Procedure and House Affairs

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to join the discussion on the recently tabled report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

I want to start by thanking all of the recognized political parties for doing something unprecedented, at least it appears unprecedented from my research. In the closing days of our session at the end of June, in negotiating our slightly early adjournment, the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre took the role of negotiating on behalf of the Conservatives, the House leader for the official opposition and so on and they agreed with a proposal I made to them.

It is a real concern for members of recognized parties in the House, such as the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, who do not have 12 members and therefore are not included as members of the Board of Internal Economy. It is also an interest for members who are truly independent members and not associated with political parties, such as the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert and the member for Ahuntsic. In the case of all of us as a group, we have no more idea of what goes on in the Board of Internal Economy than a member of the media or anybody in the general public.

Those meetings that are in camera can be reported back to the caucuses of the three larger parties, Conservatives, the New Democrats and Liberals, but for those of us who sit either in smaller parties or as independents, we do not have any knowledge of what transpires and how decisions are made.

However, all of us collectively achieved something quite remarkable for which I want to thank the members of the larger recognized parties. We were allowed to participate in the discussions that took place and the specific hearings of the Board of Internal Economy within the committee on House and procedural affairs, and we have tabled our own report. This is again an unprecedented achievement because the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party, the member for Ahuntsic, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert and the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North do not always see eye to eye on everything, but we did agree on some key points. The member for Edmonton—St. Albert agreed on all but one point with us.

Our report appears as an addendum and in essence it is this.

We do not believe the status quo is acceptable. We do not think the Canadian public is any longer prepared to accept that there are areas that take place in the dark and nobody in the public ever has access to know what decisions are being made. The Canadian public has a right to expect full accountability, transparency and good governance from those of us in this place.

Personally, I have been posting all my expenses online from the day I had the honour of being elected as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands. That is what should be done. I know there are arguments from some in the House that we need to have it become uniform. This report presented by the smaller parties and independent members puts forward a solution on which I would like to touch.

We think we need to “democratize”, because it was basically the evidence from the former Speaker of the House, the Hon. John Fraser and our current Clerk, Audrey O’Brien, that we should have a democratizing of the process. We differ on how that might work out.

Rob Walsh, the former law clerk and parliamentary counsel to this place, offered a suggestion that one way to democratize the Board of Internal Economy would be to have a member of the public sit as a member of that committee. Our position as a group of independent members of Parliament, Bloc Québécois members and Green Party is why not start with having a representative of those of us in this situation.

We are elected members of Parliament who now have no access whatsoever to the Board of Internal Economy. In fact, once the Board of Internal Economy makes a decision in camera, we only find out what the decision is, but we have no access to the thought process, competing policy solutions that were considered and why the Board of Internal Economy made one decision over another.

We also think it would be very wise to continue the work with the Auditor General to find ways to publish more information. The obvious way to provide all the information with full transparency is to go to the House administration.

The House administration, in order to reimburse members, already has to receive original receipts of everything. Therefore, it is not complicated to put together the package of all information on how money is spent by members. In order to reimburse us, the House administration has that information and would just be required to put it online.

The one place our group felt that it would be important to suppress some of that information was in relation to Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner’s concern. We should probably ensure that if we have had meetings with individuals and constituents, that their personal information of having met with us not be published. Obviously, lobbying is already covered under the Lobbying Act. This would be just to protect privacy concerns of people who may have been meeting with their members of Parliament and would not want to be caught up in us reporting on our expenses, which we must properly do from here. It is something where we are beginning to see a gathering and growing consensus.

The other piece was the Green Party submission to this report. It was the only area where my hon. colleague, who really is honourable, the member for Edmonton—St. Albert, did not want to agree with this, and I accept that. I am very pleased that the Bloc Québécois, the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North and the member for Ahuntsic did agree with me.

It is that there is a lot more that goes on in the Board of Internal Economy than just approving our expenses and looking at issues of financing. The governance of this place as an institution takes place at the Board of Internal Economy. It deals with questions, such as an initiative of the former Speaker of the House, John Fraser, which was called the “Greening of the Hill”. Under his tenure, they got rid of the use of herbicides on the lawns, they put forward a rule that one was not allowed to idle their car on Parliament Hill and the House only use 100% post-consumer paper products. These rules are slipping away and I do not know quite why. Certainly cars idle on the Hill all the time not all the paper is any longer 100% post consumer. We should have ways, as members of this place, to make our views known and to insist on higher levels of ecological performance in this place.

I am also concerned about the social responsibility. What kind of employers are we here? I think most members are surprised to learn that so much of our staff here are not only low waged, but their employment is very tenuous. For example, the serving staff in cafeterias and the dining room and the drivers. When we are not here, they are laid off. They have no job security, but we expect them to come back. We expect them to be here when we resume. Much like seasonal workers across Canada, they are also disadvantaged by changes to the Employment Insurance Act. They have a hard time going on EI. They are laid off at Christmas, for Heaven’s sake. I feel badly about this, but I cannot get access to that decision making unless I have some access to argue the point before the Board of Internal Economy. It makes the decisions.

We believe that we should continue with the Board of Internal Economy, but we should improve it. We should have an eye to possibly going in the direction of the U.K. parliament and having an independent body. However, at this point, let us see what we can improve through greater transparency, greater accountability and access for all members of this place to know how and why we are governed collectively the way we are. To do that, we need to open up the Board of Internal Economy, not just to greater transparency around our expenses, but to have an opportunity for every member of Parliament to have some access to know what is going on in the Board of Internal Economy, to make presentations to it and participate as fully as is possible within the constraints of efficient management of the House of Commons.

Again, I am indebted to the member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre and I want to thank all recognized parties, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democrats, and particularly the committee chair of the House committee on procedure and House affairs for accommodating this innovative process that allowed members in my position to participate actively in the hearings on this matter on the committee and in the drafting of the report.