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 - Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The CBC reports that three Conservative MPs put their concerns about the Nexen deal in writing.
A third Conservative MP, LaVar Payne of Medicine Hat, Alta., wrote to Paradis Aug. 21, 2012 to raise “grave” concern about the human rights record of China — calling it “far from stellar.” “It is my belief that Canadian laws must prevail, and that if we were to allow a state-owned company of a foreign nation that brutally represses its own citizens to buy a strategic asset here, we would be setting a very dangerous precedent,” he wrote. He also flagged potential problems with the “lack of environmental concern” by the regime in Beijing.
“I do believe that the Chinese administration has little to no regard for environmental preservation, and this is another area of concern,” he said.
That actually makes four MPs who are on record as objecting after James Bezan’s objections were disclosed last November.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 10:19 AM - 0 Comments
Bill C-377, the union disclosure bill which John Geddes wrote about last month, will come to a vote in the House this evening. Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber, who expressed concerns about the bill in October, is planning to vote against it.
Some Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the bill. Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber said the amendments would improve it, but he plans to oppose it because it is based on a “fallacious” premise that receiving a tax deduction is the same as getting federal tax dollars. Mr. Rathgeber, a former labour lawyer who represented management, said he expects other Conservative MPs to join him in voting against the bill.
“As a legislator, I’m just having a difficult time determining exactly what the public interest is in this type of legislation,” he said. Mr. Rathgeber said unions are essentially private clubs like law societies or industry associations that benefit from tax deductions. “So I just cannot accept the premise that tax-deducted union dues is somehow akin to public dollars and therefore creating a public interest,” he said.
At second reading, the vote split along party lines: Conservatives in favour, New Democrats and Liberals against. With full attendance, the Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois, Elizabeth May and Bruce Hyer number 142. The Conservatives (and Peter Goldring) number 165. So another 11 Conservatives—depending on total turnout—would have to join Mr. Rathgeber to defeat the bill.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 9, 2012 at 4:29 PM - 0 Comments
Earlier this week, John Geddes looked closer at Conservative MP Russ Hiebert’s bill on union disclosure.
The bill’s union opponents protest that if the tax deductibility of dues means their finances must be fully transparent, the same should go for professional and business organizations—from lawyers’ and doctors’ groups to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business—whose membership fees are also deductible. In any case, labour law is largely a provincial jurisdiction, and labour codes in most provinces already require unions to disclose financial information to their members. The Canada Labour Code does the same for unions under federal jurisdiction. Hiebert argues, though, that the public, not just the union rank and file, deserve access to that information. As well, he points out that U.S. law requires detailed disclosure, which means the best source of fine-grained financial data on any Canadian unions affiliated with American unions is often the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
Still, while Hiebert professes to be for transparency, and not against unions, his allies are hardly friends of organized labour. Merit Canada, the national lobby group for the “open shop,” or non-unionized, construction industry, has thrown its support behind Bill C-377. Merit has mounted a campaign under the slogan, “Why is big labour afraid of the light?” According to a publicly disclosed report filed with the federal lobbyists’ registry, Merit’s representatives met on Oct. 23 with Hiebert and Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s powerful chief of staff. Also attending that top-level lobbying session were Alykhan Velshi, Harper’s director of planning, and two senior officials from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s department.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 29, 2012 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Unions are private clubs; they are not public institutions. They serve only the interests of their members arguably counter to the public interest by bidding up wages. The public has very limited access to expenditures and salaries at public institutions (Privacy Legislation prevented my quest to obtain the salaries of Peter Mansbridge, Rick Mercer and George Stroumboulopoulos). So exactly why does the public have a legitimate interest in knowing the salary of a union President or the aforementioned Sally the Receptionist?? A very good but not easily answered question. The proponents of C-377 argue that the tax deductibility of union dues somehow creates a public interest in what the collector of those dues does with them. According to the theory, tax deductibility equals forgone revenue to the treasury, which makes it akin to public money and thereby creating a public right to know how the forgone tax dollars are spent.
A dubious proposition because tax deducted dollars are not public dollars; they are private dollars that the state has chosen not to tax. Moreover if tax deductibility truly created a public interest, it would have to be more consistently applied. As a lawyer, my law society fees are tax deductible. Does that mean that the public has a right to know what the Law Society pays its staff?? I would argue no and certainly there is no existing obligation for the Law Society to disclose. As a member of the club, I believe I have a right to know but do not see a similar right for non-members of the club.
For other concerns, see this op-ed by two business professors.
Mr. Rathgeber, along with seemingly every other Conservative present, voted in favour of the bill at second reading
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 11:26 AM - 0 Comments
Canada Day video greetings from Jason Kenney, Ted Opitz, Cheryl Gallant, Peggy Nash, Jinny Sims, Colin Carrie, Joyce Murray, Wayne Marston, Craig Scott, John Weston, Ralph Goodale, Elizabeth May, Robert Chisholm, Claude Gravelle, Christine Moore, Laurin Liu, Ray Boughen, James Lunney, Russ Hiebert, Jack Harris, Peter Braid, Steven Blaney, Randy Kamp and, expressing their best wishes in rather similar words, Daryl Kramp, James Bezan, Randy Hoback, Diane Finley, Ed Holder, Ryan Leef, Bob Zimmer, Dave MacKenzie,John Carmichael, Bal Gosal, Costas Menegakis and Parm Gill.
After the jump, a video from the Prime Minister and statements from Thomas Mulcair and Bob Rae. Continue…
By Mitchel Raphael - Monday, October 17, 2011 at 8:05 AM - 4 Comments
Harper’s final chapter
For several years Stephen Harper… has been working on a book
Harper’s final chapter
For several years Stephen Harper has been working on a book about hockey. The PM can finally use one of the Conservatives’ favourite catchphrases: “Getting the job done.” Word is the book is written. A publication date has yet to be announced.
A cake for Clement
During question period, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus has been counting the days that Treasury Board President Tony Clement has refused to answer questions about what Angus calls the G8 “slush fund.” The MP says that on the 150th day, in the first week of November, he will present the cabinet minister with a cake and, he jokes, “maybe it will have a file in it.” Senior Tory cabinet ministers have expressed embarrassment to Capital Diary that Clement has not risen to explain himself (or apologize, if necessary). Foreign Minister John Baird gets up to answer questions on his behalf, although Clement is sitting right next to him. Perhaps there’s a double standard regarding which ministers can answer questions in the House: Defence Minister Peter MacKay recently rose to answer queries about his use of aircrafts. Liberal MP Judy Sgro says that under Jean Chrétien, ministers had to answer their own questions. There was only one exception: if the opposition called for a minister to resign, Chrétien took the question.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at 9:17 AM - 80 Comments
Last week, as part of a series of posts on MP expenses, Canwest’s David Akin noted that Conservative Russ Hiebert had spent more than any other MP on travel outside his constituency. This was duly noticed by the Vancouver Sun. Mr. Hiebert eventually explained the costs were incurred transporting his wife and young daughters back and forth between Ottawa and his B.C. riding.
A public debate ensued. The sign outside his constituency office was pointedly vandalized. Glen Pearson came to his defence. The CBC’s Alison Crawford carefully considered the intersection of family, politics and public money. And now Mr. Hiebert says he’ll look at what he can do to reduce his spending.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, November 22, 2009 at 7:42 PM - 2 Comments
Richard Colvin testified that he and his colleagues in the field began informing Ottawa about the treatment of detainees in May 2006. He left Afghanistan in October 2007 and most of his testimony covered events in between.
Herein, in the first of three posts covering relevant public comments made during Question Period, a collection of QP exchanges from April 5, 2006 to October 2, 2006. Continue…
Of all the committees on the Hill, the CHRC wound up here? Liveblogging the Subcommittee on Int'l Human Rights
By kadyomalley - Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 12:00 PM - 18 Comments
ITQ has to admit that she’s a little bit curious as to how, exactly, officials from the Canadian Human Rights Commission wound up on the witness list at the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, which begins its study of “human rights commissions” this afternoon. It’s not that she doesn’t think it’s a worthy topic — goodness knows there’s enough confusion and controversy surrounding the issue — but doesn’t this particular committee usually stick to topics with an international focus? Human rights in China, persecution of religious minorities in Iran, the possible repatriation of Omar Khadr – you know, that kind of thing? Maybe the CHRC is just here to help MPs get their bearings on the various raisons d’etre of CHRC’s global counterparts. Nevertheless, she’ll be there for today’s meeting, which will also include an appearance by Alan Borovoy, general counsel to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Greetings, fans of chronically undercovered committee meetings chaired by the perpetually effervescent Scott “Not The Evil One. Wait, Which One Do You Consider The “Evil” One Again?” Reid! ITQ managed to make it to the Reading Room just before the macadamia cookies ran out, and can report there is a sizeable contingent of witnesses and onlookers on the scene already — from what she can overhear of the ongoing convesations, there are at least a half dozen or so representatives from the CHRC, including deputy chief commissioner David Langtry, Sebastien Sigouin and Monette Maillet; Alan Borovoy is also present and accounted for, but beyond that, I’m not entirely sure who’s who.
So far, I’m the only reporter here — although that could be due to my pathological punctuality — and a few MPs are starting to arrive, including Russ Hiebert, who was responsible for the motion that established this particular study, and the NDP’s Wayne Marston. For the Bloc, we have – or will have, according to the nameplates, Eve-Mary Thai Thi Lac, and Mario Silva and Irwin Cotler will be up for the Liberals. On the government side, we have David Sweet – who I remember quite fondly from the Khadr hearings – and – wait, is that Bob Rae? It is! I wonder whose spot he’s taking?
Anyway, w should be getting underway soon.
And – here we go!
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 15, 2009 at 2:57 PM - 62 Comments
Excluding those born outside Canada, the following Conservative MPs have lived, studied or worked outside the country.
Jim Flaherty, Lisa Raitt, Brian Jean, Russ Hiebert, Jason Kenney, Maurice Vellacott, Mike Allen, Ray Boughen, Barry Devolin, Garry Breitkreuz, Ed Holder, Randy Kamp, Pierre Lemieux, Ben Lobb, Phil McColeman, Cathy McLeod, Scott Reid, Greg Rickford, Andrew Saxton and John Weston.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 27, 2009 at 1:09 PM - 7 Comments
The Conservative backbencher asks a question during QP this morning.
“Mr. Speaker, our government has always maintained that the last thing our economy needs is a job-killing carbon tax. Unfortunately, the Liberal Party continues to consider this irresponsible idea. The Liberal leader campaigned on it during his leadership race and vigorously defended it as a priority of a Liberal government just last fall. Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry please tell the House how the Liberal leader’s flawed policy ideas risk damaging Canadian industry?”