Mr. Arif Virani:
Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Speaker.
The fifth recommendation I would like to propose is that we eliminate Friday sittings of the House. Eliminating Friday sittings would permit members of Parliament who live anywhere outside of the national capital region to return to their constituencies for one additional day each week. Friday sittings are not for the full day. The sittings run from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. These four and a half hours could easily be redistributed to the portion of the week that runs from Monday to Thursday by adding one hour of time to the chamber's deliberations each of those four sitting days. The balance of the 30 minutes could be eliminated by speeding up the method of voting that we use, a subject I will return to momentarily.
The primary criticism I have heard about eliminating Friday sittings is optics. Canadians will perceive that MPs are voting themselves a four-day workweek. With respect, this argument is illogical on its face. If Canadians believe that the only time MPs are working is when the House is in session, then on that metric, we currently work for less than one out of every three days in the year. By my count, Parliament will have sat for 102 days between November 4, 2015, and November 3, 2016.
It is clear that every member of this chamber knows that our work does not stop when we leave Parliament Hill. When we return to our communities we work in our constituency offices. We meet with residents and stakeholders in our communities. We attend events in our ridings. We participate in forums and conferences. We sometimes travel with our standing committees to consult with Canadians about legislation.
The work of a member of Parliament is full time, seven days per week. I say this to underscore that when we debate the issue of Friday sittings in the chamber, we are not making a determination about how much members of Parliament ought to work but rather where they ought to conduct their work.
Eliminating Friday sittings has the advantage of permitting members of Parliament to be in more regular and direct in-person contact with their constituents, which in my view can only make them a better representative and advocate for their community. It has the advantage of permitting members of Parliament an additional evening at home with their spouses and children. Too often, as I have already learned, families are sacrificed by the demands of elected public office. Separation and divorce are unfortunately not infrequent in this vocation, in part because of the toll played by frequent travel and time spent away from family members.
Let me turn to my last and sixth recommendation, which pertains to our voting system. It is antiquated and in desperate need of reform. I recommend that we move to a system of electronic voting. The time savings from this change alone would be incredible. I personally timed our votes yesterday. To get through seven different votes it took us nearly 70 minutes to each stand up, have our names called, and sit down.
I understand there are some who would posit that standing up has some sort of salutary effect on members, forcing them to more seriously consider the gravity of their vote and how it is cast. The argument is that this adds an additional level of accountability. My response to this is straightforward. A member of Parliament is accountable based on how the member votes. It is important. The important feature is that all votes are open ballots, not secret ones, and that a member's vote is recorded so that residents of his or her community can consult a written record to determine how their MP voted on a given issue.
Electronic voting does not impede this basic function. In fact, I would contend it enhances it. It enhances it because I have observed, with great dismay, the tendency of some members of the House to heckle, jeer, boo, and hiss at MPs during the very act of voting. When members are exercising this most basic and essential democratic function of their office, the active casting of a vote on legislation on behalf of their constituents, every member has a fundamental parliamentary right to be free from intimidation and bullying. Electronic voting would ensure that this is the case.
Today, no less than 38 other national legislatures employ electronic voting. This includes the United States Congress, which has employed it since 1995, the year I visited the House of Representatives as a Canadian parliamentary intern for this chamber. When I visited congress as an impressionable 23-year-old intern I certainly did not anticipate one day becoming an elected representative myself. Now that I am a member of Parliament I would like to think that if I had the occasion to return to Washington as part of a parliamentary delegation, I could say I learned something about improving our democracy on that trip 21 years ago.
In conclusion, it is my view that we should finally modernize the parliamentary voting system and bring it into the 21st century. This measure, along with the five other recommendations I mentioned respecting civility and sittings of the House, would significantly impact not only people's perception of our institution but also their willingness to serve.
Mr. Frank Baylis (Pierrefonds—Dollard, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about a timely subject and that is decorum and etiquette in the House of Commons and committee meetings. I must admit that I am a new member. I have been in the House for a year. I was very surprised and disappointed to see how members behave in the House. I am not talking about one party or another. I am not talking about the opposition or the government. I am talking about all members. It is something that I find unacceptable and it has to change.
When I arrived here, I was so shocked by this bad behaviour that I would sidle up to one MP after another and ask what they thought about question period, and I would get two responses. If it were a new MP like me, the answer would be, “Oh, my gosh, it's incredible. It's unacceptable and I can't believe I'm in this environment”. If I sidled up to someone else who had been here a long time, the person would say, “Oh, Frank, it's not so bad”. They had become acclimatized. Human beings are capable of becoming acclimatized.
That happened to me at my first job. I worked at a one-storey building right beside the airport. A couple of days after I had started the job, one of the planes flew right over the building. I was talking on the phone and said that I had to go. I hung up the phone and ran out because there was such noise and the building was shaking. It was incredible. I did not know what was happening. The plane was so low, I could have thrown a rock and hit it. After six months of being in that job, I would be on the phone, ask the person to hold on a second, cover the handset, and six seconds later I would start talking again. I had become acclimatized.
During the summer break, I made a commitment to myself to refuse to become acclimatized to the behaviour in the House. What we saw today was one side claiming what the truth was. It is a fallacy that we can pretend to be true, but it is not true.
I have four ideas to improve decorum here. First, I was to support the idea of the member for Châteauguay—Lacolle, who said that we need to give more power to the Speaker, not to throw members out but to silence them, to take away an abuser's right to speak in the House of Commons. Whether that be for one sitting, two or 10, I do not know. That should be discussed, but a member should lose the right to speak due to bad behaviour.
My second point is that we are living in the age of technology. I would like to see two high-definition, wide-angle cameras installed, one facing the opposition benches and the other facing the government benches. These cameras would be strictly for the use of the Speaker of the House and they would be used in exactly the type of situation we are dealing with today and when there is a complaint. It would be a little bit like what we see in all sorts of sports, such as tennis, hockey, and football, where the referee has the right to look at the instant replay to check on something he missed. I suggest using that same approach in the House. That would mean that we would have two cameras strictly for the Speaker's use, to allow him or her to determine, when necessary, if there is an issue on which the Standing Orders must be enforced.
The third idea I propose would be extremely important because of what we saw today. I would like us to banish clapping during question period. That may seem funny to some members. However, we are a descendant of the House of Commons in Westminster and it is not allowed there. It is banned. The Government of Quebec, less than a year and a half ago, banned clapping in its legislature.
I actually like clapping, except that it is no longer done to support a good cause or statement. The behaviour is so inappropriate that I cannot see it being used properly. Therefore, I can only say it should be completely banned.
These are the three points I raise in the hope of bringing decorum to the House of Commons.
I will never allow myself to become acclimatized. If these measures do not pass this time, I will work inch by inch to make things different. As one member mentioned, this present testosterone-driven environment comes from a hundred years ago when women did not have the right to vote, when ethnic people did not have the right to vote, and it serves only one type of person. It is a tremendous deterrent to people of different cultures where rudeness is unacceptable. It is a tremendous deterrent to women and it must change.
The last point I would like to raise has to do with standing committees. I sit on the industry committee, and too many times when we have invited a guest, that guest has not been able to testify because they have been consistently interrupted by spurious motions, points of order, and no end of nonsense.
We have a precedent here in the House of Commons during question period. No one can interrupt that process for the hour. Members have the right to speak, they can move any motion afterward, they can rise on a point of order afterward. I propose out of respect, not even for ourselves but for the guests we invite and who come to committee, some of whom have travelled great distances with prepared speeches, that we owe these people the right to listen to them. It takes one hour and I am proposing that we use exactly the same rules there that we do here, that during that hour there will be no motions, no interruptions of any kind, no rising on a point of order, just as we do in question period. This is to show respect to outside guests.
Those are the four things I am proposing to try to bring a bit of decorum here.
I will end with a little anecdote. As I mentioned, I was shuffling up to people and talking to them. I would not to try to gauge where they would land. I have two daughters and a son. My middle daughter will tell people what is what. They were all proud of me when I was elected, and they told me so. I would like them to come here and visit some day. But I was thinking about it. If my middle daughter had sat up there and seen me, then she would not say she was proud of me. I have made a commitment to myself that I will not accept this. If she comes and sees this horrible behaviour, I can tell her I am fighting it.
This is what happened with the guy I sidled up to, who was not a member of our party. He looked at me, his head bowed, his chest caved in, and he said “Frank, my 17-year old daughter was here two weeks ago and she walked out in disgust”. This is what we are doing. It must stop.
Mr. Jamie Schmale (Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the motion that this House take note of the Standing Orders and procedure of the House and its committees.
As we all know, the Standing Orders provide us, our staff, and the House of Commons administration with many of the tools and information we need to ensure the chambers continue to run appropriately and, in all cases, in the best interests of Canadians.
I just want to go into a brief history of the Standing Orders, which will provide some insight into the very critical role that these orders have played in our history and will continue to play in the future of Canada.
According to O'Brien and Bosc in 2009, the standing orders were first adopted in 1867. They were largely based on the rules from the assemblies of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, created in 1791.
Between the 60th and 90th sitting days of the first session of each Parliament, we have this debate and are currently doing so because it must take place; so for those watching at home, this is why we are doing this, because in some viewers' minds, it might be a little confusing. They might be thinking that there are bigger orders of business going on in the world today, but this is why this has to be done.
Over the years and the plethora of debates that have taken place, believe it or not, there are still rules that go back to the late 1700s. That is another reason why it is critical that we continue to review and make suggestions on the Standing Orders to ensure that they fit with the 21st century.
I often like to reference hockey, because without the rule book for hockey, it would not be a very civil game, and sometimes even with those rules, it still is not; but the rules have changed over the years. I guarantee that the first game of hockey looked quite a bit different from the NHL games we watch today.
I realize that many of us in the chamber today are aware of the importance of the Standing Orders, but I also believe we need to understand their relevance. When the debate has ended, the matter will be referred to the procedure and House affairs committee, or PROC. As a member of PROC, I believe it is important to be here and listen to these comments that are made by my colleagues. We like to listen to the changes to the Standing Orders that are put forward, and we believe that all should be debated because most should be beneficial.
I have also found, in listening to the debate today, that the suggestions and arguments made by my colleagues are informative, and I am sure we will have quite the debate inside PROC when they come forward.
When it comes to my suggestions about the changes to the standing orders, they can be organized into three specific categories: efficiency, accountability, and family-friendliness.
On efficiency, the primary concerns I see with the current Standing Orders deal with the Order Paper questions. A general recommendation with regard to Order Paper questions would be to remove the requirement for the government to ask that all questions be allowed to stand each day. It would be significantly more efficient to have any questions without a response deemed to stand. That is according to Standing Order 33.
I believe that the order of the rubrics during routine proceedings be altered as well. I would recommend that the questions on the Order Paper should be placed immediately before tabling of documents rather than at the end of routine proceedings, as it currently stands. I believe that each change would be of benefit to both the government and the opposition. It would give the government a chance to properly respond to Order Paper questions, and it would allow the opposition to receive an answer to that question.
Alternatively, I would recommend placing motions at the end, as I mentioned, but there is always a standing order that must be changed and must be moved.
On Standing Order 106(4), I would recommend lowering the threshold to convene a committee meeting from four members to two members, and make it conditional that the two members come from different parties. This would ensure that no one party was able to call an emergency meeting unilaterally.
On Standing Order 53.1, I believe that this standing order should allow the official opposition to call a take-note debate twice during each session, and allow the third party to call a take-note debate once during each session.
We will move on to family-friendliness. This is where I think most of the debate has gone on today, and this is relatively new to the people on the PROC committee. Moving toward a modern, efficient, inclusive, and family-friendly Parliament was something we dealt with right away in our early days.
We looked at the numerous ways to make Parliament a more family-friendly environment. To quote from our report, and I think we will all agree:
|| There are few jobs with longer hours and greater stress than that of a member of a legislature. Numerous tasks and multiple roles at the legislature and in constituencies compete for a member’s time. Members also frequently are called upon to travel abroad, whether with a parliamentary committee or as part of an official delegation. Meanwhile, members face high expectations on the part of the public to be constantly working on its behalf, and as such, they also deal with increasing public scrutiny.
|| Such circumstances can have adverse effects on a member’s work-life balance, especially those with spouses and families. Members can be apart from their homes and families for long stretches of time.
Many of us in this place have families. I have one five-year-old son, but we are also all brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, sons, and daughters, and we all agree that being away from our families is very difficult, especially for long periods of time.
I missed my son's first parent-teacher interview. I missed my son's first soccer game, his first goal. As he learned to ride a bike without training wheels, I missed that too. It was extremely difficult, not easy. That feeling in my stomach really hurts.
We all admit in this place that it is not an easy job. The report issued by PROC looked at many of the concerns that we all saw with the Standing Orders in regard to creating a more family-friendly environment. We made recommendations that included the timing of votes, which we are seeing now. The whips on both sides have done a remarkable job of trying to get the votes right after question period because we are all here. That allows some of us who live close by or have our families in Ottawa to see them for dinner or for bedtime, which are probably the most important times.
Also issuing the House calendar for the following year in June instead of waiting for September allows us to better plan work in the constituency and allows us to better plan for our family time.
Also we could have more family-friendly events at Parliament. Once upon a time there was Hilloween, when we could bring our families and dress up in costumes and look for candy. It was a way to bring all parliamentarians on all sides together with their families and get to know each other as people. I think that is most important because some of our times will be short here and some will be long, but it is always important to take that time to learn a little about each other, regardless of which side we sit on.
I appreciate the work of my friends on the procedure and house affairs committee and I respect them all. We do some good work. We may not always agree, but there always seems to be that willingness to try to find common ground. As a new member, I appreciate that part of it.
As I mentioned earlier, being an MP is not an easy job, but we also know that Canadians work hard to make ends meet. When we discuss not being in this place on Fridays and going back to our constituencies, we all know that we will probably be working in our constituencies, but Canadians who work hard five, six, or seven days a week may not see it that way.
It is not just about optics either. It is also about changing the Standing Orders so that we sit longer from Monday to Thursday, which causes problems for those who have brought their families to Ottawa, those who have staff in and around the national capital region, who have to adjust their days and maybe work to midnight, but those staff have to work on Fridays, as we heard from many members from British Columbia.
Not sitting on Fridays also means that they have to travel anyway and they have to leave on Friday, so there is no net benefit for those members either. Basically taking away Fridays has no net benefit other than reducing the amount of time we are here by 20%. I think all our constituents know that the majority of the work we do is in Ottawa. We are lawmakers, but we are also advocates and in some cases social workers, but we also try to work for our constituents.
That is why we have constituency weeks and why we are back in our ridings in July and August, so there are balances to that. By knowing the calendar ahead of time, having family-friendly events, and also with access to day care, we can make it all work.
I look forward to questions from my colleagues.
Mr. David de Burgh Graham (Laurentides—Labelle, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the curiously introspective S. O. 51 requires us to contemplate the Standing Orders here today. With apologies to interpretation services, I have a lot to say about them.
As a member of PROC, and as a perennial procedure geek who started watching CPAC when I started high school, I am following this debate with even more interest than my normal enthusiastic self.
I want to go over some of the changes that were already proposed by PROC in our recently tabled interim report on moving toward a modern, efficient, inclusive, and family-friendly Parliament and then discuss some other ideas.
A good deal of what we discussed in our report does not affect the Standing Orders directly. I encourage anyone interested in the workings of this place and the impact on their families and personal lives to take the time to read through the report and perhaps provide guidance to their friendly local PROC member on what direction that study should take going forward.
In PROC's 11th report, we made a number of recommendations and had a number of discussion points. Three of those recommendations and three of those discussion points are directly relevant to the Standing Orders. The first two recommendations are related to the standardization of vote times to ensure predictability and efficiency. They state:
|| That House Leaders continue, whenever possible, the informal practice of holding deferred recorded divisions immediately following Question Period.
|| That House Leaders, whenever possible, refrain from holding recorded divisions any later on Thursdays than immediately following Question Period.
The third recommendation states:
|| That the Speaker table the House calendar each year prior to the House's summer adjournment.
That is not always easy, but it is an aspirational goal worth pursuing.
As a committee, we also felt that it was important to look at ways of limiting the number of consecutive sitting weeks. We all know from our pleasant experiences this spring that four-plus sitting weeks in a row really sours the mood around here, especially when we are here until midnight every night. However, there is a lot of work to be done, and we are a remarkable Parliament for our inefficiency in getting through legislation. Those are not the kind of accolades I believe we are looking for on the world stage.
To get there, one of the key items we discussed at length, but did not really get anywhere with, is the concept used in other Westminster parliaments of a parallel chamber, that is, a voteless chamber where items can be pre-debated. Our upcoming move to West Block and our subsequent move back to Centre Block certainly creates an interesting opportunity to retain two fully functional chambers.
The fate of Friday sittings is also a contentious debate, and one I would like to see my colleagues soul-search on as to how we make this place more efficient so that we may spend more time in our constituencies.
The last item, of course, is decorum. While we did not come to any conclusions, I personally find the new tone of question period, with the government side, at least, generally keeping calm and constructive, to be positive, and I would invite the opposition members to follow suit, at least experimentally for a while, to see if it improves the overall tone here. I cannot be the only parliamentary enthusiast who always found question period the least, not most, enjoyable part of the day's proceedings, regardless of who was in power. Decorum is a cultural, not a regulatory, issue that is up to us to fix.
There are few of us who have ever actually read the Standing Orders from cover to cover. I have, on more than one occasion, and I find them fascinating. I may not fully grok them, but I am certainly trying to.
Standing Order 4 does not have a mechanism to deal with the acclamation of a Speaker, for example. When Bill Blaikie was dean of the House, he presided over the unprecedented acclamation of Peter Milliken. I remember watching it on television. He observed that there was no process to deal with this but that the House could do many things with unanimous consent. However, what would have happened if a disgruntled member had denied that consent? For that matter, there are several instances when unanimous consent is required for absolutely routine things that should not need to go to a question.
Standing Order 7(1.1) has some curious wording on the assumed election, but not really, of the Deputy Speaker. Standing Order 7(2) has contorted wording designed to ensure that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker, between them, speak the two official languages, and 7(3) requires a Deputy Speaker to be elected to replace one who leaves during his or her term but is inconsistent with how that person got there in the first place.
Standing Order 11 permits you, Mr. Speaker, to punt someone from this room. I would encourage you to be unshy to use that power or to become blind to disruptive members, as Speaker Milliken did, regardless of party. Those powers should perhaps be expanded on. What value is there in kicking someone out of this room into a press scrum? What more tangible recourse could perhaps be available?
Standing Order 17 requires us to speak only from our own seats. I would personally like to see, for purely practical reasons, the members of the House leadership team of each recognized party be permitted to be recognized from any seat allocated to their party during regular debate.
Standing Order 23 declares bribery a high crime to be dealt with with the utmost severity, without providing for any type of process to do so.
Standing Order 28(1) says we cannot sit on Dominion Day. Dominion Day was replaced with Canada Day back in 1982, when I was one year old.
Standing Order 37(1) permits a Speaker to punt a question deemed not urgent to the Order Paper. However, in all of my years of watching, I have never seen that actually happen.
Chapter VI of the Standing Orders deals with the process of debate. I think it is worth considering changing the structure of 10- and 20-minute speaking slots, with questions and comments, to 15- or 30-minute speaking slots. Up to 10 or 20 minutes would be used for speaking, and the totality of the unused portion would be left for questions and comments.
For example, if I only speak six minutes out of my 10, which for me happens more often than not, I would have up to nine minutes of questions rather than only five. This will lead to shorter and more candid speeches and better debate afterward.
Standing Order 68(3) has an ironic quirk of old English. It states that bills may not be tabled in “imperfect” form, in English, but that they may not be tabled in “incomplete” form, in French.
Standing Order 71 also has a typo, in English, stating that every bill shall receive “three several readings”, rather than “three separate readings”, or just “three readings”, as it says in French.
Standing 87 deals with private members' bills. When a member of Parliament has been here for several elections and has never had a chance to bring a PMB forward, and another member comes and has a PMB on the Order Paper before figuring out where the washrooms in Centre Block are, the system may be somewhat broken.
I propose for discussion that the PMB lottery be rethought to become fairer. At the start of every Parliament, all re-elected MPs should retain their place on the order of precedence. Those returning MPs not on the list because of being ministers, parliamentary secretaries, or Speaker would come next. New MPs would then be added to the order of precedence in the current manner. MPs from the previous Parliament who had had an opportunity to take their bills through the process would be added to the end of the list, again, in the same process.
Finally, all MPs should be able to trade with all other MPs anywhere on that list. All MPs, then, would have an equal chance to propose a private member's bill, without the peculiar bias against people who just cannot seem to win a lottery and without throwing a new MP into a situation of having to write and table a bill before learning how this place works.
I would also like to revisit the issue of royal recommendations at some point.
Standing Order 128 allows the House to be called back at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday to deal with a report from the Standing Joint Committee on Regulations, to which I say, really?
Standing Orders 129 to 147 deal with private bills. That used to be how to get a divorce in this country. While the Senate still uses them, on the Commons side there has not been a private bill for many Parliaments. Could we not drop this altogether?
Finally, Standing Order 158 permits the Sergeant-at-Arms to detain strangers for their behaviour in the chamber or gallery and may not release them without an order from the House. I do not know if this building contains a jail, but this is certainly an interesting legacy item. What is the real world impact of this?
Getting off Standing Orders, per se, why must bills die in the Senate when the House is dissolved? Could the Senate not continue dealing with bills already before it and simply send the version it has passed back to the new Parliament for concurrence? Private members' bills, especially, would be far less prone to an untimely death.
On other topics, I believe it should be inappropriate for any member to refer to the official language spoken by another member in the House of Commons, in the same way it is inappropriate for a member to refer to the presence or absence of another in this House.
Chapter XIII already guarantees that all members can speak in either official language, but I would go further and make it against the rules to refer to the language another member actually chose.
There are quirks in procedure and practice that are not necessarily in the Standing Orders, such as the entertaining, “When shall this bill be read a second time? At the next sitting of the House”, amid catcalls of, “Now” and “Never”. This is an artifact from a change more than 20 years ago, and there are no doubt several of these bugs where not all consequential changes were properly made.
I suspect the need for the agreement of the House for Order Paper questions to be allowed to stand is another such artifact, and there are surely more.
I would also like to see the clock in this chamber replaced with synchronized digital clocks that can be controlled by the table and that reflect the apparent time in the House as well as the actual time so that when we “see the clock”, the clock agrees.
In fact, until we have integrated information systems in our desks, which is another long-term point we should at least discuss, I might go so far as to suggest four clocks be visible to all members in the chamber. They would show the time, the perceived time, the remaining speaking time for the current speaker, and the actual time the House is expected to rise today.
While we are at it, why do some events prolong the day and others do not? Is there any rhyme or reason to it? Could we perhaps revisit what does and does not make the day end at, say, 6:48 p.m.?
Of course, I would like to see seats in the chamber that do not tear our pockets, which happened to me again last night.
Let me also take this opportunity, as a former staffer, to call for the return of the one-stop shop, which provided for a different kind of Standing Order.
Yesterday a group of around 20 people visited me from their retirement residence in Mont-Laurier. At 3 p.m., security kicked them out of the group visitors gallery above you.
As a fundamental principle, I do not believe that behaving members of the public should ever be asked to leave the gallery during a sitting. If anything, the public should be encouraged to watch our debates, rather than question period, to participate more meaningfully in our legislative process.
Standing Order 51 provides us this wonderful opportunity to get into the weeds on the Standing Orders and to remove relics, artifacts, and cruft that no longer need to be there.
I look forward to continuing to hear the thoughts of my colleagues and to discussing them back at PROC.
Mr. Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the clarification.
That being said, I believe I am correct in saying that, with a simple majority, the government can pass a motion notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice of the House.
I wanted to begin my speech with that information, because we can discuss all the standing orders and change them as much as we like, but the fact is, a majority government often decides to use its majority to pass motions that fly in the face of the usual rules and practices of the House. This happened a lot in the last Parliament. Having this debate today is all well and good, but I wanted to clarify that information before I begin. Indeed, it might be time to review that practice, namely, that a simple majority is enough to pass a motion that overrides the usual rules and practices of the House.
Like all my colleagues, I am adding my voice to the debate regarding some of the rules currently in place that could be changed. We could also come up with new ways of doing certain things in the House that would make it easier for everyone to do the work of an MP and help us be as efficient as possible, which is what Canadians expect of us.
Private companies review their operations and try to be as effective and efficient as possible in order to make the best use of their time. As parliamentarians of the House of Commons, that is what we should be doing as well. We have to review our practices, our customs, our procedures, and our rules and see whether it is possible to improve and amend them.
In my opinion, a debate like this in the House is healthy. I hope that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will pick up on what we have discussed and go over all the proposals that are on the table, and that we will be able to work in a non-partisan way to move these ideas forward.
The first proposal I am submitting to the hon. members of the House is to formalize the appointment of deputy speakers, assistant deputy speakers, and deputy chairs of committees of the whole, like you, Mr. Speaker, in that chair. Under our Standing Orders, these positions are assigned after consultations with the various parties and there is no obligation to have representation of all the parties in the chair of the Speaker of the House.
I think it would be important to formalize this practice of consultation, but also to ensure that the positions are assigned to all the recognized parties in the House, taking into account the party that the Speaker is a member of. Then we could assign the various speaker positions based on the parties that are officially represented in the House. I believe this proposal would be easy enough to adopt.
Question period is an issue that has been raised often during this debate because it is one of our daily realities. We are here for one hour a day to listen to members' statements, another issue we could address, and then question period, the part of the day in the House that is most watched by Canadians.
There are many people in the gallery during question period. Like other members, I often wonder what I would think if I were not a member and I only came here once every 10 years, or if I were in the gallery to watch question period for the first time. I am putting myself in the shoes of those people watching question period who are not used to it because, unlike us, they do not see it every day. As one of my colleagues said earlier, we end up getting used to this environment. Elementary and secondary school students sometimes come to visit and watch us. I think that we do not come across as a very functional Parliament.
Of course many aspects of question period could be improved, including the quality of responses. I mentioned that in a question to my colleagues earlier.
We must also ensure that the Speaker can use all his powers, that answers have substance, and that there is no repetition. The Speaker must also be able to use existing powers that do not need to be tweaked in the Standing Orders, rules that already allow the Speaker to name members and to eject them.
On a few occasions, we have seen the Speaker name the ridings of members who were acting inappropriately. However, if my memory serves me well, I believe that only one member has been named recently.
However, I have never heard the Speaker warn a member that he was about to expel him from the House, so there are powers that already exist in the Standing Orders that could be used more often.
The quality of answers is another issue that is very important to me. When I attended question periods in Great Britain, I was impressed by the imposing presence of their Speaker. When he found that an answer from a minister or the Prime Minister himself was unsatisfactory, he asked them to respond again. That is what he did when the Prime Minister gave an answer that had nothing to do with the question that was asked. I would therefore like to see our Speaker be more active and make more use of some of the powers that are already set out in the Standing Orders.
I also wanted to talk about questions of privilege, which are raised regularly in the House. Without getting into too much detail, this sometimes leads to a Speaker's ruling. In that case, the Speaker must determine whether there was a prima facie breach of privilege. I think that people recognize that term. It is Latin.
However, after the Speaker has given his ruling, a member must move a motion and it must be adopted by the House. That comes back to what I was saying earlier. When we have a majority government, even if the Speaker finds that there was a prima facie breach of privilege, the final decision is up to the House. If there is a majority government, it is really up to the government to decide whether there was a breach of privilege or not.
I think that there is a way to change that so that a Speaker's ruling is final. If the Speaker determines that there was a breach of privilege, that must be the final decision. A majority government should not be able to use its majority to override that decision. We have seen that happen in the past and I think that it is completely unacceptable.
The Board of Internal Economy, the entity that regulates the administration of our expenses, needs to be made public. That would be the best thing to do. Without going into the details, a number of things happened at the Board of Internal Economy. Some members were not treated fairly in the opinion of many members. It would be beneficial to make it public.
There is also the matter of votes after oral question period, which ties into our desire to achieve a better work-life balance in the House.
I also quite liked the idea of having digital clocks that would show not only the time, but also how much speaking time is left. Mr. Speaker, you just indicated to me that I have two minutes left. I should have roughly 25 seconds.
If hon. members could see how much speaking time they had left, either on their desk or somewhere else, they would have a much easier time organizing their notes and keeping track when they know that their speaking time is drawing to a close.
Finally, we should reconsider the need to say prayers and to thank God at the start of each sitting of the House of Commons. Perhaps the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could address that.
Mr. Arnold Chan (Scarborough—Agincourt, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I want to start by thanking all my colleagues, on all sides of the aisle, for their overwhelmingly constructive comments today on the take-note debate as it relates to the Standing Orders.
I, along with a number of colleagues I see within the House, have the privilege of sitting on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I have been carefully taking notes from most of the members in terms of their ideas and suggestions. I know that our very able clerk, Mr. Andre Barnes, will summarize all those issues, so that we can review them carefully and present our recommendations back to this place in terms of changes to the Standing Orders.
I want to say again that the point and the nature of the Standing Orders is to provide us with clear rules with respect to our conduct in this place. However, when it comes to conduct and decorum, it really comes to each and every one of us in terms of how we comport ourselves when we are in this place. Again, I urge members to be mindful of that. Many members today have demonstrated that, with a significant generosity of spirit, as we have entered in this debate here today.
My mandate was quite different. I indicated that my purpose today on the government side was primarily to table items that were within the government House leader's ministerial mandate letter and our electoral platform that I had not heard already during the course of the debate. I think I have heard most of it. The items have been covered, in large part. The purpose of doing so was to allow the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs with the opportunity to consider those, and whether it is necessary to make rules changes to the Standing Orders in order to give them greater effect. I will cover a few of them that have not been covered and that I have not heard yet.
I am not convinced that some of these instances within the minister's mandate letter require Standing Order changes. I think it is more of a function of the practice of Parliament and the practice of the government of the day. A lot of things we had discussed in the previous election related to our sense of the conduct that occurred or what we found offensive in previous Parliaments, or the erosion of some of the traditions and practices of this place, requiring a change to the Standing Orders. I hope that is not necessary. I hope that we can respect the traditions of the British parliamentary practice and procedures, so that we do not have to use the strong hammer of amending the Standing Orders to do so. I will cover the ones that I have not heard today, and I will leave it to my colleagues to perhaps comment on them.
One of the commitments we made in the last election was related to the creation of a Prime Minister's question period. I have not heard any commentary on that today with respect to whether that would be a good practice. It is certainly a practice that is adopted in the United Kingdom. There is a dedicated period of time where the prime minister would make himself or herself available to take questions from members. I do not know whether that would change the nature with respect to our overall perception that question period is far too theatrical and far too canned, quite frankly, in terms of the give and take that takes place.
We have heard a lot of suggestions with respect to giving much greater power to the Speaker to enforce the rules of debate, and some of the other amendments with respect to suggesting that questions be tabled in advance so that a substantive response can be given, which is the practice essentially in the British Parliament. I certainly would be supportive of us moving in that particular direction. However, I do want to table the concept of whether the Standing Orders require a change with respect to a dedicated Prime Minister's question period.
The second major item I have not heard much discussion about relates to the use of prorogation and omnibus bills. Again, this was a situation that occurred in the 39th, 40th, and 41st Parliaments, with respect to a situation of prorogation and an increasing use of omnibus bills.
It has been a commitment of this particular government to try to avoid using omnibus bills. The only exception to that should be the budget bill. In the presentation of the budget, it does have the inevitable effect of having significant amendments to all kinds of consequential acts to bring the budget into effect. I do not think that even the budget itself should deal with things that fall outside of budgetary measures. I am very wary of the use of omnibus bills as a standard practice to slide certain types of items through that are not relevant to the minister responsible for moving a particular bill forward. Again, there is a question as to whether that is appropriate use within the Standing Orders, but I again want to table that.
One of the other things that rose in previous Parliaments was with respect to the estimates and whether there is consistency between the estimates and public accounts. At the end of the day, parliamentarians need to have a clear mechanism to ensure that the tabled estimates are consistent with the public accounts. This is something that the President of the Treasury Board is working on. I do not think it requires a Standing Order change, but this is something that the procedures and House affairs committee ought to consider.
Other things that go to the independence of this place, particularly as they relate to the officers of Parliament, are whether there are mechanisms and ways to ensure that officers of Parliament are properly funded, that their reports to the Speaker and ultimately to the House are appropriate, and that the government of the day does not constrain the operation of the officers of the House in doing so. I would also extend that to the parliamentary budget officer. We have seen instances in the past where that has been a challenge. We want to ensure that each of the officers of the House, and the parliamentary budget officer, have the necessary tools so that parliamentarians get the necessary information they need to keep the government to account, while by the same token providing information in a neutral manner.
I thought I heard some discussion about the disclosure of expenses. I do support the concept that the activities of the Board of Internal Economy should be more public and should be open, by default, as opposed to the current practice.
I have a couple of final points to table, and they are already incorporated within the Standing Orders. They deal with ensuring that this workplace is free of harassment and sexual violence. Again, this is something that the procedure and House affairs committee does need to periodically review, that our conduct in this place be reviewed to make sure we avoid situations we have found sometimes unfortunately in the past between members, and between members and their staff. Canadians need to have confidence that we are acting in a fashion that holds the highest standards of workplace practice and that the procedure and House affairs committee continues to review that.
We have heard a lot about family friendly. I do not have much more to contribute to that particular debate, as it has been effectively covered in broad detail. I would encourage members to constantly be open to change. The way in which we conduct ourselves here is often dealt with within historical practice, and is often ossified to a time that is long past. I appreciate that fact, for example, as it relates to the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue. Despite the fact that there is a stranger in the House, none of us has ever exercised the rule to call that matter out.
We need to continue to have that openness among us, to find new ways to accommodate and encourage more members, and a greater diversity of members, to participate and become members of the House of Commons.
I do not have much more to add. My time is up, and I am going to encourage questions and look forward to the debate as it continues today.
Mr. Dan Albas (Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is with great honour I rise today on the Standing Orders of this place.
I believe I speak on behalf of all members when I state that it is a great privilege to do the work that we do on behalf of the Canadians who democratically elected us to represent them. It is on behalf of those very same Canadians that I rise today to speak on a subject I believe of importance, one that I am concerned about.
Back in the spring of this year I became greatly concerned when the then government House leader was quoted as suggesting that Friday sittings in this place should be eliminated. I would like to explain why this was a point of concern for me.
Back in the spring of 2016, we were all collectively part of a newly elected Parliament. At no time during the election did any of the parties, and certainly not the governing Liberals, suggest to Canadians that when this place sits, we should shorten our workweek. To be clear, I am not implying that we do not work when we are back in our home ridings or that being back in our home ridings with our families or our constituents is not important. I believe we would all agree that it is very important. However, we must not forget one important fundamental principle in any democracy. We work for the citizens who elect us.
Perhaps it is just my own sentiments, but I believe when it comes to the subject of shortening the workweek, however well intended the motives might be for doing so, first and foremost we have an obligation to have a discussion with the citizens we work for. Canadian taxpayers deserve a level of respect and accountability from their member of Parliament. It is for that reason that back in March of this year, in one of my weekly member of Parliament reports, I asked citizens in my riding what they thought about taking Fridays off.
I am certain it will come as a shock to many of you in this place that the idea was not a popular one, and while many were respectful in passing on their thoughts on the subject, there were also those who were quite offended. Words such as “out of touch” were referenced frequently. I will remind everyone in this place that B.C. is a long way from Ottawa. When citizens there hear about $100,000 political staff moves from Toronto to Ottawa billed to them, or that the Prime Minister is charging for not one but two nannies, after claiming that million-dollar families should not get taxpayer-supported benefits, they become disillusioned, disengaged, in fact.
I realize that in a majority government there is a mandate for that majority government to implement change. However, in this case, at no time were citizens ever told about a shorter workweek in Ottawa before we went to the polls in 2015. Thus, in my view, there is no mandate from the public in support of a shorter workweek, and yes, I recognize there is an argument that hours could be extended during the other four days. However, let us not overlook that doing so would simply take all the staff who run this place away from their families and create a greater cost to taxpayers with overtime.
I would also question the merits of productivity when working extended hours and if there would be a diminishing return with such a change. However, the bigger question is this. If we were to eliminate Fridays, then would not Thursdays become the new Fridays, with many ministers and senior government members of Parliament leaving Ottawa on Wednesday evening? If that was the case, where Thursdays become the new Fridays, it would be most unfortunate.
Getting back to my member of Parliament report that I wrote on the subject of not sitting on Fridays, some local media ran polls on the very topic. Once again, citizens in my riding were very clear that they did not support the idea.
I am not certain what plans the government has on this issue at this point. However, I believe it is important that on matters such as these, we make our positions clear and give reasons as to why. In my case, obviously I oppose these changes, and from talking to many citizens in my region, I can state they are also strongly opposed to eliminating Friday sittings in the House.
The fact is that the vast majority of real, middle-class Canadians do not have the luxury of having a three-day weekend unless it is a statutory holiday. Again, I am not suggesting that we are not working hard back in our ridings, but I feel that out of respect for the people who sent us here, without having a mandate for a shorter workweek, we should maintain the current five-day House schedule that we were elected under, when, of course, the House is sitting.
Let us also not forget that there are many break weeks throughout the House calendar that allow us to get back to our home ridings often. We are also provided with a generous taxpayer-financed budget to hire staff who work in those home ridings. The majority of us also take advantage of some of the latest communication tools that, in many cases, are also provided to us by the taxpayer.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to admit that, yes, this is a challenging and demanding role, even more so for our families and spouses. I believe we all are thankful and appreciative for the consideration and support we receive from our loved ones for the time-consuming work we do here. However, let us not overlook that we are generously compensated. We have the ability to fly our family members to this place. Lastly, for six years of service, we are eligible for a generous pension that most Canadians are not. Granted, some major changes were made in the last Parliament, which created a more respectful compensation pension plan for both taxpayers and members of Parliament.
In summary, yes, there is an element of sacrifice, but it is one that we are well compensated for. Let us not forget that it is called public service. I submit that we must be careful not to forget that final point, because recent expense scandals by the current government, not unlike previous governments, can ultimately undermine public trust.
While it is easy for us to understand the unique challenges of being a member of Parliament to the extent that for some it is easy to say, “Yes, we should take Fridays off”, and I am sure many people could justify a whole boatload of activities to show that they would still be offering some value to constituents, there is a perception that we are forgetting to ask the very Canadians we work for what they think of the idea.
I believe that if other members ask local citizens what they think of the idea, they will receive similar feedback to what I received. As a result, I have taken time today to speak out against this idea under the current circumstances and I want to reiterate that I mean no disrespect to those who support the idea. I understand the arguments in support of it. However, in this case, based on feedback I have received from my riding, it is important that I state for the record that I am opposed to this idea.
Before I close, I want to go back to the point I made earlier. Ever since I was first elected, first given the opportunity to serve people other than my family, elected as a city councillor in Penticton in 2008, I have always been very clear that our job is primarily to maintain the public trust. There are differences in what is in the public interest. We could all disagree on that, but I hope we would all find that we must maintain the trust that Canadians have in our institutions, the trust that their elected leaders stand for them and do not dictate to them, but instead, serve them in a way which serves their long-term needs and also hears what they are saying in the short term.
The public trust is a responsibility that each one of us has been given and I contend in this very place that if we cut Fridays off, we will undermine that public trust. If we abuse the taxpayer resources we have, we will undermine that public trust. It is not an easy thing because we can disagree with what the public interest is or what the public trust is, but I suggest that we all should try to preserve that trust.
I would like to thank all members of the House for hearing my comments and for the opportunity to stand in this place and comment on the Standing Orders, an important part of our democracy.
Ms. Julie Dabrusin (Toronto—Danforth, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it has been almost a year since I had the privilege to start participating in debate in this place. I recall fondly the day of my swearing in last fall. I received a pin after I was sworn in, and I received a very large green book of over 1,000 pages of procedural rules. I have to say, like my friend for Laurentides—Labelle, I can be a bit of a geek too. I took that book home, I read and tabbed it, and I was very excited about participating in the debate.
We have had some very good moments here, but I see some spots where there can be some improvement, and I would like to discuss some of those.
Primarily I would like to talk about how we approach private member's bills, the order for private member's bills, and how we can improve debate in this place, and particularly on that point, how we can avoid some of the repetition that we have sometimes. When we look at private member's bills, we all come to this place because we are passionate about something. We want to make a difference in our community, or whatever issue we may have that motivates us and makes us want to be here to make a difference.
I was motivated by wanting to address income inequality, which I saw was growing in my community. I wanted to deal with public transit, which was crumbling in my community, and active transportation. I also wanted to deal with food policy issues that encourage that Canadians have access to healthy food.
I see that type of passion in the private member's bills that come forward here. We recently saw tabled a national cycling strategy. We voted last night on a community benefits bill. We made a change to the national anthem to make it gender neutral. These are the diverse issues that are presented by the many people here from different parts of this country.
Despite all this passion and excitement about these many issues, whether we actually have an opportunity to table and have debate on a private member's bill is governed by chance; it is by a lottery. Many of us in this place will not have an opportunity to see a private member's bill move forward to debate and to a vote. I think that we need to see some changes made to this lottery system.
The way it works right now is that we have first-time members of Parliament arriving here, and they could be tabling a private member's bill within only a few months of having been elected. This does not really give them the opportunity to reach out to their colleagues across the way to hear their ideas and perspectives. It does not give them an opportunity to adjust and learn how things work in this place, because it is a learning experience. Therefore, we are not setting people up for success. On the other hand, there is no guarantee for the people who have been here for multiple parliaments that they can ever have a private member's bill to reflect what they would like to present. There is no weighting given to that.
My suggestion is twofold. I think we should create more time for private member's bills in this place, and I also believe that we should change the way we weight the lottery.
I have heard considerable debate today about Fridays. What do we do with Friday? I have to say that I do not necessarily take issue with continuing sittings on Fridays, but I would like to see them be more efficient. I say this as a person who has a young family that I would like to get back to. However, truthfully, I do not know if family matters on this. We all have reasons to go home and be in our ridings, but for me, the hardest part is saying goodbye to my family every week. Therefore, I would not want to add more weeks of sittings.
I think there is value in taking those Fridays and finding a way that we can make more use of that time. I would suggest that we set aside Fridays for private member's bills. It would be a chance to have more opportunities for people to present their bills and to be heard. That would be my suggestion for Friday as a way to make them more efficient. However, if we are not able to create more opportunity and more time for the hearing of private member's bills, then I would suggest we change the weighting of the system for the lottery.
However, I had not thought of the suggestion of my friend for Laurentides—Labelle, but I think he has a good idea in that perhaps we make sure, after a Parliament rises and we go into the next Parliament, that the bills on the Order Paper do not die for the returning parliamentarians. That is definitely one good idea that might help with the waiting.
My own suggestion, and I have been thinking about it, is that there be a system for returning parliamentarians who did not have a private member's bill in the past Parliament, so that they would go to the front of the line. There would be a lottery for those, and then for the new members. I think that would help both the returning members and the new members. It would give new members more time to get adjusted to the system, and it would give returning members an opportunity to make sure they could be heard. Those would be my suggestions in respect of private members' bills. I would also like to see us perhaps looking at using Fridays, and changing the lottery system so that we could have a better system of waiting on the dates.
On improving debate, one of the most moving and genuine debates I have witnessed in this place was the one we had on the crisis in Attawapiskat. On that evening, I heard very genuine stories from members of all parties in House. There was an authenticity to that debate. When I was listening to people, most of it was devoid of partisanship. It was a real opportunity for us to learn from one another during that debate. I thought the questions we asked and the chance for us to learn from one another was very valuable. I would like to see more of that in our debates in this place. From time to time, we can sort of lose the thread. I would really like to see a return to that.
I worry that we are often subject to a fair bit of repetition in this place. Sometimes the same ideas are repeated, which does not necessarily give us much of a chance to learn about each other's ridings and where we are coming from.
I would use question period as one example of where there is quite a bit of repetition. There has been a lot of discussion today about how we can make question period more effective. I was keeping note during question period today, just to get an idea, and I noticed that members of the same party asked 10 questions on pretty much the same issue. Actually, there was another issue as well. The four questions that followed were on pretty much the same issue. It was not a case of different variations of the same question, but pretty much the same question was asked, all by the same party.
Obviously different parties may have the same question to ask, and that cannot be changed, but I wonder if there is not a way that we could restrict members of the same party from asking the same question, or largely the same question, more than, let us say, twice. We will be generous and say that twice is good, but that 10 times seems like a lot of times to hear the same question.
It is one thing for us to be here and to be part of that debate, but another when we think of public who are watching it. I am not sure that it increases their respect, as there are multiple other issues that could be raised. I would like to see us move away from the repetition that we sometimes see.
I would also say that with respect to the course of regular debate. It would be really nice. I truly enjoy hearing and learning from all the members who are here about what is important to their communities. It gives me an opportunity to reflect and go home to my own constituency and say, “We have this perspective, but while I was in Ottawa, I heard all these other perspectives that can open our eyes to how we have different impacts.”
I would like to move away from repetition and to see if there are ways we can move the debate to be closer to the kind of debate we had the evening that we debated the crisis in Attawapiskat.
I also like the suggestion of having a clock that we could watch, that would give us a rundown on the amount of time we have left. I think that would be helpful for a lot of us.
For today, my primary suggestions are about private members' bills, affording them more time, changing the wait times in the lottery, and seeing if we can avoid repetition in the course of our debate.
Ms. Joyce Murray (Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to be speaking to Standing Order 51. Actually, I am honoured to serve in this House. Every time I am in Ottawa, walking toward the Peace Tower to come to this chamber, I am reminded of the privilege of being a member of Parliament and how rich and unique this opportunity is for each of us.
I have appreciated that there is this frank and open debate on the Standing Orders today. This is a rare occasion in which we are able to weigh in on how to have a better Parliament and be more effective on behalf of our constituents.
I am going to focus on just one element; that is, how to increase the effectiveness of Canada's members of Parliament in our primary responsibility of being the voice of our constituents here in Ottawa.
My proposal is about rebalancing the parliamentary calendar to spend more time in our constituencies, to serve the people who elected us.
There are many people here who are able to fly home for an evening in the middle of the week to attend something in their constituency and then be back in the House the next morning. Their reality is different, perhaps, from the one I will be describing.
People who are from far-flung areas of Canada simply cannot do that, and so the amount of time they can spend in their constituencies is considerably constrained.
Canada's extensive geography is one of our greatest assets, but I have to say it also presents a great challenge for Parliament and for parliamentarians for whom Ottawa is not easily accessible. Constituents do want to hear from us. They want to see us. They want to tell us about themselves. They want to tell us about their organizations, their initiatives. That takes time in the constituency. Work in the constituency is important and MPs need more time being there, doing the work.
Our job is to represent the voices and concerns of our constituents in Ottawa, more than it is to represent Ottawa back in our communities.
The members of Parliament may or may not know that for almost half the history of the Canadian Parliament, members of Parliament were in Ottawa between January or February and May or June during the year. That is when Parliament sat. That is when the business of the House was conducted in Parliament. The rest of the time, they were in their constituencies, serving those who voted for them.
That changed in 1940, during the Second World War, when the complex elements of Canada's response and Canada's involvement caused the need for much debate, for ministers' involvement, and for Parliament's decision-making. Therefore, in 1940, that shifted to more of a year-round presence here in Ottawa.
It was not until 1982 that there was a change in the Standing Orders that created seven adjournment periods, so members of Parliament had predictable, stable calendars to go back to their constituencies in the summer, over Christmas and Easter, and four other adjournment periods.
That is the last time that there was actually a substantive change to our Standing Orders with respect to the parliamentary calendar.
I want to point out that was during the 32nd Parliament, at a time when there were just 16 women members of Parliament in this House.
Constituency work matters. The myth that the work of an MP only takes place in Ottawa is just so wrong. When members in this House, in this debate, have talked about a four-day work week, or one day off a week, it is very inaccurate and very misleading, because the bulk of the work happens, actually, in our constituencies, where we have up to 100,000 people, each of whom we are serving.
Our offices do all the things that residents see when they email us, when they phone us, when they come in for meetings. They come in to talk to us about their concerns, their issues. They make requests. They want us to advocate for them. They ask for help. Constituents see that. However, there is much more that is done that is not visible. The kind of engagements we do in our constituencies is very time consuming.
I will just give some examples of my own. I organize monthly MP breakfast connection events with more than 100 people, to hear from key policy speakers on an issue of the day. I often do town hall meetings. I do consultations that I call “MP policy cafés”, where people sit around tables to weigh in on a policy issue, and the results of those consultations go back to ministers.
There are many ways we engage with our constituents, and I do not have to tell the members in this House what they are. We all know how time consuming but how important it is, because we are the link between our constituents and the federal policies that affect them. We are their link, their voice, and that takes time.
There are special projects that we tackle in our local community where we have to find out about an issue that is concerning people, and we need to have meetings to fully understand it. We may organize ad hoc advisory groups to give us advice. We then may meet with other stakeholders to try to advocate for the involvement of our constituents or the interests of our constituents. Those special projects in the riding take a lot of time as well.
I do want to point out that it is not just Parliament in Ottawa that takes us away from our constituencies. During these seven adjournment periods, we are often away. If as a British Columbian I am commuting back and forth each week, which I largely do, that will be between 16 and 20 hours a week that I am not in my constituency because I am commuting. I take to heart the situation of my colleague from the Yukon, who spends 28 hours a week commuting, so that is time not in the constituency.
We also do international travel on behalf of Canada, like the trip I took to Zambia to attend an African Union conference on ending child marriage. It was very important to be there and I was honoured to be able to go, but those were days not in my constituency.
We travel in Canada as part of our jobs, during the adjournment periods. There are caucus meetings. We may be having a caucus meeting outside of our constituency in order to hear from stakeholders in another part of the province, such as our caucus did in Kelowna this year; or there may be national caucus meetings that are outside of our constituencies during these adjournment periods; or there are other kinds of travel, like committee travel and parliamentary secretary travel. I have had several of those trips out of the constituency during constituency periods.
All of that pares down the time that we are available to our constituents. Therefore I am recommending not only that there be one constituency day a week during sessions, but also that the length of some of the adjournment periods outlined in Standing Order 28(2) be expanded to reduce the amount of commuting and to make up for some of the time away from our constituencies that we experience due to our work.
I am going to take this last period of time to point out that this can be accomplished without reducing our effectiveness in Parliament through the many measures that have been raised already today: electronic voting, audiovisual conferencing, parallel Parliament for statements and debates to go on the public record. There are many ways that we can be both more effective in Ottawa and more effective in our constituencies with more time there.
I also want to point out that this addresses a significant barrier to women in Parliament. It will be 100 years before we have a gender-equal Parliament at the rate we are going. One of the barriers is that women do tend to be the ones who are providing care in their constituencies to elderly family members or who have more of the household responsibilities. About 66% of family caregivers are women who can do some of that work in the evenings when they are in their constituencies, but cannot do that when they are in Ottawa. This would be good for women's equality. This would be good for the constituency. It would be good for parliamentarians to have a better balance of time in their constituency working for their constituents.
So that is my pitch here, that we rebalance our calendar for the benefit of all and for our parliamentary democracy.