Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Scott Reid: Thank you.

Let me try both of those at the same time. I was trying to make notes in order to be able to respond more fully, but my pen died on me.

To deal with Mr. Christopherson’s question first, it’s not people who are not members of cabinet, who have their own reasons for not actually being able to introduce motions, because cabinet acts as a single unit. Rather, it’s people who are not members of a caucus. On this committee, as a practical matter, that would be a reference to Ms. May, for example. She’s not a member of a caucus. I suppose there’s a sense that she is a caucus. At any rate, that’s who it’s referring to. That’s the very narrow meaning.

On the second point, regarding precedents elsewhere in the Commonwealth, I just don’t know what there’s been elsewhere. Casting our collective minds back, we can all remember that this spring the finance committee actually made use of a similar procedure. To be honest, I don’t have the exact wording of what they did. They had a somewhat similar procedure. That, in essence, if you like, is the precedent for this.

To answer Mr. Lamoureux’s question, this is just a way of creating a system, a structure, or a rule that’s available in advance for allowing greater integration of independent members. Obviously, it’s not just Ms. May but also members of the Bloc Québécois who are sitting as independents right now. There are a number of other individuals who were elected under one party or another who are now sitting as independents who would also fall under this motion.

The Chair: Since I’m having so much fun in the post-election party, Ms. May, our committee often has had independents at the meeting, but not often have they been allowed to participate. We will be talking about that later in this meeting as we move towards another study.

If you have a point on this, I’ll certainly take it if it’s short.

Elizabeth May: Thank you.

There will be no other precedents anywhere in the Commonwealth, because the specific rule that relates to members in my position having the ability to put forward amendments at report stage emerged in this Parliament only in response to earlier action taken, when the Liberals were in the majority, to prevent Reform Party members from putting forth extensive amendments at report stage, such as occurred over the Nisga’a treaty.

As a result of that, this procedure in the Canadian Parliament is unique in the Commonwealth. My discovery of that rule and subsequent use of that rule is, with all due respect to all members, the entire reason that the finance committee, and subsequently other committees, took to the process of inviting me to present my amendments to committee for their ritual slaughter before committee.

I will participate when invited. I have to say that I don’t regard it as an extension or improvement of the rights that I had, because I only get a minute per amendment. That seems to be the way it’s being treated, so I can’t really discuss my amendments, or defend them, or even accept friendly amendments when they’re suggested.

But I am obviously not in the same position as the rest of you. I accept whatever rules there are, but in trying to answer the questions that have been put forward here, I will say that the only reason we have this anomaly in the Canadian House of Commons that gave people in my position somewhat special access to the report stage amendments was because of earlier action taken to restrict the ability of members to put forward amendments at report stage, which is unique to the Canadian system.

Peter Julian: Thanks, Mr. Chair, and congratulations on your re-election.

I am a little concerned. I certainly understand Mr. Christopherson speaking very favourably to this, and I support the principle as well, but what I am sensing as this emerges is that what it actually does is cut off report stage amendments—

An hon. member: Yes.

Peter Julian: —which means that we’re not talking about an improvement in participation for members, but actually a way of curtailing the kind of debate that often should be held in the House of Commons.

Through you, Mr. Chair, I’d like to ask the clerk of the committee to inform us either now or perhaps at a later meeting—I think it’s clear that we probably have to put off adopting or voting on this today—if the impact of this motion would be that members like Ms. May and others would be precluded from presenting amendments at report stage.

The Chair: I’ll allow you to answer. Or do you want to defer…?

She wants to do her homework.

Peter Julian: Yes, and if you don’t have an answer, you could bring that back for the next meeting.

I think it’s pretty clear. I don’t think we shouldn’t be pursuing this today, because that’s an important question that I think we need to have answered.

The Chair: We’ll get to that part in a minute.

Mr. Christopherson.

David Christopherson: Thank you, Chair.

I appreciate Mr. Reid’s response. That’s why you take time with these things.

I did misunderstand. I thought you were opening it up to everybody who’s just not a formal member of any committee. When you say “not a member of a caucus”, that obviously takes us right to where Mr. Julian is in terms of suggestions. Clearly, I would hope that at the very least there would be a tabling of the motion. We’ve already asked for an important piece of information, and the clerk said she needs to do a little research. That speaks to the complexity of this.

Any time it’s complex procedurally, it’s automatically complex politically, or it can be, so I appreciate Mr. Reid clarifying that for me. That does change the nature of it. I would just hope that a motion to table would be adopted to give all of us time to reflect on it and be clear on where we are.

If you would accept it from me, Chair, I would move that this matter be tabled until the next meeting.

The Chair: I think I have to accept that if you ask for it.

David Christopherson: Well, I do.

The Chair: We could ask the group whether that’s what they would like to do.

Mr. Reid?

The clerk tells me that this is not debatable. All right. I always like a good debate, though.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

The Chair: All those in favour of the motion to table? Opposed?

(Motion negatived)

Peter Julian: Mr. Chair, I’m a little perplexed. Mr. Christopherson asked quite reasonably for tabling of a motion. We don’t have answers to the questions we’ve just asked. Mr. Reid was unable to answer. The clerk has asked for a couple of days. I’m very surprised that when a motion is brought forward and questions are raised, the government doesn’t have an answer, and when the clerk very responsibly asks for time to get those answers, the government majority then decides they’re not going to accept tabling.

It’s a very strange precedent. I’m new to the committee, but I’m very perplexed. I thought Mr. Reid had presented this in good faith. We’ve now found, after a couple of rounds of questions, by Mr. Christopherson, Mr. Lamoureux, and Ms. May, that there are some real concerns about this. What this could indeed do is limit the parliamentary privileges of independent and non-recognized party members. If that is the case, if the goal is to limit, I’m quite concerned about the direction of the government. If the government is presenting this in good faith, which I hope is the case, then the government needs to support the idea of getting the information that members have just asked for.

I really don’t understand why government members would oppose tabling when we’ve just heard from the clerk that we need a couple of days to get further information.

Mr. Chair, I have to question the real intent of the motion. If the intent is to further members’ participation, which we all welcome, then that’s something that I think we could all support, as Mr. Christopherson clearly indicated. That’s fine, but we obviously need some more information, and we need to consider this at the next meeting.

If the intent is to try to ram this through, then I suspect the intention is very much to limit the participation of members like Ms. May. If what the government is attempting to do is limit the participation of non-recognized parties and independents, then I have real concerns. I couldn’t support this motion if that’s the intent.

It’s very unclear. We have Mr. Reid explaining it one way and then the government voting another way. Please let us take the time to get the information that members need so that we can then have a fulsome debate and make a decision.

Tom Lukiwski: It would be a little different if you had a caucus whose members, as you say, truly had independent minds and would bring their opinions forward. Then there might be a bit of a disconnect from government policy or caucus policy. But you guys don’t. I can see a bit of difficulty with the Liberals just because of the sheer fact that they have fewer members—

Elizabeth May: It was the case in my caucus this year.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Tom Lukiwski: Yes. The Green Party always seems to speak with one mind as well.

David Christopherson: Thank you very much, Chair.

I heard Mr. Richards say he had problems because of the volume. I can assure him that this could stop immediately if the government would come to its senses and just say, “Hey, we get it. Sorry, we didn’t know what we were thinking there. Sorry about that, and yes, of course, we’ll table this for two days. We’ll get the information. We’ll get onto the business”. Then Mr. Richards wouldn’t have to listen to me any more.

Am I seeing that or not, Chair? I’m not. I’m not seeing any government members saying, “Oh, no, we’re prepared to stay”.

What I don’t get is this: they can’t win it. The politics of this are stupid too. This is what really gets me. Who thought this up? Did the government really think we were just going to sit back and allow it to change the way we make laws in Canada when we can’t get an answer to the very first question we had, which is what are the unintended consequences, or at least what are the consequences of doing this vis-à-vis other procedures and the rights of members in the House—in this case, potentially Ms. May and others. But it’s not about her individually. It’s about the rights of Parliament, and it’s the right of Canadians to have a Parliament that functions in a democratic way, and there’s nothing democratic about ramming through a motion that changes the way we make laws without even having the information about what those changes will ultimately be.

An hon. member: Hear, hear!

David Christopherson: That’s the substantive part of it. The politics of it is that the government is holding up every committee in the House, all of the work of Parliament outside of question period and the debates in the House, which is relatively slow moving stuff. Other than that, everything is frozen. Nothing is going to get done. Why? It’s because the government has decided that it is going to make this change, and it is going to ram it through no matter what the cost.

Where the government has miscalculated is believing that we, in the opposition, would just roll over. That’s not going to happen. The government will win at the end of the day.