October 15, 1968

HOUSE OF COMMONS DEBATES

OFFICIAL REPORT


Tuesday, October 15, 1968


PRIVILEGE

MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD

PC

Donald MacInnis

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Donald Maclnnis (Cape Breton-East Richmond):

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege affecting all hon. member of the house with reference to their efforts to obtain information from the government benches. It deals also with the question of the schedule for the attendance of ministers as provided by the government and the question of who is an acting minister and when he is an acting minister; because we have had an acting minister of public works while the actual minister was in his office on the third floor, and we have had an acting minister when the President of the Treasury Board was in his office on the floor below. It also involves the question of whether members are entitled to direct questions to ministers in capacities other than of departments they represent.

Here I would refer to a previous ruling in this house by Mr. Speaker on April 1, 1966. I quote from the fourth paragraph, second column, at page 3756 of Hansard for that date:

I still feel today just as strongly as I did a few days ago that it should not be the policy in the house that ministers be asked to answer questions, whether written questions or verbal questions, in any capacity other than in their official capacities.

It would follow, Mr. Speaker, that if members are denied the privilege of asking such questions, then no minister should be entitled to answer in any other capacity than in that of the department for which he is responsible.

On the question of acting ministers Mr. Speaker's ruling on April 1, 1966 went on to say:

While considering this matter in recent days it was brought to my attention-and I must say I understood this-that in some instances certain ministers are given areas of responsibility. For example, I might say that the Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Turner) in the present government is given, by acknowledgement on the part of the government, that portion of government responsibility in the realm of transport, is asked questions

in that regard, and is expected to answer questions about the Department of Transport although he is not the Minister of Transport.

It would follow, Mr. Speaker, that rather than what happened on Friday last, when eight ministers were trying to answer questions that were correctly the responsibility of 29 ministers, acting ministers should be predesignated by the government. That, sir, is the interpretation, and rightly or wrongly I do not see any other possible interpretation that could be taken from Mr. Speaker's ruling of April 1, 1966.

With respect to the scheduling of the attendance of ministers, we all realize that this is an experiment which the government is conducting. But surely, Mr. Speaker, members of the government should acknowledge the fact that the experiment is not working. Today members received a release dated October 11, 1968, giving a revised schedule of attendance. But, Mr. Speaker, errors can clearly be seen in it which will make it very difficult for members of the opposition to obtain the information they may be seeking.

[DOT] (2:40 p.m.)

I wish to call the attention of the government to the fact that on Mondays the President of the Treasury Board (Mr. Drury), the Minister of Finance and Receiver General (Mr. Benson), the Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce (Mr. Pepin) and the minister of National Revenue (Mr. Cote) are all absent.

I would think that normally in the absence of one of these ministers any one of the other three would be able to take his place in an acting capacity. Nevertheless all four are to be absent on Mondays. This means that questions in the realm of trade and commerce and finance would have to be taken by the government as notice for reply on another day. In this event it would not be possible to treat the questions as matters of urgency.

I referred to this matter of urgency previously. If any given member should have a question of urgent importance he could have to wait from Wednesday until Tuesday in order to have the question answered because the minister concerned would be absent on Thursday and Friday, This, as I say, again would remove it from the urgency bracket.

1134 COMMONS

Attendance of Ministers in House

I might point out also in respect of the rescheduling that on Fridays the Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Sharp) and the Minister of National Defence (Mr. Cadieux) are absent, and this at a time when we have set up a committee involving both these departments. In respect of departments which relate closely one to another I might say that also on Fridays the Solicitor General (Mr. Mcllraith) and the Minister of Justice (Mr. Turner) are absent.

Mr. Speaker, I move this motion in order to bring about a more consistent approach by the government to its responsibility to the house, as has been the practice of past governments throughout the years.

I, therefore, move seconded by the hon. member for Parry Sound-Muskoka (Mr. Aiken):

That the matter of scheduling of ministers in the house and the general conditions affecting the daily question period be referred to the special committee on procedure.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
IND

Lucien Lamoureux (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Independent

Mr. Speaker:

Before the Chair can even consider putting the motion before the house there are a number of conditions which must be fulfilled. One is that the Chair must be satisfied that in the matter brought up by the hon. member for Cape Breton-East Richmond (Mr. Maclnnis) there is a prima facie question of privilege. Perhaps hon. members might like to enlighten the Chair on this particular point.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
PC

Gordon Harvey Aiken

Progressive Conservative

Mr. G. H. Aiken (Parry Sound-Muskoka):

Mr. Speaker, the subject matter raised by the hon. member received a good deal of attention on Friday during consideration of the estimates of the Privy Council. I do not believe we need repeat the arguments today.

However, two situations have arisen which affect the whole question. First, we no longer appear to have acting ministers in the house to replace those who are absent. On several occasions when a question was asked of the Prime Minister he consulted his roster and requested that the question be asked when the minister was present. This would indicate that no acting minister had been designated on that occasion. Likewise it has always been the practice, or at least the understanding, that when a minister is absent from Ottawa there would be an acting minister to take over his duties. The question the hon. member has raised is whether the absence of a minister from the chamber when he is actually within the precincts of the building is sufficient to necessitate having an acting minister in the chamber during the question period.

DEBATES October 15, 1968

There is also a question in respect of amending the duty roster which provides for a programmed absence by ministers who might logically be acting for others who are absent. For example, on Mondays the roster which has been distributed to us indicates that the ministers of finance, national revenue, industry and trade and commerce and the President of the Treasury Board will all be absent. Any one of those might logically be the acting minister prepared to accept questions in the general area of their responsibility. Likewise on Fridays the Minister of Justice and the Solicitor General will be absent. Again the person who might logically be the acting minister will also be absent.

This whole question of acting ministers and their presence in the house is one that deserves scrutiny by the committee on procedure, in that there is a new situation which affects the rights of all members to direct questions to the members of the ministry. While this is not really part of the program, we have a special committee on procedure with the task at the moment of reviewing various reforms in our procedures. I believe we must take a much different approach to this whole matter of the question period. These are matters which are of concern to that committee. I think the motion which has been made is logical and fair under the circumstances.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
?

Right Hon. P.-E. Trudeau@Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, the only question which I believe you are asked to deal with now is whether there is a matter of privilege involved. I think the simplest answer is that this whole matter is not dealt with specifically in the standing rules; hon. members are not deprived of any privilege in view of the fact that we have not altered any standing order which affects their privileges or rights.

Let me repeat once more that we are merely trying an experiment to find a solution to a situation which exists in fact. Ministers are bound to be away during a parliamentary session on matters pertaining to the administration and in discharge of their duties throughout the country. The purpose of this innovation is to ensure that there will always be ministers, acting ministers or parliamentary secretaries in the house on specific days who are able to answer in respect of subject matters falling within the jurisdiction and administration of those departments.

If while dealing with the substance of the matter, sir, you want to cut me short I will accept your suggestion, but perhaps I might

October 15, 1968

be permitted to say on the substance of the matter, however, that members of the opposition have not all understood the intention of this change. The two hon. members opposite argued that we were in a difficult and untenable position because ministers might be in their offices upstairs and there would be no acting minister to answer for them. My reply is that it is not our intention, if a minister is in his office upstairs or attending a cabinet committee, which is more likely, to have an acting minister answer questions on the specific days when it is not intended that questions on departmental matters under the jurisdiction of that minister be answered during the question period. There would be no acting minister or parliamentary secretary speaking for that minister on specific days.

When a minister is away from Ottawa, or unable to attend for reasons of business or ill health on the days which have been attributed to that minister, members of the opposition know there will be an acting minister or a parliamentary secretary here to answer questions. Therefore the argument that it is improper to have an acting minister here if the minister is in his office does not really apply.

We do not intend to have an acting minister here on a day that is not a day set for a minister to answer questions in respect of his department or his responsibilities. Having regard to the suggestion that there might not be the right combination of ministers here on Mondays, for example, I can only say that we are prepared to discuss this with the opposition. If hon. members desire a different type of roster, so that on some days the Minister of Finance will be here whereas on other days the President of the Treasury Board will be here, we are prepared to be as accommodating as possible. The system is based upon a desire to ensure that the members of the opposition will have days on which they know they can obtain answers from the minister, if he is in Ottawa, and from an acting minister if the minister has been called away from Ottawa.

[DOT] (2:50 p.m.)

This is the basis of the proposed reform. I can only suggest again that we have not actually tried it for very long; therefore I would plead with members of the opposition not to oppose this system before they understand how it works. It is apparent from the two statements just made that they do not understand how we intend making it work.

Attendance of Ministers in House

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
PC

Thomas Miller Bell (Chief Opposition Whip; Whip of the Progressive Conservative Party)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Bell:

No one does.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

Well, certainly you do not. Perhaps the system is a bit complicated, but it should not be beyond the ingenuity of members of the opposition to realize that to have 29 ministers here every day of the week just in case a question might happen to come their way, when they could be in their department or speaking to a cabinet committee-

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
PC

J. Michael Forrestall

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Forrestall:

Or golfing.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

-would be an inefficient use of parliamentary resources.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

Just because it has been done in that way for hundreds of years does not mean that we have to continue doing it in that way for hundreds of years.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
LIB

Pierre Elliott Trudeau (Prime Minister)

Liberal

Mr. Trudeau:

I think any type of profession, business or enterprise which every day of the week would require 29 members of a board of administration present when perhaps an average of only 10 or 12 were needed, would be an inefficient way of employing these people. It is also an inefficient way of employing the people the electors of Canada sent here to work for them. That is why we are proposing a more efficient use of these resources.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
PC

John George Diefenbaker

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. J. G. Diefenbaker (Prince Albert):

Mr. Speaker, the question that arises is, have our privileges been interfered with? There can be no question of that. The Prime Minister unilaterally declared that the rules of parliament, as they now are, are not what he would like them to be, and therefore made a decision binding upon the house. This to me is an extraordinary position. I have not the reference before me, but I seem to recollect that the first prime minister of the United Kingdom, Sir Robert Walpole, took the stand that questions were out of order. That has not been parliamentary procedure in that country since the days of the Pitts, nor has it been in Canada from the earliest days of our parliamentary system.

What has happened? The Prime Minister says they have 29 ministers now, and that is so. There is a multiplicity of ministers. They are growing faster than rabbits. At the rate of increase we have seen in recent months I can

1136 COMMONS

Attendance of Ministers in House see the day when they will practically all be ministers over there.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
?

Some hon. Members:

Hear, hear.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink
PC

John George Diefenbaker

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Diefenbaker:

I am glad the Prime Minister applauds, because that is what I had in mind as being a reason for the increase. So they will all be placed in two categories; those who have achieved, and those who hope to achieve, having started as parliamentary secretaries.

What has happened in the last week or ten days? Simply the government has decided that we shall not have our rights under the rules except as the Prime Minister may designate. It is natural that ministers will be absent. It is expected that from time to time they will be away on business and will not be able to be here. But, sir, when they are in Ottawa and this house is in session, during the period that is called the period of the orders of the day they should be here. Already the roster of ministers has had to be altered. What has happened in the last week or ten days has made a nightmare of the parliamentary rules in this country.

Topic:   PRIVILEGE
Subtopic:   MR. MACINNIS (CAPE BRETON-EAST RICHMOND)-ATTENDANCE OF MINISTERS DURING QUESTION PERIOD
Permalink

October 15, 1968