Opposition leaders' joint press
HARPER, DUCEPPE AND LAYTON PROPOSE CHANGES TO THE STANDING ORDERS OF THE HOUSE
For immediate release: Thursday, September 09, 2004
Ottawa, September 9, 2004 - The Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Stephen Harper, the Leader of the Bloc Québécois, Gilles Duceppe, and the Leader of the New Democratic Party, Jack Layton, are proposing a series of changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons - changes that should be adopted as soon as the House resumes.
“The current rules of the House of Commons were adopted mainly in the context of a majority government, in order to respond to the needs of a majority government. However, in the last federal election, the people chose to give the majority of the seats in the House of Commons to members of the opposition parties. In order to respect the people’s will, we believe that the Standing Orders should be changed according to the new context of a minority government,” said Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton.
“The political situation profoundly changed on July 28, 2004. We must recognize this new reality and use it to improve the operation of the House and give more power to individual MPs. For years, opposition parties have been demanding these changes, which will improve the long-term operation of the House as well,” they added.
House of Commons
The leaders of the CPC, the Bloc and the NDP believe that MPs must have more opportunities to express themselves in the House of Commons. They propose that elected representatives have a greater capacity in the House of Commons to ask questions and make commentaries in response to interventions. The opposition leaders also believe that MPs should be allowed to vote on all opposition motions, including on the ratification of international treaties and on Canadian participation in armed conflicts, as well as on concurrence motions for committee reports.
The leaders propose that if at least four MPs who sit on a parliamentary committee deem it necessary, a meeting must be called within five days following the request. The current time frame is 10 days.
Stephen Harper, Gilles Duceppe and Jack Layton also propose the creation of two new House committees, dedicated to Women’s Issues and Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. Considering the scope of the task of the Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Natural Resources, they propose it be divided into two separate committees.
Chairs and Deputy Chairs
In order to take into account the preponderance of opposition MPs in the House of Commons, the three leaders propose to change the election procedure of the Deputy Speaker of the House and Chairman of Committees of the Whole, the Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole, and the Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole. The candidates to those positions would be proposed to the House by the Speaker for ratification, after consultation with all the leaders of the recognized parties.
For the majority of committees, the elected chair should come from the party in power, the first vice-chair from the Official Opposition, and the second vice-chair from another opposition party. The only exceptions would be for the Public Accounts Committee, the Government Operations Committee, and the Committee on Privacy, Access to Information and Ethics, which would be chaired by members of the Official Opposition, with the first vice-chair coming from the governing party, and the second vice-chair from another opposition party.
Finally, since a minority government is fragile by nature, the three leaders propose that a definition of a confidence vote must be established in the Standing Orders. They suggest that only the final vote on the Speech from the Throne, the final vote on the Budget, global votes on the Main Estimates and votes explicitly identified as questions of confidence be considered as such. “For us, accountability means establishing a clear definition of the different types of votes of confidence in the Standing Orders,” they said.
“Our joint proposal is constructive and is intended to tackle the democratic deficit, a goal that Paul Martin seems to cherish so much. If he is consistent and if he really understood the message sent by the voters, Prime Minister Paul Martin will have no choice but to welcome our suggestions,” said the three leaders.
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