or a health care system, all the different things that are involved in our system: public transportation, public policing. You can go on and on. You get the idea. It redistributes. At the end of the day, is Warren Buffett...? I'm thinking of him because Gates is the richest guy in the world, and Buffett is the second richest. Is that right? Is it beneficial from his point of view? Maybe. We can measure that numerically. Money is a proxy for value and it lets us quantify it, so it allows the state to do certain things.

When you are dealing with things that are qualitative, like our Standing Orders and the values they incorporate and reflect, it is hard to rely upon quantitative measures. We try to do these things. We keep track in the House of Commons; every party does. How much time is the Speaker allowing for questions from this party or that party? Is he being unfair to us? How come he keeps skipping over me in the rotation? You get up angrily and say, “I had a question for that speaker. Will you give me a chance?” He says, “Well...” and he provides you with an explanation based upon some attempt to quantify. He says, “I go Liberal, Conservative, NDP, and around in the rotation”—or maybe he doesn't. Maybe he says that there are more Liberals than there are New Democrats, and then he gives them more. Maybe he says, “We always start with someone who is not from the party that just spoke to the question” or “I'm making up for the last Speaker; we have an imbalance in the direction”, or something. There is some kind of attempt to quantify it. He will be struggling and he might get it wrong from time to time, with good intentions.

Now we are drifting on to matters that are much more profoundly subjective in their implications for freedom of speech and for the opposition's ability to advocate or present its policy alternatives to build enough of a case that it can change the mind even of a majority government. As we just saw with the electoral reform issue, the government could have ruthlessly pushed forward with a change to the electoral system—the preferential ballot—that reflected its interests but not the will of the House of Commons or the will of those who came before the committee as witnesses.

(1715)



While I think the government should have acted on its election promise, and followed through, and had a referendum on changing its system, I do respect the choice it made compared to pushing forward in disregard of—there's no Canadian consensus on electoral systems—a population that effectively is divided between those in favour of the current system and those in favour of proportionality, with very few people being in favour of preferential.

It was within its legal powers to push forward. There is legally nothing that would stop it. To this day, actually, I think you could still do it with the time constraints that are involved. It's getting harder all the time. It did that because public opinion was not on its side. Public opinion was not on its side because of the extensive hearings that took place with the committee travelling across the country, the minister holding her own hearings, the town halls, and many MPs holding their own town halls in their own constituencies. That was not something I did, but many others did. The NDP and Conservatives both sent out questionnaires. We got back 80,000 responses. It got back, I think, 35,000.

The point I'm getting at is that it was the ability to engage the Canadian public from the position of being opposition members that caused the government to change its course. That was true on that matter. Equally I think it would be true in regard to this matter, but not if all the tools are taken away.

Now you go from a situation, which we can advocate through tried and true institutions, institutions that have served to allow, in the last Parliament, Liberal and NDP members to very effectively counter the government's agenda.

I can tell you as someone who has sat on the other side of this committee that opposition pressure was most effective in building up a strong case in the media and with the public against the Fair Elections Act to the point where one of our Liberal colleagues, the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, took to referring to all these as the “unfair elections act”, and people knew what he was talking about.

That shows how effective you can be. It became an election issue, and it became something that the minister has indicated in part, although not in full, that she's going to seek to repeal.

Here are things that happened in those hearings that will not happen under this motion, unless it's amended, in these hearings about the Standing Orders. It's impossible, given the timeline and given the other things on our agenda, unless we're going to go and say to the minister, “Look, you're out of luck. We're not giving you anymore feedback on the elections act.” Even then the ability of the opposition to raise the kinds of objections likely to swing public opinion is minimal given the short timeline, and while there may be another explanation, that, I would suggest, is the reason this is being promoted in this manner at this time.

(1720)

The Chair:

It's time for our votes, so I guess we'll suspend until 10 minutes after the votes. We can carry on with your great historical lessons and anecdotes that probably make our committee filibusters more interesting than any other committee's.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

(1720)

(1850)

The Chair:

We're reconvening after breaking for votes. At the time we suspended, Mr. Reid had the floor and was doing his introduction to his amendment. I will allow him to continue.

Could we have order, please?

(1855)

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

When we were interrupted by the vote, we were discussing an amendment that I had proposed to Mr. Simms' motion. Mr. Simms' motion presumes that we will deal with all items in the government House leader's report at one shot and do so by June 2. Although it doesn't say so, I read it as implying and the Prime Minister's answers to questions in question period reinforce that this is not going to be a consensual process. It will simply be the government's using its majority to impose what it wants.

My amendment is an attempt to deal with that and to take the motion as worded and turn it into something that permits both consensus and a more realistic deadline.

When we left off, I was making the point that the motion contains language referring to the prior practices, I think that's the word used, of this committee. It says that we are repeating, forgive me, the committee's past practices. I pointed out that it's not just the past practices of the committee, but indeed, of the entire House of Commons on this matter. I thought to expand on this to more fully illustrate this point. I would return to the report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures in the House of Commons, which was tasked with a somewhat parallel process by the House of Commons on the initiative of the House Leader in the parliament that was elected in 2000.

When the House of Commons met early in 2001, a motion was put forward and that was the basis on which this was set up. I thought I would just go through a little bit of what they had to say to make the point about this being a tradition around this place.

In its first report, the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures in the House of Commons, first of all, noted that it was reporting pursuant to an order of reference in the House of Commons dated March 21, 2001. This was a very early initiative of the Chrétien government. That election happened on November 27. I remember it from when I was first elected, so it stands out very clearly in my mind. In 2015, the election was October 19, I believe.

Is that right, the 19th? Or 15th?

Anyway, it was about a month earlier. This will be the equivalent of having had an order of reference dated February 2016. They got off to an early start. It's very different from the approach that's being used here. Hence, there's wasn't the same panic over deadlines and the same rush towards the finish line starting in March, right before break week, with a project that is to be completely wrapped up by the beginning of June, which I had indicated really means the middle of May.

(1900)

The Chair:

The date you were looking for was October 19.

Mr. Scott Reid:

It was October 19, 2015. Yes.

In its report, the committee talks about many subjects, but I want to start with the introduction and just read verbatim some of what they said, which makes the point about how strongly they valued the idea of seeking consensus.

Let me read. There's an enumerated list in the introduction. This is paragraph 6: There is a feeling that individual Members of the House of Commons need to be empowered, and the role of the Speaker, as the servant of the House and its spokesperson, enhanced. A balance needs to be achieved between the Government’s interests in implementing its legislative agenda, and the Opposition’s interests in questioning and criticizing the Government.

Maybe I should have just read the second of those two sentences: A balance needs to be achieved between the Government’s interests in implementing its legislative agenda, and the Opposition’s interests in questioning and criticizing the Government.

That balance is best achieved when both the government and opposition, which ultimately means all parties, are both at the table and capable of denying their consent and therefore preventing the measure from going forward. That goes without saying.

Paragraph 7—I won't read the whole paragraph—says in part: We have recommended changes in those areas in which we could all agree.

When I say “all” I mean membership taken from a wider range of parties than faces us today. The partisan structure of the House of Commons in those days was different from now. The chair, Bob Kilger, was a deputy speaker so in a sense a non-partisan figure, but a Liberal. The vice-chairs were Don Boudria, Liberal government House leader, and John Reynolds, Canadian Alliance House leader. The members were Bill Blaikie, a New Democrat; Michel Gauthier, who I think was the House leader of the Bloc Québécois, the future leader of the party; Peter MacKay, the House leader for the Progressive Conservatives in those days, and later on the leader.

The committee had five different parties represented. In fact, it bears some resemblance to the structure of the ERRE committee, the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, in that its membership did not include a government majority. It's quite striking that it did not include a government majority. Therefore, its proposals literally could not go forward without the consent of a majority of the parties in the House of Commons.

In all fairness, the governing party still had an advantage in that, if the committee had presented a report that made recommendations that were unsatisfactory to the governing party, it could use its majority in the House of Commons to deny consent to the report of the committee, thereby exercising a veto. It had an absolute veto. But in practice, everybody had a veto. The structure made that very clear.

To be honest, I had not been aware that this was the structure used—even though I was around at the time—until very recently. There you are: it has exactly the same principle behind its structure as was used for the electoral reform committee, and for the same reasons. There was the voluntary ceding of control. There were also some ground rules set down that are quite striking.

Paragraph 7 says inter alia: We have recommended changes in those areas in which we could all agree. While we do not pretend to have solved all of the problems or addressed all of the issues, we feel that we have made a good start.

(1905)



Here, they agree so much with the philosophy that I hold personally: We may not be revolutionizing Parliament, but incremental changes can be extremely useful and effective, and, in the long run, much more significant.

Incremental changes, when they accumulate one on top of the other, are ultimately more powerful than revolutionary changes—which produce counter-revolution, counter-reaction—that are not legitimate. To think of the political metaphor I used earlier, the illegitimate overthrow of the Bourbons in the French Revolution, not that the Bourbons were.... I'm no defender of the Bourbons, but the illegitimate manner in which they were overthrown led to a situation in which France, a country previously characterized by its political stability, went through, in the course of the next century and a half, a republic, followed by an empire, followed by a monarchy, followed by a second monarchy, followed by a republic, followed by an empire, and followed by another republic. I think I missed a republic in there at about 1870 around republic number three, after empire number two, and after monarchy number three, followed by two more republics.

It seems to me there's a lesson there, which indicates that we should be evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and that in the long run, changes made through incremental and consensual reformation, as the committee says, are much more significant.

Paragraph 8 of the introduction makes a statement that I guess is anodyne: All of the members of the Committee—and all of the parties—want to make the House of Commons work as well as possible.

The next part, the next few sentences, I think are much more significant: We are all committed to the modernization of the House of Commons, and the improvement of its procedures. Where possible, reform of parliamentary institutions and procedures is best carried out by consensus, and with all-party agreement.

I would ask you to listen to this next part: The motion establishing this Special Committee requires that any report must have the unanimous agreement of all the members of the Committee, and this has guided our deliberations.

They continue on to say: The requirement for unanimity has meant that on a number of issues, recommendations were not possible; by the same token, on some issues the members of the Committee have compromised and worked toward achievable solutions that reflect our differing interests. There is also a remarkable degree of agreement, and shared concerns. While we may not always agree on the nature or causes of problems—or of the solutions—we have attempted in this report to recommend changes that we believe will improve the House and the work of its Members.

The really important bit here is that they recognize that the unanimity requirement meant there were certain things they weren't going to get movement on, and that realistically for the government, if we move away from the model that Mr. Simms' unamended motion suggests or advocates to the model that I think we should advocate, it does mean that certain things come out of the government's agenda. It means that we don't go to four-day weeks, for example.

Although some of the other suggestions that Ms. Chagger made in her discussion paper about how you could deal with it—making Fridays into full days and moving around the kind of business that occurs on Fridays—are possibilities, if that one is really absolutely key to the government, well, it's not compatible here. It just isn't. Also, I could point to some other things.

On the other hand, there are many things on which I think we could achieve success, and the same kind of success that was achieved by this predecessor committee a decade and a half ago.

(1910)



Paragraph 10 from the report states: Procedural reform is an on-going process. The changes recommended in this report will need to be assessed to ensure that they are working as intended and not having unforeseen consequences. We encourage the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to undertake a review of the operation and effect of these proposals in about a year, and to continue the work of modernizing and improving the procedures and practices of the House.

They recognized that when their special committee would come to its end, its work ought to return to the procedure and House affairs committee. Thus, I think I am justified in saying that this committee is a direct predecessor to our committee. When I referred in the amendment to “our” past practice, that is “our” as in this committee's past practice, even though, in the strictest technical way, they were a different committee.

The report indicates that even though they have worked by consensus and have restricted themselves to topics that they think are unlikely to be so grand or so vast as to produce radical unforeseen consequences, they accept and nevertheless recognize in all humility that there might be unforeseen consequences, and they build in a mechanism for ensuring that these changes can be adjusted back if necessary.

That humble practice of recognizing that it might be appropriate to revert has been done on a number of occasions where Standing Orders have been changed on a temporary basis. I think that is in general a good practice, recognizing that you might make mistakes, but of course one way to avoid mistakes to keep it consensual, to eliminate the things where someone says “I am worried that we may be going outside of where we have appropriate or complete knowledge”, and to therefore have an ability to make a change that will not do things that we did not intend to have happen.

Going through it and just looking now at how they broke it down, it's interesting to look at the subject matter, because it's not grouped under the same kinds of grand thematic headings that are in Minister Chagger's discussion paper. It's grouped in an order that appears to me to primarily be in the order the items arise in the Standing Orders, in that Standing Order 35 is discussed before Standing 39 and so on.

There is a certain thematic consistency to the Standing Orders, to be sure, but it's not the order mapped out by Minister Chagger. My suspicion is that this may be a wise way of doing things, but I don't mean to diminish what she was trying to do. My concerns, as you know, are with Mr. Simms' proposed motion and not with Minister Chagger's discussion paper per se.

Next are speeches by candidates for Speaker. It was the first item that was discussed. Standing Order 3.1 was suggested.

I'm going to go through these pretty quickly. The next thing they came along and actually made changes to was Standing Order 30, which deals with the “daily routine of business”, which appears at 3 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and at 12 noon on Fridays. It states that: the House shall proceed to the ordinary daily routine of business, which shall be as follows:

They then list a few things. The new thing that's introduced is that the “Introduction of Government Bills” comes after “Tabling of Documents”.

(1915)

The Chair:

You're going to tie this into your amendment, right?

Mr. Scott Reid:

Yes, I am. They go onto petitions, and so on. They go through in that order.

Mr. Chair, rather than going through all of these points right now, what I might do is return to this report at a later time. I think you can see how the first part of my comments on this report was clearly connected to the amendment, but in order to select more accurately, I might save that for a later time.

What I think I might do, if it's agreeable, is to put myself back on the speaking order a bit later for this amendment, wrap up at this point, and allow the....

Is that not...?

Mr. John Brassard (Barrie—Innisfil, CPC):

Keep going.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Oh, my goodness. All right. I see that the next Speaker is not actually here, so I will keep going for a second.

The Chair:

The next speaker is here. It's Mr. Graham.

Oh, sorry, it's Mr. Christopherson.

Mr. Scott Reid:

I'm sorry about that, Mr. Chair.

They moved on to different topics. We may have to go back a little bit.

There were occasions in which....

Part of what I'm trying to drive at here is this.

Mr. Blake Richards:

You're not watching a video of Scott's earlier filibusters, are you?

Mr. John Brassard:

No, no, that was a film.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Blake Richards:

I'll get a cardboard cut-out of you.

Mr. Scott Reid:

The point that I'm driving at here is that operating in a consensual manner does not mean you are confined to a very narrow range of topics. They were able to cover a wide range of topics from changing the Standing Orders relating to the order in which routine business would take place to whether or not Canada's first Speaker could give speeches and how long they'd be dealing with adjournment proceedings.

You may recall that I had talked earlier about the parliamentary secretary in adjournment proceedings, giving a four-minute response followed by a one-minute response. That's contained in here as well, so there is a really a wide range of topics.

Maybe with that, I will stop, as I see that Mr. Christopherson is here.

Thank you to Mr. Richards for catching that very considerable oversight on my part. If I may, I'll just ask the clerk to put me back on the speaking order.

The Chair:

Yes, you're on the list.

Mr. Scott Reid:

Thank you.

The Chair:

Thank you, Mr. Reid. That was a very comprehensive introduction to your amendment.

We'll go on to Mr. Christopherson.

Mr. David Christopherson:

That's great. Thank you very much, Chair. I appreciate that.

I want to say how much I've enjoyed the last few hours, and I say that only partly tongue in cheek. I do enjoy hearing from Mr. Reid. It's always interesting. He knows his history, and I like history. I'm no expert, but I enjoy it. I'm pleased to pick up where he left off and to continue to point out why what's going on is so unacceptable.

Maybe to warm to the subject, I would start on a positive note; that is, I want to say to the government that this is not where we want to be. I can't speak for others, but the proof for my own motivation is the leadership role that I played in helping us get back to the Chief Electoral Officer's report, even though I was the one who blew it up the first time. The fact was that once we had dealt with that, the minister came in, and we got as much out of the minister as it appeared to me that we were going to get, and it was sufficient—barely—to allow us....

Then, colleagues on the government side, in camera and in public, you know that I was one of the leading voices for getting us back to work, and we did so. Very quickly, we managed to set everything aside. We were working, but now we're back into it again, for the same kind of problem, which is the government just dropping something out of nowhere in the middle of the floor and causing all this kerfuffle.

I said that I was going to try to start out by being positive, so what I want to do is just to reaffirm this. I like negotiating. I'm an old negotiator—and now I am old—from way back. I love negotiating. I love the give-and-take. It's like a poker game and I love playing poker. I don't win much but I love playing the game.

I want to say to the government that if there is any way at all that they are interested in the House leaders getting together—or whips, or members of this committee, or a combination thereof for any group at all that the government would like to identify—we in the NDP certainly are quite prepared to sit down, and I suspect my colleagues are, but I'll leave it to them to speak for themselves, and to try to find a reasonable compromise that recognizes the government's right to set an agenda but also respects the right of opposition in our role. I think we could find that if we came together in goodwill.

I want to say—and I say this much more in sorrow than in anger—that I wish that approach had been taken in the beginning. I have a sneaking suspicion that we wouldn't be here like this. As bad as we are, this is the worst I've seen it. This is worse than Bill C-33. It's worse because we're going around the clock, and the government knows.... They were with us in opposition and they know what we do. They know that we already have rotations, we already have schedules going, we have people who are going to be coming in through the night, and we're working on schedules for next week. We see where we are.

This is serious. Also, it's not very productive. It's not going to get us anywhere, other than two forces staring at each other. That's where we are right now, unnecessarily so. That's what is upsetting. I's that it didn't need to be this way. If the government wants to review these things....

Again, when the minister came in and said that she'd like us to try to get our work on the chief electoral report done by—what was it?—May, I think it was, our heads exploded, and we asked how we were going to do that. We didn't suddenly say, “No way—nothing.” I offered that we would do what we could. I said that to her privately. I can't say anything more than that as it was a private discussion, but I did offer privately and reaffirmed publicly that if we could find a way where this committee, if the government worked with us to identify areas where they wanted to bring in legislation.... I'm supportive of a lot of things the governments wants to do, not all of it but a lot of it, especially the removal of some of the ugly Bill C-23 stuff.

If we could have sat down and worked on an approach that would let us get through this and deal with it in a fair-minded way.... I was saying that I offered to the minister—and I think the official opposition was onside—that if we could, we would accommodate the minister's schedule, even though we don't have to do that. We're masters of our own destiny, but hey, we offered to do that, and we said that if they wanted to identify to us areas where they wanted to bring in legislation and would like the benefit of the thinking of this committee, then we would take that. If it was out of sequence with how we were going to do it, we were open to that.

(1920)



I still remain open to the idea of moving our work so that we get at that in a timely fashion, which helps the government in terms of informing them of our thinking, so they can then introduce legislation. We get away from this Bill C-33, dropping a bill in the House before you've even heard from the committee, and then out the other side of your mouth telling us how important the committee work is. That just doesn't wash.

It's not like there's no evidence that we could work together, or there's no evidence that there's desire on the part of the opposition to be co-operative. Part of our mandate is to review the Standing Orders anyway. I would have been open to having that discussion, but I have to tell you, the ham-fisted way that this has been dealt with really feels like the last government. This feels a lot like Bill C-23, which really should inflict horror in the government members to find themselves sitting right where Harper's MPs sat. They're doing much the same as what Harper did on Bill C-23, only this time, instead of the election laws, it's how we run our House. It's the same attitude, that same bully approach.

I never thought I'd see anything like that, especially with the new government. I have to tell you, I'm not understanding any of this. I don't understand how the government thinks they're going to win on this, or how they think that ramming through changes to our Standing Orders is going to make the House work any better. There comes a point, Chair, where no matter how much we might want peace, if the government absolutely refuses to extend the olive branch of peace, then what I worry about—and, Chair, I say this to you as someone who is as non-partisan as our system allows—is that I'm not sure this committee can continue to function if we keep having things like Bill C-33 and this motion happening at this committee. I would be a fool, as one member, to continue to be co-operative with the government when all they seem to do is kick us in the arse. Why would I do that?

That's not my preferred way. I've been doing this for over 30 years. Having fights with the government, or fights with the opposition if I'm the government, is not new or exciting. I'm tired of all that. I have to tell you. I don't get a lot out of it.

What really turns my crank is when we get together with disparate political beliefs, different experiences, but come together in goodwill. Then we collectively try to find—like when we're doing reports—language that accommodates your concern and my concern. That I find stimulating because it goes against the grain. That's not easy to do in an adversarial system. Therefore, for me personally, after all these decades, that becomes a far greater challenge than just standing on some soapbox screaming and hollering. I've done that for decades, everybody's heard it, and we're all getting a bit tired of it, I suspect.

An hon. member: On division.

Mr. David Christopherson: On division? I think it would be unanimous.

I say all of that again, and I want to try to end on a positive note. It's hard, given the subject matter in front of us, but I do put that forward, and I mean it very sincerely. If it changes, I'll let you know. If we cross the Rubicon where, “You know what? I don't want to talk to you guys anymore. Forget about it”, I'll let you know. Up until then, it's a standing offer, because I don't find this particularly fun. I don't find this particularly productive, and I don't think taxpayers are going to be all that impressed either.

I think the government's going to have a heck of a time trying to blame us. Maybe they could accuse us of being obstructionist or something. Good luck! Given your own background on Bill C-33 and on the whole approach, especially when you compare it with the approach that could have been taken. Why did you miss that opportunity? I don't get it. Why didn't they sit down and try to find some common ground so that even if we're at odds, it's maybe on a few little things that we could try to.... Even if we had to have a bit of a set-to over it, it would be narrowed. Right now, it's the whole thing. We're in the ditch. We're in the middle of a filibuster defending the right to filibuster.

(1925)



I'll just go so far as to say that I choose to believe that there are quite a number of government members on the other side who are not feeling good about this, because this is not exactly sunny ways. This is not exactly consultation. This is not co-operation. This is not respect. All the things the government promised, and I will go so far as to say that when my colleague from Hamilton, Filomena Tassi spoke about those things, I believe she believed it and came here believing that was the way her government would act. In some ways they have. It's not as if it has always been like this, which is another reason it's so surprising.

I don't expect anybody to comment, but I have to believe this is not sitting well with a lot of Liberal members, especially the new ones who came in, in the last Parliament. Everything before then was the olden days and this is the new era and they've certainly tried to conduct themselves in that fashion. This has got to be one of those things in the pit of your stomach where they think they really don't want to defend this back home. However, that's their decision to make.

I would again reiterate the offer to have any kind of offline confidential discussions so that if they break down nobody is losing face. I've been around a while and I know how these things are done. I know how we got to “yes” back in the seventies, but it doesn't happen this way.

Chair, I would just urge any influence you have as a bona fide, full-fledged member of the government caucus to influence that, because you've been doing an excellent job as chair. You had big shoes to fill. Joe Preston was probably one of the best chairs of PROC to come around in quite some decades, not just Parliament, and it was mostly through the force of his personality.

(1930)

Mrs. Karen Vecchio (Elgin—Middlesex—London, CPC):

And his staff.

Mr. David Christopherson:

His staff, of course.... That goes without saying about all of us, let me tell you.

But Joe's a smart guy through force of personality. He always had his eye on the prize, but he also knew how to use humour. Remember, this was in the Harper days when the way we are right now would be like a regular Tuesday. So far this is unusual, and I would hope it would remain unusual, but Joe would use all the techniques that a chair can bring, from his personality, his caring of the issues, moving things along. I felt for whoever was going to follow in his footsteps, because we all sang his praises, and I'm sure I'll have an email from him by tomorrow that he got mentioned again, because he still keeps an eye on these things. By the way, he's somebody we should bring here. Do you want to talk about fairness and democracy and how to do things? We should bring in Joe Preston as a witness, but that requires getting past where we are.

Mentioning him was deliberate because it also gave me a segue to mention that the last time around when we were reviewing the Standing Orders, Joe, Tom Lukiwski at the time too, and I were very strong that we at least take a run at the Standing Orders. They don't send out federal marshals after you if you don't get to the Standing Orders, but that is your obligation.

He made sure that we found the time, and it was one of those low-lying fruit processes that we've been using already. We didn't get to the tough stuff, but we did go through it all. We agreed on a number of things. We did get a report off to the House, and I think it made a difference. That was under Harper. That was under the bad guy, remember. This is what floors me. We did the right thing, the right way on exactly the same file under a Conservative chair with Harper as the Prime Minister, and it was light years more democratic than what the sunshine crew is doing here.

I leave that again to you, Chair. Often our rights, like the right to filibuster and fairness in the chair, are the only things we have as the minority up against the absolute 100% power of an overwhelming majority government, which is what we have right now.

Anything you can do, Chair, to get us more into a Prestonian era and not let the Bagnellian era be known as the dark one when their leader is promising sunshine.... By comparison there was Joe under the ogre of Harper, and he managed to get to democracy as we dealt with the Standing Orders.

Mr. John Brassard:

You have to put your hand over your heart.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I can't put my hand over my heart. I almost want to rip it out when I think about those days.

Mr. John Brassard:

But it means so much when you do it. That's my point.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Anyway, we laugh. It's good that we at least have that much spirit, but make no mistake where we are is in the ditch. It's war. It's all the terms you want to use. That is where we are. Well done, government. Way to go. I'm not sure how you see this as a win of anything or for anyone. This is the second time now that I've experienced in this Parliament—and we're not even that long into the Parliament—the second time at the same committee we've had the government do the same thing, which is pretty much whatever the hell they want. They want to bring in a bill, we're bringing in a bill. What about your promise to listen to committees and respect what they have to say? They haven't quite finished their work on that subject. It's who cares?

This is the thing. Look at it in hindsight. What happened? Guess what happened. Is anybody shocked that the opposition members went ballistic and shut down the committee? It all but forced the minister to come in. She didn't give us the answers we were looking for. Before we had a chance to decide how we were going to deal with that, we had a new minister. So we tried again. We hauled her in. We got a little further. It would seem that the government got the message.

The change in ministers wasn't just because it was her turn. There was a real reason why there was a shift there. That file was going in the ditch. The new minister came in and, as I've said before, didn't do everything I thought she should have in terms of apologizing to this committee and assuring us it wouldn't happen again. Now I can see why she couldn't give us the assurance that sort of thing wouldn't happen again, because lo and behold within a few weeks it was about to happen again.

Then last week when we're not even here, we get the discussion paper and according to the math by my friend, Mr. Reid, sometime less than two hours later, Mr. Simms managed to read through it at lightening speed, consult with his colleagues, turn it into a motion, get it translated in both languages, and have it out to us within a couple of hours. Boy, that's pretty impressive, I tell you.

(1935)

Mr. Scott Simms:

Thank you.

Mr. David Christopherson:

It would be even more so if that's the way it really happened, because nobody believes it. It didn't happen that way. It didn't happen that way at all. My sense is, and I can't give you the particulars, but I think we all know that the PMO's fingerprints are all over this thing. There is no way after what we went through with Bill C-33 that any of the government members would be bringing in a notice of motion as draconian as this one without the absolute 100% okay from the Prime Minister, the House leader, and the whip. The first time, it could be a mistake. You know, first time, shame on you, and that kind of thing. But here we are again a few weeks later and it's the same darn thing.

The last government didn't want to appear reasonable. They wanted to appear to be strong and winners. It was a whole different approach, so in a lot of the things they did, they were at least on brand. I'll give them that. They were very disciplined.

I don't understand the government: sunny ways but shutting things down, transparency and ramming through changes with only one...even Harper didn't try to do that. That's how bad this is. He didn't even try to do that. So here we be. The government has identified the areas in which they want change. We know what those motions are. Some of them they tried out in previous vehicles. Motion six, remember that debacle? It was the same kind of thing. Every time you guys try to play Mad Max, it doesn't work for you. It's the same darn thing then.

We find ourselves now with no alternative except to do exactly what we're doing, which is to fight to defend what is arguably the last real tool that an opposition member has in their tool box, which can at least slow down the government. We can't stop it. It has a majority. It's going to get its way at the end of the day and it's going to win votes 10 times out of 10. I used to be part of a majority government provincially, not as massive as the one we have here, but a comfortable enough one that every time I walked in the House, I had that feeling that we were the government and we were going to win this vote. I haven't felt that since.

A couple times they were in minority, which is a whole different other story that we may need to get to later to fill time as we go through this, but not for tonight.

What the government has done is to identify the things it wants, including taking away our right. Here's the thing about it, Chair. Filibusters are a lot like strikes. You will know, Chair, from our time together, that originally I'm a product of the Hamilton labour movement. That's where I came from. That's how I got into politics, and I still self-identify as someone from the labour movement. That never leaves you. I look at these things and I want to find a way to get through them. I want to find a way that we can come to grips.

But for the government to then go through these things and cherry-pick the things it wants.... There was no consultation ahead of time, no discussion of any give or take, no saying it was looking at certain things. If you're serious about co-operation, there are ways for those kinds of discussions to happen, but it's clear that this government had no intention and has no intention. I don't know why, but the knee-jerk reaction seems to be to go from trying to be the nicest people in public life in the world to suddenly being the most vicious. It's happened two or three times. I don't get it. I don't at all get it.

I understand that the calculation here is probably one of a long game. It's taken a look—because that's what you do when you're in government—and it's said, “Okay. Let's go to when the next election is and work backwards and identify the things”—we used to call them our signature pieces—“our keystone pieces and make sure that they are brought in in a timely way and they're implemented and we're watching those”. I think they have deliverology, which is the same sort of thing. You're usually working backwards from a date to identify things you'd need to do at a certain point.

(1940)



I'm assuming that the calculation is that there are things the government wants through the House by the time of the next election, and that the ability to all but guarantee that they can get them, on any time frame of their little heart's desire, is worth the pain and the price that we opposition members are trying to make them pay.

I assume that this is the calculation. The budget's tomorrow. The fact that this happened today is not a coincidence. We know that. Obviously, the government's hope is that we'll blink.

The government needs to understand that there is nothing more important in front of the opposition right now than defending our rights. Again, we do this a lot, but there are members of the government benches who've been in opposition and who know that someday they're going to be back.

Trust me, if you ever achieve this, there will come a day, especially for the younger ones, when you'll be in a situation sitting where I am, let's say, or on this side, and the government's over there. You'll be reaching for every tool because of some outrageous thing that is really wrong. You'll reach into your quiver for that arrow, and it ain't going to be there. Then you'll say to yourself, “Hmm, it seemed like a really good idea at the time.” The people on the government side will say, “You know, at the time I thought it was a bad idea, but right about now I think you guys were probably right. It was a good rule change. Well done. Thank you. We appreciate that.”

What could an alternative have been? Just about anything would be better than this. I mean, for anybody who's watching....

The other thing to say to the government is that there probably aren't many people paying much attention right now, but that number will grow. There are a lot of people, especially people who used to vote for us, for the NDP, who went with the Liberals. It was for a bunch of reasons, but for many of them the signature piece was electoral reform, specifically proportional representation. They've paid a real price for backing off this. Those people are very upset, really upset. This will affect those very same people.

Why you want to do that to your brand is beyond me. That's what I'm not getting. Brand is everything. A new government spends most of the first four years building that brand, the brand of their choice. From what I can see, this is not it. Undemocratic, ramming things through, taking away rights from the opposition, forcing committees to go around the clock and filibuster to defend the right to have a filibuster—that's your brand? Really?

Is it the “Liberal Conservatives”, or “Conservative Liberals”...? The Conservatives over here would probably tell you that they wouldn't stoop this low, and not to attach their name to this idea. You have to give them their due, because they didn't do that. They did some horrible things—I was there—but they didn't do this. It was this government—I'm going to keep coming back to this, because this is the most annoying thing—that promised to be different. They were going to be respectful of committees. Where's the respect?

Bill C-33, I was willing to forgive you that one. I mean, the government was in a tough spot. I understand the politics of it. I get it. They were in a tough spot. They were taking a lot of heat. They were getting negative reports on electoral reform. They wanted to get something positive out there to provide a bit of a counter to it. I get that, but that doesn't in any way justify the ham-fisted way it was done.

The minister—the second minister, not the first one—all but said that. She came a little shy of that. Okay, I can understand what the advice was from her ministerial staff, but she came a very long way towards saying, “You know, we screwed up, and we didn't show this committee respect.”

Although I didn't get an absolute promise that it wouldn't happen again—I can see why, given what's happening today—at least what was said gave us enough, because we had the desire to get back to working positively. It gave us enough to take what was said and use that to say, “Okay, it's a pass. It's a C. It'll get us there. Let's get back to the electoral reform report. That's the primary focus. That's what's really important here.”

(1945)



I wouldn't normally talk about these things, but in this context, because the government has to vilify us for what we're doing—I know it's coming—I need to publicly remind my colleagues that certainly I, as one member of this committee, did everything I could, and successfully, with others, to get us back on track. Up until even yesterday at the beginning of the meeting we were fine.

By the way, that's another thing, too. We haven't talked about all the money that was wasted today by the way the government's doing it, not just on this but all the time that the staff took, the very professional staff who came here from the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer. They did their homework. They prepped. They were all ready to go. We were all ready to go. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I guess I can't go too far on what was said in camera, but suffice it to say, in a blink, we were public and this thing was being jammed down our throats. That's how quickly it changed.

On the motion in front of us, the amendment, again this is the kind of area where with no discussion and the government refusing to go here or to offer an alternative or to try to find a compromise, they're leaving it clear to all of us that they are prepared to use their majority to ram through changes to our House of Commons. Their majority, their ramming...our House, our Parliament. That doesn't sound like the campaign trail. It was so different on the campaign trail.

I had suggested a compromise that worked before. I suggested earlier today, Chair, that perhaps we could look at the Cullen model that was used for the special committee that reviewed democratic reform. That got us off the dime and got us into a positive venue. Now I must say for the record, too, that it was young Daniel Blaikie who actually conceived of the idea, but it was Nathan who said, “That is a good idea.” He took it, ran with it, polished it, and changed it around. I want to give Dan his due for the initial concept, but Nathan's the one who gave it life and Nathan did an excellent job on that.

Maybe that's something we could still do to get off this dime. Is the Cullen model something that would help us get through this impasse? The government says that it's sincere about wanting to have give and take, and consult. All the usual words that you use when you do mean it, they're using now. Maybe that's the mechanism that lets us get going.

But that's only if the government actually did want to have consultation, discussion, openness, transparency, and all that other stuff they talked about in the election that they don't seem to want to live up to anymore. Again, if those things had been suggested either at a House leaders' meeting or at a steering committee here, anywhere, at any venue, any opportunity, other than “our way or the highway”.... That's the way the last guy did it. This government was going to be different. They're different when it suits them, but they're not different consistently.

They're not really different. It amounts to another broken promise. We're getting quite a collection of them—biggies.

The Cullen model would also allow something that I don't think has been raised yet, but I did slip out of the room a couple of times. It may have been mentioned, but not a lot, and that is, what about the rights of members of the House who don't belong to recognized parties? We went out of our way in the Cullen model to ensure that they got a say in the election rules that were being reviewed. It's their election, too. Where are their rights in all this? Where is their opportunity to have input and consultation? The government doesn't seem to have even thought about it.

(1950)



Again, you know, it's talk one game, act another game. The Cullen model would provide us with an opportunity to have a fair discussion where everybody gets their say. The structure enhances or pressures the members to find compromise, and there was a mechanism whereby less than everyone could conclude a decision and have it carried on. You had the ability to work your way through things in a way where everybody was agreed at the beginning what the rules—that new structure—would be. None of that discussion....

What we have in front of us right now.... It will be interesting to see how many amendments we end up with from the two opposition parties by the time this whole process is done. We might be setting a new land speed record with that one. For now, we have a motion that calls for a requirement that there be all-party agreement. The government doesn't agree with that. They don't agree with that. They don't agree with a compromise. They don't agree with.... The only thing they seem to agree with is that whatever they want to do, they can do it. That, they agree with.

It was also interesting, even today, to watch...and this was in public, not in camera, so I can talk about it. Mr. Chan, a government member, raised this right here just a few hours ago. He raised the idea of perhaps.... You recall, Chair, that I tried to get this committee to adjourn the debate on something that we hadn't caucused yet. That would have allowed us a chance to take it to our caucus tomorrow to get a mandate, so that when we spoke at committee, we had the support of our caucus. We would know what their thinking was and that we were speaking on behalf of our caucuses. The government said no to that.

I mean, how unreasonable. We are debating right now a motion and a policy change that affects everything we do in the House, and the government thinks it's okay that we don't get a chance to take it to caucus first. Come along. No one out there—no matter how much you decidedly look at your Blackberrys and iPads, no matter how much you try to glance away from the wreckage of this—the people out there aren't buying it. You can't defend it. How can you defend forcing members to debate one of the most important policies we could possibly debate—the rules of the House—without even having an opportunity to take the discussion paper and the motion to our caucus?

You did call it a discussion paper, didn't you? Except you denied us the chance to discuss it. How is that fair? How do you defend that one? Yet every one of the government members lined up to say, “No, you debate now. We say now”. We had people from the Chief Electoral Officer here, we were all ready to do it. We had our papers all over, ready to go, and the government suddenly said, “No, we're going to deal with this motion right away.” I asked for at least a two-day deferral and it was refined by my friend, Mr. Reid, who had the better idea to adjourn just the debate—rather than the whole meeting—and allow us to get back to do a day's work on the Chief Electoral Officer's report. That was a great idea. I accepted that as sort of a friendly amendment. It was a good improvement on what I was trying to do. What did the government say? No. The government said no.

That was early on. As question period was approaching, Mr. Chan—he's a very reasonable man and I enjoy working with him—suggested, reasonably, I guess actually forgetting that the Liberals aren't in reasonable mode right now.... I'm sorry, Mr. Schmale mentioned it and then you responded. I don't want to get it wrong. I certainly don't want to wrong you on this. I'm going to wrong you, but decidedly where you deserve it, not on something you don't. If it came from Mr. Schmale, that's fine.

But it's fair to say that Mr. Chan did respond positively and say, “Fair enough, maybe we could suspend for question period and then come back”. When we asked what time we should come back, that's when the senior staffer came over, had a huddle on the side, and had a couple of words. The next thing Mr. Chan said was “No, we're going to keep talking through”.

(1955)



I have had members of the Liberal Party brag to me about how that didn't happen and was never going to happen. They said, “Remember, Dave? Under Harper, the staff was always there telling them what to do, just like a bunch of puppets and seals. We're never going to do that. We're here as independent members. We're going to think for ourselves. You can count on that, Dave; don't worry. We're far away from that nonsense.”

Not so much, because that's exactly what happened.

Mr. Chan reasonably responded, because in my opinion he's a reasonable man, and said that, yes, it made sense that way, because we were going to do this for days or weeks. For him to say, “Yes, we'll take a few minutes to go and let everyone exercise their right to be part of question period” and have it countermanded by the staff, vetoed by the staff, well, why don't the staff just sit there instead so we can get some work done directly and get rid of the middle people?

Folks, particularly the new members here, this is the kind of stuff we used to hit the government backbenchers in the Harper government with all the time, and they deserved it. Now you're letting it be done to you. It's not me. I'm the one who's doing the words, but none of this would be happening if it wasn't for your actions. You're bringing this all upon yourselves. Not all yet, but slowly and surely you're working your way through all the areas that you said you would do differently. Guess what. Watching a senior staff person come over and dictate to the MP sitting there what the decision is going to be, especially when it reverses the decision of the sitting MP, is about as far away from respecting committees and accepting that they are masters of their own destiny as you can possibly get.

Why? I don't know. All I see is a failed political calculation. Does the government have any idea how resolute we are on this side of the House? This is the closest the Conservatives and the NDP have worked for, well, as long as I can remember. I was starting to think and going further, but this is the closest for a long time. It's not because suddenly we agree on everything, but one thing we do agree on is that this is wrong and doing it this way is wrong. If you're going to try to take away one of the few tools that we have left to be effective opposition members and you think we're going to blink for any reason, the government is misreading this.

I can tell you that it goes all the way to the top in terms of the resoluteness of the two opposition parties. I know that Madam May feels the same way—she has been here once—and I have a sneaking suspicion that the rest of the independents are going to feel pretty similar, especially since they don't even get a say. They don't even get a say, and the government didn't give any thought at all about the opposition members. Who are they? Who cares? We're the majority and what we want is what matters. We have to deal with those official parties, and we will. We'll fix them, don't worry. The other ones, well, they have no power and we'll just make sure they stay that way.

You were going to be different, though; that's the thing. It's not as though I have to hold up some high ideals and make it look like you backed them. The Liberals were the ones who were giving all these lofty speeches during that bloody 11-week campaign, so you had lots of opportunity to repeat to everybody how you were going to be different. Telling people one thing and doing something else is not doing things differently. Canadians have had their fill of that. The government said, “We'll be different; you can trust us, Canadians.” They did, and now, by this kind of nonsense, the government is insulting those very same Canadians who put their trust in them.

I don't know what's going to happen to the changes to the electoral act. When I turn my mind back to a few hours ago when we were actually doing productive things, I had some sense of maybe where we were going. I have no idea now. Let's just take a second to mosey on down that trail.

(2000)



The new Minister of Democratic Institutions asked us to try to complete our study of the Chief Electoral Officer’s report, which is pretty lengthy by the way, by May 19, and we really hadn't already gotten our heads around how we were going to do that except that we were prepared to try. Again, based on the idea that if it looks like timing is going to be a problem. If the government wants to give us some indication of areas that they prefer to move on earlier rather than later, then we can rejig our work so they can have the benefit of our....

That's all gone now, Mr. Chair. As long as we're tied up in this none of that's going to happen, so does that mean that the Conservatives.... I mean the Liberals. You start getting into this stuff and the old ways kick in.

Does that mean the Liberals have decided that their ability to have 100% control in the House and in every committee is more important than removing some of the Bill C-23 ugliness, the unfair elections act? Or does it mean that you're going back to not respecting the committee and their opinion like Bill C-33? Because you can't have both. You can't have us locked into this pitched battle for days and weeks on end and expect us to complete a report that we weren't even sure we could finish under the existing schedule if we're not even talking about it. So what does that mean? Does that mean the government's going to say something's got to give, and it would look like listening to the committee and respecting the committee and waiting for our report is what's going to give, which puts us right back where we were with Bill C-33. That's not that far away from the process that was followed with Bill C-23, the unfair elections act.

We already heard Mr. Reid admit that the opposition approach to Bill C-23 did damage. I didn't even have the Liberals with us fighting Bill C-23 as strongly. They did fight it but not as strongly as the official opposition is now linked with the third party to make sure this doesn't happen. There are two injustices: ram through the changes that you want, opposition be damned, and then put in whatever electoral changes you want, committee consideration be damned. Is that where we are? Is that what this committee is now reduced to? It looks like it.

We've been struggling with our work plan to try to fit everything in. I just mentioned the most acute one. We have a lot of important work and anyone who's been on this committee for any length of time knows that we don't go too long before somebody from somewhere sends us work that we have to deal with. The Speaker refers things to us. The House refers things to us. Bills come in here. Even though we've set our work plan it's always a struggle to stay, and that's when we're all co-operating, respecting one another, and fighting in common cause to get through an agenda because we believe it's in the interest of the people we represent to do so. Where's that? I'd love to hear somebody from the government tell me.

What are you going to say? Is it we're going to start meeting six days a week? Is that the solution because that only works so far? We could do something like that maybe if we were going to the Cullen model where we're, again, working together and we set out how we can do this. It may be possible, but the government doesn't want to talk about that. They have no interest. The ones I feel sorry for are the backbenchers who are sleepwalking through this.

I know some of them get it and they know how dangerous this is to their brand in their own ridings. I know some of them get it. The ones I feel sorry for really are the ones who don't get it and they're just going along and doing what the government told them. They say, “Yeah, okay, I'll support that. Sure, yeah, okay,” and they go back to their ridings and it's like whoa what happened? We all know.... I don't want go too far into this. I wouldn't raise it if it wasn't in the media but there it is, low-lying fruit. There's already a little bit of that tension that we all know exists between cabinet and backbenchers, and I've been both.

(2005)



I've been the backbencher who felt frustrated, and I've been the cabinet minister who is carrying the responsibility. I get it. You have a couple of days coming up when you're going to be struggling with these things. The fact that you don't think there's maybe enough consultation with the cabinet and with the caucus before things are done is not new—trust me—and anybody who is in your caucus who has been in government before will tell you we've been here before.

Things like ministers coming into ridings and you don't know about it, and you get all ticked off because the minister is coming in and you didn't know, are not new. This is not new. You're having these kinds of stresses. I suspect that, especially among the ones who really get politics on the ground and have a good political gut, they're going to go into that caucus meeting tomorrow morning or the quasi-retreat on the weekend and there's going to be a lot of expression of serious concern about what's going on, because this stuff is hard to defend, not because it's complicated but because it's so wrong.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Go ahead, Mr. Richards.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Mr. Christopherson has been speaking for a little while now and he has raised the point a couple of times, certainly in a very different kind of way so that he's not being repetitive and, therefore, keeping relevant, but he has raised the point that we have government members here who may be feeling a little uncomfortable with the situation, the direction they've received from the PMO and having to go back to their riding and defend this.

He has offered an olive branch, which I think is very kind of him, and I think it would be helpful if someone were to take that olive branch that was extended.

I'm kind of curious, I guess, Mr. Chair, whether any members of the government have in fact been listening to this and starting to think, “Gee, you know, this really is kind of weighing on me and I don't feel right about this situation”, and may be sort of prepared to step forward and unshackle themselves from the direction they've been given by the PMO, or wherever it has come from, and say, “Hey, let's try to solve this. Let's try to see if we can find a way to make this work”, so that we can look at the Standing Orders but not do so in a way that's really looking to just try to remove any accountability the government would have to Canadians, not do so in any way that would remove all tools the opposition would have to try to hold the government to account, and to try to find a reasonable way to move forward.

I'm curious as to whether that's something that anyone on the government would care to comment on. Have they had any thoughts on maybe receiving that olive branch that's being extended to them?

The Chair:

That's not really a point of order, but Mr. Christopherson can ask that.

You did bring up the point about repetition.

Mr. Christopherson, you have promised to be different about six times now, so try not to repeat, and bring new—

Mr. Blake Richards:

May I respond on that, Mr. Chair?

The Chair:

No, because that's part of debate.

Mr. Blake Richards:

No, because you've mentioned it was part of the point of order. I have trouble with that.

Mr. Scott Simms:

It's a point of order.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I'm trying to respond to that, because I do think it's troublesome.

Mr. Scott Simms:

That means you have to take the floor.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Thanks. I have the floor here.

Mr. Scott Simms:

No, you don't. He has.

Mr. Blake Richards:

No, actually, the chair has given it to me to respond.

Thank you for trying to be helpful, but anyway I think what I would like to do is just to make the comment that I don't really believe that there has been repetition there. He has a theme that he keeps referring back to, but his points are always different but germane to that theme. I really think it's reasonable to allow him to refer back to the main point of his speech.

The Chair:

Thank you.

I think he got my point.

Mr. Christopherson, carry on.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Thank you, Chair.

I wondered when the noose would start tightening, and there is the first step. We'll see where we are in a couple of days.

I want to thank my friend for shoring up the idea that this is not the opposition's wish. It's not the headline we're looking for. If at any point the government wants to get serious about getting off this dime and getting us back into some positive territory, they have willing partners.

I know Blake did this, but I would ask if there is anybody on the government side that at this point would like to put an end to all of this and suggest that we begin some kind of either offline or online discussions, anything at all, that would give us some hope that we don't stay here. I just looked at every member over there and not one of them looked back or nodded or anything, so I gather the answer is no.

Just remember that at some point all wars usually end with a deal. If we don't blink, the only way this stops is for the government to suddenly be willing to start being reasonable. You stay unreasonable, 100% guarantee, nothing but this happens at this committee. That's it. It's not a threat; it's a promise.

I thought it was interesting that at one point in the discussions, Mr. Simms said in reference to something—he made the comment and I wrote it down—in the “time” that we have available, which I thought was a riot because the time we have available is the time that he said we could have in his motion, not a minute longer. In the “time” that we have—as if all of a sudden from on high.... That's the way they see it. If it comes from the PMO, well, it's practically coming from heaven, so it needs to be accepted as being nothing less than that.

With the time we have.... He's been told the time that he's going to have, so it makes sense that it would be phrased that way.

Scotty, I really feel badly having to weave you through these things, but I'm afraid you were willing to stick your name on this thing.

Mr. Reid went through this once before, when he attached his name to a rather odious action at committee, and I never saw him do anything like that again because of the personal hit he took. I don't know this for sure, but I think it bothered him that much. Every one of us who spoke said, “I'm surprised it's you, because I have so much respect for you and you have so much credibility and you were willing to attach your name to this.” I feel somewhat the same.

Scott, I know you care about a lot of these issues, and I respect the fact that you're a democratic reform critic. It may have been that you and I were overlapping even at one time, because I was a democratic reform critic during some of our time here together.

I do personally feel badly that I have to do some of these things, especially with what I'm about to do now, which is to remind you of some of your previous motions. Again, I will not make it personal, and if in any way I am, please, I'll be looking over, because I don't want to do that. But, hey man, you attached yourself to this thing. If you jump on that bronco, you're going to ride it, and ride it you are going to.

(2010)

Mr. Scott Simms:

I think it's cool to get on the bronco, but it's all right.

Mr. David Christopherson:

The reason I mentioned “time” was that it also gave me a nice segue to do part of what Mr. Reid did, which was to take us back to how this was done in the past.

This is not an exhaustive list, but these are some of the examples of committees and the time they took to do exactly what the government is proposing—namely, review our rules.

The first example is the Special Committee on Procedure. It was established on September 24, 1968. It's in the formal Journals on pages 67 and 68. The fourth and fifth reports were concurred in on December 20, 1968. The Journals pages are 574 to 579. They took four months.

There was a Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons, and that was the McGrath report that Mr. Simms likes to refer to a lot. I have at least a few hours' worth of comment on that report, and I will continue to go through it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure I can find every bit of relevancy between that report and what's going on here. But that's maybe a couple of weeks down the road, as we settle into this.

With regard to the McGrath report, the committee was established on December 5, 1984. By the by, 1984 was the first year I ran publicly. Sheila Copps beat me. I just thought I'd throw that out there.

That was also in Journals, pages 153 and 154. Amendments to the Standing Orders were adopted on June 27, 1985. That's in Journals on page 903 and then pages 910 to 919.

Mr. Simms likes to point to the McGrath report. He's referred to it a number of times, probably not in a repetitive way or the chair would have caught him. I'm sure it was just echoing. That report, which the government and Mr. Simms specifically are so proud of and point to in terms of the wonderful work they did, took seven months.. Again, the report that the government is so proud of, the McGrath report...or “McGraw”, sorry.

(2015)

Mr. Scott Simms:

It's actually McGrath.

Mr. David Christopherson:

It is McGrath, so it's wrong here.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

It's spelled “McGrath” and it's pronounced “McGraw”.

Mr. David Christopherson:

All right. We could have a discussion on that, except the chair wouldn't let me get away with it, I'm sure.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Just don't say it too often.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I already do that with a whole lot of words I can't pronounce.

That committee was established on December 5, 1984, and as I said, they went seven months. The earlier reference I showed was four months.

Then there was the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons. That committee was established on March 21, 2001. You'll find it in Journals on pages 208 to 209. The latter committee's first report was concurred in, with certain amendments, on October 4, 2001. In Journals it's pages 691 to 693. That took eight months.

The three examples that I've brought up so far are four months, seven months for the report that the government has held up as a shining-light example of what we should be doing, and eight months.

But there's another one. Further proposals were suggested by the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, and were debated in the following sessions: November 20, 2002, in Journals on page 210; November 21, 2002, page 215; and November 22, 2002, page 217. The total amount of time they took to do that report was 11 months.

By the way, I did want to mention on the McGrath report that I believe they did three—at least two, maybe three—international trips, as well as taking....

I had it jotted down. I will find it. Fifty-seven strikes me as the number, but let me see if I can find it.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Here we are. I have it.

The Chair:

I believe there's a point of order.

Mr. Scott Simms:

On a point of order, I'd like to request a 20-minute suspension so I can have a chat.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I agree.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Is there someone from...?

The Chair:

We'll suspend for 20 minutes.

(2015)

(2130)

The Chair:

We are no longer suspended. Maybe someone could tell me what transpired during the break, or was it just a break?

Mr. Christopherson, you have the floor.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Thank you, Chair.

It would seem that's exactly where we are. I appreciate some efforts, but since I have the floor I'll formally report back that we were not able to get ourselves any further than we are right now, unfortunately. As painful as it is for all of us we're going to have to continue in the same vein and down the same road we just left.

I suspect what that means is that it was good news that we tried. The fact that we failed is probably really bad news, meaning that we're likely going to be continuing to lock horns for the foreseeable future, and that is unfortunate.

I do want to thank Mr. Simms personally though. As a fellow parliamentarian I do believe that his attempt was well intentioned and positive and the three of us did the best we could, but we are just too far apart to find common ground at this time, Chair. Perhaps a little more time going by will motivate us to come together a little more easily, but for now we remain quite a bit apart so unfortunately, Chair, it's necessary for us to continue where we were.

That's just a nice way of saying you're going to have to listen to me for a little longer, I'm afraid.

Mr. John Brassard:

I enjoy listening to you.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Don't encourage me.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Christopherson: You'll live to regret it.

I am cognizant that we're still on the same motion—

The Chair:

And amendment....

Mr. David Christopherson:

That's what I meant, the amendment motion.

I just want to indicate to you that I am cognizant of your cautionary note about repeating myself, so I will continue to persevere into new territory, which is not difficult given that the argument I have to make is that the government is being unfair, undemocratic, insincere, and breaking their promises. That comes pretty easily to me, Chair, so it should just roll off as it needs to.

An hon. member: There goes an hour.

Mr. David Christopherson: Let me just pick it up, if I can, Chair. One of the nice things about this amendment is that it speaks to how we're making the decision, and therefore, it pretty much opens us up to talk about any aspect of what's in front of us, as we can read into the chair's latitude.

I would just like to take a second, perhaps, to pick one of the issues that the government has placed in their discussion paper as it relates to the amendment, because the amendment would be the deciding formula as to how we make our decisions. Therefore, it's applicable to all aspects of the report. In my humble submission, that would make it germane to the point, and, I hope, keep me in order.

What I would like to do is just to spend a little bit of time talking about prorogation. The government has suggested that they want to do something there. This is another example, Chair, in which there were all kinds of opportunities for the government to find common cause around prorogation had they tried.

The first place to begin on that...and I'm trying to remember if Mr. Reid was there. I'm not sure if anybody else on this committee currently was there, but in one of those Parliaments, in one of those minorities—because they kind of came quickly and were a bit blurry—this committee was seized of the issue of prorogation, the same way that we're seized of the issue of the Chief Electoral Officer's report.

We brought in experts from across the country, constitutional experts. Actually, it was a motion that Jack Layton got the House to approve that sent the mandate here to PROC, and we spent—now, it's been a few years so my memory is a little fuzzy—at least four or five months on it. There were a lot of meetings and we generated a lot of information. There was not just expert testimony, but there were submissions that were made.

It was very complex, as you can appreciate, Chair, because once you start talking about prorogation, you're talking about the suspension of Parliament. There are a lot of rules around it. A lot of it is tradition. We were taking a look at what had been the tradition, what the rules were, and what was done in other jurisdictions. It was the kind of wide, expansive review you would expect.

I raise that because it occurs to me that if the government had indicated that this work had been done and that there was a wealth of information we could all use, again, that would have provided groundwork for discussions ahead of time. Maybe it would have meant a separate process around this, and maybe we would have linked it with other.... There are so many “maybes” about what we could have done.

We probably would have done that at the steering committee, and as you know, we do that in camera. We try not to be partisan. There's no BS. It's just us. There are only a handful of us. Basically, what we're trying to do is work our way through the various pieces that are in front of us to provide some cohesiveness to them, and then, ideally.... You know how a steering committee works. It cannot make decisions. All it can do is make a recommendation to the full committee. If you don't have unanimity, then the recommendation doesn't go to the committee. It just goes to the committee as a cold item with no recommendation.

It's a really good work environment, and whenever we used it in this Parliament and in the previous Parliament, the steering committee did exactly what we hoped it would do, and that was to sort through everything and take the time to get into the weeds, get into the minutiae, try out different ideas, and take into account all of the concerns, all that was there. A wealth of work was done.

I don't know whether the government intends for us to revisit that. Are they going to want to reinvent the wheel and do it all again? Are they planning to ignore all that?

Their opposition to this motion leaves the Conservatives and the NDP to conclude that it's the government's intention, as soon as they get the opportunity and once this filibuster is over, to use their majority to ram through changes to our Parliament.

(2135)



I use the prorogation because I was there for all those meetings. I know the amount of work that was done, and it seems to me we could have been halfway there by just saying we'll take a look at that as a side piece, see where it gets us, and then how it fits into the overall.... That's the kind of thing you do when it's give and take, when you're all trying to work to a common cause. In this case, it's our understanding that the deadline of June 2 is very important to the government. It doesn't really matter why. I don't know why, but that's the deadline they are married to. Again, if we had enough goodwill, then we could have attempted to work toward a process that would accommodate that. It's only the government moves that have caused all this ill will. We didn't have this before.

To be fair, we hadn't yet got to some of the heavy lifting on the Chief Electoral Officer's report. Every time somebody said they were going to have a problem with that, we would say we'd set that aside, move on to the next low-lying fruit, and find the ones we can agree on. Some of those tough things were still to happen, but I think what's important is that we were working as a team. When we raised concerns, it was often as much personal, our own experience of what we knew from elections, as it was partisan. Besides, what is partisan about deciding where you can put signs? It's hard to make that partisan.

Prorogation is much the same thing. It's really not so much partisan as it's government opposition. You know why. This all came from the great prorogation where all of Canada watched a doorway for hours and hours. That's when Jack Layton said, “This is not right. The government shouldn't be allowed to run and hide from a confidence vote”, and so those kinds of practicalities were taken into account.

As I said, what we ran into, of course, was the complex rules, but a lot of it is by tradition, so you need people who understand that history and can explain it to you. We did all that, but the way the government's presented this now and said June 2, at the same time as they just rolled in and said Bill C-33 on May 19, the next thing you know they are going to want to know where the strawberries are, because this is starting to get a little bit strange.

An hon. member: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Christopherson: Thanks, Scotty. I know you knew the reference because we could get a couple of bearings...where are my strawberries?

But listen, it's almost that bizarre.

(2140)

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I have a point of order.

I wonder if the member could explain the reference for the benefit of the rest of the members.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Oh, no.

Mr. David Christopherson:

The movie opens with.... Oh, you want the book version. We could do the book. The preface starts.... Let me see if I can remember. That's Queeg, and that was The Caine Mutiny. According to the movie, anyway, the captain went a bit crazy.

You're serious; you wanted to know.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Yes.

Mr. David Christopherson: I thought you were kidding.

In the movie, anyway, the breaking point, when they concluded that the captain was actually nuts, was when he went crazy about who ate all his strawberries. He was practically ready to hang the crew to find these damn strawberries, so it was just an indication of somebody who went off his nut. I thought that was somewhat apropos because I don't understand what the government's doing. It makes no darn sense.

Prorogation is another example of what they could have done if they had been sincere about trying to find a way. Let's remember this is not a promise. In fact, this is the opposite of the promise the government made. If this was a government promise, like legalizing marijuana and its coming to the committee, there's a different dynamic taking place there. The government ran on it. They can claim they have a legitimate public mandate to bring it in. It's government legislation and it follows the usual process. This is not that at all. This is about how our House runs. This is about how our committees run. Most importantly, this is about what tiny bit of real influence.... I won't even call it power, because it's not. It's influence, and they want to remove that.

Now, I had mentioned earlier about how filibusters were similar to strikes. I see them as very similar. I haven't yet heard the government argument, by the way. We haven't heard a single argument on what's in their discussion paper, but somehow they think that filibusters are happening all the time and it's wrecking the ability and it's obstructionist. I'm assuming that's what they're going to say, yet the reality is that much like strikes, while they get a lot of attention when they happen, they're actually few and far between. Why? And I've been there; I know. The threat of a strike provides motivation for both sides to find a compromise. In a strike no one wins. As soon as you strike, you lose. You may win your objective, but make no mistake, the company is losing production and workers are not getting paid. How can that be a win for anybody? Yet sometimes it's necessary.

I forget the numbers. If somebody has them, they can help me. It's provincial mostly, because most of our agreements are provincial. But I think the rate of collective bargaining resulting in an agreement with no strike—and I stand to be corrected—is 92% or 93%, maybe even higher. There's no lost time, sometimes not even a lot of ill will. If you remove the right to strike, you're not going to get those same kinds of agreements. You would end up reducing the union to having to find other means to put pressure on the government. That's opening up a whole lot of other problems. That's not a good answer. But people who are desperate for fairness, and a lot of us came here speaking for those folks, are going to take desperate measures.

The ability to strike doesn't mean that everybody's going on strike every time you have negotiations, and it doesn't mean that every single set of negotiations is going to fail and lead to a strike, and the unions are going to be saying, “Oh, we got all this power and we're going to use it.” That's not what happens. That's not the real world, and I would say the same thing about the filibuster. Yes, right how we're having to use it. Thank goodness we have it.

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

Mr. David Christopherson: If the government members were on this side, trust me, they'd be making the same argument.

(2145)



We didn't pick this fight, which is part of what my main theme is. We didn't pick this fight; the government did. This is not about their right to do what they want because they have a mandate. They did not have a mandate to take away the rights of the minority. I didn't hear anybody make that speech in the last election. I didn't see it in their election material. They have no mandate to do this, yet they think they can roll in here and force us to accept it based on their vote alone, because that's the amendment in front of us. It's unreasonable. It's undemocratic. It's unfair. It's nuts.

It's nuts that the government thought that. I'm hearing that some of them on the other side were sort of surprised that we reacted the way we did. Really? You want to take away the only real effective means that we have to express displeasure with the government. At the risk, by the way, of being held to account for possibly being obstructionist, you want to take that away, provide no fair process, and expect that we're going to be happy, that somehow this wasn't going to happen.

Again, it perplexes me. I don't understand. I understand what they want, which is everything, all the power and control, total control. They want to neuter the opposition so that all they can do is squawk now and then and do a few quotes in the media, but nothing real that would get in the way of this divinely inspired government to do as it pleases. Somehow they thought that it wasn't going to be problematic. Who is making these decisions? It's nobody who has been around here for a while.

I won't name names. I don't know who made the decision, but I do know how silly it is. However, hope springs eternal. My mother taught me, hope springs eternal.

Mr. de Burgh Graham is going to speak after me, and maybe by the time he is done the light will go on and I'll think, oh, now I feel so bad having said those things. That could happen and I'll be spending the next four hours apologizing and going back over all the horrible things I said, because Mr. de Burgh Graham enlightened me as to why the government is doing this and why it's a good thing for me and a good thing for my constituents.

I await that spellbinding presentation. However, I know you're saying, no, we need more from you, David, much more. Those who have more must give more. You're the only one who has offered any real hope that there might be an answer as to why this is being done.

On prorogation and the filibuster, again, I will be very interested to hear the government, once they get going, on how this is a good thing. In terms of the only way that taking away filibuster can be good, given the fact that the government cannot, in my opinion, statistically prove that filibusters are abused to the point where they are becoming a regularized, obstructionist measure on the part of the opposition. Good luck with that. I was a part of a good number of the filibusters in the last few years and there aren't that many. Maybe that's why. Maybe I'm the best insurance for fewer filibusters because nobody wants to hear from me. That's fine. The goal is not to have filibusters.

Filibusters are only used when you feel that you have no other choice but to just go on and on, as I'm doing now, and hopefully get enough attention from the public and get the public on side such that the government feels the pressure, comes to their senses, backs down from this, and gives us the opportunity, if they really want to make these changes, to do it in a way that has some semblance of respect and how things have been done in the past.

I don't know, Blake, when you're getting ready. I'm going to go down another road now, but at whatever point you want to jump in, if it's five or 10 minutes from now, that will be good. However, I'll get a start down here.

What I want to do is again point out that the government is the one that....

David, I do have to take a moment to get this right. Does it say “McGrath”, but everybody says “McGraw”? Help me.

(2150)

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

I had a friend in school who was named McGrath. I thought it was pronounced “McGrath”. I called him “McGrath” for years and he told me it was “McGraw”.

Mr. David Christopherson:

So it's written correctly but needs to be pronounced “McGraw”.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

I don't know why.

Mr. David Christopherson:

So that's correct. I don't need you to know why. I just need to know it's correct.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

It's like everything else in English. The pronunciation matches the letters exactly.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Why can't I get a straight answer from you. You're not even a minister yet and you're not answering a straight question.

He's practising. He's getting good at it.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

I'm sticking in his McGraw.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Something's sticking in your McGrath.

The government loves this report, and that's good, because we're going to make a lot of reference to it. You know the one I'm referring to. It's the report of the Special Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, tabled June 1985, and the chair was James A. McGrath, member of the Privy Council and member of Parliament.

What I'm doing, Chair, is finding elements that are relevant, of course, to our study now. I know if I fail to do that, you'll be all over me, so I'll do my best to make sure that the relevance is clear. I will just read a couple of short paragraphs and then make reference to what we're doing here.

By the way, I wanted to just highlight something, which I did find earlier, when my friend jumped in to save me and then I managed to set it aside again. It was three international trips that they did. They went to three places. I believe it was London, Paris, and one more that they went to. I can't think of what it was. Anyway, it will come to me later. They had something like 57 meetings. Again, I stand to be corrected. I'll check my notes. That's why we have staff. It's in the second sentence of the preface: Since its creation on December 5, 1984 the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons has held 57 meetings and presented reports to the House on December 20, 1984 and March 26, 1985. Between December 1984 and June 1985 we heard 50 witnesses and, in reply to a call for submissions published in newspapers....

That was really the only way then. If we were going to do that now, it would be a little more comprehensive.

(2155)

The Chair:

David, I just have to interrupt for a second, so the pizza doesn't get cold. The members, if they want some, should probably get some before everyone else in the room eats it all.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Really, Chair, we've reduced you to that? Did we do that to you?

The Chair:

Yes. That's my role.

Do you want to suspend for five?

Mr. David Christopherson:

Can we get a bite now?

The Chair:

We will suspend for five minutes.

(2155)

(2205)

The Chair:

After the pizza suspension, we're back to Mr. Christopherson, who is speaking on Mr. Reid's amendment.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Thanks, Chair.

I'll pick up where I think I left off.

I think I was just starting to read the beginning of the second paragraph, which says: Between December 1984 and June 1985 we heard 50 witnesses and, in reply to a call for submissions published in newspapers, received 185 briefs or letters. It has not been possible to address all the suggestions and proposals made by the various submissions. However, these documents are on file in the Committees Branch and constitute a valuable resource for future committees or individuals interested in parliamentary reform.

What I find particularly interesting, Chair, is that the next paragraph says: During visits to—

—wait for it— —Washington (February 12-15), Bonn (May 13-15), Paris (May 16-17), and London (May 20-23), the committee had an opportunity to compare procedures through discussions with legislators and staff in these countries.

Wow.

The Chair:

That was PROC?

Mr. David Christopherson:

That was from the McGrath report.

Then what happens is that it flips back and forth in my head: which one am I trying to remember and which one am I trying to forget? We'll see.

My point, though, is that the timeline that we've been given by the generous Mr. Simms is, at two and a half months, really short. Had we started right away, it would be March 21 to June 2, two and a half months to do what the report that the member who is moving the original motion held out as an example of great work and wants us to match, I suspect, by raising it, and wants us to do it in two and a half months. Not only that, but they took it so seriously that they went to those major capitals so they could look for the best, to find out what procedures would work for everyone.

Where are we? We're filibustering to save filibustering, fighting to maintain the modest rights that, as the minority, we have.

One was a great lofty ideal of making our Parliament as uniquely Canadian and democratic as possible, and the other one is about how many of the minority members' rights we can take away with our massive majority.

Again, how does that hold up to sunny ways, and transparency, and accountability? How? It doesn't, and that's why I think the government, at the end of the day—and I'm going to be bold here and say that at the end of the day the government is going to blink on this, because it has to, because the only way we get to this the way the government wants to do it is if the opposition blinks, and let me tell you, we ain't blinking.

(2210)

Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP):

And we ain't blinking.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Mr. David Christopherson:

I got an echo from my troops. So, there you go, and that's without even trying.

Mr. Scott Simms:

You should take it back on the road.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Well I may have to do that, too. You never know, Scotty.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Bonn, Paris, and London.

Mr. David Christopherson:

We laugh, and that's good. It's good that we can do that, because it replaces how they settled these things a few centuries ago, which would be blood on the floor. All we have is political blood, and it can be ugly, but it's not nearly as bad.

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:

At two sword lengths.

Mr. David Christopherson:

At two sword lengths, and keep the points away from everybody.

On the same page, let me jump.... I'm going to leave that. I have a little more stuff I wanted to do on that, but I'm anxious to get to my next point in this. It is this, Chair. This is in the beginning, the preface. The seventh paragraph and the eighth, which are the two concluding paragraphs of the preface, are the personal words of Mr. McGrath, the chair. He says: I wish to thank my six colleagues on the committee for their patience and support.

Please pay particular attention to this. Continuing, he said: That we were able to operate by consensus without once voting on an issue is a testament to their selfless dedication to reform.

Hear, hear!

It is to their credit, and it's a testament to their selfless dedication to reform.

Now, take that marker and look at the marker that we've got going on today, and ask yourself: is this an improvement? In the next paragraph, Chair, to conclude the preface by Mr. McGrath, he says the following: Parliamentary reform is an ongoing process. Others in the future...

That would be us. This is the past talking to the future, and we are the recipients of that message. He continues: Others in the future will continue and improve upon the work of this committee. From this evolutionary process, however, there is emerging a Parliament that is uniquely Canadian—attempting to meet the challenges and expectations of Canadians.

Now, consensus is a very Canadian kind of trait. It speaks to who we are and how we do things that they took the time to put this message.... That was when I first ran, so it's 32 or 33 years ago. They were looking to the future in the hope that we would build on the groundwork that they laid, and by that they don't mean how many rights can the majority government of the day take away from the minority. That's not what is meant by the future that this committee in the past looked to.

Ramming something through using power and force and majority is not the way Canadians do it. That's the way of a lot of other countries...and we can point around the world at those who have to live in that kind of circumstance. We don't. We are uniquely Canadian, obviously, but unique in how we approach these things that help us define what it is to be Canadian. This government, the one that wraps itself in the flag like no government since I've been here, has taken that whole thing and just thrown it overboard. None of that matters. The only thing that matters is that “we get what we want, because we're the majority and might makes right”.

Yes, with the swagger like that too, Ruby, yes. You've got to throw that in. That's absolutely right. That's the way it feels. I bring this back so that it's not just my words in some flowery rhetorical speech. This is the past talking to us about what they hoped for the future.

Who would have thought that it would be this government, really, under this Prime Minister, that would attempt to be so undemocratic in how they approach this? Again, this is not repetition; it's the point.

(2215)



We're not talking about any old government bill. These are the rules by which we live here, the rules by which we make laws, the rules by which we collectively come together as 338 Canadians to reach agreement on laws.

The past is telling us, “Hey, we're really proud of what we're doing here. We think what we're doing is so good and so Canadian that we're asking the future to follow in our footsteps. You pick up that mantle, and you do your part in your time, and build an even stronger Canada.”

How sadly this government has let our predecessors down. That it has come to this, that a government is prepared to use it majority to ram through...I don't think has probably ever been done before. I do know there are individual motions and changes to Standing Orders that have been done with the support of only the government, but to the best of the research that I can come up with, they were one-offs. When they were looking at an overview of the rules that we have, nobody in the history of Canada took this kind of an approach.

Mr. McGrath was very proud of the fact that they were able to operate by consensus without once voting on an issue. Do you think they were any less divided than we are? Do you think their points of view were less disparate than ours, or somehow that the country wasn't as big and the differences weren't as vast?

They came up with a report that was so influential that 30 years later the government of the day is holding it up and saying that we need to do more things like this. We have to do some reform, except we're not going to include the best Canadian parts, like respecting each other and trying to work together. Again, is it so much to ask that there be some cooperation on our rules—not your rules? It's not your House and it's not your Parliament. You're the government and you're the executive, but we have rights too, just as every one of you do.

Mr. Simms, you're the only one right now who was in the last Parliament in opposition and you were just as valuable a parliamentarian as you are now, sitting at the head of your delegation here at PROC today.

However, we're not being treated with the same respect they showed their colleagues 30 years ago. Why? The vision of our predecessors was that the Canada they saw 30 years hence was stronger, better, more proud, than even they were. That's what they asked of us. It's hard to live up to. This government didn't even try. You're not even in the same ballpark as the McGrath work. You should almost be embarrassed to hold it up and say that somehow what you're doing holds any semblance to what they did.

I doubt we have the time, but I would be curious to know if anyone ever, during that review, even once contemplated the idea that you would remove the one, singular tool that opposition members have at committee to get the serious attention of government, the right to filibuster.

I've been here 13 years now come June.

Scotty, we've been here 13 years, is it?

(2220)

Mr. Scott Simms:

It's 14.

Mr. David Christopherson:

It's 14 years—it's getting late, and math was never my best subject—and I like to talk, people know that, and I can talk. I can talk a lot, as everybody who knows me knows. I think I probably threatened filibusters—oh, I don't know—20 or 30 times. But the threat was enough that the government of the day gave a little, recognized that it really didn't want to get into that whole big deal: “Listen to him again? Good Lord, we've got to find some way to avoid that”, and we did.

I stand to be corrected, but other than a couple of times...even all participation. I don't think there were more than four, or maybe two, that I played a significant role in, and a couple of others where I went to committee and helped out as a caucus member. That's it. Four times in 14 years, two that I was leading, and I like doing this stuff when I have to do it.

It's kind of hard to make the case that there's abuse, but I could make a great case that having the ability to say—and I have, and you've all been around, in private and in public—“Settle in, folks, because if you're not going to get reasonable we're going to be here a while”. That's when it's like, “Oh no, we don't want to listen, no, especially not to him”, and it worked. It's the same as a strike. You threaten that you're going to have a strike and you've got the attention of the employers, particularly if they've got five brand new contracts that they want to make sure they can fulfill. The idea that there could be a work stoppage is the worst thing, so that provides the motivation, and you get an agreement. Over 90% of the time, they get an agreement. I would say, what, 96% of the time, myself engaged, I found a way to agree, or at the very least I could live with the decision because I deemed the process to be at least as fair as it was going to get.

That's the other thing. It's not just that we expect to win and get what we want. Of course, we haven't put anything on the table yet, because it's all the government's doing so far. We haven't asked for anything, but it's coming. The price of poker keeps going up, the longer this goes on.

I can only hope that the government recognizes that all we want is fairness. If ever there were a word that Canadians were proud to use to identify us—and there are many—one of the things we pride ourselves on is that we're fair-minded people and reasonable. There is nothing reasonable about bringing this in here and denying us the chance to take it to our damn caucus tomorrow. Where's “reasonable” in that? It just piles up one after another after another on this alone. Think about it.

What time was it when we were doing that? I don't know, maybe it was around noon or one o'clock when we were suggesting that, hey, one way we could get past this is at the very least would be to get it to our caucus so we could get a mandate and talk intelligently and have the support of our caucus that what we say would be backed up by our caucus and by our leaders.

Mr. Blake Richards:

It seems like an incredibly long time ago, David. In fact, I think the offer to try to allow that to be facilitated has been repeated numerous times, which seems like an entirely reasonable—

Mr. David Christopherson:

Really, all we asked was this. You gave us a discussion paper from your House leader. Obviously, that's important. Your House leader is important. What the House leader does is important. When the House leader tables a document and says these are some of the things we're looking at doing, that's important. That's not white noise. That is about as real as it gets: the parliamentary leader of the government in the House tabling something. And then a member of this committee a couple of hours later tables a motion. Okay. Before I even get into the details, let's just say that it was not what it is here, but something else. It was a discussion paper followed by a notice of motion coming to the committee, which tells you that it means it's probably going to be debated fairly soon, otherwise why go to the trouble of doing a notice of motion now. Instead, you'd wait till it's closer to when you're going to do it. All we asked earlier today was could we please just not have this discussion until after we've had a chance to take it to our caucus? Could we do that? No, no, no was the response. I still haven't heard a good explanation why the government thinks it's okay to force members to take positions on motions and policy, and deny us the opportunity to consult with our own caucus first. You can't defend that. You can't defend that on any subject matter, let alone the rules of engagement.

So right from the get-go to the current moment, to the time we took about an hour or so ago, we keep trying to find some way to get some kind of fairness here. The only thing, Chair, that's giving us some hope that we're going to get our say is that we've got the right to filibuster when we have to. Does that mean that we can stop the government? No. At the end of the day, they're going to win. Every vote we have, they win, 10 times out of 10, so the most we can do is to delay things long enough to try to get the attention of the public and say, folks, notwithstanding the usual when we're raising flags you ought to pay attention to, this is really, really serious, and we're prepared to run the risk of being accused of being obstructionists to give you the opportunity to see what's going on. And then when you look at it, make your judgment. If they think we're being obstructionist, then I'm going to get the emails. I'm going to hear from them. I have a hunch that's not what's going to come in the next few days and weeks as this plays itself out. Why? Because the unfairness is so blatant. The heavy-handedness is so blatant, the ham-fisted nature of it.

So here we are, it's close to 10:30 at night, and we have wasted I can't imagine how much money supporting this. It takes a lot of people and a lot of labour to keep a committee like this going, from our own staff, our personal staff, to the committee staff, to the support staff, to the technicians, to our interpreters, to our security people, to the buses that have to keep running. All these things are happening because the government has decided that the opposition has too much power around here, and that we're going to fix that. That's why we're here. I'm sitting here doing the best I can to represent my caucus without even being given and afforded the opportunity to talk to them, and it's tomorrow morning.

Believe me, anybody looking at this, a reasonable person looking at this, would say, at the very least, why couldn't they take it to their colleagues again and ask what they think about it? What was the reason for that again? And so far the only answer I've heard—and I invite the government to jump in if it has have a really good answer, because I'd love to hear it—is that the government is wedded to June 2 as its deadline. Well, la-di-da, what the hell does that mean to us?

Voices: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Christopherson: You've had no discussion with us. We don't know what June 2 is. Is it somebody's birthday? Is there a special cake coming, a big money cake we're all going to share, whose candles we are going to blow out? I don't know.

(2225)



What's so special about June 2?

Mr. Blake Richards:

Is that your birthday, Mr. Chair?

It's in December. Okay. So it's not the chair's birthday.

Mr. David Christopherson:

On June 3 does the House turn into a pumpkin? I don't know what happens after June 2, but it sounds like it's really bad, and it requires the opposition to be neutralized to avoid the catastrophic—

Mr. Blake Richards:

Is it your birthday, Scott?

(2230)

Mr. David Christopherson:

—eventuality of June 3. Maybe there's something more fearsome in June 3, and I shouldn't look just at June 2. On June 3, is there a comet coming?

Are they moving us out of here before we're ready, and we have to be done, and we have to sit outside on the lawn in case West Block...? What is it about June 2 that is so sacred that it can't be violated as a deadline? I don't know. We don't know because nobody's telling us anything other than “get 'er done”. Really. Just like that. Oh, and by the way, while you're meeting that deadline, make sure you leave some of your rights at the door.

I wonder how Mr. McGrath and his colleagues would feel about this process being used that way when his greatest pride was the work they did for Parliament, for Canadians, for democracy, and you insult that by having the audacity to hold it up and suggest that somehow that gives legitimacy to this bullshit.

This doesn't end well. It took less than 12 hours and I'm already swearing. I'm going to hear from my mom. She gives me heck every time I do that.

You also know, those who have been around for a while, we run a real risk staying in this mode for any length of time. We all run the risk that we're going to say something in the heat of the battle, cross a line, make a mistake, and then somebody says, wait a minute, that's personal. The next thing you know you have all these dynamics, and those start to pile up... Because remember, we're going to be here for days and days and weeks and, if necessary, months. That's how strongly we feel about this.

So far as long as we prevent you from getting your hooks into our rights, there's nothing you can do about it except get reasonable and get fair. Oh, and by the way, how about trying a little democracy? Because I don't see any of it here. All I see are Liberal shirts with Harper's mandate and approach.

I know some of my Conservatives wish I would stop doing that, and I understand that, but, nonetheless, for the rest of us, it does represent something, especially when this government was elected—as we were offering to be different too when we ran—saying that it was going to be unlike that government at all, and look where we are. Are you proud? I can't wait until you all go back to your ridings and brag to your constituents about the great job you're doing kicking the hell out of the opposition and denying them the right to even consult with their own colleagues. What a great bragging story, how you're building democracy and building Canada. Good luck.

It doesn't seem like much now, and I will predict, Chair, that—well, we know why this was brought in today. Because the budget's tomorrow, and it's going to swamp everything. Somehow they thought if they could just get through a couple of days, I don't know, somehow we were going to fold like a cheap suit, and go running home, and asking for this to end quickly, and to stop hurting us. I don't know. I can only go so far in that kind of thinking because I don't get it. I don't get the politics.

Sometimes in politics not nice things happen. I've been around a long time. I've served all three orders of government. I've sat in just about every corner of a House you can sit in including the cabinet, and for the life of me I cannot figure what the government is doing.

Why do you want to taint your brand so badly when on a similar file, electoral reform, you not only broke a promise, you outright betrayed it? I know there are government members who agree. I don't expect you to say anything, of course, but we know. We talk.

On the heels of that file with all those upset new Liberals, some who left the Conservatives or the Greens or us to make sure there was strategic voting and to make sure that you got there so that things could be different from what we had before.... Now on the same kind of file with the same constituency that cares about this, you're showing them how undemocratic you can be again. This time you don't even have a mandate. Last time you had one and betrayed it. You got things kind of backwards. You're supposed to do the things you promised and not do things you didn't promise.

(2235)



Things come up, we all understand that and quite frankly had this come up during the review that we would do, there's a different way of approaching this. But to all of a sudden out of nowhere, Chair, and I know this matters to you because you're responsible for our end result, for them to drop this on us, we then get caught up in the minutiae. Your job is to keep an eye on the horizon to try to deliver us to success. This process isn't going to do that, Chair. All it's doing is damaging everything. We just had the Minister of Democratic Institutions come in here and ask us nicely, respectfully—and I appreciated that's the way it should be—and I think we responded in kind when the minister said that she that would very much like to make sure that however we did our work, she could benefit from our thinking so she could have that advice as she makes her decision about the law that she was going to introduce. She'd like to get it ahead of time. She asked if she possibly could have it by May 19.

And again, and I used the term earlier, that made our heads explode. We wondered how we were going to do that. And again, that's when we maybe we could move, because we were really trying to do it because we were all engaged in that. We've already got hours and hours invested in that report. We care about it because it's our precious election, especially when we see what's going down south of the border. It should give us renewed effort to shore up our democracy, not weaken it further.

There are so many different ways we could have done this. We could have struck a special committee as they've done in the past. We could have struck a subcommittee of this group. We could have looked at trying to identify things that the government legitimately could say they wanted to have by June 2. We could maybe make those a priority. But more than anything, we have to agree on what constitutes making a decision, because that's the motion in front of us, that no decision will be made unless there's all-party agreement. The government is opposed to it.

In the absence of any kind of an alternative amendment or a suggestion, that leaves us with no conclusion except that the government is quite prepared and comfortable with the idea that they and they alone with their massive majority would force changes on the rules of this place, on how we make laws, that also would have the effect of taking away the rights of the minority. How the hell is that in the great tradition of the McGrath report? They said, and I want to read it again, these are our predecessors talking to us about how proud they were of their work on the same file that we have right now. And what did McGrath say? I wish to thank my six colleagues on the committee for their patience and support.

That tells you it wasn't easy. When they use the word “patience”, I wouldn't have expected that word. That tells me there was a lot of toing and froing and all kinds of consultation and meetings in an attempt to reach consensus because it's not easy.

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:

That's the way it should be.

Mr. David Christopherson:

“The way it should be”, as my friend says.

And there was “support”, which also suggests that there was leadership within the group that was taking some ownership. I'd be very interested to find out the micro-details of exactly how they did it, because those are interesting words to use. They weren't the words that I would normally expect in a preface from a chair saying thanks to the committee for “their patience and support”. Now, “support” I guess, in being chair, would mean they respect the chair and look to their chair for leadership. That might explain the support. But “patience” is an interesting word to use—connected to consensus.

They didn't get there easily. If doing this easily were all that easy, every other country would have a Canada. It's not easy, and that's why the chair is going out of his way to say thank you.

Then he said, “That we were able to operate by consensus without once voting on an issue is a testament to their selfless dedication to reform.” Why selfless? Why did he use the word “selfless”? Why? Because there were probably people putting water in their wine where it wasn't in their interest to take that position, but in the broader interest of give and take, they were willing to make some compromises.

With “selfless”, I don't see anything selfless about what this government is doing. If anything, it's 100% selfish, and certainly undemocratic.

Their “dedication to reform”, again, is an interesting choice of words. You know what that says? It says that there were people there who were agreeing with things they maybe didn't necessarily agree with, but were willing to accept that, because probably in a couple of other places other people put a little water in their wine and collectively overall they were able to balance it out. Maybe that's why they used the word “patience”, because it took so much to keep going back and finding that consensus.

I can't believe it was that much easier then being an MP than it is now. They had the same divisions and partisanship that we have, yet they were able to operate by consensus without once voting. Again, the fact they said “without once” sounded like maybe they got close a couple of times, where there was no choice. They were going to have to vote, yet somehow they pulled it back, probably with the help of the chair.

Chair, that's why I mentioned Mr. Preston, your predecessor, and the respect that you now have garnered. Different person, different personality, different approach, same result. Good committee. Good team work. We trust you.

I'm a New Democrat, you're a Liberal. I trust you. I trust you when you have your hands on the steering wheel of this committee. Why, Chair? Because I think I could apply that to you: “selfless dedication to reform”. I could easily say “selfless dedication to the procedure and House affairs committee”. Having this committee function the way it should and be successful for Parliament is more important to you than your personal advancement as the chair.

I believe that about you, Chair. I believe that, and I trust you. If you said to me whatever and you ended it with “trust me”, I would. I don't believe you would work in cahoots with your Liberal colleagues to do us in. Maybe you'll prove me wrong, but I would, every time, at the drop of a hat, say that I have complete faith and trust in your abilities and your motivation as the chair of our committee.

I believe that they probably had that same feeling about their chair, and that chair probably helped them get through the difficulty of consensus. If consensus were easy, everybody would do it all the time.

Unfortunately, Chair, given the process that we're in here, the niceties and the professionalism and the nuances you might bring really aren't going to do anything right now. It's got to be breaking your heart that this committee is going where it's going, given how well we've been doing so far. I don't expect you to say anything, but I do believe that. I believe that this would not make you a happy chair to see this happening, and that you would much prefer that we did what Mr. McGrath said, when he said, “Others in the future will continue and improve upon the work of this committee.”

(2240)



I honestly believe that you could see yourself and would like to see yourself sitting in the driver's seat with your hands on the steering wheel, decades later in your time, doing the same job for Parliament that Mr. McGrath did for his committee and his Parliament. I believe that.

But, Chair, you can't do anything about where we are now. We are so far in the ditch, and for what? That's the thing: for what? It's not going to work. We are not going to let go. The second we let go, Chair, in this filibuster, we sell out. I'm going to use that term; I'm going to put that pressure on me.

The second this filibuster fails, we sell out our future MPs who don't happen to find themselves in government, because it means that filibustering as a legitimate, democratic tool is dead in Canada. You can poll every single member of the opposition benches, and I will all but guarantee you that every one of them would say to you, “I'm willing to go to the wall”. To anybody who has doubt, I say stay tuned, stay tuned. This Parliament has a long way to go.

I don't know how many members we have on the opposition benches. What's the quick math?

You guys have 180 and some odd, and we have...?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

It's about 130.

Mr. David Christopherson:

How about 130, give or take?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

How many do you have? Is it 40?

Mr. David Christopherson:

We have 44.

An hon. member: So it's 144.

Mr. David Christopherson: Do you know what? That's a pretty good-sized little army in a place like this. I know a lot of them, and they can talk as well if not better than I can. Once we ever get a chance to brief our caucus, which will happen anyway—even though the government wouldn't let us do it before we had to speak, it's still going to happen—let me tell you.

Do you know how cranked up those opposition caucus meetings are going to be tomorrow? I know that by the time I'm done, I will be disappointed if I don't have every member of my caucus on the ceiling ready to bleed to defend this filibuster. I will have failed, if that's not how that meeting ends, and I don't intend to fail. I know that Blake is planning to do the same thing with his caucus, and he has every expectation that his colleagues will be there, just as the NDP will be.

There, then, are the two extremes.

Blake, I'm serving you notice that I'm getting ready to hand off to you.

So there we are, Chair, the two great divides: the promise in 1984 of what they did, in the hope that we could do that and better, versus the reality of the government's jamming changes down our throat with no consensus, no input into the motion, no input into how we're going to do it, and wanting to preserve the right that they can make these changes unilaterally and not even adjourn the damn debate long enough to take the proposals to our caucus. I suspect Mr. McGrath is spinning at the disrespect that's being shown to their legacy and to our Parliament.

I said earlier to Blake that I would take just a couple of hours to warm up and get myself into the groove here, and it's working. As much as I have to hand it off, I can't wait to get back here, and I shall be back, but it won't be until after I have properly briefed my caucus; then I shall return. When I return, I will have a mandate and I will be even firmer and stronger and probably louder than I am now—

(2245)

Mr. Alistair MacGregor:

And well rested.

Mr. David Christopherson:

—and well rested to boot. Thank you. I'm going to get some rest.

Again, I leave it with the government, because the government started this. It's their process, it's their fault, it's their everything.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Mr. Chair, I'm enjoying listening to the member who is speaking, and I think there's a fair bit of noise and conversation in other parts of the room. A little bit is fine, but if folks can maybe just step out into the hallway when we're still in session so that we can keep a good flow to the discussion here at the table, that would be good.

The Chair:

Good.

Mr. Christopherson.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Thank you, Chair. I appreciate the intervention.

Again, what was the request? It was for a little more respect. Even during the debates here, we have to haul it back to that. To me, it's symptomatic of where we are. This is really bad. This is ugly. This serves no one's interest. For those Canadians who do pay attention, it's going to be a combination of being disappointed and angry. They are going to be angry that the government is doing this, and they are going to be angry at all of us that so much time and effort is being wasted.

There are no winners here. The winners would be Parliament, all of us, and all of Canada if we approached this the same way we've tried to approach everything else. All that really is doing—and I'll conclude on this, Chair—is asking the government, “How about living up to your promises?” They promised to show respect to committees. There's none here. They promised to listen to committees. We're not being listened to; we're being dictated to. They promised more independence, and yet we watched as the senior staffer—they didn't even hide it; they didn't even send an email—walked right up behind Mr. Chan and made him change his position.

When it comes to committees, this government has broken all of its promises so far, with the exception of a couple of minor ones. Every day we are left to wallow here in this ugly, undemocratic ditch does more damage to the government's brand and to Canadians' belief that they really are and really meant to be different. At the end of the day, so far, this bunch at this committee looks just like the last bunch.

Until tomorrow, Chair, I relinquish the floor. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

(2250)

The Chair:

Thank you, Mr. Christopherson.

Now we move on to Mr. Graham.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, David.

One of the advantages of a discussion of this structure, a filibuster, is that I have had time to write down what I want to say. I'm a much better writer than I am a speaker, so I hope you'll forgive me for reading my comments. I'm getting a little tired and will be brief.

We are, of course, always open to further off-line discussion, as we tried earlier. I'm always open to doing more.

The motion, as presented by Scott Simms, is far from imposing our will. I want to make that clear. We want to have a discussion, and the House leader wants to add her voice to a study already in progress. I don't see a problem with a government that ran on an agenda of modernizing Parliament having the House leader express her views. This is a request to expand an existing study. The motion is not creating changes. It is trying to get a study running to propose thematic rather than specific changes. We have the S. O. 51 debate, and now the letter from the minister, as guidance and suggestions for topics to discuss.

I don't think we should prejudge the study. I am fully aware that we can one day return to your side of the table and that you will have plenty of opportunities to obstruct further along in this process.

This motion is not drafting standing orders—

Mr. Scott Simms:

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair. I think Garnett made some very valid points earlier, but I think, with all due respect, that he kind of has to follow his own advice at this point.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Mr. Chair, that is absolutely outrageous and beyond the pale as an intervention by Mr. Simms, but I will do my best to moderate my behaviour, all the same.

I'm just kidding.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Oh, okay.

The Chair:

Mr. Graham, go ahead.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

As I was saying, the motion is not drafting standing orders. The study is about witnesses, findings, and recommendations. Incidentally, it also specifically seeks to include independent members into the study, something we were accused of not doing—see paragraph (b) of the motion.

Mr. Reid, in particular, has proposed a lot of very interesting ideas. I'd like to get on with the study to discuss them and have the witnesses come in to evaluate them. That's what they are for. I'm very much looking forward to engaging all of you, and the witnesses you propose, on all these issues, and I agree with many of the comments that have come out, especially in Scott Reid's lengthy intervention.

Let's have a study to discuss the substantive topics. I have a good deal to say, but in the study, not in the creation of the study. Moreover, nothing precludes every member here from taking this topic to caucus tomorrow to discuss it and come back on Thursday or at any point during the study. The call for taking this to caucus is unnecessary. This motion does not make any changes; it creates a discussion.

I would suggest that we have the vote on the amendment and the main motion so we can have the substantive discussion that we are proposing. At least I will express that hope.

Thank you, Chair. That's all I have for the moment. I won't drag it on.

The Chair:

Thank you.

Mr. Richards.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

You caught me just at a weak moment there. A colleague told a joke that was not in any way funny, but I had to laugh anyway. Of course, Mr. Brassard is always funny. I won't share the joke with the committee, though. It wouldn't be right.

I've listened today to some really good arguments, some really good points from my colleagues on this side. I guess the government side is hoping to just wear us down, and they're hoping they'll get their way. They're just going to ram through these changes and hope that we'll all put up a fight for a little while and eventually get worn down and won't be able to carry on, and they can just do what they want. Justin Trudeau can be the dictator that he wants to be.

I can tell you right now that's not going to happen. If you look around this room, you'll see there are a lot of MPs who don't even need to be here right now, and it's almost 11 o'clock in the evening. What does that tell you? That tells you there's a commitment here on the part of the opposition in both parties to fight this. We're going to fight this not for ourselves, but on behalf of Canadians, because what Justin Trudeau is trying to do is take away the accountability that he and his government have to Canadians.

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

Mr. Blake Richards: That's what he's trying to do here. Let's not mince words. Let's not pretend anything else. That's what this is about.

Justin Trudeau talked in the past about admiring the basic dictatorship of China. He's said some wonderful words about his uncle, Fidel. At the end of the day, he wants to be them. He wants to be a dictator in Canada. I know that sounds extreme, but that's what we're seeing here. I may as well just call it what it is, because when you start looking at these changes, that is what he is trying to do. He is trying to take away any ability to be held to account.

Mr. Chair, I shared a Facebook post. It was a news article put out about the committee proceedings earlier today. In a minute, I want to share that. First of all, I went off on a tangent there and I forgot what I was actually getting at when I first talked about having heard from my various colleagues today, on their thoughts and their opinions, which I very much appreciated.

The one who really stuck out for me was my colleague Mr. Reid. When he was here earlier, he spoke for more than a few minutes. I'm not sure, I wasn't keeping track, but it was probably more hours than I can even count to, which isn't saying a lot of hours, but it's a few.

One thing stood out to me. I've sat on committee with Mr. Reid for a number of years now. I've served as a member of Parliament with him for over eight years, and one thing I've known about Mr. Reid is that he's very rational and calm. I would say he takes a very academic approach. It's actually quite atypical for a politician. A lot of politicians are about the show and about putting on a performance to ramp up the rhetoric. That's quite common among politicians, rightly or wrongly. It's something that Mr. Reid is certainly not known for. I saw him legitimately angry over this issue today. He wasn't putting on a show. It's something I've never seen from him before, and I've been through a lot of very stressful situations with him. I've been through a lot of committee hearings on difficult topics, and I've not seen that.

I think that means something. I wouldn't call it an outburst, but we saw that kind of passion and emotion come out of someone who just generally doesn't take that type of approach. He was angry. He used a word that he probably wishes he hadn't used, but it was out of a real, legitimate, and passionate concern for what this government is trying to do as far as the accountability of the government to Canadians goes. It was quite evident in his comments and in how he delivered those comments that this struck him like nothing I've ever seen. I was already well aware of how much of a problem this really was, but I think it really just drove it home for me.

(2255)



If all Canadians were to see that, they would understand, if they don't already, exactly what the concern is here. I listen to other colleagues, as well, who make very impassioned cases for why it's so important in a democracy—which is what Canada is, or at least it still is at this point—for the opposition to have the ability and some tools to be able to use to hold the government to account.

As Mr. Christopherson rightly pointed out, nearly 100% correctly, the government is going to win the votes 100% of the time. We obviously saw a vote once in this Parliament that was pretty close to not being 100% of the time. At the end of the day, it's a pretty rare circumstance when the government isn't going to win the vote—extremely rare, in fact.

There's merit in that, I suppose. Some people would argue otherwise. That said, it's important the opposition have the ability to draw attention to issues that are of concern and to make the government accountable. One of the biggest reasons it's necessary is that often a government can take that power and use other powers, which they're also trying to change—I'll go through those as I speak tonight, Mr. Chair—and trying to put in place here. They can take something and ram it through, and they can do it in a rushed fashion. They can force things through, force a vote, and the goal would be for the government to try to do this—I think that's what they're trying to do in this case, frankly—before anyone can take notice and anyone can build up opposition to it.

What we're seeing with this motion, the discussion paper, and the timeline that's put in this motion, is an attempt to.... Let's face it, when Canadians hear that Liberal MPs want to take Fridays off, when they hear that the Prime Minister only wants to be accountable one day a week in the House of Commons, their reaction is not very good. I can tell you that the people who are aware out there.... I had a lot of people approach me when I was in my riding last week, saying, whoa, hold on. What is this government? Are they really trying to do this? Are they really trying to work fewer days? Are they really trying to make sure the Prime Minister...? I'll get to some comments directly from people in a minute or two, Mr. Chair.

The point is that when people hear about this stuff, it concerns them. The government is hoping to get this through before people can hear about it, before they can get angry, get amped up, and provide some kind of opposition.

Let's face it. Canadians are busy. They're raising their families, they're trying to run businesses—when the Liberal government isn't trying to tax them out of business, of course—they're trying to hold down their jobs, they're getting their kids around to activities, they're caring for their elderly parents. Whatever it is, they're involved in a lot of things. They have busy lives. I think people are busier now than ever before.

That means they don't have as much time as they might like to follow what goes on in Parliament or in the legislatures in their provinces, and political happenings generally. Sometimes, if the government can do a thing like this quickly enough and slide it under the radar, it can get away with it before anyone can know about it. That, I think, is what the goal is here. That's why the opposition has to tools to try to slow down the process, to allow Canadians to have a look at what's going on and allow parliamentarians to fully go through it and raise concerns on behalf of their constituents—who are Canadians—and bring those concerns out into the public forum so that Canadians can judge whether what's being done is in their best interests before it gets rammed through and not afterwards, when it's too late.

That's what's at the heart of all this, Mr. Chair. As I said just a couple of hours ago, I put the following story up on my Facebook page. It's a story from the other day on this filibuster, whatever you want to call it today—this committee meeting that has been going on for some time.

(2300)



I hope you'll indulge me, Mr. Chair, because I wouldn't want to be accused of trying to go on for a long time, but I think I should read it to provide context for some of the comments I'm going to make. I won't necessarily read the whole article, but a part of the article that I put up, just to give members some sense of it.

It was actually an article from the National Post, and the headline referred to the comments that Mr. Reid made earlier that I talked about and I think really were atypical for him and showed how disgusting, I'll say, this attempt by the government is.

The heading is: Tories accuse Liberals of ‘ramming through whatever the f— they want’ to make changes to House procedure

I'm going to click on this article so that I can pull it up, if you'll bear with me a second. I'm going to read in part from this article.

It says: Opposition parties slammed the Liberal government on Tuesday—

It still is Tuesday, I think, but not for much longer. —for trying to “ram through” major changes to how the House of Commons does its business.

So, it talks about ramming through major changes. The next paragraph reads: With little notice—

—which is a key point as well— —the Liberals moved Tuesday to have the Procedure and House Affairs committee study major changes to standing orders put forward by Liberal House leader Bardish Chagger, giving a tight June deadline and offering no indication that they wouldn’t use a majority to impose changes to House rules without opposition consent.

I'm going to stop quoting there, because I think there are so many important points being made in the first couple of paragraphs of this article. It's talking about the government trying to ram through what the author of the article calls “major changes to how the House of Commons does its business.”

We're not talking about everyday, sort of run-of-the-mill type changes. We're not even talking about changing a significant piece of legislation that the House of Commons would look at. We're talking about changing the actual rules of how the House of Commons does its business and trying to tip the scales far more toward the government.

Then it goes on to talk about little notice being provided. Again that speaks to what I was referring to earlier, the fact that the government would try to sneak something through without it being noticed.

It moved to make major changes to the Standing Orders. The other point in that sentence is that they were put forward by the Liberal House leader. It's not the committee making recommendations to the government, which the government would then consider, as I think it is trying to do—I think that's the efforts the government is trying to make to pretend that might be the case. I'll go into detail later about how in fact what's in this letter doesn't line up at all with what the committee had looked at previously. It doesn't line up with a lot of the things that were heard in the take-note debate even, which is another thing that we're hearing pointed to by the government as the opportunity when everyone got a chance to have a say.

Of course, notwithstanding the fact that another of the failed promises of this government was the electoral reform promise. A number of us who were point men for the opposition on this file travelled with the electoral reform committee. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I have to wonder a little bit as to whether that was done deliberately, especially given what has happened since then. Was it done deliberately so that the people who would maybe have the most invested in these issues and probably pay the most attention to these issues from the opposition caucuses weren't present. If it weren't done deliberately, then it was really quite reckless, at the very least.

Then the article goes on to talk about a tight June deadline and, most importantly, the government's offering no indication that it wouldn't use its majority to impose changes to House rules without the opposition's consent. Obviously, as has been said many times today, the practice has typically been and should be that, when you're talking about changes to the very rules that govern the House of Commons, all parties should have some say in that. As we're debating this motion now, that would not be the case. This amendment would, of course, enable that to be the case. We see no indication whatsoever from the government that they're even open to it and it's quite clear that their intention is not to allow that.

(2305)



I certainly hope that, with the reaction they're getting, they'll choose to reconsider that. That would be really wise on their part. I think it would be in the best interests of Canadians, it would be in the best interests of Parliament, and it would even be in their own best interests, Mr. Chair.

The article it goes on to talk about some of other things. It says: The long list of items for study includes: halting House sittings on Fridays; only requiring the Prime Minister to be in question period one day a week—

It also talks about introducing electronic voting and restricting opposition parties' ability to filibuster bills in committee. Those are a number of things it discusses. There are other things, which I'll go through in detail in a few moments.

I think people would be and are quite troubled by the idea of giving Liberal MPs Fridays off and by the idea of the Prime Minister having to be accountable to Canadians only one day a week. Electronic voting is something that could certainly be debated. It was debated by this committee previously with no decision made to proceed with it, but I'll get back to that in a minute.

As for restricting the opposition parties' ability to filibuster bills in committee, I guess I can understand, on a day like today, why the government might see that as something they'd like to see. But again, it is a tool that allows the opposition, on behalf of Canadians, to hold the government accountable and to bring to light some of the issues of the day. Those are the tools the opposition has to provide a contrary, opposing, or potentially complementary view of bills put forward before the Parliament so that Canadians can consider what an alternative, or an additional, approach might be. There is a reason those tools are there. You don't just get rid of them without some kind of agreement among all parties.

The article goes on to give some of Mr. Reid's comments. He said Liberals are trying to “ram through whatever the f... they want”, and it mentions what I pointed out earlier, Mr. Chair, that it was indeed a “rare outburst” for MP Scott Reid. I don't know if I'd call it an outburst—

An hon. member: I don't know if I'd call it rare.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Blake Richards: —but the point is that it is not something that is typical or that Mr. Reid is known for. He usually takes a very methodical and academic approach to issues, and this was a very passionate approach, so it obviously means it is something quite unusual that is happening here. It's very unusual.

He called the manoeuvres “despicable, a tissue of lies and a contemptible abuse of our system”. He also called the Prime Minister an “arrogant, selfish, rude individual” for trying to steamroll all opposition.

I think he put it really well. Trying to steamroll the opposition is what's happening here. We can go back to , as has been alluded to a couple of times earlier today, to the previous attempts by the government to curtail the abilities of the opposition to hold them to account. In response to what happened at that time—the elbow that happened, the Prime Minister's trying to forcibly have his way and ending up elbowing a female MP—there was an uproar, of course.

Frankly, what we're seeing now is even more contemptible. We have a government that just thinks they can do whatever they want, and forget the opposition. They believe they can just drive the bus right over the opposition and therefore drive the bus right over Canadians. They think that since they were elected, they have a dictatorship and can do whatever they want.

That's not how it works. I think this government needs to wake up and look at what's going on here. For the members who sit here in this committee, it's not in your best interests either. As has been said earlier, at least some of you will probably sit in opposition some day, if you have any length of a career in Parliament. I know that many of them are new, but they're going to be realizing at that point why these tools are so important and why it's so important there is some government accountability. And I can tell you that if they don't realize this very quickly, the time they get to spend in opposition might come a lot quicker than they expect, and that's why it's in their best interest, too.

(2310)



I see we're about to have a change of clerk here. I guess what I would like to say is thank you for your efforts today, because you've had a long day as well and have had to be here the whole time. So after about 13 hours or so, you will have a chance to get a little sleep, I hope. We just want to recognize that.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Blake Richards: I'll go back to where I was. I'm not going to quote myself because that would be weird, so I'll skip by the quote of me. In fact, I probably used those words already as I've spoken here, but it refers to my calling this attempt “disgusting and pathetic”. I probably already used that language, so I don't need to do that.

And it then the article goes on to say, “In an unusual move Tuesday”.... So again, here's that idea of it being very unusual: “In an unusual move Tuesday, Liberals repeatedly blocked opposition attempts to delay the motion, including extending the committee” and blah, blah, blah. Then it goes on to the fact that Mr. Christopherson “made much ado about the fact that opposition MPs were not given the time to bring the Liberals’ proposals to a caucus meeting”, with the next one being just hours away now. What they gained by not allowing the opposition members to go to their caucuses, I'll never understand. I guess they like listening to long speeches from opposition members so much that they.... I can understand why; there were some pretty good speeches today. Now that you have to listen to me, they might be rethinking that, as mine maybe isn't quite as interesting as some of the others, but nevertheless they're going to continue to listen to it until they smarten up and realize this is not acceptable.

Really, a delay for a half a day to allow people to have a chance to talk to their caucuses, I can't imagine what the harm in that would be. Who knows? It's anyone's guess, I suppose.

And I'll pass by the part where Mr. Christopherson calls them “clowns”. There's the part where he says: “This is not a good day for Liberal promises”.... The Liberals had promised to work more collaboratively and openly with other parties, but instead are trying to use their majority to change rules that will have a major effect on all members of parliament.... “How the hell is that fair? How does that come anywhere near what you promised in the campaign?”

It's a good question. We still haven't had an answer because the Liberal MPs aren't really speaking. I guess they're just hoping....

Yes, fair enough, David Graham did give us 30 seconds or so there. So, maybe we'll hear a bit more from one of our colleagues on the other side later and maybe they'll explain a bit more about why they're trying to do this. Maybe they don't know. To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they've just been given the orders and they don't really know why that is. I don't know. Who knows?

The bottom line is that the article I posted gives you the context. Now I'm just going to share with you some of the comments that people made. Some of them I can't share because they're referring to the Prime Minister with some language that I don't really feel is appropriate to use in a parliamentary committee; and I don't blame people for that, by the way. I understand that, because what he's doing here is frankly despicable. I can understand why people would feel that way. They probably don't need to use some of the language they've used, but it is despicable.

One person is calling for a vote of non-confidence.

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

(2315)



Mr. Blake Richards Another says, referring to the Prime Minister in question period currently, that he refuses to answer when he's there now.

That's a good point; he rather does.

Again, another person says, “There needs to be a vote of no confidence” and puts three exclamation points after it.

“He is destroying our country with a smile on his disgusting face.” There are four exclamation points after that sentence.

Another fellow says: “Hold him accountable, Blake. I know you're committed to that. Thank you.”

I guess what I would add to that is that I'm not the only one committed to it. There are many opposition MPs—in fact, I'm sure every single one of them—committed to it. That's why I hope they have comfortable seats on the other side: they're going to need them.

Another person said, talking about the Prime Minister: “He is never held accountable, never answers a direct question. He makes me sick.”

The next one I actually can't use, because it refers to the Prime Minister in a very uncomplimentary and unparliamentary way, so I won't cite it.

The next gives good advice, I think, for her fellow Canadians. She says: “Should start putting the heat on Trudeau MPs on 'How can they support their leader?' and make his caucus start going against him. Everybody should start calling the Liberal members of Parliament.” It's good advice, actually. People need to hear it. The Liberal MPs need to hear from people who are concerned about this.

I also had an email, which I got earlier—I have my phone plugged in, so I may read it a little later—in which someone talks about feeling that there should almost be a revolt in Parliament, I guess. That's essentially what they're trying to say. I don't have it in front of me, so I won't read it word for word, but that's essentially the point they were trying to make.

The point is that this isn't just a few opposition MPs lighting their hair on fire over nothing; this is Canadians saying this is not acceptable. They get it. They even understand some of the tools that Parliament might be able to use to hold the government to account.

Maybe I shouldn't have shared those, because maybe the government will try to take them away too.

It obviously concerns me, and it concerns a lot of Canadians. I think that's something the government needs to pay attention to: the reaction of people that I'm seeing on social media, as I've outlined from some of the comments on my page. I know that a number of things have been going around on social media showing concern about this, and there have been many media articles.

This can't be going well. Next week, Liberal MPs will be back in their ridings, and maybe—I'm not sure, but maybe—they will hear from their constituents and their concerns about this. Maybe that will give them some fresh perspective. Let's hope.

I want to address this idea in a little more detail, Mr. Chair, the whole idea about this being rammed through Parliament. It's a word that's been used a lot today. It's been used in the media; Canadians are using it; it's really a good way of describing what's happening here: it's being rammed through. That's the attempt, anyway.

This also has been alluded to many times today: the so-called “discussion paper”, which I'll talk to in more detail, because I've analyzed it and see the key.... I guess what the Liberals have to do is to accomplish their marching here at committee. This was put out, as was mentioned, on a Friday as a constituency or break week, or whatever you want to call it, was starting, essentially meaning that they wouldn't have to be accountable in Parliament for the next week concerning these items.

Then of course came the motion that Mr. Simms put forward within minutes or an hour and a half or whatever it was of that meeting, which is—and I'm not casting aspersions on Mr. Simms, because I know it isn't really something he wrote himself—draconian. It's: “Ram this through. Don't let the opposition have any say. Get it back as quickly as possible.”

(2320)



Where's the accountability? Where are the “sunny ways”? Where are the efforts to be open? Where's the different kind of politics? Where's any of that in this? I don't see it.

Maybe it's invisible ink or something, because the stuff I see on the paper is certainly not any of that. When I look at that, and I look at the report this committee put out previously....

We started looking at the Standing Orders. At one of our very first meetings as a committee in this Parliament, we had then House leader Dominic LeBlanc come in and break up the Standing Orders into chunks. I could be a little bit off on how he explained this, but think it was his suggestion and not the committee's—although we took it up as a committee—to look at the family friendly initiatives. I believe that came from the House leader—I could be mistaken—but in breaking it up into chunks, we certainly looked at the so-called family friendly initiatives.

Of course, one of the things the Liberals were trying to call family friendly, somehow—I'm still not sure how it really would be so—was this idea of eliminating Friday sittings so that Liberal MPs could have another day off every week. It was opposed pretty vigorously by opposition MPs. I would say it was pretty significantly opposed by Canadians as well.

I'm just trying to find the report. I have a lot of papers here in front of me. I believe this is it, but give me a second, Mr. Chair.

Yes, this is the report itself. It was a unanimous report, I believe. Was it not, Mr. Chair? I believe it was a unanimous report of the committee. We had looked at the Friday sittings, and the conclusion was this: Given the lack of consensus the Committee has heard regarding whether the potential benefits of eliminating Friday sittings outweigh the potential drawbacks, the Committee does not intend to propose a recommendation regarding this matter.

Now I'm going to point something out here, because one could try to read into this some intention of “at this time,” or “Maybe we'll revisit this.”

I'll point out that a couple of pages later—and this is in referring to the idea of implementing proxy voting or electronic voting—it says: The Committee has no recommendations to make at this time regarding the implementation of proxy voting or electronic voting; it may revisit this topic in further study.

There's a clear distinction between that and this other one about the Friday sittings. In the one about the electronic voting or the proxy voting, in two different ways, it indicates that though they're not going to do anything with this now, they may come back to look at it later. It says that it has no recommendations to make at this time, and that it may revisit this topic in further study.

However, when we were looking at the changes about Friday sittings, there was nothing that indicated any of that. In fact, it clearly says there was no consensus and that the Committee did not intend to propose a recommendation regarding this matter, period, full stop, end of story.

The committee has expressed its will unanimously. That means including opposition MPs from two different parties. It means government MPs, who had the majority and who, had they wanted to try to ram a change through at that time, could have done it. But they unanimously agreed with the opposition members at that time that this was not something we should proceed with.

Let's see. It looks like that was on February 2 of last year. Fast-forward about a year, and we get this letter or whatever you want to call it, a directive, whatever it is, from the new government House leader.

(2325)



I'll go through it in detail in a few minutes, Mr. Chair. It does refer again to the electronic voting, but it also brings in the idea of getting rid of the Friday sittings, giving Liberal MPs that Friday off that they're so seeking, for whatever reason that might be.

Explain to me how that is any kind of effort to work with the committee, which was so promised to us by the new democratic institutions minister. Maybe this is why they keep having to replace these people. They keep making promises that....

Mind you, I guess that's not true, because then we'd have to replace the Prime Minister too, if we were going to get rid of the people who didn't keep their promises. So that can't be it, I guess.

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

Mr. Blake Richards: At the end of the day, they break their promises in embarrassing kinds of ways. Well, no, hold on. Actually, even breaking their promises in embarrassing kinds of ways isn't enough, because then we'd still have to get rid of the Prime Minister. I don't know. I guess I just don't understand it. At any rate, they have to keep getting rid of these people and replacing them with new people.

It's just that I don't get, Mr. Chair, how in 2016 we can say as a committee, very clearly, that we don't believe there's a consensus, that we should not be eliminating the Friday sittings, and that we're not going to make any recommendation about that. Now we get this direction out of this discussion paper, or whatever you want to call it, from the House leader of the government saying that we should get rid of them.

Then we get this motion from Mr. Simms: let's ram this stuff through, let's do it quickly, let's not give the opposition any chance to have any say on it.

I mean, they're going to claim, of course, that they are. You've already heard some of the arguments. They're claiming, oh, you know, there was this take-note debate one day in October last year; that was it; everyone got a chance to have their say.

It was one day. It was done when the critics for the official opposition and the other opposition parties were not able to be here, because they were with the electoral reform committee. I'm sure it was just a coincidence—not—that this was the date chosen. At the end of the day, is that enough to say that MPs got input?

They also said, oh, by the way, we'll give you some committee meetings, and let's get this done by June 2.

How many weeks is Parliament sitting between now and June 2? We're March 21 today. We'll take this week out of it, I guess, because I think we'll be in this discussion for some time. Even if we weren't, we wouldn't have been able to get really started, I don't think. We were seven days for witnesses.

Next week, Parliament is not sitting. There are two weeks in April and probably three weeks in May. We're talking about five weeks of parliamentary time. During that time we have a lot of work before this committee—a lot of work. We have Elections Canada and the report from the Chief Electoral Officer, which we've gone a long way through, and which, I will point out, not that long ago Liberal MPs on this committee were arguing vociferously was a huge priority and we needed to deal with it really quickly. I think even the minister had indicated to us that she wanted this done by the 19th of May or something like that.

Is that about right, Mr. Chair?

(2330)

The Chair:

The 19th of May.

Mr. Blake Richards:

That's not that far in the future. We've got that strict deadline that's being imposed by the government. I'm not sure why that was necessary. At least I can see a bit of an argument, maybe, for the need to do that one a little more quickly, because we need to make sure Elections Canada has time to put it in place for the next election, and these kinds of things.

With the standing order changes, I don't see that same kind of urgency. It's never a bad thing to look at them, of course. It's never a bad thing to try to update—and I'll point out that there are some things that we could look at, when I go through some of the changes that are being proposed here in a little bit more detail and some of the things that were brought up in the take-note debate in a bit more detail, because I think that's important in this debate. There are probably some obvious things that would be no-brainers to change.

But when you start talking about some of these really, incredibly significant changes that we're seeing here in the presentation that we received from the government House leader, that's a different matter, and I don't think you change those things lightly. I don't think you try to do it in some kind a rushed manner with some artificial deadline that no one has chosen to explain. Maybe there's a real reason. I have my doubts, but maybe there is. If there were, I would think it would have been explained. If there is a reason, why don't they explain it, and then maybe we could listen and say, okay, that makes some sense. Right now, it seems as if it's an artificial deadline and they're trying to ram it through. Usually where there's smoke, there's fire, right, Mr. Chair?

Maybe someone will put his or her name on the list. Are there any Liberal MPs on the list now, Mr. Chair?

The Chair:

No.

Mr. Blake Richards:

No. Okay.

One can always hope that maybe someone's going to speak up over there and explain what the heck is the need for this rush and why it is so important that they force this through so quickly. We'd be willing to listen and see if there's some logic to it or merit to it. But I haven't heard that. I suspect there's a reason for that, and we all know what it is, and it is that there really isn't one.

At the end of the day, here we are. We've got these suggestions that are being put forward, and they're trying to force them through as quickly as they can. We don't understand why, other than to try to get the upper hand on the opposition and therefore that means not being held accountable to Canadians. I guess I can understand why they'd want that, but it starts to sound dictatorial pretty quickly. It certainly doesn't sound like the person that Justin Trudeau pretended to be during the election. I mean, he is a good actor—I'll give him that—but it's being revealed more and more that everything he does is simply an act. Canadians are waking up to that, and I'll point that out to my colleagues across the way, because it's something they want to know and should be paying attention to, as it goes to how quickly they want to sit in the opposition in the future. I guess we'll see how that goes for them.

I got off track again, Mr. Chair. I had been talking about how busy this committee was, and I don't know how I got off on the rabbit trail, but I did, so excuse me for that. It happens once in a while, right, Mr. Chair?

We've got this electoral.... That's how it happened: I was talking about the elections report and how I could see that there would be some need to potentially rush that one. We've got that to deal with. May 19 is the deadline and it's been artificially imposed on us, but I think by and large it's something we understand the need do to at least fairly quickly.

We also have received.... Actually, can I cede the floor for just a second to ask a question, so it's not on the public record?

(2335)

The Chair:

Yes.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I want to ensure I'm not doing something that would be breaking in camera.

The Chair:

Just go and whisper to him.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I'll vaguely refer to it, then. Just for the benefit of full disclosure in public, I wanted to determine whether something was confidential in nature for the committee before I discussed it in public. We're not able to completely determine that.

At the end of the day, however, there has been some discussion and ongoing conversation in this committee about the Parliamentary Protective Service, and we have had some communication that would tell us that there may be something more to look at there, potentially.

This is something, I know, about which a number of members of the committee, including some government members—Mr. Graham was one of them—have displayed considerable interest and concern. It's one that I think at one point in time at least some Liberal MPs—I won't speak for Mr. Graham, but I think you included, Mr. Graham, though correct me if I'm wrong—felt we should be dealing with in a fairly expeditious manner; that we should get to; that we shouldn't just leave sitting on the backburner.

Is that a fair characterization? Would that be unfair?

There, then, is another piece of business. Of course, we always know, Mr. Chair, that there are other motions on the table, concerning which I don't see that anyone has brought any real concern about moving forward quickly, though they could be done, and so they are on our agenda as well. We always know that there can of course be privilege motions and such things, which can come our way and sidetrack the business.

What I'm trying to get at here is that we have this May 19 deadline and we have this June 2 deadline—for which there is no explanation—and we could have other things.

Frankly, if a privilege motion comes, it has to trump other items. We've always argued that such motions should trump other items, because they are a serious matter. We're talking about the privileges of a member of the House of Commons and where they've been breached. That's something this committee needs to put as a primary concern and deal with as quickly as possible.

It starts to become difficult to imagine how this will all occur. I know there is reference in the motion to the idea of sitting outside the regular meeting hours. Well, I suppose the logistics of simply having meetings.... Maybe that's possible, then; it's hard to say. It depends where the conversation goes and how open the government is to actually reconsidering allowing real input from the opposition and not just pretending that they are allowing it.

You can't just say, oh, we've had five weeks—let's say, if we even did two or three meetings a week, it would be 10 or 15 meetings—and then we just ram through the changes we want anyway, by voting with our majority.

Is that really listening? There's listening, and there's hearing, and there are things going in one ear and out the other, and then there's actually considering them and having them be a part of the end product.

When you look at this motion and at the letter from the House Leader, it sounds more like an “in one ear and out the other” kind of situation to me, a lot more like that. Pretending to have input is one thing; actually having it is another.

Even with that timeframe, even with that five weeks—even if you packed meetings in every day in those five weeks—logistically, yes, you might be able to have enough meetings to at least pretend there was a discussion. Well, there would have been a discussion, but not one that anyone really considered. We're seeing that on display today. You could logistically have those and still have the Elections Canada stuff going on and probably deal with other things, if you scheduled even more meetings.

If we could meet from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day and lock it up, and have three or four hours for each thing, logistically I suppose it's possible. To really have substantive contributions, however; to have been able, as opposition members in particular—because government members have a lot more resources and information available to them....

We saw examples of it earlier today, when they were getting direction from somewhere else—from the centre, from the PMO, from the whip's office, whatever it is—so maybe it's not as important to them to have the opportunity to do their research, to prepare properly, to do their homework, to ensure that they are well-prepared to have substantive discussions and to really question why and look at whether there are other ways in which things could be done, or to consider amendments or other alternatives.

(2340)



Any of that requires a lot of effort both by the members and their staff. We're lucky; I still have a member of my staff here. What time is it? It's past 11, almost midnight, and she's dedicated enough that she's still sitting here. She cares enough about what's going on, and she's ready to help in any way she can.

When we're sitting here in meetings all day long, and probably in the evenings too, we can't do the work of properly preparing and ensuring that our questions are sharp and that we've done all our research and thought about all the different angles and considered other possibilities.

We're talking about a very weighty issue, the Elections Canada stuff. I know as we've been going through it, even just with our day-to-day parliamentary schedule, that I've found it difficult to keep on top of looking at those things in detail, and getting opinions on them and things like that. That's without adding the need to look at the Standing Orders, the very rules of the House of Commons, and trying to deal with all of those things in the same fashion, on the same track, at the same time, with a very short timeline for both. We're talking just a few weeks. It was five weeks of parliamentary time for this motion. The other one would be even less. It would probably be about three weeks to try to get that done. We've used today's meeting, which was supposed to be on that, on the government trying to ram this through.

It's looking a lot as if that's going to be the way Thursday is going to go too. We're not backing down, and the government shows no sign of making any effort to try to work with the opposition. I don't see us going anywhere besides just down the same path we're on. It could be for a long time to come.

How do you really, legitimately feel that opposition MPs can, on behalf of the millions of Canadians we represent, give this its due in that amount of time? Again, if there were some indication given of June 2 being an important deadline for a real, legitimate reason, then maybe we'd say, okay, we'll do what we have to do and make this happen somehow. We'd find some people to help, and do whatever. I don't know. We haven't heard that, and there's no indication that we're going to hear that.

The point of all of that is to say that I don't see how this committee can undertake all those things and do them properly and seriously and give them what they deserve. I just don't see how that can happen. That would be a real shame, to make those kinds of changes without really, truly considering them and all the input that could be garnered. It would be a real shame. Unfortunately, I think it's deliberate on the part of the government. To me, that's what is really despicable.

I hope they prove me wrong. I hope they do something to prove me wrong. So far, that's not looking too likely. As you said earlier, unless it has changed, there is not even a Liberal on the speaking list. They're not making any effort to try to explain what they're trying to do or why they're trying to do it. They're not trying to—

(2345)

Mr. Scott Simms:

If you give me the floor, I'll do it.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I would love to.

When I say that, does that mean I'm giving the floor away? If he has some points he wants to make, I'm happy to let him use some of my time.

The Chair:

There are a bunch of people on the list before you, Mr. Simms, so they would all have to agree.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I have a point of order.

We could seek unanimous consent to suspend the normal operating rules of the committee and allow Mr. Simms to offer some comments, and then revert to the existing list. We can do anything if we have unanimous consent.

Mr. Blake Richards:

If we were to do that, could we have it so I would be the first on the list when we came back?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

On that basis, I would seek unanimous consent of the committee, notwithstanding the normal rules and practices, to allow Mr. Simms to insert himself in the speaking list now, make a few comments, and then return to Mr. Richards for him to resume his comments.

Mr. Blake Richards:

That's a great motion. Thank you for that.

Do we have unanimous consent on that?

The Chair:

Do people agree to that?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Mr. Blake Richards:

We have to keep that spirit going.

The Chair:

Okay.

Go ahead, Mr. Simms.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.

An hon. member: It's almost morning.

Mr. Scott Simms: It's almost good morning. Very quickly, I have a couple of points. Some things were brought up earlier, and some of this goes back to when Scott Reid was here, who certainly made points about Mr. McGrath's report from years ago. That is also what Mr. Christopherson said.

One of the important things I would stress is that we want to continue the work that committee was doing and take some of the ideas it put into its report, to incorporate them into what we're doing.

Some of the stuff, some of the ideas that were mentioned in the discussion report were just that: discussion ideas—for example, about Fridays. What spark started the conversation about what we do about Friday? It wasn't about getting Friday off, as the narrative has been spun.

Friday is a four-and-a-half-hour half day. There are so many things you cannot do on Friday. Fridays could be far more effective in two ways. Either you take those hours and apportion them into another direction or you must make Friday a full day.

I have no problem if Mr. Richards wants to have a full day on Friday. So be it. I'm all for it. The point is that Friday right now is not a very effective tool in Parliament.

They said in Parliament that the average Canadian works on Fridays. I agree.

Ms. Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, Lib.):

Exactly.

Mr. Scott Simms:

But the average Canadian goes to work at 8:30 in the morning. We go to work at 10. Why can't we go to work at 8:30?

The average Canadian works in January. We, too, could do that. The average Canadian works in September, and we could do that as well.

That time gets apportioned out, so that's one part of the argument. I'm glad I'm given this opportunity to talk about those elements because that's been spun, I think, in the wrong direction. Again, this is a discussion paper that we wanted to start with. We may very well end up with a report in the same spirit of the McGrath report in 1985. We just have to get to that point where we start on this report.

At this point I don't even want to talk about the past. Let's juxtapose it.... I just said I won't, but I guess I will.

On Bill C-23, Mr. Christopherson and others compared it with what we're doing here—not at all. Bill C-23 was tabled legislation, and that's it. This is not a motion that's been tabled. It's not even a study that we're predetermining as to what.... These are not recommendations written in stone.

I'll give you a good example. Scott Reid brought up the point about omnibus legislation, and one of the things we suggested was that maybe the Speaker can split omnibus bills. He may have a valid point. How does that happen? How do we get to that point? We can't get there until we have that discussion.

There are a few other details that are out there that are not entirely correct. We suggested the idea of a Prime Minister's question period; we didn't say it would be once a week. We said it would be a Prime Minister's question period. Why can't we have the Prime Minister accountable to the House for the entire period?

You see, this is the problem. We've been having a debate for the past 12 hours that I think has been a good one. Now I get a chance to rebut some of the stuff because, as I said, the Friday issue to me is about a half day. Canadians work Fridays, but they don't do half days. I don't know many Canadians who can go home at 1:30 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I suggest to Mr. Richards, stick around, do a full Friday, because Friday has to change. You either take that time, or you put it somewhere else. It's like one of those workers who opts for a 12-hour shift with more days off as opposed to a worker with an eight-hour shift who works more days. That option is available to many employees across this country—and rightly so. It's not an exercise in getting Friday off, as has been mischaracterized.

In the spirit of goodwill, a lot of times we've said, “I don't know what you do in your riding, but I work”, and people insinuate that they don't work when they're home. We all do. For goodness' sake, there isn't an MP out there who goes home and just sits at home and doesn't bother going out into their constituency. We all have offices. Let's not get into that game, but let's call it like it is.

This is the discussion paper that starts or is the genesis of a conversation that may well turn into the report that Mr. Christopherson characterized that was done in 1985, but we have to get there.

I'll leave it at that. I want to thank Mr. Richards, and Mr. Genuis, too, for suggesting this, and my colleagues for giving me this time. Thank you.

I won't stay late.

(2350)

The Chair:

We're back to the list, with Mr. Richards.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate Mr. Simms' intervention. It's good to hear from someone on the other side. I don't doubt his sincerity in what he was saying. I wish I could feel the same way about the motion that we have in front of us. I wish I could feel the same way about the actions we've seen from the government. When I say “the government”, I am not talking about the members of this committee; I am talking about the powers that be: the PMO, the House leader, and the others.

At the end of the day, I don't doubt anything Mr. Simms just said. I believe he really means that about Friday, that we could look at other options or full days. I think he is sincere about the idea of trying to have discussions about some of these items to see what's possible and what's not. I believe he means that.

I've worked with most of the members of this committee for an entire Parliament. Some of them are a little newer to the committee, but I think that's typical of the members of this committee on the government side. The problem is that none of this means that much when you have a motion in front of you that is pushing an artificial timeline like this. There is an attempt being made to amend the motion to make sure the opposition actually has input. It's great to say that we'll have discussion, and I believe in all sincerity that Mr. Simms means that, but we saw what happened earlier today. Mr. Chan was trying to work collaboratively with the opposition parties until the whip's office came over and whispered in his ear, and things changed. This is not to condemn Mr. Chan or anyone else. It's just what happened. It can happen again, and it seems that it will.

When you have this motion here, it seems that the government is refusing.... If I am wrong about this, I'd love to hear it from Mr. Simms or anyone else on the government side. When there is this deadline being imposed, and when there is what seems to be opposition to allowing the opposition to have a say, you can say, “We can let the opposition have all the discussion it wants, but at the end of the day we are going to do what we want”, or you can allow this amendment to pass, and therefore allow the opposition to actually be a part of that conversation and a part of forming what the final discussion, the final decision, and the final recommendations are going to be.

We worked that way with this committee in the past. The result in one of those cases was to say that we are not going to recommend getting rid of the Fridays. To speak to the point about the Fridays, it's sincere on Mr. Simms' part, but it doesn't seem like the result will be there, when that has already been the recommendation of this committee and we are now being given something else in a letter from the House leader. It doesn't seem that the unanimous input of this committee was considered. Although it is written in a way that would make one believe they might be willing to consider other things—there would seem to be an attempt at least—it doesn't really seem that way.

I am not trying to accuse any of these members of not wanting to work on Fridays. They don't want to be here on Fridays, but I'm sure they would do other work in their ridings and things like that. I don't want to be taken as trying to accuse them of that. I think what it actually boils down to is that the PMO has decided they want one fewer question period every week that we are here. That's what it really boils down to. That's what it is. And it's the same thing with the Prime Minister. Let's face it, his attendance record is pretty poor. It's terrible, in fact, in terms of attending question period.

It's funny because we often hear these allegations about Stephen Harper not having wanted to be accountable, and all these things. We even heard some of them today. Say what you want, but Stephen Harper showed up at question period and was accountable. He was very rarely not at question period. If he was in the country, he was here, attending question period.

(2355)



You cannot say the same about Justin Trudeau. There's no question about that. He's just not here very often. There are people who argue he's probably only there once a week now. I've heard that. I've heard that comment by Canadians. Many Canadians have come up to me and said, “He's only there once a week, anyway. He's just going to put in what he already does.” Now, they're not happy about that, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it should be codified, but that's being recognized.

I can understand that. His office can only write so many scripts for him, and if he goes off script, man, it goes badly for this government. So I get why the Prime Minister would want to try to avoid question period, but it doesn't make it right, and it doesn't mean that it should be possible. It doesn't mean that they should provide cover for him to do it, and that's what they're trying to do. And “they” is not referring to the members of this committee. I don't think that's their intention at all, but it's probably the orders they'll end up getting.

At the end of the day, I appreciate what Scott had to say. I believe he's sincere, but if this amendment isn't carried, it means nothing. It means nothing at all. It's words, and that's all it is if the amendment is not carried. It really reinforces for me why that amendment is so critically important. These are changes that change Parliament and the way it works for all Canadians. If the government thinks it can just change those things to suit the Prime Minister and his willingness, his effort, or his desire to try not to be held accountable, to really be able to dictate the way things are—that's what he's trying to do—then there really is no input from the opposition and from Canadians. It's just the Liberal Party, or probably just the PMO dictating how things are. “Dictating” is a word that describes this Prime Minister quite well.

, Mr. Chair, I'd like to take a bit of time to compare some of what is in this “discussion paper”. I use that in quote marks because I'm not so sure it's really about discussion at all, but a dictatorial letter, whatever you want to call it, from the House leader. The summary was put together by our analyst here, who does a great job, by the way, as do our stand-in analysts as well. I recognize all the hard work that he did on our electoral reform efforts, which ultimately didn't go anywhere, thanks, again, to our friend Justin Trudeau.

The analyst put together a great summary, in a chart here, of the discussion that took place during the take-note debate on the Standing Orders on October 6 of last year. He's categorized it and put it together quite nicely. I want to compare that to this “discussion paper”, again in quotes, from the government House leader.

I went through it, and from what I can see—and I may be skipping over something—there are about 14 key recommendations, I guess I'm going to call them, that have been made here. We'll compare that to what's in this document from this take-note debate. We'll see how seriously the government really took the debate and the considerations of the members of Parliament. From that we can probably conclude how seriously they are considering it and what's being brought forward by the opposition during the debates that will happen in this committee.

(0000)



This is very germane to the amendment, because the government's position is, “Just take our word for it. We'll consider the opposition and what they have to say. Take our word for it. We've already had this one day of take-note debate, so we listen to people.”

Let's just see how much of that made its way into this discussion, which is supposed to be a starting point, apparently. Then we can see how seriously we can take the government at their word they they are taking the opposition's views into consideration at committee and therefore see whether there is a need to put in writing that this needs to happen.

This is something the government seems to be refusing to do, which would make one suspicious, to say the least. If they really were intending to make sure there was cooperation and some kind of agreement with the opposition on what should be put forward and what should not be, why would they be hesitant to formalize it? It seems a little odd to me that they would be hesitant to formalize it, in that scenario.

We already are starting from a place of suspicion, of course, and understandably so, but anyway....

There is, of course, the talk—actually, interestingly enough, the very first thing that's listed in the document and that I see is one of the recommendations being made—about the idea of looking at the Friday sittings.

To be fair, this document makes an argument that if those sittings aren't going to be eliminated, maybe we could reapportion them in some other way, or have a fuller day, and these kinds of things. Those are reasonable conversations to have.

I think, though, that to try to get rid of a question period every week...? No, that's not reasonable, obviously. What that is actually about is very transparent, which is to try to make sure that the Prime Minister has one less day and the government one less day on which to have to be accountable to Canadians. There is no other argument you could make for this.

That's the first thing we see in the discussion paper. The second thing is the talk about electronic voting. I see some talk about it in the document.

That could be considered. Again I want to draw the distinction I made in relation to that committee report earlier, in which it was clear that this committee felt we shouldn't move forward with getting rid of the Friday sittings. It also said it wouldn't make a recommendation at this time but might revisit the idea of electronic and proxy voting.

There's a distinction there. This is an attempt by the government to bring back for discussion something that this committee, first of all, said they weren't going to make a recommendation on but might reconsider. I can understand why it might be reasonable for it to be brought back for discussion, but for the committee to say that this is not a good idea and we're not going to recommend going forward with it, and for the government to then bring it forward is a different story.

The discussion paper goes on to talk about the House calendar; it talks about changing the months and stuff that we sit in. I'm not going to get into giving a position on these items per se but will just summarize the effect they might have, for example, without really offering a firm position on them per se.

I don't want anyone to take anything I say as a position on the thing, formed on behalf of the opposition or anything like that. It's more a general comment on them and what the effect would be, or how they compare to what's in the...because obviously there's a lot of debate for us to have yet. I'm hoping the debate will actually mean something. That's what the discussion we're having today is all about today.

There is, then, some talk about changing some of the sitting months and things such as that. There is the idea of a greater degree of flexibility built into how many sittings the House has in a given year. Then it gets into the question of motions. What they're trying to do here is to eliminate the capacity to move certain motions. They're saying that's because there's a possibility that the opposition would deprive the House of the ability to deliberate on the intended item for debate during government orders. I think that's the accusation they're trying to make.

(0005)



I don't see anything in here that would make any kind of corresponding change to the ability of the government to move closure or time allocation, except where they try to do something in here that would allow for proactive closure and things like that. This is what it essentially is. I'll get to that in a minute.

Again, they are taking some powers away from what are typically used by the opposition parties, but there's no corresponding change to similar types of powers of the government. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that it happens to be the opposition ones that are being contemplated, but the government ones they want to keep. In fact, they want to add to them. That's what they're saying.

There's some talk in here about adding to private members' business each week, allowing more consideration for members to change their places, and those types of changes to private members' business. I won't comment on that at this point.

Then it talks about prorogation and some options that could be looked at there in how that might be dealt with in terms of the government giving its rationale for why it would do that.

Then we get into proactive use. Rather than having to impose closure they're going to use programming; they'll do it right up front. Why have to get messy about it? That's the impression I have of that one.

It talks about reforms to question period, about the Prime Minister's question time. Everyone has interpreted that. The only person I've heard interpret it any other way was Mr. Simms just now.

(0010)

Mr. Scott Simms:

A table for one.

Mr. Blake Richards:

You never know. Maybe you're right and everybody else is wrong, Mr. Simms, but the way everyone is interpreting it—well, you've got one of your colleagues sticking up for you here anyway, Scotty.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I used to pay him. That's why.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Fair enough.

That microphone wasn't on, was it?

Everyone whom I've heard thus far, other than Mr. Simms, has interpreted this to be the Prime Minister trying to be here once a week to be accountable to Canadians. I won't go over that. I've been over that enough times. I think I've made my thoughts on that pretty clear as well. I think I've made it pretty clear how I think Canadians are going to feel about that, if that's what the government is trying to do.

Then they're talking about increasing the amount of time that they would have to respond to detailed Order Paper questions, and I think limiting the number of words in that, if I'm not mistaken. The bottom line is that it's limiting the ability for opposition to get timely information to be able to hold them accountable. Again, that is removing accountability.

The next one I have here is on the omnibus bills and giving the speaker the power to divide those. That was mentioned as well earlier. Mr. Simms mentioned that there might be some legitimate concerns that were raised about it. We'll see if his government listens to him and others.

Then it talks about committees. There are three recommendations here. One is talking about trying to weasel a little out of the promise that was made about parliamentary secretaries on committees. One could argue whether that was an advisable promise or not. They're trying to sort of walk on both sides on that one with that promise here. They're sort of saying to let them come and participate and be a part of committees, but maybe not in a voting role. I think this is what this is trying to get at. It's sort of trying to let them back in the door a little bit. They're careful to make a point that they're trying to keep their promise there—not completely, but keep their promise a little bit.

Then there's this talk about putting a maximum time for speeches in committee—10 minutes. I've probably exceeded that by a few minutes already. I think a number of other members did today too. I'll quote Mr. Christopherson. He's fond of saying he can't even clear his throat in 10 minutes. He's probably right, actually. Again, all humour aside on that one, that's really an attempt to take away a tool the opposition has to draw the attention of Canadians to issues, to try to flesh out alternative proposals and suggestions and things like that, as I pointed out at length earlier. Ten minutes is not actually a lot of time to substantively.... For example, I don't know how much time I just spent going through a very basic bit of thought on each of these proposals. If I were to be in this situation, I couldn't have even gotten through that in 10 minutes or given them any kind of due diligence in terms of making a critique. There's no doubt about it; I couldn't have. It's an ability to eliminate the possibility for opposition to really be able to be critical and to offer alternative positions. That doesn't really seem in the spirit of democracy, to say the least.

What I wanted to do now was to go through the summary that was provided by the analyst of this take-note debate on October 6 and look at it. How much of it was really taken up in this? We'll see how seriously the debates and the conversations that were held there were actually taken, and that will give us some glimpse as to what we can expect from this without any kind of assurance in a motion, which we don't have now and which we're seeking, but which sort of seems like we're going to be denied.

(0015)



It looks like there are 111 items, hopefully if my math is good, but over 100. There are 111 items that have been picked out by our analyst here.

I have the entire answer here, but I will not get into that. Maybe later, but not right now. Hopefully, we don't have to do that, but I am prepared to, if needed.

The point is that some of these things were brought up once by one member. Others were brought up numerous times. For some, it looks like there was disagreement. Some members thought things should go one way, some thought another. Some were for, some were against. The bottom line is that it's a summary of 111 items that were discussed, like suggestions, proposals, recommendations, that were made by MPs during these take-note debates.

As I go through them, I am not going to speak to each of them, at this point at least, but I will point out some of the ones that at least in some way appear in the letter. In fact, sometimes they are contradicted in the letter and other times they're partially taken up, so that we can get a sense as to how much of this actually was taken up.

It's broken up into various tables. In the first table, there are two suggestions, neither of which was taken up in this discussion paper. In the second table, there are 11 suggestions. Again, none were taken up in this paper. We are at 13, well over 10% now, and none have been taken up in this discussion paper, so they weren't considered. We won't get into good, bad, or indifferent, but 13 of 111 are not in there at all.

In table 3, there were a few of these items out of the eight in this next section. A few of these items were covered in the discussion paper, but all of them were contrary suggestions to those proposed by MPs. As an example, there was talk about longer debate periods or a longer time for speaking. All of these were things were suggested to go one way and the government went the other way, so we're still not doing too well here. We are at 21 out of 111 and there has not yet been one thing that's been taken up in the paper in a positive fashion and some have even been contradicted.

In table 4, there were five suggestions. None of them. In table 5, there is only one suggestion there, but it wasn't taken up either. In table 6, there were three suggestions. None of them were taken up.

In table 7, hold on here, we've got nine suggestions. Two of them were at least—I would actually say, now that I look at this again, that one of them was tangentially brought up in this report. It's the idea of increasing the number of hours for private members' business. I think where that comes up is the alternative idea of a Friday being longer. They were going to allow two hours of PMB rather than one, just to make the day longer—but not really make the day longer, if you get what I'm saying, Mr. Chair. I don't know, maybe we could give them one-quarter on that one. It's not really a full suggestion, but there may be a little piece there taken up on that one.

(0020)



I've been through about 37 of these suggestions, so about a third of them. So far, about one-quarter out of 37% has been taken up in this discussion paper.

As for records—I don't know—it's not much better. It certainly would be nowhere near a passing grade, that's for sure. In fact, you probably could show up for five minutes in one class all semester and get that grade. That would be good for the Prime Minister, because he doesn't really like to show up that often, so maybe it would work okay.

On table 8, there are a couple of these that were taken up. I did make a note, though, that I wanted to check to see who had made the suggestion. Was it the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary or somebody like that? It might make me wonder a little if it had been, but who knows?

I want to check that in a future intervention, because I think there's going to be more opportunity here in this debate, Mr. Chair, and I can come back to that when I've had the chance to take a look through the Hansard of that day, which I have here. That was the idea of a Prime Minister's questions day that was brought up.

They have one now. It's in here. It's one that a lot of Canadians aren't very happy about, but it's there, so they have one.

There was another one that came up, but, again, they went in the opposite direction of what was being suggested. We're kind of at about one and a quarter now out of about 51, so we're almost half-way. We have one and a quarter that have been taken up here by the government's discussion paper, the so-called listening to all members of Parliament and coming up with a discussion paper to get the discussion started based on proper and true engagement with MPs. Yes, it seems like it. I hope you detect the sarcasm in my voice there.

Table 9...oh, hold on. Here's another one: electronic voting. There were some MPs who wanted electronic voting and some who didn't, so I guess it's okay to have that discussion again.

I'm going to be really charitable and say we'll give him three-quarters on that one. We're at two out of 60 now, I think.

Next is table 10. There are seven recommendations here. One of these is kind of touched on. It talks about giving the Speaker the power to judge the quality and substance of answers to Order Paper questions. We can't give the government any points on this one, because not only is it just somewhat related to what's in the discussion paper, but it's also really contrary to the spirit. What's in here says that the Speaker should be able to judge the quality and substance of the answers to Order Paper questions. Surely, the answer must relate to the question.

I can understand why people might feel that would be a good thing. I'm not sure if that's the right way to do it or not, but I can understand why people would feel like they're not really getting a proper answer now and think someone should be able to force a proper answer. I can understand the desire for that. I've felt that desire on occasion myself, and I'm sure you've been there too, Mr. Chair. I'm sure others members in the room have been there too. But, of course, the problem is that the government's discussion paper refers to the question and it wants to increase the number of days in which the government gets to respond. I don't really think that's going to do anything to deal with the quality of the answer. It's just going to mean you're going to get the same terrible answer, or get no answer but take longer to get it, or rather, not get it. We can't really give them a point on that one.

What are we at now? I think it's at about 67 or so. I'm losing track, but anyway, we're still at two that have been taken up, and probably getting about two-thirds of the way through this thing. We're not doing so well so far.

We get a little more here, when we get to table 11. It's a little better here. This seems to be one of their big focuses. My guess is that these suggestions were probably being made by government MPs, at least the ones that were positive about it, but they were mixed.

The first one is the idea of Friday sittings. There were people who wanted to eliminate those sittings; there were people who wanted to keep them; and stuff in-between. I don't know; we'll probably give the government half a point there. At least it was discussed, and there were positives and negatives.

(0025)



There was also a tangential mention of the parliamentary calendar in the government's discussion paper. That was also brought up in the October 6 take-note debate. But supposedly it was somewhat different from what was made in the government's discussion paper, so we can probably give them a half a point on this one again. So we're at three now.

Here's one that I think the government almost accidentally stumbled upon. There's a suggestion to increase the amount of time set aside for private members' business on Fridays. It's in there as a sub-alternative proposal. It's almost like a sub to the sub-alternative proposal, where they say that we could maybe add an extra hour at PMB if we did this, if that didn't happen, if this happened. They gain probably a half a point there.

Then the next one is to study the rules on the use of prorogation. I think we could probably give them a full point there because they're talking about looking at that. Well, it's more about justifying it, not the usage of it, but I'm going to be really charitable and give a full point anyway. So we're at four and a half.

Then there's some talk about a proposal to change the sitting weeks, but it's really vastly different, and it's obviously a unique, one-off proposal. It's not at all what's in the report, so I don't know if we can really do much there in giving the government any credit.

The next section is table 12; there's nothing taken up there. On table 13, there are 10 proposals there; none of them are taken up.

It gets really bad from here, Mr. Chair. On table 14, there are three proposals, with none of them taken up. On table 15, there are just a couple of proposals there, with none taken up. On table 16, there are 20 proposals here. This is almost 20% of the proposals made. Guess how many were taken up here? A big fat zero.

So, of the 111 proposals, I think probably being charitable, four and a half were taken up. That's less than 5% of them. Now, if we even have that much success in this committee—with less than 5% of the opposition's suggestions taken up here—we would consider that an utter failure and disgrace of democracy.

I don't know if there's anyone having trouble sleeping right now. It's 12:30 a.m. If they're having trouble sleeping and they're listening to this, I'm sure I've probably bored them to sleep, so it's fine. But if they did somehow manage to get through it, and they're listening, they would have, I think, no doubt left that there is a need for the opposition to have some kind of assurance that it's not just saying, “Take our word for it. Trust us, we're the government.” Who's heard that before? “Trust us, we're the government.” That never ends very well for anyone when they decide to trust. This government's made it pretty clear why.

Take a look at this motion. The amendment is really quite reasonable. It says that this government should and could do what's always been the practice and precedent to deal with these kinds of changes. This government should and could ensure that Canadians continue to have the ability to hold the government accountable through their opposition parties by ensuring that the opposition parties have actual input. But instead they're saying, “Just trust us. It's all going to be fine. We had this debate and we listened to MPs. We included less than 5% of what was suggested. We included that in this discussion paper. It's supposed to be this starting point of the discussion.”

Keep in mind, if that's the starting point, and we have only 2% or 3% of the stuff that was suggested before, this could change. Maybe some of it gets dropped. Maybe we get none of it. But let's say we get all 2% or 3% of it. The opposition has concerns about a lot of it. There is a lot of this that really concerns me and I think many of my colleagues. We just want to have an opportunity to see that we get real input into this. That's all this amendment is about: give us real input. Let us make sure that millions of Canadians who support us have a say, that they get to be heard too, and that the government does not just change the rules to suit themselves.

(0030)



I can point back to the electoral reform initiative. I was intimately a part of it on the special committee, and it became clear to just about everybody pretty quickly that this was a government that made a promise.

I'll give it credit. Except for the one slip of the tongue by the Prime Minister that they then had to write into their platform, they were pretty careful on how they worded it. They wanted to fool people who were in favour of proportional representation into believing that this was what they were suggesting. I know there were even Liberal candidates who argued for it; I heard it myself. I knew all along that they were making a promise they never intended to keep—it's a typical thing that Liberals do—but people believed them. There were people who, despite the Liberals' past record, believed them. Boy, they figured out in a real hurry that this was a mistake.

They were careful, anyway, about how they worded it. What they were really trying to do was make this promise and deliver something else. They were making a promise that they would change the electoral system. People believed it was going to be to proportional representation.

The Prime Minister has made it quite clear since that time that it was a ranked ballot he was really after. When he realized no one was going to go for that and there was no way he could do it without a referendum, as was clearly being demanded by the vast majority of Canadians; when he realized that people wanted proportional representation.... He had thought they might be happy if they at least got some kind of change. He realized they were not going to be be happy, that in fact they would probably be angrier than they were with nothing. He saw he was not going to get away with that one, so he decided to just back away from it. That's what Justin Trudeau decided, obviously.

When we look at this paper, we can see the parallels. “Hey, don't worry. We have a couple of suggestions in here out of all the suggestions made by MPs, so we listened, right? We listened.” It's probably just an accident, actually, more than anything, with that few of them, but, “Don't worry; we don't need to give you any kind of assurance that your concerns are going to be taken into account, that anything you have to say is going to make its way in here. Just trust us. We never lie.”

Well, I guess I'm not supposed to say that they lie, but they do, so I'm not going to trust them. I have a lot of respect for members on the other side of the table. We've worked well as a committee, for the most part, and I'm sure they are sincere, but I don't believe for one second that the PMO and those who are directing them are sincere. I know there is no such intention here, and if there were, they would be willing to codify it to give real input to the opposition and therefore to Canadians who have concerns.

I hope that over the next several days or however long this goes on prior to there being a vote on this question about the amendment, they reconsider this; that they realize they are wrong, realize that they need to allow the opposition to have input, that they need to allow for their government to be held accountable to Canadians. If they do that, then we can try to move forward and see what can be done here to improve the Standing Orders.

At the end of the day, when I look at some of the suggestions being made in the take-note debate, there were actually some suggestions that almost seemed like no-brainers.

(0035)



Where is the one I am thinking of that really jumped out at me? I guess it doesn't really matter that much, but there were some really obvious suggestions in here, just wording changes. There was one—I can't remember what it was.... I think it was where there was clearly just a typo in the Standing Orders that has been there for years. It was like saying, let's change that; it makes sense, doesn't it?

There are a few things like that—obvious no-brainers—and then there are lots of other things in these suggestions made from the take-note debate. Let's have a discussion about those and see whether we can come up with something that parties can agree to and then move forward with it. Even in the letter from the House leader there are probably some things like that about which we could have discussion to see whether all parties can agree.

There are some things here that are non-starters, I think, for opposition members, without question: the idea of the Prime Minister only having to be there once a week, of taking Fridays off, of removing some of the tools, of eliminating the amount of time that a member can speak in committee, for example. Some of these things are non-starters for the opposition, but there are some things there that could be discussed.

Until we have some kind of assurance, however, that there's actually going to be consideration of what the opposition has to say, that it actually will be taken seriously—and that means there has to be something in writing that says that.... This amendment would clearly do that, and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why they would oppose it, unless they don't intend to allow any input by the opposition.... Until that happens, we can't even begin a discussion about those things, because we're not going to get there. We'll have this debate for as long as it takes to preserve those rights for the opposition and Canadians.

Once we get to that, if we can get something from the government that would allow this amendment—if they think better and realize that this is wrong—we can have a discussion about the motion and can try to move forward. Until then it's just a really sad, pathetic commentary on this government and Justin Trudeau's desire to be a dictator. It's as simple as that, and that's pretty sad.

How did we get from the role he played in the election, the thing he pretended to be, to where we are now in this period of time? I have a feeling that if Canadians could go back and take a look, knowing what they know now and knowing the actions they've seen, they wouldn't believe what they were hearing. I certainly can't believe what I'm being told without some kind of assurance from the government, because I see no reason to believe that they can be trusted.

With that, I'll close for now. There's a good chance I'll have more to say, but I'll turn the floor over at this time, Mr. Chair.

(0040)

The Chair:

Thank you, Mr. Richards.

Mr. Schmale was on this list, but he's not here, so we'll now go to Mr. Genuis for his virgin filibuster speech.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Mr. Chair, I can assure you that I will be limiting my comments to only those things that I think are absolutely necessary for this debate. Consistent with my usual fashion, I will be as brief as I can.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Get comfortable, folks.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I will say that, given the importance of the discussion, it is a real pleasure to be here with, honestly, some of my favourite people in the Liberal Party. I don't just mean that as a relative compliment. I know that my great colleagues here on the Conservative side but also in other parties—all of you—are up late here with us and working hard, although we certainly disagree on the direction.

You're doing so, I should add, while I'm sure the Prime Minister is fast asleep. Perhaps he's playing video games or something, but more likely he's asleep. Likely the House leader, whose office originated this memo on reforming the Standing Orders, is also asleep, and the kids in short red pants from the PMO who have put together this plan are probably also fast asleep. But you as Liberal members of Parliament on the front lines, following through on the direction you've been given, are nonetheless awake. I salute you for that as we continue, I think, an important discussion about our democracy.

I want to thank as well, Mr. Chair, all the staff who are here with us, both the partisan staff and the non-partisan staff, who work hard all day and are now supporting us in the evening.

It's been interesting being here throughout a good deal of the day listening to my colleagues and members from other parties speak. I've been looking at some of the discussion about this issue on social media, on Twitter and Facebook. There was a time, maybe a few short years ago, when people felt that the intricacies of the proceedings of the House—what was discussed at, for example, a committee like procedure and House affairs—would not be of interest to most Canadians.

I'll just share a number with you, anyway. Michelle Rempel, one of our colleagues, did a live video. That video got more than 20,000 views on Facebook in the first hour. This is at a time when much of the country, I think, is asleep. Perhaps it's just people on the west coast who have watched that video so far and are already giving a big response.

What we know, Mr. Chair, is that Canadians care about the integrity of our parliamentary processes, they care about our parliamentary institutions, and they care about the intricacies of conversations such as this. The substance of the Standing Orders, prorogation, the way political parties interact, decorum—all these kinds of questions, I am increasingly convinced—matter to Canadians. They may not read the Standing Orders, they may not know them in as intimate detail as I try to, but they do care about knowing that our political processes are informed by fairness and integrity. I think they understand that democracy doesn't disappear overnight, but that it can be strengthened or weakened or can be eroded gradually. They are invested in the health of these institutions.

I want to say at the outset as well that this past week we were in our ridings, and I was speaking in a number of schools in my constituency. One of the questions I asked was, do you think it is the job of the opposition to always oppose the government? Most of the students I spoke to were wise enough to realize right away that, no—and I think we realize, as well—it's not our role here as the opposition to always oppose what the government is doing. Rather, it is our role to review what the government is doing, to agree on certain issues when we share a common view of the public interest, but also to strongly disagree when we think the public interest is at stake. The importance of our role is to be pulling out those issues on which we are going to most pointedly and directly challenge the government.

(0045)



This government needs to hear, in the context of the discussion that we're having on this motion, that the role of opposition is important. Obviously, the role of the government is important. That's more obvious. The role of the government is to set the policies and propose legislation and, in a general sense, to run the country. Our job is to try to shape and define a concept of the public interest that is different from the government's, and to use that as a lens to measure their actions in a more independent way, to support them when it is right to do so and to challenge them when it is right to do so.

We need to recognize the legitimacy of that role. We need to recognize the role of the opposition in our discussions of what the Standing Orders say.

Do the Standing Orders that we have now provide sufficient opportunities for, yes, of course, the government to do their job, but also for the opposition to do their job? It's with that view in mind that we moved an amendment to a motion the government put forward.

I want to review the content of the amendment. This amendment deals with unanimous recommendations.[Translation]

The amendment proposes: That the motion be amended by (a) deleting “2017; and”, at the end of paragraph (d), and substituting “2017;”; (b) adding, immediately after paragraph (d), “(e) notwithstanding paragraph (d), but consistent with the Committee's past practices, as discussed at its December 8, 2016, meeting, the Committee shall not report any recommendation for an amended Standing Order, provisional Standing Order, new Standing Order, Sessional Order, Special Order, or to create or to revise a usual practice of the House, which is not unanimously agreed to by the Committee; and”; and (c) relettering paragraph (e) as paragraph (f). [English]

Mr. Blake Richards:

Don't worry, Mr. Chair. We'll call it a point of order.

I think that might have been the first time our other official language has been used today in all the time that we've sat. I know our interpreters are working pretty hard back there. It's the first time they've had a chance to switch from French to English rather than English to French. I thought it was a good opportunity to acknowledge them and thank them for all their hard work today. It's well over time.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Now you say it in French.

Mr. Blake Richards:

They just did. Let them do their job. [Translation]

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Mr. Chair, I hope that my grammar was perfect when I was reading the amendment. [English]

Ms. Jenny Kwan (Vancouver East, NDP):

Even I understood that with no problem.

The Chair:

Are you reading the motion?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I was just going over the amendment.

The Chair:

Everyone has a copy of it in front of them.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Okay, excellent.

For those who are following the audio at home, that is the amendment I think we are discussing now.

Just to speak to the value of that amendment again, for those who may not have been following the translation, the unanimous requirement is what we're talking about here. That is to say, in recognizing the important role and different perspective that every party brings to the table, it's important that we have some degree of unanimity and consensus among the political parties before we move forward with changes to the Standing Orders.

The context is that this is an amendment to a motion put forward by Mr. Scott Simms of the Liberal Party. It is a motion, as others have mentioned, for which I think we suspect there's pretty clear direction from the leadership.

The government House leader put out a discussion paper, a paper basically naming the kinds of changes they want to see. I'll talk a bit about that discussion paper.

I eagerly read through it as soon as it came out because I do spend quite a bit of time in the House of Commons. I found some interesting points of discussion, but certainly plenty of things to disagree with.

Frankly, there are many things in this discussion paper that were clearly designed to advantage the government. Somebody was sitting down and thinking, “Hey, how do we strengthen the relative position of the government in the House of Commons and weaken the capacity of the opposition to respond and use the tools they are supposed to have?” This is what I saw in the discussion paper we had in front of us.

Then, immediately, we had a motion from the Liberals calling for an immediate study of this discussion paper, with a very tight timeline. Of course, our concern is that there are no safeguards at all in the proposal in this motion, to ensure that there is a substantial degree of consensus among all the parties on how we move forward on this.

In the absence of the amendment we proposed, there is a real concern that what the government would like to do is to push forward changes already laid out in this discussion paper, which would severely weaken the important role of the opposition that I've talked about.

It was said at the time of the debate on motion number six—which reflected a very similar approach by the government and the previous government House leader—that the government seemed to view all of the opposition parties, not just the official opposition, as a sideshow to the main event, which is the government governing.

The opposition is not a sideshow. The opposition has a central function in the process of governing. Naturally, as we have fairly regular changes of government in this country, who the opposition is changes. Those who are in government now will likely one day be in opposition and vice-versa. Really, it is in all of our interest to protect the role of the opposition and to ensure we have a strong opposition that has the tools and capacity to respond.

It has been interesting hearing the interventions by government members on this. They've been fairly limited. We have had comments by Mr. Graham and Mr. Simms that I think have expressed the view of the government in relatively similar ways. They have talked about some aspects of the substance of the discussion paper. They have said, “Let's get on with the study. We want to have a discussion about the Standing Orders. We want to have a discussion about how that works. Let's just get on with doing the study.”

(0050)



It's similar to the talking point we heard from the government on the issue of electoral reform, when they said, “Come on, guys, stop talking about a referendum, stop talking about process. Let's just get on talking about the substance of the discussion.”

Our perspective, and I think it's the right perspective, is that you need to have some—

Mr. Graham is surprised that I think it's the right perspective.

The discussion of process needs to precede the discussion of substance. There have to be some ground rules on how a decision is going to be made before we step into the process of making the decision. I think this is quite sensible, because if we immediately start down the road of having a discussion of the substance before we've set ground rules, then we've already ventured into a space in which the government may well try to make decisions without involving the opposition in those decisions. We need to establish how decisions will be made before we go on to that next step.

What was striking about the electoral reform discussion was that once it became clear to the government that they had lost the process debate, they stopped having any interest in the substance. They were only interested in moving on to a discussion of the substance of electoral reform once they were sure they could fully control the process of decision-making.

I think members across the way have a point when they say there's important substance to be had here. Their option would be to say, “Yes, we're going to endorse the opposition amendment and accept the principle of changes being made to the Standing Orders with the agreement and acceptance of all parties.” Once that happened, then yes, absolutely we could proceed to the next steps. It would probably make sense to get a bit of a sense of their rationale on timeline and some of these other issues. This is something that could be done and developed through consensus.

I'm a relatively new member, but I worked here as a political staffer before. Generally, the committees I've been a part of have worked on a consensus model anyway. That's how the committees of this House, I think, function best: when there is a collaborative spirit that informs the type of agenda that is set and the way in which we proceed.

It falls to those members, Mr. Graham and Mr. Simms, who made these points earlier on, who are interested in getting on to the study and who have perspectives on issues such as Friday sittings, to agree to a decision-making process that is fair and that respects the role of the opposition; then at that point we can move on to the next steps.

But we shouldn't put the cart ahead of the horse here. In other words, we shouldn't jump on to the study without agreeing on the ground rules, because if we were to do that, we would be ceding, I think, too much ground to the government. We have to first establish a principle, which is the role of the opposition and the important function that they have.

I'd like to go on to the next point. There is a fundamental principle at stake here in the amendment itself that really goes back through the history of our parliamentary system.

There are two ways to think about the origins of constitutions, of rules of order, of governing documents for any institution. You can think of some as coming up in a revolutionary way and some as coming forward in an evolutionary way. I'm going to argue that our system is broadly speaking evolutionary as distinct from revolutionary and that this is good and we need to preserve this character, and that in the absence of this amendment, the motion and the approach of this government deviates from our parliamentary traditions by being overly revolutionary.

(0055)



When I speak about a revolutionary approach to the construction of rules of order, of standing orders, of constitutions, of legal frameworks, that revolutionary approach would be one in which you start with a group of people who think they're smart and may actually be smart or may not be taking control and themselves seeking to design from the ground up what an ideal system would look like, perhaps with limited respect for history or tradition; rather trying to say, “What has gone before isn't that important; we are starting today in year one. We are going to do something radically different and we in our wisdom are going to design a system that works best.” Whether you're talking about law, society, social institutions, constitutions, or rules of order, this is a revolutionary approach, an approach that rejects the past and starts from now as a way forward.

This is very much the tone of the discussion paper that has been put forward. It's also the tone of all of the talking points we hear from the government in the House. It is a revolutionary approach to political theory that says, we are going to redesign a system that accords with our perception of the needs of the present, and we're going to do it through the power that we have grabbed hold of.

You see this in the repeated use of the language of “modernization” without clarity as to what constitutes “modernization”. This is inherently revolutionary and I would argue quite dangerous. Modernization, of course, can imply and mean certain very legitimate and good things. Modernization can mean updating the way we operate to respond to new challenges, new realities, new opportunities, but there is no explanation of how, for example, moving to having a prime minister working one day a week, reducing the number of sittings—any of these things—has any relationship to unique circumstances of the present time that have not existed in the past.

We're talking about the government wishing to make changes, but we're not actually referring to any recognizable concept of modernization. We're not talking about changes that really reflect an updating towards the modern world. What we're actually seeing is the terminology of “modernization” being used as a justification, as a kind of gloss for the fact that the government wants to change things.

The government wants to change things, so they're going to call their approach a more “modern” approach. Again, it's not obvious that having the Prime Minister there one day a week is any more or less modern. It's different, and we can have the argument about that, but the tone—and I think the intended tone, actually—is a revolutionary one.

That, then, is the revolutionary approach. When it comes to the constitutions of different states, we see a revolutionary basis probably more evident in the American constitution and certain constitutions that have been developed, although our tradition—the Canadian tradition and the tradition it draws from, the British tradition—is more an evolutionary one. In other words, it's one that has emphasized the importance of a regard for the past, of a reverence and a regard for our history.

The Standing Orders we have aren't standing orders about which someone a couple of years ago sat down and said, “I'm going to write standing orders”. Our constitution has elements that were written at certain times, but our constitution isn't composed entirely of something that someone sat down and wrote at some point in time. Our constitutional framework is an evolved one; our Standing Orders are evolved; our institutions are evolved. We can see elements of our tradition that harken back to different periods in our history. I think we can go through that history and can see this process of evolution as it has unfolded.

(0100)



Now, at first blush it appears strange that we would prefer a system that doesn't actually seem to be the result of intelligent design. Revolutionary systems reflect the mind of someone who at least considers themselves an intelligent designer, whereas evolutionary systems really are the result of the accumulation of historic wisdom but don't reflect the immediate design of a particular person or even of specific groups of people.

I think the endurance of our constitutional framework and the British constitutional framework upon which it stands shows the benefits of an evolutionary approach. We have also seen in the history of the evolution of the British democratic system, however, this revolutionary tendency. There have always been those who have been skeptical of history and tradition and have instead wanted to insert their own brilliant ideas, in the form of modernization or whatever it is, and to use the power they have to do so. I think we see that tendency in a particular way with this current government and with this current Prime Minister.

They do not have the appropriate reverence for history and for the way in which history has evolved our institutions to a point that reflects the collective wisdom of our political and our literal forebears. We need to acknowledge that wisdom and not simply throw it out on the basis of claims to modernization.

Someone told me once that if there's a pillar in your house and you don't know what it's holding up, your first instinct shouldn't be to knock it down; you should first find out whether it's holding anything up. In other words, you shouldn't assume it's there for no reason; you should find out what it does, and if you conclude that it's not needed anymore, then by all means proceed.

The evolutionary conservative political tendency that I've described is not one that is opposed to all change. Indeed, we are open to a discussion of changes to the Standing Orders; however, we wish to make changes in a way that reflects and respects our traditions, that in other words is evolutionary and not revolutionary.

The ultimate guarantee of that is in the amendment. Ours is a tradition that involves the ongoing input of members of Parliament from all parties. Not only are we talking about respect for tradition in terms of the Standing Orders as they represent our traditions; we're talking about respect for our traditions in terms of the processes by which changes have traditionally been made to our Standing Orders.

As colleagues of mine have mentioned, this has been the practice of previous prime ministers: to recognize with reverence the traditions in our system that are represented by the Standing Orders that I have in front of me and to understand the responsibility that they have as the inheritors of that tradition—not even fully as the inheritors of that tradition, but as the managers of that tradition for the benefit not of themselves but of future generations. The requirement of unanimity ensures that.

Let me then comment a little bit on the way in which our tradition has been impacted by the revolutionary tendency, because ours is not, to be fair, a tradition of unbroken evolutionary development of parliamentary institutions. It's one throughout which there have been challenges to that evolutionary idea, again because it's not an obvious idea. It is not intuitive that the best institutions, the best constitutions, or the best laws are not simply developed on the spot but have been evolved over time. It hasn't been an obvious insight, but I think it is one that has been proven true.

(0105)



Our constitutional tradition really starts with the Magna Carta, when during the Hundred Years' War—a war between England and France, to the extent that those names made sense in that time—the English king was seeking the support of elites within his society. They came back to him with certain demands, certain conditions. This is the beginning of the idea of a constitutional framework that limits the power of the executive. This occurred a little more than 800 years ago. Two years ago we just celebrated the 800-year anniversary of the Magna Carta.

It begins that process in a way unique to our own tradition of recognizing the need to limit the power of the executive. Actually, what's striking is that it does so in a particular way that is even at its inception evolutionary. In other words, even the framers of the Magna Carta were not in their minds creating out of thin air new rights or new obligations or new responsibilities. Perhaps we might say that they were, but they did not think of themselves as doing that; they did not explain what they were doing in a way that was revolutionary. Rather, they spoke about a recognition of pre-existing rights.

Take, from section 1, for example: In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English Church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever. We have also granted to all freemen of our kingdom, for us and our heirs forever, all the underwritten liberties, to be had and held by them and their heirs, of us and our heirs forever. If any of our earls or barons, or others holding of us in chief by military service shall have died, and at the time of his death his heir shall be full of age and owe "relief", he shall have his inheritance by the old relief, to wit, the heir or heirs of an earl, for the whole barony of an earl by £100; the heir or heirs of a baron, £100 for a whole barony; the heir or heirs of a knight, 100s, at most, and whoever owes less let him give less, according to the ancient custom of fees. If, however, the heir of any one of the aforesaid has been under age and in wardship, let him have his inheritance without relief and without fine when he comes of age. The guardian of the land of an heir who is thus under age, shall take from the land of the heir nothing but reasonable produce, reasonable customs, and reasonable services, and that without destruction or waste of men or goods; and if we have committed the wardship of the lands of any such minor to the sheriff, or to any other who is responsible to us for its issues, and he has therein made destruction or waster of what he holds in wardship—

(0110)

The Chair:

Excuse me for a second. Are you reading the whole Magna Carta?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

No, I'm not. I'm just quoting the relevant sections of it.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Since you've been interrupted, I want to raise a point of order anyway, Mr. Chair. I was as concerned as you were that he might do that. Garnett is a man of few words, though, so I don't know that he would actually do it.

The point of order I want to raise, however, Mr. Chair, is actually a substantive one. It is that tomorrow morning we obviously all have caucuses. Ours is at 9:30, I believe.

Is the Liberal one at 10:00, or 9:30, or...? I don't know what time it is.

Mr. Scott Simms:

It was cancelled.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Your caucus meeting has been cancelled?

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes.

Mr. Blake Richards:

We have obviously had a lot of discussion today. What time is the NDP caucus?

A voice: It's nine o'clock....

Mr. Blake Richards: It's nine o'clock. Does somebody else want to contribute to the debate over there? Maybe that was Justin Trudeau paging in the orders, or something.

It's nine o'clock for the NDP and 9:30 for the Conservatives. I guess the Liberals can defer theirs to the weekend. I guess the Liberals don't necessarily need to have a discussion about this, because the direction has already been given. Whether that was discussed at caucus or not, who knows?

We've obviously had a lot of discussion today about how the opposition parties feel the need to have some ability to discuss a direction with their caucuses, and to get some feedback. Obviously that will be a bit difficult if we're still here in this room or somewhere, continuing with the debate.

We're certainly not prepared to give way on this—it is too important a principle—but I'm wondering what your intention is, Mr. Chair, in terms of the caucuses. Obviously if we wanted to try to further this and give an opportunity for a discussion at caucuses, so that we might get a sense as to what things are going to look like going forward, it would be helpful for the committee if it were allowed to suspend to go to caucus meetings. I just am curious as to your direction and thoughts on that, Mr. Chair, and what our intention would be.

(0115)

The Chair:

I'm sensitive to that, and we'll probably make provision for that, but I think at this moment we should carry on with Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Sorry, if I can just press a little bit more on that one, obviously people will want to make plans accordingly as to whether they can attend the caucus meeting or not. When did you intend to make a decision on that, then?

The Chair:

You can have people attend their caucus meeting.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Okay. Would we be able to suspend the meetings for that period of time?

The Chair:

Yes. I'll determine the exact time later.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Yes, but probably at nine o'clock, or some time before that, we would suspend until both caucus meetings have ended.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

What time do your caucus meetings end?

Mr. Blake Richards:

It's never exactly the same, but it's usually about noon.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

It depends on the day.

Mr. Blake Richards:

It's usually about noon. It might be a bit before or a bit after. We would obviously not take advantage of that, but it would be about noon, or somewhere in the ballpark.

Would that be acceptable? We appreciate that, Mr. Chair. Thank you.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you.

As much as I feel that it would do some real good for some of my colleagues to hear the entire Magna Carta....

Yes. Mr. Kmiec, I should start again. Is that...?

Mr. Tom Kmiec (Calgary Shepard, CPC):

I missed the first part.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Seriously, Mr. Chair, this isn't just a piece of history. This is a document that deeply informs our constitutional traditions.

I'll pause on that, although I may refer to it later, but I think the point coming through that document should be evident to members. It is that the tradition established in the Magna Carta is not principally one of asserting the existence of new rights, or of proposing the idea that the state, or the executive, or some sort of all-wise guardian class is the introducer or protector of rights. Rather, it is to seek to recognize and protect in law the realities of pre-existing notions of rights.

Even at that point, which we can trace back in our constitutional history and which seems to be the beginning, there are references to this idea of pre-existing, evolved notions of rights. Again, this is what paradoxically starts our tradition, but not on a revolutionary footing. It starts our tradition in a way that suggests that it is already up and running.

There are moments in the evolved English tradition that appear revolutionary, yet ultimately were tempered and made evolutionary. This was the success of the continuity of our constitutional framework. Probably one big point in history to meditate on, as we consider this distinction between the revolutionary and the evolutionary, is the reformation. I'll have to be careful as I talk about this, to keep Mr. Kmiec on my side here, but—

An hon. member: He's a tough one.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Yes, especially on questions around the reformation.

At first blush, it might appear that the reformation marked this revolutionary moment in the English tradition, and in a certain sense it did. It was followed by some real tension back and forth. You had King Henry VIII, who brought about a certain set of changes. Then you had Edward VI, who pushed those changes further. Then you had Queen Mary, who sought to restore Catholicism, and after that you had Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth I ascended to the throne following a great period of religious upheaval. She sought to frame the existence of a new church, which would be a combination of different aspects of past traditions, in a certain sense a compromise between different objectives and tendencies. Obviously, it didn't satisfy everyone. At a theological level, it's not something that satisfies me because I'm a Catholic, but you can see the evolution at the same time. “Evolution” implies a positive. I wouldn't want to imply, necessarily, a positive here, but you still see the relative gradualness of change between what the tradition was and what it ultimately became on the heels of the kinds of changes that were put in place by Elizabeth I.

You had this period of figures who were asserting revolutionary changes and ultimately a great deal of upheaval, but there was this kind of reverting back to the sense that, whether we move in one direction or another, things under the British tradition should move relatively slowly.

The next century had elements of evolution and elements of revolution. Of course, the subsequent century, after the death of Elizabeth I, saw the English Civil War and what came to be known as the Glorious Revolution. Again, this was a revolution in a certain sense.

(0120)



The way in which Locke justified the revolution was that in his view this was a restorative revolution. In other words, this wasn't to dramatically change the way in which things had always been done but was rather to bring things back to the way they should have been properly done and to respond, from that perspective, to what perhaps were perceived as the quasi-revolutionary tendencies of James II. I don't want to relive those I'm sure painful debates, for some members, as they think about that history.

We can see in our history uniquely this kind of gradualism of change and also ongoing concern about the risks of an overly powerful executive, which might tread on the natural and proper prerogatives of Parliament. These were many of the dynamics here, and this was the justification provided by Locke for the Glorious Revolution: that it was a restoration and a protection of rights that Locke of course situated much further back. He situated them in a kind of evolution out of a state of nature. From his perspective, these were rights that had not been respected by the deposed monarchy.

This is our tradition, one which this amendment seeks to protect, and one not honoured at all by the so-called modernization approach that is advocated by the government in its discussion paper with respect to the Standing Orders.

The most powerful articulation of this reverence for history that we are protecting with this amendment is by someone who is often thought of as one of the founders or framers of the conservative intellectual tradition in the English-speaking world, and that is of course Edmund Burke.

(0125)

Mr. Scott Simms:

As a point of order, just to give you a bit of a break, if you don't mind, maybe for some levity I'll raise a point of clarification—maybe I'll call it that.

At the beginning of Mr. Genuis's speech, he mentioned that the Prime Minister and minister are fast asleep. I have an email that tells me, “Please remind the member I'm awake and I am listening.”

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Okay. Is that Big Brother, or is that—?

Mr. Scott Simms:

That was Minister Chagger.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Excellent.

Mr. Scott Simms:

There you go; she was listening.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

If she is listening, I actually should probably go back to the Magna Carta—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Garnett Genuis: —because I have a feeling she would particularly appreciate it.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I suspect I'll get another email soon.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Let me read one more quote from the Magna Carta. If the minister has a specific section she'd like me to read into the record, I'd be happy to do it, so please have her email.

An hon. member: Are you taking requests?

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Members can name their favourite tract here, and I will read it into the record.

This is a further section of the Magna Carta that I think is important. It states: If anyone has been dispossessed or removed by us, without the legal judgment of his peers, from his lands, castles, franchises, or from his right, we will immediately restore them to him; and if a dispute arise over this, then let it be decided by the five and twenty barons of whom mention is made below in the clause for securing the peace. Moreover, for all those possessions, from which anyone has, without the lawful judgment of his peers, been disseised or removed, by our father, King Henry, or by our brother, King Richard, and which we retain in our hand (or which as possessed by others, to whom we are bound to warrant them) we shall have respite until the usual term of crusaders; excepting those things about which a plea has been raised, or an inquest made by our order, before our taking of the cross; but as soon as we return from the expedition, we will immediately grant full justice therein.

The Chair:

I'm sorry, could you just link back to your amendment?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Yes, absolutely. This section speaks very specifically to the importance of legal judgment by peers, by a multitude of people who are involved in decision-making. That's precisely what we are arguing for in the context of the amendment—the inclusion of a broad range of voices in the discussion—and that is not something the government believes in. It wants to create a system in which we don't have the ability for a broad range of voices to pronounce on questions and directions. What it wants is a deviation from the tradition that I've been discussing and one instead that leaves too much power in the hands of the executive—one that is inherently revolutionary.

I would like to make some more comments on the history. Maybe I'll come back to that, but if members are interested, I may take this opportunity now to share a few thoughts on the discussion paper that has come forward, and why in particular it is important that we have the full range of parties and members commenting on this. I know, of course, that it is important to establish the process point before we go on more fully to a study of the substance, but we do need to establish the importance of the substance as the basis for why we need to have that process discussion.

As I mentioned, the introduction here speaks repeatedly about modernization. It has this sentence that jumps out at me, “As society changes, the demands of our institutions change as well”, but it's not clear at all how there have been societal changes that necessitate the kinds of changes proposed by the House leader and her staff, or by the Prime Minister or whoever is directing this effort. It's not at all obvious that those things have any relationship to changes that are taking place, and this is a concern we have, that in fact what they are trying to do is make changes on the basis, not of any credible account of modernization, but simply at the whim and will of the government to create the kind of system that works to its advantage, which does not sufficiently engage the opposition as a critical and necessary partner in the process of the decisions that need to be taken.

It says: The impetus of all major reforms has had a common theme: a recalibration of the rules to balance the desire of the minority’s right to be heard with the majority’s duty to pass its legislative agenda.

What the government wants, in the absence of this amendment, is to recalibrate that balance by itself. There is an acknowledgement—at least verbally—in the discussion paper that there is a need for a balance, and I would very much assent to the principle that there needs to be a balance.

What is striking though is that the nature of the effort, the way the government has gone about doing what it's doing, is that it thinks it should be able to entirely define the form, nature, and result of that recalibration effort. It is saying there needs to be a recalibration, but on what basis is not clear. The basis is a generic appeal to modernization with no substantive account of what modernization actually means or entails in the context of the discussion we're having about the Standing Orders, but then the responsibility for defining that recalibration would, in the government's view, be entirely its own. It gets to recalibrate what it acknowledges is a balance.

I would say to members of the government: acknowledge the clear contradiction here. Acknowledge that there is a contradiction between the claim on the one hand that there needs to be some kind of recalibration of a balance, and on the other that the balance should be defined entirely by one actor in the process. This is like asking one team in a hockey game...and I don't mean to liken our politics to a game. It's not a game. We deal with serious issues and it's much more important.

(0130)



In a sporting sense, though, people would intuitively appreciate that one team shouldn't be picking the referee. One team shouldn't be able to make rules that play to their inherent strengths in the context of the competition. It's just sensible, that in any sense of any rules the calibration of balance between different sides needs to be done, perhaps through some external independent process but more likely, and particularly in this case, through the direct consent of those who are involved in the process of decision-making.

That's what our amendment seems to do, recalibrate the recalibration. It's to say that if there is going to be a process of recalibration between the government in general—this uses language of majority and minority, but more properly, since we're hoping to talk about what these rules would look like over a longer period of time, we can speak about government and opposition—we need to recalibrate the mechanism of that recalibration to ensure that we are not excluding one half of this equation.

If it were just the Conservative Party that had these concerns, you might say that the Conservative Party has its own interests, but everybody else agrees. This is, however, a very clear government-versus-opposition situation, because we have a unity of perspective on this amendment and on the broader questions around the process we have in front of us. We have a unity of perspective between the Conservatives and the NDP. I haven't heard directly from Ms. May, but my understanding is that the third party shares our concerns as well about the government abusing its position to define the way in which these decisions will be made.

I think that should clearly show the Canadian public.... Conservatives and New Democrats don't always agree. I think we'll probably have very different takes on...I was going to say tomorrow's budget, but in fact it's today's budget.

When the government put forward motion number six, which was about the government unilaterally changing the rules of the game, trying to relegate the opposition to a sideshow and making the government the main event instead of letting our system be what it's supposed to be, which is a meaningful exchange between different sides, we had the unification of voices from the opposition coming together and saying that this is not how our system is supposed to work. We have that happening again, because this is a revolutionary change in the way we approach these things. That's the issue of the recalibration.

It's interesting that in the introduction, the discussion paper speaks about the need for politicians to find common ground to ensure robust and effective ways of deliberating on the issues of the day. What is striking repeatedly about this government is the way in which their rhetoric actually gets it right. Yes, we need to find common ground.

As my friend points out, this is the title of a book in whose production the Prime Minister may have had some involvement, yet there are no efforts to find common ground from the government members at all tonight. They want us to gloss over the fact that in the way in which they have set up this study, in the absence of the amendment wisely proposed by my colleague, they are not finding any common ground at all. There is a dissonance between some of this rhetoric and what they are actually doing, which is not at all about finding common ground; rather, it is about trying to take control of the way in which the process proceeds.

Earlier in our discussion we had some specific comments from Mr. Simms about the issue of the number of days that the House sits. This is an important, substantive point on which, wherever we go, there needs to be a consensus. There needs to be agreement from parties about the way in which we proceed. The current system involves a certain balance that has five days a week of opportunities for the opposition to challenge the government.

(0135)



Now let's be very clear. We all know that members of Parliament don't only work when they're in Ottawa. As members of Parliament, we don't have your traditional nine-to-five job. Sometimes there's work that has to be done at 1:30 in the morning. Sometimes we have events and constituency meetings that go outside of regular hours. Oftentimes we're working regular hours as well. We work when the House of Commons is in session, but we also have preparation involved in the things we do in the House, we have preparation involved in the committee, and we have reading and studying that we should be doing, which informs our understanding and our broader perspective on the issues that are in front of us.

Do I think the only work legislators do is the work we do when we're sitting in the House? No, I don't. That is why, when I spoke about changes to the way the House operates, I proposed a change during the debate we had on the Standing Orders that was a bit different from what many of my colleagues were talking about. It was to say that we can look for a way of increasing flexibility by, say, having another day on which votes don't occur. This would allow members to spend time in their ridings if they need to, but we would still continue to have five days a week on which debate occurs in the House of Commons, on which questions are posed to the government, on which the government is...well, not, I guess, formally forced to answer, but at least expected to respond. That ongoing accountability is important, and we can look for ways of facilitating flexibility for members to spend more time in their ridings, but we have to do that in a way that doesn't derogate from the real important accountability functions of the House.

Of course, I should add, the government talks in this discussion paper about the need to move legislation forward, and of course, absolutely, an elected government should be able to pass legislation. I think, as an opposition, our opposition has been reasonable in engaging the government in discussion about the fact that there are some bills we can move forward on more quickly and there are some that require more time. We've been having those discussions and trying to come to agreements, and of course not always coming to agreements, and then the government brings forward closure.

I'll talk about the use of closure. It's striking how the government seems very concerned about the political implications of criticism of closure, yet this was, of course, a political argument that they used repeatedly. They sought to frame the use of closure as a disaster for democracy, and now that they're in government they repeatedly use closure and are so concerned about it that they want to fundamentally change the mechanism. It's striking that they would sort of bemoan public perception and political debate around a particular aspect of our rules that they defined, that they sought.... Well, they didn't define them, but they themselves sought to shape them when they were in opposition. I guess that should be a good reminder to all of us that governments become oppositions and oppositions become government, usually, in the fullness of time, and we don't know exactly when that transition is going to take place.

Speaking to this point about the number of days, the discussion paper implies that, essentially, how important are Fridays really because there are no more than two and a half hours for government orders, and committees do not meet. Of course, the day is not two and a half hours long. There are other things that happen on that day. There are also opportunities to debate private members' business, there is question period, and there are statements by members. The private member's bill debate period, question period, and the statements by members period are the same length as on any other day.

(0140)



Yes, there is an opportunity for further debate on government orders. There is also an opportunity....

I should mention that on Fridays, of course, we have routine proceedings, an opportunity for members to table petitions, to move motions, to present private members' bills. So many parliamentary functions happen on a Friday. The flexibility of a Friday, where you don't have standing votes but you do have an opportunity for debate, actually allows that accountability function while also allowing many members to spend time in their riding, if and to the degree they need to. If members are able to stay on a Friday, perhaps they have a greater opportunity to give a speech or to participate in the discussion in a way that they might be less able to during other times of the week when more members are there. It gives members an enhanced opportunity to participate in the discussion.

Really, the Friday that we have recognizes the need to have some degree of flexibility, but crucially, it preserves and does not derogate from that important and natural and necessary accountability function. However long the government orders are, we have five days a week on which members of Parliament can bring forward legislation that is specifically important to them and their constituencies. I think we've had many Liberal members use the private member avenue to champion legislation that is not necessarily supported by their front bench but they've been able to champion. If I think about the range of private members' bills, many bills have either passed or at least been advanced onwards when they may not have had the support of cabinet, which does speak to the importance of the private member channel and the way in which Fridays facilitate that.

Now, the discussion paper does refer to the reapportioning of time on Fridays to other sitting days, but it doesn't at all indicate how you would do that while preserving the number of slots for private members' business. You couldn't very well add 15 minutes to the private members' bills slot four days a week and yet divide up that fifth private member's bill by 15 minutes each day. Perhaps they envisioned the extension of that period of time for debate on each private member's bill, which would have the effect of fewer private members' bills.

Perhaps there are ways around that. We don't really know what the government has in mind here. What's clear is that the government wants to put forward these ideas, but not really for discussion. In many ways, the title of the paper is misleading in terms of suggesting that this is a discussion paper. This is actually the basis on which the government appears to want to be able to dictate what a new set of revolutionized, modernized Standing Orders will be that reflects what they want to see. They are not willing thus far, although hopefully they will evolve—let's not call it a revolution in their thinking—to recognize the value of our perspective, which is that there does need to be an assurance that we will have the ability of all parties to have their voices heard, and not just heard but also listened to and protected in the process. That is not what we have currently envisioned by the process.

When they speak of Friday sittings, the government seems to envision an alternative, which is to move to full-day Friday sittings that mirror the hours we have on other days. Of course, members know that the hours of sitting are not uniform throughout the week. On Wednesdays, for example, the House only sits for four hours, I think, which I think is less than or the same as the House sits on Friday, because we have caucus meetings.

The House starts at a later hour on Mondays. It starts at a slightly earlier hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'm part of a committee that normally meets at about 8:30 on Thursday mornings.

(0145)



Members have a range of responsibilities, and a move to make Friday like the other days of the week would limit the flexibility that members have to spend time in their constituencies. That's a discussion that could take place as long as there's a recognition of the important role of all parties, all members, being involved in the discussion, as is outlined in our amendment.

The other point that's important about Fridays is that there is the issue of the reapportioning of private members' business that I spoke about, but also a question of time lost for question period. Already we know—and I'll talk about this because it's later on in the discussion paper—the Prime Minister is not interested in being in question period every day. He's not interested in participating in question period more than one day a week.

Our view would be that it's important for the Prime Minister to be accountable five days a week. There is the possibility, alluded to in the discussion paper, of reapportioning the times perhaps. Right now, question period is 45 minutes, so you would divide that up and add 10.25 minutes to question period on each of the remaining four days.

That would preserve the amount of time for question period, but it would not be nearly as effective from an accountability perspective, because it would not involve the government being accountable to the legislature, to the people of this country, five days a week. The adding of time to question period is not as important, from my perspective, as the fact of regular accountability created by the presence of that regular question period as it presently exists.

I think the government knows this. I think they would make exactly the same points were they in opposition and were a government trying to make those changes. I think, by the way, the things that Stephen Harper was accused of when he didn't come close to trying to eliminate a key venue for accountability like this.... You know, the names he was called for proroguing parliament. Of course, we can have a discussion about that, but it's something that has been used many times throughout this country's history. Yet what is revolutionary, highly uncommon, is a government that wants to completely rewrite the rules to its own advantage by eliminating that crucial venue for accountability. They want to do that in the absence of the passage of our amendment. They want to do that without allowing a protected role, a protected voice, for the opposition in the context of that discussion.

These are concerns that I have about their proposal to remove Friday sittings. I would not want to proceed down that road unless we had assurance that we could look for what my colleague Scott Reid correctly called these Pareto optimum improvements—improvements every party sees as being fair to us and beneficial for our system. I would not want to go down this road unless we had the protection in terms of a process being followed that would be fair and just, the engagement of all those who have an interest, in a way that would ensure we are not getting ourselves out of balance as we would move forward down that road.

The discussion paper speaks, as well, to the issue of electronic voting, and it suggests that maybe there's an opportunity, because of this massive renovation going on, to implement a system of electronic voting. Even here, the sort of revolution-oriented language is striking: “implement a system of electronic voting as a pilot”.

This is our Parliament. To start doing something completely different and call it a pilot.... I think we should be sure we're covering all aspects of potential pros and cons before we go down that road and not just say let's try it out as a pilot project. If we implement it and it has some real unconsidered problems, then I think we're going down a road that we shouldn't unless we are sure it makes sense to proceed in that direction.

(0150)



I'm certainly not opposed to having the discussion, but I would not want to cede full control to the government and allow it to dictate to us what should be happening on the question of electronic voting. I think there are some legitimate questions about the kind of process that would take place.

If it's envisioned that members would be voting remotely, electronically, there certainly are some major questions that are raised by that, verifying that the vote was actually cast by the member. There is also a sense in which the presence of members at the time of voting is a way in which they signify that they have been present for the debate. Of course, it's not necessarily the case that members are present for the entirety of a debate on every question they vote on, or even any of the debate, but the fact that they are currently expected to be present at the House at the time of the vote to hear the question read out and to respond to the question speaks, I think, to the kind of responsibility we have invested in us.

The idea that members might not even be present for a vote raises some concerns. There are different ways in which voting is done. In the British House of Commons, my understanding is they don't vote the way we do, and in part it's a space issue actually. All the members of Parliament don't fit in their House of Commons, whereas ours is structured differently. We do all fit for the time being, so we vote in a different way.

Of course, we also apply votes. We apply past votes as a way of speeding up the time, but at least for every block of votes there is a point at which members stand up, are seen to stand up and take ownership of the position they are taking as an individual, and are accountable to that.

One of the questions I would like to probe on this is what the ways are in which electronic voting impacts accountability, because it has the potential to be somewhat more impersonal. Also, what are the effects of that on party discipline? Are members who are less concerned about the visual of them standing up to vote a certain way more likely to vote against their party, or are they more likely to vote with the party?

We have seen recently—finally—some Liberals take action in voting differently from the government on some transparently good legislation that they were right to support. Mr. Chair, one of those bills was your bill. Even though people in the front bench of both major parties were opposing it, we had many members in both parties who supported it, and I was proud to be one of them.

What would the effect of moving to electronic voting be on that aspect of party discipline? Would it be easier for members to do the easy thing and toe the party line instead of recognizing the visual associated with a public vote and stand up and be counted? It might seem like a small point, but these are distinctions that can matter. They require detailed study and the input of a full range of voices.

Part of the value of the unanimous provisions that are put forward here is that it's not only a matter of having unanimity, as in including multiple parties. Members across the way should think about this. The unanimity provisions provide a greater degree of leverage for individual members of the government who may actually have different views on the Standing Orders than the government itself.

(0155)



I shouldn't say members of the “government”; I should say members of the “government caucus”. They may realize, through this process, some of the ways in which the proposed changes to the Standing Orders—the elimination of Friday sittings and the changes to question period are among them—would have the potential to weaken the ability not just of the opposition but of others within the government to be holding their government to account, to be exerting their influence on behalf of their constituents. This is something that the government would do well to be mindful of, and it's another argument in terms of illustrating the clear benefits of the amendment that we have put forward.

There are other things that I could draw out in the meantime. With the House calendar, the changes to routine proceedings, and so forth, I think there are certainly some issues there. One of the frustrations I have is that there was a time a couple of weeks ago when the justice minister proposed a unanimous consent motion on a substantive issue in the middle of debate on another issue. I think there should be a discussion about how we handle unanimous consent motions, that we would only see substantive unanimous consent motions at certain times and have a built-in requirement for engagement and consultation on those before they could be moved.

This is another way in which the protection of the prerogatives of individual members of Parliament is at stake. If a unanimous consent motion is moved when a member is not in the House, and it is then reported that this was a unanimous decision of the House, when in fact the member.... For unanimous consent motions there are no bells. There is no advance notice required. There are some real issues and concerns around the protection of the privileges of members, and they need to be discussed.

Part of the protection that's provided, when you have provisions around unanimity, is that you have the engagement of all issues. There are issues that are raised in this discussion paper. There are also issues that are not raised in this discussion paper. When you have the requirement that changes happen unanimously in the committee, you might end up with some horse-trading. You might end up with members saying that they can enhance the role of the opposition here, enhance the role of the government there, and on balance agree to those things. But in the absence of the passage of this amendment, you don't have the opportunity to address many of those important issues that I've highlighted. Instead, you find yourself in a situation where the government just gets to go out and do whatever they want. They can use their authority to impose things on the committee.

Now, there's a crucial theme in this whole discussion. It's one of the biggest concerns we have about what the practical effects would be if we were to move forward in the absence of a clear signal from the government that, yes, unanimity will be protected. One of the concerns we have is found under “Theme 2”, which deals with the question of time allocation.

This is one of the many ways in which we see the clear political nature of this document, by the way, that in the midst of supposedly creating a discussion on modernization, this government just can't resist throwing these totally unbalanced, partisan barbs into their comments by talking about, for example, the use of closure in the previous Parliament. Closure was used in the previous Parliament. It's also been used many times already in this Parliament, by many of the same members who themselves decried closure as being a dire moment for democracy. This is a political rebranding exercise, though, for closure.

(0200)



What we have here in its wisdom is the discussion paper proposing to call closure by a different name. To paraphrase Shakespeare, closure by any other name—I don't know if it smells sweet or not, but I guess that's up to your perspective—is the same whether you call it “closure” or “programming”.

To be specific, this document envisions what it calls an alternative to closure, which is actually just the rebranding of exactly the same thing. It just changes the timeline along which it would be done. It says the idea is that: Following discussion with House Leaders—

There is no requirement indicated here of their buy-in, and certainly we don't get the impression that the government is interested in securing the buy-in of the opposition. They certainly aren't doing it with respect to the motion that we have brought forward, and they're not thus far interested in an amendment which would protect the input of the opposition. The programming following that discussion among House leaders would involve the government giving notice of a motion following...and I'm quoting exactly here: —the Government gives notice of a motion following second reading of a bill to allocate a specific number of days or weeks for the committee stage, and the time needed for debate at report stage and at third reading.

This is interesting because you see the closure effectively being automatic, saying that from now on—not just on some bills, not just when the government House leader alone decides for whatever reason to proceed in this direction—it would become a matter of course that on every single piece of legislation, the government would say right up front, “We're doing closure after this number of days.” This would not just be in the House, but also it sounds from the language here that there would be a prescription of a certain number of days at the committee stage.

I say to this committee that this is, of course, a significant deviation from the normal practice of committees. The normal and proper practice of committees is for committees to be the masters of their own domain.

There are certain provisions in the Standing Orders for the automatic referral back of private members' legislation after a certain period of time. This is designed to protect the important role of private members, so that government majorities can't simply hold up and sit on private members' bills at committee. With the exception of private members' business and certainly when we're talking about government legislation, the committee is master of its own domain. It is up to the committee how it manages the study of that legislation.

This discussion paper would pull us in a dramatically different direction. It would effectively create an automatic procedure for the invocation of closure. Surely this is something that should only be done if there is a consensus of other parties.

There are many other alternative models that could be considered if the government feels that change is needed. You could envision a system in which days were set and publicly announced with the consent of opposition parties. Such a system would, I think, be more fitting to the word “programming”. It would involve the collective efforts of the House to decide on the number of days that were appropriate for a bill.

Importantly, the number of days that a government thinks are appropriate for discussion or debate on a particular bill might be different from opposition parties. The number of days that a particular opposition party feels are appropriate might be different from another opposition party. There might be a bill on which the NDP feel that they need to make a stand and all of their members care very much about, but that Conservatives have fewer people interested in speaking on. On other cases you might have the inverse—bills where more Conservative members are interested than NDP members.

That's why we currently have a system where House leaders sit down and have a discussion. They talk about the number of days they think are appropriate. Of course, there's give and take and hopefully then the opportunity to come to agreement.

(0205)



The current rules provide for, yes, a vehicle for the government to move their legislative agenda forward if they are unable to reach an agreement, or really for whatever other reason the government chooses to put forward that motion. I don't think the system is perfect now, but as this discussion paper points out, there is a certain mechanism of political accountability. Under the current system, any time a minister moves a closure or time allocation motion, there is a period of questions and answers—maybe not answers, always, but questions. Members can spend that period of time, not question period but a period for questions, posing questions to the minister that can and often do reflect the substance of the legislation, and speak to the reasons why that particular minister has put forward a closure or time allocation motion. There is a vote, and then there is further discussion.

Yes, when votes that happen in the House are not at a time that has been agreed on by House leaders, of course that process is disruptive. Many provisions—motions that a member be heard, for example—are not used all that commonly. Yes, they involve votes that happen at different times of the day, and they interrupt committees that are in progress. Of course that can happen. That can be disruptive, but that actually is precisely why it is good for House leaders to be able to operate on a consensus basis, and certainly why our House leader works very hard to collaborate with the other House leaders to develop a consensus around the amount of time that makes sense.

This change to the way in which time is set, is managed, and is controlled would be truly revolutionary. The presumption throughout much of our history, indeed perhaps going back almost to the Magna Carta, is that members are given the opportunity to speak on issues that are important to them and that debate proceeds on an issue as long as there are members who are interested in speaking. That's important, because members who speak in the House of Commons don't just speak based on what they think is important or interesting. Members of the House of Commons are here as representatives, as trusted leaders, and in some sense, though it's not a fully exhaustive role, as delegates of the interests and values of their constituents.

We have this accepted tradition that, yes, members should be allowed to speak. Why? Because the people they represent should be allowed to speak. Members need to be heard not because there's anything particularly unique or special about me or anybody in this room, but because we are here on behalf of people back home. We have a right to speak because they have a right to speak. They have a right to have their interests, their values, and their priorities respected. That's what's at stake here when we talk about the engagement of the opposition in the process of changes to the Standing Orders, and specifically when we talk about the implications of that for the discussion of the way in which time is managed.

The rebranding of closure or time allocation, not the fundamental changes but the rebranding so that the government can use it more often as a matter of course automatically, and the application of time management, so-called, by the government to committees, are revolutionary changes that should not be the sort of thing the government imposes unilaterally. It is not in keeping with our traditions. It is not just. It is not just in terms of a proper appreciation of the rights of the people who sent us here, never mind the traditional prerogatives and privileges that we understand for members of Parliament.

(0210)



I'm struck by the use of buzzwords in this discussion paper to cover what the government is doing, and their refusal to ensure that opposition will have a voice. This discussion paper speaks “of a 'Made-in-Canada' programming scheme”—scheme is the right word, at least—for government bills and motions, and for the handling of Senate amendments.

We have a made-in-Canada process. It's our existing Standing Orders. Sure, we're talking about a made-in-Canada approach proposed by this, but we're actually talking about made-in-the-Prime Minister's office. We're talking about a made-in-Canada—but made by a very small number of Canadians—scheme that involves a very small number of Canadians completely controlling and setting the agenda, completely responsible for deciding the number of weeks, the number of days, and the number of hours spent in a discussion of legislation, not just in the House but also in committee. This is something that particularly the members who care about parliamentary committees should be seized with—the idea that the House leader would say right off the bat, “Hey, this is how much time your committee has to study it.”

Committees, by the way, are supposed to be the experts. We're supposed to be the people on committees who understand the topics. Surely you can envision a situation in which members on a committee would say, “We really need more time on this issue, because with our understanding and the witnesses we're hearing, we realize we need to hear more from more witnesses.” Yet you've already had this preprogrammed motion from the House leader saying when the discussion has to end. That is limiting the ability we have to speak for our constituents and also to do the kind of study—to hear from experts, to hear from witnesses—that is so important to the process of legislation.

I am very concerned about the way this is set up. Does this mean we can't have a conversation about looking at improvements that could be made to the way the legislative calendar is managed? No, it doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't have that conversation. It doesn't mean that it would be impossible to have those conversations, but those conversations have to happen in a way that is respectful for the role of all parties, even for the fact that in a majority government legislation is probably going to pass anyway. It is not infrequent that amendments to government legislation are put forward and successfully passed. It happens, and it should and could happen more.

It shouldn't be considered automatic that as soon as a bill is put forward by the government it's going to become a law and that's that. We should respect the parliamentary process, recognizing the insights through the speeches that members give, as well as through the expert input that is provided at committee. We should acknowledge and expect there to be refinements.

I know there were cases, in fact in the previous government—one in particular, and I won't discuss the example because it might be a little painful for our side—in which legislation was put forward, but because public concerns were raised, the legislation did not proceed. This speaks to the importance of the parliamentary process.

There are reasons that we have multiple stages—we have committee study, the House, and the Senate—and it is out of, I think, respect for traditions and the value of moving slowly through the legislative process, through changes that are made, yet we don't see that respect for tradition, either in what seems to be the desired system by the government or by the process by which they are proceeding. They want this to be able to come forward quickly and for the government to be able to entirely control the discussion, and to not have a protection for the role and involvement of the opposition. That would be a significant shift from what has been our normal operating procedures in the past and what has been characteristic of the traditions that we have and that we work under in this place.

(0215)



Now, the discussion paper speaks of reforms to question period. This government is talking about changes to question period, of course. We had a private member's bill put forward by Michael Chong in the last government that was about reforms to question period, separate from the Reform Act.

I think many Canadians would like us to be open to having the discussion about what question period will look like as we continue into the future. There can be no disputing the importance of question period as a unique feature of the day. Most of the time we spend here is under the reasonable and important general presumed equality of members of Parliament, that members each have an opportunity to speak to questions and to debate back and forth as members of Parliament.

It's the same in committee, where we have members of different parties but they act together as committees, hearing from witnesses, debating and discussing legislation, etc. But question period is that period in the day when we step into a bit of a different position from our tradition of us debating, as members of Parliament, into a more clearly demarcated position of government and opposition. We pose questions as opposition to the government about the business of the day.

Of course, question period isn't just for members of the opposition. Question period provides an opportunity for members of the government party caucus to pose questions to members of the cabinet and parliamentary secretaries about the operations of government. I think those questions could sometimes be used better to actually challenge the government about things that are important in individual constituencies.

Nonetheless, we recognize the importance of question period and the unique way in which question period does provide a forum for opposition to pose questions to the government. It's probably no secret that it is principally an opposition forum. It's principally an opportunity for the opposition to pose questions to the government. I think, generally, the opposition would want to have more question period, and the government would want to have less question period.

At the same time, I think a responsible government understands the value of that institution for democratic accountability, recognizing that, yes, the government of today may be the opposition of tomorrow, but also recognizing that our institutions, our governance, and our society are strengthened by having more mechanisms for accountability, and that question period, as well as Order Paper questions and other ways in which opposition can pose questions to government are all important vehicles.

Then the government, shockingly, would like to take this vital structure of our democracy and impose unilaterally through the discussion paper and then through the unamended motion, if it were to proceed without the amendment, an ability to unilaterally make changes to this opposition forum.

Specifically around the question of where this goes in the future, if the amendment were not to pass, the government would have established a very dangerous precedent, one that I think members of the government should ruminate on a bit, that if the government can change the way question period works, even in ways it thinks are defensible—

(0220)

Mr. Scott Simms:

I have a point of order.

In the spirit of good faith, earlier we made a point of seeking unanimous consent to make a few points. I wanted to make one salient point about the discussion paper, if I could ask the permission of Mr. Genuis or anybody else for unanimous consent.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Sure. I'd be happy to move unanimous consent, as per the previous motion, that Mr. Simms can make a few substantive comments, and then the floor would be returned to me and we continue with the speakers list as it currently is.

Some hon. members: Agreed.

The Chair:

Okay.

Mr. Scott Simms:

What piqued my interest was when he talked about Michael Chong's bill—or motion, that's what it was—because I found it very interesting. I'm getting ahead of myself, but to be quite honest with you, when I was envisioning for this to be passed, and we were going to have an all-out discussion on what was in not just this discussion paper but other sorts of proposals as well, he had a very interesting proposal.

If I'm wrong on this, forgive me, Michael, if you're out there listening.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: He's out there.

Mr. Scott Simms: He's out there somewhere, yes.

I hope I don't get this wrong, but the characterization will be legitimate. That is, you have what you would call a “general” question period. It's a relationship between yourself and the Speaker. You petition to have your question heard in the House by the Speaker, absent of the whips. On the tail end of a question period, you'll have that one time for—we all know how it will turn out—mostly questions about your riding. I found myself in that position when I used to ask questions, especially on the Friday, because....

I won't go back to the Friday debate, but Fridays were days when let's just say the presence of members was rather scarce. I mean that in an actual physical way. I'm not saying they were devoid of any intellect. I'm just saying that they weren't there, and it was only a four and a half hour day.

I used to ask questions specifically about my riding. Of course, I did get permission from the whip, and the list was handed to the Speaker. I used to hand the question to the minister, either the day before or the morning of, before I would ask it. The minister was actually Gail Shea. It was about the fishery, because the fishery is a big thing in my riding. I found it a very productive exercise, because I knew that she knew what the question was. Therefore, if the answer had nothing to do with my question, then obviously that was odd. It wasn't a way for me to entrap her into that. It was just a way for me to try to get an answer. The exercise proved to be a fruitful one.

At any rate, the reason I bring that up—I'd like to think it's germane to the situation—is that these are the ideas we can talk about. We're not saying that what is in this discussion paper is exclusive to this entire exercise of coming up with this report. These are issues that I discuss with the House leader. These are issues that we discuss as a caucus and that the House leader discusses with us. It was to start the conversation by saying, “Here are some of our ideas. Let us now go forward and see how fruitful we can be in this whole exercise.”

I just wanted to add a few words about that. I want to thank Garnett for allowing me that, and for the unanimous consent as well.

Thank you.

(0225)

The Chair:

Thank you.

Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Simms, I appreciate your comments.

These are, of course, ideas that members have brought up and discussed. I spoke to them when I had the opportunity to make a speech in the House about potential changes to the Standing Orders. They really relate to two separate issues: the question of question period changes and the use of party lists in general.

I'll say, by the way, that I didn't mean to bring up Michael Chong. I think you are correct that it was a motion about question period. I did not bring it up as sort of a wholehearted endorsement of the content, but just to say that there are good ideas about changes to question period, and that our opposition to revolutionary change should not be construed as an opposition to any kind of change. It's simply an opposition to change that is radical and unilateral, and that doesn't reflect the best judgment either of those present or of those in the past.

G.K. Chesterton had a phrase that I quite like. He talked about respect for tradition being an acknowledgement of the democracy of the dead, in other words the inclusion of opinions past and present, of people who are no longer with us. The democracy of the dead, it has a real ring to it. I think it might refer to voter fraud as well, but that's not what G.K. Chesterton had in mind.

Specifically, with respect to the point, I think it is a very good thing to explore the question of reducing the use of party lists. What's interesting is that the Standing Orders do not speak at all of the use of party lists, either for question period or any other time. It would be very easy for members to think that the rules say that the whip gives the name of the member, and the member on the list given by the whip is the one who speaks next. What the rules say, in fact, that if Mr. Schmale is on the list and I stand up first—even if he stands up as well but I stand up first—the Speaker should call on me, and that includes during question period.

The practice that we normally observe, in fact, is that the Speaker calls on the member next, even if that member is not standing. The member who is about to speak next may well be sitting, yet the Speaker calls on that member—anticipating that they will stand—on the basis of their presence on a list. Is that something that should probably be discussed in a review of the Standing Orders? Sure. If nothing else, we might say that the Standing Orders should reflect reality, but I think there is some wisdom in the system that is envisioned by the Standing Orders.

I think question period should include some opportunities for what we informally refer to as a leaders' round, for the leaders of opposition parties and lead critics to pose specific questions that reflect the priorities of the collective of the opposition. However, it would be easy to figure out some allocation of question period between a period of time that was more oriented for those leader- and/or front bench-type questions and time for members to pose questions reflecting their own priorities that don't involve a list. Of course, informally, parties might have some system of coordinating them, but the absence of the list at least creates a certain degree of uncertainty and therefore flexibility.

I've spoken about this before. I think this is a good opportunity for study and discussion of the Standing Orders. What is striking to me, Mr. Simms, looking at the discussion paper that we received from the House leader, is the absence of a discussion about those kinds of changes to either the present Standing Orders or the practices of the House. They are the kinds of changes that would actually strengthen the role of individual members of Parliament relative to the front bench.

This is the kind of discussion paper that we would expect somebody in the cabinet to put forward. It's the kind of discussion paper that speaks to changes that are not only talking about advantaging the government caucus versus the opposition caucus, but that deal with issues that are the priorities of party leaders and those around them, as opposed to the priorities of others in parties. Those who are not part of a leadership team of a party might be much more likely to raise questions of, “What about party lists? What about the fact that they informally, though not formally, put all the power in terms of who speaks in the hands of the whips?”

(0230)



These are important questions. We have a discussion, though, framed fully through the lens of a discussion paper generated by the government House leader and then through a motion that does not require the engagement of all members of the committee.

I say again, with respect to party lists, that members of the government caucus should appreciate that this is about changing the rules in a way that could not only disenfranchise the opposition but could weaken the important role government caucus members who are not part of the cabinet can have in providing that kind of accountability check. That is to the issue of party lists.

I'll add this, Mr. Simms, to the point you made about sharing the questions in advance. This is the point I made when I spoke to the Standing Orders in the House. We already have a system in place in the Standing Orders that involves ministers having received questions in advance and having longer periods of time to respond to them, as well as longer periods for the opposition to pose those questions. We already have that. It's called, informally, the late show, or more formally, adjournment debate.

Adjournment debate is when questions that have already been asked in the House, that have been given in advance, are re-asked in long form, and the responses can be given in long form, and then there is a chance for follow up. The problem with adjournment debate is that it happens at the end of the day, that it doesn't get a lot of attention or focus, and that the minister is never the one who answers. It's almost always the parliamentary secretary, and sometimes it's the parliamentary secretary not responsible for the file. He or she is just there to check that box.

The culture that has grown up around adjournment debate is that the House is virtually empty. The other thing is that the way the scheduling works is that you end up receiving your allocation for the adjournment debate question months after the original question was asked. It may still be relevant. It may be a point that's worth coming back to, or the underlying dynamics may have dramatically changed on the question you are seeking to pose.

What I propose as a simple reform, as an incremental but sensible reform, is to switch the time a little bit, with question period at two o'clock, followed by the late show, and statements by members moved to the end of the day. The minister responsible for the file would be required to be present in the House to answer the question at what we now call the late show. It would have to have a different name, given that it would happen at a different time. Given that there would be flexibility around the scheduling, it would be quite easy to be accommodating of the minister's schedule. If the foreign affairs minister was out of the country for a particular week, you could very easily schedule those late shows on the following day. Again, you would have to have a different name for them, but let's call them long-form question and response supplementary oral questions.

Would that reform help the opposition or the government? I think it actually would just be good for substantive discussion on issues. The ministers might say it's disadvantageous to the ministers, because the ministers would then have to be in the House for longer than they would otherwise be. On the other hand, it would save time at the end of the day, when a parliamentary secretary would perhaps have to return. It would create additional opportunities for members to be present and hear parts of that discussion. I think it would enhance our democracy by providing that opportunity for more substantive debate.

That's a change to the Standing Orders. In the framework of a study, where there is an acceptance of a principle moving forward unanimously, we could say, “Yes, this is a change, this is a reform, that might make some sense”. It would allow us to enhance the effectiveness of our institutions.

(0235)



It's not a dramatic change, but it's a change that could enhance the effectiveness of our institutions and not be done in a way that dramatically changes the grounds under which oppositions parties are operating. It would be a change that would be respectful of the opposition.

It's striking to me, as we look at the discussion paper, the motion, and the opposition that we see from the government to the amendment we're putting forward, that there isn't a discussion of some of what I think are critical issues for the way that the House operates. There are critical issues, which fundamentally are about members of Parliament, as opposed to, strictly speaking, the government opposition dynamic. All of us who are in this room, first and foremost, are members of Parliament. We can see the value of that and grab that opportunity to stand up for our position in the House as members of Parliament, not simply as members of government or opposition, although, of course, I have spoken about the importance of the roles we have as members of government and opposition.

I appreciate the points made by Mr. Simms. I'll come back, though, to talking about the discussion paper and its relationship to the motion and the amendment, because I didn't yet speak directly about this issue of the Prime Minister's question time. Those who talk about Prime Minister's question time recognize that this is an institution that exists in the U.K. There are ways that our Parliament and our traditions build off of the British tradition, and I've spoken to some extent about that. There are obviously ways that our traditions, through continuous evolution, have evolved to have slightly different characteristics. The daily question period is important. The accountability of the government five days a week is important, and we would like to see the Prime Minister engage with that process on as many days as possible.

There is nothing to stop the Prime Minister from answering every question on one day a week. He is welcome, under the present rules, to do that. Of course, under the present rules, he chooses not to attend question period quite frequently. There are instances where it appears that the Prime Minister is present in the general vicinity yet he does not attend question period. I acknowledge that the Prime Minister has to travel internationally at certain times; there are weeks when he is not here at all.

As we speak about a Prime Minister's question time, if we move forward in the direction that's envisioned by the discussion paper, we effectively give the Prime Minister licence, just as a matter of course, to not be present in question period on four days a week—or maybe three days a week, if other recommendations of the discussion paper were to move forward. However, it is a giving of “social licence”, let's call it, for the Prime Minister not to be present in question period. Also, there are periods of time when the Prime Minister travels or may indeed have other legitimate responsibilities.

On both of those fronts, on the front informed by the prospective change to the Standing Orders, but also on the front of the realities of the Prime Minister's schedule, that further reduces the presence of the Prime Minister in question period. I think many Canadians would be struck and surprised by that, especially in light of a system in Canada where the Prime Minister is particularly powerful. A discussion that I guess informs this discussion would be, what are the powers of the Prime Minister, what should they be, and does he have too much power?

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Certainly, the present power of that office means that the occupant of that office, out of respect for his office—as well as for Parliament—needs to ensure he is frequently available to respond to questions that are posed.

As to the changes envisioned for question period in terms of the number of question periods, as well as the presence of the Prime Minister in them, I can anticipate the defence, which is that if the Prime Minister answers a lot of question on one day, he might end up answering as many or more questions on that day as he would throughout the week. Okay, but there is something to the government being accountable five days a week and to the Prime Minister being accountable to answer questions on as many of those days as is reasonably possible, and to at least, in a sense, if he chooses to be absent too much, be accountable for that absence, to be challenged in a public way about the fact that he may not be attending question period as much as he should. The opportunities that exist for that regular accountability would be dramatically changed by the introduction of this change.

It doesn't mean, by the way, that this is something that can't be studied or shouldn't be studied. Again, it's the Prime Minister's prerogative, on behalf of the government, to choose to answer more questions that are posed in question period. If he were to do both—to improve his attendance record in question period and to also answer more questions—I don't think he would get any complaints from us about that.

That is provided for in the existing rules, but a fundamental change in the expectations around the presence of the Prime Minister in question period is something that, as we should all be able to agree, would require the buy-in of all members of Parliament in the process of that change, I think, in that we should be involved in and consenting to changes that would take place in that context. That is precisely what we are protecting. Again, it is not just about the ability of the opposition. It is about the ability of members of the government caucus, but it's particularly about the opposition, which obviously has a very important role in being able to hold the government accountable.

I have to say that the direction envisioned in terms of Order Paper questions here is not at all clear to me. I think there is an argument for changes to the whole process of Order Paper questions, but in a direction that would actually require that the government be held accountable for cases where there are some concerns about the information that has been provided and where there is perhaps a dissonance between the information provided and what appears to be the reality. There should be some greater mechanism for accountability for that.

Again, this discussion paper, which is supposed to form the basis of a study on which the opposition would have no guaranteed say, frames this purely in terms of the kinds of concerns that a government House leader would have, not in terms of the kinds of priorities that you would expect to be at the forefront of the minds of members of the opposition.

Next, then, there's this issue of omnibus legislation that is discussed here, and again we see the entry of partisan language into what is supposed to be ostensibly a more dispassionate discussion paper. It shows, I think, a lack of interest in genuine productive discussion and, in fact, in reality shows what we see as the desire of the government to be dictating to the opposition. We see that tone in terms of the language, and then we see the government seeking to come up with a distinction between the kinds of omnibus bills they do and the kinds of omnibus bills, so-called, that the previous government did, in a way that allows them to defend their omnibus bills and criticize other omnibus bills. Transparently, the last budget brought forward by this government was an omnibus bill.

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Of course it dealt in general terms with the economy, but it dealt with many different things that are related to the economy. The same could be true of legislation that was brought forward by the previous government and by others previous. You have a budget bill that deals with a range of different subjects that are relevant to the budgetary plans of the government and the government's economic agenda.

The discussion paper makes a bit of a false comparison. It says there's an ability of the clerk to divide written questions, so the Speaker could do the same on omnibus bills. This would amount to a very substantial amount of power to give to one person, the Speaker who would unilaterally split a bill. It's quite a bit of power for one, even certainly an important officer of the House to have.

On the other hand, having the splitting of omnibus bills done by a Speaker who certainly is a neutral person, but is not one who is representative of the opposition.... The Speaker is not supposed to be representative of anyone of course, but this does not allow an opportunity for the opposition to be engaged in discussion or decisions about what actually constitutes an inappropriate omnibus bill.

Usually the objections about what is and is not an omnibus bill, of course, come from the opposition. It's the opposition who would have these concerns about a bill with too many different themes that are just lumped together. That is the kind of concern you would expect to come from the opposition.

To expect that the Speaker could unilaterally divide legislation, to think it particularly likely that the Speaker would use that power in a context in which the Speaker is an elected member of Parliament, and ultimately, in the context where it's generally difficult for the Speaker to make these kinds of highly subjective calls—the question of whether things relate to an overall unifying theme or not—it would be very difficult to say definitively, yes or no, what that relationship would be.

Yet this puts that power solely in the hands of the Speaker. I think it risks situations where the opposition would perhaps inadvertently be in a position of disagreement with the Speaker, which creates other potential questions and challenges. Again, I'm not at all opposed to the idea of having a discussion about what constitutes an omnibus bill for the purposes of being reasonable and not reasonable. There are certain kinds of omnibus bills that make sense. I think the government should have a budget every year. I think the budget should deal with a variety of different things related to an overall unifying theme, and the degree to which that may or may not apply is something that reasonable people can and will continue to disagree with.

I think there needs to be a discussion about omnibus bills in a way that speaks to the kinds of concerns that opposition parties might have. How would opposition parties be inclined to express those concerns? What kinds of processes or Standing Order reforms would allow the opposition to effectively bring forward the kinds of concerns they have?

We can have that discussion. We can have that discussion here at this committee under the framework established by the Conservative amendment, an amendment that prescribes a framework whereby there's a discussion that can take place, perhaps a bit of horse-trading, perhaps a bit of coming around to each other's perspectives, looking for those improvements that are beneficial to all, and more importantly that are in the public interest, and moving forward on them.

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Yes, some of that discussion might involve omnibus bills, but that is a discussion that should engage all parties, and certainly engage the kind of perspective that opposition will bring, as well as the kind that the government will bring.

Moving on, as we look at the kind of framework established by the discussion paper, we see that the discussion paper speaks to the management of committees. It speaks to the way in which committees operate. One of the changes it would make, of course, is that it would seek to impose time limits for members' speeches at committee. I know members of the government are thinking this would limit their opportunity to hear from someone like me in a context like this. I know that's not something that they would want to do through changes to the Standing Orders.

However, what should be clear in the midst of this exercise is that it's important for the opposition to have certain procedural tools to use in extreme circumstances. When the opposition feels, as we feel as a unified opposition, that this motion, in the absence of the amendment, would severely tread on the rights and privileges of members, we should have an ability to raise the level of attention on this issue, to raise, in a sense, the intensity of that discussion. The opportunity to talk the issue through fully is one of those tools that members have. I think my colleague from the NDP, Mr. Christopherson, made the point very well earlier that sometimes having the ability to press that panic button doesn't mean you're going to do it.. Having the ability to do it—and he made the analogy to strikes—might mean that you actually push it very rarely, but the fact that it exists as an option is a mechanism for forcing the government to participate meaningfully in this conversation.

Earlier in the evening, we were almost there. As we were discussing the amendment, we had agreement for a period of temporary recess and discussion between parties, between members of parties, and I presume between other staff members in their parties. Those discussions took place. At that time we didn't get to an agreement. I'm hopeful that at some point in the future we will see agreement from the government to pass the amendment. However, the fact that the opposition had options and had a capacity to raise these issues gave us an ability to at least start to force those conversations, an ability that we wouldn't have had under the framework envisioned by this.

If you think in general about the time management aspect, the proposal around so-called programming or what might be better called “automatic time allocation” or “automatic closure”, were the government to move these things through unilaterally without engaging the opposition in the conversation, the effect would be that the opposition wouldn't really have any meaningful tools at our disposal, other than being able to speak in the limited time prescribed for us by the government. We could only speak when and for the time permitted as prescribed by the government. That would be it. We wouldn't have the opportunity to challenge the government in the more extended way that is necessary. We have evolved to appreciate the value of being able to do that within the type of parliamentary system that we have in Canada. Yes, we have a made-in-Canada solution already, one that has evolved to include and reflect the collective wisdom of the history that is embedded in our institutions.

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I should say as well that my concern about the time limits imposed at committee isn't just about situations like this one, where it is important for us to press the panic button and say to each other and the public, “Whoa—something important is going on here.” It's not just for situations like that. It is also important because it allows members to actually air out substantive issues in a way they just wouldn't have time for in the House of Commons.

Let's remember what committees are for. Committees are opportunities for members of Parliament to develop specific and deep expertise in topics that reflect their own interests, their own constituencies, or assignments they've been given, whatever the case may be. Recognizing that we cannot all be experts in every public policy issue that is up for discussion, we can drill deep into specific areas and develop a deep knowledge and appreciation for the challenges and conflicts. Then we can talk out and explore them in the context of the committee with a depth that is not available in the House of Commons.

I sometimes find that 10 minutes or 20 minutes just isn't enough time to get around an idea that I want to convey in the House of Commons. I'm sure at least Mr. Graham feels that way sometimes too. I don't know about other members. There are some topics—and it's not every topic, of course, but for me it's almost every topic—

Mr. Tom Kmiec: What about Rouge park?

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Twenty minutes was not enough for Rouge National Urban Park. It was enough for some of the members who were sitting behind me for the camera shot. They were done with hearing from me on that topic after 20 minutes.

Mr. Fin Donnelly (Port Moody—Coquitlam, NDP):

Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.

This doesn't happen too often when you're listening to a member for a lengthy amount of time, listening to the debate and the discussion. I just want to offer a bit of thanks for the intervention. I think all members, regardless of their position on the debate and the discussion today, can agree that it has been an impressive intervention, an impressive speech by Mr. Genuis. I'd like to offer him congratulations.

I think all members would join me in thanking him for that intervention.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Fin Donnelly: This is a rare moment of our coming together and—

Mr. Scott Simms:

We didn't do that for Christopherson.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

I'm just saying that maybe this is a new tone of collegiality. I would like to—

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Could I speak on the same point?

The Chair:

Go ahead on the same point.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

I have just one quick question. I keep hearing “Mr. Genius". I'm pretty sure that's not how you pronounce your name. I was wondering if you could clarify that for us.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

First of all, with respect to the point of order, thank you, Mr. Donnelly, for your kind words. I hope you enjoy the latter three-quarters of my intervention as much as you've enjoyed the first quarter of it.

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The Chair:

Could you answer the question about—

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

I must say though, Mr. Chair, if I could just finish, that I really did enjoy the bringing of the Magna Carta into the discussion. I thought that was, so to speak, ingenious.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Chair:

Let's end on that high note. We're suspended until noon tomorrow—or today, rather—in deference to caucus meetings.

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The Chair:

I call this meeting to order. I hope everyone's refreshed from a good night's sleep.

We're continuing the discussion on the motion of Mr. Scott Simms.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

On a point of order, before we go back into Mr. Genuis's speech, you may have heard that there was a shooting outside Westminster a few minutes ago, and their Parliament has suspended. I'm going to invite you, colleagues, to join me in expressing our solidarity with our colleagues in the United Kingdom.

That's all I want to say at the moment.

The Chair:

That is unanimous.

There was an outstanding question last night at 3 a.m. on the pronunciation of Garnett's last name. I wonder if he could answer the outstanding question in the same—

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

The members may want closure on this question, but I am frankly very concerned about the use of closure—

An hon. member: Oh, oh!

Mr. Garnett Genuis: —and wouldn't want to provide it inappropriately, at least not without unanimous agreement.

I'll just say that my last name is strong, is growing, and that's really all I have to say on the matter.

The Chair:

He could be a minister.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Yes, well, there are those in cabinet who are working hard to join it, so I think my time will have to wait until 2019.

Moving on, are we done with the point of order?

The Chair:

Yes.

We'll continue on the speaking list from where we were last night, and Mr. Garnett has the floor.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Mr. Graham really wants me to cross the floor. I suppose I could then join the large number of Liberal members voting against the government. That's not going to happen, just to put all my cards on the table.

Speaking of all my cards being on the table, I would like to continue where we left off last night, or rather earlier this morning, with the important issues that we're dealing with. Our discussion was in the context of a notice of motion that came forward from Mr. Simms, and I should say that the motion came forward in a way that I don't think is respectful of the tone and of the way in which we typically operate within this place.

We had the release of a discussion paper that, as I think others have reflected, isn't so much about discussion as it is about dictating. It's just supposedly to raise some issues and some questions and some matters for consideration, but then, very immediately, it was followed during a constituency work week by a notice of motion. On the day before the budget, the government wanted to move forward with this motion that would have involved a study of the issues in this so-called discussion paper about the so-called modernization of the Standing Orders. They thought that somehow the boundaries of that study had to be determined the day before the budget.

Of course, we know that Canadians are legitimately weighing out. They are looking at the budget, looking at how much this government will increase their tax bill by and at how much debt will be left to the next generation. In the midst of that, we have something happening that I think was designed to slide in under that discussion and prevent us from really giving it the scrutiny it deserved.

What did we on this side of the House do? Not just our party but all on this side of the House, including our good colleagues in the New Democratic Party, stood up and said “no”. We said it was not right for the elected government of the day to do this. They do enjoy a certain mandate to implement aspects of their policy agenda, but it is not right for them to try to unilaterally change the way in which our parliamentary institutions function.

That has been the pattern with this government. It has met with strong opposition in every case. Initially the government thought they could unilaterally change the way in which elections occur, the process by which they take place, in a way that would work to their advantage. The opposition stood up and said “no”. We were eventually unified in saying that you cannot, as one party, change the rules of the game. You have to engage with others in the process.

This is exactly what our amendment speaks to. This is a continuation, another step in what we've already seen so far from this government. First of all, they wanted to change the way in which elections occur without meaningfully engaging Canadians or meaningfully engaging their representatives, except for those who were part of their party. Even then, we sometimes have good reason to doubt how meaningful the engagement is, even within the government caucus, given the responses we see in terms of things that happen in the House as a result of that.

Now that they've backed away from that, we see them effectively doing something very similar. They're trying to change the rules of our parliamentary processes, again unilaterally, again proceeding in a way that is not set up to be respectful of individual members of Parliament and those other voices who need to be represented in that discussion as well.

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It is interesting that there is a clear similarity, a clear parallel, in terms of the kinds of arguments that are being used by members of this government in this context. My colleague Mr. Reid, on the electoral reform file, would ask repeatedly of Minister Monsef in the House of Commons, “Why won't you commit to a referendum? Why won't you commit to the wider public engagement that we would expect to take place?” Those were the questions that he asked, and the response—to the extent that the questions were answered at all—was always something in the form of “Let's put aside these questions of process and let's talk about the substance.”

We ought not jump to a discussion of substance without really prefacing that with a meaningful discussion of how the discussion will proceed, the process by which it will unfold. Yes, I am as eager as members on the other side are to have a discussion about how we move forward with respect to our Standing Orders, but that has to be done in the context established by the amendment. You can see a parallel to that in the call for a referendum that came from the opposition before. It was us—not just us as the Conservative caucus, but the united perspective of the opposition—saying, “You cannot change the rules of the game on your own.” That is not what Canadians elect governments to do.

Canadians elect governments, or members of Parliament, to be precise, and members of Parliament then coalesce to define who the government is. Through that process of selection, Canadians identify a government that they expect to make policy decisions and to propose laws for debate and discussion. At the same time, though, I think Canadians expect governments of the day to leave intact the basic framework that allows for ongoing, fair, democratic competition. To the extent that changes are necessary in that interaction—either changes to the way in which people are elected or changes to the processes of the parliamentary activities that we're a part of—any time there are proposals for change, it is not good enough that one player in the game decides that they want to make those changes.

I don't want to reduce what we do here to a sports analogy, because what we do here is much more important and consequential, but I think members would clearly understand that if one combatant in a sporting event were to set the rules of the game, the other side might have some real, significant, and legitimate concerns about that. The way in which democracy is supposed to work is that there is a set of ground rules that are identified, independent of the particular interests—and certainly independent of the narrow, immediate interests—of one particular party. Those ground rules are established with a wide degree of social consensus.

In the context of electoral reform, we said it was important that it occur through a referendum. In the context of changes that are proposed to the Standing Orders, it is important that the discussion occur through the meaningful engagement of members of Parliament. That means members of Parliament of all parties, including all members of the government and all members of the opposition.

What we have sought is an amendment that reflects the expectation that Canadians have of fairness in our democratic processes, where the framework, the ground rules, and the context in which we operate are not simply established or pronounced upon in a definitive way by one player in the game.

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There have to be meaningful mechanisms for the opposition to advance their concerns, to bring them forward and discuss them. It's not surprising to me that we see, unfortunately, this repeated pattern from the government of seeking to make changes not just to policy, not just to decisions of the government, but also to that underlying substructure of democracy. Moreover, they want to to do so in a way that does not reflect our normal processes and traditions, that doesn't reflect our normal expectations of fairness. We see this in the approach they took on electoral reform, which they immediately pulled back from once they realized they had lost the public debate.

I'll say something to members of the government on this discussion of the Standing Orders. You did not win the issue of electoral reform in the way that many in the government wanted to, because Canadians rose up and objected. They spoke out clearly about the problems and the concerns they had with the things that were going on.

The public response on that issue was overwhelming. This is a new issue. This is something that the government started trying to push forward at committee yesterday. Looking at the comments people are making and at the level of engagement we are seeing on social media, I perceive this issue, and specifically the issue of the amendments we are bringing forward, to be one that is garnering very substantial public concern and consideration.

There is a reasonable expectation from the public as people discuss these issues. There is an increasing level of engagement from the public on this issue, and members probably are noticing it as they check their emails. I know we were here late last night, into the wee hours of this morning, and many of us had caucuses to attend, but I would encourage members while they are here to ask their staffers if we are hearing from people on this issue from within our own ridings. Already there has been a very strong response to this issue. People who didn't even know I was here last night have been writing to me about things they've heard from other people and are saying they hope I am engaged in this process.

This is the kind of issue Canadians want to get engaged in, because Canadians take our parliamentary institutions very seriously. They also have an intuitive sense of procedural fairness and the importance of people being engaged, of all parties being engaged, not just because there are different individual perspectives that are important, but also because we are speaking in a way that is reflective of the people who represent us, and the people who represent us—not just those from Liberal ridings who may not be heard in this process, but all Canadians—deserve to have some say over the way our democracy works.

In the government's opposition to the amendment, we see their desire to limit the ability of the opposition to have a meaningful say on the kinds of changes to the Standing Orders that would come forward. We also see in the specific proposals for change that are coming from the government a desire to remove all of those meaningful tools that the opposition has for challenging the government. There is nothing in this proposed so-called modernization that takes away the ability of a member to speak maybe once, if they can get a slot, for a limited amount of time, but in every case they remove those provisions that allow members of the opposition the strong and meaningful opportunity, on issues of vital concern to their constituents and to the nation, to stand up in a more pronounced and fundamental way and say no.

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It removes the ability, for example, of members of Parliament to talk for more than a very limited period of time in the context of committees. That's obviously a problem, because the committee can be the one place where members of Parliament, generally those who sit on particular committees, will have a particular interest or degree of expertise in specific areas. This discussion paper proposes to limit the ability of not just members of the opposition but also members of the government to stand up—I guess we normally speak sitting down at committees, but to metaphorically stand up—and object in a way that is clear, effective, and pronounced.

As I look at the text of this discussion paper, and I've read through it a number of times, I see some real dissonance between the tone of the discussion, the stated objectives, and the way in which this government is proceeding vis-à-vis the amendment and the changes they are proposing to bring about. For example, as I said earlier, this discussion paper refers to modernization without clarity or definition, but it also refers to some words that are, in and of themselves, good words: “greater accountability, transparency and relevance”. How in the world, though, does removing the ability of the opposition to have a say, either with respect to the ground rules or with respect to the actual ongoing deliberations of the House, promote greater accountability? How does removing one question period every week, even if the time is reapportioned—because you are still removing the opportunity for accountability five days a week—provide what is stated as an objective, greater accountability?

It states: Parliament must adapt to a changing and evolving...landscape and should respond to demands of greater accountability, transparency and relevance.

Greater accountability, transparency, and relevance: these are all important things, yet the way in which the government is proceeding—today, this morning, yesterday—is fundamentally at odds with the objectives we discussed here.

It was in fact our party that pushed to have these discussions in public. It was our advocacy that said Canadians have to see, in a clear way, what's going on and what the government is trying to do, which is to remove the ability of the opposition to be an effective force, and to do it in a way that doesn't give the opportunity for the opposition to be meaningfully and effectively engaged in this discussion.

Incidentally, to further support my point about public engagement on this issue, I'll just say that members saw me doing a Facebook Live about 20 minutes ago, before this committee. I had some technical difficulties because I had my camera facing the wrong way initially. That often happens with me. You might be able to tell my ability with technology by my comments about the concept of modernization, but I have figured out Facebook Live, and in 20 minutes we've already had 19 shares. That's a little less than a share per minute. I don't normally get that much traffic on the videos I post, not even on something as contentious as motion number 103, so we are seeing a high level of engagement from the public on this issue.

I think members of the government would do well to note that, and to realize that when they talk about things like greater accountability, transparency, and relevance, Canadians are already scrutinizing what we are doing here. When it comes to the government's desire to limit the conversation by not supporting the amendment, by not allowing the opposition to be meaningfully engaged in that discussion, we see that the public, who are much more able to be engaged because of social media, whether members of the government like it or not, are already reacting to that and being very clear about the kinds of concerns they have as that happens.

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There is something in the introduction to the discussion paper that I neglected to draw attention to last night. The introduction talks about the recalibration of the minority and majority, and yet the process envisioned by the government is one in which that recalibration is undertaken unilaterally, where you have one member of the process doing that recalibration.

The discussion paper also says, “This balance is in need of constant attention and periodic adjustment to reflect the will of the House and of the people it serves.” Isn't that exactly what we in the opposition are talking about and are seeking to do through this amendment? This is to ensure that any recalibration or balance that takes place reflects “the will of the House and the people it serves”.

Let's be very clear about what that needs to mean. As the government was keen to talk about, at least until recently, we have a majority government that was not elected with a majority of the popular vote. That's fair. That's how our system works. That doesn't in any way take away from their legitimacy to govern, but it does speak to the fact that we need to have a little bit more of a multipartisan approach if we are to meaningfully talk about the will of the people that the House is supposed to serve, especially when we make changes that shift the underlying substructure of our democratic discussions.

It is striking to me how in this discussion paper you have the nominal recognition of the need for periodic adjustment to reflect the will of the House and the people that it serves, and yet you have a motion that seeks to allow the government House leader's vision to be unilaterally imposed on the House and on the opposition.

When we speak about the will of the House, some members might suggest that could be just a majority of the House. After all, the House can vote, and the government has a majority, so they can carry the vote on the basis of their majority. Doesn't that reflect the will of the House?

Well, I would say that the will of the House should be expressed in different ways that are appropriate to the kind of situation that is being adjudicated.

If we were to have a public whipped standing vote on the selection of the Speaker, I would consider that inappropriate. I would consider that an inappropriate expression of the will of the House in the context of that institution. It is important for the Speaker both to be neutral and to be seen to be neutral. Although formally the process of a whipped standing vote right at the beginning of Parliament would mean that the Speaker would be chosen by a majority, I think it would undermine the principle of the will of the House.

This is recognized in the Standing Orders, which for different kinds of things prescribe different kinds of numbers for the will of the House. Obviously, for the passage of legislation, there is a requirement that there be a majority of those voting who support it. On certain other matters there are different metrics or requirements. There are certain things that the House can only do through unanimous consent. There are certain things the House can do through a majority, but which need to have a proper notice given in advance.

There are certain things that can occur in the House that require a certain threshold to be passed. I am thinking of Standing Order 53 and Standing Order 56.1, standing orders that allow motions to be put forward that are deemed adopted if a certain number of members do not stand to object. In the case of Standing Order 56.1, the government can put forward a motion, and if the opposition fails to stand 25—well, it wouldn't have to be the opposition, of course—if 25 members of Parliament fail to stand, then the motion is deemed adopted. That is to deal with changes to the normal procedural mechanisms of the House.

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Standing Order 53, which we had use of on Bill C-14 last spring, allows the government to seek to suspend the normal notice process that takes place for the discussion of a bill. Certainly we would not want the normal notice process to be suspended with a simple majority of the House, but I think it is sensible and right that we're willing to accept that even if there are a couple of members who object—and for the purposes of Standing Order 53, it's not 25 members but 10 members—the government can proceed with something for which there hasn't been the normal notice given, if the will of the House is for that to be done in the way that I have described.

This is the central point. The will of the House is a concept that I think requires a certain degree of proper collaboration in response to the specific events that we are dealing with. Yes, there has to be periodic adjustment, but there has to be an acceptance of the way in which that periodic adjustment takes place that meaningfully reflects the will of the House.

I think the amendment that we in the opposition have put forward reflects an appropriate concept of the will of the House in the context of this type of decision. We accept, as is well established in Standing Orders 56.1 and 53, and elsewhere in the Standing Orders, the use of unanimous consent motions in general, which would be another example of certain situations, especially procedural things, wherein a simple majority is not enough, because if we are shifting the procedural ground of the House, and the government can do that simply with a majority vote, then that puts at risk all of the subsequent discussion that should be occurring on substantive legislation.

It's not just out of sort of parliamentary nerdiness and navel-gazing that we are concerned about questions around the Standing Orders and process. It is, rather, because those things provide the substructure for discussion of substantive issues that matter to Canadians and that inform their lives in a real and practical way.

It's a reality that government legislation may have unintended consequences. It may contain mistakes, and that's why the process of parliamentary scrutiny is so important. That's why the role of all members of the government caucus, not just the cabinet, and the role of the opposition are so important: it's because our ability to engage in a meaningful way in the discussion is a bulwark against the kinds of mistakes or unintended consequences that can occur in legislation.

We need to protect that substructure and we actually, I believe, for the most part, need to have a higher standard of support for making changes to that substructure—yes, to protect it, but also to protect the meaningful policy decisions and outcomes that stand upon that framework. That's something that is particularly important.

Further, there are certain things, certain further acknowledgements in the discussion paper that while ultimately recommending changes that would be injurious to our institutions and, indeed, to a proper understanding of the role of the opposition and of all members of Parliament in that institution, that I think should point in the direction of support for the amendment that we are defending today.

(1230)



I draw the attention of members to a sentence on page two, partway down the first paragraph, when it's discussing some of the issues of the deliberative function of the House. It acknowledges, “Every issue is unique and requires an amount of debate that is commensurate to the significance of the matter before the House.” This is very true. There are some issues that require less discussion; there are some issues that require more discussion. What has been striking to me in witnessing the way in which this Parliament has operated is that we've often seen efforts to curtail debate on some of those most substantive and sensitive areas where surely we can recognize the need, or we should recognize the need, for very extensive discussion.

The first time that this government proposed time allocation or closure was with respect to Bill C-14, the government's euthanasia legislation. Although, as I'm told, previous governments have used time allocation from time to time, this was a unique case on an issue of fundamental values and conscience. There were significant differences of opinion within every party, and certainly within the two largest parties, and the government moved forward with time allocation on that issue.

This speaks to some of the problems around that whole area of discussion. It also should remind us, when we're properly calibrating the discussion in the House, to recognize the differences between different kinds of legislation and recognize that different kinds of legislation require different amounts of debate, especially on legislation on which there may be broad agreement among the parties that it's something that's okay to move faster on. However, the significance of the matter, the relative time that is required for discussion in the House, is also something that we can't speak of as having a certain ontological objectivity. It is not, strictly speaking, an objective point with regard to how much discussion is required on certain items of legislation. Members of different parties will disagree based on what they're hearing from their constituents.

A recent example of this, to compare what the Conservatives and the NDP were saying, was the discussion around the government's pre-clearance legislation. I can't recall exactly the number of that bill. Our view was that this was legislation that was good, which we could support. It was a government bill. Our caucus was supportive of the government's approach with respect to pre-clearance. The NDP was not. The NDP had some grave concerns. The NDP wanted in particular to ensure that they were able to be fully engaged in the discussion. Notably, when time allocation came up on that bill, our Conservative caucus joined with the NDP in opposing the imposition of time allocation on that point. We recognized that from the perspective of the NDP, the time commensurate to the significance of the discussion of the issue had not been given. What you see today, and what you've seen on matters like this around the management of the time of the House, is some real agreement among parties with obviously very different broader philosophies.

As we think about this issue of the way in which time is allocated, this speaks to very important rules about how the House operates. Yes, individual parties, but also individual members, have an opportunity to meaningfully put forward and discuss the concerns they have. The absence of an ability to do that, the absence of the ability for the opposition to have a role, as envisioned by the study in the absence of the amendment, can obviously create some real problems with respect to the way that balance is set up.

The normal process for making changes to the Standing Orders, as well as for figuring out the time that is allocated to different things, is for discussions to occur among House leaders. There is provision in the Standing Orders—and I think there should be provision in the Standing Orders—for the government to move motions around the allocation of time when they feel there is urgency in moving a measure forward, but the important point is that those motions create an avenue, an opportunity, for public debate and discussion around the use of that procedure and create some accountability and scrutiny of that process.

(1235)



The way in which the government is proceeding here really seeks to limit or minimize the debate that would normally occur around that.

Later on in the introduction to the discussion paper, the government House leader lays out some proposed reasons for these changes. As we discuss how to do the study and the level of engagement we would expect from members with respect to unanimity or not, we need to take on board and consider the reasons that have been put forward.

The discussion paper speaks about the need to ensure members have a better balance, and to encourage under-represented segments of society to seek elected office.

We should be quite aware and critical of the fact that very often this government uses references to minority and other under-represented segments of society to impose its own interests. We saw this with electoral reform, where they objected to the idea of a referendum. It seemed to be on the basis that we have to ensure that the full range of diverse voices be heard, but we never got an answer as to why a referendum would exclude a full diversity of voices.

Referendums, in fact, would generally make it easier for people to engage who may otherwise be unable to participate in the kinds of consultations that don't involve the simplicity of being able to cast a direct ballot. A red flag should go off in our minds when the government uses this reference to under-represented segments of society, if it is in the context of a broader plan to simply impose its own agenda and, perversely, weaken the ability of the full range of voices to be heard in the process.

The first point of justification that the government House leader puts forward for wanting to proceed in this direction is the comment, “to ensure Members have a better balance”. I'm not entirely sure what “a better balance” means—especially when we have a normative word like “better”—when what is envisioned by the approach the government has taken is that we're going to have a balance that is entirely conceived of and determined by the government on the ways in which Standing Orders operate and debate proceeds. The system that is envisioned is one in which the government decides before the fact how much debate is going to be allowed or not allowed on any given provision, so it's not at all clear to me what is meant there by “balance”.

On the other hand, perhaps better balance isn't speaking so much in this context of the calibration between the role of government and opposition. Rather, it's speaking about the kind of balance that members might want to have between their duties, their families, and other things in their private life. As we think about the Standing Orders in that context, there are a lot of options that we could identify that could enhance the effectiveness of representation while facilitating an optimal balance, but the engagement of those changes shouldn't be something that the government House leader does unilaterally. Of course, the government House leader is in practice a bit removed from the practical life of other members of Parliament, because the government House leader has far more staff. They have certain resources at their disposal, a driver, and so forth, that other members of Parliament don't have.

(1240)



I'm not objecting to that. I'm simply saying that if you want to have a discussion about the kind of balance that can be achieved in practice for members of Parliament, you'd better make sure that you're actually engaging the full range of voices of members of Parliament.

Now, the kind of balance that is necessary in the life of a member of Parliament will be different for the government and for the opposition members, because government and opposition members have different kinds of responsibilities. In the government, of course, members have access to a greater spectrum of staff support. There are larger budgets on the government side for those kinds of things. Opposition has to spend that much more time on the kind of research and analysis that's happening within our own offices. That impacts the kind of balance we can have.

On the other hand, there are different responsibilities that may be particular to the life of a government member of Parliament, who is probably more involved in making announcements. Committee chairs, not always but generally, are members of the government. Parliamentary secretaries have another set of associated responsibilities that are different from those of other members of Parliament. This issue of balance for members of Parliament is different depending not just on whether you sit in government or opposition but also on which party you are in and what kinds of responsibilities you have within your party. Perhaps there's an issue between recognized parties and unrecognized groups. Then, of course, there's the issue of independents.

In a discussion of what constitutes a better balance, I think it should be obvious that we would want to engage the full and broad range of voices in that discussion. That's exactly the opportunity that is established in the context of this amendment. If the amendment were to pass, it would ensure that we would hear from the different kinds of perspectives that are raised by all members of Parliament as we discuss this important question of balance.

These issues of what constitutes balance will vary within parties, but they will also vary across regions. I mean “region” in the sense of the part of the country you're from or the kind of riding you have, whether you represent an urban or a rural riding. I think the kinds of expectations and the kinds of work we do for our constituents vary widely, depending on the kind of constituency we have. Some of us have to spend much more time travelling. Some of us may have a relatively greater volume of immigration casework to do. Any discussion of balance shouldn't reflect just one political party, not just because it shouldn't reflect only one party's political interests but also because it shouldn't reflect just one regional type of perspective. It should be a conversation that is inclusive.

Sometimes when we see the policy decisions of this government, it strikes us that there isn't really an appreciation of the dynamics happening in more rural parts of Canada, and that's across the board. That's something that needs to be taken into consideration when we think about the kinds of balance and the kinds of activities involved in representation for all members of Parliament. That's why it's important for us to ensure that as we undertake discussions of what balance looks like, we have a greater level of that full engagement.

Mr. Chair, I don't want to put members on the spot here, but I notice that there's a declining number of members at the table. I'm open to a brief suspension, if that is what members want.

I'm happy to continue with my remarks, but we have a pretty small number of members at the table right now.

(1245)

The Chair:

Ruby.

Ms. Ruby Sahota:

On a point of order, as long as members are in the room they can hear the debate. I don't see what the issue is. Last night we went through this with opposition members who were not sitting at the table and were not listening to the speakers speak. This is something that will occur after two days.

I don't think there's any reason to suspend.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

And we certainly don't need to. I was just making the point that if there are discussions that are happening that respect how we can move forward in a more collaborative way, then we can suspend to allow those discussions to happen. But if that's not something the government is interested in, I have no problem continuing.

The Chair:

I appreciate your raising that, but it doesn't seem at this time necessary. But any time you want to raise that, do, because sometimes we do need to break for discussions.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Sure. Okay.

Ms. Ruby Sahota:

I'm sure someone on your side might bring in McDonald's again, and we may as well all get up, so we'll have that consideration for each other.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I understand Mr. Bittle was tweeting his concern that the health minister might object to the consumption of McDonald's, but I would just say it's a harm-reduction measure.

Ms. Ruby Sahota:

Where do you find the time to be on Twitter as much as you do?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

That's what I do after 3 a.m., when the committee suspends.

Certainly, Mr. Chair, members are welcome to be where they want in the room; I don't mean to dictate to members on that point at all. I just want to make sure that we're taking advantage of the opportunities to have discussions about some next steps here, because it would be worthwhile for the government to see the logic of what we're doing, and to work with us to facilitate study and discussion of these issues in a way that is properly collegial and properly inclusive of the broad range of perspectives that we have in front of us. In the absence of that amendment, that is not happening, so I think that's something that we need to see at some point. Whether we see the government go through that process of introspection and change after a day or after a month, it's going to have to happen at some point, because the way in which they are proposing to bring about change is just so fundamentally unacceptable to those of us in the opposition.

We recognize the importance of the role that we have as elected members of Parliament who speak on behalf of their constituents, but also as an opposition that has a responsibility for framing the public conversation and that has different tools for calibrating the intensity of our response. Sometimes we support legislation and proposals the government brings forward and sometimes we object, but we object in a way that allows the process to proceed, and very rarely do we stand up, or in the present case sit down, and say, “The government is trying to do something that is fundamentally unacceptable to the way that our democratic processes work.” That is something that we in the Conservative caucus are deeply committed to—and I know that Mr. Christopherson spoke very forcefully about this last night as well, that the NDP caucus is also deeply committed to this. I don't know if he gave the barnburner at caucus that he promised, where everyone was on the roof—

Mr. David Christopherson: Well, they're still on the ceiling, as I promised

Mr. Garnett Genuis: They're still on the ceiling. Okay.

I want to continue, in the context of this discussion paper from the government House leader, by speaking to the second point that was given in terms of rationale for the changes that the House leader wants to bring forward, and that is, she spoke about this issue of encouraging unrepresented segments of society to seek elected office.

It is not at all clear to me how the efforts of the government to effectively neuter the opposition, to turn the opposition into more of an audience than a part of the process, would somehow encourage under-represented segments of society to seek elected office. I think what people look for when they consider whether or not to seek a career in public office is the opposite. What they look for is a sense that they will be able to meaningfully contribute to the process, regardless of what part of the House of Commons they're in. I think it would probably be harder to recruit someone to run for public office if you had to tell them, “Well, if you're in the opposition, the government is basically going to do whatever they want, and you don't have any tools at your disposal.” I think that might be the sort of thing that would discourage people from running for public office if they had to grapple with the fact that our rules had been changed unilaterally in a way that did not actually allow for the meaningful engagement of the opposition in the ongoing process. That's my general view about how the proposed changes by the government would impact this question of under-represented segments of society seeking elected office.

(1250)



However, it's striking that despite making that assertion—as is typical of the government's rhetorical style of throwing out these concepts without actually ever explaining their relationship to the fundamental objectives, which is to weaken the role of members of Parliament and strengthen the power of the Prime Minister's Office and the House leader and the cabinet—they make absolutely no attempt to explain the relationship between that reference to under-represented segments of society seeking elected office and what they're actually in a substantive way trying to do through the way they proceed.

Moving on from that, there's further discussion of what constitutes modernization. The discussion report says: Modernization of the rules of the House also includes ways to improve the functioning of committees. It has been frequently noted that it is in committees that the substantive work of Parliament is done, and where a significant share of a Member’s parliamentary work takes place. While committees continue to function effectively, there are merits to examining ways to improve not only their effectiveness, but also their inclusivity.

That again speaks to the dissonance in some of the government's rhetorical tone in the context of this discussion paper and the reality of what they are trying to do. They are not creating more inclusive committees. What they are seeking to do through this process, in the absence of the amendment, is to create the context in which the government can unilaterally impose things on the opposition with respect to the kinds of decisions that are made, and to do so without, then, opposition members having the normal processes that are available to them such as being able to talk about their concerns.

How is it more inclusive for the kinds of interventions and the length of interventions members could make, especially when the government House leader explicitly acknowledges in her comments on these remarks that committee members generally develop a significant degree of expertise in the topics before them? The proposed time limits for committee are actually 10 minutes, which is less than.... Well, of course, the time limits in the House vary, depending on the type of measure before the House, but every bill has a period of time for 20-minute speeches.

There's actually a provision in the House for unlimited time on certain kinds of measures. I can't quite remember exactly, but I believe that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, in certain situations if not in every situation, but certainly the mover of a government motion and certainly the person who immediately responds to the government motion has unlimited time. Unilaterally, this government wants to make changes to the Standing Orders that would place greater restrictions on the ability of members of Parliament to make long interventions in committee than in the chamber of the House of Commons. One of the things this suggests to me is that, in the process of moving unilaterally, the government is doing it rather sloppily. They haven't even reflected upon the fact there is this dissonance with the existing Standing Orders, which do permit 20-minute speeches in certain cases and unlimited time in certain cases, while they would propose to severely limit the time available for discussion at committee.

How in the world would that make committees function more effectively? In what world does that increase effectiveness or inclusivity? Certainly if the government's goal, as it seems to be with respect to the amendment and the motion, is to just get through committee work as quickly as possible, to transform committees from meaningful, deliberative bodies into rubber stamps, if that's their metric of effectiveness, then we can see where they're going. Of course, effectiveness is a concept that can be very much in the eye of the beholder. It seems that every time the government talks about effectiveness, they don't mean effectiveness from the perspective of the health and vitality of the institution; they mean effectiveness from the perspective of the interests of one particular set of actors, not even being the entire government caucus but being those on the front bench, the Prime Minister, the government House leader, and their fellow travellers.

(1255)



A less slippery term than “effectiveness”, though, is “inclusivity”. Transparently, what the government is talking about doing is not enhancing inclusivity with respect to committees. Although they have contemplated a provision with respect to independence, they've applied the same point to parliamentary secretaries with respect to committees. This raises some real and obvious problems, where on the one hand the government takes this holier-than-thou stand of saying they're not going to place parliamentary secretaries on committees, but then afterwards says they're going to create a defined role for parliamentary secretaries, in addition to that of the members they already have there.

There's a legitimate debate about what role parliamentary secretaries should have on committees. I know that it was the practice of the previous government to have parliamentary secretaries as members of committees, but I think what those who objected to that practice were objecting to was not the fact that the parliamentary secretary had a vote, but the fact that the parliamentary secretary was, from their perspective, in some way impeding, as a spokesman of the government, the independent functioning of the committee. Yet when you reinsert the parliamentary secretary into the committee as an additional member doing everything short of voting, all you've done is add an additional non-voting member to the committee. The principal power of the parliamentary secretary at a committee isn't the fact that they can cast a vote; it is the ability that they might have to influence other members on behalf of the government.

Mr. David Christopherson: Exactly.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: We see this a lot. It's ironic that this government ran on the slogan of “real change”, because there never was change that was more unreal—and not unreal in the good sense—than the way in which they talk about changes and their supposed desires to reform our institutions. You can say they're “real changes”, but they're not real changes in the direction that most Canadians envision them happening, and they're not real changes in line with what the discussion paper refers to.

There are some points I would like to address with respect to the management of the time of the House. The discussion paper draws a comparison between different legislatures as I think a basis for implying that they would like to get rid of Friday sittings. They note that many provincial legislatures do things differently. They don't have five sitting days a week.

There is an exception, that being the United Kingdom.

Of course, it needs to be mentioned and actually is noted later in the discussion paper that we have far more members than any provincial legislature. This reflects the fact that we are a large, geographically dispersed country.

The discussion paper notes an exception, that being the United Kingdom, which does sit on some Fridays, and I don't think it's a coincidence that the United Kingdom's is also a very large legislature. When you have more members of Parliament—as Mr. Chan mentions, yes, the United Kingdom is twice our size—when you have larger legislatures, in the case of Canada or in the case of the U.K., I think it is sensible that we acknowledge that, yes, there is a different set of operating procedures that would make sense in that context to ensure that all members of Parliament can be heard.

(1300)



In my home province of Alberta, there are 87 MLAs, and so the kinds of rules that would require that all 87 MLAs have an opportunity to speak on behalf of their constituents might naturally be different from the kind of rules we require here to ensure that all 338 sitting members of Parliament have an opportunity to speak on behalf of their constituents. That is fairly intuitive, and so when the government tries to create this justification, this basis for unilaterally moving in this direction by making comparisons with other legislatures, they do so without meaningfully acknowledging that different legislatures operate under different realities, and one clear difference in the realities under which they operate is the number of members of Parliament who are there.

There are some other differences with the British parliament that I want to speak about later on in the context of the way in which the House manages its schedule.

I did my master's degree in the United Kingdom, so I have a bit of a sense of our having similar institutions in a general sense while also having very different political cultures. When the government tries to justify unilaterally moving in a certain direction simply to reflect procedures that have been undertaken in the U.K., we should stop and acknowledge the different bases for the different standing orders that exist because of the important and very real differences in our political cultures, differences that are evident to members who have spent substantial amounts of time in the U.K.

The discussion of the management of time in this paper goes on to speak about how the House of Commons sits many more days and hours each year than provincial and territorial legislatures. That is true, of course, but it reflects the reality that we have more members of Parliament.

The other issue about the way this deals with Friday sittings is the tone and attitude that this discussion paper takes—and this is striking to me—with respect to the way we govern private members' business. The alternative being proposed with respect to Fridays is that, while it could be turned into a sitting day like any other, having two hours of private members' business at the end of the day could allow some members to leave early to travel to their ridings. I don't know if this was intentionally said in that way, but it's a clear expression of the government House leader, it seems to me, that somehow private members' business is less important than government orders, and that of course members might be much more willing to leave early to go home to their ridings if it were just private members' business at the end of the day.

Private members' business is critically important. A private member's bill could certainly become law, and we have private members' bills that make very dramatic changes to our national life, with much more limited debate. The Standing Orders we have prescribe only two hours of debate at second reading before the first vote occurs. It would be very rare that government legislation would move forward with the same limited debate, and there is no provision for questions and comments during private members' business except for the mover of the motion.

The government wants, to judge by the way they are proceeding and their rejection of our amendment, to unilaterally make changes that already clearly reflect a certain attitude toward private members' business. They want to do it in a way that would allow them to change the rules of private members' business. That is something we should find very concerning, especially because of the precedent it sets. When we speak about private members' business, we can refer to all kinds of rules in the Standing Orders that clearly prescribe the structure of private members' business. The intent is to protect private members from the games that a government might want to play, which negatively impact their privileges as members of Parliament to bring forward legislation that is important to them and reflects the priorities of their communities.

(1305)



I think members will be familiar with these rules. The ability to bring forward a private member's bill is based on a random draw, not by party. The order that unfolds for the proposing of private members' bills is based on a random draw. There's a provision for members to trade these spots among themselves, but members can put forward those bills. They are allocated on the basis of a draw. These come to a vote. If these bills pass second reading and are referred to committee but are not considered by that committee in a certain period of time—I can't remember off the top of my head exactly what that period of time is—there is provision for their automatic referral back to the House.

Now, these Standing Orders were developed I think in the collective wisdom of the House to protect that important role that private members have, to ensure they are meaningfully able to bring forward legislation in a way that doesn't involve game playing. You could imagine that in the absence of the automatic referral provision, if the government didn't like a private member's bill, they would stack the committee with those who were like-minded with respect to that private member's bill, and then the committee would simply fail to consider that bill. Again, in their wisdom, the Standing Orders, reflecting the collective wisdom of our history in the development of them and of our institutions, insulate against that fact.

I would not want to set a precedent that the government can unilaterally, without achieving the kind of unanimous support that our amendment speaks of, change the process of private members' bills, because this would be the thin edge of the wedge. First they're saying, okay, well, we are changing it so that we have private members' bills at the end of the day on Friday so people can go home. That's the tone of the discussion here. But if we establish a precedent, if we undo what to this point has been a convention, which is for the broader engagement of members of Parliament in considerations about these kinds of things, then it becomes much easier for the government to go the next step.

This is the important thing to consider about private member's business, about every aspect of our institutions. Even with good intentions perhaps, when we undo conventions of the way in which decisions are made, we have to think not only about whether this is something we want to do right now for our immediate purposes; we have to think about the implications more broadly, more long term, for the health of those institutions. What will the likely impact of that be over time if a future government—or if later on this same government—tries to do what they perceive as further modernization, as further steps, that have the effect of further undermining and showing further disrespect for the important role that members are supposed to have in the context of private members' business? That's something that concerns me when I see the kind of language being used with respect to this whole issue.

(1310)



Now, further in the discussion paper, I do want to reflect on a separate point about this issue of the way in which votes take place. I shared some thoughts last night about the broader questions of electronic voting. I am not saying I'm opposed to electronic voting, but that we need to have a discussion on its implications and to ensure that those discussions unfold in a framework in which we cannot have the government moving unilaterally. That is because if, in the context of that discussion, we discover that electronic voting reduces the willingness of members of Parliament to vote differently from the government because they feel they can simply follow the government in a relatively more anonymous way—I'm not saying that would be our conclusion, but if that were our conclusion—then the government might say, “Hey, that's a great idea; let's proceed with it then”, even if other members were saying, “No, that's not what we want to have happen at all”. If we go down the road of doing further study on an issue, I think we need to have a bit of a sense of what the implications of that would be, and we're not seeing that clarity here at all.

In terms of the time of votes, it says: Ringing of the bells and the taking of recorded divisions is a time-consuming exercise. Electronic voting would permit each Member to record their vote and then resume other political and constituency work.

What's striking to me about this is that there are many aspects of our responsibilities that consume time, but it's not a sufficient basis to critique a practice by saying that it is consuming time. More importantly, a practice should only be critiqued if it is consuming time unnecessarily or improperly.

I see a great deal of value in the way in which we do recorded divisions. Of course, I'm open to a discussion about how these might be done differently, but the way in which we vote is an important way that members of Parliament stand up publicly and are counted clearly and visibly. With Canadians increasingly watching what we do on social media and participating in those conversations online, I think that is something that is much more immediate and practical to them. Certainly, I have shared video of members of Parliament voting, and I know other members have too. Just from tracking the response that those things get on social media, there does seem to be a real level of engagement and interest.

Indeed, there is a transparency to the kind of public approach we take with respect to recorded divisions. There is a transparency to that, which certainly still exists in a certain sense around electronic voting, but not in the same clearly identifiable and visible way. This is something that requires discussion and is a legitimate thing for us to study as a committee, but we need to make sure, if we go down that road of studying it, that ultimately the conclusion about how we proceed will be made on the basis of the public interest, not on the basis of the interests of one particular player within the process. That is the difference here. That is what should be happening, and that is not what will happen unless the amendment that has been put forward is supported and endorsed.

Again, I see the value of this discussion of the Standing Orders, but it has to be done in a context that respects the integrity of those institutions and the integrity of the processes by which those institutions have traditionally developed and evolved and changed over time.

The question of the House calendar is another issue that will be a part of this study and is, therefore, informed by the amendment and the process of study envisioned here. This is a matter that I did not have a chance to discuss yesterday. This House calendar section seems to envision expanding the number of weeks in which the House sits.

(1315)



It speaks of having the House sit earlier in January, later in June, and earlier in September. There is no mention here of sitting in July and August, but there is mention of expanding the sittings in three months of the year: January, June, and September. In the case of January, we have almost no sittings—I guess sometimes we sit on the 31st—and in the case of the other months, they are less than the full month.

What we have is the government proposing, on the one hand, that we reduce the number of days we sit, and on the other hand that we expand the number of weeks we sit. It would probably be appropriate to reflect a bit on the implication that the change they are advocating would have for the carbon footprint of members of Parliament. What presently happens, with the House sitting five days a week, is that members can come here and stay for a longer period of time at once, and then those who live outside of driving distance would fly home. What the government is envisioning doing here is creating a dynamic in which members of Parliament sit for shorter weeks at a time but a larger number of shorter weeks, so there is a lot more flying back and forth involved. I do enjoy those red-eye flights, Mr. Chair, but we need to acknowledge the impacts they would have on our environment, something that seemed to be important, at least verbally, in terms of the comments of government members.

Also, there is the impact on the effectiveness of our work, when we have more starting and stopping as opposed to the continuation of the work of the House for a certain time.

I think we could continue with our current system for Friday and other sittings. When members of Parliament are coming all the way from British Columbia, Alberta, and the Maritimes, as well as from places that are relatively close but still not that close, they are staying here for a longer period of time to do their work, rather than coming for shorter periods of time but more often. That's potentially a sensible way to proceed.

The way in which we traditionally approach the House calendar—as far as I recall the Standing Orders, and I could be wrong on this—I don't think there is anything to preclude sittings at some of the times that have been mentioned: earlier in September, later in June, and a different time in January. The sense is that the way it happens now is through conversation among the House leaders. Perhaps the whips are involved as well, but there are conversations among representatives of parties, sometimes also involving those who are not members of recognized parties, and then the presentation of a House calendar that reflects the agreement, the considered judgment of the people who represent all of the caucuses. That's the kind of unfolding of the development of the House calendar that normally occurs.

Again, this is a unilaterally introduced document, which, in the context of the motion and in the absence of—

(1320)

Ms. Filomena Tassi:

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Go ahead, Filomena.

Ms. Filomena Tassi:

I have great respect for the content of what the member is suggesting here, but the word “unilaterally” keeps being used, and I want to draw the attention of the committee to what the motion actually says. The motion we have before us is talking about expanding the discussion of what—

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Can I make a point of order on a point of order?

Ms. Filomena Tassi:

—the committee is already seized with. This is about broadening the discussion and getting it going, and the comments that are being made by the member and that we've heard over the last few days are the exact things we would be studying if we passed this motion. I just want to be clear that this motion is about broadening the discussion. It's not about unilateral changes.

Mr. David Christopherson:

On a point of order, I'd also like to jump in on this.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis, do you want to speak on the point of order, or do you want to wait until Mr. Christopherson goes?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I was just going to say that I don't know if that's a point of order, but if Ms. Tassi wants to make a substantive comment, I'm happy to do what we did previously with regard to Mr. Simms and have unanimous consent given to allow her to do that. I just don't know if points of order are the proper structure for that to happen.

Mr. David Christopherson:

First off, I don't think it's a point of order, because a point of order means that something is out of order. What we have is a member who disagrees with what someone else is arguing, and that's debate.

I'd like you to rule on that first. If you rule that it is a legitimate point of order, then I'd like to comment on that.

The Chair:

Well, we've been pretty flexible on comments in the meetings.

Mr. David Christopherson: Yes.

The Chair: I'm not going to change that. Go ahead.

Mr. David Christopherson:

That's fine. I've benefited from your willingness to use some discretion, so I won't say anything about that.

I would disagree with my honourable colleague: there is no existing study. We have not started studying the rules. There is only a standing order for us to review during the Parliament. As for the actual beginning of that process, it hasn't begun.

I would argue that the member is exactly right in saying that the government is unilaterally trying to decide how that process will take place, the time frame, and even what the parameters of the discussion will be—none of which this committee has talked about in terms of our obligation to review the Standing Orders once every Parliament.

The Chair:

Okay.

Mr. Genuis, you're back on your....

Yes, Mr. Kmiec, very quickly.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

On that point of order, Mr. Chair, I've been participating here for five hours. Things started at 10 a.m. yesterday, and you've added however many hours today. I think this committee has been very collegial in the way it's behaved so far, which I've really appreciated. This discussion is not one that I really get to participate in all that often at the other committees I serve on.

Typically we've been very deferential to Mr. Simms when he's wanted to intervene. He usually raises a point of order. I think we can continue that process. If members have very specific disagreements, I think raising a point of order makes the chair understand that you want to take the floor, maybe disagree for a few minutes, and then let colleagues continue making the point that needs to be made.

I think that's a great system, and it works very well.

(1325)

The Chair:

Okay.

Mr. Genuis, you can carry on.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

That's not how you pronounce my name, Mr. Chair, but “Genius” is....

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Chair:

Okay, but on a point of order, we've asked for your pronunciation and you won't provide it.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I think the government has been more than clear on this point. I'll just say that I'll be happy to answer any questions that the Ethics Commissioner has on that point.

An hon. member: In the fullness of time.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: In the fullness of time, yes.

I'm going to give my staffer a raise for all this food he's given me. This is great.

Mr. Scott Simms: That's in Hansard now.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: That's in Hansard? Okay, well, motion to strike from Hansard....

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

An hon. member: The jury will disregard.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Yes, please.

Before I get back to the point I was discussing, I'll just respond to the intervention by Ms. Tassi. I certainly appreciate both her work here and her comments now. The substance of her intervention, though, is fairly similar to ones we've heard from the government before, which is to verbally acknowledge the importance of this conversation and then to say, well, let's just proceed with the study and do that.

Of course, though, as the member knows, the present matter for debate before us is not the question of whether or not to proceed with the study. It's the question of whether or not to proceed with the amendment. The amendment speaks to a process by which this discussion would be undertaken and a process by which ultimately a decision would be made on the best way to proceed.

We hear often, from members of the government, let's just bracket the discussion of process and let's skip on to that discussion of the substance.

The Chair: Yes, Ms. Block.

Mrs. Kelly Block (Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, CPC):

Mr. Chair, I'm just joining the discussion, but on a point of order, is this committee being televised?

The Chair:

No.

Mrs. Kelly Block:

I do have a number of constituents who are following this, and even I wanted to be able to follow it from my office, as did a number of colleagues. Is there a plan to televise any of these meetings?

The Chair:

We haven't had any discussion on that.

Mrs. Kelly Block:

Can we?

Can I have unanimous consent to place the motion?

Some hon. members: No.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Really? And now you're not even going to let the television cameras in. Holy smokes, even Harper didn't do that.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis, you're on.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

One of the positive sequelae of this committee is the emerging appreciation Mr. Christopherson seems to have for Mr. Harper. I think that's certainly a welcome development.

Mr. David Christopherson:

[Inaudible—Editor] by a lot of Canadians.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I know.

Mr. David Christopherson: You would know.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: For sure. I think maybe we'll get on to recognizing that after the government finally agrees to support our amendment. I will just say with regard to the discussion that just occurred, it is disappointing that members of the government are not willing to allow unanimous consent to televise these proceedings. I think it probably reflects the fact that they know that Canadians are very engaged with this conversation at a time when there are a lot of issues of importance out there. Canadians are specifically engaged on the issue of the amendment. I'll just provide some support for that.

I've been speaking so far for an hour and a half today. I mentioned earlier that before I started I posted a Facebook live video, which admittedly was of fairly suspect technical quality. It already has 124 shares from my Facebook page. There are 124 shares on a video speaking about a procedural matter on an amendment that the procedure and House affairs committee is discussing, but one that I think speaks fundamentally to Canadians' sense of the fairness of our institution and the way in which these conversations have to proceed. Canadians are clearly engaged in this conversation and are looking for those opportunities to rebroadcast those conversations. There are some very good comments coming in with respect to these amendments from people who are posting comments.

Bryan Buck says, “They were never given a mandate to change parliamentary procedure.” That is a good point. There is no mandate for the way in which the government wants to proceed with respect to this. There's not a section in the Liberal platform that says the government is going to run roughshod over our parliamentary institutions and try to make changes to the way Parliament works without allowing opposition to be effectively engaged in the discussion. There wasn't a section that said that anywhere in the Liberal platform.

Bryan Buck goes on to say, “We know the Liberals do not want input from Canadians, but to take away the voice that we have is underhanded.” I think the way they have proceeded here certainly is underhanded. I don't think it reflects the way we expect the House to operate, which is that we make changes to the underlying rules of the House only in a way that reflects a consensus of the political parties, so that they do not make that narrowly respond to their specific interests.

We have a comment from Ed Gaschnitz that “The gov't needs to remember that they work FOR us. We essentially hired them. I call what they are doing insubordination. Insubordination in the real world results in termination in many instances.”

These are a couple of the many comments that I'm getting on my Facebook page with respect to the efforts of the government, and I'll use the word even if some members of the government may not like it unilaterally. So we're seeing high levels of engagement with this issue on social media and in correspondence we're receiving in our offices. I'm sure the government members are receiving the same degree of engagement and response in their offices. We are hearing and receiving those messages; and yet in response to a very good suggestion from Ms. Block about televising these proceedings so that the Canadians who are already very engaged with the process can follow it more closely, government members were not willing to allow that to proceed.

The reality of course is that Canadians are following this. They can follow this other ways. They can listen to the audio, and I know that members of our esteemed press corps are following this issue closely as well and will be sharing the details of the conversation with Canadians in the various ways that they can.

(1330)



Not allowing the televising of these proceedings is not even a very effective way of shutting out the sunlight. It does speak to the government's response, which I think is concerned about the level of engagement from Canadians but not responding to it in the correct way.

I think the correct way to respond to that level of engagement from Canadians would be to listen and to seek a way forward that supports the amendment, that allows the discussion to take place. I think that would be the right way forward and the right way to respond to the public engagement and pressure we are seeing from people on this issue.

I wanted to come back to the point Ms. Tassi made before we got into this discussion of how we broadcast these proceedings. Her points were to object to the use of the word “unilateral” on the basis that the government is really seeking to provoke a discussion at the committee. We can be certain they are trying to be unilateral in the way in which this study is constructed.

That doesn't bode particularly well for the way they will proceed down the line. Yes, it might be that despite rejecting an amendment requiring unanimity that they come around after the fact and say they would not proceed with the recommendations if they didn't have the support of the opposition. Being more realistic, if it were their intention to listen to the opposition, to not proceed in a unilateral way, and to have a more fulsome level of parliamentary engagement in the process, then why would they not simply support our amendment?

If Ms. Tassi and other members representing the government on this committee do not like us to refer to them as acting unilaterally, then the simple solution is for them to cease to act unilaterally. Then we will cease to use the word, at least in that context.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham: Unilaterally.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Yes, we will unilaterally cease our use of the word “unilaterally” if the government steps back from its unilateralism and embraces the value of consensus when it comes to moving forward with the way we operate with respect to prospective changes to the Standing Orders.

In her intervention, Ms. Tassi also said that we can broaden the discussion and get going on the study. There's a really simple way for us to get going on that study in a way that reflects a broadening of the discussion, and that's for us to move forward with this amendment.

If we have agreement from the government on this amendment then, yes, let's have the conversation about how things work in the Standing Orders. Let's recognize through that conversation what the ground rules are going to be for making a decision.

You cannot simply skip to a discussion of an issue, in some cases, without having that prior discussion of what the ground rules will be with respect to the ultimate making of the decision. That's especially so in this context because if we were to skip that step, if we were not to pass this amendment, then we would be putting in place the conditions that would allow the government to move forward—dare I say it—unilaterally with respect to changes to the Standing Orders.

I think what we see through this whole process is a potential cascading of unilateralism. First of all, they want to pass a motion without an amendment that would allow them to do a study in a way that would not ensure a meaningful role for the opposition. If that allowed to occur, then they could unilaterally propose changes to the Standing Orders.

(1335)



Those changes would have the effect, over the long term, of allowing the government to move legislation forward without meaningful opportunities for the opposition to respond, without sufficient time for debate, without opposition engagement in how the House functions with respect to the allocation of days, and without the opposition having the opportunity to raise those concerns at committee. This is what you might call the three-step potential cascade of unilateral decision-making and centralization of power in the hands of the government.

The first step is this amendment. This amendment is the opportunity for us as members of the opposition to, in a clear way, express our concern and our disagreement with what the government is doing, and to stand our ground on that in defence of our parliamentary institution.

I appreciate comments from the government on that, but in reality, I think the words we have used are fitting to the situation. If the government members would rather I use different words to describe their actions, then I invite them to act in a different way.

Before we moved into this area of discussion, we were talking about the House calendar and the way the House calendar is set. As I noted, of course, the government House leader proposed that we increase the number of weeks the House sits and at the same time reduce the length of each sitting week, reducing the opportunities that exist therein for the government to be challenged and held accountable.

It seems to me, from reading the section of this discussion paper on the House calendar in its totality, that the direction the government is really trying to go here is somewhat different. It talks about the possibility of sitting at other times, but then makes this plea for flexibility in terms of how many sittings the House has in a year, the length of those sittings, and so forth.

The government House leader should know, as I'm sure she does, that flexibility already exists. It's just that the flexibility is presently expressed through consensus, not through unilateral action of the government.

The discussion paper says that the number of sittings should be based on the demand to sit. Well, we're not talking about markets, where demand can be described as an impersonal force that, in a certain sense, has its own ontological status. We're talking about specific actors with specific interests here.

When the discussion paper refers to “demands to sit”, let's ask whose demand it is that the House sits. It seems very clear to me that, in light of the tone taken by the government in this committee and its approach to this amendment, and the other things that are said in this discussion paper, it would understand “demands to sit” purely in terms of the government's desire for the House to sit or not.

This government has a history, for example with respect to its proposal around motion 6 last spring, that the timeline of sittings would be entirely at the discretion of the government. Is that what the House leader means by “demands to sit”? I hope not, but probably, yes it is.

The House does not meet simply to pass government legislation. It meets in order to achieve a whole variety of objectives at once—yes, to deliberate upon legislation and to pass some legislation; but also to provide a forum for the airing of constituent concerns; to provide opportunities for the government to be held to account; to create opportunities for the House to pronounce on motions, which themselves may not have legislative force but may have wider implications for the way in which we proceed; and certainly, if I didn't mention it already, for deliberation and votes on private members' legislation.

(1340)



These are all reasons that the House sits, which is why I think it's important to ask, if one says the House calendar should be changed so that the number of sittings is based on the demands to sit, how that is different from the way we work already. Right now the House is scheduled on the basis of a consensual understanding among the parties of what is appropriate, recognizing the different functions of the House and the different responsibilities it has. If we were to move to a system where demand was somehow adjudicated in a different way, I suspect, if we note the actions of the government across the board, that this would not be demand aggregated in the same sense.

Elsewhere the document refers to the government after it has spoken to people in other parties, which still, obviously, provides the framework in which unilateral action could take place. This is another example where we see, in the draconian way we've seen relatively consistently throughout the life of this government, a proposal for weakening the strength of our institutions. In fact, the final sentence of the section on the House calendar makes the concerns I have reflected on quite explicit. It says: While there are mechanisms to allow the House to sit beyond adjournment dates, they are usually implemented by unanimous consent or by the use of closure.

If changes to adjournment dates are made by unanimous consent, that's obviously a very good way to proceed. We should seek to, as much as possible, proceed within our operations in the House in a way that is unanimous, in a way that is reflective of the consent of the House as a whole. At least in cases where closure or time allocation are used, and certainly there can be inappropriate uses of those things, the current procedure for closure or time allocation has the effect of, in each instance, convening a certain kind of public conversation. It can become an issue for discussion and debate when those things are put forward, but if we were to see a change imposed through this process in this committee, in the absence of the amendment, if we were to see this change pushed forward by the government House Leader, which would allow, without either the accountability mechanisms associated with closure or the really positive types of decision-making processes we see through unanimous consent, that would create some real concerns.

The next section of the discussion paper, which I also neglected to mention in our discussion last night, is the issue of proposed changes to routine proceedings. It's interesting, because the misuse, so-called, of routine proceedings is something we've seen frequently in the activities of this government. We have seen many cases in which, at the beginning of routine proceedings, a member of the government front bench puts forward a motion to proceed to orders of the day. Then we have a vote on it, which, so far, the government has always won, because it has a majority in the House, and it forces the House to move on to orders of the day. We lose the opportunity for routine proceedings, but we also have a vote that takes place that introduces something else into the flow of the day, which maybe creates an issue for committees that are going on, and so forth.

I'll say this to the government. If they have concerns about routine proceedings, this is one form of unilateral action I would find acceptable: cleaning up their own behaviour and not moving motions that restrict the ability of members to do the important parts of their jobs that are part of routine proceedings.

(1345)



It's interesting that they they present certain uses of routine proceedings in the context of the discussion paper as if they are problems, yet these are things the government has done. Again, this is one area where the government can and should act to change its own behaviour to show more respect for members of Parliament. Reforms to the rules governing routine proceedings that go beyond that should obviously be ones that engage the entire cadre of members of Parliament.

Again, the tone here is striking, because in this and other sections we get the sense that the government really does believe that the principal job of Parliament is to provide a stamp for their intended legislation, their intended area of discussion, as opposed to having it exercising its functions in a more fulsome way as a genuine representative body.

The section on routine proceedings speaks of this: The rubric of “Motions” allows Members to move a debatable motion that could, on certain days, deprive the House of the ability to deliberate on the intended item for debate during Government Orders.

First of all, if there are motions that members need to bring forward, the ability to convene debate on that is not unlimited. The government House leader should know—and I'm sure members here would know—that it's not simply the case that any member of the House can propose a motion during routine proceedings that eats up the whole day. There are, of course, opportunities for the government to move to adjourn particular debates. As well, there are provisions they have that allow them to respond to these conversations and to come forward. If members, in the context of routine proceedings, were to move concurrence motions, for example, those have a prescribed time limit in the Standing Orders; I believe it's three hours.

Yes, it means that if the government wants to be discussing a particular legislative initiative for the full day and there is an important committee report, members can't immediately.... First of all, members cannot immediately move concurrence motions. There is a period of time that has to elapse between the tabling by the committee and the presentation of that concurrence motion, and it's not a short period of time. I can't remember exactly what it is, but there is a period of time that has to elapse.

Also, given that the government has a majority on committees, it is unlikely that the government would suddenly start to see a spate of frivolous committee reports as the basis for subsequent concurrence motions. In reality, under the current rules, we see concurrence motions moved relatively rarely in terms of leading to concurrence debates, and oftentimes that does occur with some degree of discussion or advance notice. The House of Commons can and often does work through discussion and collaboration, through consensus among the different actors within it, but this section would seem to imply that there is some grand, grave problem associated with members of Parliament exercising their legitimate prerogative.

If a member wishes to move for a concurrence motion during routine proceedings—interestingly, the last one we had was related to electoral reform issues, which is another case of talking about how our democratic system functions—that debate can occur if the debate is not adjourned, and it can be adjourned. If it's not adjourned, it will proceed for up to three hours. Then, for the remainder of the day, the government has an opportunity to proceed with government orders. Most of the days that we sit are allocated for government orders.

(1350)



I don't see the logic in the suggestion that somehow there is a fundamental problem that a concurrence motion could be moved. Some of the language in this discussion paper doesn't seem to reflect a fulsome awareness of the current practice. The last sentence of this section says: The House should examine different ways to schedule debate on such motions.

Members of the House already have the ability to work collaboratively to identify the times when a concurrence motion could be put forward and to proceed on that basis. The House is not limited in its ability to do almost anything, provided there is a consensus among parties and members of Parliament to proceed in that way. There are virtually no restrictions on the actions we can take via unanimous consent. Certainly, it would often be quite sensible for the appropriate notice to be given and discussion to be had about when a concurrence debate should occur, just as it can happen with respect to take-note debates, emergency debates, and other things of that nature.

We already have a system in place that allows the members of the House to collaborate on issues of scheduling, although perhaps not always on the floor of the House. When the government, in the context of this discussion paper, talks about somehow changing it or doing something different, I think that suggests they want to shift the balance in a way that works to their advantage.

That might not be their intention. They might be looking for ways to strengthen the effectiveness of routine proceedings in good faith, and perhaps there are ideas that can be proposed in that regard, but I'm not convinced there's a need for that. There are other reforms that I think would be helpful with respect to the Standing Orders. There's an opportunity to establish the conditions on which we can have a good, meaningful, and in-depth discussion on the function of routine proceedings and how its supposed to work. However, we should do that in the kind of environment that we have emphasized, one in which there is a consensus among the parties and members on the way to proceed.

The discussion paper speaks about the rubric for private members' business and it makes a proposal that is interesting in adding another rubric, which I suppose means adding another hour or another period of time when we can have debate on private members' business. If we could develop a system that would allow a larger number of private members' bills to be put forward and to be flagged for debate, I think that would certainly be a good thing. Of course, it would be important for all members of Parliament to be engaged in that discussion. I think one question that we should consider is whether to treat private members' motions and private members' bills somewhat differently because we see a large number of private members' motions without legislative force coming to the House, and they may be important and reflect priorities of constituencies. However, when there are private members' bills that come forward....

Mr. Chair, the lights are flashing. Does it mean something?

(1355)

The Chair:

We'll just check. The House is opening.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham: We're missing O Canada.

The Chair: There is a point of order.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Mr. Chair, on a point of order, just for the sake of clarity, are we going to suspend for question period and then return here afterwards?

The Chair:

No.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

That's the best part of private members' bill business.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

It's broken.

The Chair:

Ms. Block.

Mrs. Kelly Block:

On that point of order is there an expectation that this committee will suspend for the budget?

The Chair:

Yes.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Pardon me?

The Chair:

Yes.

Mr. David Christopherson:

But not for QP.

The Chair:

No.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I'm just looking at the clock and seeing the time.

Garnett, I'm going to be safe and call you Garnett, sorry.

Garnett has spent quite a bit of time today and last night and given the amount of refreshment involved, for a refreshing break or whatever it is he desires, could he cede the floor to me with unanimous consent and I can talk for a bit while he has a break?

(1400)

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I would be open to a unanimous motion along the lines we discussed before, in which Mr. Simms would be able to make some substantive comments and then it would go back to me and it wouldn't impede the existing speakers list. I would be open to moving that.

Mr. Scott Simms:

That's what I'm asking.

The Chair:

Is the committee in agreement?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Do you want to finish your thought?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

No, that's okay.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Take another hour.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Okay, I'm going to respond in general to some of the stuff and add some of my own comments. It won't go particularly to Garnett's comments from the last little while.

I want to clear the air about a couple of things that have been said and some of the stuff in the media. It started early this morning with comments about the fact that a discussion paper had been released and that I had moved a motion a short period of time later that had a remarkable resemblance to just that. I could see that if I were in their shoes, I would do the same thing.

To clear the air, I've had several discussions with the House leader's office—her in particular, and her staff—over the past few months, especially since the take-note debate of October 6. Three days prior to her releasing the discussion paper, I had seen it, I had made my input to it, and it was released. At the same time, prior to its coming out, I also decided to do the motion, and we decided to put this in. I liked what she had said. I liked the general themes. As I said, I added my input and then drafted my own motion. I just want to put that to rest.

With some of the other stuff we've been talking about, let me go back to the beginning. The whole idea was to have this discussion paper so we could find ourselves in a position where we would have this debate. I understand that people don't like the timeline. I think we've had quite a bit of debate over the past while, from October 6, from all that we've said in the past little while—and it's been quite a bit. I thought that was a fantastic debate then, and I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that we have this report done by June. We can extend the hours, which is in my motion, as we see fit.

On some of the ideas I've put in the motion that the opposition has issues with, the biggest one, of course, is the lack of Friday sittings. In no way, shape, or form was the genesis of my problem with Friday the fact that we were working on Fridays. Look, I have a riding that's far away. I spend 10 to 15 hours a week in airports and airplanes to come to and fro. I work in my riding on Friday.

Again, as I said last night, I am not going to insinuate that anybody doesn't work in their riding. That's a non-starter, for all MPs—all 338 of us. My concern is when Scott Reid and others make the point that people show up to work on Friday and we should too. People don't show up to work for a half day; they show up for a full day. My problem is not about working on Friday; my problem is that Friday does not seem to me to be a productive day at all. There's a bit of productivity on Fridays, like some of the question period stuff, but not all of the ministers are there and the Prime Minister is not there—not just the current one, but other prime ministers too. That's always been the convention and practice.

I must say that I have enjoyed some of the debates on private members' bills that have taken place on Friday. That's really the only stuff I can recall. There's no committee work on Friday, and it's a shortened day. That's why I'm saying we have a choice. We have a choice here to have a full debate about what we do with Fridays. Do we take it and we...? If the opposition does not want to get rid of Fridays, then let's do the full day and make it a decent amount of work. If we're here, let's get it done. We spend long hours here. Let's get the work done and not pretend that Friday is out there as a half day that's not very productive.

I'll leave it at that. That's my point on that particular situation.

I'm very interested in the opposition's views. I notice now, as time goes on, that it's starting to come out, and I.... Listen, I enjoyed Scott Reid's submission. I enjoyed Garnett's submission. Even when he got into the Magna Carta, I thought to myself, that's not bad: “He's new and he's waxing on about the Magna Carta.” I must say, it was nothing short of impressive.

And, of course, there's Mr. Christopherson, whom I have known for quite some time. How do I say this? I understand his angst about all of this, but I just want him and others to know that despite the insinuation that we don't want this consensus, in fact, we do. We want to have it. I want to have this debate about all of these things, and I wanted to start with this discussion paper to get things going as ideas. I've said it before, and I say it again.

(1405)



Scott Reid brought up some points about the omnibus legislation, in asking how the Speaker can do what is discussed here in the paper. I think he has a valid point, and I think we can do this again. We can have this debate, but in no way, shape, or form would I say with a straight face to the opposition, “You shouldn't be doing this filibuster.” That would be disingenuous—no offence to you—to the greatest extent. I filibustered. I was there. I get that.

I hope that at some point soon we can come to a resolution by which we can embark on this, even though, in a way, we already have. I am enjoying it, and I'm listening. I'm not just sitting here waiting for you to expire at the end of the day and run out of speakers. I hope this can come to a vote. I know we're on the amendment right now, not on the main motion. I hope we can work something out.

I see that Garnett seems to be....

Are you ready, sir?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

To continue?

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Oh, yes.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Could I respond with a much shorter version of an intervention? It's just a couple of lines.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes, absolutely. Go ahead.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I was just going to say that I understand that Mr. Simms is trying to present this as reasonable. It can be made reasonable. I think we could get there, but not while you are refusing to relinquish this idea that the government itself has the unilateral right to change the rules. That is a non-starter.

First of all, that doesn't exist right now. There were a few times, one-off changes in history, when there was a majority vote by the government of the day. Fair enough, but in terms of any of the reviews, unless somebody shows me something to the contrary, I have not seen a single report suggesting that the government maintains or has that unilateral right. They never passed any of those reports that way.

Scotty, you and I have a great history and a lot of respect for each other, so we can talk this way. Everything you say has an element of common sense to it. I accept that, but it doesn't work when you're superimposing on it your desire to grab this power, which you do not have right now.

I have to tell you that there's no way any of us on the opposition benches are going to agree that 39% of the vote means that you get 100% of the power to unilaterally change the rules of the Standing Orders of the House. That's how we make laws. That part of it makes it impossible.

If you and your colleagues can find a way to get off that dime, then there may be some room for us to talk about some of the other things, but as long as you remain resolute in opposition to this motion or any compromise that might be found if we had those discussions.... You know what I'm talking about. In the absence of that, everything you're saying is negated by your wanting the unilateral—and it is the right word—right to impose your majority, which you got with less than 40% of the vote, to directly change the rules on how we make laws, in the face of opposition from other members. My friend, that is now and will remain a non-starter and a deal breaker.

If we can find our way past that, we at least have a fighting chance to get toward the kind of environment you're talking about that reflects how we normally do things.

Thank you very much for the opportunity.

The Chair:

We'll go back to Garnett.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you for those interventions. It certainly provides some food for thought.

Let's go over the key points from the exchanges.

Mr. Simms spoke a little about the question of what level of coordination might have occurred between him and the House leader with respect to the writing of this motion and how this discussion proceeded. I have no way of knowing who said what to whom and I have no reason to principally doubt the broad direction of Mr. Simms' account; however, I got the impression that what happened yesterday was that, rightly or wrongly, members of the government who were here in this committee were starting to see the value of the arguments that we were making, not just with respect to some of the discussion around what is actually contained in the Standing Orders but also with respect to the way in which we operate and the way in which this study would operate and the importance of the amending conditions.

Therefore, we did suspend, and I think initially it was envisioned to be for 20 minutes, but it stretched out to being more than an hour. There were conversations that took place, and in the end, the feedback that members received—from where, who knows, but I might speculate—was that actually we have to do this because the government is not prepared to take on board the amendment that we had proposed. It may well have been something where members of this committee on the government side actually thought that yes, this is a good conversation or study to have, but listening to the arguments made by opposition members, I think many of them have become convinced of something that others within their party have not yet been convinced of, which is that it is necessary and right that we proceed with the discussion of this issue in the context of the amendment that has been put forward.

It's all well and good for members of the government to say that this is a study which they are interested in and would like to have, but we have yet to get clarity on the reasons that members of the government are opposed to our amendment. Perhaps at some point they will take the opportunity to actually lay that out, because although those haven't been long interventions, I think there have been opportunities for most of the members of the government seated here to make interventions at some point to express their views on the subject.

I have tried to delineate between questions of process and questions of substance with respect to the Standing Orders and make the argument that, given the importance of the substance and given the fact that all of the substance of what we do as members of Parliament on behalf of our constituents depends on the rules that shape how we operate, we need to have a discussion of those rules in a way that is fair, that is inclusive, to use the language of the discussion paper, and that represents all the voices that members of Parliament bring to the table from different parties.

Therefore, that process discussion needs to precede the substance discussion, and I think Mr. Simms should take that on board in the context of his motion. I think our amendment would strengthen his motion and strengthen the study that would take place in the context of it.

(1410)



This is more the question with respect to whose idea this was, not just about the motion itself, but also about the strategy that the government has pursued up to this point, which is to refuse to support the very legitimate and important amendment that we've put forward.

Mr. Simms spoke about this question of Fridays, responding to some of the comments that I and others on this side of the table, both opposition parties, have made with respect to Friday sittings. It is striking that he describes Friday as not being that productive a day. We've had these comments made by government members, by the government House leader, that for moments show the mentality that exists there, which is that the principal way productivity is measured is by the extent to which we are moving forward with the process of government legislation.

It is a fact that Fridays, not compared to Wednesdays, but compared to Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, have a reduced number of hours set aside for government orders, but we have a full question period and we have a full period for discussion of private members' business.

Mr. Simms has served in opposition and so he would, I think, particularly understand the importance of that Friday question period. Generally speaking, it's a day on which some members of Parliament need to be in their ridings and elsewhere, and it provides a particular opportunity for members of Parliament who may be less active during question period in other times of the week to participate in the discussion and pose questions that may particularly reflect personal and local concerns. That is often what we see taking place in Friday's question period, and it is a little different from what happens at other times.

We're also more likely to see parliamentary secretaries as opposed to ministers answering the questions. This has certain advantages as well in the engagement of—of course, parliamentary secretaries are not there to speak on their own behalf; they are there to speak on behalf of the government, but it still creates.... In some sense perhaps it's an audition, to paraphrase the Prime Minister, for those in cabinet and those working hard to join it, but it is an important opportunity for people like Mr. Graham who are eager to get into cabinet to show off their talents.

Mr. Scott Simms: On division.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: On division. Okay.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham: Garnett, I'm right where I want to be.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: I think this speaks to the government's view of Fridays when they talk about the limited productivity on a day when there is less time for government orders, but still important time available for other aspects of discussion.

To more generally respond to the points that Mr. Simms raised in his intervention, we're not disagreeing with the value of having a discussion of the Standing Orders. In the context of this amendment, we are raising something quite specific, which is that there needs to be an understanding as we go forward about how this study will unfold and the way in which recommendations will be developed and whether or not they will respect the position of all members of Parliament in that discussion. That is the question we're evaluating in this amendment.

Certainly the points with respect to the Standing Orders, with respect to the discussion paper, that we have discussed have a resonance in how they illustrate the importance of the engagement of all parties, of all members, in that discussion, the way in which they inform that substructure of our democracy, which is necessary for a strong superstructure of policy development.

(1415)



This is where I disagree with Mr. Simms and likely other members of the government caucus. It is not on every point, but it is with respect to their approach to the amendment and with respect to their intended way of proceeding with this issue.

Before we went down the road of that discussion....

Maybe I'll just ask members again, is there unanimous consent to televise at this point? Has anyone had a change of heart?

(1420)

Mr. David Christopherson:

Agreed.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

I'm very happy to have that motion after we get through this motion.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

There is still no willingness to televise the important discussion that we're having right now. As we've seen on social media and through the good work of those covering this discussion, this is still something that's going to be very much in the public attention, but it is interesting that the government is not interested in making that as accessible as possible.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Let's see if we return to Centre Block after today, too.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

These meetings may end up getting scheduled in Kanata at the rate we're going.

The issue of private members' business is addressed within the discussion paper that the government has put forward. There are plenty of possible changes that could be made to the way we do private members' business. One might be to distinguish between private members' bills and private members' motions and to create avenues for greater debate and a faster movement of the discussion specifically on bills on substantive legislative initiatives that members of Parliament might want to put forward. That would be one option for change.

The important point is that there needs to be an engagement of all parties and all members in this process. We've seen with respect to private members' business a really interesting dynamic on the government side where—and I'm not sure whether this is a function of forms of communication or just the way they intend it to be—very often members of the government propose private members' bills that have more support from the opposition than from the government. I have had a chance to vote in favour of many, I think, good private members' bills that have come from members of the government. I'd have to do an exact count, but I probably have voted for more Liberal private members' bills than the Prime Minister has.

This is why there's a need for engagement of all members in the discussion about private members' business and why we should proceed on the basis of unanimity, which would not only protect the interests of the opposition in a discussion about the form and structure of private members' business, but would also protect the legitimate role and expectation for engagement by members of the government who may, on questions of structure of private members' business, have views that are slightly different from the government caucus, which they are a part of. So that's the issue of private members' business.

I'd like to talk a bit about the issue of prorogation. This is particularly serious because, although it happens on the advice of the prime minister, it is not the prime minister who does it. Prorogation is a crown prerogative. It is not, strictly speaking, the Standing Orders that prescribe crown prerogatives. As much as we wouldn't want to have a system in which our monarch or her representative exercise too much discretion, I think that the weakening of some acknowledgement of the role of the crown in this can have the effect of strengthening the office of the prime minister in a way that we wouldn't want to see.

I was politically active, actually a staffer, at the time of the infamous coalition crisis of 2008, when opposition parties proposed to form a coalition and assume the government. At the time, of course, the prime minister prorogued Parliament. Members will remember the history of this. I think that privately, many Liberals were relieved that Parliament was prorogued because they saw that the public was not reacting well at all to their proposed coalition strategy, and they were not at all sure how their planned collaboration with the New Democrats and the Bloc would work in practice.

Mr. David Christopherson: Do you think they still feel that way?

(1425)



Mr. Garnett Genuis: Perhaps. Who knows what Michael Ignatieff thinks these days about that?

Mr. David Christopherson: We can guess. Never say no to power.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Yes, but the point was that this was a very dynamic time in which Canadians were grappling with and debating questions of how our elections actually work and whether it is appropriate or not for a party that just went through a significant loss of seats to then position itself to be the government, and for a party that only runs candidates in one province to then have a veto effectively over the decision-making of government. These were all questions that Canadians were grappling with. It was not a slam dunk. The Governor General would necessarily at that appointed time prorogue Parliament.

I think she made the right decision. I think it was a decision reflecting what the public was looking for, as well as a decision that reflected the traditions of this place that have evolved. It was a decision that I don't know we could properly describe as being within the full ambit of personal discretion for the Governor General. It was one on which I'm sure she engaged constitutional experts. It was a decision which I think reflected the evolution of our system, but it was ultimately a decision that was not made by the prime minister. It was a decision that was made by the Governor General.

When we contemplate changes to prorogation, and when we think about the way in which those decisions are allowed to take place, I think we have to acknowledge the role of the crown as in some sense a guarantor of our constitutional order in the process of those decisions. Certainly, it seems to me that some of the proposals with respect to prorogation don't seem to properly acknowledge that reality.

I'll draw the attention of members, for example, to the first sentence of the third paragraph in the prorogation section of this discussion paper which says, “One option would be to require that the Government table a document early in the following session that sets out the reasons for proroguing Parliament.”

Now, this idea of having a sort of prorogation ceremony would seem to suggest that this was fully within the discretion of the government, and that's not to say that it could not be undertaken with the proper development of the process. Another concern I have is that this is just the government creating another venue outside the normal orders and processes of the House where they can stand up and try to use the time to justify their own political agenda. The government could pursue prorogation, and having pursued prorogation, could then opt to take the opportunity in Parliament to provide a justification that really they could provide in other formats, and that doesn't need to be provided.

Of course, the discussion paper envisions that happening early in the following session. Very likely this is relatively after the fact anyway. If the government were to choose to prorogue Parliament—let's say they were to do that some time this spring—then, as envisioned by this process of a prorogation ceremony, the follow-up to that, their justification for that, would not happen for months until Parliament resumed. If there were a question about prorogation, certainly having that opportunity to make a statement at some point in the distant future...very likely clear statements would have been made as well.

(1430)



There is a provision for a study to be done at committee, for a report being automatically referred to committee for study, and it could be the subject of debates on supply days. Well, that's very generous, but of course anything can be the subject of debates on supply days. On supply days, the opposition can put forward motions on any topic they wish.

When it comes to the tone of the discussion paper from the government, it is trying to create the impression that the government is offering concessions on things that might be beneficial to the opposition. For those who dig into these rules, it's quite obvious that the government is looking for ways to sort of nod to things that the Liberals thought when they were in opposition, while really moving forward with the draconian approach they envision, which is something that hasn't been done by previous governments, which is seeking to unilaterally make changes without the full engagement of those who should be engaged with this discussion.

I'd like to speak to the issue of the management of debate as it's envisioned in this study and, first of all, about some of the issues around so-called closure or time allocation. Again, we see references here to protocols in the British House of Commons. I think there is an important point that's missed in that comparison, recognizing one of those differences in political culture between the way our democratic system operates and the way their system operates. I'll talk about that in a few minutes, but I think that should be highlighted in terms of the way we proceed with respect to the Standing Orders.

Again, this is a case where the government seems to use, as implied justification for moving in the direction they want to move, that this is something that is done in the British House of Commons and they seem to like it. However, there are important differences. Notwithstanding that our institutions are relatively similar, there are important differences. I'll get to that.

In the first paragraph of this discussion paper, where the government talks about the use of time allocation, it notes the history of it and its controversial nature, and it says that its use has been seen rather disdainfully by the opposition and by the media. Certainly, many members of the current government who now defend the use of time allocation were part of the commentariat that viewed time allocation particularly disdainfully.

It's interesting to think about the way our system operates, because there are formal checks and then there are public opinion checks. There are ways in which the government has the ability to do certain things, but there is an implied sense that if the government goes to certain extremes, these would be the subject of greater public debate, and they would risk a greater backlash. Perhaps an analogous case might be the use of the notwithstanding clause. Although the notwithstanding clause gives the federal government the ability to override certain kinds of decisions of the courts, in practice, governments thus far have been fully reluctant to use it at the federal level, perhaps for a host of reasons. One of them likely is the way in which that would be viewed by the opposition, the media, and the wider public. That's not to say it might not be something that's usable and in some cases legitimately, but it's the sort of thing that would raise more questions than would be raised if it were not used.

The same is true for time allocation, although time allocation has obviously been used much more frequently than the notwithstanding clause. It's one of those things for which the current rules provide fully that the government can do them, but they open a situation in which there is a heightened level of conversation around them, and that's built into the procedure by which the discussion unfolds.

(1435)



As members know, there is a period around the proposal of time allocation where ministers can be asked questions about why they're doing it, and yes, there's an opportunity for public debate and conversation around it. Does that mean the current system is perfect? No, I'm sure there is value in having a discussion here about ways in which that system could be changed, and perhaps we could seek a different kind of calibration between the legitimate competing interests. That calibration first of all should recognize that the system we have already has the push and pull of the institution there, but it also should recognize that improvements cannot be considered real improvements if they are just undertaken to advance the interests of one particular actor within the system.

The time allocation proposal in this discussion paper is essentially one in which the imposition of time allocation would be automatic. The government would decide that a certain number of days would be used. This is completely different from the normal process, in that the government would prescribe a specific number of days or weeks at the committee stage. I only really noticed this reference to the committee stage on my second or third time through this. The Standing Orders at present, as I understand them, provide for time allocation in the chamber, but they don't provide for the allocation of time for study of legislation in committee. Certainly they don't provide for the government House leader, the cabinet, to impose time allocation on a committee. This isn't even a committee itself, through its own deliberations, deciding to impose certain limits on itself in terms of amount of time that would be spent discussing particular items.

We're talking about a significant derogation from the principle that committees are supposed to be masters of their own domain, by introducing a provision that allows the government House leader to automatically, as a matter of course on every item of legislation, say that a committee will only have a day, a week, or a certain period of time to consider a piece of legislation. That is a revolutionary change. That is a significant deviation not only from the way we normally operate but also from the sort of foundational assumptions we have about what committees are supposed to be about.

Committees are supposed to be about providing opportunities for members of Parliament to become expert in particular issues, to study those issues, to drill down more deeply into those issues, and then to engage in a meaningful consideration of them, and yes, a consideration of them that may involve more time than we allow during House debates. Naturally, in controlling the flow of House debates, we have 338 members, and in committee we have nine members, excluding the chair, so obviously there's more allowance for discussion of substantive matters at committee and among people who have a real level of expertise. Even with respect to the time management issue, there is a point here that the committees would be more restricted in terms of the length of an intervention than many House speeches.

The discussion of the management of debate then proceeds to review the experience of programming, or this form of automatic time allocation, in the context of the British House of Commons. While I have a great deal of respect for the British House of Commons and for its operating procedures, of course it doesn't change the fact that there is a legitimate expectation here that the changes we make reflect the consent of the Canadian people and reflect the wide expression of voices of Canadian members of Parliament and of Canadian political perspective in the context of that discussion.

(1440)



There are a few important differences between our system and the British system that would suggest how this automatic time allocation would operate differently. One is the number of members of Parliament. There are twice as many members in the British system, and this probably creates different time pressures than exist in our system, where there are half as many members. That's one aspect of the dynamic we can think about.

Also, it's interesting to reflect on the different processes of candidate selection undertaken in the British system versus our system and the implications of that for expectations of local representation. Obviously, Canada is geographically much larger than the United Kingdom, and expectations for regional representation to some extent vary, even across our country, but we generally select candidates through a process of local nomination elections. We can think of it in some ways as a hybrid between the American system of large-membership open primaries and the British system. Although certain political parties are experimenting with nomination or primary-style contests, the traditional approach to candidate selection in the U.K. has been somewhat different, and I'll mention that in a minute.

Our nominations, because they involve the process of local nomination elections, generally emphasize the ability of a candidate to fully engage with a particular community, to represent that community, to draw support from that community, and then to be elected from that community to speak on behalf of it in Parliament.

The denial of the opportunity for certain members to speak fundamentally limits the voice of that constituency, which has, through the process, generally speaking, although sometimes there are cases where leaders intervene in nomination processes, chosen a person who, because of the process they went through, is clearly there as someone from that constituency speaking on behalf of it.

The British tradition of candidate selection is slightly different. The typical form that candidates would follow in the British system is that a candidate would go through a process of application to get themselves into a larger candidate pool. They would apply through the party and would present an accounting of their skills. Then they would be added to—I can't remember exactly the names used by the different parties—a candidate selection pool. The process that is then followed is one of individual constituency associations seeking applications from people who are on this prospective candidate list based on what they think will be important for their constituency. The U.K. geographically is a much smaller country. It is common that a person may get on a general candidate list. Then they may make multiple applications to different constituencies, conduct interviews with different constituencies, and then be invited by a particular constituency to be the candidate for that party in that area. It is possible that the candidate would have grown up there or would have lived in that constituency. To me, in the context of our democracy, it seems that the U.K. does not attach the same importance that we do to having somebody come out of a particular geographic location.

If you compare, in general, our system with the British system, you see that our political culture is much more defined by our geography. We are a vast country in which it is harder for people to fully understand what is going on in a different part of the country, because it's so much farther away than it might be if Canada were a smaller country. Obviously there's also the issue of the two official languages that we have here in Canada, which further accentuates that geographic or regional dimension that informs our politics.

(1445)



When we talk about how debates are managed in terms of the time for discussion in the context of the British system, we need to recognize those differences. In their system it may be much easier to say certain members who are there principally for their interests and particular topics can speak to those topics in a certain period of time, whereas for other members who may have less of a specific interest in that topic, there is less of a need. This report claims, and I haven't verified that claim one way or the other, that British MPs don't mind the systems that have been put in place. However, the structure of our system is one with that heightened geographic dimension in which the use of this programming, the use of closure in general, might prevent members of Parliament who have a particular need to bring forward a specific regional or geographic voice in Parliament from doing so. We, as 338 members of Parliament, representatives of 338 regions, should be able to have the opportunity to bring those voices forward.

Very often when the government brings in closure motions—and under the current rules we at least have an opportunity to debate and challenge the government on it, an opportunity that we may well not have in the context of the proposal for programming—the government will say, “Well, we've already had 30 members speak to this.” Of course, that's nowhere near the full number of members, and we wouldn't expect that every single member of Parliament would speak to a particular issue or bill, but when there is an effort to bring about an advanced closure of the conversation, that of course limits the opportunity to give voice on the basis of some of those regional perspectives. This is the kind of dynamic that we need to be aware of.

I would caution members and I would caution the government House leader on the suggestion that we should, in the absence of an amendment, move unilaterally in the direction of this motion as it engages the discussion paper. We cannot assume that the structures that exist in other places are applicable here, or at least fully applicable, given the range of ways in which our country is unique. We have institutions similar to those in some other countries, but certainly profound differences in political culture, and specifically for the purposes of the argument that I've made here, very substantial differences in the way our geography informs our politics.

Further to the discussion of time allocation or so-called programming, the discussion paper notes that other legislatures have different kinds of measures to plan the business of the House that are “similar in principle to programming”. I haven't had time, given the short notice with which this motion has been pushed forward, to study in detail the kinds of processes that exist in New Zealand or in the United States, but I'm skeptical of a claim such as “similar in principle to programming” because, let's be clear, that could mean almost anything.

(1450)



I will just raise the issue here that the motion put forward by Mr. Simms doesn't at all give due time to do, for instance, a detailed study of the kinds of systems that exist in other places. I'm not usually the biggest apologist for committees going on extensive international travel, but this might be a case where actually getting a deeper appreciation of the way these mechanisms operate in practice would be worthwhile.

What there is instead is a timeline where it seems the expectation is that the committee would simply take the government House leader's word for it that the systems in these other countries are working in the way she has described. As much as there are differences, as I've outlined, between our system and the U.K. system, it would be worth having those conversations with British members of Parliament. That wouldn't have to involve travel. There would be, of course, other ways of engaging their perspective, such as inviting experts to appear via Skype and so forth, to actually get a sense of what people are saying there about the way their system works. This would be the benefit of an opportunity for a longer and more detailed study. It would give the opposition the opportunity, in the context of an expectation of ultimate unanimous decision-making, to ask questions that would probe in a deeper way the assumptions that are present in the discussion paper that we have from the government House leader.

This is, I think, one of the key reasons that the amendment is important, because at certain points, when the discussion paper isn't just arguing the government's perspective but is making statements of fact or implied statements of fact, such as “similar in principle to programming”, a good, fulsome study would give opposition members the opportunity to more deeply study and probe those claims, and the expectation that at the end of that probing they would be meaningfully engaged in decision-making. That's one of the other key arguments we can see coming out of this discussion paper, pointing us to recognizing the importance of passing the amendment that has been proposed.

Recognizing the discussion of the international context here, the discussion paper speaks of a made-in-Canada programming scheme. I mentioned before that this sounds a lot like a made in the Prime Minister's Office programming scheme. We have no problem talking about made-in-Canada changes to the Standing Orders in general terms that engage all voices here, and that's exactly what our amendment does.

In the final paragraph in the section on so-called programming, the second sentence states: It could include a range of time for all stages for the consideration of a bill, which would be negotiated between House Leaders then would be subject to debate, amendment and a vote in the House.

Let's be clear about what already exists. We already have a process by which House leaders can and do negotiate the amount of time that will be spent on the discussion of particular legislation. We already have a process by which that can and does take place. It doesn't always work. At times the government House leader is intransigent, and certainly that's never the case with the opposition House leader. The government then proceeds with a motion for time allocation. There already is provision for there to be discussion and negotiation about the process that takes place.

If you read more deeply into it, I think the sentence is saying that there would be a process of negotiation—it doesn't say “agreement”—among House leaders. It just says that there is going to be a process of negotiation taking place.

(1455)



Then it would be subject to debate, amendment, and a vote in the House, which effectively means that again if the government proceeds with this unilateral motion to make unilateral changes, in the absence of the amendment they will establish a reality in which they could effectively—a majority government at least, not a minority government—unilaterally put forward what I suppose would likely be a motion setting out the amount of time that certain bills would be discussed, and that would still be imposed via a vote in the House.

I guess on the one hand you might say, depending on what the intention is here, that if the government is proposing legislation and in each case there is going to be an individual programming motion that will have to be debated and voted on, then all we actually have is a commitment from the government to use closure on every bill. That's all that would amount to: having the debate and the vote, perhaps minus the existing provision for a period of questioning of the minister that I think is an important part of the current time allocation procedure.

It should be noted that we say “negotiate,” but it's still subject to a vote, and there's a question as well of what would constitute the threshold in the context of that debate. If you were going to have a debate and a vote, would it be a simple majority? You could imagine a system in which programming could be voted on, but you would have a higher threshold. You would have something like the threshold established in Standing Order 53 or in Standing Order 56.1, but that isn't specified here, and noting the government's general attitude toward this amendment, noting the broader tone of this debate, I suspect that we would not have them taking great interest in the increase of that threshold to allow that discussion to take place.

I will go on to this whole area of question period and how this amendment, this motion, would inform this vital institution, which I guess unfortunately we've just missed.

The section on question period begins: “Question Period is where the Government is held to account for its policies and for the conduct of Ministers.” I might have appreciated if they had added “and of the Prime Minister,” but the important point here is that this discussion paper does seem to acknowledge the purpose of question period is for holding the government accountable for the things they have done, the decisions they have made, and also more broadly, for their conduct. However, we still see a desire to weaken the accountability associated with that mechanism. Surely the government should acknowledge that if that kind of objective is going to be achieved, you need to have meaningful opposition engagement in the discussion around what constitutes the rules for that question period.

(1500)

The Chair:

Garnett, could you hold that thought?

As promised, we're suspended until 7:30 tonight in room N-112.

(1500)

(1930)

The Chair:

I'll call this meeting to order. We were debating the motion by Mr. Scott Simms at the time we were previously debating. The time before that, Mr. Genuis was speaking, so we'll let him carry on.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. It seems we have achieved a consensus as to the pronunciation of my name. Hopefully that will be a harbinger of consensus to come.

I apologize for going back a minute. Mr. Graham started off this morning by referencing the attacks on our mother Parliament. At the time, I didn't make a comment on it, because I hadn't had a chance to get familiar with what was happening in the news.

It is quite striking, I think, that we're having this discussion about our parliamentary traditions with reverence and respect for our mother Parliament, recognizing the traditions that come to us from that Parliament, at the same as this terrible event has happened today. I want to express my solidarity, our solidarity, with those who are affected by those events, and certainly extend our best wishes to all those affected and their families.

I haven't had a chance to look at all the coverage, but there have been some remarkable stories of heroism coming out in terms of people, law enforcement, and even elected officials, who were stepping up to help in some way. In the midst of great tragedy, those stories are certainly an inspiration to us.

I wanted to briefly read into the record a Facebook post made by the former member of Parliament for the area I represent. At the time it was Edmonton—Sherwood Park. Before that it was the riding of Elk Island. Some of you, perhaps Mr. Reid and Mr. Simms and Mr. Bagnell, had a chance to serve with Ken Epp, who was, I think, an outstanding member of Parliament. He was someone who was always a great defender of our parliamentary traditions and someone who spoke in the House a lot. This was also the time before social media, so he didn't have the same opportunities I do to share his frequent interventions back home. He's an avid user of social media now, so he posted this, and I think it raises some important points about our discussion today. This is from Ken Epp: Heads-up! The Liberals are pushing through procedural changes to (in their words) make Parliament more efficient. This is so transparent. You need to understand that the Prime Minister and the Ministers of the Crown (the Cabinet) form “Government.” Parliament is a separate thing—it's the place where the representatives of the people meet to discuss, debate, and vote on matters pertaining to their constituents—the people. In Canada, Government is made up mostly from Members of Parliament. (There is usually at least 1 unelected Senator in Government too.) Parliament is supposed to give direction to the Government, and the Government is there to implement the decisions of Parliament. But when you have a dictatorial government, then Parliament is an annoyance. So the Liberals are using their new plan to limit Parliament further. They want Parliament to meet only Monday to Thursday, 4 days per week instead of the present 5 days. Less debate, less questioning of the government, less accountability. Their words “greater efficiency” are simply a euphemism for “we want more freedom to do what we want and we don't want to go through the hoops of parliament.” Consider how this impinges on the work of the Parliamentarian. It means more travel time and cost for each hour of debate. MP's from B.C., the North, and remote locations could spend up to 12 or even more hours on their travel to Ottawa, and then another 12 going back to their ridings. When I was an MP, I often thought of this. I was only 1/2 hour away from the airport, so home to hotel in Ottawa on Sunday was usually about 9 hours (via Calgary) and office to home on Friday was usually about 6 hours. There are others who would have to take connector flights or long drives. It is important for MP's to spend time in their ridings, to meet the people, to listen to their concerns, and to reflect those concerns in their speeches and votes. This new plan will mean that many MP's will not even get an opportunity to express their views on many Bills and Motions. There won't be time. Some MP's stay in Ottawa every other weekend, because their travel time is so long.... There already are “weeks out” when MP's can be back home for the full week. This is much more efficient because it reduces travel time and cost. These Liberals manage to get everything wrong.

(1935)



Those are some words from an individual who isn't just someone speculating about the process. It is from someone who was a member of Parliament. Maybe Mr. Reid can help me with the exact length of time, but for about 18 to 20 years, Mr. Epp served in this place and was indeed a great parliamentarian.

I think he makes the point very well, and he provokes an area of conversation that we need to explore in the context of this whole debate, the question of efficiency.

As we go through the discussion paper that the government House leader has given us, there is a big emphasis on efficiency. It's interesting that in debates about the forms of governance, there has always been this allure of the concept of efficiency from those who see efficiency as the primary goal and that it is reasonable from that perspective to limit scrutiny, debate, discussion, accountability, the representative functions of Parliament, or whatever the case may be, in the name of efficiency.

There are those who look at dictatorial systems and think they are very efficient and perhaps envy that efficiency. I think this is a dangerous tendency. It's a dangerous tendency to look at dictatorial regimes or perhaps possible changes to our democratic system and say, “Yes, but they're so efficient.” When the Prime Minister made his now-infamous comment about China's basic dictatorship, I don't think it was just a joke. On the other hand, I don't think he was really saying he wanted to make Canada into a dictatorship, but he was expressing what seemed to be a genuine sentiment, which has been a genuine sentiment of various people who desire to claim or to draw from the supposed efficiency of more authoritarian systems. When you come to the conclusion that these kinds of systems are more efficient, you are vulnerable to move in a direction that involves the adoption of attributes of those systems.

The motion that we have in front of us without the amendment emphasizes an approach that I think conforms to that particular view of efficiency, in that it invites the committee to undertake, in response to a very stressed timeline, a study in which at the end of the day it would be up to one party to decide the way forward and it would then be up to the government in the House, which holds the majority, to further ram through those rules without requiring the consent of other parties.

To proceed in that way, without the amendment, conforms to a certain view of efficiency that says we have to put all these considerations aside with respect to accountability and with respect to the patterns and the way things have been done in the past. It speaks to that revolutionary tendency that I spoke of last night, when you have leadership that says, “Let's tear up what we've done in the past and come up with something new that we think fits.” In particular, it is a revolutionary tendency that's rooted in an attraction to the idea of efficiency as being an ultimate goal.

(1940)



I was reading different things and watching some videos in between times, when I probably should have been napping, to stimulate my thoughts about this whole question of reform, specifically on efficiency. There was a good quote from a talk that our colleague from Wellington—Halton Hills, Michael Chong, gave at the Manning Centre a number of years ago about the issue of centralization and particularly the question of efficiency in government. He said centralized systems are efficient, but they lead to bad outcomes.

I think an enlightened notion of efficiency shouldn't just be about moving as quickly as possible, but it should take on board this sense of advancing as quickly as possible toward a desirable goal, because if we are moving quickly, advancing quickly, but we are not actually moving in the direction of a desirable goal, then we're not any further ahead. To put it that way, I think, should make the point rather obvious: we should not speak of efficiency as if it were a good, independent of a clear identification of the goals we are trying to achieve. Centralized systems allow governments to move faster, but by limiting the number of voices that are included in the conversation, they actually lead to bad outcomes, and the process of identifying the failure of those outcomes and undoing those mistakes makes the overall system much, much less efficient, so in the end we should not at all be critical of the fundamental ground on which our institutions stand.

Democratic systems, systems that enhance the power of the people and the decision-making process, may not facially have the same degree of efficiency as alternative kinds of systems, but they do achieve better outcomes, and certainly they reflect the values and the priorities of the people who sent us here. This question of efficiency is another strand that informs the broader debate between, on the one hand, the unamended motion and, on the other hand, the amendment we're proposing. Getting unanimity, getting the buy-in of all parties, is going to take perhaps a little more time. Perhaps the June 2 deadline, which seems to be fairly arbitrary, is not really going to gel very well with the need for unanimity, but I don't see the logic of imposing that timeline anyway. I think we need to first make sure we're moving in the right direction, and then move efficiently there and do so with the co-operation of all parties.

Since we're talking about British politicians and traditions, here is a quote from Winston Churchill. He has a number of insightful quotes about democracy. One of them was to say that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other ones that have been tried. He also said it is not enough to say you have done your best; you must first know what to do, and then do your best. This is why we say it is important to have a large number of voices to have a meaningful process of accountability.

Members may be familiar with a Canadian history publication called The Dorchester Review. I'm going to read a fairly short article from it called “A 'Basic Dictatorship' Problem”, which discusses this very question in a way that very directly informs on a discussion of the amendment. How efficient are more authoritarian systems versus more genuinely democratic systems? The Prime Minister of Canada has a “Basic Dictatorship” Problem. To borrow his infamous phrasing from 2013, Mr. Trudeau has expressed a disturbing and obsequious admiration for both China’s “basic dictatorship” and now for Cuba and its “longest-serving president,” Fidel Castro, who died on November 26.

(1945)

In November 2013, Trudeau attended a fundraiser that the Liberal Party described as a “ladies’ night” involving “cocktails, candid conversation, and curiosity-inducing ideas.”

Ms. Ruby Sahota:

I was there.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

The article goes on: Before these fawning supporters the moderator asked Trudeau: “Which nation, besides Canada, which nation’s administration do you most admire?” And he replied: There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime, and say, ‘we need to go greenest fastest,’ y’know, ‘we need to start investing in solar.’ There is a flexibility that I know Stephen Harper must dream about, of having a dictatorship that he can do everything he wanted, uh, that I find quite interesting.

Parenthetically, we see this canard of Stephen Harper the dictator, which is a total canard in light of the fact that it's not Stephen Harper, but the now Prime Minister who is expressing this admiration.

The article continues: Trudeau thus unequivocally expressed his “admiration” for a “basic dictatorship” that has since 1949 committed various atrocities, including — like all Communist regimes — mass murder of political opponents and forced famines that starved to death millions of peasants in Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Perhaps Trudeau means that he admires China’s “basic dictatorship” only since the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. In that case, Human Rights Watch describes what China truly is today: Ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for more than six decades, China remains an authoritarian state, one that systematically curtails a wide range of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion. Trudeau talks of China's command-and-control economy's turn toward sustainable energy sources. But then, oddly, he ends his comment with a rhetorical flourish on how Stephen Harper, when he was prime minister, must have fantasized about wielding the immense power of the Chinese president, thereby deflecting some attention and responsibility away from his own self-described “admiration” for dictatorship. Indeed, Harper was such a dictator that the Liberals defeated the Conservatives in a free and fair election which saw Harper's resignation and an orderly transition of power on Nov. 4, 2015. Trudeau later offered this mendacious reinterpretation of his earlier remarks at a subsequent press conference: The point I made was that despite all of our freedoms and our extraordinary system of government and democracy, we are up against countries that play by different rules that we would never accept, but that find themselves, uh, able to address big issues quickly and completely.

My comment would be that we see again here the re-emphasis of the efficiency narrative, this idea that less consultation, less engagement, less requirement for involving other perspectives, even if there's a recognition that there are some problems with this approach, has the alleged virtue of efficiency.

The author continues: But of course that was not the point that Trudeau was making. Instead, he clearly expressed personal “admiration” for a “basic dictatorship” and implied that authoritarian regimes are superior to liberal democracies, at least on the issue of sustainable energy. The Prime Minister's Nov. 26 press release on the death of Castro is worth quoting in full for the record: The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, today issued the following statement on the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro: It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President. Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for 'el Comandante.' I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader. Trudeau has eulogized the dictator in euphemism as a “legendary revolutionary and orator” instead of confronting Castro’s brutal legacy: like all Communists dictators, he imposed his utopia by wading through a sea of blood, jailing and murdering political opponents, and then maintained his dictatorship through authoritarian repression.

(1950)

The Prime Minister glosses over Communist dictatorship and, in a statement that sounds like a joke, Trudeau deigns to acknowledge Castro as a “controversial figure” — as if his record were merely a matter of polite disagreement. Trudeau even throws in a welfare nationalist line about healthcare and education. Perhaps, we should add, the Castros provided a certain standard of education and healthcare to all those Cubans whom they hadn’t already murdered, detained, or exiled. If Cubans expressed a “deep and lasting affection for ‘el Comandante' ” they had no choice in the matter. Overall, Trudeau clearly fell for the Potemkin Village routine that all dictators put on for visiting foreign dignitaries. In 1999, Human Rights Watch noted: The Cuban Criminal Code lies at the core of Cuba’s repressive machinery, unabashedly prohibiting nonviolent dissent. With the Criminal Code in hand, Cuban officials have broad authority to repress peaceful government opponents at home. Cuban law tightly restricts the freedoms of speech, association, assembly, press, and movement. In an extraordinary June 1998 statement, Cuban Justice Minister Roberto Díaz Sotolongo justified Cuba’s restrictions on dissent by explaining that, as Spain had instituted laws to protect the monarch from criticism, Cuba was justified in protecting Fidel Castro from criticism, since he served a similar function as Cuba’s 'king'. There is no due process, habeus corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, free markets, political parties, and certainly no free and fair elections. In short, Cuba’s basic dictatorship outlaws and criminalizes all that which the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms upholds and guarantees for Canadians.

Next comes the really important point on political romanticism: Trudeau demonstrates a disturbing naiveté about the nature of dictatorships, falling for the Potemkin Village and the mythology of dictatorship as an efficient form of government. In reality, dictatorships are inefficient. Indian economist Amartya Sen has shown that dictators cause famines, which shows that they cannot or do not distribute resources efficiently and justly — which should be obvious to any 20th century observer. We need look no further than Stalin’s Holodomor in Ukraine or Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Good government fundamentally depends upon a strong link between taxation, representation, and expenditure, which bind together the accountability and responsibility of the government and the consent of the governed. We know what happens when that relationship breaks down: many petro-States are authoritarian precisely because the government can rely on royalties from natural resources for revenue rather than having to rely on taxation of the people. Consent and accountability break down when people have no stake in the government. Classical liberals in the 19th century well understood this principle, especially Lord Durham. In his famous report on the Canadas, which provided the blueprint for liberty and self-government in the British Empire in the 19th century, he maintained that the Royal Recommendation (the requirement that Ministers of the Crown sanction and take responsibility for all money bills) coupled with the principle that all money bills must be introduced by the people’s elected representatives in the assembly was a necessary condition for Responsible Government. Durham even referred to this principle as a “the real protection of the people.”

We're talking specifically about the period when we saw the origin of responsible government in our country, something that I will argue is specifically threatened by the unamended motion.

The article goes on: Regrettably, Mr. Trudeau has consistently shown that he either does not understand or is confused about the difference between the executive and the legislature. He presumes to speak “on behalf of all Canadians,” as he did in that press release about Fidel Castro’s death, and he has taken to asserting that “Canada is back” — the implication being that only the Liberals can legitimately represent Canada. This implies that other parties are unpatriotic and do not represent the millions of Canadians who voted for them. This is ironic and contradictory given that Trudeau has also described Canada as a “post-national” state, which may make patriotism itself a thing of the past.

(1955)

Let's do a quick civics review. In our parliamentary system, the Prime Minister and Cabinet represent Canada as a State and as an international legal person (as in le pays), and they govern in a way that should promote Canada's national interest. But the Prime Minister and Cabinet cannot “represent all Canadians” in the sense of “reflecting their values in government.” It is the Sovereign and Governor General who represent Canada in the sense of la patrie. Only the House of Commons “represents all Canadians” as a political nation because we elect Members of Parliament. Within the House of Commons, the loyal opposition represents “the political minority” and makes the representation of political dissent integral to Westminster parliamentarism, and the government's legitimacy depends on commanding the confidence of a majority of MPs within the chamber. Therefore, no Prime Minister could ever claim to “represent all Canadians” unless his party won all 338 seats in the House of Commons in what would then be a one-party State — rather like the Communist countries that Justin Trudeau claims to admire so much. As Ajzenstat states, “the supreme benefit of parliamentary government is that it protects political opposition, the right to dissent.” At the party event in 2013 where Trudeau expressed admiration for Chinese dictatorship, he also praised the “consensus government” that pertains in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. But if I were to reach out and say which kind of administration I most admire, I think there's something to be said right here in Canada for the way our territories are run. Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon are done without political parties around consensus.”

I would just say parenthetically that I don't actually think that's correct with respect to Yukon. My understanding is that there's a consensus system in Nunavut and Northwest Territories, but not one in Yukon. I guess our chair might know better than me on that point, but this is the direct quote that I'm reading from the Prime Minister, so I'll continue to read it: And are much more like a municipal government. And I think there's a lot to be said for people pulling together to try and solve issues rather than to score points off of each other. And I think we need a little more of that.”

We're in the middle of the municipal election season in my province, and that might be a little bit of an idealistic view of how things operate at the municipal level.

However, to carry on: Trudeau is essentially right in his description—

(2000)

Mr. Scott Reid:

Mr. Chair, I've lost track. Was the comment about the partisan arrangements in the three territories and in municipal politics a quote from the author of the article or from the Prime Minister?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Yes, so this much—

Mr. Scott Simms:

If I can add to that, how does that pertain to the amendment?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I'm establishing one of my fundamental concerns about the motion in the absence of the amendment, which is that it reflects this unhealthy prioritization of efficiency over accountability. This, I think, emanates from an admiration of supposed efficiencies that exist in other systems, which I think this article well establishes do not exist. I think this article highlights the problems of that romanticism. I think that does inform our political conversations that happen here and I think we need to be aware of that as a committee.

For Mr. Reid's benefit, the quote was: But if I were to reach out and say which kind of administration I most admire, I think there’s something to be said right here in Canada for the way our territories are run. Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon are done without political parties around consensus. And are much more like a municipal government. And I think there’s a lot to be said for people pulling together to try and solve issues rather than to score points off of each other. And I think we need a little more of that.

That's the end of the quote, but I'm going to continue reading from the article itself. We're approaching the end, not of my remarks, but of this article. Trudeau is essentially right in his description of how consensus government works.

Oh, here we go: But he is wrong about the Yukon, which in fact has had standard responsible government with competing political parties since 1978. Only the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have consensus government. While this comment received less attention, this remark and his praise for China are not as tangential as they might first appear. The only difference between consensus government and an authoritarian regime is whether the threat of force and coercion are necessary to mandating, manufacturing, and maintaining that consensus. In small communities, a genuine consensus can emerge legitimately and peacefully. But this is impossible in a large State. What appears to animate Justin Trudeau’s political thought therefore, is, above all, something akin to Counter-Enlightenment Romanticism. It seems to be a “philosophy of community” where “all strive to be virtuous according to the same definition of virtue.” In its mild and benign form, political Romanticism manifests itself as a kind of “civic republicanism,”

—and I know David will be interested in this because of his interest in virtue ethics— which derives more from the Ancients like Aristotle and his views on a “virtuous and participatory citizenry” than the Moderns. In its worse forms, Romanticism derives from Counter-Enlightenment philosophy from Rousseau onward, with infusions from Hegel and Marx. Romantics see the absence of consensus as an existential threat to the general will and the public interest. Therefore, anyone who disrupts that consensus prevents the political nation from realizing the general will and becomes an impediment that must be removed. Romantics also view history as teleological and thus as a force inexorably moving in one direction toward a clear endpoint. Trudeau expresses his teleological “sunny ways” romanticism in his blithe phrase, which has since become a meme, “Because it’s [insert current year].” In other words, anyone who attempts to disrupt, slow down, or alter the course of history must simply step out of the way of progress. Trudeau’s “post-nationalism” best corresponds to what political scientists would call “post-materialist politics,” which concerns itself with “opening opportunities for political demands” — particularly of historically marginalized groups — and participation rather than the distribution of scarce resources. In short, as Ajzenstat puts it, “romantics shrink from the adversarial politics of the parliamentary system.” Trudeau laments the “politics of division,” enveloping himself in what Weber would call “monarchical authority” in his official biography, as the living embodiment of Canadian unity: His passion for public service and vision for Canada are shaped by his experiences and influences — his father, Pierre, and mother, Margaret; the Trudeau and Sinclair families; his roots in the East and West, French and English. Note that “The Trudeau and Sinclair families; his roots in the East and West, French and English” evokes the Tudors, with their rose both red and white, with roots in the Houses of Lancaster and York, both North and South.

(2005)

However as Christopher Hitchens observed, “politics is division by definition,” because in a liberal-democratic society, we are free to express disagreement and because our parliamentary system itself legitimates opposition and adversarialism in order to maintain the accountability of the government. Politics is by nature divisive. Without the disagreement and dissent that comes from persons who sincerely hold opposing views and beliefs, politics would cease to exist.

It might seem strange to members who know my political philosophy well that I would read from an article that praises Hitchens and criticizes Aristotle.

I don't agree with everything in this article, especially some of the implied latter critique of virtue ethics. I think that, broadly speaking, an Aristotelian virtue ethics lens is compatible with a belief in the importance of political diversity and dissent. I think the compatibility of an Aristotelian account of virtue ethics and modernity is well established in John Stuart Mill's work. I could talk more about that, but that might go beyond the scope of the amendment.

Mr. Blake Richards: Don't encourage him.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Maybe with unanimous consent, we can go further afield than I normally would.

I think the fundamental point of this article is a really fascinating one: the reality that dictatorship should not be in any way romanticized, first because of the basic violations of human rights and dignity that it entails, and second because it really is not efficient.

Even if we could have benign dictatorship in the absence of human rights violations, I think all the evidence suggests that it would still make bigger mistakes and be less efficient in the long run than democratic societies would. Even if they move slower, democratic societies, by including more voices, are more likely to be moving in the first instance in the right direction. They are more likely to be heading where they intend to head.

What we are debating today is not something that will end the formal process of democracy or democratic elections, but we are very seriously contending with questions of the strength of our system of responsible government and the kind of relationship that exists between the executive and the legislature, with how they understand their roles relative to each other.

This article lays out that it is Parliament, not the government or the Prime Minister, that speaks on behalf of Canadians at the end of the day.

Our approach to proceeding with prospective review and changes of the Standing Orders might appear to members to be less efficient if you take up this romanticized idea of centralized power as the road to efficiency. You might be critical of this amendment on the basis that it seems to be inefficient because it requires engagement with more people. It requires consultation. It requires more voices to be heard in the process of determining how to move forward, but what we have put forward is right. It respects our values and our traditions, but it conforms to a more realistic and, in a sense, a deeper understanding of what constitutes efficiency, because again, as Churchill said, it is first knowing what we ought to do and then proceeding in that direction.

As I was growing up, in my own personal history of political development I recall that one of the most important political movements that I initially focused on was the Reform Party tradition. The tradition of reform coming out of western Canada highlighted all these issues about the need to counterbalance the increasing power and control of the executive and strengthening the role of the legislature.

(2010)



At the same time, it reflected the genuine will of the people, which was for greater efficiency of the public service, which was for the improved effectiveness of government, which was balanced budgets. It was a tradition that was both realistic and interested in efficiency and effectiveness of government, but it was also bold in its call for this evolutionary move to enhance accountability and to enhance the role of members of Parliament.

I think we really need to revisit that tradition. It was not just about the role of the opposition. It was about the way our government works with respect to all parliamentarians and with respect to the relationship between parliamentarians and the executive. It was a tradition that said there is a role, yes, for the executive, but it is the members of Parliament who speak on behalf of the people who elected them; and there is a need for, on key changes, a more substantial level of consensus when those kinds of changes are made.

That was the tradition put forward. I do think that there are changes that we need to talk about as a committee, and we need to do it in a way that is informed by the amendment that says we will move forward together and that the process won't be controlled by one party. There are changes we do need to talk about that live out this tradition.

It's interesting to me that this was a tradition that came out of what was, in many senses, although perhaps not in every sense, the Conservative Party, the Reform Party, but this rhetoric has been adopted by the Liberal Party since the time of Paul Martin. Paul Martin spoke about the need to address a democratic deficit, and the Liberals, in their last election commitment, talked about reforms, but certainly they did not talk about dramatically changing the rules of Parliament and the process by which consent would normally achieve that.

We are seeing this increase in public expectation for engagement, but at the same time there have been actions of this government that go fundamentally against public expectations, and indeed, I think, deviate quite significantly from the commitment that this government has made in the past.

Members only need to reflect on what happened today. Many of us missed question period because the work of this committee was going through at that time. We had the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the NDP each building off the legitimate points that the other was making.

With respect to what happened in question period and the impact this had and the discussion around the amendment, first the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister what he would have said if Stephen Harper had done this. I think this is a very good question, because Stephen Harper advanced policies that reflected a Conservative perspective, but he did so with respect for and within the rules of the system that were established and well accepted. He did what we would expect a Prime Minister to do, which was, within the context of the rules, seek to advance policies that are reflective of his priorities and the priorities of his government. That is what happened under Stephen Harper.

However, now we have Justin Trudeau, who was supposed to represent real change, and yes, it's real change, but it's not in the direction that I think folks expected.

(2015)



That is, it is going in the other direction with respect to what's happening in committee. He was asked, what would you do, if Stephen Harper had done these same things? He made some comments about heckling in the House of Commons, but he never answered the question at all.

Thomas Mulcair posed the same question. Again, we had some references to children who were in the gallery, and those are the children for whom we are trying to preserve the integrity of our democratic institutions. He made some references to this, but did not answer what I think was a very legitimate and important question.

Then we had something else happen today. I think all members here were witness to it, because it was right after a vote. It was in the context of a suspension that had then taken place in the work of this committee, concerning which repeated issues of privilege had come up in the House of Commons about breaking of the rules—in one case by a government member.

There was also what appears to be a case of government members receiving the budget when they shouldn't have, in advance of its being read in the House. There were issues of members being prevented from voting, for reasons I didn't fully understand, but for something involving the Prime Minister's vehicles. I don't know who was responsible for that, and there's a need for a thorough review, of course, of all of these questions. I know the Speaker will be coming back to the House on those questions.

What happened today should, in the context of what's happening here, give us all some real pause, because members have important responsibilities and members were limited in their ability to undertake their responsibilities, just as this discussion paper proposes to do and just as the mechanism by which it is proposed that we would discuss this discussion paper, absent the amendment, would have us do.

We have, then, the very important issue of the integrity of our parliamentary institutions at stake here, but there are also other issues that are part of the discussion. We have issues of—

An hon. member: I have a point of order.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Mr. Chair, maybe you could ask for a little quiet.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes. Thank you.

The Chair:

Let us have a little bit more respect for the speaker, please. It's getting a little loud in here.

Thank you.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you. A hush fell over the crowd.

I know that Mr. Chan is paying attention deeply and I appreciate that, as I'm sure are other members. I didn't mean to suggest he was the only one. Nonetheless, now I seem to have touched off further conversation.

In any event, I know this is an active place for deliberation and I do welcome that. However, as members deliberate in different ways at and behind the table, I think they should be reflecting on the importance of the deliberative and decision-making role of our Parliament and the way in which we need to ensure that we protect that substructure of our democracy, that we don't allow the kinds of things that have happened today to become a pattern in terms of the way we deal with each other.

I think the form of events that unfolded today really illustrate a point that is central to our discussion of this amendment, which is the way in which well-functioning parliamentary institutions inevitably require the consent of more than just one side of the discussion in order for them to work properly.

If we in the opposition are so frustrated—as I think we are, and legitimately so—by the lack of respect we are receiving from the executive, we will seek every opportunity we have to strongly present our objections and concerns. Of course, that takes a variety of forms. We had the raising of different kinds of motions and the lack of use of the normal notification processes. There are many things that we accept as being important for Parliament to function well that involve the collaboration of parties.

Reflective of the mood established by the government's position on this amendment, I think we saw some of the outworking of that frustration, including, on the one hand, a further disrespect on a number of fronts shown by the government to the opposition; and on the other hand, the opposition rightly needing to raise a number of points of order and questions of privilege to respond to those concerns.

I think ultimately we want to be spending as much of our time as possible, if not all of our time, debating the business of the nation, not discussing procedural issues. Of course, this is a committee whose function it is to discuss procedure, but outside the context of the committee, especially in the chamber itself, we would want to be at a point where we're spending as much of our time as possible discussing those substantive aspects of the situation that inform the realities that are part of the lives of Canadians who don't spend a lot of time in this place. However, we need to take a stand when those aspects of procedure undermine the natural co-operation and expectation of consensus that exists between parties. When that is undermined, that has a negative effect on the way in which our traditions can operate.

I think the other issue is that if we are going to explore this study, it has to be within the framework of the amendment, because that requires us then to do the sorts of things that will engage a broader number of members and therefore provoke discussion of the kinds of questions that might not be in the interests of the front bench of any party, but might actually reflect the better functioning of the House.

One of the reforms to the way our democracy works that merits serious consideration and study is the question of whether party names are on the ballot. Removing party names from the ballot would be one very simple reform that would increase the chances that voters are paying particular attention to the name of the individual. Of course, it wouldn't prevent people from affiliating with parties and from voting on the basis of the party, but it would give somebody who does not have a party affiliation a greater ability to run. It would create an opportunity for someone who may identify with a philosophy of a party but was prevented from getting the blessing of the party. It would make it easier for that person to present themselves successfully in an election if you didn't have the name of a party on the ballot.

(2020)



That, of course, is the kind of change that I think may have some potential problems, but I think it's certainly worthy of further study. It's the kind of change that you're unlikely to see proposed by the leadership of any party, or a whip or a House leader get behind. The reason is fairly simple. If members of Parliament have a greater sense of independence, if there isn't the issue of the party name beside their name on the ballot anyway, then perhaps that's a reason or an opportunity for members of Parliament to exercise a little more independence or leverage in the context of the discussions that are taking place in the House.

Recognizing that, it's unlikely that that kind of reform would come through in a very partisan approach to discussions of changes to the Standing Orders.

If we don't have this amendment in place, then inevitably the discussion becomes partisan, because you have different parties trying to seek majorities. But if you introduce the requirement for unanimity, you remove the option of the government's acting in this respect unilaterally. You increase the chances that members will think about changes to the Standing Orders that may go in a different direction from the proposals of the government House leader, but may reflect, in particular, their priorities as members and may seek to address that balance in a positive way, between the executive and the legislative functions of our government.

I note parenthetically that the article that I read from The Dorchester Review spoke specifically of the Prime Minister's admiration for consensus governance.

I don't think it would be practical or desirable to move to a non-partisan, consensus-style government for the whole of Parliament. I think that would be impractical and unrealistic. I think it would also forestall the exposure of legitimate debates that people need to see clear sides of. I think we need to have a government and an opposition in our discussion of the issues that come before us.

But I think committees, as smaller communities of people who work together in a more direct, more personal way, can benefit from at least a consideration of that model of more consensus. We can operate as committees in a way that, as much as possible, takes a step back from our partisan identity and emphasizes our identity as members and asks, as 10 people around a table, what we want to do with the issue that's in front of us to make the country better.

When you require unanimity to move forward, I think you end up with a system in which you have strengthened that possibility, that role for consensus, when you have something like the amendment we have to put in place. But its absence creates a condition in which we all fall in line. If there is that consensus system, I think, in the context of that study, good ideas will bubble to the top that wouldn't otherwise. You'll have members within the same party who may disagree with each other, and there will be discussions that will be particularly productive. Maybe that will be, in some senses, less efficient and will take time, but it will be quite worthwhile.

(2025)



In the discussions of the Standing Orders that have taken place so far, I think we started off on a reasonably good foot when we had debate on this issue take place in the House of Commons. We had different points of view expressed by people from different parties, and we had members of the same party presenting alternative points of view. I'm probably not going to be able to find the exact quote, but I think there was a reference made by some members of the government—not just the government caucus, but the government—that maybe the procedure and House affairs committee could together come up with a set of proposals. I think that would be a really productive and interesting way to proceed.

Putting aside this discussion paper, we could establish an agreement about moving forward with agreement, with unanimity, and have the committee as a whole then work through it, discuss it, hear experts and ask how we could change the Standing Orders, with the expectation at the end of it that you could build a unanimous report coming out of the committee that would say, “These are some changes to the Standing Orders that we agree are needed.” At that point, we'd have an opportunity to make some really good changes.

Going through the discussion that happened earlier on Standing Orders, I note that even if there's been an effort to control it by this discussion paper and the way in which the government has proceeded, we already have some really interesting and innovative suggestions from members of the government caucus that don't seem to accord exactly with what the government is proposing in the discussion paper and that are still certainly very much worth considering.

I note that a Hill Times article covered the discussion in mentioning the interventions of Ms. Anita Vandenbeld, who not only is a member of Parliament but has also worked as a political staffer in the past. I didn't know that. She suggested changes—I'm quoting from the article—including “having government bills go to committee after first reading instead of second reading to let them be reviewed before the government becomes too invested in seeing it pass”.

I don't really agree with that, but I think it's an interesting idea. I think it probably makes sense for the House to pronounce on the principle of the bill before it is studied in committee. Although there are provisions now for the committee to do some prestudy of legislation, and there are certain cases where that may make sense, it is not normally automatic. I don't think I agree with Ms. Vandenbeld that it should be, but it's still an interesting idea.

As well, says the article, “She also suggested handing over powers currently held by the government House leadership team to the Speaker on things like the use of time allocation.” That's an interesting idea, isn't it, to have the Speaker—

(2030)

Mr. Blake Richards:

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, I'm sorry to interrupt my friend while he gives a very eloquent and informative speech. I'm learning quite a bit from him this evening. There have been some really informative articles that he's read from, for example, and there are some great theories he's providing to this committee that I think are all very helpful and hopefully will be very helpful to the members who are listening, in order for them to determine how they would vote appropriately on this amendment to the motion.

The unfortunate part is that many members are not really listening as he is speaking. There's a lot of chatter and noise going on, and even I am finding it hard to concentrate and listen, so I wonder if you might remind people, Mr. Chair, that it would be best to take advantage of the opportunity that's being provided to them to learn and to gather from other members opinions and insight that might be helpful to them in forming their opinions about this amendment and this motion.

The best way to do so, of course, Mr. Chair, would be to ensure they are engaged and attentive to the person who's speaking and to not be engaged in activities that would interrupt or interfere with that member's opportunity to do the same.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I concur with the vice-chair.

The Chair:

That's the second request I've had for some respect for the speakers, so could we keep the noise down and have those conversations outside the door?

An hon. member: My apologies, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Blake Richards:

To be fair to Mr. Reid, there were many people in the room who are not, in fact, members, but who are here as support. It's not Mr. Reid I was specifically referring to. He may have been one of many.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Blake Richards: I can see it gives him a sigh of relief, and that's a good thing. I say that for everyone in the room. Mr. Chair, I hope you would caution all people to be more attentive to the speaker because Mr. Genuis is providing us with some very good information.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Mr. Chair, I would like to specifically point out Mr. Reid.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Scott Simms: I would just like to say after his intervention yesterday that 99% of his talk has been good. The last 1% has been rather disruptive—just a bit. His contributions are fantastic, nevertheless.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis, you're on to a quiet, spellbound audience.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Excellent. It would be consistent with Mr. Simms to emphasize the 99%, I suppose.

I'm sure that whether they are on or off the record, Mr. Reid's comments are always well informed and insightful. We look forward to having those continue in a couple of days when I finish.

I was reflecting some interesting comments from Ms. Vandenbeld who suggested—and I'm quoting the article—“powers currently allocated by the government House leadership team to the Speaker on things like the use of time allocation”.

What's envisioned by this is that perhaps after the process of negotiation between House leaders and discussion, if there were an impasse, the Speaker might decide, given the nature of a particular topic, that it were time enough for the discussion. She said during the debate, “I think we should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of giving the Speaker more of a say over the parliamentary agenda. Canada has a Parliament where the government side has more to say over the agenda than almost any other legislative body.”

Incidentally, this has been part of the debate around question period as well. It's the possibility of empowering the Speaker to not only do what he does now—he or she; in the present case it's a he—to maintain decorum, to rule on specific narrow sets of matters but also to take a more substantive role in forcing ministers and parliamentary secretaries to answer questions.

There is one proposal in the discussion paper about enhancing the power of the Speaker that involves the splitting of omnibus bills. I'm going to talk a bit more about omnibus bills later, because I haven't really gone into those yet. There's also the question of the Speaker saying, sorry, Prime Minister, you didn't answer the question, and I expect you to answer the question. There are different proposals around enhancing the power of the Speaker.

I see both sides of this. On the one hand, we already ask the Speaker to make certain kinds of substantive judgment calls. One case where we do that is on requests for emergency debates. Members come forward with things that they say are matters of urgency. Although the Speaker, of course, when making his ruling will always refer to the Standing Orders, it doesn't seem to me that the Standing Orders, with respect to the criteria for emergency debates, are overly prescriptive.

The Speaker makes a judgment call with respect to the holding of emergency debates. It's interesting that he does that already, so is it that much of a bridge for him to then start deciding how long a debate should go?

Furthermore, another possibility is that rather than having the Speaker limit the amount of time for debate, he could enforce rules of repetition across parties and not just across an individual speech. My understanding of the present Standing Orders is that I can make a series of arguments and then another member speaking later could make the same series of arguments. That wouldn't be considered repetition because it would be a different member making the argument. The standing order, as I understand it, does not refer to the repetition of matter already discussed, but refers to the repetition of the same point by the same member.

Perhaps one way of addressing some of the prospective efficiency concerns would be simply to have the Speaker identify or intervene in cases where there was a repetition of arguments that had already been made. If someone were advancing a line of argument, for example an objection to a particular bill, the idea would be that the Speaker would say, “We've already heard that particular argument, so you need to be making new arguments.”

That would still require the Speaker to make substantive judgment calls about substantive issues. It wouldn't be quite as arbitrary as what Ms. Vandenbeld seems to have envisaged, which is a system in which the Speaker would decide that this is the kind of bill that needs three days of debate, or this is the kind of bill that needs five days of debate. That would be a difficult role for the Speaker to have, and I'm not entirely sure that would be a role the Speaker wants.

(2035)



If we recognize that's a role that the Speaker shouldn't have, then certainly it's a role that the government House leader shouldn't have on every piece of legislation either. If I had to choose, I probably would say that the kind of programming envisioned by the discussion paper, in which the government House leader effectively decides exactly how long every debate is going to be, would much inferior to the alternative in which some of those decisions are made by the Speaker. Of course, this is an important other distinction between Ms. Vandenbeld's proposal and the proposal in the discussion paper. It doesn't seem that Ms. Vandenbeld is envisioning that the Speaker be controlling the amount of time that committees spend discussing issues. Notwithstanding the Speaker's broad jurisdiction over what happens in that place, that would infringe on this important idea of the sovereignty of committees over matters that are within their own domain.

I wanted to highlight that as one part of the history we heard in terms of the discussion of the Standing Orders. We know there is a diversity of opinion among government members with respect to the best way to proceed on changes to the Standing Orders. Maybe if we pass this amendment and we proceed to do a study in which we are thoroughly engaged in hearing the perspectives of all members, then we'll actually have an opportunity to present some of these alternatives. What about having the Speaker make recommendations about the amount of time spent debating a bill? The Speaker could even make non-binding recommendations, perhaps. I think each of these things have potential problems to them. There is no change that is totally without a potential downside, but that doesn't mean a consensus cannot be achieved.

The history of discussions of parliamentary evolution and reform is one in which there have been changes made during the tenure of multiple prime ministers that have reflected consensus, yet they haven't been uncontroversial. They've been changes to the amount of time that members can speak, changes to the makeup of committees, to the number of committees, and so forth. There are changes and improvements that we could, through discussion, agree on, and in a way that draws on the diversity that's represented by different parties, as well as the diversity that's represented by different individuals within different parties.

I want to clarify a point that I made yesterday. In the context of our discussion last night, I was making some comparisons with the more republican approach to government, which is in a certain sense revolutionary. You draw up in a moment in time a constitution. I compared that with our tradition, which is an evolved tradition. Of course, we have written documents, but we draw on a tradition of an unwritten constitution as well. I made the argument that our evolutionary tradition is better.

(2040)



Our tradition reflects the wisdom of history; it doesn't just narrowly reflect the wisdom of one group of people in a specific time. I therefore made the argument that we need to make sure that the discussions we're having are evolutionary in nature, not revolutionary; in other words, that we are proceeding in a consensus way that preserves and builds on the best of our traditions rather than seek to tear up our existing approach and adopt a different one.

But I did not want or intend to give the impression in those remarks that our system does not also entail some unique potential problems with respect to the relationship between the executive and the legislature. Some of those problems arise specifically from the fact that there is an absence of clear codification.

In, say, the American system you have clearly written rules that describe the relationship of the executive to the legislature and the way in which power is distributed, and the powers that the executive does and doesn't have. In our system these things are much more subject to convention. Our system has the benefits of that evolutionary tradition insofar as we're drawing from things that have been done in the past and are benefiting from those things as much as we choose to. There is always a risk, however, when you don't have the clear codification of limits on the power of the executive, that over-reach occurs, and it is harder to put your finger on the rule that says you can't do that.

There is no law that prescribes that you need to have, for example, unanimity in a committee on procedure and House affairs in order to move forward with proposed changes with respect to the Standing Orders. It is a convention, and it's a convention that is fundamentally the necessary product of our well-established traditions of responsible government. We aren't just arriving at this arbitrarily; we're drawing from a tradition. We can talk about some unique risks that emanate from that lack of codification.

I think the importance of passing this amendment is that it speaks to the need for members of Parliament to understand what our tradition of responsible government obliges us to do even in the absence of clear codification of specific rules that tell us, we have to do this and don't have any choice. Our tradition entails challenges, but in that sense you might also say that it expects more of us, because it expects us to interpret our tradition in a definitive way.

What is at stake in this discussion is this tradition; it is this idea of responsible government that we have. I don't think the failure of this amendment would mark the end of democracy, but it would mark a limiting of responsible government, because it would establish a precedent by which the executive—even beyond what we know, because I've read one of the alternative points of view of a member of the government caucus—can completely rewrite the rules under which Parliament operates.

If we can do that; if we can say it's up to the executive to decide how Parliament works, I submit to members that this really is the thin edge of the wedge.

(2045)



I have raised a variety of concerns about the provisions of the discussion paper that have set off this discussion. Members might completely disagree with the concerns I have raised with respect to the discussion paper, but hopefully I think they would appreciate the fact that the way in which this government breaks through these established conventions has the potential to open the door for further use of that broken convention, for further abuses of what happens. Members of the government might be comfortable with the unilateral decisions of Prime Minister Trudeau with respect to the Standing Orders, but they might not be as happy with the unilateral changes that a hypothetical Prime Minister Obhrai might make to the Standing Orders. Even if they might like the power they have, it is important to leave intact institutions that preserve the integrity of our democratic system.

There is a great line on this from A Man for All Seasons. I can't quote it verbatim, but it's a discussion between Thomas More and his son-in-law.

Can you look up the anecdote I'm talking about from Thomas More? I'll read it into the record. It's short.

Okay, that's good staff member. I offered him a raise earlier, and this is where we go.

Mr. Chair, while I just sign my summer jobs allocation, I want to share with members some of the....

(2050)

Mr. Scott Simms:

You got the jobs.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Some of the....

The Chair:

Read them all out.

Mr. David Christopherson:

The chair says it's okay.

Mr. Blake Richards:

If he can find a way to make that relevant, I would be impressed. I will admit that. In fact, I would probably even vote the same way he does.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I will just say that the young people who are going to benefit from the great allocations that I have been involved within the riding of Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan certainly have an interest in the conversation we are having tonight, because the success of this amendment will preserve for them—after they are finished with these great jobs they are going to have at local not-for-profit organizations in my constituency—the integrity of our parliamentary tradition, so that one day, hopefully after I have voluntarily retired, if one of them were to seek a position, they would find, I hope, our parliamentary institutions in even better shape than they were before.

As I think about the impact of what we are doing today, we need to understand that this will have an impact over a longer period of time. It's not just about what happens in this Parliament; it's about where these evolving changes to convention will take us.

I am not going to remember the full exchange from A Man for All Seasons, but the critical line that ends the exchange is Thomas More saying to his son-in-law, “I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!” What he means by that is that he believes, even when he is contending with that which he regards as a great evil.... Sometimes the government may see the opposition that way—hopefully not most days—but it still ought to respect the traditions and conventions that we have in place. It is precisely those traditions and conventions that protect the government from what the opposition might do. The conventions we have in place, which in certain situations oblige consensus, are not there just for the benefit of one side or the other. They are necessary for the benefit of all sides in this discussion.

I promised earlier to those following me on Facebook....

Oh yes, you deserve a raise.

(2055)

Mr. Scott Simms:

That's the second raise already.

Some hon. members: That's on the record.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

This is so important, I'm going to scroll back.

So you just have the quote here.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

You're not going to read the whole thing.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

I would like to read all of A Man for All Seasons, but I trust that all members have read that already.

So, William Roper, who is Thomas More's son-in-law, says, “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!” Thomas More replies, “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper replies, “Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!” and then More replies, “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”

That's a little more context to what I provided. This is a bit of a different vein—

Mr. Blake Richards:

We are always paying attention. You never know when he is going to say something really good.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

We've had Aristotle, we've had Mill, we've had Thomas More, and we've even had Christopher Hitchens.

But now in a slightly different vein, I do want to give the Canadians who are watching this exchange the opportunity to provide some of their feedback to what's happening. I posted this video and got a very large number of people posting comments in response to what the government is doing.

And there's this myth that I've sometimes heard, even privately from people, not recently, but in the past, in our own party who wonder whether Canadians really follow discussions on procedural matters. Well, I think we've actually seen over and over again that the way in which we govern ourselves here, especially on questions of our respect for the rules, are things that resonate with Canadians back home. Now, they may not have the same interest in the minutia, they may not read the Standing Orders every night before they go to bed like Mr. Reid does, but they appreciate the importance of having a clear and fair system, and they respond very negatively when things are done unfairly. I proposed earlier in the day that we would televise our discussions, and that was repeatedly rejected by members of the government. That's too bad. I think on the one hand they recognize that Canadians aren't happy with what they see happening, and yet the government talk about “sunny ways” but they don't much like sunlight when they're trying to ram through changes like this without the proper consent of members.

I've been struck just looking at the kinds of responses we're getting on social media to the posts that we make about this event. I referred last night to a video that MP Michelle Rempel had posted, that in the first hour had in the order of 20,000 views—and this was late at night. Well, that same video, when I checked earlier in the day, had over 400,000 views. This was video of a member of Parliament talking about this very issue, the amendment that's in front of us. I've been receiving many different comments from people who are raising concerns about how they feel about the changes being put forward, and drawing different kinds of connections.

Some of these comments are extreme and I, of course, won't relate any of those. I know there was one person who said, “West separates?”, and I certainly don't want that, and I am proud of our united country. It certainly is unfortunate when people are responding in that way, but you can understand the frustration people feel when they see a government that is trying to prevent members of Parliament from having a legitimate opportunity to be effectively engaged in the conversation.

You have different kinds of comments that have been made by different people, and I'll just read a few of them here.

Rick Smith writes: “What else do you expect from a Dictator...who gave Castro a fawning eulogy!”

Heather Fulton writes: “Correct me if I'm wrong but does this government work for us or for themselves?? This is wrong on so many levels. Totally unacceptable.”

Angela Fink writes: “This is not right!!!!! No changing laws.”

Someone else writes: “Of course it's unacceptable!!! Really can't believe this is even being discussed...”. And then the comment is finished with, “Get real now!!!”

(2100)



Jeannine Kent says, “I do not agree with what the Liberals are trying to do. Keep fighting.” That's certainly something that we're committed to do, not only as a Conservative caucus but we have a united resolve as opposition to continue forward with that conversation.

We have Brenda Clark saying, “Trudeau is trampling on the Canadian institution.” This is precisely the concern that people are relaying, which is the threat that is embodied by this motion, in the absence of the amendment, to the integrity of our institution.

Belinda Cardoso says, “It is totally unacceptable to try to try and change longstanding rules this way. The people should have a say in this. We need to hold any government accountable, and they need to have more open discussion in the House of Commons, definitely NOT LESS.”

Mr. Scott Simms:

On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, I wonder if I could take the floor for a bit. I need unanimous consent to do it.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Pursuant to an emerging convention of this committee who want to achieve through consensus, I am happy to allow Mr. Simms to make a number of comments and then we'll return to me having the floor and the ordinary list of speakers.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I appreciate where he's coming from.

I know through the use of social media we have gone through this, and in a lot of cases, a lot of people put it out there.

I commend Ms. Rempel for her use of social media, because I remember a while ago she suffered from abuse on social media, and I was impressed when she read it online. She was quite vehement in what she said and I appreciate where she's coming from.

I would just like to read what was put on my Facebook page, because I, too, receive messages. This particular person, Jamie, last name unsaid, said:

Canada knows who you are! We know what you're doing. Canada knows how to find you. Don't do this. We won't stand for this, you have to know that. You can't be that stupid. Stop now! You smug, greedy bastard, or thousands of angry Canadians are going to start picketing your home 24 hours a day, daily, from now on. We'll make sure you and your family don't sleep a wink ever again, because Canada is fun that way, you dick!

That's it. End of sentence.

Mr. Blake Richards:

On a point of order, Mr. Chair, we obviously all receive those kinds of terrible comments. I certainly hope the Prime Minister's Office is listening to these as well, because the Prime Minister is eliciting these kinds of comments to his members of Parliament. It's not right or fair to them that it's happening.

However, on a point of order again, Mr. Chair, while I can, and while we have this spirit of co-operation, I would ask that we receive unanimous consent to begin as soon as possible to televise the hearings of this meeting.

(2105)

The Chair:

I think we've already had that request and there was no consent.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I appreciate that, but I'm certainly hoping that Liberal members will have thought better of having refused it. Obviously this is all about trying to ensure that they are held accountable to Canadians, and for them to want to hide from the view of television cameras while they're trying to prevent accountability for themselves is really shameful.

I hope they've thought better of it and maybe we could get unanimous consent to begin to televise this meeting.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis, you're on again.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Mr. Chair, were you going to seek the unanimous consent?

The Chair:

We don't have it, so we are already—

Mr. Blake Richards:

Who is refusing unanimous consent?

Liberal members are holding their hands high. I just want to be sure that is the case. It's really unfortunate, obviously, that Liberal members would refuse that.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis, you're on.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

It seems we do have diversity of opinion among Liberal members on the issue of televising the meeting, which is perhaps some progress here. Maybe over time we'll be able to work toward passing the amendment and move forward.

I will at some point share a few more comments. I did want to come back to what I was talking about when we were interrupted by the budget in the early afternoon, namely the specific changes proposed in the discussion paper put forward by the government House leader.

I think I was on some of the issues around programming. Right now we have a procedure of time allocation, which allows the government to move a motion with notice to allocate a set, limited number of days for debate to continue. The government is able to move that motion. What follows the moving of that motion is a period of half an hour of questions directed to the mover of that motion. Similar to question period, some of those questions may be posed by members of the government, but generally speaking those questions are posed by members of the opposition.

The government puts this forward, there's a half-hour period for questions and answers, then there are the bells, then we have a vote on the allocation of time, and then the discussion proceeds. The use of time allocation is never ideal. The ideal way for us to proceed is through discussion, agreement, and consensus among the different actors within our system. That's how normally it's supposed to go.

More and more we're seeing the use of time allocation by this government. At least in the current structure, if I'm not mistaken, there is a sense in which the use of time allocation, per the Standing Orders, occurs only when agreement cannot be reached. The Standing Orders obviously cannot prescribe goodwill in the context of negotiations among House leaders; they cannot necessarily prescribe the degree to which a good faith effort is made to get on the same page, but they do require that there be at least some sort of effort to get on the same page before the time allocation process is undertaken.

Members have every reason to encourage their government to use time allocation as little as possible, because it may well be disruptive to the other normal operations of the House—not to say that it may not be appropriate in certain circumstances, and maybe, depending on the inclination of a particular opposition, it's more necessary in certain environments than others.

Each time it's used, time allocation does provoke some degree of a public conversation around its use, which calibrates the discussion a little. That's one of the things about the current procedure: it does entail this balance, this tension within it.

We now have an alternative system proposed by the government. I think, more honestly, they would say they're going to use time allocation all the time for everything. That's certainly what it looks like to me, but I think they would like to go through this rebranding exercise. This is the sort of rebranding exercise whereby the government automatically time allocates everything, and everybody accepts it.

(2110)



Sorry, but that isn't going to happen; the opposition is going to say they need some say on how much time is spent discussing particular issues. There's no surprise there. The opposition is going to expect to be able to determine which bills are a priority. If the government says we're going to have six days of debate on Rouge Park, and one day on euthanasia, at that point the opposition is going to say, no, they have a slightly different sense about which bill requires more discussion and which bill, at a particular stage, is in need of less immediate discussion. It's not the sort of thing we would expect the government to do unilaterally.

In the framework established by the motion in the absence of the amendment, however, the government would simply be able to institute their new set of proposals about how the House would work. That would totally undermine the ability of the opposition to be effective as part of the conversation; it would totally undermine the opposition's ability to counter the government over the period of time they want to do so.

I can imagine a situation in which the government might propose legislation that would be particularly relevant to my home province, Alberta, something on which many of the MPs from Alberta would want to speak to and represent the concerns of their communities. If the government felt this were not a priority and was not going to allocate a certain number of days for it, that would create a real problem for members who seek to reflect the specific priorities of the constituents that we are all sent here to represent.

We have a responsibility to represent the concerns and priorities of our constituents whom we've been sent here to represent, and yes, that includes being able to speak on matters of particular concern to us, when we want to, on specific bills. Of course, it can be limited by the decision of government to move time allocation, but it is something that the government must, at least, be held accountable for in each individual instance.

My ability to give speeches in the House of Commons has been limited by the use of time allocation by this government.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I have a point of order.

Just for the sake of giving you a break here—I'm not going to read from Facebook again, I swear—I want to comment on this one. This is the one I was waiting for, about programming, because I want to add to the debate about....

Well, anyway, can I—?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

You can as per our normal procedure, yes.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Okay, thank you very much.

I looked into the element of programming. As Scott Reid pointed out a while ago, they called it “guillotining”, which is their succinct word for time allocation that calls it exactly what it is. For actual guillotining, you knew what was coming, but in the case of Parliament, you did not know what was coming. It was guillotining in that particular manner.

They started doing what was called “programming”. It was only to provide a good prediction. When I was in Great Britain last week, at Westminster, I spoke to the former House leader for the Labour Party. The reason she explored the concept of programming is that when she was in opposition, Margaret Thatcher put out a bill—

Mr. Garnett Genuis: Hear, hear!

Mr. Scott Simms: God love 'er.

She had a whole concept with a bill to be brought to the House that was essentially going to cut social welfare payments. She wanted to argue this, this, and that. She had three elements set up for argument. She had planned it in such a manner. Halfway through what she felt was the most important part, it was guillotined, and she lost her chance. Basically, she said, she spent too much time on one part, which was not as important as the other part. When she assumed office, she still thought it was a good idea to do, so she thrust this upon the Conservatives. They were initially pretty angry, but a former Conservative MP at the time, from 1997 to 2015, named Andrew Lansley, was quoted as saying: I may be wrong about this, but I think it would have been slightly utopian to have imagined that business could proceed without any form of programming. Programming in itself in the House is not regarded as an evil thing, as long as it delivers what Members are looking for.

It is also for the House leaders, of course, which you mentioned earlier, and I respect that.

He was the leader of the House Commons, and in a government memorandum presented to the Procedure Committee, in 2013, after leaving opposition, he stated: On the basis of the debates and votes on programming over the last 15 years, there now appears to be a clear majority view in the House that, in principle, programming is beneficial to the scrutiny of legislation.

That's why we included this in the discussion paper. We thought that because this came from both sides, it's now being used effectively.

Sir Roger Sands, a former clerk of the United Kingdom House of Commons, also endorses it. There's another quote, if I may.

Margaret Beckett,by the way, whom I mentioned, was the former leader.

Going back to the clerk, his last known public appearance was in 2014, to give evidence to the governance committee. You have the Labour side, you have the Conservative side, and now you have a former clerk himself, Sir Roger Sands, who said: I am against an approach to procedure which results in debate being conducted as a process of arm-wrestling rather than real engagement; and I think when we had open-ended debate on legislation that was what tended to happen far too often and guillotining

—that is, time allotting— was the way you broke through. You stopped the arm-wrestling and it was almost the only way to do it.

One of those politicians, with the Liberal Democrats, said to me when I talked to him—and I apologize if I get it wrong, but I paraphrase—that when programming came in, it introduced an element of debate for grown-ups. They were able to distribute the debate process over a period of time following second reading such that they were able to predict when it would end. In other words, they said to the government that if you're going to cut this short, you're going to do it on a timetable we know so that we can plan for it. In some cases, the House leaders did agree, but when the House leaders agreed, which we can do now, which is true, they decided to institute this programming measure by which they were going to do it, and it became much more predictable.

I'm providing that to the debate only because I thought it was something to think about. That's really the reason we put it in this discussion paper. In the study, if we get there, if I get evidence to the contrary, I think we'd all agree that we would get rid of it if we felt that it weren't useful, but I think there's strong enough evidence to look at it—not to institute it, but to look at it and study it.

(2115)



We can have those witnesses, those people I just mentioned.... One of them, the former Labour person, told me that she is willing talk to the committee by video conference and tell us about their experience in 1997, when they brought it into effect.

I want to thank you for your time.

Mr. David Christopherson:

That's sounds like consensus.

Mr. Blake Richards:

If only we could find a way to formalize that.

(2120)

The Chair:

You're on, Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Okay.

Thank you, Mr. Simms, for your comments with respect to programming. Perhaps I can address the underlying question in the context of the amendment and then speak more specifically about the issues you raised.

At the end of your intervention, you alluded to putting this forward in good faith. You said that you want to provoke a discussion about this, and that this is based on evidence you've heard from some people in the context of British politics. Perhaps there are other points of view. Perhaps there are other experiences of programming. Perhaps there are members of Parliament in the U.K. or members of other legislatures who have found that this doesn't work. We could hear that evidence and take that on board.

I certainly have no problem with having that discussion take place in a framework in which we know that the ability of the opposition to be engaged in the evaluation of that evidence will be important as well, because a different evaluation of the evidence may come forward. We may hear from different MPs who represent different perspectives on that question. The opposition may conclude one thing, or we might even end up agreeing on the broader principle but have sub-disagreements about the exact operationalizing of different components of it.

This is precisely the reason we have put forward this amendment—to guarantee a framework in which we can have a conversation about these issues and know that the government will not use that as an opportunity to advance their interests at the expense of ours. The framework established by the amendment is one in which we know that we will be able to have a good, meaningful, deep, and substantive conversation about this and all of the other issues that are raised.

We cannot simply assume the good faith of the government, especially—and here I say so not to impugn the reputation of any individual members—when we have reason to believe that what the government is trying to do here is move forward with changes that reflect their interests at the expense of the opposition. Reading the discussion paper, it doesn't just put out lots of things for discussion. It makes specific arguments for things in a facially neutral way, but clearly for things that advance the interests of the government. That's throughout the discussion paper.

Of course, in any proper consensus process, it would be reasonable for the government to put forward arguments or things that they see are in their interests and for the opposition to put forward arguments for things that they see are in their interests. Everybody recognizes the reality that probably at some point the opposition will be the government and the government will be the opposition. Over time we would adjudicate that, and come to certain conclusions where we could say, well, let's try to implement a change in this way that reflects all of our interests.

Mr. Simms and others in their interventions have asked that there just be a presumption of good faith, but there hasn't thus far been a good reason for us to presume that the government isn't doing what it appears to be doing—namely, trying to create circumstances that would allow them to unilaterally move forward with this motion and with changes. All they would have to do to provide the reassurance that would allow us to proceed with the study is to accept the amendment that we are advancing in the opposition. All that would be required would be for them to say “yes” to the amendment. At that point, yes, absolutely we can have the discussion about all of the issues around programming.

Mr. Simms talks about the range of witnesses we could have. Frankly, I do think there are some issues with hearing the full range of witnesses that he has talked about in the context of the timeline. The timeline proposes that there would be a report back to the House no later than June 2. We are today at the end of March.

(2125)



We have a break week coming. The House will sit for two weeks in April and three weeks in May. So effectively there would be five sitting weeks. Even if we were to immediately get consensus on the amendment and move forward, we would have those five sitting weeks, and there would have to be time for consideration and discussion of a report. There would have to be time for translation and publication as well. There would have to be time on the front end for the contacting, recruiting, and scheduling witnesses.

We're actually left with a very narrow period of time. I'm not all sure that, even with the passage of the amendment, we would have time to hear from the witnesses being envisioned. That's another issue, but I think we do need to pass this amendment to establish the principle of consensus, and then discuss how we would build a study out of this at committee, one that draws on the expertise of members of Parliament here, which would really achieve the best results that people are looking for.

On the specific issues around programming itself, I take the point—and it's a good point that Mr. Simms raises—that it is worthwhile for the opposition to know if and when the government intends to introduce time allocation. All other things being equal, I don't think Mr. Simms would have met opposition members who are enthusiastic about debate being cut off, but I think they would have said yes, of course, if we accept that the government is going to cut off debate after three days. It is better to know at the beginning of day one that they're going to do that than to find out at the end of day two that they're going to do that, as is what happens under our current procedure, that being the time when the government would then put forward the appropriate notice of motion about its intention to move forward with a time allocation motion.

Right now, we don't have the use of guillotining, time allocation, closure, or whatever you call it with all legislation. Every time the government does use that, there is a price that is paid, and there is an ongoing opportunity for negotiation.

I think a better way to approach this would be.... Actually, I think Mr. Simms indirectly points the way there, when he talks on the one hand about the principle of programming but then, on the other hand, about the practice of programming. The principle of programming—that people would know in advance how a debate were going to unfold—is a good principle if it is combined with the principle of consensus. If you have a process to establish the number of days to comprise a debate, but you have that process on the basis of a real established consensus, then yes, predictability is an asset.

In the absence of consensus, that's just closure with an extra day's notice, which doesn't address the fundamental concerns. It is a little bit more notice, but still, effectively, it's the idea that there would be the automatic introduction of closure.

Even the way in which it was set up.... If I remember his intervention correctly, Mr. Simms was talking about this from the perspective of an opposition House leader. The emphasis in that model is still on one of the parties acting as collective monoliths instead of individuals acting on behalf of their constituents. He spoke of a particular case or example in which there was a change to the social benefit package introduced by the government, and the opposition had certain points it wanted to make.

Let's not forget there might be points that the opposition wants to make, but that there are also points that individual members may want to make that reflect the particular priorities or concerns of their own constituencies.

(2130)



The question here is not just about a party being able to organize itself to present the debates in the way and in the time they want, but also about the individual members having the opportunity to participate in the discussion as it unfolds.

The point was made about open-ended debate looking like arm wrestling. I don't really understand or agree with that characterization. I think open-ended debate is debate in which as many members who want to speak on an issue on behalf of their constituents can do so. With the exception of certain circumstances, the first response to a government motion and so forth, generally there are the time limits.

Of course, the way that our debate works on bills, you go from a 20-minute time limit to a 10-minute time limit after a period of time, and members in the House can't speak more than once. There's obviously sort of a natural process to which that conversation would approach an ending, and it's not practical for every member to speak on every bill. Members have to focus their attention and their expertise on certain things.

There is one feature of advanced planning that would be interesting, and that is the possibility, in the context of certain debates, of determining speech length based on the number of members who were interested in speaking to it to fit in a certain number of days. Again, that would have to be done on the basis of consensus, or you would end up disenfranchising individual members of Parliament who want to bring forward individual concerns that respect the priorities of their ridings.

I think that addresses the points Mr. Simms has raised, both with respect to the process we're operating under, and these issues around the expectation of good faith—he didn't use these words—and why we can proceed with a presumption of good faith if the government supports our amendment. We can proceed to do a great study and make some recommendations and move these institutions forward on that basis. However, we cannot accept the government having the ability to unilaterally change the rules of the game. We're concerned about what the Prime Minister would do with that power, but we're also concerned about what a future prime minister might do, the norms of the engagement, and about transgressing the consensus among members. It is important that we very much preserve that in place.

Before I go on, I do want to assent to one point that Mr. Simms made, and that is the benefit of this study's being fulsome and its engaging international perspectives. The discussion paper from the government House leader comments about the way things operate in New Zealand and the U.S. House of Representatives. There are plenty of other parliaments. We could look at how time is managed among the competing interests, especially in very large, very populous democracies. I think it would be interesting to understand how time management is organized.

I suspect that for many of the democracies around the world, we would find that whatever they call it, there has to be a level of consensus. A level of consensus built into the system is fundamental to what all of us would expect there to be in the context of a robust well-functioning parliamentary democracy in which there is proper calibration of the relationship between the executive and the legislative function. This is what is at stake with this amendment. What is at stake is preserving that proper form of responsible government in this country that we have come to expect.

(2135)



I would like to go on to make a few comments about the issue of question period and some of the proposals for it in the government House leader's discussion paper, in the context of some of the discussion about Fridays. One the proposed options is to end Friday sittings, and of course it is acknowledged that time from question period and for private members' business could be allocated to discussion on other days.

Think about that proposal in the context of some of the discussion in the section on question period. One of the proposals is lengthening the time allotted for questions and answers. I'm not sure about the part for answers. I didn't know that happened in our question period, but maybe they mean lengthening the amount of time for responses.

The issue, of course, is that if you are lengthening the amount of time for question period and also the amount of time allotted for questions and answers, or responses, the net effect is that you are reducing the number of questions that will be asked and answered. Depending on the changes made to the amount of time available, there is a real risk that changes would take place that would significantly reduce the ability of members of the opposition to ask questions if we were to be in a situation in which governments were giving much more extended responses to questions that should, in reality, be answered in a clearer, simpler, and more straightforward way.

I think there is some logic to the idea that if you have advance notice of questions that are to be asked and an ability to take a certain amount of time to answer those questions—actually, I think Mr. Simms spoke a bit about this yesterday—theoretically, you might expect that you would see a question and answer period that indeed looked a little bit more like a question and answer period.

Incidentally, I remember that when I took my then girlfriend, now wife, to question period for the first time, she very innocently asked me, “Why aren't they answering the questions?” This may or may not have been when the Conservatives were in government.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Garnett Genuis: We've been married for six years, so I think anybody can do the math. I realized after I started to share the anecdote that it was going to get me into trouble.

That was a particularly abhorrent question period for us, I think. Most of the time—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

A voice: You were doing so well.

Mr. Garnett Genuis: —we were quite good about answering the questions.

Nonetheless, when we speak about what would happen if questions and answers were longer, and if advance notice were given, we need to look at what already happens for “late shows”, because this is precisely the formula for what we informally call “late shows”, which are now adjournment proceedings.

In speeches I've given on this subject, I've advocated that we should look at ways of strengthening “late shows”, changing the time of them—I spoke about that yesterday—by exchanging time slots for them with statements by members. This is an idea that I think needs further exploration. It's the kind of thing that would enhance the value of that process.

We don't always get answers to questions in the context of late shows, but I think we do a little bit better.

(2140)



Sometimes in question period we'll ask a question about a particular minority group, for example, and the government response doesn't mention the group, and then the government respondent does some research on the question and the next time we ask it, they are ready to answer the question. So having longer questions and answers and advance notice of the questions, and changed procedures for late shows, would get around the problem of a parliamentary secretary or a minister not having any idea of the issue, and therefore fudging and talking about nothing or something completely different.

That's a problem worth getting around, although it should be said that ministers and parliamentary secretaries should know their files without advance notice. They should be prepared to answer questions about important issues that opposition members are going to ask. If an opposition member is trying to surprise a government member with something very obscure, what's going on will be obvious to the public. But if you ask a legitimate question in good faith that reflects an issue that should be on the radar of the government minister or the parliamentary secretary, there is a reasonable expectation that there would be a response, even in the absence of advance notice.

Nonetheless, advance notice and lengthening of the time for question period, as some have proposed, would get around that problem of somebody just having no idea about an issue when a question is asked. At least it would give the opposition member a little more satisfaction at that point.

On the other hand, if we were dealing with an issue, and there are some when the government is fully aware of what's going on but still doesn't want to provide an explanation, then advance notice would not help. Many times, when reading the headlines, it's very obvious what the opposition is going to ask the next day, and although formally the government has advance notice, informally it knows exactly what subjects it is going to be questioned on, and it still doesn't make a meaningful response.

We can look at prospective changes that would strengthen question period, but the biggest issue in question period is a level of political will from the government and, to some extent, from the opposition, because sometimes the opposition asks questions that aren't designed to be answered. They are of a different nature, and we can't expect responses from the government on questions that are not respondable, but very often the opposition does ask questions about specific issues. These might not just be about policy issues. They might be about ethics or the conduct of the government, but in any event they are specific and clear and pointed answerable questions on which the opposition do not receive a response.

Neither advance notice nor expanding the time windows for questions and answers would change the underlying issue in questions and answers, which is whether there is a political will to respond, an expectation that the government will respond. Part of the issue around the absence of political will is some degree of political cynicism, that the public doesn't really expect politicians to give meaningful answers in question period, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By the way, part of this whole debate we're having around the amendment, around the motion, concerns public expectations of our democracy. When we don't work together and don't embrace the principles of consensus and fairness that we, in the opposition, have talked about, we contribute to public cynicism that makes everything we do more challenging. It makes all of our efforts to move things forward in an effective way more challenging. That's part of the context in which we're having these conversations.

(2145)



With respect to question period, I don't want to come across as not believing there are reforms that can or should be made. I'm not saying that. I think some of the changes would have the effect of accentuating public pressure on members of the cabinet and parliamentary secretaries to respond. Let's be clear, though, that this is not the solution to every problem.

I think a first step towards improving question period would be something that would happen outside of question period, something that could happen tonight and that could and should happen in the context of this committee. That would be the government's agreeing that it is to work on the basis of respect for the opposition and embrace the principle of consensus embodied by this amendment. We recognize that a strong system of democratic government requires a role for both the government and opposition caucuses, because it is not the government that speaks for all Canadians; it is only Parliament that speaks for all Canadians.

I think the government could recognize that, and if they were to recognize it, this could be a first step to their recognizing it in a number of different areas across the board: treating the opposition with a greater level of respect in the context of question period by providing substantial answers to substantial questions. I think it would be a positive way forward, but it would start with their saying here, in the context of this committee, that we recognize that Her Majesty's loyal opposition is an indispensable part of our system.

I'd like to now speak to the question of omnibus legislation. This question is really interesting, of course, because we just had tabled in the House the budget. I had a chance to read the budget in the half hour before coming down here.

No, I didn't actually—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Garnett Genuis: —but am just making the point that it's a very long piece of legislation and deals with a wide variety of very disparate themes.

It is natural that the budget would touch on a broad range of themes, and I'm not yet ready to pronounce on whether it covers more themes than are appropriate for the budget or not. That's something I would have to make a more thorough study of than I've had a chance to do in the intervening time. Every budget that comes forward touches on many themes.

I notice that there is a subheading on Canada-U.S. relations; there's discussion of Canada's role in the world. If in the context of a budget you're talking about foreign affairs issues and Canada's role in the world, of course there's expenditure involved in foreign affairs, but I can only assume that when you're speaking of Canada's role in the world, the discussion is going to cover some basic philosophy as well as a discussion of expenditure items.

Very likely, this budget is an omnibus bill, at least insofar as omnibus bills are defined in the discussion paper.

I have to say that the definition of omnibus bill given in this discussion paper actually illustrates the problem with some of the discussion that is so critical of omnibus bills, in the absence of having a clear definition of what an omnibus bill is: it's actually very difficult to define what kind of bill you don't like.

I guess you could identify as such a bill that dealt with completely unrelated themes, with absolutely no plausible connection between the two or need for them to be connected. Omnibus bills are described in the discussion paper in this way: The Government committed to end the improper use of omnibus legislation.

Even there, they're committed to end the “improper use” of omnibus legislation. Presumably they will replace it with the proper use of omnibus legislation, and it's not at all clear what in their mind the difference is.

They say: Omnibus bills can be defined as a bill that contains separate and unrelated themes packaged into one bill. Members are then forced to vote for or against a bill that could have elements that Members would support or oppose.

Let's be clear. Members are required all the time to vote for or against bills that have elements they support and oppose. Even very short bills contain elements you might agree with and disagree with as well. That's very common.

(2150)



For example, there was a bill before the House recently. I can't remember the number of it, but it was a bill that dealt in some clauses with the opioid crisis that we face. It also made some specific changes to the community consultation provisions, and we took real issue with those changes. This was an issue for us as a caucus. We said there were many provisions in this bill around the importation of pill presses, around the opening of certain kinds of packages that are being imported, and around the enhancing of the inspection process that we agreed with, but then there was one provision that we didn't agree with. We proposed to split that bill, and the government refused to allow us to split it, even though it was emphatic about the urgency of moving this bill forward. We agreed to actually expedite both halves of the bill if they were split, and yet the government was still unwilling to accept that.

Was that an omnibus bill? It some sense it was, in that dealt with separate and unrelated themes. It dealt with the importation of drug paraphernalia, and then it also dealt with issues of community consultation around supervised consumption sites. In a certain sense we're talking about different themes, but in a certain sense of course we're not talking about different themes, because both of those deal with prospective responses to the opioid crisis that we face.

Was that bill an omnibus bill? Actually, it was in the public interest for that bill to be split. It did create a situation in which members were forced, to quote from the discussion paper, to “vote for or against a bill that could have elements that Members would support or oppose”. That's all well and good, but then how do you make the determination about what is and is not an omnibus bill? I know that the previous government attracted a great deal of criticism for what some regarded as the inappropriate use of omnibus legislation. The proposals that the previous government made and passed in our budgets were not at all dissimilar to the proposals advanced by this government in each of its budgets.

Any budget includes a broad range of different changes to taxation, to regulatory environments, and to expenditure in the name of advancing the government's economic objectives. Of course, every budget has a common theme. The common theme of the budget is the fiscal and economic plan of the government. That is a common theme. That's a theme that has a relationship to all sorts of other themes. It's not a theme that can exist in isolation from the other things that governments do, but it certainly is a theme. Yes, when a government proposes a budget or a budget implementation act, there are a lot of different things in there that would generally be around a common theme.

I think it's fair to say that in some people's minds, there is a lot of difference between the improper combination of things of a similar theme and the proper combination of things of a similar theme, but it's not easy to actually put your finger on the distinguishing feature of improper versus proper omnibus legislation. Perhaps if the amendment is supported and we proceed to a study, we'll get some further clarity around what the proper and improper are meant to be in that context. You've got to have a bit of a sense of what you're talking about, especially if the discussion paper envisions that this is a judgment call that would have to be made by the Speaker.

(2155)



We can expect the Speaker to make decisions that reflect what is dictated in the context of a standing order on the basis of precedent. However, in the absence of any clear precedent for making some kind of a formal distinction between the proper and the improper use of omnibus legislation, I think you would be putting the Speaker in a particularly difficult position unless this committee could arrive at a clear definition of what was and was not acceptable omnibus legislation.

Perhaps some people might say it's all in the length, and that was some of the criticism of some of the previous government's legislation. It was just too long. However, if you're trying to roll out a comprehensive economic plan, it could well be that it would all be thematically related to the same thing and would indeed, in that context, still be quite long.

It's not at all clear to me where this intends to go, but I'll tell you what I suspect it's planning to do. The government made a lot of commitments in opposition about institutional changes they would wish to make. Sometimes opposition parties make commitments about changes to institutions that they don't actually want to implement. We've seen that, certainly on the electoral reform issue and on others as well.

When it comes to omnibus legislation, they have used omnibus legislation. They want to continue to use omnibus legislation. In this day and age, given the complexity of governments, it's hard to imagine not having a budget that dealt with a certain diversity of themes, but in the context of an overarching theme. However, they want to be able to cling to this distinction between proper and improper use of omnibus legislation, just as they want to distinguish between proper and improper deficits and proper and improper uses of time allocation. Really, what they're applying is not an objective filter at all about what constitutes the proper or the improper. Actually, what they are applying is a wholly partisan filter. We get the sense that when it says the government is committed to ending ”the improper use of omnibus legislation”, they're just speaking about trying to establish a distinction between what they do and what the previous government did, which is a difference of party but not a clear difference at all in terms of the substance of what is involved there.

This then puts the Speaker, the neutral officer of the House, in a particularly difficult situation, in that he or she has to adjudicate on the balance of properness or not, when it's something that can't even be clearly defined by the government. How is it fair for them to expect a neutral person who is acting on behalf of the institution to be able to make a fine, defined distinction, when it's not clear at all that they even have a real sense or grasp on what that distinction is?

The next section, theme 3 in the discussion paper, is management of committees. I have to just shake my head a bit at the title of this section. As I go through this discussion paper from the government House leader, there is what the discussion paper says directly in terms of the arguments it makes and the issues one can and should raise about those, but there is also the tone, the language through which things are expressed, that really sets off the kind of perspective that's being brought to it and why we need to have consensus at this committee. I would prefer, frankly, that we have this committee generate the ideas and the path forward, rather than having the framing of the debate coming immediately from the government House leader.

(2200)



We get phrases like “management of committees”. That's something that someone in a leader's office would say: “Okay, we have to manage the committees.” Those of us here on a committee would say that we have to consider the “governance” of the committee, the committee as a self-governing entity, not as a group of potentially stray children who have to be managed, but as a vital organ of our democracy that has to consider the way in which it's governed.

Some of these turns of phrase are disappointing. However, in a way, they're useful because of how revealing they are and how they hopefully will draw the attention of all members, government members as well as opposition members, to the need to pass an amendment that allows us to proceed with a discussion that is framed in a fundamentally different way, and that we need to start that discussion on a bit of a different foot.

Nonetheless, on “Theme 3: Management of Committees”, as it's called, there are a few other turns of phrase here that I think should jump out at members in terms of illustrating the problems with the tone taken by the government House leader, and therefore why protecting the input of the opposition through this amendment is so vital. It reads, “Members who are focused on substantive issues are less [likely] to resort to tactics.”

Let's be clear. What we had is the introduction of a discussion paper, so-called, with all these problems with it, during a break week, and then a refusal to support an amendment that would establish the conditions in which the government would seek to unilaterally impose dramatic changes to the way in which our parliamentary institutions operate. If you want to talk about resorting to tactics, that's certainly resorting to tactics, although it's still a rather strange and awkward turn of phrase.

The discussion paper continues, “As a result, the House could examine ways to make committees more inclusive as well as ways to ensure that obstructionist tactics do not crowd out the substantive work of committees.” This is, I think, setting up a justification for limiting such things as members talking at length about particular issues. Really, what is envisioned here are changes that would still leave in place the ability of the government to resort to tactics. In fact, that's what they're doing, through their motion, discussion paper, and refusal to support our amendment. It would simply eliminate the ability of the opposition to have tools to use in response.

What we have right now is a certain kind of equilibrium that is shaped by the Standing Orders. This means that the government has certain tools available to them. The opposition has certain tools available to them. We calibrate our use of these tools in response to certain circumstances, to certain situations. We use them in response to what's in front of us. We use them more or less. If we're wise, we use them sparingly, only to draw attention to very particular concerns we have that are indeed things we think have resonance with the wider public.

We have every incentive, as elected officials, to use the tactics available to us in a way that is wise, that is judicious, and that is measured. Instead, through the process they have set up, in the context of what's happening in this committee, the government is establishing the circumstances in which the opposition would not be able to use tactics, even while the government would be able to use tactics.

(2205)



The language specifically refers to “obstructionist tactics do not crowd out the substantive work of committees.” It doesn't refer to the alternative set of tactics, which is dropping a motion on a Friday. Having a timeline, at this point, so that if the amendment passes and we were to go forward, even if it still limits the amount of time that could be used for debate, is not an obstructionist tactic. That's the inverse of the government tactic to try to inappropriately push something through that would merit a greater length and depth of conversation.

I think I've already objected to the title “Management of Committees”. I think a better title would be “Governance of Committees”, but a more accurate title, a more descriptive title of the content here, would be “Management of the Opposition in Committees”, or “Management of the Opposition's Desire to Represent Their Constituents”. It is important that we be able to use tactics to challenge the government and to challenge the ways in which they do things that are injurious to the interests of our constituency.

Now there is a proposal that I think one can probably see the value of in principle but some problems with in practice, and then immediately after see that it is actually about setting up the justification for something else the government wants to do that I have a real problem with. This theme 3 that we're dealing with talks about creating the space for “one independent Member [to be] an ex officio member of committees with all privileges except for the ability to vote, or to constitute quorum.”

I'm quoting, of course, and the quote continues, “This would allow independent Members to participate in in camera proceedings, question witnesses, and travel with committees.”

Now, on a few issues here, yes, there might be a need for provisions that would allow for greater opportunities for questioning and for travel, although I believe it should be the practice that we allow elected members to attend in camera meetings of committees. That hasn't always happened, and in the case of one particular bill early on in this Parliament that didn't happen, and I was very concerned about that. Generally speaking, it should already be the case that any member of Parliament who wants to sit in on the proceedings of the committee, whether they are public or in camera, should be able to do that, provided, of course, they respect the provisions that we know are associated with being in camera and the use of documents that are produced in camera. I think all members know about that and have an understanding of what's expected of them in that context, and if they're not a member of a particular committee, they may be a member of another committee.

The issue of in camera proceedings, I think, wouldn't necessarily be a dramatic change. I do want to ask a couple of questions, though, about this question of the involvement of independent members on committees with some of these privileges. I guess the question would be this: who gets to determine which independent members are on the committee? Who gets to determine which independents get to sit or be part of which committees?

The other question is that if the process would allow independent members of Parliament to choose which committee they wanted to affiliate themselves with, then it would actually have an effect of giving independent members of Parliament powers that members of Parliament who are members of political parties don't have because, as I'm sure government members know, typically the process is that they don't choose which committees they are on. It is the whip and their office who assigns them to committees. It's possible that some of the members who are here today didn't choose to be on the procedure and House affairs committee. I'm sure that's unlikely, but it's possible, yet, what is envisioned by the process that is imagined by the House Leader here is that the decision about who goes to which committee would be something that the independent member could choose.

(2210)



It's not stated, but I think it's implied. They could say they wanted to be on the finance committee or they wanted to be on the foreign affairs committee. Then I guess we would end up with one of two problems. One, it would be at the government's discretion which independents ended up on which committees. I don't think you would want that, but the alternative would be to give independent members of Parliament in a sense a greater level of influence than members who are members of parties, because of the issue of committee selection.

There would be ways to address this. I think it would be interesting to imagine a committee system in which, independent of parties, members could signal their interest in being on particular committees. Then that allocation could be done in a more independent way. You could imagine that as being a possible alternative that would both engage independent members of Parliament in the process and at the same time ensure a certain equality of those who were members of parties and those who were not members of parties.

This is a concern I had around the government's legislation, Bill C-22, but it applies in this case as well. Bill C-22 says that for the security intelligence committee—I'm not getting the name exactly right, but it's the intelligence review committee—the Prime Minister appoints a certain number of members, only a certain number of whom can be members of the government caucus. That, though, creates an issue in which you could have independents who, for whatever reason, left the government caucus, but then they are, in a sense, quasi-members of the government caucus. They are being used by the government, because the rules provide for only a certain number of government members to be on a committee, yet the government could appoint someone as a non-member of the government who is effectively acting as a member of the government in that context.

We have the case of at least one former member of the government caucus who votes very frequently with the government. The government could recognize, in the context of having an independent who's outside of their caucus, that they can actually use that person to do things that government members can't do, such as be an additional person on a committee. If we were to see a government use those kinds of tactics, I think that would be a concern. I think that would be a misuse of process and of what it is to be an independent.

Right now, of course, there aren't many advantages to being an independent. Primarily, in the way our system is constructed, it's principally a matter of disadvantages associated with being an independent. There are potential concerns that are created, both by the framework established by Bill C-22 and by some of the language that's used here, that illustrate the need for that broader discussion. The opposition needs an opportunity to raise, to pronounce on, and in the context of the unanimity provisions to be involved in a discussion about some potential concerns that the government may not have thought of around some of these questions that may be more technical in nature. They may just be matters of not necessarily foreseeing something.

Why not build into the process a more ground-up, consensus-based approach to decision-making than the one that has been set up by the motion in the absence of the amendment?

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Perhaps I could ask for a point of order, Mr. Chair, while we have a minute, and let my friend Garnett take a drink.

Maybe we could give a quick shout-out to our translation crew for doing a great job tonight.

Thank you for everything you're doing and for putting up with us. Keep up the good work.

The Chair:

I will add our clerks and our researchers.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Our clerks, yes, and multimedia—all the staff here. Well done, everyone. Thanks for hanging in there.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

(2215)

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Thank you to all our sponsors.

Mr. Blake Richards:

While we're thanking people, our chair has a really difficult job. He's the one who's had a gun strapped to his chair the whole time and is in a really difficult position here.

Some hon. members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Blake Richards: I'd be okay if you want to suspend for a little while, as long as you need, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

It's okay.

Go ahead, Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Since we're in the spirit of co-operation, I'd like to try one more time.

I think it's critically important that Canadians have an opportunity to know what's going on, what's being debated here, and get a chance to see it for themselves. It's really good stuff, obviously.

Liberal members might reconsider. This is about accountability. It's a perfect opportunity for them to show they're listening to others, and they may even be convinced and offer the accountability we're asking for. This would be a great opportunity for all members if you could ask again for unanimous consent to see this meeting televised.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Agreed.

An hon. member: It sounds like unanimous consent.

An hon. member: I didn't see anyone disagreeing.

The Chair:

There was Mr. Graham.

Mr. Blake Richards:

It's Mr. Graham, so Liberals are again refusing this. It's unfortunate, but we'll keep trying. We've tried three or four times now, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Mr. Genuis, you're on.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Can we have unanimous consent to suspend for 15 minutes while the chair and staff take a quick breather?

The Chair:

Okay, we'll have a health break. It's for 10 minutes only, though.

(2215)

(2230)

The Chair:

I call the meeting back to order.

Mr. Genuis can continue on his short speech.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I don't want to put anyone on the spot, but if there's someone in the room—I won't say who—with a particular knowledge of this area, and they want to take the opportunity to make a few comments to the committee, I would be willing to propose a unanimous consent motion to allow that person to make a few remarks to the committee.

I won't put them on the spot if they would rather not, either, so I will just put that out there as an option. It might be interesting to hear some comments on some of the thinking behind this discussion paper.

The Chair:

Does the committee give unanimous consent to have an interested person...?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

We can do anything we want with unanimous consent.

(2235)

Hon. Bardish Chagger (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons):

Wouldn't it be better for me to come as a witness?

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Should we suspend to talk about this?

The Chair:

Okay. Let's suspend a minute to talk about this.

(2235)

(2335)

The Chair:

We will resume debate on the motion of Mr. Simms.

Mr. Genuis has the floor.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

I have a point of order before we get going.

The Chair:

Yes.

Mr. Jamie Schmale:

Mr. Chair, does the committee have unanimous consent to accept the amendment as proposed?

Some hon. members: No.

The Chair:

Go ahead, Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate, I'm sure, the good faith efforts that were undertaken in the context of the suspension. Nonetheless, I think members have quite wisely elected to create an opportunity for me to continue to advance the important arguments that I have been advancing and to bring them to a conclusion in the fullness of time.

I will reflect, though, on the core issue here, because there are a lot of things that are being discussed, and I think it is important that we develop the principal issues that inform our perspectives and our concerns about the way the government has proceeded.

Fundamentally, here is where we are. The opposition is united in its conviction that the amendment that is standing before us is important, because the amendment would ensure that we will proceed on a consensus basis. It would ensure that what has been the general practice of the committee will continue to be the practice of the committee and the House with respect to changes to the Standing Orders. That's the position of the opposition: that this is what needs to happen and that we need to have unanimity in the way we proceed with respect to changes in the Standing Orders.

I also think that attached to that we have made the reasonable ask that we have a built-in assurance that the consensus approach will be what is undertaken through the study.

It is not unreasonable for us to simply ask that in the motion convening the study, those terms are clearly defined and set out. That's what we want. That's what we're asking for.

I think we should pass this amendment and then proceed with discussion and, fairly efficiently, the adoption of the motion, and then have a detailed study of the Standing Orders. That's our position, and we have reasons. I am talking about them and I'm going to continue to talk about them.

The government's position is quite interesting, as I understand it, because I haven't heard the members formally argue in defence of what seems to be the actual effect of defeating the amendment. I haven't heard anyone from the government say “We want to do this unilaterally.” In fact, Ms. Tassi, during our discussion earlier on in the day, said that they want to be able to proceed with the discussion, and she was not keen on the use of the word “unilateral”, yet the government is reluctant to adopt the amendment.

It's a mystery to me that there actually seems to be broad assent to the principle—well, I don't know if there's actually broad assent to the amendment, and this is why we in the opposition are looking for an assurance. The arguments that the government members make suggest that they might well be open to the principle of the amendment but don't want to support the amendment itself because they see it as premature to talk about the process of the study before the study is begun.

I'll just say that of course it's not premature to talk about how the study would proceed before the study is undertaken. That is how you study anything. You initially define what the study is going to be about and how the study is going to unfold.

(2340)



If I look at the main motion that the amendment proposes to amend, it does what you would expect a motion to do, which is to define the contours of the study that the government intends to undertake. It prescribes a time period. It's actually more prescriptive already than many of the motions I've seen, in terms of prescribing the amount of time before which witnesses must be submitted and describing the specific sub-themes of the study. As opposed to just talking about the general study, it's actually describing the sub-themes of the study. There is a process for inviting members of caucus who are not members of the committee.

There is a fairly prescriptive nature to this motion that we can see, as is appropriate, I think, when a study is being undertaken, yet members of the governing party on this committee, broadly speaking, seem to be allergic to the amendment for reasons that are difficult for me, at least, to understand. If they agree that we should all work together, if they agree that we should not proceed without some measure of agreement, then simply pass an amendment that says that.

If you are opposing the amendment, people are liable to come to the conclusion that you are doing so because you disagree with it, right? For people who are watching these proceedings and who see that the government members here do not want to support the amendment, it is reasonable for them to conclude that the members probably don't want to support the amendment because they don't agree with the amendment.

In various conversations, people from the government side have pleaded good faith in just wanting to undertake a discussion and wanting to ensure that everybody is listened to and heard in the context of that discussion. If that's what you want, then pass the amendment. If that's what the government wants, then they can pass the amendment. If that's not what they want, then we have to have this out, right? If their intent—as it seems to be, as I think we have concluded—is to actually create circumstances under which the government can impose changes unilaterally, then we have....

Sorry; I lost my train of thought there.

We have a problem here that we have to debate if the government actually disagrees with this amendment. What has been striking—

(2345)

Mr. Blake Richards:

On a point of order, Chair, I know how much Garnett loves his wife and I know he pointed out to her earlier that there was Red Bull. He wanted to make sure she knew he wasn't going to be drinking any of that Red Bull.

I want to assure his wife that he is not consuming any Red Bull. The only thing he has is a bit of water. He has a clear mind and he's giving a great speech, and we're really proud of him.

(4745)

The Chair:

That was a very important point of order.

Now we'll carry on.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Further to the same point of order, this will forever live in Hansard. I'm sure it will be the subject of a Ph.D. thesis in 20 or 30 years.

That's all I wanted to say about the overall discussion of the amendment. I don't know why members of the government would oppose the amendment if at the same time they are suggesting that they agree with it in spirit.

We are going to continue to have this debate, I think, on the basis of the presumption that if the government is opposing the amendment, it's because they don't want to do what the amendment says. If there comes a point when government members conclude that this is an amendment that reflects what they want to do, then actually, numerically, it would only take one government member to come to that conclusion, and then we would have the ability to proceed. I draw the attention of members to that.

Nonetheless, in the absence of support for the amendment from any member of the government, we will proceed with arguments in favour of the amendment, which I hope will further elucidate why the amendment is important.

I was speaking earlier about the discussion paper, the whereabouts of which have escaped me. Oh, here it is. I was speaking earlier about the issues that are raised by the discussion paper.

To build very quickly to the point where I was, because I want to really make this point in a clear way, we were speaking about theme 3 of the discussion paper, which is on page 7. It speaks of management of committees. It speaks about concerns about members “resorting to tactics”, whatever that means, but then it goes on to the possibility of an option for committees. I'll just read the section: An option would be to make one independent Member an ex-officio member of committees with all privileges except for the ability to vote, or to constitute quorum. This would allow independent Members to participate in in camera proceedings, question witnesses, and travel with committees.

There are some issues there, which I've talked about, such as how the independent members would be selected and how to reconcile the fact that members who are independent would have a potential opportunity to self-select for committees, whereas that opportunity would not exist for members of the government or of other parties, who typically end up on committees as a result of assignment by the whip and not as the result of voluntarily electing to be on those committees.

This is used as a jumping-off point for immediately trying to make arguments for indirectly adding a government member—a non-voting member, but a government member—to every committee.

With regard to this discussion of good faith with respect to the process and the amendment, it is this kind of flow that makes us look and say, “Okay, well, the opposition is probably just moving forward with this on the basis of an evaluation of their own interest.” That's the concern that we have here.

The section I am talking about specifically deals with parliamentary secretaries. It says: The Government committed to ensuring that Parliamentary Secretaries would not be voting members on committees that fall within their Minister’s mandate. That commitment does not, however, mean that Parliamentary Secretaries should not have a role on committees. Parliamentary Secretaries could be given the same rights on committees as is proposed for independent members.

That is what is being proposed by this discussion paper, and I think this suggestion is quite insidious. The present rules involve the whips allocating positions on committees to specific members and doing so in whatever way they see fit. That's all well and good, and it is up to the individual parties, when they are in government, to decide whether or not parliamentary secretaries sit on committees.

The practice at times has been for them to sit on committees. During the tenure of the previous government, parliamentary secretaries did sit as members of committees, and there is a whole discussion to be had about advantages and disadvantages of that. A possible advantage is that it provides some linkage between the committee and the government. A possible disadvantage, though, is that it could have the impact of compromising the ability of members to act independently, although what can often happen is committee members act at the behest of government anyway, so the removal of parliamentary secretaries from committees isn't a solution, unless it is accompanied by a genuine response that gives the committee the ability to be master of its own domain. That can never be fully a matter of the rules; it has to be a matter of the culture and the will of the people involved.

Of course, in this Parliament we see some degree of variability where some committees exercise some greater degree of independence than others, depending on the disposition of the people involved.

That's the context we had. Different things can be done with parliamentary secretaries. Some may have a substantive impact, but some possible changes may well just be window dressing. In other words, you can have the removal of parliamentary secretaries and have some degree of inappropriate influence, however defined, exerted by the government.

I'm told there was a time, by the way, when parliamentary secretaries would not be members of the committee but potentially would take on a role similar to that of officials. The parliamentary secretary would appear with officials at a certain time or during clause-by-clause study, but instead of sitting with the other MPs, the parliamentary secretary would sit with the officials.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Go ahead.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I hate to be Mr. Point of Order, but it has become fairly noisy in here in the last few minutes—

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

I spoke to that point this morning.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I can imagine Mr. Genuis has a lot of things he's trying to get across here. It must be difficult to try to speak in that environment. I'd ask for a little respect for him and his intervention.

The Chair:

Okay, we'll carry on with respect for the speaker, Mr. Genuis.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:

Thank you, Mr. Bagnell. I appreciate the job you're doing. Hopefully, if we can assert the role of private members' bills, we'll get good PMBs like yours passed in the future.

On the issue of parliamentary secretaries, there was a time, from what I understand, when the parliamentary secretary would be a part of the witness panel or would sit as an ordinary member of the committee. The model this government has followed was, with some fanfare, to remove parliamentary secretaries from committees, so that they are not part of committees anymore. We discover, however, that parliamentary secretaries do have something to offer parliamentary committees. We want to preserve the independence, but we somehow want to have them engaged.

It would be great to have Kevin here.

Mr. David Christopherson: Think of the House. He could get the word count up here.

Mr. Garnett Genuis:Yes, he would be the parliamentary secretary in this case, but he would have to leave the House of Commons in order to come here.

Anyway, this is perhaps not germane to the amendment. The issue....

The Chair:

Okay, folks, I think we're getting a little punch-drunk here, and I know Blake wanted me to get a good sleep, so we will now suspend until 10 a.m. in this same room.

(2355)

(1000)

The Chair:

I call the meeting to order.

We're continuing a debate on the motion by Mr. Scott Simms.

Tom Kmiec is next on our list of speakers.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm very pleased to be able to join the debate, finally, after my colleague Mr. Genuis was able to complete his introduction and reserve future comments at a later point.

I have written an outline of the comments I want to make. Unlike Mr. Genuis, I don't have the gift for being succinct and even-tempered in this commentary.

Maybe what I'll start with is my first day here in Parliament, those first few weeks when we started. I remember being a brand new member, a rookie, and about 200 of us were at the Sir John A. Macdonald Building for the first rookie orientation session. When we went there, we were told what our roles were going to be and what a privilege it was to serve as a member of Parliament. We were told that very few people have come here before us, and that it was an opportunity very few people have had to take the seats of our predecessors and be able to serve our country in that way, whether serving at a provincial legislature, which is equally a privilege, or serving in the Parliament of Canada.

I remember, then, that the Prime Minister had come in at one point, and the proceedings were interrupted. He was given the opportunity to speak and to address all the rookie parliamentarians who were there. He mentioned how important the role of a member of Parliament would be and how he would raise our capacity to contribute to Canada, to contribute through legislation and debate. It was a fine sentiment to have at the time. I just don't see it being followed through in the day-to-day activities when I see motions such as this, and then a very reasonable amendment being proposed to make it even better, to make it exactly what this place should be about, which is about the members of Parliament, the parliamentarians, and not about the executive.

I have big problems with the discussion paper and how the process went down to get to the point where we have this motion now before this committee for what I would consider to be a rushed study.

This isn't camp. I've been a camp counsellor before. I've been responsible for others. I've been a supervisor at the Chamber of Commerce for policy staff and for the operation of volunteer committees that did a lot of the same work that Parliament does, but for the business community in Calgary.

I say this isn't camp because we shouldn't be treated as though we're a bunch of children who need the government to look over the activities we undertake on behalf of our constituents. I just don't think that's the right level of responsibility. That's not the right relationship we should have towards the government.

What I see in the motion being proposed for a study here is basically just that, the type of treatment that says we parliamentarians cannot govern ourselves, that we are incapable of doing what's best for both Parliament and in addressing individual public policy issues affecting Canadians from coast to coast or affecting individual provinces or cities. I think that's a very important thing to remember.

I really only have a couple of points, but I do have about three dozen sub-points to each of those couple of points. I think the motion is unreasonable as written, without the amendment to fix it. I think it's also reckless.

I've gone through the effort of looking at past times when there was unanimous agreement to change the Standing Orders of the House, and then other times when there wasn't unanimous agreement and Parliament started to break down. There was disagreement. The trust and the co-operative environment that we live in broke down and didn't exist anymore, and then things started to slow down. The government wasn't able to pass the legislation it wanted, and it would blame the opposition.

In truth, the government holds all the power. You all are not members of the government; you are members of the government caucus. You support the government because you believe in the policies they are putting forward. You are also free to disagree with them, just as we are on this side. We are free to disagree with our party and to vote according to our conscience and the dictates of our supporters and volunteers.

Sometimes there are members who will say that when they belong to a political party, the political agenda, the platform they ran on, is what they want to implement in this place and in this House. They do their best to get through as much of the policy books and as many of the policy platforms as they can, to try to get them implemented.

I would say, though, that we have circles of responsibilities that we have to adhere to. However we choose to vote and whichever policies we choose to advance, we are still responsible to somebody at the end of the day. I would like to think that as members of Parliament, as parliamentarians who have taken up seats that others have had in the past before us, we have a dual responsibility.

One is responsibility to today's Canadians, to the electorate that we have—our supporters, our donors, our volunteers, our families, our political affiliation, and our faith, if we're members of a faith community.

Our second responsibility is to those who came before us. Parliament didn't simply come to exist because it began as a start-up last year in 2016. It came about long before that, as Mr. Genuis has mentioned before when he started reading parts of the Magna Carta, which gave birth to a lot of.... Thankfully, he didn't go through reading the whole thing, because that would have been long. I was joking with him that he should maybe read it in French. A good translation would help him get through it.

Many members who have come before us, whom I could quote, have said how much more they appreciated Parliament after many years here than they did when they started as a rookie. I think it's natural when you start at a new work place. You wish you did things differently or you could show up at different times. You wish your supervisor was different or that your days were arranged in a different manner. I've heard this a lot before. I used to work in human resources. I was a registrar for a professional association in Alberta. This was very common. I had 6,000 members. I would talk to my membership quite often, and they would mention the types of issues they saw in their workplaces and the types of environments people work in.

Then you have that intergenerational mix. People like to work in different ways, depending on the generation they're in, so then there's an adjustment period for that.

I think Parliament goes through that as well. It changes the way we organize our business in order to match with the expectations of groups of Canadians and the generations as they come through the demographic cohorts that we live within.

I do not think, though, that Parliament is like a corporation. It is not like a not-for-profit organization. It's not like any other business. I wrote myself a note that if tomorrow a private business were to fail and people were to lose their jobs, people would go find other jobs. The corporation would wind down. Its assets would be redistributed. That can't happen in Parliament. It simply cannot. We must not let that happen. It's our job as parliamentarians to ensure that doesn't happen.

The changing of the rules and the way we do our business could easily lead to a situation of even less engagement by parliamentarians in the debates of the House. Our primary role is unlike a business. If you're in a for-profit corporation, you generate a profit either for shareholders or for the owners of the company, in whatever format that may be. If you work for a not-for-profit, as I did in a professional association, the chamber of commerce, it was to generate value for the membership in whatever form that was.

Here our role is truly to debate. We're a deliberative body. We're not rated based on how much legislation we pass on behalf of the government, which is why the amendment is so important. Changing the rules to make it more efficient has been the term that's been used in reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, or the modernization of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. I have a problem with the word “modernization”. It somehow implies that this place is not modern and that we can't do things in a contemporary environment through a past practice or through unanimous consent, as we've done many times before. These things actually help us do our work, so it's not “modernizing”, since we are modern, but maybe “contemporary” would be the term to use.

I also think another issue that we have is a conception that Parliament can't fail. It should not fail. It's the job of parliamentarians, not the Government of Canada, to figure out the best model and the best work environment we can have, and to determine how our daily business should be conducted in order to achieve that goal.

As a parliamentarian on the opposition side, my goal is to ensure that the government is held accountable for both its spending decisions and its policy decisions. By tradition, I really believe my role is to review the main estimates and to review the spending of the government on a regular basis, in the committee I'm on, which in this case happens to be the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

After that, it is to contribute to the policy debates. We deliberate. We don't have a certain quota of legislation that we're supposed to pass at the end of the day, both for the government and for private members' business and motions.

Before I continue too much more, I just want to give you a brief outline of what I'd like to cover.

One of the first things I want to make comparisons to is a governance board. I want to compare Parliament to how corporations, chambers of commerce, and the places I've worked in did their business. Second, I want to talk about consensual leadership and consensus-based decision-making. I really think that Parliament works best when there is consensus, co-operation, and trust. You gain trust and you lose trust by different activities. I think it goes both ways, on the opposition side and the government side, but because we on the opposition side are really at the mercy of the government—both the government caucus and the government—we look for those opportunities for co-operation to build trust and understanding.

I've been going through different quotes from former prime minister John Diefenbaker, who had a great love for Parliament. In fact, one of the speaking crutches he had, instead of ums and ahs, was “I love this Parliament”. That gave him just enough time to think of what he wanted to say next, and then he continued for another 20 minutes. I'm sure that if he were here today, he would be repeating “I love this Parliament” every hour, but it wouldn't be a crutch. He would be truthfully saying how much he appreciated and loved this place. He loved this place so much that he refused to move his office at one point, and that has been to the benefit of the opposition since then.

He did say that Parliament was the guarantor of our freedoms. It wasn't just legislation that was passed in this place and it wasn't some belief in something outside of Parliament; Parliament is the guarantor of the rights and freedoms of Canadians, but also of parliamentarians and the privileges we enjoy in order to do the work that we have been elected to do in this place.

After that I want to briefly talk about the Great Reform Act of 1832 in the United Kingdom. For us on the Conservative side, the year 1832 and the decades that led into 1867 are quite important for the conservative movement in the United Kingdom and Canada because they led to the breakup of the original Conservative Party. Those 1832 reforms were really about how Parliament worked. They were about the rotten boroughs and how prime ministers were responsible to parliamentarians, as well as about the responsibility of political parties, political units, the whole coalition, the trust they had amongst themselves, and the lack of trust between the Peelite factions and others. I think it bears speaking about, at least a little.

Lastly, I'll probably finish by going through this document, “Reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons”, because I have deep problems both with the content of it and also with the process by which it is being implemented. I will go through the notice of motion and the very reasonable amendment we have proposed that would improve it. My issue is that much of this would have to be done as individual studies. I just want to speak more about that and give you examples from other jurisdictions that have done it exactly in that way. There is so much material in here that you cannot do it justice by rushing it from now to June 2. There simply isn't enough time and opportunity to do that.

I do have the McGrath report here, which I know many members have referred to as well. Mr. Christopherson referred to it repeatedly, showing that at the time there was unanimity, agreement, consensus, and co-operation at the committee level to put forward recommendations that all parliamentarians could consider to reform the way they do their business, but it was done with the trust and the confidence that they had done their work, which they had.

It's a pretty voluminous report. The joke goes that a standing committee of the House writes a report and puts it on the shelf, and nobody reads it. This is the one time, I think, that many of us have read it and actually gone through it in fine detail. It is an important work that should be referenced here, and it bears repeating.

I also wanted to mention, with the McGrath report, my experience on other committees. I have substituted on other committees of the House of Commons here during my time, and I have also worked on reports and studies with other committees where we did find unanimity. I happen to serve on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and to my knowledge, since I joined the committee on a permanent basis, we have not had a moment when we've tabled a dissenting report. I stand to be corrected on that, but I cannot remember having to write a dissenting report. That is because we have worked extremely hard at co-operation and seeking consensus. We've given in, as opposition members on the committee, and the government caucus members have given in as well. We found an opportunity to find common ground and recommendations that we could propose to other parliamentarians that actually reflect the views of the committee. You will find that the reports we write actually say, “the committee finds that...”, “the committee believes that....”

In every single instance where you find that in those reports, it's truthful. I know it's truthful because every time we have one of those lines, we stop and ask each member if they are okay with this, if they actually believe every single sentence that follows, and every time, we have found that consensus. I don't think it will be found here, first because of the process by which this motion was brought before the committee and then because the unreasonableness of resisting a very reasoned amendment proposal by my colleague to improve on this hurts the trust.

I understand that this committee so far has been able to work with a great deal of co-operation and consensus-building, which I think is an important feature of committee business and the way we do the work of the House of Commons.

Those are five main points I was going to raise. At different times I might move between them, and you'll forgive me for that if I do. I'll try to reduce repetition to as little as possible to make my points.

The motion does say on the back end, “...to create or to revise a usual practice of the House, which is not unanimously agreed to by the Committee....” I think that's critical. You don't get to this point without building trust at the committee level, and right now there just simply is an empty tank of trust between the two sides. I've been at this committee since Tuesday to debate this issue, and I had the great pleasure to listen to my colleague, Mr. Genuis, make his points. I think it was a Herculean effort on his part.

I also want to congratulate all of us. It was a Herculean effort to listen to him for the past nine hours. He's a great friend of mine. He made a lot of good points, and he robbed me of an opportunity to make those same points. I don't want to repeat what he said.

I'd better mention too the experience that I bring to this debate at this committee. I am a rookie parliamentarian and this is my first term in office, but I also used to work for a member of Parliament, about 12 years ago, when he was first elected to the House of Commons as a rookie. That was Mr. Steven Blaney, who became a minister. He's still a serving member of the House of Commons. I remember being just as confused by the standing rules of the House and the regulations as he was, and I took the time to learn them as well as I could to assist him in the work that he did.

I come to this debate, then, from several viewpoints. I'm both a sitting member and I used to work for a member of Parliament. I also have had the distinction of serving for the Minister of National Defence on his exempt staff on parliamentary business affecting the portfolios I was responsible for. Through that process I gained a deeper appreciation for the ability of the opposition to confound and complicate and make my life much more difficult as a staff member. At the time I didn't appreciate it, but I appreciate it now in retrospect. I think it's only with time that you begin to appreciate the ability of the opposition to slow things down, which might not be very efficient, but it gives time for reflection and it's well worth having.

Unlike many members here, as well I served as an exempt staff provincially at the Alberta legislature for both the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development and the Minister of Finance in Alberta, whom we also call the provincial treasurer. I served on his staff for three years as a policy adviser, but I also dealt with a lot of the standing rules of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, so I bring both viewpoints here. I know there are many members, both on the government caucus side and in the opposition caucuses, who have served in a provincial legislature or a provincial parliament, as the case may be, who bring that type of experience with them as well.

I would always caution parliamentarians here not to look necessarily at how the provinces do business to find the best model of efficiency. In the Alberta legislature you can pretty much pass a piece of legalisation in one day. I don't personally believe that type of efficiency is what we want here. That's not the type of efficiency parliaments and legislatures were set up for. What we were set up to do is to deliberate, and this is maybe one point....

I'm just going to segue here to the actual document that was proposed, which is the study, the motion, which is based on studying parts of this and parts of the Standing Orders during that day of debate on October 6. It does say here, “While Parliament by its very nature is an adversarial system....” Now, if we stop right there, I have a problem with calling this place adversarial. I don't consider members of the government caucus my opponents. You're not my enemies. I actually think of you as colleagues.

I'm a junior colleague to you, Mr. Chair. We've enjoyed a couple of flights flying through Toronto, as well as Air Canada's stellar service, and we've been stuck in Toronto a few times. It does happen. I have great appreciation for my veteran members and those who have been here, who have more experience than I do, regardless of the political party they belong to, because they bring a great amount of experience to how this place works. I did not appreciate that as much when I came here.

We were elected in different “class years”. I hang out, so to speak, with my class of 2015 much more than I do with “the others”, we call them, regardless of the political affiliation they have, but it's from those others, such as chairs like Tom Lukiwski, that we learn. I have learned a great deal from him about how to be a better committee member at the table. He's taken the time to explain to me the rules around committees, how they function, and where the great advantages and disadvantages are. I've changed the way I both behave and do the work that I'm asked to do at committee.

I appreciate that type of guidance. You don't get that from the rookie members, obviously, because we don't have that experience here. Those changes to the rules, then, depend upon the more experienced members giving us some guidance and telling us that these are where the pit traps are, these are where the fault lines are, and if you change the rules in this way, there will be unforeseen consequences.

I depend on members like Mr. Simms to explain to us what's happened in the past. As I was saying before, I look to the more experienced members, regardless of the political party, for judgment calls on rules, procedures, and how those should work.

Now, I really do feel that if the government pursues the contents of “Reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons”, as laid out here, and they achieve these goals in the timelines being proposed in the main motion, with or without the amendment, it would be to the detriment of parliamentarians. It would, in effect, through the rule changes, turn the opposition into an audience. We would be able to speak up occasionally, perhaps, but not really be able to contribute to this place.

In every single past reform and in every report I've read, from the McGrath report to the debates in 1991, 1986, and 1969, the thing that was most important for parliamentarians participating in those debates was ensuring that they were the ones who were receiving a greater opportunity to keep the government accountable—if you were an opposition member, that was key to you—and to do more effective legislative work. This would include proposing amendments and finding opportunities for unanimous consent motions that everybody could live with to change the rules temporarily for a particular situation or to make exceptions.

I'll just mention that before the election, I was registrar for the human resources profession in the province of Alberta, a not-for-profit corporation. Unlike the CPAs, the accounting profession, or the engineers, we had, and still have, voluntary certification, with 6,000 members who voluntarily pay dues in order to have a professional certification. In human resources and labour relations you would always say that the rules exist not as a straitjacket. They're not supposed to be a straitjacket. For HR professionals, you look at the rules and you ask where the exceptions are and where you can make your employees happy by making those exceptions. The right opportunity for that comes with experience, which builds judgment and then trust. They're all interlinked. You cannot get there by any other fashion.

I would always tell them...and these were experienced professionals with 30 to 35 years in labour relations, negotiating with unions on both sides. We had members on both sides of the table negotiating. They would always say that the rules exist, sure, but as long as we can all co-operate, we can reach an agreement and suspend the rules temporarily. If we all agree on that, we will find consensus. We will find agreement. Then we can move forward with it.

But you don't move forward with a motion like this, with the contents of this report produced by the government, which I believe it is unreasonable and reckless, and say that by unanimous agreement we will proceed. I think that's a mistake. That's an error. Many members before me have mentioned it. I am pretty confident that members on this side will repeat the point that it is an error. It would change the opposition into an audience. We would be ineffective at keeping the government accountable.

When the debates were moved from Parliament to the committees and we were given time limits for speaking in the House—that was a maximum time, but you can always speak less than the time you're allotted by the Speaker and by the rules of the House—they moved it here into the committees so that we would have an opportunity to speak, an opportunity to raise the points we would otherwise raise in the House of Commons, in Parliament. If you take that away here at the committee level and don't give us an opportunity to speak up on behalf of our conscience, on behalf of our constituents, our political party, our experience that we gain from being here for four, eight, 12, 16, 20 years, then I think you do a disservice to Parliament, do an injustice to this institution.

It's a human institution that has survived in this country since 1867 and in the preceding colonial parliament as well. I think it's important to remember that we are here as stewards of Parliament. We don't own this place. It's not ours to keep; it's ours to steward for future generations. This is something I tell my staff and that I tell my constituents. I say I may be the first member of Parliament for the riding of Calgary Shepard, but I will not be the last.

Now, I may be the last, if we change the rules so badly that Parliament ceases to work. There are many cases in the world in which the legislative assemblies don't work very efficiently anymore, and by “efficiently” I mean as deliberative bodies. I don't mean the speed at which they pass legislation; I mean as deliberative bodies, where people can debate ideas, in our case here in the safety of the House of Commons. I think this is important and bears remembering.

The last thing I'll mention about my personal experience and what I bring to this debate is that I used to work as the manager of policy and research at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. At the time it had six policy committees, made up of anywhere from a dozen business persons interested in a particular subject matter to as many as 30, 40, 50, or 60 members, who sat in the morning at 7:15 a.m.—and our staff had to suffer through that almost every single day of the week—to debate policy issues. We would produce papers for them to consider, and then they would deliberate, much as Parliament does.

We had rules in these places, and it was the manager's job to apply the rules on behalf of the board. I was empowered, as a non-executive team member. The chief economist was the member of the executive who would direct me in managing the work of these volunteers. Each of these volunteers was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and had participated in the elections for the board of governors of the chamber. In a lot of ways, because they were members, they had a vested interest in how the chamber functioned, and they then deliberated.

We never said to them, “These are the policy issues you will talk about. These are the rules that will govern you.” Much of our work was done by consensus between the members and members of the staff. The members were there to deliberate the points they were trying to make. We never imposed on them a specific way of doing things. We would always try to find an opportunity to empower them to bring forward the issues they wanted to bring forward, especially if they were working co-operatively among themselves. If half the committee wanted to speak to an issue and the other half didn't want to, it wasn't the job of the staff to decide whose issues we would deal with. We waited and we deferred, based on the rules that we had.

That's the type of experience I bring to this discussion. I have seen how the Alberta legislature functions and I have seen how Parliament functioned 12 years ago. I've spent time learning the rules. Like everybody else here, I got that big green hardcover book, the Standing Orders of the House, and I've taken the time to read through it.

Now, I have not read it cover to cover. I have a great amount of difficulty to do that through and through.

Mr. David Christopherson: Shame.

Mr. Tom Kmiec: My colleague here is saying “Shame”. I will get there. I will get there eventually.

Speaking of Parliament, I mentioned Diefenbaker already and the speaking crutch. I get that from Sean O'Sullivan's book, Both My Houses: From Politics to Priesthood. I recently read it upon the recommendation of a member of the whip's staff.

Sean O'Sullivan was a member of Parliament here many years ago, who sadly passed away from cancer. He had a great love for this place, but he did not come here to—

Ms. Filomena Tassi: There's a connection right here. His nephew is right here.

Mr. Tom Kmiec: That's fantastic. Even better, I get to reference the ancestor, so to speak, of someone who is here too.

I immensely enjoyed his book. He started as a staff member in this House and was working for John Diefenbaker as his executive assistant. He had been a long-running volunteer who started very young. In his time, he was one of the youngest members of Parliament ever elected. His mentor was Diefenbaker. When he left this place, it was partly because he was disillusioned with how the place functioned, but he was also disillusioned with politics in general. He went into the priesthood. He heard the call of his faith and became a priest.

I've been thinking about a lot of the points he makes in this book, about the observations he makes about Parliament and how important it is, and I think a lot of his quotations from Diefenbaker bear thinking about. There are many parliamentarians who have come before us who have made immense contributions, who have served here for 12, 16, and 20 years. Reading books like O'Sullivan's and speaking to former members of Parliament, such as Jason Kenney, have made me rethink this, and I now completely disagree with term limits for members of Parliament, something that in my youth I thought was a great idea. Now I think it's not such a great idea, mostly because it's the veteran members, the experienced members, who pass on to the next members the traditions and the customs of this House, the House of Commons specifically. You won't have that happening very often if you change the rules so drastically that people get disillusioned much more quickly with regard to their ability to contribute.

The number one reason that people leave a workplace, an organization, or a corporation—and this was consistent across the board when I worked as a registrar—isn't that they weren't making enough money. It wasn't because they were not getting the opportunities to get training or professional development, or to travel, or to work on interesting projects. Ninety per cent of the time it was because they could not see how their individual activities, their personal activities in the workplace, were related to the achievements and success of the organization they were in. That was the number one reason.

I know what happens because I've seen it happen at the Chamber of Commerce and in other workplaces. I've been invited in either to give counsel or to listen to the HR professionals explain to me what the issues are, and then to listen to them debate about how to fix their workplace.

Ninety per cent of the time that's why people leave. I've seen it happen. People get disenchanted with the type of work they do, so they do less of it. They find opportunities to not be there as often, and then they start finding other work, typically on work time. They'll start using their workplace email and the workplace phones to find work opportunities elsewhere. I'm sure there are parliamentarians who have come before us who've taken the opportunity to sit in the House to do just that because they've become disenchanted with their individual ability to contribute to the whole—to make an amendment to a piece of legislation or to propose a rule change or regulation change.

I would hope that we would not change the rules through this motion without this amendment. It's a very important amendment. We should not change the rules in such a way as to disenchant members at committees and in Parliament from doing the work that they should be doing on behalf of their constituents, their supporters, and the political movement that they belong to.

I always mention “circles of accountability”. It's something I picked up in talking to so many HR professionals. We are not just accountable to our supervisors; we have circles of accountability. I'm accountable to my wife. I'm accountable to my three kids—whom I'm missing, as I haven't been able to Skype with them for the past four days because of this committee meeting—but I'm also accountable to my board of directors of my local association, just like I believe many of you are as well. I'm accountable to my supporters, to my electors, and I have a great many of them. I have the second-largest riding in Canada by population size. In my riding, it was a privilege to earn more votes than even Stephen Harper or Jason Kenney. I have an enormous riding. It's a big number: 43,706.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Tom Kmiec: That's a big number, and it's a big riding.

I'm also accountable to all of them, and not just to the people who voted for me, but also to the people who didn't vote for me. How you do the balancing of those interests is actually one of the main points in the standards of professional practice of the HR profession in Alberta. I know that because I helped to write those standards for the balancing of interests. What I don't find in the reform of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons is that balancing of interests. I don't think the term even exists in here. There's no mention of that.

Also, it's not the balancing of interests here in this House between the government and parliamentarians, because that's not a balance. Parliament is supreme. Parliament comes first. Governments come and go; Parliament stays. There may be a time in the future, a hundred years from now, when political parties have broken down again and they no longer function the way they used to, but governments will always come and go. We as parliamentarians will always be here, and we should ensure that the rules of the House don't protect the government but protect parliamentarians first, which is why we can make points of order and claims of breach of privilege against the government and other members when we are defending our rights.

If we choose not to defend our rights, that is our responsibility. It is our fault if future parliamentarians become disenchanted with this place. I think that's what this motion will do without the amendment, because it gives us an opportunity to seek that common ground.

Also, if we don't achieve all our goals immediately, the goals set by the government that I believe the government caucus presumably agrees with—to varying degrees, I would hope—there is always an opportunity for future parliamentarians to take up the task themselves and find ways to change the rules to suit the needs of that generation, but they should always do it by unanimous agreement. The wording of this amendment to the main motion should be unanimously agreed to by the committee here.

The concept that you should seek common ground is not only the title of the Prime Minister's book, but it has happened many times before that members have tweaked the rules. I have examples here. I asked my staff to look into it. Since 1867, there have been occasions when controversial proposals have led to lengthy debates where the government used its majority to amend the Standing Orders.

These include the adoption of closure in 1913, time allocation provisions in 1969, and a series of Standing Order amendments in 1991. I'll be referring to debates from that time. There were many members who were veteran members in the Chrétien government and in the Paul Martin government who had very astute remarks to make. Many of them had been rookie members then, but had excellent points to make. Just to the point I made, they looked to their experienced members to explain to them the traditions or customs of the House, how things had been done before, and why they should not be so quick to change all the rules, throw everything out, and bring in new ones.

Then there were amendments to the Standing Orders with respect to the report stage of bills in 2001—

Mr. Scott Simms:

It was 1991.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It was 1991. In the 1969, 1991 and 2001 examples, closure was imposed to bring the debate to an end and force a decision.

I think those were errors. They should not have done so. I have the debates and I've read the debates from the time. I have former speaker Peter Milliken's speech from the time. I found it interesting. I found it sharp in its criticism of the government of the day, a Progressive Conservative government. I found it insightful into how Parliament should be working, how you build trust and consensus, and how you get to that point.

In many circumstances, however, procedural changes have been the result of broad consensus among members of all parties and have been readily adopted without debate. You'll forgive me; I cannot tell you specifically what those amendments were each time, but they were done in October 1997, March 1998, November 1998, February 2001, February 2004, and November 2008. On all of those occasions, when there was broad-based support from all the political parties and members of Parliament to make amendments to the rules, that came about by trust. They built trust through debate, and got—

Mr. Scott Simms:

On a point of order, in the past, on unanimous consent, the speaker ceded the floor to someone to make a point or ask a question. I was wondering, politely, if the member would like to cede a bit. I just have a couple of points.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Sure. Mr. Chair, are they the same rules we've used before when Mr. Genuis was speaking?

The Chair:

You can. It's up to everybody here, but....

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes.

Mr. David Christopherson:

You can cede the floor at any time.

The Chair:

Okay, Scott, Go ahead.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Did you say 1991, with the changes made then under the Progressive Conservative government? That was a pretty adversarial process. We should probably go there, because Mr. Christopherson is saying we've always done this unanimously, but we haven't.

Mr. David Christopherson:

To be fair, Scott—

Mr. Scott Simms:

I don't know. I'm asking a question. I just want to get your point.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

That was in debates in the House of Commons. The committee produced a report in which there was agreement, to the best of my knowledge. Whether there was unanimous consensus at committee, I can't tell you that.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I'll just make one quick point on this.

It's my understanding—and I stand to be corrected, since I haven't done the research—that the only exception to all-party agreement on these changes is that there are a few one-offs over history on which the majority of the government of the day did prevail. I don't know how many of those there are, but any time—to the best of my knowledge, again—there was anything you might call a comprehensive or systemic review of the Standing Orders, that report, as other reports have told us, was always done with all-party support.

It's important to note that every one of those reviews I've seen talks directly to the future and asks us, in our time, to do the same thing they did, even though it's difficult and even though you don't always get the changes you want, and that for a healthy Parliament, the only way to proceed on major changes to Standing Orders is through all-party agreement.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

I'll come back to Mr. Barnes. I have a question on the same point.

Just to remind other colleagues, particularly those who aren't permanent members of the committee, we had requested a paper, Mr. Barnes, with respect to historical past practices. I find it fascinating that Tom is now raising it in his presentation. I wanted to get a sense of what status that might be at, because the point with that was to inform us about every time we had major changes to the Standing Orders. If you have that evidence or research, Tom, or if we could get a sense from the analyst, from Mr. Barnes, of the status with respect to that paper, it would be informative to us as a committee.

Mr. Andre Barnes (Committee Researcher):

I was meant to meet with the table research branch of the House of Commons on Tuesday, but of course this meeting continued on, and I stayed around until around eight, so I wasn't able to meet with them. Most of my time has been here, so now I have a colleague working on the paper as of today and collaborating with the House.

The House has a list of all the changes to the Standing Orders from the present back to 2006, which a colleague is going through to see whether or not they were done by majority or unanimous consent.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

When I asked, I was particularly interested in every time there was a particularly substantive change to the Standing Orders through the history of past Parliaments, and how that was dispensed with.

I am reading some of the papers that are on this subject matter, but if we could have one that could be neutrally distributed to all of us, that would be informative.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Just on that point, Chair, if I might...?

The Chair:

He was first.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

That's okay. It gives me time to think.

The Chair:

How about if we hear Tom, and then we'll get you in?

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

If David wants to go, I was going to—

Mr. David Christopherson:

Sure. Thank you.

I was just going to say, Arnold, I think that's excellent, and it would be helpful, because you hear me trying to.... We do need a good fact base that we all agree on.

Could I ask, though, that we also have them reflect on any comments that any of the reports make about unanimity and whether they achieved it or not?

I could tell you that there are some reports that say they didn't find unanimity on everything, so I'm not trying to stack the argument. If we could get what process was used, and any time they made a reference—“they” meaning predecessors of ours—to their process about voting or unanimity and all-party agreement, if you could put that in there too, that body of information would help reflect the jurisprudence of Parliament.

Thank you.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Just to return...where was I? I can just start from the beginning again, but no, I won't do that.

Mr. Scott Simms: You can. That would be great.

Mr. Tom Kmiec: I can, but I won't, because I don't want to repeat myself.

I don't think we should look to past instances where the process hasn't been run the way it should have been in principle, to find excuses in history or something that you should not do. Just as the rules of the House say you cannot do the following things, let's try not to find ways around it by finding past mistakes and then claiming some type of moral equivalency to actions of today. Let's not do that. That doesn't build trust. That was my next point, in bold letters: trust.

This place runs on trust. You trust your staff, and I trust my staff with doing things and posting things for me sometimes, with my approval, and doing my financials as well. Trust is fundamental to any organization, even places like Parliament. It's fundamental to how we do work. You would sorely reduce trust if you were to use the assets this committee has in terms of the analysts and the clerks to find excuses for why you think this amendment is unreasonable and the motion is perfect the way it is, with the contents reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and, as good as it is, they should just rush it through in June.

Consensus is built with trust over time. There's no way around it. Finding that consensus may take you weeks. It may take you months. It may take you a year. As a parallel, to go back to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, we have been working for a year on the report, reviewing government legislation. We were in no rush to complete it. We wanted to get it right. That might not be the most efficient way to do it, but it's the right way to do it. It's the right way because no members on the committee can then claim that their views were not heard or that they did not have an opportunity to have their viewpoints reflected in the debates, in the questioning, and in inviting the witnesses to committee.

In fact, I would even point out that the main motion that you find here says there are only seven calendar days following the adoption of the motion to produce a list of witnesses. You know that has been a standard practice of this committee. I would just say that our practice in our committee—and again this is the foreign affairs committee—is that you can introduce new witnesses at any moment. The chair and others and opposition members have been willing to accept witnesses on short notice who are not on the list, and have them included as part of the study on different policy issues and on the legislative reviews we've been responsible for. I think that is because of the trust we've built, the trust and the consensus around the table that we don't have a fixed goal. Our goal is to do the best deliberative job we can at committee to produce the best report we possibly can at the end, with the best recommendations for the government to hopefully take up once it's tabled in the House. That is our goal and has been our goal from the beginning, and that trust and consensus have built the co-operation that we need amongst each other.

I know that the members across the table in the government caucus are not out to prove a political point, are not out to extract out of me and my colleagues some type of gain by injecting a certain witness into a committee study or by producing a very specific paragraph somewhere in the report that will embarrass us on our side and say that we agree with the government on a particular issue. We're co-operating on the report that we're hoping will reflect the views of the committee members, which then can be taken up by Parliament. That is our goal. There is no other goal. It's to edify and to raise the quality of our work to such a level that Parliament will then take it up. Perhaps it will finish as just another report on a bookshelf somewhere. We are producing extra reports, so hopefully it won't be that way.

There's always an opportunity to do better, and that's something I've heard even the House leader on the government caucus side say repeatedly: we can do better, so do better. I would almost insist on it: do better. Don't go back in history to find an optimal situation where there were members who disagreed.

In the debates in 1991 I spoke about, those were in the House of Commons, not committee transcripts. I've gone through committee transcripts of some really obscure committees, and I mean obscure. I've read the notes of the architect who put up the Peace Tower. They are obscure, but you find interesting tidbits that you will not find unless you do some of this homework.

In those it was mentioned that a West Block tower had once fallen over, and—this was during the debates on how high the Peace Tower should rise—the architects believed.... Members of Parliament who were around the table were saying, “Just keep building until you run out of money, as high as it will go.” Then there were members saying, “Well, wait; in our experience.... Don't you remember that time a West Block tower fell over?” I would never have found such things if I hadn't taken the time to appreciate both the institution and where the institution is housed and how it functions.

I will go back to that, because it's a good segue into past comments and the resignation speech of a former mentor and still current mentor, Jason Kenney, the former member for Calgary Midnapore, whom I had the distinct privilege to work for as well.

An hon. member: He's now the leader of your party in Alberta.

Mr. Tom Kmiec: That's the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, a different party.

He quoted Edmund Burke. This is a quote I would not be able to find myself, but he speaks about Parliament. Jason Kenney says: One of the great parliamentarians of the 18th century, Edmund Burke, said this: Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament.

I think that's important to remember.

The Chair:

He also lost the election.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

I was about to say that. He also lost the election, which is why many of us Conservatives think he is a very principled man, but maybe not the best politician.

Still, he raises a good point. I sit here as a member for Calgary Shepard, but I am a member of Parliament first; that comes after. I'm not here to advocate for concessions from the Government of Canada for my riding.

Now I will say that every opportunity—

Mr. David Christopherson:

Well, I am.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

We should talk offline about that.

Every opportunity I get when I see Minister Amarjeet Sohi, I talk about the Green Line LRT in my riding that I want to see built, which would double the number of kilometres of line when done, but that is not my main purpose.

My main purpose here is to work on behalf of my constituents within the context of Parliament and to do the best work I can as a member of Parliament. We're all equal members of Parliament; even the ministers have the same rights and privileges. They have additional duties that they are assigned by the Governor General upon the advice of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister doesn't appoint; he makes recommendations to appoint. I know that's a distinction that over the years gets thinner and thinner, but I think it is an important one to remember.

I should mention that I didn't grow up in Alberta. I grew up in Quebec, where my entire education was done in French and where that distinction was almost zero, but it's an important one to remember, because it speaks to the customs and traditions of this House that we are here as parliamentarians.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

You're from where in Quebec?

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It was Montreal South Shore, in Brossard.

An hon. member: So you're bilingual?

Mr. Tom Kmiec: Un peu, oui, c'est vrai, but I won't use French now, because then I'll slow down.

I know they need to change it up. If I start speaking in French, this will all slow down and I won't be able to get through all the pages and books and everything else I need to speak of.

Mr. David Christopherson:

You can take more time. One thing you have now is time.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Mr. Christopherson, I'm just worried that you won't get an opportunity today.

Mr. David Christopherson:

That's okay; I want to hear from you. You're doing a fine job. They've all heard from me.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

The next point is that you all have this equal power as parliamentarians to show us that you want to live up to these high-minded principles, which you all ran on as members of your political party, your political movement, so you shouldn't look to the past to make an excuse for something you can't do today.

You could then use the same argument that just because we did something before in a certain way under the rules and procedures of the House doesn't mean we should keep doing it the same way. Why have only one hour of private members' business per day? Why not have two hours, four hours, six hours, or eight hours? Why not have zero PMB hours? Why not just prohibit members from being able to slow down the government? Why not have all government orders all the time and never move away from them? We could be the most efficient place if we just ceased debating.

If you think about it, the ultimate end of the argument that efficiency should drive this whole thing is that if we stop debating, it will be very efficient. The Speaker would call for debate, there would be no member rising, and then we'd proceed. Maybe it would be with unanimous consent, or maybe the consent rules in existence wouldn't be needed and they could move on to first, second, and third readings, with report stage in between second and third readings. We could pass all bills quickly and the opposition would be an audience, which is what this motion would do. If this motion proceeds without the amendment, my great fear is that we will wind up being an audience—a loud audience, possibly heckling a lot more, and I don't think that edifies this place.

This place started out as what Diefenbaker called the “cathedral”, the cathedral that Parliament is. Again I'll quote Jason Kenney quoting Diefenbaker: One moment [Parliament] is a cathedral, at another time...it ceases...to have any regard for the proprieties that constitute not only Parliament, but its tradition. I've seen it in all its greatness. I have inwardly wept...when it is degraded.

If you don't give the opposition an opportunity to oppose, to render the place less efficient at passing government legislation and getting its business done, you will degrade it. You will have more instances when you, on the government caucus side, will find the behaviour of the opposition less than proper, acceptable, or edifying.

Members in different Westminister parliaments have been heckling each other for far longer than any of us have been here on this earth, and I hope that in the future they will be there too, contributing to the debates, because members want to be heard. I've always thought that members who heckle in the House of Commons do so because they have something to contribute to the debate, except when it is personal and unacceptable. Vicious commentary about another member should never be accepted in the House, but a smart heckle about a policy issue has brought the House to laughter, or to tears.

I'll be the first to say that the President of the Treasury Board, Mr. Brison, is probably one of the great gentlemen in the House. He is interesting to listen to and at almost every opportunity he brings us to laughter—

An hon. member: On division.

Mr. Tom Kmiec: —on division, as the honourable member says, but that edifies the place. We don't necessarily speak out of turn in the House of Commons because we are looking to be disruptive but because we want to contribute to the debate. That's done in the House of Commons. If you change the rules on how committees work and you don't allow us an opportunity to contribute to the work of this place, you will disenchant us with the proceedings of the House and how we go forward as parliamentarians to work together.

It is up to the government to set the agenda. The government decides what is debated, what the issues of the day are. It's not necessarily up to each one of the parliamentarians to do that. Private members' business is supposed to be our time, when our ideas and our specific voices are heard on specific issues that matter to us, to our constituencies, and to the groups that we are attempting to represent, which is unlike the House of Representatives in the United States.

I have much more to say about the Congressional procedures and the policy process in the United States, because I know it's raised here in terms of programming. There was a reference that the United Kingdom does it and that programming is done in the House of Representatives, but the problem is that there is no government in the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives' majority leader manages the House.

There is no government business of the day. All the members propose all types of legislation at all times, large volumes of legislation. If you go on their website, you will see that almost every single member has proposed five, six pieces of legislation at any time. However, they're re-elected every two years. I think the great wisdom of our Parliament is that our Parliaments last no longer than five. I cannot imagine having to seek re-election every two years.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Under the Constitution we'd never do that.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

I mentioned the Constitution. Five is just fine. It's the Constitution first. I am a Conservative.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

But you have the four-year limit.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

There's a four-year limit, yes. It's the Americanization of our system, and I think programming would further do that.

That's why I'm opposed to programming. I have not seen a good argument for introducing it here. I'm afraid that the processes we have here, without the amendment that we've proposed, will make programming a reality, because it will simplify the work of the government House leaders. They will no longer have competing interests of members who are wishing to debate an issue and raise issues in the House, and that's a real problem for me.

There are many pieces of legislation that I have read and taken the time to think about and have wanted to debate. I've taken the opportunity to do questions and answers, to rise and contribute. There are other pieces of legislation on which I have chosen not to participate in the debate, either because I didn't feel I had completely understood the piece of legislation in all of its granular detail or because I deferred to more experienced members, veteran members who had a better understanding of how the piece of legislation would impact the particular policy area we were dealing with. I made a choice.

Programming takes away the choice. It would basically make it possible for the House leadership of the political parties to run the show entirely. That's the major difference between us and the House of Representatives. They have an entirely different system. I'll speak more about that too, because I happen to have studied in the United States for a master's degree. I happen to have studied American government, including Congressional procedures. I want to speak on that and how it relates both to how we're proceeding forward with this study and why this amendment is so important to get right. I want to explain the practices of Congress, both the Senate side and the House of Representatives side.

I think it's compromise. Compromise has helped Parliament and parliamentarians move forward at times and achieve the goals that the opposition has and that the government caucus and government members, members of the executive, have. We've seen it because we've had unanimous consent motions in the House when, regardless of the Standing Orders of the House, we've proceeded with doing something in order to expedite something on behalf of the government. When we haven't found that compromise, then we've proceeded with the rules.

As I mentioned earlier, in human resources the rules are not a straitjacket, just as they are not here. By unanimous consent we can agree to suspend the rules temporarily. You will get there only if you compromise. Our House leadership in the past has been able to compromise. I think it speaks of the ability of our sides to compromise. I want to. I'm sure some members of the government caucus want to.

We will not always agree on policy. That's why we have different political parties. Political parties were, are, institutions themselves, but really all they are is a way for us to organize ourselves around our passions, around our ideas. We bring them here to the House to organize ourselves. We're still parliamentarians. I'm equal to every single one of you, and I hope you'll remember that you literally have the power to force through the vote. You have the power then to force through the vote in the House of Commons, but I would hope you would not do that. I would hope you would find an opportunity to compromise with us on this issue.

Mr. Simms is nodding his head, so I'm hoping I'm getting through. Maybe Mr. Genuis softened you up, and maybe today we'll get through.

An hon. member: Maybe.

Mr. Tom Kmiec: I think that's a point worth remembering. The parties have compromised in the past on different issues. Maybe we all didn't get what we wanted.

I remember the debate on Bill C-14. I have very strict views on that Bill C-14 debate, on how it proceeded and how time allocation was used. I deeply disagreed with it, so I took every opportunity to debate. That is probably the issue I got the most emails and phone calls on.

I happen to live in a riding—I think the only riding in Canada—with two large mega-churches in it, with thousands of members there every single weekend. They're a faith-based community—there are different ones they belong to—and they were coming to me on a regular basis with very specific views. I think I'm one of only five backbench members of Parliament who proposed amendments at committee. When this process is done, if another piece of legislation like Bill C-14 comes down.... I don't know what you will decide by June 2, but it might be that in the next Parliament or in a future Parliament I won't be able to have that opportunity. I don't know. It's not clear to me. You don't build trust with a lack of clarity, and you also don't build compromise, because then we don't know what you actually want to achieve and we don't know where you want to go.

That's our issue here. This amendment, if you choose to pass it, will begin to build trust again. It will get us to the point where we can have some form of consensus. We can co-operate again. Then we can get to the moment of compromise.

Perhaps you won't get everything you want in terms of all the changes to the Standing Orders. Different members have different ideas about the changes to the Standing Orders. I told Mr. Genuis, to his shock, that there are ideas he has about how the Standing Orders orders should be changed that I disagree with. I have other considerations, especially around private members' business. I think there should be more of it. I think it's important for every member, when they're elected to Parliament, to get at least one chance—one chance—to have their motion or private member's bill heard and debated in the House.

Now, whether or not the debate gets to the final end is secondary to me, or at this point it is. I could be persuaded, but I think it should still come to at least a first vote or a first debate. I think that's really important for members of Parliament.

I drew the short straw. I probably will not have my private member's bill heard until much later in this Parliament. Perhaps I won't.

I see Mr. Chan pointing to himself. Do you have a worse number than I do, or a better one?

Mr. Arnold Chan:

I'm pretty bad.

Mr. John Nater (Perth—Wellington, CPC):

I have 255.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

I'm sorry to hear that, both of you. I feel for you.

I've already tabled two private members' motions and I'm working on another private member's bill on rare diseases. I am personally interested in that, but when these changes are done, I don't know what will happen to that.

If you look at every single prior change—the McGrath report, the changes that were done in 1969, and other times when changes were considered—members talked about the role of parliamentarians as legislators in terms of raising their ability to legislate. It wasn't just about introducing legislation but also to amend government legislation, and now, with the advent of an increasingly autonomous—or independent, whichever term you want to use—Senate side, with these Senate bills coming over, to amend those and how that process will work.

I don't see enough discussion on it here. I see half a line, a fragment of a sentence, that speaks to the Senate public bills that are coming over. I think you could spend an entire study of this committee on amending the procedures of the House in order to deal with an increasing volume of Senate bills. They bump our private members' business. I think that is critical. That's a critical consideration. If they sit down and consistently want to do this, they could pass legislation every few weeks that would come over to our side for debate and for a vote. We don't really have the rules in place right now to deal with a very large volume. It would also begin to displace the will of the House of Commons, the ability of parliamentarians to propose private members' motions or private members' bills. I think that's really important to think about.

We have this system whereby you draw lots, and you have a number assigned to your private member's business. Then you begin working on the content of that bill, finding stakeholders who will support you, finding other members of your caucus who will support you, and then other caucuses who will support you. The trust, the consensus, the co-operation, the compromise—that's how it works.

I saw a rookie member do just that. Arnold Viersen, the member from Peace River—Westlock, did exactly that with motion M-47. He got members from the New Democratic Party and from the Liberal Party. He even got a Bloc MP to co-second his motion. It passed unanimously. Now it's at the Standing Committee on Health.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I have a point of order, Mr. Chair, if I might. I've been waiting for an opportunity, and I think this might be the one.

This point has been raised before. You saw the media attention here, and we know how many people are following this live. It has a lot of attention. We have made this request before. The Conservatives and the NDP are unified. That's why I'm doing this, to try to keep things fluid.

I would once again, on behalf of the opposition members, request unanimous consent to allow a motion to go on the floor that would have us move to a room where these discussions can be televised. We know the interest. You saw the gaggle of reporters out there when we came in here. There's clearly an interest. It has so far been denied by the government, time after time, but we're going to continue to pursue it, as we are the issue itself, in terms of fairness.

Again, Chair, I would seek unanimous consent to allow a motion to be placed that would have us move to a room where the television cameras can be engaged and Canadians can follow this important discussion.

An hon. member: That's a great idea.

The Chair:

Is there unanimous consent?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

Some hon. members: No.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Mr. Graham said no.

The Chair:

Carry on, Mr. Kmiec.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I guess it's because he's not wearing the snappy tie he had on yesterday that he doesn't want to be televised.

I'll continue with two quick quotes. They're very short. Again, from a former member of this House who resigned during this Parliament, the member from Calgary Midnapore, who was again quoting Mr. Diefenbaker when he said, “when you come to parliament on your first day, you wonder how you ever got here.” I did just that. “After that you wonder how the other...members got [here].” I think many of us do that on a pretty consistent basis. We look across the aisle and we wonder how some of you got here—some, not all.

There are members I have listened to in debate, both in committee and then in the House of Commons, when I've actually put down my iPad, put down my pen, and I've taken the time to listen to them. Mr. Chan is one of them, on the BDS motion. We disagreed on it, but I really appreciated his comments. It was a different viewpoint than mine.

At committee I've had disagreements with Mr. Fragiskatos. We have severely disagreed over process and policy, but I've never not appreciated his contributions to debate, even when he's gone over time, because I appreciate the viewpoint and I think he has an opportunity to be heard.

I see Madam Jordan is here. We served together on the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. She knows I have gone on and on for hours, it feels like, when we've had witnesses at that committee to testify and explain to us why a particular regulation was so badly written that, in my eyes, it needed a rewrite, or why the public servants in a particular department—the Canadian Food Inspection Agency comes to mind—had not done the work the committee had directed them to do. For 25 years, whether under Liberal or Conservative governments, it did not matter. They simply were not following the direction of Parliament.

My worry is that without this amendment, this study will lead to the implementation of these few pages into whatever this will turn into, and there's simply not enough time to go into this. It's divided into themes, but each one of these themes could almost be its own separate study. Programming could be its own separate study, because it would have a profound impact on the type of work you are able to do in this House. Then how we deal with the Senate bills could be an entirely different study, as I mentioned before.

I think it's important to bear in mind that the rules we've inherited from our predecessors worked for them, and while tweaking should be done and we should amend the rules, it should only be done when we all unanimously agree at the committee level, so then you could recommend it to Parliament. Then when people ask if the committee agreed, they won't just say they agreed on a majority vote, which the government caucus has the power to do, but that they unanimously agreed, and all the people at this table will be there for the vote. If I'm so fortunate to be here as a substitute for a permanent member of this committee, I will then take that vote in the affirmative. I would like to have unanimous agreement at the committee. That's why this amendment is so important. We can only get there in this place.

I talked about the institution of Parliament as an accumulation of customs and traditions, but it's also the building we are in, literally. This committee room in the bowels of Parliament is as close as you can get, I think, without being in the chamber. It's one of the more prestigious-looking committee rooms.

The way the House of Commons is laid out and the way it's represented, the way the rows of chairs are assigned, where the Speaker sits, the Speaker's chair itself, the stained glass windows, all add to the veneration that we should all bear to the institution. When you walk into a hotel and it's well renovated, well presented, you'll have a different feeling about the place and you will treat it differently than you would others.

I've worked in heritage buildings, such as the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, which used to be in an Odd Fellows Temple in Calgary. The building was falling apart. You treated it accordingly, poorly. The chamber moved into a brand new renovated space in the Burns Building in downtown Calgary. Staff members then treated it differently. They also started to work differently, without the approval of their managers, which was a problem. I think how we treat institutions is also how we treat Parliament.

I think, Mr. Chair, you were the one who mentioned the semicircle concept during the debate on the standing orders on October 6. I know that's been used sometimes by constituents, and I've met individuals who think we should adopt a European model. That's not in reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, but you could see a situation in the future where they would try to reform the way our seating is laid out into a semicircle to make it less confrontational. I think that starts from the wrong principle. I'm debating; this is deliberation. It's not confrontation.

We can have confrontation outside with the media present, which would not be edifying in any way. It would not help us in any way. It would not build trust or consensus. We would not be able to co-operate afterwards. I believe the idea of a semicircle is a terrible idea, including for committees.

I think the way we're laid out right now is just fine. I can look at all the government caucus members and discuss with them the issues of the day. I can see all their names too, which is very helpful, especially when you're a rookie new member and there are 337 names to remember. I assume you know your own, hopefully.

The reason we have it laid out in such a way goes back to the cathedral concept and Diefenbaker's great love of this place. Mr. Diefenbaker served almost 40 years in the House of Commons. He knew this building inside and out. His respect for the traditions and the customs of this place were beyond reproach. He loved Parliament. It was both a speaking crutch, as I mentioned before, and something he deeply believed in. We should have the same love for Parliament he had, and one way we can show our appreciation of this place is by not drastically changing or amending the Standing Orders of the House without seeking unanimous agreement. Even in terms of the layout we have, members have talked about the two sword lengths. I'm pretty sure that's apocryphal. I'm not sure that's actually true—

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

It's sort of true in Britain.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It's sort of true in Britain, but they don't have the original Speaker's chair anymore, either.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Nor do we.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

We have that chair.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

It's not the original.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It's not the original we have. That's true. It's a copy of Westminster's.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

It also has a motor in it so it can go up and down.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

That could be something in the reform of the Standing Orders. You could have an institutional component they could add on.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

That chair is not moving to the West Block, by the way.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It's not moving to West Block?

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

They can't get it through the door. Seriously, they can't get the Speaker's chair that goes up and down that was made for Jeanne Sauvé to go through the door, so they're going back to old one for the West Block.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

The point I wanted to make here was that Mr. Kenney, when he was the member for Calgary—Midnapore, mentioned this allusion. He called it an echo of history, just like our Standing Orders are an echo of history. He said that it was an original chapel where the monks would pray that the members met in before they moved to the Westminster Abbey chapel. They were in rows, and they would face each other.

When I was completing my studies at Oxford on an exchange, I went to some of the cathedrals in Oxford. I was surprised to see that unlike here in North America, the pews actually don't face the altar. They face in all types of directions. I was surprised by that. No matter what type of denomination of church you were in, it was pretty consistent. You had pews facing walls. You had pews facing pulpits. You had pews facing staircases, for some reason, and the entrance way. It was different.

They kept it that way because they respected not just the church and the institution it represented—a 2000-year-old institution, in the case of the Catholic Church—but also the fact that the place had accumulated a certain way of doing things. Their standing orders were that the layout was to be this way, so they left it that way. It's not to say that they didn't amend it a little bit. They moved a few things around as more and more people were using it. You could see that they started changing the way the pews were arranged, but the general principle was that they left it that way.

I would hope that whatever changes we make in the future to Parliament, we don't move to the semicircle, because we are not Europe. This is Canada. I think we should keep that echo of history. I think the Standing Orders of the House of Commons are part of that echo. Whenever we want to change them, we should change them by unanimous agreement, because in that way, that echo, that concept of speaking as one voice, we could continue together, having built consensus and then trust.

Many members have heard me say that I like Yiddish proverbs, and I've used a great many of them. I have one: He who is silent means something just the same. I know that very few members of the government caucus have spoken to this issue maybe as long as I or Mr. Genuis or Mr. Christopherson or others have done, but I've appreciated every time Mr. Simms has made a contribution, because he's tried to explain and maybe elucidate, make a point, about where we have maybe erred in our description or in our judgment of actions taken by the government.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

If he did that for everything, he wouldn't stop talking.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

That might become an issue if we had to yield the floor to him then, which we will not do just yet.

Silence means something, and when you don't speak up on behalf of Parliament as a parliamentarian, you will find, maybe not in this Parliament, but maybe in the next or the one thereafter, that you will regret it. You will say that you wish you had spoken up and stopped this from going off into a bad structure that led to the rules being changed in a way that has now hurt your ability to represent your constituents and your ability to leave Parliament in a better place than when you took it on as a parliamentarian.

You become a steward the day you take your seat, not the day you are elected. The day you take your seat, you became a steward of Parliament. Your job is not to steward the government. The government has the executive council. Every minister is there to steward the Government of Canada, to leave it in a better place than it was before.

As a Conservative, I would think they should spend less money. That would be my great hope. Hope springs eternal, and I'll always believe that. However, for Parliament to function well, we have to be the defenders of the Standing Orders, the rules of the House that protect us as members. We cannot allow a government document....

I find one of these things galling, to the point I made very early on about this concept of the board. The Parliament of Canada, the Senate and the House of Commons together, are not the Government of Canada. We are like the board of directors of an extremely important organization. We tell them what to do; they don't tell us what to do.

When I worked for the Human Resources Institute of Alberta, I would never have produced a document like this, telling my board everything I thought they should do and where they should change, unless they had given me direction and told me to do it and had told me what format to use, and never would I have ordered it done by June 2, 2017. It's such a short timeline. It took us well over a year just to get to the point where we were ready to accept a new standards of practice and a code of ethical conduct that I helped to write, but it was the members who proceeded to write it.

The board of directors of an organization—a corporation or a not-for-profit corporation—is just the same as every single parliamentarian in Parliament, whether in the Senate or the House of Commons. It's not a perfect comparison, but it's pretty close. We have an executive team and we have an executive, and that's where it kind of gets convoluted sometimes.

However, this document is written by the Government of Canada, by the leader of the Government in the House of Commons, and there's a little flag on the top left side. I'm looking at the French here. It's the same thing. It's on the Government of Canada's website. I have a real problem with the Government of Canada telling us to change our rules so they can get their business done more efficiently, by which they mean faster, not more efficiently.

They really believe that this place is adversarial in nature, that we're adversaries. You heard Mr. Genuis say this, and I'll say it too, because I agree with him on this point: we're not in a sports competition. It's not me against you. It's not me against the government caucus. It's not us against the world. We're a deliberative body. We debate, and debate takes a long time, because we're trying to achieve consensus and co-operate on ideas. We're trying to find where we agree, and because the issues are so important and because the stakes are so high, it could take hours of time.

We've already spent, I think, four days debating this, Mr. Chair. Is it four days?

The Chair:

It's something like that.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It's something like that. Three days? We're at this point and we still have not found consensus. I would say that trust has gone down as time has gone on.

I would also say that consensus is more elusive now than it was before, but we're still trying to find a way to co-operate, despite that. We take opportunities to suspend the meeting. We take opportunities to talk outside this room, offline, to try to find a way to proceed, but for us on the opposition side—Mr. Christopherson can back me up on this—this amendment to the motion is critical. We have to do this in this manner. I cannot see a way around changing the rules in such a way because the executive team of the board has told us we need to change or redo things because we're too slow.

I didn't realize that slowness was a vice that Parliament needed to fix. Government is slow. Government still hasn't fixed the Phoenix pay system fiasco, which I find ridiculous. Payroll would be the most basic thing to get right in human resources. Paying your employees on time should be the most basic thing any organization can do.

I see that Mr. Cuzner is joining us, which is good, because we need another experienced member at the table.

“Modernization”, as used in this government document, is also another euphemism for telling us that we're old and we don't work well, which I think is also false. That starts from a false premise, so how can we proceed, then, without this unanimous agreement to implement something in this document?

Why should we allow the executive team to tell the board of directors about all these deficiencies and then tell them to fix it themselves? The executive team wasn't picked by the membership, or in this case, by the electors; we parliamentarians were picked by the electors. Then the majority, the government caucus side, decided that the Prime Minister and his team would make the best executive. They chose them, and then they have executive staff who write these types of documents.

It shouldn't be up to them to then turn around and tell us what to do.

I would have been fine with it if the committee had done a study over maybe two to three years and had looked at all the issues, maybe broken down into different themes such as private members' business and programming—different things to look at over time—and then, only by unanimous agreement, had moved forward with proposing it to the House. We could have let the government draw up some rules that could then come back here, but that is not how this went.

This went the other way. The executive team told us that we're too slow and that we can't get their business done in our chamber, but as parliamentarians, it is our chamber. It doesn't belong to the Government of Canada. They're obliged to go through us in order to get their legislation passed. Is the Constitution too slow? Does it need modernizing?

I remember growing up when the constitutional debates were all you ever heard on the six o'clock news, and I would watch the six o'clock news because I was waiting to watch Star Trek at 7 p.m.

I see that Mr. Chan is a fan as well.

I have a real hang-up on that part of it, that this all went down.... I said in my outline that I would speak about this specific point, because I was a member of the executive team of the HR institute, and I would never do something like this without the board's consent and express direction.

We didn't get that here. They're telling us what to do. They're telling us we're too slow. If we're too slow, you could say that the Constitution is too slow, and there's nothing wrong with it. It works just fine.

We can all agree and unanimously consent to exceptions to the rules that will make this place function better, but we won't find that, Mr. Chair.

I see that the lights are going off.

The Chair:

We're just going to check.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Okay. I'll keep talking, because I don't like dead air, just like on radio.

The freedom we have, which every single member of the government caucus has, is the freedom.... Freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong. Any one of you has the right to be wrong—

The Chair:

I'm sorry. We'll suspend. There's a vote. We'll be back after that.

Mr. Tom Kmiec: I'm in the middle of my thought.

An hon. member: You were just getting started with that.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

(1130)

(1220)

The Chair:

We're back.

Mr. David Christopherson: Point of order.

The Chair: Mr. Christopherson.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Thanks, Chair. I seek your guidance.

So far, you have consistently refused to allow the committee to suspend for us to attend question period, supported by the majority government, and unless your intention is to do something different today, I would assume that once again we'll be denied the opportunity to participate in question period as we sit here.

My question, my query, is this. The rules provide, Chair, that whenever there is a vote, as soon as the bells start ringing no committee can continue to do their work unless there's an unanimous agreement to do so. Obviously we don't have that here, so every time there's a vote, the lights come on, you adjourn, we go upstairs, and we're allowed to exercise our right to vote.

An hon. member: Suspend.

Mr. David Christopherson: Suspend—yes, I'm sorry.

Now, my understanding is that there are three votes after question period and no bells. If we are not allowed to participate in question period, how will we know when it's time to vote? How will I be able to vote if I'm expected to carry out my responsibilities here at PROC? I also have an obligation to my constituents to be in the House and casting my precious vote on the matter before us, but under the current regime that you have structured for us, I find myself at this point unable to fulfill one of those two obligations.

I seek your guidance on how you can help me recognize my rights, privileges, and obligations vis-à-vis the vote that's going to happen without bells.

The Chair:

Yes, the votes. That's a very good point.

Mr. Chan.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

If I may, I'll respond to the commentary from Mr. Christopherson.

Let me say that I am sympathetic to your position. The chair actually has no discretion. Standing Order 115(5) of course requires committees to suspend when the bells come on. For the purposes of today, the government will suspend in advance of question period, so that all members can attend and we can exercise our privilege to vote on the matters that will come immediately after question period.

Mr. David Christopherson: Mr. Chair?

The Chair:

Yes, I'll suspend at two o'clock so you can go to question period.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I want to thank Mr. Chan. I'm hoping that senior staffer isn't in the room and runs up and tells him once again that he can't do that, because the last time he tried to be reasonable, his senior staff wouldn't let him. I'm assuming that this time it will hold.

The only thing I would ask, then, Chair, is what your intention is in terms of reconvening. When would that be?

The Chair:

Ten minutes after the votes: is that good?

Mr. David Christopherson:

Sure. That's great. Thank you.

I thank Mr. Chan and you, Chair, for allowing us the chance to exercise our rights.

Mr. Blake Richards:

While we're on this point, Mr. Chair, I understand that's the intention for today, but based on the so-called conversation we had last night with the government House leader when we suspended our meeting, in which she continually referred to wanting to have a conversation, there was clearly no intention to actually have the conversation.

She told us to carry on, that they're not really too interested in trying to do anything to make sure the opposition has any kind of say. We expect this will go on for some time, unless she has a change of heart, because [Technical difficulty—Editor] if you're still undecided. She wants to continue to claim that she wants to have a conversation, but not really to have one, and therefore has no desire to let there be any opportunity for the opposition to hold the government accountable. We could very well be in a position where there could be several weeks of question period that members would be expected to miss.

As far as today goes, it's appreciated so that we don't miss our vote. Certainly, question period is an important part of the day for all members, and I wonder what your intentions are for future question periods.

The Chair:

I'll take that under advisement and think about it. I hadn't really thought that far ahead. I'm hoping we can come to some solution.

Mr. Blake Richards:

You will advise the committee at some point what your thoughts are after you've had a chance to think about that?

The Chair:

Yes.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Chair, while we're dealing with procedural matters and the discretion and ruling of the chair, I would like to raise an issue that both the official opposition and ourselves that we've talked about. I suspect that my friend Mr. Richards is likely going to want to jump into this too.

Here's the issue. Originally when the government invoked their trickery to keep the committee in session well after we were supposed to adjourn last Tuesday at one o'clock, we thought that it looked like it was going to be 24-7, which is very straightforward, and we would just continue to meet 24-7, as has happened around here before.

Instead—and we can only go by what we see happening, because you folks have all the control, not us—what we see happening over the last couple of days is that at your discretion, which is within your purview, you decide when the committee will suspend. One morning you chose 3 a.m. Last evening, you chose midnight.

I'm doing this in the friendliest possible way, Chair. This is not a frontal attack on you, but depending on the answer, it could be problematic. Let's stay on the nice side of things.

I won't speak for colleagues, but I got the impression that there were government members who knew before you ruled when you were going to rise. First of all, that would be a real problem for us, because it would suggest that, unlike what we thought was a dispassionate honest broker, a non-partisan chair, there are indeed some cahoots going on between you and the government members. I know that you would not want to leave that impression. I'm just going to say that it's an impression right now.

That's a problem. If you'll allow me, I'll extrapolate on why that's a bigger problem going forward. The case this instant case, you can understand. If there's any sense that the government has a sense of when they're going to suspend and we don't, it gives them the ability to call their people ahead of time and say not to bother coming in. There's a whole big advantage to knowing that, and we can't do anything until we hear you publicly make a ruling.

It also violates our obvious privilege rights: we have a right to be informed of the decisions of the chair at the same time as the government members. Conversely, it would be unfair for the chair to privately tip the government members as to where the chair is going in a ruling and leave the opposition members in the dark.

I know, Chair, that you can see this, and I would assume—you'll speak for yourself—that you would agree that this is an untenable situation, if that's indeed where we were.... I'm not suggesting that we are. I am suggesting, sir, that I'm starting to get the impression that it's at least possible for that to have happened, and I'm trying to raise it early.

However, here's the bigger issue, Chair. Right now, it looks as if we're going to be here in the ditch and at war over this amendment going into the weekend, going into the constituency week, all the way through the weekend following, and still be engaged here when we come back a week later. That's what we assume is going to happen. We've made no secret of the fact that the NDP and the Conservatives are working together. We're putting together a roster of members to sit here. We're working in coordination, in partnership, on this issue. Our intent is to fill every minute of every hour of every day between now and when the House comes back and we re-engage in regular business.

Here's the crux of my issue, sir. If.... I'm not saying this happened. It's hypothetical, but I would ask you to take the hypothetical seriously. If the chair were to give an advance nod to the government on what time we might suspend over the course of the week, it gives the.... In addition to being a violation of our rights, which should stop it right there, let me explain where it's really problematic going forward in terms of the functioning of the committee, which is your responsibility.

If the government knows ahead of time that on Monday you're going to suspend at midnight, but we don't know that on the opposition side, that means the government has days ahead to know that they don't need to schedule anyone after midnight. Because they know the committee is going to suspend and they know what time we're going to re-engage in the morning, they can go ahead and say to everybody to get some sleep, get some rest, they don't need anybody.... You can plan that days ahead.

It's no big secret to know that the undertaking we're going through right now to staff this committee next week is a major undertaking. It's a little easier when you're government, because you have more members, and you have a lot more motivators, shall we say—we'll just leave it at that. For us, it's purely voluntary. There is nothing to be gained. You have to give up time in your riding with your constituents to come back and be at a committee that at some hours is a tree in the forest.

My question to you is as follows. In order to ensure that our privileges are not breached, to ensure that the chair is treating everyone the same, and to ensure that all the caucuses have the same information in terms of planning this political war that we're engaged in—a friendly civil war but a political war nonetheless—as we go forward, I would ask for one of two things.

One is that if you would indicate to us that, no, there won't be any more suspensions and that we will be sitting 24-7, then everyone can plan their business accordingly. Or, if it is your intention to be suspending, then we would like an assurance from you publicly that no government members—in fact, no one other than the clerk—would be aware of when you were intending to suspend prior to your doing it publicly without all of us knowing at the same time.

I'm asking, Chair, for one of the two: either declare that, no, it's going to be 24-7 from here on in, or from Sunday on, or Monday on, and that's the way it's going to be; or, if there's a sense that we're going to be rising, then give us an assurance from you publicly, as our trusted chair, that no one, other than the clerk, would know ahead of time when you plan to suspend, and if you are making plans going forward, that you would inform the opposition members at exactly the same time that you would be informing anyone else.

Sir, I present this in the most respectful way, but I think you can appreciate why I and my colleagues on the opposition benches would seek to have these assurances so that our rights can be protected.

I thank you for the opportunity to place this, sir.

The Chair:

Thank you.

Are you speaking to the same point, Mr. Richards?

Mr. Blake Richards:

Yes. It's on the same point. I have some things to add.

Before I comment on that point, Mr. Chair, I would like to say, first of all—I have acknowledged this in the past, but it was later in the evening, I think, when I did so—that of all the people on this committee you have the toughest job in terms of the exercise we've been going through this week. You have to remain in the chair and are sort of strapped to the chair, really, and as someone who has done that job in different but similar types of circumstances, with daylong meetings and things like that, I understand that it can be difficult. I want to acknowledge before I say anything else that you've performed that duty admirably.

In regard to the substance of what Mr. Christopherson has just raised, I would certainly concur with what he has said. I would add to it, though, and in my mind, I think this is also about the rights of our constituents and of the groups that we will be meeting with, in addition to being about fairness to all the members of the committee and those who would probably be substitutes for members. For example, next week, some chambers of commerce have asked me to come and speak to them. They've sold tickets to people for them to come and hear me speak about the budget and items around it. If we have to make decisions not knowing whether we'll be here or not, we're affecting those constituents and those organizations. There will be many of those types of impacts taking place.

From my perspective, I would concur with what Mr. Christopherson has said, which is that it's always important that all members of Parliament on this committee have the same kind of notification as to when suspensions would be occurring or what the schedule is going to be going forward. I couldn't agree more. I also think it's important to consider fairness for those organizations as well.

Obviously, Mr. Chair, you would be in that boat as well. As the chair, it's more difficult for you to be a part of the hearings than it is for anyone else. You have a riding that's very far away from Ottawa. Mine is quite far, but you have a lot more travel to do than I have, so it's even more difficult for you. I would be quite certain that you.... I know how much your territory means to you, and I know that you would be intending to be there otherwise, if this committee were not meeting. You probably have who knows many meetings scheduled or set up, like the rest of us, and you might have to be cancelling such things as flights, meetings, and various things.

Obviously, this is something that at this point you must have considered, especially after last night, when the House leader was here and made it quite clear that she had no real intention of trying to work with the opposition parties. That was made quite clear. She basically said, carry on, we have no intention of working with you. This would indicate that we could be here for some time in this conversation that we're having. At least at that point, you had to have considered this and what the implications would be, if for no other reason than your own personal scheduling purposes.

It would be helpful to this committee if you were to share with us your thoughts on where we're going, because you clearly had to have those thoughts. If you haven't made a decision as to what is going to occur over the next couple of days, say, or the weekend and into the constituency week next week, obviously at some point you're going to have to make a decision about what you intend to do.

Can you either enlighten us as to what that decision is and what you see the schedule looking like or, if you can't do it at this moment, I think we should at least expect that you would share with us when you can provide us with that information? Mr. Christopherson laid out quite well why that is fair, reasonable, and important, in addition to the fact that it's also fair for those organizations, constituents, and people that we would have to leave hanging as to whether we can be there or not. I think it's a basic fairness issue. I know you're a fair man, and I'm sure you will provide us this information as soon as you can. If you can't give it to us now, could you please tell us when you would be providing that information to the committee?

The Chair:

Ms. May.

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP):

First of all, let me thank you, Mr. Chair, for giving me the ability to speak at this moment on this issue that is very critical for all members of Parliament.

I would very much appreciate it, as the committee goes forward, if all members, and particularly the government leader in the House, consider giving full membership to a representative both of the Bloc Québécois and of the Green Party. I think this would assist in the committee's work. It would ensure that all voices of members of Parliament.... We're not two classes of MPs in this place. We're all equal, but obviously there's a very different status for members of Parliament who belong to parties that have more than 12 MPs.

I won't go into great detail on the nature of those differences, but the essential difference doesn't exist at all, in that the voters in Saanich—Gulf Islands are equal to the voters of the Yukon, although it actually takes fewer Yukon voters to elect a great MP than it takes the voters of Saanich—Gulf Islands, because we are more populous. Other than that difference, our constituencies are equal and as MPs we are equal. When we're discussing the rules of this place, I think it's really important, as Scott's motion suggests, that there be a role for those members of caucuses that don't have representation at this committee.

I would recommend strongly that the role be a full membership. Certainly, we did that on the Special Committee on Electoral Reform, but it is not unprecedented. Indeed, there are many precedents for members of Parliament with fewer than 12 MPs in their caucus to be full members of committees, not just special committees but standing committees. It is not precedent setting. It's been done many times in the past. Given the importance of this issue and the high temperature that it has now attained, I think this is a way to cool things down and to work together well.

You have my word that as a full member of this committee, I will give it my all and will be extremely fair and non-partial and will work together with you to come up with rules that will work in the interests of Parliament, not any particular party.

I thank you for the chance to put these points forward, Mr. Chair.

The Chair:

Thank you, Ms. May.

On the point Mr. Christopherson raised, I think it's a fair point. To date, I've tried to be flexible and change depending on the situation, which is sort of an evolving situation. In fact, last night, I think I changed my mind three times after talking to Blake about when we would finally adjourn—

An hon. member: Suspend.

The Chair: Yes, suspend.

It's a fair point about going forward, and I think that because next week is a long week I'm going to try to get back to people today, if I can. I haven't totally exactly decided, but I'll try to get back to people today so that everyone knows what the timing would be. Also, I'm not prepared to commit to 24-7 at the moment.

Mr. David Christopherson: Good.

The Chair: I'm not sure my body can handle that.

Ms. Elizabeth May:

I'm on board for 24-7. Let me in on it and—

Mr. Blake Richards:

Mr. Chair, thank you for that. It's appreciated. I had no doubt that you would seek to find a way that would be fair and would allow people to plan. I had no doubt about that. Also, we appreciate that it will be today.... That's very helpful.

In the meantime, would you have an indication as to what your plans are for suspension this evening? If you're not intending to go 24-7, what are your plans for suspending this evening and recommencing tomorrow morning, should we still be there at that point?

The Chair:

At the moment, I thought we were going to carry on in a way similar to where we were, and that it would not be an early night tonight but it would not be a late morning tomorrow morning. I'll figure out the specific timing of it. Is that okay? Really soon...?

Mr. David Christopherson:

Well, if I might say so, Chair, there are two things.

I'm trying to frame this in a way that you don't take offence, because that's the last thing I want to do, but I do feel the need for you to at least, given the comments that I've made and the observations, even just say “of course” or something.... I would just like it to be said publicly, for my own assurance, that when you're making these deliberations, there is no special consultation or discussion with any members of any caucus if it's not with all the members of all the caucuses.

That would be one, and I hope you take that in the spirit I meant it. It's “belt and suspenders” for me and in no way a reflection on you, but given where we are right now, I'd just like to know, if you're going to take all this time to deliberate, that I have the assurance that there's no private input that the government gets to give you. At this stage, you're in a very precarious position. You still contain a Liberal membership card in your pocket, but we view you as being our honest broker. You're the only thing right now that defends our minority rights as they exist. I hope you'll understand that I don't see it as being over the top to ask for extra assurance that those rights are being protected in the procedure that you're following. I recognize that you could see it the wrong way. I hope you don't see it that way.

That's a rather definitive one, but there's another thing I would ask you. As you're having these deliberations.... I mean, this is a democracy. I've been a committee chair too, and I understand the residual rights and powers of a committee chair, but if there's all this deliberation going on in your heart and soul, can you maybe share with us what some of the guiding principles are that you're thinking of as you determine when we meet and when we don't? So far, you have the unilateral power to do that, and it might be helpful to us to understand what are the factors that you're taking into account.

I'll leave it at that, sir.

The Chair:

I don't plan to have any special consultations. A number of times when we have suspended, I've given the reason at the time of suspension and have said what my thoughts were.

I'm also open at any time when we're having our breaks, if people have thoughts.... Blake had a thought last night about something related to timing. If any members have thoughts on timing as we go on, please let me know so that I can take them into my consideration, informally....

Mr. David Christopherson:

I assume I have that assurance.

The Chair:

Yes.

Mr. David Christopherson: Thank you.

The Chair: I just said that.

Okay?

Mr. David Christopherson:

I'm probably not as sharp as I'd like to think I am today, so I accept that you said it.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Chair:

Okay.

Mr. Kmiec, we're back to you on debate on the amendment to Mr. Simms' motion.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I'm sorry, Mr. Chair. I know he was ready to really get into it and I've just ruined it.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

My train of thought is ruined now.

Mr. Blake Richards:

The momentum was there, but I'm sure he'll get it back.

Mr. Chair, yesterday we tried four times to have these meetings that are supposed to be about accountability in the open, so that we can be accountable to people for what's being said and done here, and particularly so the government can be accountable.

I want to make another attempt. They have had a chance to sleep on it, and I hope they may have had a thought—

The Chair:

There were thoughts again this morning when you weren't here.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Oh, so this is now the sixth attempt to try to televise the meetings. I assume the Liberal MPs denied it again this morning, then.

An hon. member: Yes.

Mr. Blake Richards: Okay. I have something here that they should hear and might find helpful. Maybe they would choose to reconsider. This is from the procedure and House affairs committee—this committee—from the first session of the 39th Parliament, in its 40th report:

I'm going to read a small section of it, Mr. Chair, if I may. It begins with “As has been stated in previous reports...”, so this isn't the first time this has been issued in a report of PROC, but it's one time that it has, so I'll read it: As has been stated in previous reports, it is important that Canadians be able to see more of the work on committees and of Members, and that the televising of committees is an integral part of making Parliament more accessible and transparent to the public. The original objectives were to provide Canadians with a fuller picture of Parliament, to give them an opportunity to see MPs at work and to see what committees are doing, and to promote coverage of less high-profile hearings and committees, including those of particular interest to certain regions or interest groups. It remains our hope that the electronic media will take advantage of this opportunity to enhance coverage of the work of parliamentary committees. It would seem that the existing guidelines are appropriate and that they have proved successful in providing the necessary framework for transparent access to, as well as a better understanding of, the work of the House of Commons and its committees.

It then goes on to make some recommendations about broadcasting and televising of committee meetings, but the important point here, Mr. Chair, is the statement that ...it is important that Canadians be able to see more of the work on committees and of Members, and that the televising of committees is an integral part of making Parliament more accessible and transparent to the public.

Now, we've seen on many occasions—yesterday's budget is of course another example of it—that this government's words say one thing and their actions say another. Certainly, the example that comes to mind for me is from yesterday's budget. There are a couple of them. The deficits were going to be small, at $10 billion. We can argue about whether $10 billion is small, but that was what they claimed. Of course, now we see that the deficit is in the neighbourhood of $25 billion to $30 billion. Also, they were going lower taxes on the middle class. Well, we see all kinds of tax increases.

That's just an example, and this is another example. They promised that they were going to be an open and transparent government. What I've read out there is exactly about that: the televising of these committee hearings. According to this committee in the 39th Parliament, and in parliaments before it as well, it would make “Parliament more accessible and transparent to the public”.

For them to deny that ability is to say that they don't want to be open and transparent to the public. Obviously, this motion itself is an example of the government trying not to be open and transparent and accountable, and so is this about televising. It's really troublesome. I hope that maybe these words will have meant something to the Liberal members on this committee and that they'll choose to allow these meetings to be televised so that Canadians can view them for themselves.

I would ask once again, for the sixth time, Mr. Chair, for unanimous consent.

The Chair:

Is there?

An hon. member: No.

Mr. Blake Richards:

It's unfortunate that for the sixth time Liberal members are denying that unanimous consent. It's quite unfortunate.

The Chair:

Do you have a point of order, Mr. McCauley?

Mr. Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West, CPC):

Perhaps my colleague could repeat all of that for the benefit of our fellow members across the way, who I do not think were actually listening to his proposal. It's a very serious issue about transparency. If it has come up this many times, I think maybe it should be repeated so that members across the way could actually listen and participate in this, rather than having side conversations and showing disrespect for the whole process, not only for transparency, but also because it's something this important that has come up six times now in a short period.

Mr. Blake Richards:

It is unfortunate. I agree with my colleague that the members were choosing not to listen to those very important words. I can assure the committee that maybe after those members have had a chance to think about it, I'll give them another opportunity to have those words sink in.

The Chair:

Thank you.

Mr. Kmiec. Oh, sorry.

Mr. Simms.

Mr. Scott Simms:

We're still on this point of order. Is that correct?

The Chair:

On the televising?

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes.

The Chair:

Well, we didn't have unanimous consent. You can start it again.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I can start it again.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Unfortunately, the members on your side chose to deny unanimous consent. Hopefully, maybe you'll have something that you can say that will convince them to change their opinion. I really hope so. You seemed to be in favour of it last night yourself.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Blake Richards: Maybe some of the other members on your side will listen to you.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I'm beginning to think that I should ask Blake to write my householder, because that's....

I have a question and then I have a comment.

It has been the past practice of this committee, notwithstanding the current Standing Orders, that if we achieve unanimous consent, we could make an intervention that you would cede the floor for not a long period of time but a limited period of time, to discuss the subject matter. If we were televised, would we still have that opportunity?

Mr. Blake Richards:

Are you asking me the question, Mr. Simms?

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes, I guess I'm asking a question.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Well, obviously, it isn't for me to make that determination. It's up to the chair, but I personally can't see why not.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I look to Mr. Christopherson.

Mr. David Christopherson:

We can get complicated and go in camera and things, but Mr. Richards and I have made ourselves available to you, Mr. Simms, 24-7 through this whole process. We've had a number of pull-asides to talk about how we might accommodate things. I remain offering that. I'm so confident that I'll even say Mr. Richards and I continue to make ourselves available. If there's any discussion you want to have about anything that gets us further along the process rather than this inane debate about filibustering, we're open for it.

I do not see how being in public would negate our ability to have any kind of offline discussion that we need to in order to come to an agreement to further the interests of the committee.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I guess, Mr. Christopherson.... I appreciate that, we have been doing that, and—

Mr. David Christopherson:

Yes, we have.

Mr. Scott Simms:

—I hope that continues.

Mr. David Christopherson:

It will.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I guess what I'm asking about, though, is more about the online than the offline.

It's mostly me, but all of our other members have received the ability to interject if unanimous consent is granted to us to do that. I know that's not standard.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Are you asking if that would continue?

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes.

Mr. David Christopherson:

Certainly. It's in the interests of the committee and we've said that we're willing to do anything we can positively to try to move this along. We're no happier being here than you are, but we have no choice.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Okay, and—

Mr. David Christopherson:

Remember: you started this fight, not us. Anyway, go ahead.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Right, and to that extent I'll take responsibility for what I'm about to say, which is that I see that we have agreement that we could proceed in that fashion if we're given unanimous consent to get the floor if we so desire.

Mr. David Christopherson:

As we've been doing...?

(6055)

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes, as we've been doing.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I think we would continue the same respect—

Mr. Scott Simms: Okay.

Mr. David Christopherson: —that we've been showing each other and the ability to say, hey, can I talk...? Yes.

Mr. Scott Simms:

I'm sorry if I'm belabouring the point.

Mr. David Christopherson:

No, no. Time is the one thing we have lots of.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Scott Simms:

Yes, as we've demonstrated.

Mr. Chair, I'd like to move that following question period today we ask the appropriate staff, ASAP, to set up that we are televised.

The Chair:

After...?

Mr. David Christopherson:

Hey, what do you know? [Inaudible—Editor]

Mr. Blake Richards:

On that point, Mr. Chair, I'm flabbergasted. That's appreciated. Because it's being asked by a government member, maybe the government members will change their tune here. If that's the case, that would be wonderful.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I would hope, and if they want to divide, that's helpful too.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Christopherson: It saves us the trouble.

Mr. Arnold Chan:

Committees are masters of their own destiny.

Mr. David Christopherson:

We have a motion, Chair. Let's hustle.

The Chair:

On this motion, we have a point of order by Mr. Kmiec, and then Mr. Chan.

Mr. Arnold Chan: No, I don't.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

I have no problems with the way it's proposed as long as the unanimous consent is sought at the time that it's wanted, that it doesn't form part of the motion that whenever it's requested on the government caucus side to cede some speaking time.... Two, on televising or not televising, I hope that thus far the reasons we're not televising is that my face is not good enough for television. It's only good for print—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Tom Kmiec: It's only good for radio.

Mr. Scott Simms:

It's precisely the opposite.

Yes, like I said, that's the only thing we would ask for in return: that we be able to get the...and again, I say this in complete sincerity that we will not hog the time or rag the puck, as the expression goes, when doing so, as we've done in the past.

Mr. David Christopherson:

If I may say so, Chair, I think that's the key thing. It's in the past. A lot of these kinds of things are based on goodwill and respect. We do know what we're talking about, and it would be very obvious to everyone if we didn't allow that kind of continuing co-operation. You'd be right to call us on it and make us look bad, because we are giving you the assurance that the same process that we entertain, the fairness....

I agree with my friend. It is important, because every time we did it in the past, Mr. Simms, it was precluded with you respectfully asking unanimous consent that we invoke that little mechanism—whatever we're calling it—we have to further our discussions. You have certainly my personal assurance that exactly that same respect and latitude would be afforded whether we're in public, private, down the hall, or whatever.

The Chair:

We have a motion. Is there discussion on the motion?

Mr. Graham.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Thank you, Chair.

I would hope that we see the irony of the conversation we're having in terms of refusing to have the unanimous consent in this motion. I just wanted to put that out there.

An hon. member: Pardon?

Mr. David de Burgh Graham: Well, he said that he doesn't want the motion to be amended to say to require this, because we want to go on the basis of the agreement.

That's the whole discussion we've been having here for the last three days. I think we can pass the basic motion, without your amendment, on the same basis. That's all I want to say on that.

Mr. David Christopherson:

It must be how long I've been sitting here. You've confused me.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

Well, I just heard Mr. Kmiec.... My point is that you just said a moment ago that you would not want this motion to be amended to require unanimous consent for us to take the floor at any time.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It should be automatic. I'm not proposing an amendment to the motion. I'm just saying that we should not say or mean to say that whenever it's automatically done, such as.... Mr. Simms could at any time seek the floor and he already has unanimous consent, because if the speaker is making a point, I think the speaker should be allowed to finish making that point, to complete it, so as not to lose the spot in their speaking notes, if they have any, and then be forced to restart from the beginning. I don't think anybody would enjoy that.

Mr. David Christopherson:

If it required unanimous consent, you as the speaker could immediately say you don't give it because you want to finish that thought.

We always maintain—and we'll use you as an example—that when you have the floor, no matter how far afield we get with our little side deals, discussions, set-asides, and everything else, at the end of the day you always have the right to say to the chair, “I have have the floor and I want it back right now.”

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

The irony is that you're asking for us not to do exactly what you're trying to do with the amendment to the main motion.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

It's not the same thing, though.

Mr. Blake Richards:

Mr. Graham still has me confused. I certainly hope that what he is saying—

Mr. David de Burgh Graham: Well, I—

Mr. Blake Richards: —is not sort of preconditioning to excuse himself to continue to deny consent to televise and to have this meeting be accountable to Canadians. I hope that's not what he's doing here. If it's something else, then I guess we're all confused about his point, but if it is to try to deny that accountability to Canadians, I hope he'll think twice.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

I'm quite happy to go on camera. I just want to make sure we have very clear rules once we get there, which is that when we want the floor in this discussion, we get it.

Mr. Blake Richards:

I think we're already there except for—

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

But the problem and the irony that I see is that you're telling us you would not want that in writing because we want to go on the basis of trust, and that's what we're saying on the original motion that Mr. Simms moved three days ago.

An hon. member: No—

Mr. Blake Richards:

I think what Mr. Kmiec is saying is that we'll follow the rules we've been following all along, which is standard procedure. I don't know what else you could possibly do. Of course, the speaker who has the floor always has the right to finish their point or whatever, and if unanimous consent is sought, of course a member has that right to deny it.

We can't speak for what someone might or might not do in the future. All we're saying is that we would intend to conduct ourselves the way we've conducted ourselves all along. The same rules have always applied. It seems to be what Mr. Simms is seeking. I'm unsure of your point here.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

My point is that you want us to proceed on trust, and I'm asking for the same thing. That's all.

Ms. Filomena Tassi:

Yes.

If I may, I'll add to that. I don't think it's—what term would I use?—courteous to challenge Mr. Graham's point. I think he's making a legitimate point. Situations might come up that haven't come up in the past, where someone takes the floor and the other side.... So far, it hasn't arisen, but it could arise that someone takes the floor, they stand, and the other side then would challenge and take the floor back. That hasn't happened, so we want to make sure, if we move forward in this way, that the person who is asking to speak will be extended the courtesy that has taken place thus far and will not be cut off prematurely. That's the courtesy that we're asking for in this.

With respect to Mr. Graham's point about Mr. Kmiec's intervention, Mr. Richards, I disagree with what you're saying, because if it was as is, then Mr. Kmiec wouldn't have made the intervention that he just made. He is asking us to go on trust, as Mr. Graham is pointing out. If you can't follow that logic or you don't agree with it, it's one thing, but to say that logic doesn't exist is another.

Mr. Graham is right in what he is presenting and saying, and I want to go on record as supporting that. We can disagree with the logic, but the point he's making is an absolutely accurate point.

Thank you.

Mr. David Christopherson:

I can't agree or disagree, because I didn't understand what he said.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. David Christopherson: I can't agree or disagree, which is not the point. David usually has very insightful comments. I guess that's why we're focused on it a little. I normally do understand, and they're usually original ideas and well worth considering.

I appreciate where my friend Filomena Tassi is going, but I want to come right back to what Mr. Simms was asking. What he wanted to do was ensure that we weren't going to harden up our lines of interaction between each other and that the process that we've been offering each other, which is to respectfully ask to just comment on a few things that were said or that sort of thing.... Mr. Simms was seeking the assurance that we would continue that respectful courtesy to each other.

Mr. Richards and I are indicating on behalf of our respective caucus that, yes, we would continue to act in the same fashion and show that discretion and that respect, but recognizing that my friend had just asked to be 100% assured that it didn't mean—which it didn't before—that if one of us is talking all of a sudden the government has the right to just stop us and take the floor away. While Mr. Graham was seeking a refinement, I think that Mr. Kmiec was seeking to do the same thing.

To come back to the point, Scott, yes, on the courtesy we've been showing, our intent is to show that, and we would expect you to call us on it if we don't.

Mr. Scott Simms:

Thank you.

Ms. Filomena Tassi:

Can we get the same assurance from Mr. Richards?

Mr. Blake Richards:

Yes. Obviously, we've been indicating from the beginning that the idea here is that we would try to work together, as we have been doing the whole time, and if there are points that someone has to make, many of us have given that opportunity, but I would agree that the point Mr. Kmiec was trying to make was that you can't allow for the ability of someone to choose to interrupt someone whenever they want.

There's common courtesy that could apply here, and obviously, to ask for the consent of the person speaking, which is what has been occurring all along, is reasonable. For someone to expect that there be this automatic right for someone to choose to usurp someone's ability to have the floor would be unreasonable. All we're saying here is, yes, we'll continue to conduct ourselves as we have, as the members of my party have.

I don't know if it was asked when you were speaking, Mr. Christopherson, but several members of my party have offered the floor to government members to make some points, out of reasonableness, and that's what we're trying to seek here. All we're seeking in our amendment is for the government to do the same in return when we talk about what the substance of the matter is. Clearly, that's the principle we continue to want to abide by, so you have my assurance of that.

The Chair:

Ms. Tassi.

Ms. Filomena Tassi:

Just to clarify and succinctly say it: that permission will not be unreasonably withheld.

Mr. David Christopherson:

That is correct, as we've been doing thus far.

The Chair:

Does anyone else want to speak on this?

Mr. Scott Simms:

No, as just a friendly suggestion—

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Chair: Okay.

Mr. Scott Simms: I think I've built a bookshelf shorter than this debate that took place.... I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be facetious, but yes, do vote.

The Chair:

Okay. Is there unanimous consent to televise, this afternoon after question period?

An hon. member: After the votes.

The Chair: I'm sorry—after the votes.

Some hon. members: Agreed.

The Chair: Okay.

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

You'll keep us in Centre Block, will you?

The Chair:

Yes, we're probably going to be upstairs, but in Centre Block.

Mr. Kelly McCauley:

Okay. Is that a motion or is this...?

Mr. David de Burgh Graham:

No. I'm just saying....

Mr. David Christopherson:

It's one where we do have unanimity.

The Chair:

Okay. That's agreed.

We'll try again [Inaudible—Editor] Mr. Kmiec for his—

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Continuation of this debate.

The Chair:

—continuation of his exciting speech on the amendment to Mr. Simms' motion.

Mr. Tom Kmiec:

Because we have Mr. Housefather here and he knows of my great love for Yiddish proverbs, I have this: “Before you utter a word you are the master. After words you are a fool.”

I hope I haven't been a fool so far and that I have made a substantive contribution to the debate with the research I have used to demonstrate that we do have an opportunity to find common ground and to have the amendment to the motion pass. It's based on a substantive reasoning that we should do it where we unanimously agree on changes to the Standing Orders as they may come.

Now what I want to do is refer to an article that deals with time allocation in the House of Commons, “Silencing Parliamentary Democracy or Effective Time Management? Time Allocation in the House of Commons”, which I think is to the point of efficiency that's in the government's “Reforming the Standing Orders of the House of Commons” document. Efficiency keeps being brought up in this document as the reason for the motion Mr. Simms tabled and the amendment that was thereafter moved.

This article is written by Yves Yvon J. Pelletier, who was a parliamentary intern from 1999 to 2000. It's based on his research essay, which was awarded the Alf Hales prize as the best paper submitted by the 1999-2000 interns. I have gone through this article, and I made a few notes to myself, because it deals substantively with what we are dealing with here today, which is the role of members of Parliament and the Standing Orders of the House and how they enable us to have the rights and privileges we enjoy to do the work of parliamentarians.

Our privileges as members don't come from the Standing Orders. The Standing Orders don't grant us those privileges. We have those from our traditions and our customs. Some of them are written into statute, and some of them simply are practice. As I mentioned before, we come to learn about them mostly from the more experienced members of Parliament, who tell us about decorum in the House, whether or not we can wear ties in the House, and when we can be recognized to speak by the Speaker or the person in the Speaker's chair.

In this article, he mentions that the changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons have limited the opportunities of private members to influence the final wording of government bills. This has happened over time. Successive parliamentary procedural changes have made it a priority of the government and of the majority of the members. They have limited the ability of private members to influence the final wording of government bills. That has given the government some certainty about what the final product will look like once it goes to the Senate.

There has always been a need to balance the right to speak for an appropriate length of time and Parliament's right to reach decisions. It's Parliament's right to reach a decision, not the government's right to reach a decision. Government should have no expectation that there is an end date to the debate. Only once each member has spoken in the House, if he or she chooses to speak on a particular amendment or subamendment or piece of legislation, could we then say that Parliament has reached a point of making a decision. We know this. The Speaker rises, goes through the yeas and nays, and then we have the request: is it on division?

Maybe I'll segue just for a moment. “On division”, the two most beautiful words in parliamentary procedure, which we should use much more often than we do right now, are when we stand by for a recorded vote. On division at committee is the reason we're able to process amendments so much faster than we would if we had recorded votes for everything. On division is the reason we are able to go through a witness list at committee so much faster than if we went through a recorded vote. You could request a recorded vote on all those things and grind a committee to a halt. Sometimes the opposition may do that, if none of their witnesses have been accepted, in which case there is a valid reason to obstruct a committee solely to prove a point that you should compromise, co-operate, and at least show good faith toward the other political caucus at the table to reach a compromise and move forward.

You can build trust over time, or you might find situations where persons at the table are willing to forgo a particular witness or an amendment or whatever reason they have found for obstructing. “On division” are the two most beautiful words in parliamentary language.

I'll mention, too, as part of this segue, Bill S-201, the anti-discrimination bill. I was mentioning this to Mr. Graham. When the votes happen, we all get to count the votes and see who voted how, and it's part of the pageantry of the House. After having lost two votes, the executive members—the executive council, the cabinet ministers—rose to request a recorded vote after it was plainly evident that they had lost the voice vote. I was scratching my head the first time they did it, because I didn't quite understand the political reasoning for doing it. When they did it a second time, I thought to myself that I must have dozed off and missed something, because it was very confusing. They consumed another 10 minutes of time in the House, when there was no need for it.

This is about policing ourselves. The efficiency of the House was not hurt by parliamentarians. It was actually hurt by the executive. We could have been more efficient in managing our time if the executive team, the parliamentarians who also serve on the executive council or are members of the cabinet, had simply not risen and had accepted it “on division”, those two beautiful words.

We could pass, perhaps, this amendment to the main motion on division, and it would be beautiful, as long as it was accepted and passed on the yea side, not on the negative side.

I wanted to mention that the right to reach a decision is a right of Parliament, not the right of the government. They should never expect that Parliament will pass their legislation in the shape or form that they present it and table it before the House.

Now, the legislative role of MPs has declined as a result of time allocation. We know this. We've all experienced it. We've complained about it. A certain political party and caucus on the other side made a lot of hay out of it politically, and it was very successful for them.

When I reach the end of these notes, you'll realize I'll mention the government of Prime Minister Chrétien and will compare it to Mr. Mulroney's when time allocation was used, and it won't be as positive comparison for the members of the government caucus.

Prime ministers take advantage of the loyalty and inexperience of their members. I make this as an opinion statement, but it's also repeated in this article, which goes on to say that prime ministers use “...persuasion skills to limit, if not silence, their opposition to government measures on the public stage.”

Although I can see in the government caucus there are a lot of independent thinkers, which I appreciate very much, I hope they see on our side a lot of independent thinkers as well.

I voted with you, Mr. Chair, on your private member's bill, which I thought was an excellent idea. I know we had a side conversation about it. I was in the minority in my party. I was happy to do that because the idea, the policy goal, was the right one. That's what I thought at the time, and I expressed to my caucus colleagues and to my supporters that I would be doing that.

The Prime Minister and the executive team have a lot of tools they can use in order to limit the ability of the government caucus to express itself.

Maybe this is a good time to mention the free votes concept. We've all heard about free votes, that we should have more free votes. I have a lot of constituents come to me and tell me we should have more free votes.

We have free votes. Every vote is free, even the ones at committee, but all votes have consequences.

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

Mr. Tom Kmiec: As long as you can bear the consequences of your decisions, then you are free. If you can't, that's when you are not free. If you remember before we suspended, I mentioned that freedom is the right to be wrong, not the right to do wrong. We should never do wrong with how we vote, and what we vote for, just like on this amendment.

This amendment will help us avoid doing wrong. I think the members here, the members of the government caucus, as well as the members of the opposition parties represented at the table, have that ability to vote freely, and we will accept the consequences of those votes. I will. I'll vote my conscience on this if I am substituted in for the vote of this committee.

There is an idea that Canadian MPs are not elected to govern, but to ensure those who do are held accountable for their decisions. When we elect members of Parliament, when our constituents, our voters, go to the polls, although there is a lot of confusion about this, and a lot of people say they're electing the government, the prime minister, that's what they're voting for. It's a very presidential focus. It's come over time in Canada. It's Americanized our system further a great deal. Part of it is also the medium that we communicate with, such as television and social media. It makes it more about the person, the personality, than it does about the system and how we reach decisions.

We are not elected to govern, that's true. The executive council governs. That's why they have orders of the day and government business. They get to decide government business. They set the agenda, and we on the opposition side respond. But the government caucus responds too to the agenda of the day. Obviously, you are much closer and have a bit more intuition, maybe psychic knowledge, over what the government will decide to do, and we accept that.

The introduction of time allocation was an example of the executive's desire to maintain control over the legislative process of the House of Commons. This was granted back in 1969, to my knowledge, if I'm not getting the year incorrect. I have a quote here from 1956 preceding this.

Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament Donald Fleming said “the Canadian House of Commons has been gagged and fettered in this debate by a despotic government”. Speaking of the government, he said: ...you are jeopardizing the institutions that have proven themselves the bastions of democratic freedom, and destroying the rights of the minority in the house....This strategem was not given birth in any democratic mentality.

This was in response to St. Laurent's government imposing closure at each stage of a bill on public funding for a pipeline partly owned by American interests. The bill was passed in less than 15 days as a result. I bring it up because I'm from Alberta. We have a great love of pipelines in all forms and shapes, especially when they help our fellow Albertans get jobs.

I raise that as an issue because at the time they used time allocation—closure specifically, the proceeding name—in order to meet the government's agenda and their need for efficiency. Those rules still exist today in a slightly different format.

What has changed from 1956, when you could pass a bill in 15 days, to today, when we can't have at least 15 days of debate when members would like to rise and speak to a bill? I acknowledge that there are more members today, so there are more opportunities to speak to government business, but we all come here as generalists on parliamentary procedure and parliamentary policy, and then we specialize through the committee work we do.

We should not, though, give up the opportunity to speak on things we may know a little bit less about in the House of Commons outside of our area of specialization that our caucuses have asked us to undertake. I'm worried that this motion, without the very reasoned and reasonable amendment, may result in taking away the opportunity at committee to do just that, to avoid a situation where you could in the name of efficiency pass a piece of government legislation extremely quickly, perhaps without enough deliberative debate like we're having now, and without an opportunity to consider the clauses in the bill and the contents of the bill.

The member of Parliament in question, Donald Fleming, was probably excessive. Hyperbole is something our profession is known for. I always joke with my constituents that it's the 99% who ruin it for the 1% of us. It's true that we sometimes resort to language that might be considered hysterical. All sides do it. All sides have done it. We're supposed to police ourselves, just like members of the public who are working for a corporation or a professional organization, wherever that is, police themselves.

When I worked in human resources, there was always a question of difficult employees that a company or an organization might have. The number one thing they would tell them first, after seeing them, was “police yourself.” Self-censorship is not a vice, it's a virtue. It means you have learned a couple of lessons. It's when a government tries to censor you that it's a vice from the government side, but self-censorship, the knowledge not to be rude, not to be obnoxious, not to be a jerk, is a virtue that should be practised far more in public.

If they limit our debate at committee—they limit us already in the House in terms of how long we can speak—those opportunities to gain the experience and the judgment to practise this virtue and gain it are limited.

There would be far more opportunities for members of the opposition. Perhaps free-thinking members of the government caucus will then choose to go to the media, and maybe post something on social media they should not post, make a comment they should not make, or disparage a member they should not disparage.

I would like to take you back to the article here and to get a bit into the more technical reforms that happened in June 1969.

Between 1964 and 1969, the procedural committees examined “modernization”. This is the term used by the author, not my favourite term. It says: ...in the absence of a unanimous decision, they all agreed that the Standing Orders of the House of Commons could not be amended without unanimous consent. In June 1969

—that was the reform— ...Standing order 75A would permit the allocation of a specified period of time, when “there is agreement among the representatives of all parties”; Standing Order 75B would apply when “a majority of the representatives of several parties have come to an agreement in respect of a proposed allotment of days or hours”; and Standing Order 75C...would permit “[when no] agreement could be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 75A or 75B (...), that a minister of the Crown [may] propose a motion for allotting time”.

You can see how it goes. First, we talk amongst everybody. Can we seek some type of agreement? If we can'