Standing Committee on Public Accounts

The Chair: I made comment; I’ll let you.

Before that, however, I’ve had a request from Ms. May, who is an independent, as all members know. She has asked for an opportunity to ask a rotation of questions.

The rules are that they can unless they can’t. That means, at first blush, that the chair will decide yes or no. Ultimately, as always, the power resides with the committee.

Given the nature of the request and the politics of what we’re dealing with, I’m going to go directly to the committee and ask the question: is the committee of a mind to allow Ms. May to have a rotational spot? It would be one or two questions to a maximum of our five minutes.

Without any debate–I don’t think we need debate–we can go straight to a vote.

Andrew Saxton: Mr. Chair, I think it does require some clarification, because it is an unusual circumstance.

The government members on this side all have questions ready for the witnesses. Our position is that if the opposition wishes to give up one of their questions for Ms. May, then so be it; she can ask one of their questions.

The Chair: Are there any other comments or thoughts?

Ms. May, of course.

Elizabeth May: I have one small but important clarification.

I’m here as a member of Parliament for the Green Party of Canada, and treated, in certain circumstances, as though I were an independent. In this circumstance, I’d be very grateful for the indulgence of this committee to allow me to ask one or two questions.

The Chair: You’ve heard the request. I’ll deem this to be before the committee.

Is there any further discussion?

Mr. Saxton.

Andrew Saxton: I would like to ask the opposition to please clarify whether they will give up one of their spots for Ms. May.

The Chair: And they have the right to respond or not respond, if they choose.

I’m not seeing anybody jump to the mike. The floor is still open for further discussion.

Hearing none, I’ll put the question….

Mr. Byrne.

Hon. Gerry Byrne: I would be happy, in the spirit of parliamentary cooperation, to defer my questions to Ms. May.

A voice: Your “question” or “questions”?

The Chair: I gather you mean your “time”?

Hon. Gerry Byrne: Ms. May.

Elizabeth May: Thank you very much.

Hon. Gerry Byrne: I’m trying to help out.

The Chair: Really, colleagues? I mean, the person who has the least amount of time is the one who’s going to accommodate? That’s okay?

Hon. Gerry Byrne: That is the Liberal Party of Canada way, Mr. Chairman.

Voices: Oh, oh!

The Chair: You occupy the high road alone.

Voices: Oh, oh!

The Chair: Therefore….

All right, Monsieur Caron, just quickly.

Guy Caron: I thought that…

The Chair: We’re taking more time debating it than doing it.

Guy Caron: I thought that the motion of the Conservatives presented on Monday meant that we would spend two hours with our witnesses. We unanimously agreed to shorten this meeting by 15 minutes. So I think we should continue until 5:15 p.m., following the rotation. I remember that when we discussed the rotation, we also agreed to the principle that the same party could not intervene twice in a row to ask questions.

The Chair: All right.

I’m hearing–and I’ll take it as a motion–that we would continue to do rotational questions until such time as we hit 5:15. In the rotation, Mr. Byrne has generously offered his spot to Ms. May. That’s the issue before us.

Is there any further discussion?

Mr. Byrne.

Hon. Gerry Byrne: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It has normally been the practice of this committee that whatever the committee’s reception of evidence, as we’re hearing from those appearing before us and those appearing as witnesses before us, that if we do have to interrupt the normal proceedings of the committee, we actually ask the witnesses, and those appearing before us, to appear again.

So would it be possible, Mr. Chair, to ask Minister Baird, and more particularly Minister Clement, if they would come before us again?

The Chair: Minister Baird is indicating he’s ready to respond.

Hon. John Baird: Thank you very much.

I am inspired by Gerry Byrne’s non-partisan nature in wanting to assist our colleague and friend from the Green Party.

Could I suggest, though, that we just sit until 5:20, go with the normal rotation until 5:15, and then allow Ms. May to speak? I’m prepared to stay to hear her time.

The Chair: You were fine until you started talking about who’s going to speak—

Voices: Oh, oh!

The Chair: —and then you crossed the line, Minister.

I hear what you have to say, but the matter is still before the committee.

Is there further discussion?

Mr. Byrne.

Hon. Gerry Byrne: Mr. Chair, I’d like to entertain a suggestion that was made by Minister Baird. I’d like to repeat his statement on the record and simply ask if the committee would consider it—that we hear the testimony of the ministers and the witnesses appearing before us until 5:20, as Minister Baird did suggest.

And John, I appreciate the compliment. Thank you.

Hon. John Baird: Give, give, give, Gerry—that’s what I do.

The Chair: Hold on, Minister, please; you’re not being helpful.

Mr. Saxton.

Andrew Saxton: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to ask the committee if we would have agreement, in that case, to continue our work today until the committee business is completed. We had set aside 15 minutes for committee business, and we do need to get the committee business accomplished and finished.

If we’re now going until 5:20, then that means we may have to go five minutes over our allotted time. We may have to go to 5:35.

An hon. member: I can’t.

Andrew Saxton: One of the honourable members indicates he cannot.

If we have agreement, then, that we will get the business done by 5:30—that is, in the reduced amount of time, with ten minutes for committee business—we would not object.

The Chair: Okay, quickly, folks; we’re like kids in the backyard spending more time fighting over the rules than playing the game.

Go ahead, Mr. Byrne.

Hon. Gerry Byrne: Can we just carry on for another five minutes with the hearing of witnesses, and then proceed with committee business at 5:20?

The Chair: Well, under the current rules that we set for ourselves, we could continue, if we agree now, in rotation. Ms. May would come up during Mr. Byrne’s speaking spot. At 5:15, we would move to committee business.

But I count five…which means we’re not going to get there.

So your offer is symbolic, at this point.

Voices: Oh, oh!

Hon. Gerry Byrne: However genuine: however genuine it may actually turn out, Mr. Chair, it is symbolic. Thank you.

The Chair: Thank you, colleagues.

Do I have agreement that we will continue in rotation until 5:15?

Some members: Agreed.

The Chair: Okay. So that’s where we are.

We’ll go back to the beginning, as we do when we say we’re going to reset.

Therefore, Mr. Saxton, you have the floor….

Monsieur Caron, yes?

Guy Caron: We had an agreement. When we negotiated the rotation, we agreed that if it continued and there was a second round, we would respect the principle that the same party would not intervene twice in a row to ask questions. If this is the case, the last speaker was a Conservative and, therefore, it should be the opposition’s turn next.

The Chair: Mr. Kramp.

Daryl Kramp: We didn’t agree to that. We said let’s just go back and start over again until the 15 minutes is up.

The Chair: Yes.

Monsieur, I’m open to hearing you again, but I don’t think we had that understanding. I think what we do is just loop back in. Okay?

If there are no further points—I’m hearing none—Mr. Saxton has the floor.