October 14, 1983

LIB

Yvon Pinard (President of the Privy Council; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Pinard:

Mr. Speaker, in the first place, even if I indicated earlier, when I rose on a point of order, that 1 thought it was most unfortunate to have a situation where we are forced to debate the matter at this time, I am prepared to set aside those grievances for the time being and to address the substance of the question and at the same time take advantage of this opportunity to try and be as objective and fair as possible, and-without further reference to the attitude of the Hon. Member who just spoke-draw the attention of the House in all sincerity to the extraordinary work that has been accomplished by all members of the Special Committee on Parliamentary Reform during the last 18 months. I wish to stress the impartiality and good judgment of and the excellent work done by, the Chairman, the Member for Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle (Mr. Lefebvre) who managed to make the members of his Committee work on a sustained and regular basis, while at the same time being flexible enough to set aside differences of opinion in order to reach a consensus on matters that were often delicate and always very important. I think he has shown extraordinary ability and that his work is fully deserving of praise at this time.

I also want to congratulate in general the Members on both sides of the House who gave the Committee the benefit of their experience and expertise and who via common effort attempted to find the necessary means by which Parliament could be more progressive, could improve itself and reform its procedure.

Having said this, I would like to understand why, under the leadership of the Hon. Member for Yukon (Mr. Nielsen), certain Members of the Committee believe that now is the appropriate time for the immediate concurrence of the seven reports of the Committee although they have not yet been considered by the House of Commons. I am honestly trying to understand what rationale or explanation would justify-

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?

An Hon. Member:

Because Parliament is going to be proroged!

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LIB

Yvon Pinard (President of the Privy Council; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Pinard:

I do not believe that shouting or interrupting me can add anything significant to the debate. I am simply

Report of Special Committee

asking a question. Following your comments, Mr. Speaker, I did not interrupt the previous speaker and I would like the opportunitty to express my views because I am very much in favour of parliamentary reform and I would not want what happened yesterday and today to jeopardize in any way sooner or later the improvement of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons and the rules of the Canadian Parliament. On the contrary I believe that, these last few years, Members on this side, as well as across the way admittedly, have showed their willingness to bring about certain changes. We have made some in the past. We are now making some more and we shall continue to do so.

Where some might disagree is as to the way to proceed, and this is important. The third report deals with the changes we are now putting to the test. This report suggests a whole series of important changes to our rules. If it was felt necessary to have an experiment of at least one year before considering a permanent implementation of these changes, why should seven other reports be suddenly implemented at once as was suggested yesterday and earlier today? Should they be implemented without any preliminary experience, without waiting for the results of the experiment now being made even though many of the changes proposed in these seven reports are even more complex and would have more serious consequences than those we are now trying? 1 ask the question sincerely and honestly. If an experience of at least twelve months was required for a single important report, which was also the result of a consensus and which had received the unanimous agreement of the Committee, why, suddenly at this time, near the end of the debate on the Crow rate, are some members attempting to have us implement at once seven reports, without the benefit of experience?

I believe that this question should be answered. I should like to know the reasons for such a rush. I respectfully point out that these reports do not necessarily result from our present experience. One of them, the fourth, deals with the appointment of the Speaker of the House. The fifth would force the Government to establish the committees without delay. As for me, I have nothing against it but it must be considered in the larger context. In the other reports provision is made for the appointment of special legislative committees made up of 20 members in addition to the 20 or so existing committees, to deal specifically with bills following the second reading stage. Another report proposes the establishment of four additional committees to examine the fiscal framework, the spending habits of the Government and the use of Crown corporations. Another report provides for a change in the accountability of those in charge of administering public funds. We know that this is the Government's responsibility. It is proposed that Members of the Opposition attend the meetings of the Commissioners of Internal Economy and share in the administration of over $100 million a year of taxpayers' money and that,

Report of Special Committee

in case of a disagreement, the Chairman would have the deciding vote and thus lose his objectivity.

These are matters which can be considered and should be examined. They are matters on which about 20 Members of Parliament have agreed, but they must be analyzed in the larger context. First of all our experience is not yet completed. Should we agree permanently upon the principle of 25 committees, each made up of 10 members? Would it not be desirable, in view of the number of additional committees proposed by the Committee on Parliamentary Reform, to consider reducing the number of committees?

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PC

James Aloysius McGrath

Progressive Conservative

Mr. McGrath:

Ten-Member committees were not on. [Translation]

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LIB

Yvon Pinard (President of the Privy Council; Leader of the Government in the House of Commons; Liberal Party House Leader)

Liberal

Mr. Pinard:

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. If the Hon. Member for St. John's East (Mr. McGrath) wants to ask a question, I am willing to give an answer. However, I am asking him an important question. I know he has studied seriously this matter, because together we attended a seminar on parliamentary procedure in Great Britain seven years ago, in 1976. I know his question is by no means futile, but I would like to direct a question to him, and after my comments he will have ten minutes for questions. Could he tell me whether the various committees recommended in the seven reports, in which concurrence is now requested, will be added to the twenty standing committees of the House and five joint committees of the House and Senate? We know that at present there are some 80 out of 284 members who make the committee system work. This is not new. It has been like that since 1 have been sitting here. No more than 80 members take part, in committee proceedings. There are 25 committees and we are asked to add ten or twelve depending on the number of bills passed on second reading. Is it realistic to think that 80 members who can hardly keep 25 committees going will be able to sit on 35 or 40 committees? Those are serious questions and if we want Parliament to operate effectively they deserve in-depth consideration.

Mr. Speaker, the point I want to make is that the Special Committee on Parliamentary Reform has considered the changes to be made in specific areas, but it is essential now to consider those reports and recommendations in the whole context of the parliamentary system and the reform process. As far as the reform process is concerned, several changes have been made since 1968. We have now made an experience which should normally end on December 21. A Senate committee is now working on Senate reform but major changes in the way of dealing with the estimates cannot be strictly considered for the House of Commons, if it is not known what will happen to Senate reform, because all those changes must be looked at as a whole and seriously considered so that once they are enforced they will become part of permanent reform.

DEBATES______________________October 14, 1983

But to rush through, under these circumstances would seem to me to be both ill-advised and ill-timed, to say the least. Members of the opposition may be trying to make political gains, while delaying the debate on a controversial bill, perhaps in the hope of embarrassing the government. There could not be any other motivation behind the position which some members of the Progressive Conservative Party have adopted. The fact that on the basis of only one report, they insist on our accepting the seven subsequent reports without debate, while the current experience has not yet been completed, seems to support sy argument.

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker-and we have had the opportunity to deal with this previously-there has been a constant and very real progress since 1968, although I wish it had been more rapid. Hon. members will remember that in 1968 the budget for each and everyone of our caucus research bureau was some $30,000 or $35,000. Now, it has increased considerably, so that we can carry out better our duties as Parliamentarians, which include preparing our bills better for introduction, discussion and debate in the House and, generally, assuming our responsibilities. I first quoted these figures in a speech which I delivered in the House on or about March 18 1982.

On or about March 18, 1982-what am I saying?-on November 29, 1982, I indicated that the funds provided for each caucus research bureau had been increased from the $35,000 level of the fiscal year 1969-70. For the fiscal year 1982-83, the funds provided to the caucus research bureaus are $601,000 in the case of the government party, $541,000 in the case of the official opposition party, and $285,000 for the NDP. Mr. Speaker, the funds provided to the caucus research bureaus have been increased, from $35,000 in the fiscal year 1969-70, to over half a million in the case of the two main political parties and to some $300,000 in the case of the NDP. Over and above that, the Leader of the Official Opposition was entitled to $87,500 in 1969-70 for the operation of his office. At this time, he is entitled in this regard to over one million dollars. The Hon. Member for Central Nova (Mr. Mulroney), the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, is entitled today to over a million dollars per year to hire the personnel required to prepare the questions he directs to us on the few occasions he chooses to come to the House. This involves more than $1 million a year, whereas in 1968-69, that same office occupied by another Leader of the Opposition, nonetheless the same Official Opposition Leader's office was getting only $87,000.

Those are figures that relate to a significant area of our parliamentary system. There has been very significant trend, an openmindedness. The Liberal Government has provided Members of this House with more tools, and all this has happened since 1968-69. So much for the funds provided for Hon. Members to better perform their duties in this Parliament, and for the Leader of the Opposition.

October 14, 1983

In 1969, Mr. Speaker, by unanimous consent, and I repeat by unanimous consent of this House, a new procedure was adopted for dealing with the business of supply, the one we are now following. It will be remembered that at that time, the House of Commons was overloaded. It was then decided to refer to the Committees the estimates on an area basis, thus giving the House a chance to better deal with its own business, with other pieces of legislation. This is another major reform concerning the business of supply, and it was accepted in 1969 with the unanimous consent of the House.

Since then, we have introduced the television of the proceedings of the House, an other major reform. Since then we have held, in 1975-76 quite a number of meetings of the Committee for Procedure and Organization, which have led to numerous reports that have proved to be most useful to the Committee on Parliamentary Reform in the course of its meetings these last 18 months, and have inspired its members in making recommendations mainly in the third report, which have been put to the test here on the floor of the House for some months now. There are other reforms that have been brought about in the last 10, 12, 15 years, Mr. Speaker.

And, just recently, the Committee on Parliamentary Reform produced this third report which is now undergoing a running test and which hopefully will allow changes to become permanent practice and allow this institution to modernize and hopefully become more efficient.

Those seven additional reports will be useful, whathever the prorogation date may be. The Hon. Member for Yukon (Mr. Nielsen) is indulging in chicanery. If he had been actively practicing law these last few years, he would easily understand that such chicanery, or procedural bickering will not alter the facts. If the Committee on Parliamentary Reform could refer to a report that had not even been tabled in the House, namely the report of the Committee on Procedural organization in 1975-76, in order that we could proceed with the current experiment, there can be no doubt that the House could next month or the month after, next year or the year after, make use of the reports submitted by that Committee. It will still be able to refer to any or a number of those seven reports to allow for the continuation of the parliamentary reform process. It is misleading and entirely unrealistic to claim that if we prorogue within a month or two, or three, these reports are going to die. That is just not true. The reports continue to exist, they are printed in the Votes and Proceedings, they have been tabled in the House and will always continue to exist. When are we going to apply them? Before or after proroguing Parliament ? That has nothing to do with parliamentary procedure. The reports have been prepared, and they will still be there. Some aspects of the reports will, 1 hope, be implemented very shortly, while others will be implemented later on, and others even later or perhaps never, but proroguing will not make any difference. Even if we were to prorogue this afternoon, there would be nothing to prevent Hon. Members who are in good faith from continuing negotiations to try and improve Parliament and taking these reports as the basis for such negotiations. That is the situation.

Report of Special Committee

I would say that trying to push through seven reports, without a trial period, before the end of the trial period based on Report No. 3, is more likely to be damaging for negotiations and for parliamentary reform in the short term, and 1 deplore it. But in spite of all that, the position of the Hon. Member for Nepean-Carleton (Mr. Baker) is in open contradiction with that of the committee chairman whose remarks of yesterday I quoted on the floor of the House, or again with the views of other Members who intend to speak later today and who will refer to the gentleman's agreement in committee. I exclude the Hon. Member for St. John's East (Mr. McGrath) because he gives a subjective interpretation of that agreement.

I do not question his good faith. But the interpretation given by the Hon. Member for Nepean-Carleton is different and altogether inconsistent with that given by the Hon. Member for Pontiac-Gatineau-Labelle (Mr. Lefebvre) and the other committee members who have spoken so far and who might take the floor later on.

Mr. Speaker, I see that my time has run out. I am prepared to answer questions, because I did ask a few in the course of my remarks. We want a thorough parliamentary reform, but why? How can we explain such a major reform as the one advocated in seven reports, a drastic and even more complex reform which is certainly more than an aftermath of the third report, why would anyone insist at this time, during the debate on the Crow rate, that they be implemented as a whole, without any experiment and even before the end of the first experiment on the third report, without considering the Senate reform and without allowing the Parliamentary Leaders, or at least those who act in good faith, to negotiate the implementation first, to complete the experiment we are now making, and to negotiate as well the consideration of those seven reports in the overall context of parliamentary reform?

We are in favour of parliamentary reform, Mr. Speaker, and we have proved that in the past. We will continue to work constructively in spite of this setback, in spite of this unfortunate incident. It will not prevent us from negotiating and trying to improve conditions in Parliament. We are doing that at all levels, whether it has to do with the Standing Orders, Members' allowances or Members' pension which are the object of a Bill I have prepared and introduced in the House. We are trying to improve the overall situation for Members of Parliament and for the Canadian public. I would not want this unfortunate incident to mark the end of our efforts. We will continue even if the seven reports are not implemented before the end of this session. They are under serious consideration by the Government and we will make sure that changes are made on a regular, reasonable and logical basis, so that once they have been implemented they will be permanent and lasting, enabling us indeed to update and humanize this institution and make it more efficient.

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LIB

Roderick Blaker (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Blaker):

Are there any questions, comments or answers?

October 14, 1983

Report of Special Committee

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NDP

Terence James (Terry) Sargeant

New Democratic Party

Mr. Terry Sargeant (Selkirk-Interlake):

Mr. Speaker, 1 welcome the opportunity to rise today and speak in support of this motion moved by the Hon. Member for Nepean-Carleton (Mr. Baker). Given that it is the wish of the Members on this side of the House to pursue this report, and indeed all seven reports, as expeditiously as possible with little or no debate, I will make my comments very brief.

First, I would like to second the comments made by the Hon. Member for Nepean-Carleton in his expression of thanks to the staff members who worked very, very hard and did a very good job in the year and a half life of the special committee. I must say I joined this committee rather late in its life. I became part of it in the winter, in February of this year. In some ways it was like arriving at a party late in the evening to find that everyone else was well into enjoying the evening's events and it was rather impossible to catch up. However, it was quite an experience for me. I was quickly impressed by the special dynamics of this committee in that Members of all three parties in the House worked together and worked together very well. It was said this afternoon and also in debate on the third report some months ago, that we set aside partisan differences for the common goal, the common goal being to make this House work better, indeed, to make the House more relevant to the Canadian public. We cannot easily ignore the recent Gallup poll which indicated that almost two-thirds of Canadians are not too sure of the relevance of this House of Commons.

There was no doubt the committee worked long and hard. 1 think the results are excellent. The results have been accepted and were well received by the public, at least the public that is aware of what we are doing, and it has been well received by Members of the House on all sides. Notably, I think the results have been well received by observers of the House of Commons, the professional media who work here, academics, business groups and indeed any number of groups who are con-cerend with how the House of Commons works.

I think it was a remarkable day last fall when the House of Commons accepted the third report through which it was accepted that the House try out the recommendations in that report for a one-year period. From my observation, this trial period has been well received and received positively by the Members of the House. I admit there is some room for some fine tuning of the changes under which we have been operating during the last year, but I doubt very much whether we would find very much call in this House to return to the rules that were in effect before the beginning of this year.

Having said that, and recognizing that the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedures has tabled seven more reports, all of which, as has been pointed out by my friend, the Hon. Member for Nepean-Carleton, were adopted unanimously without there ever having been a vote in committee and all of which were designed to improve the operations of this House, I must say I am somewhat disappointed that the House has yet to adopt these reports. I am disappointed and somewhat surprised at the reaction of the President of the Privy Council (Mr. Pinard) today. He has said he is indeed committed to reform of the House of Commons, and yet he asked why we want to bring in our recommendations so quickly. I think a number of us on the committee have some very particular fears that all of the work we did over the last year and a half, which included dozens and dozens of meetings and dozens and dozens of testimonials and presentations by witnesses, a lot of work by Members of the House, a lot of work by staff people, might all go for nought. How will the public view us, Mr. Speaker, if all of this work and all of the attendant costs for this work, were thrown into the dustbin? I think we might find that more than 64 per cent will view us as being irrelevant.

The President of the Privy Council (Mr. Pinard) asked why the Opposition was concerned with getting agreement on the remaining seven reports so quickly. If he believes that we need parliamentary reform, and given that the reports have been tabled, does it not make sense to bring them in as soon as possible? Does it not make sense to reform this institution as soon as we can and carry on from there? The sooner we have a better House of Commons in which to operate, the better it is for this place and for the people of Canada.

He also said that the Government wanted to look at all these reports in the general context of the operations of the House of Commons. Does he not think that the committee did that? Does he not think that the committee looked at these changes in the over-all context of the operations of Parliament? 1 remind him that the majority of members on that committee were Members of the Government Party. They agreed with Members of the Opposition Parties that these changes were for the good of Parliament. They viewed them in the general context of the operations of the House of Commons.

Speaking specifically to the fifth report, I do not think there is much call for debate. The Hon. Member for Nepean-Carleton in introducing it pointed out that it stemmed from some of the specific recommendations of the third report. In particular, it allows for independent references to committee by four members of the committee. I cannot see that there would be any argument in the House of Commons. Just to repeat myself, it was agreed to by all members of the committee. It is a simple, straightforward proposition. I cannot see any opposition to its approval today.

I really do not have much more to say. I think the reports should be accepted as soon as possible. For my part and on behalf of my Party, we would be more than willing to adopt the remaining seven reports very quickly with little or even no debate. We believe that this place needs to be reformed. We believe in the reports tabled by the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedure. Having said that, I urge the House to adopt the fifth report today. Also I urge it to adopt very soon the remaining reports which have yet to be looked at.

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LIB

Roderick Blaker (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Blaker):

Questions, comments? Debate.

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LIB

John Leslie Evans (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. John Evans (Parliamentary Secretary to President of the Privy Council):

Mr. Speaker, the issue before us today

October 14, 1983

goes much deeper than just the reports. The issue raised by the Hon. Member for Sarnia-Lambton (Mr. Cullen), to which the Hon. Member for Nepean-Carleton (Mr. Baker) and the Hon. Member for St. John's East (Mr. McGrath) referred, is fundamental. At the time the committee was meeting, there was an agreement that no motion for concurrence would be put.

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PC

Erik Nielsen (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Nielsen:

Mr. Speaker, you have already ruled that out of order once.

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LIB

John Leslie Evans (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. Evans:

With regard to the fifth report, the fact of the matter is that the notices are there. Motions can be put, and certainly they have been put. The question is: What was the agreement? Whether or not it was proper, in my mind-

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LIB

Roderick Blaker (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Blaker):

Order, please. 1 knew at the beginning that Hon. Members wanted to ventilate the subject to some degree as to what agreement had been made between various members of the committee. 1 then asked Hon. Members if they could resist that temptation and address themselves to the motion, and I have to do the same with the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council (Mr. Evans).

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LIB

John Leslie Evans (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. Evans:

Mr. Speaker, I address myself to the fifth report. The fifth report of the committee deals with the matter. While the committee was in process, there was some disagreement. With regard to every report brought down by the committee and tabled in the House, there were members of the committee who had disagreements.

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PC

Erik Nielsen (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Nielsen:

You were not even there.

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LIB

John Leslie Evans (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. Evans:

They would say that they did not necessarily agree but that, if it was the consensus of the committee and since no concurrence would be moved, they would let it go ahead.

One interesting report is the one dealing with the new committees for financial accountability. That is in the report. The proposition put before us at one point earlier with regard to all the motions was that all reports would be adopted without debate. However, there are serious reservations in the minds of people who understand the concept of financial accountability and responsibility in Government with regard to the implementation and the actual operations of these additional committees which will be set up by the reports.

Effectively, if we vote concurrence now, we are saying that Hon. Members of the House should adopt these reports as House orders to change dramatically and immediately the rules of the House. I say without equivocation that 95 per cent of Members of the House have not fully digested or do not fully understand at this time the contents of the reports.

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PC

Erik Nielsen (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Nielsen:

Why not?

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LIB

John Leslie Evans (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council)

Liberal

Mr. Evans:

That is the reason-

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PC

Walter David Baker

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Baker (Nepean-Carleton):

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think the Parliamentary Secretary owes the House the favour of being relevant to the issue, to the motion.

Report of Special Committee

The motion is with respect to the fifth report only. It has nothing to do with the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth or tenth reports. Because of the exalted position he holds in the House, being Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Privy Council, 1 would ask him to direct his attention to, and give the Government's position with respect to, that single report.

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LIB

Roderick Blaker (Deputy Chair of Committees of the Whole)

Liberal

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Blaker):

Order, please. On the matter that this is a point of order, I have to reply that it is not a point of order. On the matter that relevance be required, I do not think Hon. Members would necessarily have to restrict themselves only to the single motion now before the House without being able to refer to other motions which may be connected. I do not think it is irrelevant for Hon. Members to include considerations concerning the other motions.

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PC

Erik Nielsen (Official Opposition House Leader; Progressive Conservative Party House Leader)

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Nielsen:

The rule of relevancy is gone.

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October 14, 1983