de Bellefeuille was a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery from 1947-1950.
He represented Deux-Montagnes in the Quebec National Assembly from 1976-1985. At
t he time this article was written he was Chair of the Symposium on The
Parliamentary System in the 21st Century.
François Côté was Secretary General of the Quebec National Assembly.
In October two major conferences dealing with
parliamentary government and representative democracy will be held in Quebec.
The first is a Symposium in Quebec City organized by the Association of Former
Members of the National Assembly. The other is a Conference on Global
Governance to be held in Montreal under the auspices of the Montreal
International Forum. In this article the Chairman of the Quebec Symposium
describes the purpose of that Conference and the Secretary General of the
National Assembly writes about the parliamentary component of the Conference on
The International Symposium
on the Parliamentary System in the 21st Century
Parliament is the fundamental
institution of democracy. The principle of legislative autonomy has underpinned
political thinking since Montesquieu. But now, with this many-faceted
phenomenon we call globalization, new powers are appearing that know no borders
and question the prerogatives of both centralized and federal states. Cultural
diversity is also threatened, as are certain laws and regulations, notably
those dealing with environmental protection and free trade.
In 1978 the late political
scientist Léon Dion declared that “the struggle to reestablish the value of
Parliaments may be the most relevant and promising manifestation of the battle
that democracy is facing today.”
Legislative power has been
undergoing an erosion that has tended to distance Parliament from what it
should be—a place of fundamental debate and decision-making. Certain practices,
such as towing the party line and answering to whips, have been imposed, and
have enabled the executive branch to dominate the legislative branch.
The six plenary sessions of
the symposium will focus on the following questions:
- What are the roots of the
- Is the decline of Parliament
- Is it possible to thwart parties
and individuals who defend only a single cause—their own?
- Should we limit ministerial
- Can Parliament be reinvented?
- Can the Internet lead to a resurrection
of the role?
The international symposium
entitled The Parliamentary System in the 21st Century will take place at the National
Assembly of Quebec from October 9 to 12, 2002.1
politicians, and political observers from North and South America, Europe, and
Africa—will debate these questions and exchange views with some two hundred
attendees. Simultaneous interpretation will be provided in French, English, and
This symposium, which will
serve as the 25th
regional conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, is presented
by the Amicale des anciens parlementaires du Québec with the
enthusiastic cooperation of the National Assembly of Quebec. Mrs. Louise Harel,
the Speaker of the National Assembly of Québec and Member for
Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, is the honorary president of the symposium.
The founders of the Amicale
provided, in section 6 of their incorporating act of December 17, 1993,
that their main function is to put the knowledge and experience of former
Members to use in order to serve parliamentary democracy in Quebec and
elsewhere. In section 7 the act specifies that the Amicale may form task
forces and organize meetings, symposia, and conferences where former
parliamentarians can share ideas with participants and get information on
issues of common interest.
The 2002 Conference on
The 2002 Conference on
Global Governance: Civil Society and Democratization of Global Governance
will take place at the Montreal Convention Centre from October 13 to 16, 2002.
This event is organized by the Montreal International Forum (FIM)2. The FIM is a worldwide alliance of
individuals and organizations with the mission of increasing the participation of
civil society within multilateral institutions in order to more effectively
remedy global problems such as extreme poverty, war, human rights violations,
and environmental degradation.
The 2002 Conference
will focus on the emergence of civil society–driven participatory democracy on
a global scale. The conference will bring together top officials from the
United Nations, multilateral organizations, parliamentarians, representatives
of local and national governments, academics, human rights advocates, unionists,
representatives of native peoples and civil society. Conference attendees will
take part in work sessions on nine topics: United Nations, Capital Movement,
Parliaments, Trade, Human Rights, Local Government, Transnational Civil
Society, Non-Dominant Societies, and Multinationals.
The Speaker of the National
Assembly, Mrs. Harel is in charge of coordinating the parliamentary component
of the Conference. This component, which addresses the theme of Parliaments
and Parliamentarians in a Context of Global Governance, will take place on
Monday, October 14. Throughout the day participants will discuss the various
effects that globalization and the emergence of global governance have on
Parliaments and the performance of parliamentary duties.
The parliamentary component
will include three work sessions: one opening conference and two plenary
sessions. The opening conference will broadly address these themes, and the two
plenary sessions will discuss the following specific topics: Reestablishing
the Value of the Parliamentary System and The Parliamentary System and Global
Lecturers and participants
will be invited to share their perspectives and to debate the following
- In these times of global
governance are parliamentarians still able to play an effective role as
representatives of their people?
- Does the influence of certain
interest groups in public decision-making lead to difficult relations with
- Does the privatization of public
decision-making exclude elected bodies from participating?
- What types of solutions are there
to counter this growing trend of skepticism and cynicism towards the
current effectiveness of parliamentary governance?
- Should the role of
parliamentarians be revitalized and repositioned, given the preeminence of
executive powers in the management of public affairs?
- Should representative democracy be
given a new direction?
- Do elected officials have the
power to oppose the restrictive effects of globalization on their
- Is it possible to counter the
negative effects of globalization by expanding the democratic model to a
larger number of states?
- How can their actions come to be
valued in a context of globalizing public decision-making?
- What role can parliamentary
diplomacy play in the establishment of a new international order?
- Can a watch on globalization
contribute to making parliamentarians’ work more effective in the context
of global governance?
- Given this environment, how do we
extend the constitutional powers of non-sovereign states?
Through its participation in
organizing the symposium on The Parliamentary System in the 21st Century and the parliamentary component of the 2002
Conference on Global Governance the National Assembly of Quebec will be
contributing to the ongoing and necessary examination of the parliamentary
system and representative democracy.
1. For more information on the Amicale des
anciens parlementaires du Québec:
2. For more information on the Montréal
International Forum (FIM) and the 2002 Conference on Global Governance see:
Round Table on Private Members’ Business
by Peter Adams, John
Reynolds, Garry Breitkreuz, Ted White, Joe Jordan, Gerald Keddy, Paddy Torsney,
Mauril Bélanger, Yvon Godin, John Bryden, Réal Ménard, Madeleine
Dalphond-Guiral, Val Meredith, Ken Epp, Carolyn Parrish, Dale Johnston
On May 2, 2002 the House of Commons Standing Committee on
Procedure and House Affairs held a round table on the topic of Private Members’
Business. For more than two hours a lively discussion took place about what
could be done to improve this aspect of parliamentary business. The discussion
was divided into four broad themes: the purpose of Private Members’
Business; whether all items of Private Members’ Business should be votable; the
details of the selection of votable items; and whether more radical changes
should be considered. The following are extracts by some of the members in
attendance. For the complete transcripts see the online proceedings of the
committee at www.parl.gc. ca.
Peter Adams (Chairman,
Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs): The expression “Private Members’
Business” refers to the time the House sets aside for business emanating from
private members—one hour a day, five days a week. That business can take the
form of a bill, which before it becomes law must go through the same stages as
do government bills—three readings in the House, three in the Senate, all the
way through Royal Assent; or that of a motion, which results in a resolution of
the House, often expressing an opinion or calling upon the government to do
Unlike government bills or
motions, Private Members’ Business is determined by a draw. This is largely
because there are far more bills and motions tabled than there is time to deal
For example, so far in this
session of Parliament, which began in January 2001, there have been a total of
251 bills and 496 motions tabled in the House. Of these, 750 or so, 128 have
been placed on the order of precedence, 22 of these have been voted on or will
be voted on, while the rest have been or will be dropped from the Order Paper
after one hour of debate. In addition, five Senate bills have been debated in
The Standing Orders provide
for the establishment of an order of precedence, a sort of running list at the
beginning of each parliamentary session and at various intervals thereafter.
This order of precedence consists of 30 items of private members’ business, an
equal number of bills and motions in the sequence established by the draw of
members’ names. To add to the complexity of this system, private bills and
public bills from the Senate are automatically placed at the bottom of this
order of precedence.
Now all of the 30 items on the
order of precedence will be debated for an hour in the House, but only some of
them will be voted on. At any time, up to 10 of the 30 items can be declared
votable, which means that they get up to three hours of debate and they come to
a vote at the end of this period.
The decision as to which items
should be votable is made by this committee, the Standing Committee on
Procedure and House Affairs, through its Sub-committee on Private Members’
Business. That sub-committee consists of one member from each party in the
House, plus a government chair. So the government does not have a majority on
John Reynolds (Canadian
Private Members’ Business is a vital and essential part of the parliamentary
and legislative process. We are here today to discuss ideas, to bring the
current Private Members’ Business procedure out of the nineteenth century and
into modern times. There is a desperate need for reform and I think we all
agree with that. This issue lies at the very heart of democracy.
We have been asking for a long
time with support from all parties for all Private Members’ Business to be
votable. There needs to be a new mechanism in place to ensure that all items
are brought to a vote and to make sure that the divisions on these questions
remain free votes.
Many reform proposals have
come to the table in the past years. The last time this committee took on this
issue the government made a decision not to make a decision. On behest of the
Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary this committee reported back to the
House last December 5, five months ahead of the deadline, saying that it could
not come up with a solution.
That is unacceptable. We do
not need to spend more time talking. We all know what we want and we appreciate
what you are doing here today in the round table discussion to try to come to
some solution to this issue.
On behalf of the Official
Opposition I am today presenting three absolute conditions for reform.
- First, that all Private Members’ Bills and motions be
automatically votable unless requested otherwise by the sponsor of the
said bill or motion.
- Second, that no Private Members’ Business items would
be subject to amendment unless the amendment is seconded by the original sponsor
of the bill or motion. This would preclude the kind of poison pill
amendments that we recently and shamefully saw in the House on Bill C-344.
- Third, if a Private Members’ Bill passes a second
reading and makes it to committee, it must pass the committee stage in a
timely fashion and be reported back to the House within the four corners
of the original bill.
These are our requests.
Everything else is detail. We are not asking for more time than the five hours
per week in the current cycle. We are not asking for a model that would
diminish the time available for the government to conduct its own business
because I know it is very important to the government. In fact, we would be
prepared to help. It will be part of this discussion to look at possibly sitting
Tuesday and Thursday nights from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. to just discuss Private
We would be prepared to look
at the example of reducing the hours on Private Members’ Business from three
hours to two hours if they were all votable.
If our three democratic
reforms are met, I pledge today that there will be no obstruction or delay from
the Official Opposition in bringing long overdue reform to Private Members’
Garry Breitkreuz (Canadian
Alliance): There is a
real need to revitalize democracy within Parliament and within Canada. From my
experience of the last eight years as an MP. I really must underscore that we
should not fear triggering debates across the country.
Apathy has become one of the
significant problems within this country. We see the number of voters declining
within the country. People really feel disconnected from the entire process of
decision-making and one of the reasons that I have been fighting for years to
encourage people to scratch below the surface on the issues is because very
often at election time decisions are made without a proper understanding.
Private Members’ Business goes
to the very heart of this and can be one of the key tools that can revitalize
an interest in what is happening in Parliament and the issues that face the
Democracy does not work unless
people are informed of the issues and there is an effective opposition within
the country. That effective opposition can come in the way of holding the
government to account, introducing new topics that have not been introduced
Control has been centralized
within the country and we are all quite aware of this, within the cabinet and
Parliament, and this is a way of giving a much stronger voice to MPs. I would
conclude by saying that democracy must enable the people of Canada to have
their voice heard and respected. Private Members’ Business is a tool where
there would be a lot more input by the people of this country through their MP
into Parliament and that is why I think it is absolutely vital that we really
revitalize the whole area of Private Members’ Business. It strikes to the very
heart of what we do in this Parliament.
Jordan (Liberal): If you look at the purpose of Private Member’s Business, I do
not necessarily buy into the Opposition Leader’s premise that this is somehow a
system of democracy in crisis. I think that democracy is in evolution.
We have looked at other
jurisdictions as to how they handle Private Member’s Business. The United
States is a system of government where every bill is essentially a Private
Member’s Bill. If you look at the success rate of bills proposed to bills
adopted, it does not even come close to what we are doing here.
We had the Ontario Procedure
and House Affairs Committee before us last week. They told us that everything
is votable but the government can choose to refer any item to committee which
essentially kills it. So, you are giving with one hand and taking away with the
What is the purpose of Private
Members’ Business? Historically, as Private Members’ Business has dealt with
issues that are non-partisan issues. They are issues of national significance.
Historically, and I am not saying we are bound by these, there were issues that
did not involve expenditures by the government. You could not bind the
government to expenditures.
This goes back to the fact
that our system of government, rightly or wrongly, is based on the Westminster
model. If we are going to introduce a process for Private Member’s Bills that can
deal with absolutely anything, a separate instrument for initiating public
policy debates on issues, I think it is very important that we recognized
exactly what it is we are doing.
Right now when we say things
should not be non-partisan in Private Members’ Business, and I know there is a
great deal of frustration around it, you have got Opposition critics, or in
some cases Liberal committee chairs that are introducing bills that have
absolutely everything to do with their portfolios, it seems to be that we need
to have a very clear definition of what we are trying to do.
Private Members’ Business did
not start or cause a problem of disconnecting with voters. It is not going to
solve that either. I think we need to put it in perspective. I think we need to
look at the whole issue of empowering MPs, and the work of committees. But it
all starts with what is Private Members’ Business for.
If we are going to define
that, we need to get very specific with the criteria, remove the objectivity.
If you want them all votable, you have got to be prepared to extend hours,
otherwise you are going to have either a filter of a draw, or a filter of
simply the clock ticking and things will not get heard. If we are going to
initiate a process identical to government bills then that is a pretty big
change and we are going to have to give that a great deal of thought.
Ted White (Canadian
Alliance): For the
most part it would be fair to say that much of Private Members’ Business deals
with smaller issues, not necessarily unimportant issues, but smaller issues
that would often, if they were left to the government, have to be included in
an omnibus bill of some sort. So often it takes a long time for situations to
be addressed in omnibus fashion.
So one of the roles I see for
Private Members’ Business and I am sure the public see it this way as well, to
push through or implement issues that would have to wait a long time otherwise
to be dealt with.
Now, along with that theme, I
find it not only frustrating but frankly insulting that the system sets us up
as capable, thoughtful individuals who can study government legislation, make
amendments, and then finally vote on that legislation, but for some reason we
are not intelligent or capable enough to prepare small legislative measures
ourselves and submit them for debate and vote in the House.
I think there is a place for
that if we can be credited with the intelligence to study the government’s
legislation then surely it logically follows that we have enough intelligence
and ability to create small legislative measures ourselves.
Gerald Keddy (Progressive
purpose of Private Members’ Business should be viewed as a way of changing the
law or advancing an issue by discussing it in the House of Commons. I think we
are all in agreement on that.
One of the major problems we
have is time. Probably there is too much Private Members’ Business and not
enough separation of Private Members’ Bills and Private Member’s Motions.
Perhaps if motions were not votable and all Private Members’ Bills were
votable, you would have fewer bills and you would do a better job at it.
There is another discussion on
how we introduce these to the House and how we seek parity and equality between
all the parties and members in an attempt to get their bills forward. But
certainly a lot of Private Members’ Business can be deleterious or
obstructionist and I do not think a Private Member’s Bill should be. Perhaps
there is room for that in a motion. We really have to look at what is votable
and what is not. I think we are all in agreement that if you have a Private
Member’s Bill, it should be votable.
Paddy Torsney (Liberal): I think the role of Private Members’ Bills is to
highlight issues of local concern and to try and encourage the government to
act in a certain way. One of my Private Member’s Bills was on peanut allergies.
It would have revolutionized how information was dispensed in restaurants right
across this country. To suggest that would have been successful after two hours
of debate is somewhat naive, and to encourage a discussion about things and to
prod the government into action is probably a marker of success rather than
necessarily having the bill adopted holus-bolus.
A second Private Member’s Bill
I had was to get the government to move on game cards that were distributed.
Again, that was rolled into a piece of government legislation which the
government was involved with in a bigger consultation, so ultimately it was
successful but it was part of a bigger thing. So that is a role for Private
Members’ Business. To suggest that, for instance, we would change the Criminal
Code after two hours of debate is really quite naive and I would be very
concerned about any process that would, in fact, have that implication.
Mauril Bélanger (Liberal): I used to think that all Private
Members’ Business should not necessarily be votable. I have now changed my mind
because I have been put through a system which does not work. I was prepared to
have the bill that I sponsored be judged as to whether or not it should be made
votable on the criteria that the committee has agreed to use. So far I have
been unable to get an explanation as to why the bill that I put forward was
declared to be non-votable because it meets all five criteria. I am subject, as
we all are, to decisions that are made in camera, without explanation and
without appeal. That is where the whole system falls apart.
I would suggest to this group
that we find a way of putting a screen so that all items that get onto the Notice
Paper are votable. The notion here that I want to put forward is that you apply
the criteria before a bill or a motion is put on the Notice Paper, so that
whenever a member’s name is drawn in the lottery, he or she can pick whatever
item’s in there, a motion or a bill, and it would be votable. You still apply
the screen, the criteria that are set up. That is why you eliminate possible
I would suggest we go further
to remove that role of applying the criteria from the subcommittee that you
created because it is obviously an impossible task to ask of these members. It
does not work. Those who have been on it have seen that it does not work. Those
who have had to go through it see that it does not work. I would suggest that
we consider giving that task to table officers—here are the criteria, does this
proposed bill or motion meet the criteria? If so, it goes on the Notice Paper,
and if drawn, it is votable. If it is decided not to be votable, establish an
appeal mechanism of some sort, to the Speaker or to this full committee so that
decisions are made in the open and on the basis of the criteria—not on the
substance. I have been to the committee a few times and most of the debate was
on the substance as opposed to the criteria, whatever the criteria may be. That
can be decided.
I understand that there would
be a time difficulty, and I am not suggesting that we only consider doubling
the time. Maybe we can consider halving the time so that instead of speaking
for 10 minutes, members can speak for five. Instead of dealing with one in each
hour you can deal with two, and maybe we do not need three hours. Maybe we need
an hour and a half, of even one hour, so that over two periods you get the bill
I have a number of other
suggestions that are of a practical nature to break the bloody logjam, but I
will tell you that I have a bill there and I have yet to be told by anyone on
that subcommittee it does not meet the criteria, and yet, it cannot be made
votable. That is not fair to the people of this country. It is not fair to me,
and I really think that the system has to be fixed, not reinvented.
Yvon Godin (New Democratic
Party): I find
it hard to believe when I hear political parties say that they would like all
Private Members’ business to be votable, given that at the present time there
is a random draw – about 15 motions and bills are drawn and then, according to
the rules, up to six can be votable. Sometimes there is trouble finding even
two. All the parties are sitting around the table, making the decision.
I want to explain that where I
have difficulty is that first, I do not agree that everything should be
votable. That is clear. That is my opinion, that they should not
all be votable. But at least if we say they should be votable, the
Committee should have to come up with six votable items. There is
absolutely no reason not to find six votable motions, in my opinion.
Second, the Chair of the committee should never vote – you say that it is not
the government that decides which motion is votable, because there is one
person from each party. But with the Chair being from the Liberals, for
example, that means two Liberals who vote. They may not be capable of
forcing motions on the House, but they can block them, because it is five out
of six for authorization to bring motions before the House. So if there
are two who vote against, the motion does not go before the House. That
was the way it worked in the last committee I was on.
Now personally, I would like
just five of the parties to vote, and then out of the five, it would be four
making the decision. That I could see.
Something else I would like to
see, would be the government not having the right to interfere in Private
Members’ Business and passing motions, as we saw recently in the House.
After all, we are talking about Private Members’ Business. Let the
Members decide, not the government. In my opinion, that was terrible. It
should never have happened.
The final thing I would like
to suggest is that Members should not be able to go by the back door and
introduce a motion in the Senate that has already been raised in committee.
It is the same as a 10 percenter. You can not take a 10 percenter
that you are sending out in your riding and then send it somewhere else in the riding
if it is the same 10 percenter. So we should have the same procedure
here: if a Member has a motion that he could not get passed in committee,
he should not be able to go in by the back door, and go to the Senate, which is
obliged to consider it.
John Bryden (Liberal): I would suggest that for every
Parliament each MP be entitled to submit one private members bill and that bill
be deemed votable if it meets the appropriate criteria.
The problem is that
partisanship is a part of the process and we have to eliminate it. In my
particular instance, I had a bill when it went before the private members’
committee that was guaranteed not to pass because some opposition members would
be certain to be philosophically opposed to it. I am not criticizing them for
that. It’s normal to be partisan in this place. But the difficulty is if you
allow partisanship to determine the volatility of bills, then people like
myself who worked for seven years on a particular piece of legislation only to
see it fail, not because it did not meet the criteria but because members of
the sub-committee on Private Member’s Business naturally because of their
philosophical approach to politics in this country would reject the bill.
So I think Mr. Bélanger is
absolutely right. I too at one time thought that bills should not be all
votable. I now think they should be votable. There should be a fixed criteria
that we all understand and there should be an independent assessment of whether
the bills meet that criteria either through the table officer or otherwise. I
would further add that I agree that every member should have the opportunity in
a Parliament to have a bill that is votable but I deplore this practice that we
have now where members put in trivial bills, tie up the legislative counsel of
the House for bills that will never advance and they have no intention of
Réal Ménard (Bloc
think that every bill should be votable, but not necessarily debated for three
First of all, we have to put
an end to the lottery system. It just does not make sense to let chance
determine what matters should be brought before the House. At the beginning of
every year, in September, I think there should be a registry kept by the Clerk
of the House where members of Parliament could register motions or bills that
they wish to present during the year, from September to June.
We were told that nearly 30%
of the MPs table bills and motions, so not every MP is going to want to take
advantage of this, and every year, during the three or four years of the
Parliament, one hour could be set aside for each MP. So, in the case of a bill,
we could discuss it for one hour and then it would be referred to the committee
where it would be voted on, and then it would come back. In one hour, it is
possible to explain the measure and then debate it, providing the rules of the
game are known. We may see it three or four times during the year, but that
would imply that the government would agree to restrict the time reserved for
Since 1995, we know that the
government has played less of an activist role than it did during the 1980s,
and if we want members of Parliament and the people to have confidence in our
system, we need to increase the time set aside for private members’ business.
There are hardly ever any ministers in the House on Fridays. Question period is
not dynamic on Fridays. We would be much more useful, as members of Parliament
if the day were to start at 10 o’clock and go until 3 o’clock so that five, six
or seven hours could be spent on private members’ business. We could rejuggle
the schedule and find time to make private members’ business used more
There is a way to find time. We cannot say that this would be only once during
the Parliament, because we have a lot of ideas, more of a role to play.
I will conclude by saying that
we need to establish some criteria. I think that there should be two criteria
and these are the ones we face in court: the issue must not be frivolous or
ridiculous in nature, nor should it be hate-inspired. If the courts of law are
able to determine what constitutes a frivolous, ridiculous or hateful issue, I
think that the members of Parliament should be able to propose measures. If a
bill is not frivolous, if it is not hateful in what it seeks, it should be
votable, should the MP so desire.
Like several of my colleagues here today, I had the opportunity to work
for several years on the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business. For
me that experience was especially enriching and vital. It often happened that
the Chair did not vote, which I would say is quite an interesting phenomenon.
The most frustrating thing was
that we often had 10 items in front of us and only room for two that could be
votable, when there were maybe five, six or seven that deserved to be votable.
That’s very frustrating. All of them met the criteria otherwise
they would not be accepted. So we had to choose.
I heard Yvon say that he was
against the idea of all Private Members’ items being votable. On the
other hand, when the Subcommittee appears before the Committee on Procedure and
House Affairs, if there is room for six votable items, well, there have to be
six of them. But you could find yourself in a situation where, if you
argue that not all items should be votable, you might have 10 items in front of
you and none of them votable.
I do not think it will ever be
possible to resolve this dilemma. I think we should start from the
principle that parliamentarians, when they decide to support or reject a motion
or an item proposed by a fellow Member, are going to display the same judgment
as when they pronounce on government motions or bills. Everything should
be votable because I do not see how we can ever come up with something that
would be seen as fair by all our colleagues. For me, that is the first
The second thing that I think
is necessary, is that time should be organized so that we can get through a
reasonable number of them. Réal was talking about one item per Member per
year, and I think it is a pity, but that would be a lot. If we try to do
too much, we could end up missing the boat. So we should perhaps look at
time as well. There are plenty of Members who never do anything and would
not do any more no matter what.
So I think the time allowed in
the House for the introduction of a motion or bill should be reduced. I
think Private Members’ items should be votable, even though like the rest of
you I might think some of them are far-fetched. Who am I to decide that
something a colleague has presented is far-fetched?
Val Meredith (Canadian
Alliance): I think I
will introduce few new concepts and I am going to probably disagree with
members of all parties here.
First off, I disagree with my
colleagues on the idea that there should be more than one per parliamentary
session for every member, and the reason I say that is because my colleague
across the way, Mr. Breitkreuz has had dozens and I, for the first time this
parliament, got my name drawn. In the last parliament, my name was never drawn.
So I think that is unfair. For a member of Parliament to have to wait for their
name to be drawn and if it is not drawn, you have no opportunity let alone a
voting opportunity. So I think that there should be some allowance that every
single member of Parliament has an opportunity to put an idea on the table for
The other issue that I think
has to be brought up is that it is not good enough just to say that every item
should be votable. I had a Private Members’ Bill that did go through the House
of Commons unanimously, pass second reading, into committee stage at which
point I had to fight like anything to get the committee to even deal with it.
If I had not been sitting on that committee, it probably would never have been
brought up. I watched it go through the committee process where it was
completed destroyed and never reported back to Parliament. I would assume that
when an item is passed at second reading by Parliament, the least a committee
can do is review that bill and report it back to Parliament. I do not
think any committee in this House of Commons should have the right to take a
Private Members’ Bill and destroy it without even having to report back to
Parliament which is how the process works. So I think to have every Private
Members’ Bill votable is a worthy concept, but the system has to change beyond
that in order for that Private’s Members’ Bill to be dealt with respect and
through the parliamentary process.
(Canadian Alliance): You cannot be chosen votable unless you actually get drawn.
This is my frustration. I have been here for eight years. I have never been
drawn. I am extremely frustrated with that because I have some very fine
Private Member’s Bills that I have come up with, and I would love to have the
opportunity to try to persuade those other 300 members of Parliament that I
have a fine Private Member’s Bill that deserves support.
So I would like to propose that
we have a random list of all non-Cabinet members of Parliament. We could do
that right now: take all the present members and randomize them. From thereon a
permanent list would be kept, even crossing parliaments. When you move up to
the top of the list, your item is dealt with; when it is finished, you go to
the bottom of the list. Furthermore, if somebody, say, ceases to be a Cabinet
minister, they go to the bottom of the list. Soon we are going to have some
by-elections. They go to the bottom of the list and they keep on moving up.
Along comes a general election. We elect 85 new members. They are randomized
and added to the bottom of the list. Let them learn the scheme here before they
get in. As they move up, their item is dealt with and they go to the back and
it is a continually moving rotation. All members who do not want to have a
Private Member’s Bill would automatically, when they get to the top, be rotated
back to the bottom.
Now, with respect to the
question of volatility, I like the idea that has been floated by some that it
should be up to the member. When I have a motion or a bill that I only want to
have discussed and to bring public attention to it, all I have to do is declare
it: “This is a motion for debate and I do not want members to vote on it” and
let that be up the member, him or herself, to decide that. I think that should
be the only criterion.
With respect to frivolousness,
right now we have 700 pieces of legislation on Private Members’ Business. It
has tied up hours and hours of staff. It would be useless for me to put in a
whole bunch of bills. I would only be entitled to have library staff prepare
one bill or motion as I move up toward the date when I am going to be debating.
That way those resources could be used much more effectively and we would not
have this scheme of thousands of bills being introduced which are totally
meaningless. It is a shame to the public when we say, “So and so introduced his
Private Member’s Bill” and a whole bunch of Canadians get their expectations up.
I think we better start telling Canadians, “We have introduced this bill. It is
moving up. There will be a vote. Parliamentarians will have a chance to make a
decision on this. Talk to your MP if you support this bill, have him vote for
it”, and let us go through the normal democratic process on these things. That
I think will do more than a lot of things that are contemplated these days to
improve the reputations that we have as parliamentarians.
Carolyn Parrish (Liberal): I want to suggest that you be careful
what you wish for because my distinct feeling is, if all bills become votable
the lobbying you will be subjected to will burn you out. The attention you are
going to have to pay to all these bills will be phenomenal and those who do not
want to put in Private Members’ Bills will be forced to do so, even if they do
not want to because their public is watching. I think, human nature being what
it is and the party system being what it is, it is going to result in whip
votes but that is just my opinion.
As far as the committee is
concerned, I also resent hearing that it does not work. When we first started
the committee—when it was first invented—there were only three parties in the
House so it was a very tight committee of four people—two opposition, two
liberals. It was deciding its recommendations on consensus, it worked
beautifully for the first couple of years. What you have now is four
opposition members and two liberals, so the thing is totally out of whack and
it is too large. I have a suggestion in that you go back to four with the four
opposition parties rotating, two per draw. But, if you are going to have
everything votable, that is an irrelevant suggestion.
The size of that committee is
too big, that is what the problem is there and you are becoming partisan in
that you have four opposition and two liberals. If you make them all votable I
think you have to rework the criteria and leaving it to table officers is a
cop-out. This is a political venue and politicians have to look at the criteria
and have to decide if the bill fits. You would be insane to give that to table
officers and they would be insane to do it.
I think you also have to bring
in a very strong criteria that says no bill shall be put into the bin or
wherever it goes if it is reworking government legislation that has just been
discussed in the House. Some members do get polled six or seven times and their
bills have the same theme each time and it is a theme that has already been
decided by the government and so it is an enormous waste of time.
Dale Johnston (Canadian Alliance): I would just like to make a few observations. We have talked
about everybody in the House getting a Private Member’s Bill and I think that
is a good idea but I think we should first recognize that there are some people
who will not be eligible to get Private Members’ Business on the Order Paper,
that is the Prime Minister, the cabinet, the parliamentary secretaries and the
secretaries of state.
That brings the number down to
around 220 or 230 people who will have the opportunity. I think we should be
able to work most of those people into the hours that are now set aside for
Private Members’ Business.
The draw should only determine
the order of precedence in which those bills or members appear on the order paper.
If my name is the first or second or third one drawn and I do not have a bill
prepared, I should be able to negotiate with one of my colleagues, or even, in
fact, with anyone in the House, as to whether they want to take my spot and I
would take a spot lower down in the order of precedence.
I have heard quite a lot from
Carolyn Parrish about the merits of that committee but I think if we were to
make all Private Members’ Business votable and along the lines I have been
talking about here, then we would do away with the need for that committee
In fact, Private Members’
Business to me, has some things in common with Citizens’ Initiative. A Private
Member’s Bill gives a private MP an opportunity to bring something forth on the
national agenda on behalf of their constituents and it is all about
empowerment. I am sure that is what my colleagues were referring to when they
said this goes right to the basics of democracy.
I think if we were to do those
few things, a lot of people would be a lot better off. If you are opposed to
having votable motions or bills, you simply can skip your turn when it comes up
or bargain it away for a couple of duty days that someone will do for you, or
whatever. It would be something that is coming to you if you want it. If you do
not want it, nobody is forcing you to do it.
Editor’s Note: On June 12, 2002, the Committee made
a number of recommendations aimed at addressing concerns expressed during the
Round Table. For details see the House of Commons legislative report.