By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 0 Comments
After QP today, Conservative MP Russ Hiebert became the latest government backbencher to speak in support of Mark Warawa’s question of privilege.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the privilege raised prior regarding Standing Order 31, known as members’ statements.
Other members have already addressed a number of important points, which I will not dwell on in detail in my comments, including, (1) that without the right of all members to speak freely, this institution simply cannot function properly; (2) that the period of statements was originally intended to give members equal opportunities to raise issues; (3) that other opportunities for debate in this House, such as debate on a bill, reflect the principle that all members have the right to speak, even if their name does not appear on the list submitted by a party; (4) that the decision by Speaker Sauvé to ask parties for guidance or lists of members to speak was done solely as a matter of efficiency for the Speaker, and was never intended to give the various parties a veto over who could speak; (5) that conventions are not the same as rules and can be revised when needed to reflect current realities; (6) that S. O. 31s were not intended to be used as partisan; and, (7) that even if we view our parties as akin to hockey teams, the Commons is more like a House league than the NHL, and you, as the convener, Mr. Speaker, need to step in when some players are not getting equal time on the ice.
As I said, I will not examine these points in further detail, but instead I hope to add to your understanding of the issue, Mr. Speaker, by examining the history of Standing Order 31.
It is perhaps not surprising to learn that members have used various conduits to make statements since at least the time of Confederation. According to the Annotated Standing Orders of the House of Commons, second edition, the rules which guide the period for statements by members place the antecedents back to at least 1867.
For about 60 years following Confederation, a rule existed which permitted motions to be proposed without notice, provided unanimous consent had been granted by the House. In the early to mid-1920s, however, the use of such motions experienced a marked increase.
In 1927, the House agreed to a recommendation that the standing orders be amended so that unanimous consent would only be sought in cases of “urgent and pressing necessity previously explained by the mover”. The rule, as amended, was thereafter infrequently employed for decades, until around 1968, when MPs increasingly began to rise daily, choosing to do so in the time before question period to move motions that often demonstrated no urgent or pressing necessity.
In 1975, the House amended its standing orders to stipulate that such motions should only be moved by non-ministers during a restricted time period to be held before oral questions.
It is noted by O’Brien and Bosc that the moving of these motions prior to oral questions became, throughout the remainder of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, a common, although misused and often time consuming feature of the proceedings of the House.
In 1982, the House accept the Special Committee on Standing Orders and Procedures recommendation that it abolish this rule, which was called Standing Order 43, and institute a new renumbered standing order, Standing Order 31, that would have as its purpose to allow MPs to make statements on current issues on a daily basis during the first 15 minutes of a sitting.
I believe the key point that history teaches us is that members need to be assured reasonable opportunities to speak in this House, and should they be denied fair access, they may feel forced to use other opportunities the standing orders provide to ensure that their constituents concerns are represented.
The House has wisely recognized this tendency, and rather than allowing certain rules to be used in unintended ways, to better accommodate the needs of members, the House has instead set aside specific times for members to have their say. Thus we have Standing Order 31.
However, S. O. 31s are not unique to our House of Commons. The Australian House of Representatives has a practice that is broadly similar to the period our Parliament has, and they too set aside time for statements by members. During the time designated for non-government business, a 15 minute period is set aside prior to their question time for members’ 90 second statements. During this time, any member, other than a minister or a parliamentary secretary, may be called by the Speaker of the House to make a statement on any topic. In calling which member is to speak, the Speaker alternates between government and non-government members, with those who have not spoken given preference over those who have spoken already. Independent members are also called upon with the frequency appropriate to their relative representation in the House.
Likewise, the British House of Commons provides time for members’ statements, as do the legislatures of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.
I will spare the House the details of each of these variations on the times allotted, the number of speakers each day and so on, but I will emphasize that there are two important points to be drawn generally from the various legislatures.
The first is that such statement periods are reserved for legislators who are not members of the cabinet. As ministers, they generally have a separate set of speaking privileges and opportunities assigned to them in each legislature. Fundamentally, the widespread and codified existence of a period for statements in so many different legislative bodies recognizes the need of legislators everywhere to have an outlet to briefly express their various needs or concerns.
A second lesson that we can draw from Westminster and the provinces is that in many instances, it is the codified practice that the Speaker alone decides on the rotation of the speakers and not the various parties. This is to say that the Speaker can be aided by a list, but is not bound by one. The Speaker is rightfully seen in these many legislatures as an impartial referee who determines that the right to speak is apportioned equally to all members, regardless of party affiliation.
I would urge you, Mr. Speaker, to consider that if members in this place are to be accorded equal speaking rights under S. O. 31, then you and you alone can guarantee that these rights are respected.
Indeed, our own House recognizes this very principle of equal time already when it comes to private members’ business. Under private members’ business, every member who is not a member of the cabinet has an equal opportunity to participate. The schedule of who gets to participate in introducing private legislation is arranged in a rotation, regardless of party affiliation, as we all know. The same principle should apply to S. O. 31. A rotating schedule would allow every MP an equal opportunity to participate in this critically important speaking opportunity.
I am aware of members who have suggested that if we want to speak freely in this place, we should become an independent. I know we all agree that free speech is fundamental to the proper working of this institution. The idea that someone should have to leave their party just to be able to make a one minute statement in the House is simply not justified or reasonable, nor is there any precedent for this drastic step in other parliaments.
Considering all the points that have been made, Mr. Speaker, I would urge you to consider this: There will always exist in our parliamentary system a tension between the demands of a party and the direction an individual member might want to take in representing his or her constituents. It is clear to me that under our system of government, sometimes the demands of the party will need to take to precedence if the government is to govern effectively, such as when it comes to support for a budget or other key government legislation.
However, there are also times when the rights of a member to speak freely should be paramount. Standing Order No. 31, speaking slots, is one of those times. After all, these statements are merely words, no matter how contentious some of the subjects raised might be. There is no vote or any other action that can be taken during a one minute statement that is going to topple a government or cause an election. There is nothing to fear on the part of any party from ensuring members’ rights to speak freely in the House are guaranteed.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you certify that the true spirit and intent of S. O. 31 are upheld by accepting the arguments in favour of the member for Langley’s point of privilege and ensuring that members’ statements be assigned equally on a rotating basis to all qualifying members of the House.
Mr. Warawa will apparently announce tomorrow whether he will appeal the committee ruling on Motion 408 to the House. And Conservative MP Brad Trost continues to gather support for his motion that would have committee chairs elected by a vote of the House. NDP MP Kennedy Stewart confirmed his support for Mr. Trost’s motion today. (Mr. Stewart has his own motion which seeks to study changes to the way citizens can petition Parliament.)
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:13 PM - 0 Comments
NDP MP Kennedy Stewart has tabled a motion to study opening up the House to online petitions, including the possibility of a mechanism whereby those petitions could trigger debates.
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to recommend changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions so as to establish an electronic petitioning system that would enhance the current paper-based petitions system by allowing Canadians to sign petitions electronically, and to consider, among other things, (i) the possibility to trigger a debate in the House of Commons outside of current sitting hours when a certain threshold of signatures is reached, (ii) the necessity for no fewer than five Members of Parliament to sponsor the e-petition and to table it in the House once a time limit to collect signatures is reached, (iii) the study made in the 38th Parliament regarding e-petitions, and that the Committee report its findings to the House, with proposed changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions, within 12 months of the adoption of this order.
It could conceivably be modelled on the White House’s online petitioning hub—and conceivably that could lead to an important parliamentary debate on the feasibility of building a Death Star—or the UK model for online petitions.
The future of government is probably going to involve open data and the future of Parliament should probably involve more direct and open engagement with the public.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 2, 2012 at 3:13 PM - 0 Comments
On Tuesday afternoon, the NDP’s Kennedy Stewart rose during statements by members with the following.
Mr. Speaker, since returning from the summer session, Conservative MPs have been sullying this House with fabricated policies and outright untruths. The member for Lethbridge is the perfect example. Instead of representing his constituents in this House, he knowingly aids his Ottawa bosses in propagating these falsehoods. Canadians have become adept at recognizing when their tax dollars are being misused. When they see a member standing in this House to repeat statements they know are untrue, Canadians see right through it. The message is simple: the member thinks it is more important to stand and attack the NDP on behalf of his Ottawa bosses than represent his constituents. This misguided regurgitation of falsehoods by the Conservatives is nothing short of an embarrassment. I encourage the next speaker to find the courage to stand up and speak for her riding, do what is right for her constituents, what is right for this House and what is right for them.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
An exchange from Monday’s budget debate between the NDP’s Kennedy Stewart and Conservative MP Terrence Young.
Kennedy Stewart. Mr. Speaker, I have a question about what is missing in the budget implementation act. On page 32 of the Conservative 2008 platform entitled “The True North Strong and Free”, under the heading “Developing a Cap and Trade System to Cut Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions” it promises that a re-elected Conservative government will implement the cap and trade system between the years 2012 and 2015. I want to ask the member how that is coming along.
Terrence Young. Mr. Speaker, once again, the NDP do not understand the difference between a revenue neutral cap and trade system where businesses trade or we trade even within countries, such as we were planning to do within North America, and a carbon tax, which is a revenue grab from consumers to spend in whatever way the NDP would like. There was a plan in 2006 to have a cap and trade system with our American partner, but it was not willing so that did not happen. It is pretty simple…
Cap-and-trade is, of course, what the NDP has proposed. A “carbon tax” is how the Conservatives now describe the NDP’s cap-and-trade proposal.
As we’ve explained before, there are two ways to devise a cap-and-trade system: one in which the government sells emissions credits and takes in revenue from those sales and one in which the government gives away emissions credits and companies take in revenue from selling those credits amongst each other. It’s not clear that what the Conservatives were proposing between 2004 and 2009 wouldn’t have resulted in government revenue. (I’ve asked for evidence of that, but have yet to receive any. For whatever it’s worth, the American cap-and-trade system was expected to generate government revenue.) When John Baird was proclaiming his government’s eagerness to establish a price on carbon in 2008, that money would have gone to a “technology fund.”
But, again, it doesn’t matter, at least so far as the Conservatives are currently concerned. Mr. Young can assert a difference between a “a revenue neutral cap and trade system” and “a carbon tax,” but his government’s position is that anything that puts a price on carbon—which any cap-and-trade system does—is a tax on carbon. So, at least so far as the Conservatives are concerned, there is no difference to be understood.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 29, 2012 at 10:59 AM - 0 Comments
Nearly a hundred employees at the National Research Council have received affected notices.
“There’s a much larger game afoot but it’s being rolled out in a really stealthy way,” said Kennedy Stewart, the NDP critic for science and technology. “When we look back in a couple of years we’ll see that it really is part of a larger plan and it will probably have an impact on our international standing.”
On Thursday, 94 National Research Council employees across the country received notification letters that their services “may no longer be required,” according to a statement released that day by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. Those employees include scientists, researchers and business development officers who work in the life sciences, engineering, and business management divisions. They are located in Halifax, Moncton, Fredericton, London, Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa, the union’s statement said. ”This is another example of the government’s wrong-headed approach to the NRC,” the union’s president Gary Corbett said in the statement.
See previously: The quiet cuts
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at 12:13 PM - 0 Comments
The ideas, amendments and complaints raised are likely all worth consideration, especially for fans of such stuff, but various matters of general interest came up: including time allocation, Question Period, petitions and statements by members.
Below, some chosen highlights. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 1:23 PM - 0 Comments
Kennedy Stewart wants to bring parliamentary democracy into the social media age.
Brought forward by Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart, the motion seeks to amend standing orders so that petitions brought forward by constituents and approved get put online so the public can see them and sign them. The motion also calls for automatic debate on those petitions that generate more than 50,000 signatures … Stewart is calling for a dedicated website where petitions could be posted for public viewing and electronic signing. They’ll be closed and archived after six months and those that receive significant support will be debated for one hour, after regular parliamentary business.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
During QP yesterday, Megan Leslie became the first MP to work the names of Canada’s new pandas into a question about the government’s credibility.
Mr. Speaker, even the Prime Minister’s new BFF is shocked by his disregard for Canada’s international commitments. No, not Er Shun and Ji Li but China, was joined by India, Brazil and South Africa in condemning the Conservative withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol. They said they seriously question the government’s credibility and sincerity on climate change and they slammed Canada for casually setting aside our existing legal commitments. Why will the government not stop working against Canada’s national interest and start defending our reputation?
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 10:31 AM - 6 Comments
Libby Davies has decided not to run for the NDP leadership. Peter Julian hasn’t announced a decision, but he picked up two more endorsements yesterday from within the NDP caucus: MPs Isabelle Morin and Kennedy Stewart.
That gives Mr. Julian four MPs (Morin, Stewart, Brian Masse and Rathika Sitsabaiesan). Thomas Mulcair has the endorsements of eight MPs (Robert Aubin, Francois Lapointe, Jamie Nicholls, Marie-Claude Morin, Alexandrine Latendresse, Pierre Nantel, Claude Patry and Marc-Andre Morin). Brian Topp has the public support of one (Francoise Boivin).