July 1, 1955 (22nd Parliament, 2nd Session)


Stanley Howard Knowles (Whip of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation)

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Knowles:

Mr. Chairman, I am very happy on behalf of this group to indicate our support of the motion which has been made by the Minister of Finance and seconded by the hon. member for Kamloops. As would be expected, there are some proposals in the rules before us as recommended in this report which we do not exactly like. Likewise, there are some changes that we were prepared to accept which are not included in the recommendations now before us. Nevertheless, on balance, we feel that the report and its recommendations represent substantial progress in the whole question of procedure for this House of Commons, and on balance we in this group give our support to this motion.
It strikes me, Mr. Chairman, that it is not without significance, to which attention might be drawn, that we are dealing with our rules of procedure on this 1st day of July, Canada's 88th birthday. I must confess, Mr. Chairman, that I am tempted to draw attention to the fact that it was indicated in a resolution of mine that was on the order paper a while ago that only 12 years from today we shall be celebrating Canada's 100th anniversary.
I hope we shall be in a position to celebrate it in the appropriate ways my resolution suggested.
My comment that there is an appropriate relation between this being Dominion day and our discussing the rules of the house is borne out by a little research I have had the pleasure of doing. I have looked up the record of the first day that the House of Commons sat after the Dominion of Canada came into being 88 years ago today. As we know from our history, July 1, 1867, was a gala day with celebrations of various kinds.
Special Committee on Procedure Of course, at that time there was not a parliament of Canada as we now know it. The elections for the first parliament took place that year between August 7 and September 20, and the House of Commons first met on November 6, 1867. This voluminous scrapbook, if I am strong enough to hold it up to read from it, contains reports of what went on in both the House of Commons and the Senate during that first session. One of the things that interested me was that on the occasion of parliament meeting for the first time even the speech from the throne was not delivered on the first day; it was delivered on the second day. Even the speech from the throne was preceded by the question as to what rules the House of Commons would use. Accordingly, when the house met on November 6, 1867, its members performed just two functions. I think I might be permitted to read just a bit from the record of that day as it appeared in print the next day;
The proceedings of yesterday, supplemented by those which will take place today, will form an interesting chapter in the history of our new Dominion, which we have good reason to believe will in the progress of time embrace the whole territory from north of the United States to late Russian possessions, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Already it is the second power on this continent; and should careful and moderate views animate our statesmen, and the struggles of hostile and intemperate factions continue to be a part of the policy of our southern neighbours, rending the various sections asunder, there is no reason that in time it may not be the first of American powers.
A little later in the same report I read this:
Of course among the hundreds of members collected in the capital on Tuesday night and yesterday morning, the all engrossing subject of conversation was as to who would be the first Speaker of the House of Commons.
Even in those days it was a matter of great importance, and to be chosen Speaker of this house was recognized as one of the highest honours that a Canadian could be given. As I read that I find that when the house met there was a discussion over who would be Speaker. The Hon. Mr. Cockburn who became the Speaker was nominated by Sir John A. Macdonald, and his nomination was supported by the Hon. G. E. Cartier. There was some verbal opposition and a number of rather lengthy speeches, but at any rate the motion for Mr. Cockburn's election as Speaker was carried unanimously. The Speaker of that day made the usual statement which a Speaker makes on taking the chair, and then I read this:
Hon. Sir John A. Macdonald said that as there were no rules for the guidance of members, he thought the plan adopted in 1841 should be followed.
Special Committee on Procedure
The reference there was to the rules that had been used by the late Province of Canada, which had been in existence from 1841 to 1867. I might pause to say parenthetically that despite the changes we are now making some of the language and some of the ideas contained in the rules of 1841 are still being carried forward.
This record of November 6, 1867, goes on:
It would be necessary for a committee selected from the whole house to be appointed for the purpose of drawing up a code of rules to be reported to the house.
It is a long-time practice, having committees on rules. Some of us who have been on these committees for 10 years would do well to remind ourselves that the practice has been going on for 88 years. The record continues:
In the meantime, the practice of the last session of the parliament of the Province of Canada, which was almost the same as that which governed the House of Commons in England, was the best that they could follow. He therefore moved, seconded by Hon. Mr. Cartier, that the rules of last session be adopted, which was carried.
The next notation is that the sitting then adjourned. In other words, my point is that on the first day that the House of Commons of Canada met it dealt with only two matters, the election of a Speaker and making provision for its rules of procedure. Therefore I suggest that it is rather appropriate that on this 1st day of July when we are celebrating our 88th birthday as a nation we find ourselves dealing with the rules of the House of Commons.
I should like to follow the pattern and I am sure the hon. member for Acadia will want to do likewise, and add to the bouquets which deserve to be extended. I feel we all owe a great deal to Mr. Speaker, and to the Clerk and members of his staff for the help they gave to us in our work as a committee. I too wish to add my expression of pleasure at the way in which the Minister of Finance dealt with us. Not only did he spend a great deal of time in connection with this matter, not only did he bring to bear the results of a great deal of study, but when it got down to the hard business of compromise and bargaining the four of us who met together found that as a result of collective bargaining in good faith-something which I support wholeheartedly-we have been able to come up with a report which is unanimous so far as the committee is concerned. As the hon. member for Kamloops has said, this does not mean that every individual in each of the four parties has to support every item in the report, but so far as the committee is concerned the report is

unanimous. And so far as our party is concerned, we are in support of the changes which have been made.
Incidentally I might point out that the report being brought in in this way meets a basic condition which we have laid down every time the motion has been made for the setting up of a committee on procedure. We contended every time that the rules of parliament belonged to parliament as a whole and that they should not be changed simply by the government using its majority to put through such changes as might be convenient for the government. We took the position, not that all changes had to be unanimous but that they should be by general agreement. These proposed changes are by general agreement so far as the committee is concerned and so far as the four parties of this house are concerned. I think we can compliment ourselves as a House of Commons on the job that we have done in connection with this matter.
As the previous speakers have indicated, the real work and progress came about once we got down to collective bargaining by four people in a small committee. When that time came everyone was willing to engage in a give and take process; everyone stated quite clearly the issues that to him were most sacred; everyone indicated where he was prepared to make concessions; and it was on that basis that we were able to work out this report.
I indicated earlier that there were some things proposed by the government and by others that we were prepared to accept but which have not been included. As I indicated publicly even before the committee met this year, we would have been prepared to accept a reduction in the time limit on speeches when the Speaker was in the chair from 40 to 30 minutes. Just to let hon. members know we worked in our bargaining, I supported that suggestion of a 30-minute speech right across the board down to the point where we were doing this bargaining and compromising. When it became evident to me that this was an important matter so far as the hon. member for Kamloops was concerned, and when we were trying to bargain on a certain other point I said that as far as I was concerned I was prepared to withdraw my support for the proposal that we reduce the time limit from 40 to 30 minutes if my hon. friend would support me on another point. I will not go into detail but it was a result of that sort of bargaining that we reached this unanimous decision.
So far as we were concerned there were a number of things-as a matter of fact, the

hon. member for Kamloops has referred already to these-which were pressed for by the government which we felt we simply could not accept in the form in which they were put to us. I refer particularly to the attempt to curtail still further the amount of time to be spent on motions to go into supply, as well as the attempt to limit the amount of time to be spent on estimates in committee of supply. These matters were most important to us from our point of view and once the government was prepared to compromise on them, as the Minister of Finance certainly was, we were on the way to achieving a unanimous report.
I think we all recognize that in a matter of this kind we cannot achieve perfection. Parliamentary people have been at this job for decades and centuries. We like to think, and we show this in our quotations from dusty tomes of the past, that there was a great deal of wisdom in those who formulated the rules of earlier days and that we have simply built on the foundation which they laid, but even in our attempting to improve on rules which were pretty good we recognize that what we have achieved is not necessarily perfect. We may find next session that we made some mistakes or that certain other changes should have been made. In the nature of things these changes do not get made very often but I would hope if it is found that there are other changes that should have been made or that some of the changes we have made prove to be unwise that this house will not be unwilling to review the matter at an early date.
This matter has been covered so fully, both in an academic and practical fashion, by the two previous speakers that I do not need to deal with all the matters that I have before me in the form of notes.
However, it seems to me our problem in committee and our problem now that it is back before the committee of the whole house was and is to get in between two considerations. On the one hand it is expected of us, and I think we expect it of ourselves, that we apply a little more discipline to our proceedings. This is expressed in the public mind and in the columns of the newspapers rather offhandedly in the suggestion that we must cut down the length of our speeches and cut down the length of debates. There is something to that, although it is sometimes suggested in a rather offhanded fashion without regard to the importance of debate and without regard to the fact that that is what parliament is for-to debate, to be a national forum for the people of the country that we represent.
1, 1955
Special Committee on Procedure
Nevertheless that is one consideration that we certainly had to take under advisement, namely the whole problem of trying to conserve time where we could-not just to shorten the session, but in order that we might give time where it should be given. It is on that basis, Mr. Chairman, that we have agreed to certain limitations. As hon. members know, the only limitation as to length of speeches is in committee of the whole where we have agreed to 30 minutes rather than 40 minutes each time a member is permitted to speak. The other limitations are three, namely, 10 days on the address in reply to the speech from the throne, eight days on the budget debate, and six supply motions limited to two days each. There are certain qualifications to that, but I shall not take the time to go into them here.
As I say, one of the considerations that prompted us to do that was the realization that we have to discipline ourselves for the good of parliament so that we might devote all the time we have to the issues and to the debates that most need our attention. The other consideration is, of course, that we must not try to muzzle parliament, we must not interfere with the freedom of speech of any of its members. I say quite frankly as a member of the opposition that in the last analysis that means we must be very careful not to limit the speaking rights of the opposition. It applies to government members too, but in the nature of things parliament has become very largely a contest between opposition and government. There is still a great deal of merit in citation No. 1 from Beau-chesne's third edition:
The principles that lie at the basis of English parliamentary law, as Bourinot so aptly says, are: "to protect a minority and restrain the improvidence or tyranny of a majority; to secure the transaction of public business in an orderly manner; to enable every member to express his opinion within limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time; to give abundant opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken upon sudden impulse." In a close contest when the house is considering a highly controversial measure, the positions of parties are equalized: the government side may rely on its majority but the opposition is strengthened by the rules of procedure which both are bound to observe and which the Speaker must enforce.
If the members on the government side think we sometimes talk too much about the rights of the opposition, I ask them to consider the point made there both by Bourinot and by Beauchesne. The government in the last analysis, whether it is on the 1st of July or 1st of September-some hon. members will know what I mean by that-has its majority. You have to equalize that, if
Special Committee on Procedure parliament is going to be parliament, by giving to the opposition the full protection of the rules. That being the case, we have to be careful not to go too far in our desire to effect discipline, in our desire to meet the request of the press that we cut down the length of our speeches. We have to be careful not to go too far in limiting the rights of the opposition to the only weapon they have, namely speeches, the right to try to persuade parliament as a whole that the government is either doing something wrong or is failing to take a step that it should take.

Full View