Canada, House of Commons Debates, “Mr. McGrath—Special Joint Committee on Constitution”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (24 October 1980)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 4072-4075.
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POINT OF ORDER
MR. McGRATH—SPECIAL JOINT COMMITTEE ON CONSTITUTION
Hon. James A. McGrath (St. John’s East): Madam Speaker, the only reason I rise on a point of order now before you call the orders of the day is because the government House leader is about to leave the House, and perhaps I can be permitted to raise my point of order now.
Madam Speaker: The hon. member has a point of order?
Mr. McGrath: Yes, madam Speaker. It deals with business of the House. I realize that perhaps the government House leader has an important engagement. I do so in the relative peace and tranquility of a Friday session, and I am sure the hon. gentleman will appreciate what I am about to say in light of the very serious questions raised in the House today regarding an order of this House established last night setting up a joint committee of the House and the other place. Today the Acting Prime Minister referred to the committee being the master of its own destiny. But the committee can only operate
within the terms of reference laid down for it by this House. That order does not permit the committee to travel in Canada.
In view of the petitions, questions, and representations which have been made, and in view of the invocation of closure on the debate after a very small percentage of hon. members of this House had an opportunity to participate, thereby depriving many regions of the country and the vast majority of the constituencies of Canada of the opportunity to be directly represented in the debate on the most important issue of the constitution, perhaps the most important issue to come before Parliament this century, I would ask the government House leader whether the government is now prepared to issue an order permitting that committee to travel from place to place in Canada, through all the provinces and territories, in order that the people who were not represented in the debate through their members will have a chance to appear.
Hon. Yvon Pinard (President of the Privy Council): Madam Speaker, on October 6, when Parliament was reconvened, the member was aware of the content of the motion. And his party chose to extend this first stage to three weeks, thus shortening accordingly the committee stage. Now, Madam Speaker, on the first point, since this is a quiet Friday, I may remind the Conservative members that they chose to shorten the time in committee by taking more time in the House. May I also add, on this quiet Friday, that if his party had agreed to our offer to sit between six and eight o’clock on Thursday and Monday, and from ten o’clock to midnight on Thursday and Monday, and also on Monday and Tuesday last, an offer which I made to his party, more members could have taken part in the debate. This must also appear on the record and be thoroughly understood by the right-minded members on this quiet Friday.
As to his question whether the committee will travel, I will tell him frankly and as directly as possible that the answer is no. Several committees have travelled across the country to deal with the constitutional issue in the last few years. During the Quebec referendum campaign last spring, several members, even some of his party, campaigned on Canadian unity and made the headlines in all newspapers and media throughout the country. The intentions of the people have been sounded. They have been sensitized. That is why the committee has been set up. It is because I respect my colleague, the hon. member for St. John’s East (Mr. McGrath), that I am telling him why the deadline for the committee report is December 9. The very essence, the very reason for the creation of the committee stage as part of our approach and procedure is to allow the committee to consider the technical amendments which may be proposed to polish and improve, if there is room for improvement, the resolution which is relatively complex.
In conclusion, I would say that we could very well have tabled the resolution right in Parliament. It would have been a simple motion, a single stage, a single phase and, given all the obligations it has to meet, the House would have had to study it clause by clause. Given his vast experience of the House of Commons, my knowledgeable colleague knows very well that with 282 members, after three weeks of debate, we would probably still be stuck on clause 2 or clause 3 and considering a number of subamendments. The consequence of that kind of procedure would have been to paralyse the Canadian Parliament altogether, confuse the public and make the debate completely sterile.
The approach we have chosen allows for three stages: a preliminary stage which we had to interrupt yesterday for reasons which have been thoroughly discussed in the last few days, but that was only one stage. We have not ended the debate for good.
There is the committee stage, the purpose of which is not to have the hon. members travel throughout the country to take the nation’s pulse. Again, we have very often followed such a procedure in the past few years. The purpose of the committee stage is to further consideration for this institution and to let us, in an orderly way, smooth out the text, and if needs be, to hear a few witnesses liable to provide us with the precisions we might need. And ultimately, there we will be the formal debate, following presentation of the committee report, and this debate technically will not be limited and is not intended to be limited provided that hon. members show the good faith which they have unfortunately not shown at the first stage when they rejected the delay we had suggested.
Therefore, I repeat it: the debate is far from being over. The purpose of the committee is not to travel-I will not come back on this, as I just explained-and there will be a third stage at which point ample time will be given hon. members to hold a responsible debate. In conclusion, I want to clearly indicate to the hon. member that the government will always be prepared to assume its responsibilities as far as parliamentary procedure is concerned to permit this institution to work. It is a matter of judgment. Canadians will pass judgment on us if we do not abide by the rules. However, we are fully aware of the fact that until now, far from having misused the rules, far from having misused the procedure, we have shown great respect for hon. members opposite, for the people and for the procedure in this chamber. And once again, it must be clear that the debate is not yet over, that this is just another stage and that this will allow us to demonstrate to the public at large that Parliament can play its role by discussing the constitution in committee and by dealing with economic matters on the floor of the House.
Mr. McGrath: I am sorry, Madam Speaker, that my hon. friend’s answer was so unnecessarily argumentative and convoluted. Now that we know that this most important joint committee of the Parliament of Canada on Canada’s constitu-
tion will not be permitted to travel outside of this capital city to the provinces and territories of our nation, that leads me to my next question.
Now that we have disposed of that, and the hon. member has to take responsibility for that decision on behalf of the government, is he now able to tell the House, in view of the support of this party, the official opposition, and the party to my left, the New Democratic Party, for having the proceedings of that committee telecast as an electronic Hansard in the same way the proceedings of this House are telecast, that the government is now prepared to make that decision, because it is not a subject for negotiation? It is a decision the government has to take on its responsibility. Having taken the decision not to allow the committee to travel in this country, surely it will follow that they will allow for the greatest public scrutiny by permitting the public broadcasting of the committee’s proceedings.
Mr. Pinard: My colleague knows full well that the committee system as it is now makes it possible, in principle, to hold public hearings. Exceptionally, the committee may sit behind closed doors. First, I can assure him that we do not intend to hold the meetings on the sly. The meetings will be public. I think the media are sufficiently excited perhaps to show more interest in that committee than in others. So it is wrong and I know that my colleague does not intend to make people think that what happens in committee is secret. It will all be public. People have the right to participate. Accordingly, we will choose a large room and we will try to make the meetings as public as possible. This is my first point because this preamble implied that everything was done in secrecy. On the contrary, sittings are public and though 25 members and senators are designated there is nothing to prevent other members from participating in the sittings of a committee as my colleague must be aware.
As to televising the debates I answered those questions yesterday. The Prime Minister also answered questions from the Leader of the Opposition. I want to show respect for the committee. It is not yet constituted, and the senators who will be part of it will have to be consulted. It will be up to the committee to decide whether the debates should be televised. As to the material organization that would be involved that aspect would come under the responsibility of Madam Speaker. We have stated that we were prepared to check if it is technically possible but, if it is indeed possible, and if such is the desire of the committee, we do not want this to have the effect of delaying the presentation of the committee report after December 9. As emphasized by the member for Winnipeg North Centre (Mr. Knowles), we insist that if it is technically possible it should be done in conformity with the concept of the electronic Hansard, just as it is the principle that guides the televising of the debates on the floor of the House of Commons.
Hon. Michael Wilson (Etobicoke Centre): Madam Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. I direct this to the government House leader and urge him to withhold making a decision on the question of travel until he has reflected on it over the weekend.
The government House leader has completely missed the point. The basis for the feelings expressed last night was expressed to members of Parliament from western Canada by the people in their constituencies, those who live in the cities and small towns of western Canada. Those feelings have been brought forward into this House in a nominal way. About 20 per cent of the members have been able to express their views. It seems that members opposite do not in any way understand the depth of those feelings.
The government House leader made reference to the fact that the feelings of people in western Canada have been known over the past few years and that they understand those feelings. I stress to him that there has been a significant change in the feelings expressed by those in western Canada in the last few weeks and months. It is those feelings which we feel so strongly should be presented to this committee. The only way that can be done is by having that committee travel.
I would also like to remind the government House leader there is a similar committee in the Ontario legislature on the constitution, a special committee, which chose to travel, not just within the province of Ontario but right across Canada. The feelings expressed to that committee were of great interest to the members and were different from what they had understood prior to going out. The depth of those feelings are expressed in their report. I can tell the government House leader that the report caused some stir within the Ontario legislature because it was different from what members had felt.
The government side has only two members to get an assessment of all that is going on in that part of the country, the four provinces and the territories. It is very important for the government House leader to reconsider his decision, if a decision has in fact been made, and report to the House on Monday. I do not think anyone in this House last night was not stunned and astounded by the feelings expressed by the members. It is the same feelings that members from the province of Quebec felt last March, April and May when in their own ridings. That is why they are feeling those sentiments today and that is why they expressed them so strongly last night. It is on that basis that I ask the government House leader to reconsider the decision he has just expressed.
Mr. Pinard: Madam Speaker, some are impressed by the words of the hon. member, others are more impressed by those of the hon. members from the west or from the New Democratic Party. This is a matter of interpretation. I suggest that he read carefully the constitution proposal before the House and he will realize that it will benefit all Canadians, including western Canadians. Therefore, there is no reason to be con-
cerned even if the committee does not travel; he can be assured that the measures which are proposed here, namely, the entrenchment of the equalization principle in Canada, the individual’s rights, the fundamental freedoms, the patriation of the constitution, are not in the least detrimental to the citizens of the west or the east, because they are beneficial to Canada as a whole. We are renewing our federalism. I am convinced that if he listens more carefully to the hon. members from the west, from the New Democratic Party, perhaps he will no longer make the request he has just made to me.