Mr. J. A. Jerome (Sudbury):
May I begin my participation in this debate, Mr. Speaker, by saying what an honour it was for me, as a new member in this chamber, to be appointed to this special committee dealing with and recommending changes in the procedures of this house. It is perhaps significant that in one sense I, alone, represented the new members. I say that advisedly, because although I was joined as a new member of that committee by the hon. member for Gren-ville-Carleton (Mr. Blair), we all know that his vast experience in the workings of the committees of this house during the years that he practised law in the city of Ottawa make it difficult to regard him as a new member in this chamber. Certainly the manner in which he chaired that committee and carried out these difficult duties confirmed that opinion, I am sure, in the minds of all members of that committee. I was honoured especially, Mr. Speaker, when I saw the membership which made up that committee, from both sides of the house. The members who were assigned, by my own party as well as by opposition parties, and who participated so vigorously in the proceedings of the committee, in my opinion, indeed made an impressive list.
Conscious as I am of the honour that was bestowed upon me of being a member of that committee, I am equally conscious of the duty which was imposed on me of examining most thoroughly the purposes of this parliament and of its traditions, in order that I may pay proper respect to all these procedures which have served this parliament in a proper fashion. At the same time I felt I had a very important and serious duty to examine critically all of these procedures, all of the traditions and institutions that go with them, with a willingness and even a desire to disregard or dispose of those which had ceased to be functional; to replace them with new and more meaningful procedures which would better serve the members of this house in the conduct of their business and the deliberations in this chamber.
December 12. 1968 COMMONS DEBATES
During the debate on this report I have found some confusing references, Mr. Speaker, by those illustrious members of the opposition benches who participated in the debate. I hope to make reference to them later in my remarks. Nevertheless may I say that my confusion grew as I listened to the remarks of the last speaker for the opposition, and placed them against the background of some of the records I have had occasion to examine during his tenure of office as premier of New Brunswick. In that context I should like to refer to a statement that appears in the Synoptic Report of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, page 620, volume 1, where the Hon. Mr. Flemming is reported as saying:
Once again the time of this legislative assembly is being taken up with a third attempt to express non-confidence in the government and, in fact, to endeavour to usurp the functions of the government through action of this kind.
On two previous occasions, I have expressed the government's views on the matter and the reasons why I have opposed previous motions for leave. The position has not changed at all in this connection.
On September 22, 1952 and again on June 18, 1956, the government was clothed with the necessary responsibility and authority to introduce legislation and to guide it through the necessary legislative changes thereafter.
Such responsibility and authority was not given to any other party and political group so that the attempt to usurp and assume the functions of the government in this connection is plainly in defiance of the popular mandate and of what is understood as constituting responsible government.
Again, I should like to quote from volume 2, page 703, where the same hon. member is reported as saying:
That's right, we are not ruled by the minority.
Is it any wonder, Mr. Speaker, that a new member coming into this chamber faces his duties with some sense of confusion about the attitudes expressed by hon. members opposite? I should like to cite another example, that of the leader of our party, the right hon. Prime Minister (Mr. Trudeau). Reference has been made from the opposition benches to statements of his at a time when, it has been said correctly, he was not a supporter of this party. I hold him up as an example of the kind of thing honourable Canadian citizens should do when they feel, as I am sure he does, that if one is to contribute meaningfully to the deliberations of this chamber, then one does not stand aside and criticize it from the outside. The thing to do is to come here and make a contribution to its improvement, to its change, so that it can become and continue to 29180-2461
Motion for Concurrence in Report be a powerful force in the government of this country, as it must be if it is to survive.
The challenge to democracy, and to all these institutions at the present time, is the same challenge that is facing many of our institutions in this day and age. It has been seen so graphically that the church in today's society is facing a desperate challenge because it has seemed to fall out of touch with the needs of the people. One sees the church scrambling, trying to catch up. The university students are a group who, in their endeavours at college, might from time to time get carried away with their celebrations and their hazings. What do we find today in their attitudes toward these institutions? There is disrespect for the failure of these institutions to keep pace with the growing needs of young people in our country.
I say that this institution of parliament is not exempt from that kind of attitude on the part of the young people of our country. If we do not change our ways and expedite our procedures in this chamber in order to keep pace with the needs of the youth of our country then we, too, are going to fail into disrespect, to merit their distrust, and this institution will suffer interminably for that. What particularly surprised me was the constant reference, and perhaps it is a good example, to the parliament of the United Kingdom. It seems that the general trend amongst members on both sides of the house is to accept the mother of parliaments as an example. Is it not surprising, when one examines the facts, to find that not one but at least five different methods of closure lie in the hands of the government of the United Kingdom? All of them are invoked on a regular basis. Is it not surprising to find that debates in the United Kingdom parliament are almost invariably of one day's duration, on some occasions two and on rare occasions three? Is it not interesting also to find that private members hour has been lost entirely in that parliament, because of the increasing work load? Is it not surprising also to find the practice of using ministerial orders as appendages to legislation which give the cabinet unbridled power? These annexations to legislation or corollaries to legislation are increasingly used without intervention of parliament, simply because the work load of this parliament has become so great.
If this chamber is not prepared to face its responsibility, and in fact to program its legislation at this time, then in the same manner the privileges of the members on all sides of the house are going to be eroded. They will
December 12, 1968
Motion for Concurrence in Report have to give way to the increasing work load until they disappear and lose their relevance altogether. In the light of this background, how should we move to improve our procedures? Really, there are only two areas of disagreement. The committee has worked long and hard. It has made good use of the precedents and practices in other parliaments. It has presented a report to this house, which report we are debating today. Most of the recommendations are acceptable, but there are two areas of controversy, namely the additional responsibilities being given to standing committees, and the programming of legislation in the house.
[DOT] (9:10 p.m.)
Dealing firstly with the question of standing committees, it seems to me that hon. members opposite are missing the point. They are complaining, for example, that by referring the estimates of the departments to the standing committees the government is attempting to take away from this chamber the responsibility and power it now has in the spending of the nation's money. What is really so startling about this claim is that they miss entirely the relocation of time that is involved, this new relationship between the studying of the estimates and their timing.
As it is now, I am sure all hon. members will agree that whatever study of the estimates is done in this chamber-and, as has been said before, there is a tendency to make speeches here rather than to study estimates-this study is always done ex post facto. The money is not only budgeted for but in most cases the estimates are considered in this house long after the fact.
An important thing to consider in referring these estimates to the standing committees under the proposed rules changes is that members not only have an opportunity in the committees to get a close observation and examination of the estimates, but they can do this at a time when it is meaningful. This is the point that seems to be entirely missed by hon. members opposite.
Neither can I understand their complaint that there is any loss of the power of this chamber. Under the proposed amendments to the rules the opposition is given an allotted number of days, any of which it can, upon the return of these estimates from the standing committees, set aside to examine the estimates in this chamber if it so desires. One must also point out that those 25 allotted days, plus three reserved for the examination of the final supplementary estimates-making
28 days in all-can be augmented further by the use of any of the eight days that are allotted to the throne speech debate, or any of the six days that are allotted to the budget- making in all a further 14 days-that are not used up for those purposes.
On all of these days the opposition can completely control the subject matter of debate in this house. So there is no substantial diminution of the days they are allotted under the supply procedure at the present time. Therefore the opposition loses no power or opportunity to insist that this chamber examine estimates in detail. Moreover, when the estimates are considered in the chamber, they will first have been attacked in a standing committee.
So it will be seen, Mr. Speaker, that the opportunity of the opposition to examine estimates in detail in the standing committees is provided, plus the opportunity, if they so desire, to bring the estimates back to the house in order to focus the attention of the chamber upon them. Now, then, can the opposition complain that this chamber is being deprived of the power that it should possess in respect to the expenditures of the nation?
The most interesting area of all has become that of programming. It seems to me that there are certain basic points involved here. In the first place, it is obvious to me as a new member that reforms of this sort toward programming are necessary. I do not have to turn to the traditions of parliament, or to the examples of other legislative assemblies throughout the world, to support that statement. I go no further back than September and October of this year, when we sat around here for three weeks listening to a small number of opposition members speaking time and time again on the same subject of farm legislation. I understand from actual count that one opposition member spoke no less than 12 times in a repetitive fashion on that very subject. Not only did these members individually repeat their own remarks and suggestions to the government every time they spoke, but one member after the other stood in his place to repeat what others had said. Surely, Mr. Speaker, it cannot be suggested, even taking into account my unpractised eye, that quality of debate improves in proportion to its length.
I was astounded to hear the hon. member for York South (Mr. Lewis) actually make reference to the length of the flag debate in supporting his proposition that debate in this house should be unbridled, because, as we all
December 12, 1968 COMMONS DEBATES 3891
know, that is a far, far cry from the position that he took during the currency of that very debate. As a new member I am not afraid to say that the length of time spent in this house on the farm legislation was absolutely disproportionate to its importance; to its importance, that is, in relation to other matters of legislation that are waiting to get the attention of this chamber.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, it is necessary that our procedures change. Not only is it necessary, but apparently in the minds of opposition members it is highly desirable. Certainly the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles) stood on his feet to say that he has been a proponent of this programming idea for years, and in fact has called it "calendarizing" the parliamentary year.
Although it is necessary and desirable to change, the point that seems to be missed is that it is the responsibility of the government to take this step. If there is any doubt about this, then would hon. members opposite answer me this: When they go home for the Christmas vacation and are asked, by chance, why this house did not get around to considering, for example, the drug bill, is it possible that they might say to some of their constituents: "Well, you must understand that it is the opposition benches that control length of debate, so it is really not fair to blame the government for its lack of programming in bringing that legislation forward, because we in the opposition prolonged the debate on the farm legislation to the extent that the government did not have the chance"? If they do so, then I accede to their view that responsibility should rest on that side of the house in the matter of controlling time. But it is a false premise to believe that supporters of the opposition will be as generous as I have suggested. What they will do is blame the government for not knowing how to program their legislation. They will claim the government is disorganized and cannot bring forward important legislation; that the government does not know how to plan its affairs.
The government is visited with this awesome responsibility. If it does not take the action suggested in this report, there may not be a parliament left when next we seek to elect a new government. This government is considered by all Canadian voters to have the responsibility of taking this step, and the government is taking this perfectly correct step in moving directly and vigorously, and in a meaningful way, into the area of programming.
Motion for Concurrence in Report
Too often we have seen reforms that are obsolete by the time they are introduced. Too often have we seen changes that are away behind the fact and the need. These proposals, as I see them, are not. They constitute a very meaningful and direct step, what I consider to be a courageous step taken by the government, one that I have absolutely no hesitation in transmitting to my constituents as an intention to stop pussy-footing around with the question of programming, and to deal with it in a logical and sensible way.
Given those facts, if you will, what, then, are the true logistics? Let us stop reducing this thing to ridicule, to one of one-man meetings. What are the logistics of setting up a programming committee? The very first consideration that comes to my mind is that in setting up a programming committee the government immediately sacrifices its majority position in the house, if its meetings are to be attended only by the house leaders. If there is anything more fundamental to our parliamentary system than that the government should enjoy a majority in the house at every point in its deliberations, then I do not know what it is. If the government sets up a business committee, which all members agree is a good idea, it will have only 25 per cent of the representation on that committee.
[DOT] (9:20 p.m.)
When one moves on from there to examine what must be done in the light of that consideration to resolve the difficulty that arises when that committee cannot agree or come to a unanimous decision, he must bear this representation factor in mind. If, as has been stated I believe, by the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, the decisions of that committee are reached by a majority of the four house leaders, then what in fact has taken place is that the government has now completely transferred to the opposition control over the time of the house. It has taken a position as one member of a committee of four, and consequently surrendered itself. If the majority of three opposition members say, "That is the way we will program the legislation," that is an abdication of the government's responsibility, an absolute folly. In any event, in any committee such as this you will ultimately bump up against the government's majority. If someone says, "Well, put more members on it," the only logical extension would be that the committee will become representative of the position of the parties of the house, and again you will run up against the government majority. Of course you do;
December 12, 1968
Motion for Concurrence in Report there is no way around it. I challenge any hon. members of the house to set up some committee like that to program the time of the house that does not ultimately bump up against the government majority. That is fundamental to the operation of this house. The choice is between continuing with the present chaos and getting into the question of programming, and leaving the resolution of disagreement in the committee, by making the committee bigger with a majority of government members, will not be more palatable to hon. members of the opposition.
It has been suggested ad nauseam that the good will of hon. members will resolve this crisis, and about that I want to make several observations. It has been said that the government does not need these residual powers, because the great likelihood is that in a very high percentage of cases the house leaders will agree among themselves. That may be the case. Certainly if the committee had been operating when the farm legislation was before the house, if the new rules had been operating, no matter whether some backbenchers liked the idea or not, that legislation would have been concluded by quick agreement on a much earlier date than it did. However let us examine the proposition that the government does not need this residual power, because the deliberations of the committee very likely will conclude on the basis of agreement. After all, we are only trying to allot time for the debating of subject matters we are all interested in, as citizens of the country. Either that proposition is true or it is not. If it is not, the argument is self-defeating; if it is true, then the government has that residual power to solve any disagreement. That residual power is so minor and will be so rarely exercised that I do not see why we need worry about it.
The second point about the good will argument is that it is said that the discussions and deliberations of this committee will be destroyed, so to speak, if the government holds a stick over its meetings and has the ultimate power. The suggestion is that if everything is left on the basis of consent, agreement and good will, everyone will go to the committee and discuss. I submit that a much more reasonable proposition is that unless the government holds the residual power to resolve any crisis, unless it holds the residual power which will avoid a boycott-and that has happened in fairly recent memory-then the deliberations of the committee will not be meaningful. If the government does not hold that residual power it will in fact get itself
into a situation where the tail will wag the dog. Finally, the one thing that seems to be absent from all opposition suggestions on the subject of good will is that good will does reside on the government side of the house.
Subtopic: MOTION FOR CONCURRENCE IN FOURTH REPORT OF SPECIAL COMMITTEE