Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs

Peter Julian: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

On Tuesday, as committee members, we asked the clerk a series of questions. You’ll recall, Mr. Chair, that the Conservative members did not want answers to those questions. Now we’ve had the answers given to us by the clerk this morning. Through you, Mr. Chair, I’d like to thank the clerk. This is extremely important information.

The clerk cites the evidence from the Standing Orders of the House of Commons that the Speaker will normally select only motions that were not or could not be presented at committee. Also shown is the reference of June 6, 2013, in which the Speaker said very clearly that for the reasons listed above, the chair did not select any motions at report stage that could have been considered in committee.

So there is no doubt that this motion brought forward by Mr. Reid, which the Conservatives attempted to ram through at the last committee meeting, despite the fact that we were, as committee members, asking for clarification…. They were doing it because, I gather, Mr. Chair, they were expecting that the opposition would simply not understand the implications of that and that we wouldn’t ask the correct questions. Well, they’re sorely wrong, Mr. Chair.

The reality is that what we suspected has been confirmed today. This is very clearly an attempt to do only one thing, which is to bulldoze away the rights of those members of Parliament who have been elected by Canadians and who are either independents or belong to parties that are not recognized in the House of Commons.

Mr. Chair, I will say that I believe it is despicable that the Conservatives would attempt to hold up the study that Parliament asked all of us to do, the study to look into the issue of MPs’ expenses and doing away with the Board of Internal Economy and the self-policing, which I have no doubt Canadians support doing. The Conservatives tried to hold it up by throwing forward a motion that is designed to eliminate the rights of those members who don’t belong to recognized party caucuses.

There is simply no reason and no justification for what Conservatives did on Tuesday, Mr. Chair. It is even more disturbing when we think that this has now been systematically raised at committees right across the House of Commons.

We believe fundamentally in the democratic rights of parliamentarians. Whether we agree or disagree with a parliamentarian, it is not up to any one of us to say that we are going to destroy the rights of those members of Parliament who are elected as independents or elected from non-recognized parties. Whether we’re talking about Ms. May or anyone else, they have a right to speak and represent their constituents.

The Conservatives, on Tuesday, pushed forward on a motion that very clearly, from the interpretation we got back today, rips aside those rights.

Mr. Chair, I will say I’m very saddened by this. We had a throne speech last week and there has probably been no point in Canadian history at which a throne speech has been ripped up and thrown in the shredder as quickly as this throne speech has been.

I’ll just remind the members opposite of how the throne speech started off. It said two things, speaking to all Canadians, that as Canadians we are inclusive and that Canadians are honourable. Well, Mr. Chair, this is not an inclusive act. This is an act that is designed to exclude members of Parliament who don’t come from a recognized party even though they’re elected by Canadians in their ridings and have a right to represent their voters and all of their constituents in the House of Commons, and they have the right that’s been granted to them through parliamentary tradition to use the report stage to bring forward amendments to bills they feel strongly about. This is not an inclusive act. This is a very exclusive act, the kind of act that a desperate government would put into place. It completely belies all of the language in the throne speech we heard last week.

As for the second thing, that we are honourable, Mr. Chair, I have no doubt that Canadians are honourable. I have no doubt that if this issue were put to Canadians across the country, even in Conservative-held ridings, they would say, “Well hold on. Why are we attacking those who are from non-recognized parties? Why are we attacking Ms. May? Why are we attacking an independent member like Mr. Rathgeber, who is representing his constituents and trying to do a good job on their behalf?” Why are we attacking them when we, as parliamentarians from recognized parties, have those tools and they have one tool, which is report stage amendments?

If we ask what the honourable action is, Mr. Chair, the honourable action for this government and members of the governing party on this committee is simply to withdraw this. The motion is not appropriate at all. It completely contradicts the throne speech and the language that was supposed to set a new tone for the government. What it really does is to put us back on a path of confrontation and denial of democratic rights. It is not for the Prime Minister and government members to try to shut down the few tools that members from non-recognized parties have.

If we’re talking about independent members, if we’re talking about Ms. May, they have a right to be here. They have a right to represent their constituents. They already cannot be members of committees. They’re already excluded from a number of fora. That I understand, because you do have to have a minimum level for participation in committees. That I can perhaps understand, but I cannot understand a government that tries to rip apart the rights that they’ve acquired over decades. It’s not an easy thing to present report stage amendments. I don’t think Ms. May particularly enjoys doing it, but it’s the one tool she has to represent her constituents. She had a right to do that. This motion that was presented on Tuesday rips apart those fundamental rights—and we now have confirmation of it.

Perhaps government members could have said on Tuesday, “Well, we don’t know any better”. That still doesn’t explain why they refused the tabling motion that we put forward, which was a very reasonable approach. But now they understand. Now we have the interpretation. Now we know that what this does is to gut report stage amendment rights. That is very unfortunate at a time when Canadians across this country are asking for more democracy, at a time when Canadians are saying that what we need to have is more transparency in government.

We have a government that prorogued Parliament for a month, saying that they wanted to reset the agenda and come back with a new agenda. Well, sadly, Mr. Chair, this new agenda seems just as darkly unfortunate and disrespectful of democratic rights as the old agenda was. I think, Mr. Chair, that’s a very unfortunate thing.

Now to conclude, because I know there are other members who want to speak, we couldn’t support a motion like this. We find it unfortunate that it was presented on Tuesday. We find it unfortunate, now that we have the interpretation, that Conservatives seem to want to try to ram this through.

What we want to do is get to the study that Canadians are asking us to do, to do away with that secretive self-policing in the Board of Internal Economy and put in place the kind of transparency the NDP has always called for with MPs’ expenses.

With that, Mr. Chair, I am—

An hon. member: Keep talking to it.

Peter Julian: —just going to speak for a couple more minutes because I’ve just realized that I have some additional things I want to bring forward.

An hon. member: It’s okay, let’s just him speak.

Go ahead, you can finish.

Peter Julian: Well, okay, Mr. Chair. I’ve just realized that there are other things that I can add.

Now, Mr. Chair, in the throne speech there was also the comment that we are smart. In referring to all Canadians, Mr. Chair, I would certainly agree that Canadians are profoundly smart and intelligent. They can see through government manipulation.

Now, as for the blunt-headed way this was brought forward Tuesday, thrown onto the floor as if somehow opposition members wouldn’t be aware of it, wouldn’t understand exactly what the connotations, impacts, and consequences were, that wasn’t a smart move, Mr. Chair. That wasn’t a smart move at all. What that indeed did, I think, was heighten our suspicion that there was something untoward in the whole approach.

Mr. Chair, I’ll say this just one more time. We believe very strongly that we need to proceed to the committee report, as that’s what we’ve been charged to do. Let’s do away with the secretive Board of Internal Economy. Let’s move forward on transparency of MPs’ expenses and let’s drop this idea of oppressing non-recognized parties’ members of Parliament and suppressing their rights to report stage amendments.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Julian.

I have next on my list Monsieur Bellavance, but I’ll need to ask the committee for their permission to have Monsieur Bellavance speak today. It’s our standard procedure.

Those in favour? Those against?

(Motion agreed to)

The Chair: Monsieur Bellavance, please share your comments with us.

André Bellavance: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

That is one example of the issues faced by members of an unrecognized party, and even by independent members, although there is a difference between a member from an unrecognized party and an independent member. Since there are fewer than 12 members of the Bloc Québécois, it is not a recognized party; the same thing applies to Ms. May’s party. Independent members have chosen their status, or they have been excluded by their caucus. Whatever the case, the difficulties I was referring to remain the same: the members from an unrecognized party have to ask for the committee’s unanimous consent to speak on a topic that concerns them. That is one of the problems we encounter.

I will not take all of the remaining time to discuss this, but I would like to suggest the following: rather than debate a motion on the amendments, I would like the committee to devote a few sessions to studying the rights of members belonging to unrecognized parties, and those of independent members.

To illustrate what I mean, I would like to refer to what happened at the Quebec National Assembly. At the time, the Action démocratique du Québec party, which had four members, was an unrecognized party. The other parties had discussed the possibility of having these members take part in parliamentary committees, which are known as parliamentary commissions in Quebec. That had been accepted. The same thing goes for the party Québec solidaire. At the beginning, that party had only one member; today, it has two. These members also have the opportunity to take part in committee studies, and they have the same rights and privileges as the other members.

I’m not taking about equality here. We understand full well that the Conservative Party is the majority party and that the NDP is the official opposition, and then come the Liberals. We can’t have the same speaking time as they do. Our interventions cannot be as long as those of the members of those parties. Nevertheless, we would like the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine this question more in depth, and not simply through a single motion.

As for the motion as such, I would simply like the “blues” to reflect what the Bloc Québécois has to say on the matter. I’m going to talk about the inherent rights of all of the members regarding the tabling of amendments. Following the speaker’s decision last June, we went to a few committees to submit amendments, but that is all we did. We had the right to submit amendments, and perhaps to a few minutes to present our case. That is where there should be a difference. The motion should be clearer for the members. When amendments are tabled, at least in committees, the members of an unrecognized party and independent members should have the right to answer questions raised by their amendments and to question witnesses. We should also have the right to vote, at least on our own amendments. As you can see I am even limiting our rights there.

Actually, there are two categories of members, the members from a recognized party and the members from an unrecognized party. There are also independent members who are in a second category and do not have the same rights as the others, with all due respect. Of course, the relative weight we have in the House of Commons has to be taken into account. I will never ask to have the same speaking time as the members of the official opposition or the government party, but I would at the very least like to be able to submit arguments on my amendments.

In light of what I have just said, this motion is incomplete. That is all I am going to say for the time being, but that is my party’s opinion. I hope that I will be able to take part in your discussions again.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

The Chair: That gets us off the motion that we were on.

We’re now back to a couple of minutes of business, if I can do that.

Madam Turmel, I think I know what you’re about to do, but just before you do, I have a couple of pieces of business I’d like to carry on with under the routine proceedings that we were trying to deal with.

First of all, with our study on the Board of Internal Economy and the transparency of MPs’ expenses that is coming up, there are a couple of things I have to get out. One of them is the briefing notes that were mentioned earlier that were prepared. I’d love to have the permission of the committee to distribute those. Is anyone opposed to our doing that? I need to ask you because the independent members of our House are mentioned in the motion and these briefing notes are going to them as well, not just to members of the committee but to all the independents because they are truly, while we are discussing it, members of this committee. Great.

I have prepared a letter to the independent members as to what role they will play or how they will participate in the study of the Board of Internal Economy. I know you’d love to see it and that’s what I’ve been trying to get to. The letter simply asks the independents to negotiate among themselves, meet with each other, and decide who is going to sit at this table.

Elizabeth May: Well, I can’t talk to this guy.

The Chair: I know that, but we can’t talk to these guys either.

That’s basically all the letter says, that the independent members of the House of Commons will decide on their own who would be represented on which day of the committee, that it will only be one member, and those types of things. They would be governed by all the rules of the House. If one is sitting at a meeting in camera, well that’s going to be really tough to share with the other members, but those types of things will take place.

Could I have permission to send that letter out to the independents so that we can get this back, because we really can’t start until then?

Also on routine motions, this one sounds really silly, but the chair would like permission to be able to get a coffee without putting somebody else in his chair each time, as long as I pay attention in the room.