STANDING COMMITTEE ON PROCEDURE
AND HOUSE AFFAIRS
COMITÉ PERMANENT DE LA PROCÉDURE
ET DES AFFAIRES DE LA CHAMBRE
[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]
Tuesday, May 9, 2000
The Chair (Mr. Derek Lee (Scarborough—Rouge River,
Lib.)): I call the meeting to order. I see a quorum.
Colleagues, we're continuing our discussion on
reviewing the Standing Orders, two items in particular.
Our staff members have produced a draft. There's also
an amended part of a draft circulating.
Before we get into that—and hopefully we can sink our
teeth into it and dispose of it reasonably quickly, one
way or the other—I want to bring to your attention the
report of our steering committee. That report is in
front of you.
I would love to have one of our members move that the
subcommittee on agenda and procedure report....
Mr. Gar Knutson (Elgin—Middlesex—London, Lib.):
I so move.
The Chair: Is there any discussion?
The report basically fleshes out our May calendar and
leaves June open for continuing review of the Standing
Orders, with the exception of June 13, which would be
set aside for supply.
Okay. We've had our brief discussion.
(Motion agreed to—See Minutes of Proceedings)
The Chair: Thank you.
Now we'll go right to the issue of the changes to the
Just to put it in context, we have spent, I think,
three meetings on this. There have been other
discussions in various parts of the parliamentary
precinct, and there seems to be a sense that both items
on the list would be innovative and improve the
operations of the House, and that, I guess, is our
I don't have to remind members that most of what we
deal with here will rarely, if ever, come to the
attention of our constituents, it being a matter of
simple procedures in the House, which most of our
constituents don't worry about. But we do want to make
sure that our House runs effectively and in the best
interests of all of the parties in the House.
These two amendments, on an expedited basis, are
presented in that spirit. There's reasonable focus now
on the black and white wording.
As I understand it, none of this drafting has been
moved for adoption. Someone might wish to move it, and
we can formally bring it to discussion on that basis.
Ms. Carolyn Parrish (Mississauga Centre, Lib.):
I'll move it.
The Chair: All right. What are you moving?
Ms. Carolyn Parrish: I am moving the confidential
draft report you see before you.
The Chair: As printed?
Ms. Carolyn Parrish: As printed.
The Chair: Mr. Knutson.
Mr. Gar Knutson: On being recognized for debate,
I'd like to move this single-page item, en
français on one side and in English on the other, as
an amendment to the three-page report.
The Chair: It would appear that this page would
replace paragraph 2 of the draft report. Is that
Mr. Gar Knutson: It would replace part of
The Chair: Are you able to tell us which part?
Mr. Gar Knutson: I am. It's on the second page,
starting on line 6 and going to the bottom of that
The Chair: All right. Is that true also en
Mr. Gar Knutson: You have to ask me hard
The Chair: Just so that everyone's on the same
script, in the French version of the draft report,
beginning at line 14 of page 2, Mr. Knutson's amendment
would replace the entire remaining portion of paragraph
2 from line 14, beginning with the words la motion,
right down to the end.
Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral (Laval Centre, BQ): Before we
achieved quorum, I received the text of the proposed amendment and
had an opportunity to read it. I have a number of questions for
you. We had a fairly lengthy discussion last week about the meaning
of the words "minister responsible for the bill" and about who was
authorized to speak on behalf of the minister. If my memory serves
me correctly, we agreed that this could include an acting minister,
a minister with a direct role to play. In the proposed amendment,
we note the following:
... including a Member of each officially recognized party in the
House, to ask questions of the Ministers responsible for the
conduct of the Bill...
By “Ministers”, I take this to mean the entire Cabinet. If we
are to get pointed, concise and correct answers that will enlighten
the member asking the question and all members who are listening,
this seems pretty broad to me. I'd like either yourself, Mr.
Chairman, or someone else seated at this table to share with me his
interpretation of “Ministers responsible for the conduct of a Bill”
and tell me whether this is specific enough.
The Chair: Who's in a good position to answer that
excellent question—Mr. Knutson, Mr. Corbett, or both?
Mr. Gar Knutson: I defer to him.
The Chair: Let's go to Mr. Corbett first, then,
and then to Mr. Knutson if he has any infill.
Mr. William Corbett (Deputy Clerk of the House of
Commons): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I presume we are referring to the text of the
amendment to the report—
The Chair: That's correct.
Mr. William Corbett: —where the text is, “to ask
questions of the Ministers responsible for the conduct
of the bill in the House”.
This would be in conformity with our normal practice
now, which is that any minister may speak for cabinet.
So that wording would be in conformity with the
The Chair: Okay.
Would you like to say something?
Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral: May I respond to that, Mr.
Chairman? I'm certain you'll let me.
The Chair: By all means.
Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral: Judging from Mr. Corbett's
response, I think I read the text of the amendment correctly. I
think we are taking a step backward from what we had last week, and
even then, the opposition wasn't the least bit happy.
Therefore, I have to wonder if we are here to agree on a
process that is respectful of democracy and give the government the
means with which to act. It already has many such tools at its
disposal. We're here to engage in an intelligent, respectful
Personally, I think we're heading toward a scenario where any
Cabinet minister can in fact answer questions when time allocation
has been moved. This is not a minor matter. As a rule, the
government gives notice of time allocation in the case of bills
that it considers very important, and by this I mean important to
the welfare of the population. Time allocation should not be
invoked on a whim.
Therefore, in the case of important legislation, it's
critical, in deference to the elected representatives of the
people, that the acting minister—I think that's how we referred to
him—the person assisting the minister, be there to answer
We're talking about a period of 30 minutes. As you may recall,
Mr. Chairman, the opposition was pressing for 45 minutes, with 15
minutes for the bill to ring, which would mean in total one hour to
ask questions about the time allocation motion.
As I see it, not only has the government party failed to hear
us or listen to us, as it usually does, but worse still, it is
bringing it even tighter restrictions. Now we'll be completely
gagged, Mr. Chairman, so much so that we're going to turn blue.
The Chair: Mr. Knutson.
Mr. Gar Knutson: On the last point, the
“willy-nilly”, I don't think there is any reason to
believe that under these new rules time allocation will
be brought in any more or less than it is currently. It
would be the government's position that we've met the
opposition half-way. The opposition members have
indicated that they don't want this half-hour to be a
mere late show, so we've agreed that while
parliamentary secretaries have the opportunity to
answer questions in question period, we've eliminated
parliamentary secretaries from this proposal. We think
that's meeting the opposition half-way. However, we're
not prepared to agree to the wording originally
proposed by Mr. Strahl.
I think there may be times when particular ministers
aren't available for whatever reason, and I just want
to assure the opposition that it's not in our interest
to put up a minister who doesn't know anything about
the subject matter or the content of the bill. It's
going to be on public record. It's going to be on
television. It's going to be reported on by the media.
We will have an interest in sending forward a minister
who can answer questions intelligently—
Mr. Jay Hill (Prince George—Peace River, Canadian
Alliance): Good luck.
Mr. Gar Knutson: —and participate in the debate
as foreseen under the rules outlined in paragraph 3.
While I appreciate that this is not what the
opposition originally proposed, from our point of view
this is the best we can do, and I would ask all members
on the committee to support this as a reasonable
The Chair: I'll go to Mr. Strahl.
Mr. Chuck Strahl (Fraser Valley, Canadian
Alliance): I disagree, of course. I still think
“acting minister” should be the wording there, but
it's obvious that the government doesn't want that.
I do wonder if there could be a friendly amendment to
this proposal, which is what we talked about briefly
last week. It's in the explanatory notes, but it's not
in the actual standing order proposal. That is,
after the phrase “and to comment briefly on the motion”,
to add the words “and the bill”. This is the way we
have explained it in our explanatory notes.
In other words, it's not just restricted to the motion,
but it can also refer to the bill. It's a little
broader and I think it would be necessary for the
debate. Otherwise, you'd have points of order all over
the place. So as a friendly amendment, if I could make
it “the motion and the bill”, I think it would make
As you know, I think this is a far weaker motion
overall than what we would like, but then we'd probably put
in a minority report if this is what goes ahead. But
it is a chance to get at the minister, which is at least
a step in the right direction.
The Chair: All right. Mr. Strahl is proposing
that Mr. Knutson's proposed amendment be amended by
inserting on line 6 in the English version, after the word
“motion”, the words “and the bill”.
Is there any discussion on that or other elements of this?
Ms. Carolyn Parrish: I wasn't here last Thursday.
I was out representing the minister somewhere. But I
must say this has gone on a very long time, and at some
point the dog is getting wagged by its tail rather than
the other way around.
This thing is very restrictive—and I listened to
Madame Dalphond-Guiral—very restrictive on
the government. If we're going to have a very
highfalutin discussion with expert answers when we've
already been told there's to be a minority report on
this, after we've bent over triple backwards to do this,
why are there no restrictions on the opposition side to
have only their critics ask the questions?
If you want a really meaningful discussion, no
pinch-hitting, you've got to have your critics ask the
questions if we can't decide as a government who
answers questions on our side. This will be the first
time any time in the House that the opposition dictates who
answers the questions on the government side. I
think this is getting ridiculous.
I will support
whatever Mr. Knutson has put forward, because I want this
over, but we are absolutely—and I'd like to be on the
record on this—bending over triple backwards and
doing back flips just so Mr. Strahl could then, in a
very pleasant way, suggest he's going to do a minority
report anyway. So I'm really stretching it to vote for
this now, because they should have to put up only their
critics. If they happen to be travelling, haul them back
from Europe. Only critics should ask questions if
they're telling us who can answer them.
That's just my
little tantrum of the day. I'm getting sick of it.
Mr. Chuck Strahl: It's called accountable
government, Carolyn. There's a difference. The
minister is accountable. The opposition party has
Ms. Carolyn Parrish: That's exactly the point! And
The Chair: We're getting into—
An hon. member: Excellent point, Carolyn, excellent point.
Ms. Carolyn Parrish: We're putting that on the
The Chair: Order!
Mr. Chuck Strahl: You have a minister—
The Chair: Order. We're on the record here—
Ms. Eleni Bakopanos (Ahuntsic, Lib.): Yes, we are.
The Chair: —and this is not going to get on the record
unless we each take our turn.
Mr. Robertson asked me to draw members' attention to
two items in Mr. Knutson's amendment, where there had
been previous discussions but
where the amendment hadn't been changed at all.
In the first line, we had discussed changing the word
“except”—en anglais, in English—to the word
“however”. I don't know whether there's a material
difference in the two and whether there's a difference
in the French version, but that's something we had not
nailed down with precision.
Secondly, the length of time that the bells would ring
in Mr. Knutson's version is set at 15 minutes.
Mr. Gar Knutson: I thought it was longer than that.
The Chair: No, I'm not talking about the length of
the question period, I'm talking about the length of
the bells at 15 minutes.
Mr. Gar Knutson: Sorry, I apologize.
The Chair: So right now we're continuing with the
word “except” and the number 15. I'll just draw that
to your attention. I'm going to suggest now that we
change “except” to “however” and that we go with
the 15-minute bell.
If there are no objections, then that's how we'll go with
it. We all know that once we start talking about
maybes, we can be at it for an hour.
I'll recognize Madame Dalphond-Guiral, then Mr.
Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral: I understand full well what the
government is trying to do. Clearly, it wants complete latitude so
that any minister can answer questions.
When time allocation is moved, I have to imagine that the
minister responsible for informing the House came to this decision
in a responsible manner. If that's the case, then I would assume
the government knows which minister or ministers will be able to
account to Parliament for this decision. Even though this has never
happened and could reduce the government's powers, it is
conceivable that when time allocation is moved, the minister could
say: now then, the ministers of Health and Heritage will be taking
your questions. Could that happen? Could he even designate three
ministers to field questions?
To respond to what Carolyn said, I think that if she were to
review the debates that have taken place in the House, she will see
that in the case of the Bloc Québécois and the other opposition
parties, the responsible critics are always the first to speak up
and to oversee the discussion. That's just part of their job.
Therefore, when time allocation is moved, naturally our
critics will be there, or barring that, the second member of the
The Chair: Okay, that's a suggestion.
Mr. Hill and Mr. Strahl.
Mr. Jay Hill: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In response to Ms. Parrish, I don't know where to
begin. First of all, she says she's willing to
support Mr. Knutson's proposal. Well, surprise,
surprise! That's supporting the government House
leader. You know, that's a real shock.
Secondly, in response to this nonsense where
she says the government is bending over triple
backwards—I think was that the comment she used—in
reality the proposal.... Let's very briefly go
back to how this all began.
This is because the
government wants to restrict the opposition's tools
they use at report stage to force all-night
voting. That's what this is all about.
So when anybody suggests that the government is
somehow bending over backwards to accommodate the
opposition, that's complete nonsense. The reality is
that the government members—and she herself said this
at previous meetings—felt it was so stressful on them
to have to go through voting for 24 or 48 or 72 hours,
whatever the number is, that they needed to do
something to prevent that from happening in the future.
That's what this is all about, and that's why the horse trading
To my knowledge, we haven't put forward amendments to
the government's applied voting motion, which is to change
or add new Standing Order 45(9). We've accepted that,
and what we've instead been embroiled in is a very
lengthy debate about what we will get in return for
that. I don't call that bending over triple backwards
by any stretch of the imagination, so let's be very
clear about that.
I think on this whole issue we have indicated
there's a number of hang-ups from the opposition, not
only from us but from the other opposition parties as
well. We've been debating about who or which minister
would be called upon to respond, we've been talking
about the amount of time that would be allocated to
this process, and we've been talking about the ability
of the Speaker to exercise some discretion in imposing
I think all of those are valid points, and in the end
we have said—at least, the Canadian Alliance has now
said—we are willing to try this out.
It is the
government's intention to try this for the remainder of
the calendar year, but we feel it's incumbent upon
us, as good opposition, to put forward a dissenting
opinion laying out our concerns. Now, if that's not
acceptable and if that's not trying to be
accommodating, I don't know what is.
We're saying we will support Mr. Knutson—thereby
saying we're going to support the government House
leader—to try this out for a while. They get to
accomplish what they want to do, which is what Standing
Order 45(9) is for, to speed up the voting process so that
not everyone can be forced to stand and the whips can
apply the vote, and we get to try out this very
frequently amended process of cross-examining, if you
will, a minister—now it's “a” minister, not
“the” minister—about the use of time allocation.
I think that's reasonable, and I don't see why
you—directing this through Mr. Chairman to Ms. Parrish—would
be so upset that we would want to be on the
record with the points I've just outlined.
Ms. Carolyn Parrish: Call the vote, Mr. Chairman.
Call the vote, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Hill has me convinced
with his superior logic.
The Chair: We may be coming to a conclusion very
quickly here, so perhaps colleagues could focus on the
conclusion rather than the continuing debate.
Mr. Strahl, then Mr. Knutson.
Mr. Chuck Strahl: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
say to Ms. Parrish that it is occasional outbursts like
hers that keep the debate going, because of course she
lobs one back into our field, and we can't let
that go unchallenged, can we? So as you said earlier, it's all
on the record.
I'd simply like to say that when we move
time allocation we'll have our critic there to answer
for what we've done, just as the government should have
their minister there when they move time allocation, because
that's what this is all about.
Accountable governments answer for their
actions to the opposition, to Canadians. When we move
time allocation, you can bet—as a matter of fact, we'll
even have our leader there, because we don't anticipate
this is going to happen—we'll have
our critic there for sure.
The other thing—and Jay has already mentioned it—a
minority report isn't the end of the world for the
government; it's done all the time on things. It
shows that while we'll support the government in this
interim measure to try it out, a minority report just
details what we in our perfect world would actually
want to see occur. Not everyone is going to agree; that's why
it's a minority report. You guys won't agree with it.
We'll put it forward, and when people ask why we
supported it, we'll say it's the best we could get
at the time and let's move ahead. So I agree, let's
move ahead with it.
Mr. Gar Knutson: Take me off the list.
The Chair: Good. Mr. Knutson is withdrawing his
name from the list.
For the record, I want to
point out that because this is seen as a pilot or a
test measure for the rest of the calendar year, if
there are flaws in it of any nature I'm sure
colleagues will spot them immediately and we'll have
a chance to reconsider it in this Parliament,
hopefully. Perhaps the opposition will be able to make some
good constructive suggestions if there are some flaws.
I'm now going to call the question on the draft
report. I'm just going to articulate for the record so
everybody understands what we've done. The document
known as the draft report is amended by Mr. Knutson's
amendment, with Mr. Knutson's amendment itself amended
by changing the word “except” in the first line to
the word “however” and inserting words on the
English version, sixth line, after the word “motion”—
The Clerk of the Committee: By Mr. Strahl.
The Chair: —“and the bill.”
I don't know if we have actually formalized that, but
that is what we are voting on now.
Mr. Gar Knutson: I have a point of order.
Don't we vote on the amendment
The Clerk: No, you have to move the subamendment
Mr. Gar Knutson: Okay.
The Clerk: Then the amendment.
Mr. Gar Knutson: Okay, whatever.
The Chair: I wasn't sure. We had the thing on the
floor, didn't we?
Mr. Gar Knutson: We did.
The Chair: Then the subamendment to Mr. Knutson's
documentation. Those are the two items I've just mentioned, the word
“however” and the words “and the bill”.
Mr. Gar Knutson: Right. So let's vote on that on
The Chair: All right, if it is the will of members
to vote on that....
The clerk is suggesting we do a subamendment. I'm
going to ask Mr. Strahl to take ownership of the word
Mr. Chuck Strahl: Well, I don't agree with that.
I think “except” is the right word.
The Chair: Oh, my God.
Mr. Chuck Strahl: But I don't care. I don't want
to make a fuss over it.
The Chair: Good. Then please take ownership of
it and move it.
Mr. Chuck Strahl: I so move.
The Chair: We're voting on those two amendments
I've just mentioned.
Ms. Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral: Before we proceed to vote,
could I simply say something? I am usually not this loquacious, but
I guess it's my day to be.
We have here three versions of the proposed amendment. I
believe the first version was drafted by knowledgeable, competent
individuals. We didn't ask the first person who came around to take
on this task. The drafters were familiar with the subject matter,
they knew what the stakes were and they knew very well how honest
members were likely to react.
The first version of the proposed amendment stipulated that a
member asking a question could designate which minister could
respond to it. Mr. Chairman, when I read that, I must admit I
nearly fell off my chair, but I didn't. I thought that surely,
there must be some misunderstanding, that surely the English
version must read differently. But no. I checked the English
version and it corresponded to what I had read.
Therefore, I'm not the least bit surprised to see a new
version. It was to be expected. The government isn't naive.
The second version was a little more restrictive:
...minister in whose name the Bill stands on the Order Paper, or
any Minister acting...
As Mr. Marleau explained to us last week, the latter would be
a kind of acting minister. Do you understand? It would not be some
minister whose name was pulled out a hat. Nor would the government
be proceeding in alphabetical order and therefore the first up
would be Mr. Axworthy. That's not what was meant. In the latest
version we have, it's very simple. Any minister can respond.
Mr. Chairman, we can go ahead and vote, but as you can well
imagine, the Bloc Québécois members will be voting "nay". This
flies in the face of Parliament. As a rule, I have a good sense of
humour, but quite frankly, this is a classic case of a government
that wields considerable power - and no one is questioning that -
completing disregarding the wishes of the opposition.
I understand that you merely tolerate the opposition, but let
me tell you one thing: opposition is essential in a democratic
system. When there is no articulate, intelligent opposition,
democracy is jeopardized.
I'd like my colleagues to respond, Mr. Chairman. If I'm the
only one to see things this way, then I will say no more. It won't
be easy, but I will refrain from any further comments.
The Chair: Colleagues, I want to call the
question. I'm sure government members wouldn't want to
adopt a change to the Standing Orders without at least
some consensus around the House. I understand
there is at least some consensus on this, even if all
the bells and whistles aren't attached to the
Anyway, members have called for the question and I
think we'll do that. We had got through the first
part of the question. The second part is to amend the
draft Standing Order changes with Mr. Knutson's amended
Mr. Chuck Strahl: I don't know if Mr. Kilger was
in the room when we discussed this idea of the bells
sounding for not more than 15 minutes. I'm not sure
why he would want that. I know it's an effort to speed
it up and get back to the debate, which is wise, but I
just ask him to consider whether 15 minutes is long
enough or whether we want a 30-minute bell. Although
we'll know it's coming, the bell itself will only be 15
minutes. If people aren't ready to come to the House
or are out on Bank Street at their offices or
something, then I'm not sure if 15 minutes is the right
The Chair: Mr. Kilger.
Mr. Bob Kilger (Stormont—Dundas—Charlottenburgh,
Lib.): Mr. Chairman, perhaps I can
respond to Mr. Strahl's intervention.
I think the 15-minute bell should be adequate. We all
recognize that Mr. Strahl and I endeavour to go to the
back of the House to begin the vote procedure. In most
instances, if not all, there are always a few extra
minutes, if not five or ten, that get added on. This
is a pilot project, and we do want to add time at the
end of the day to assure ourselves that all parties
have an opportunity to speak and so on and so forth. I
think the 15-minute bell is a reasonable option as a
The Chair: Thank you.
Therefore, the question we're dealing with now is the
amendment of the draft Standing Order changes by
inserting Mr. Knutson's amended amendment. I'm going
to call the question on that.
(Amendment agreed to [See Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: Finally, I will put the question on the
draft Standing Order changes as amended.
Mr. Jay Hill: Can we have a recorded vote on this?
The Chair: Mr. Robertson has indicated a slight
alteration in the ordering of the draft, in that the
directions to the Speaker will be moved up above
paragraph 3 of the draft. So they will follow the
Standing Order change dealing with the time allocation
Mr. Jay Hill: I have a point of order. I'd like a
recorded vote, and I serve notice that we will be
submitting a dissenting opinion on this.
The Chair: All right. We'll have a recorded
division. Did you want to indicate now when you might
have that amendment ready?
Mr. Chuck Strahl: There's a dissenting opinion,
The Chair: Yes.
Mr. Jay Hill: Am I to report by tomorrow?
Mr. Bob Kilger: Or by Thursday for Thursday's
meeting, or whatever.
Mr. Jay Hill: By Thursday's meeting. I'll have it
translated and I'll submit it in both official
The Chair: All right. I'm going to put the
Yes, Mr. Kilger.
Mr. Bob Kilger: Maybe the researcher has some
information that would cause us to reflect on it. If
it's possible to have it by 5 o'clock tomorrow, then
the report could be tabled on Thursday, if that's
Mr. Chuck Strahl: Okay, yes, all right.
The Chair: My clerk has made a suggestion.
The Clerk: It's the same thing as Mr. Kilger has
suggested. We'd like to have it by tomorrow.
Mr. Bob Kilger: By 5 o'clock tomorrow.
The Chair: That's fine. You will attempt to get
that into the system.
Mr. Jay Hill: Let the record show that we will
submit it to the clerk by 5 o'clock tomorrow afternoon.
The Chair: That's great. Thank you, Mr. Hill.
I'll put the question on the whole bundle of these
landmark changes to the Standing Orders. This is going
to be a recorded vote.
(Amendment agreed to: yeas 9; nays 2 [See
Minutes of Proceedings])
The Chair: We've completed our business. That's
the first tranche of Standing Orders review, and the best
is yet to come.
Thank you, colleagues, for all your
cooperation. Hopefully our colleagues in the House
will be pleased with our efforts so far.
If there is no other business, we can adjourn until
Thursday at ll o'clock.