June 8, 1951

CCF

Clarence Gillis

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Gillis:

The point I was making-

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

I know the point you were making.

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CCF

Clarence Gillis

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Gillis:

-was that there might be a question of personal interest.

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

Well, Mr. Speaker, that is a sample. 1 thought the hon. member would observe the rules that gentlemen in this house follow-

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?

Some hon. Members:

Oh, oh.

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

-and would refrain from suggestions of that kind. If the problem of being away from home, from family and from other responsibilities for long periods of the year does not create difficulties for the hon. member I am sure it does for most people in this house. If it is a matter of selfinterest to most of us in that we are separated from our families for long periods-

and this applies to members from western Canada and the far east more than to most of us who come from central Canada-then I say there is self-interest in this for every member.

Therefore I say that the way to have the business of this house done without putting additional obstacles in the way of people giving themselves to public service and making a valuable contribution to this country is to so organize the business of the house that it can be done effectively, efficiently and within a proper time.

I said I would not be speaking today if I were not prepared to make some suggestions to that effect, and I do so because I believe the holding of two sessions a year is not the answer to the problem. The answer is to modernize our procedure and expedite our business so it can be done within a reasonable compass of time; and I am convinced that this is possible. I have some suggestions to offer. I do not pretend that these are the only suggestions that can be made, nor do I pretend that they are altogether new.

In the first place, I believe we can contribute greatly toward expediting the work of the house and the better transaction of our business if we revise the hours of sitting. It was common knowledge to those who were in the last house that the then prime minister, the late Mr. Mackenzie King, did not favour the idea of the house meeting earlier than three o'clock, p.m., under ordinary circumstances. It was hoped that when the present Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) took over he would consider this question of the hours of sitting and try, with the general co-operation of hon. members and the size of the following he has in this house, to introduce some sanity into the hours of sitting. Here we are, sitting from three o'clock in the afternoon until eleven o'clock at night, the most absurd arrangement of hours imaginable. If the house would get down to some reasonable system, like starting at one o'clock in the afternoon and sitting until seven, we would pick up some time on our present total hours of sittings, and would transact a great deal more business than we do under the present hours. Every hon. member knows that by nine-thirty or ten o'clock at night many hon. members are fagged out, and we make relatively little progress in those late hours of sitting. It would also contribute to the health of hon. members; and I am sure that with better health and greater vigour we would do our work better and faster.

Then I think something could be done in regard to some of the specific debates. I believe if we introduced the sort of sanity I have suggested into the hours of sitting, our committees could meet earlier in the morning. At the present time we cannot call a committee meeting before eleven o'clock in the morning because we are sitting so late at night. If we had reasonable hours of sitting we would be able to get our committee work under way at a proper hour in the morning, and more work would be done because we would be fresher.

It seems to me we put the cart before the horse in this matter. At the time of the session when the committees are not sitting, our hours in the house are easiest. But toward the end of the session, when all the committees are sitting, when they not only overlap each other but overlap the sittings of the house, we bring in morning sittings.

It is an impossible situation. The only time there is reason for morning sittings is in the early stages of the session, before we begin the work of the committees. That is when we have long debates such as that on the speech from the throne, which normally takes about three weeks; and the debate on the budget, though perhaps not so much that debate since it comes at a later stage of the session. There is no reason why we could not have morning sittings while the speech from the throne was being debated, because it consists of a number of set speeches. In that way we could pick up perhaps a couple of weeks of the time of the house.

Then I put forward another suggestion which has been put forward before, and I think something must be done to face up to it. It is the question of the use of the committees of this house for the transaction of much of the business that is done in the house at the present time, but which does not need to come before the house and can be done better in a committee. Much of the work done in connection with the estimates consists of trying to elicit information, often on a multitude of small points. That takes a great deal of the time of this house in committee of supply. We would not sacrifice any of our rights as members by referring much of that business to the committees, just as we do in connection with external affairs. We do not deprive any member of the house of his right to express his views on questions of policy which are properly discussed here, but information which is requested on the smaller details is obtained in the committee on external affairs to which the estimates of that department are referred. We save a great

Business of the House deal of the time of the house in that way, and consequently on the subject of external affairs we have a much more comprehensive and infinitely more orderly and constructive debate in the house than would be possible if it were interspersed with inquiries and discussions on a multitude of small details.

The same thing could be done with the estimates of the Department of Agriculture.

If the Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Gardiner) would be content on his estimates to make some of his speeches or give some of his explanations to the standing committee on agriculture, which I believe has not met for several years, we could save days of the time of the house.

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Mr. Baler@

On a point of order, the hon.

member just said the standing committee on .agriculture has not met for several years.

I would point out that we met on three or four occasions last year.

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

I am very glad to hear the chairman of the agriculture committee say they met several times last year. I should think such an important committee ought to be meeting every session, since there is so much business relating to agriculture that could be usefully discussed there. I think it is a reflection on the way in which the machinery provided in this house today is being ignored in the transaction of public business that that important committee has met so seldom. It has not met this session. We have been in session here for over four months and it has not met. That is not the only committee. There are other important standing committees that are just covered with cobwebs and which could do useful service in reviewing estimates and assisting in the conduct of other aspects of business of the house if we would let them do so. Debates in the house would be infinitely better and more constructive in consequence.

Whether there is to be a fall session or not, it seems to me that the experience we are going through now is one that demands in a most imperative way that something be done to face up to this problem. There will be criticism about the length of individual speeches and of course there will be discussion about the time that is spent on particular subjects. It is easy for a large government majority to look at an opposition that is not numerous and to say, "These people are doing too much talking." If there were more of us the duties of the opposition would be spread over a greater number. I hope that we will soon have reinforcements for the official opposition so that the duty of speaking in this house will be spread over a larger number of members.

Business of the House

Surely it must be seen by now in the light of the experience that is common to all members of this house that to go on as apparently we are going to do for this third year with two sessions in a year simply means that we are not facing up to the problem. That problem is the modernization of the procedure of this house so that better work can be done in parliament in much less time.

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CCF

Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Coldwell:

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. The hon. member quoted my words of the other afternoon, but he entirely misinterpreted them. What I said was that I believed that experience had shown over the last few years that membership in the House of Commons had become a fulltime position. I did not say that members of parliament should spend the whole year in Ottawa or in the House of Commons. If they are going to do the job for which they are elected, if they are going to discuss public questions in their own constituencies and elsewhere, they have not the time for very much else. That is precisely what I meant and that is precisely what I said.

Further, some hon. members of the house have from time to time been called upon to attend international conferences. I know that since 1945 all my autumns but one have been taken up with conferences relating to international and commonwealth affairs. Other members of the house have been called upon to do the same thing. Apart from obligations of that description, the business of this country and the business of a member of parliament is such that unless he gives his entire attention to his job it is difficult to see how he can fulfil the obligations of the position to which he has been elected.

Again let me say that I was not suggesting that members of parliament should sit here twelve months in the year. I think that no one within sound of my voice on that occasion could possibly have put such an interpretation upon my words. It is merely an interpretation by a legal mind of words that were not so meant.

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PC

James MacKerras Macdonnell

Progressive Conservative

Mr. J. M. Macdonnell (Greenwood):

Mr. Speaker, I hope I understand correctly what the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar (Mr. Coldwell) intended to say, and I rise just to make a brief comment on it. As I understand it, he is suggesting that the time has come when, if membership in parliament is not to be a whole-time job, at any rate it is to be an exclusive job. I hope I am interpreting him correctly. I am in one sense disinterested as far as this matter is concerned. When I left business, I left it entirely. When I had the misfortune to be defeated in June, 1949, I

became one of the unemployed. Therefore, I am not speaking for myself in what I am about to say.

I feel that if we have reached the stage which I understand the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar contemplates then I believe it to be a fact that a considerable number of men in this house, I would say at least thirty-five or forty, men whom we would dislike most to lose from this house, will not be able to continue. I believe that with all my heart. I say that irrespective of profession because some of them are farmers, some are doctors, some are lawyers and some are businessmen. If we accept the view of the hon. member for Rosetown-Biggar, if that is to be the settled situation, then a considerable number of men will not be able to continue to be members of parliament and they would not be the men we would miss the least.

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LIB

Alcide Côté

Liberal

Mr. A. Phileas Cote (Malapedia-Maiane):

Mr. Speaker, I have just returned from my riding which I had not visited since last September. I did not know that this thing was going to come up in the house. I listened to the speech made today by the hon. member for Cape Breton South (Mr. Gillis) and I gathered that he was using a mental argument. I should like to use a little bit of an emotional argument, and this may prove a surprise, not to the Liberal party but to the Tory party. I like the leader of the opposition (Mr. Drew). He is a nice looking gentleman. However, I asked my constituents, "Has George Drew any chance of getting anywhere in my riding even with the best candidate?" They said, "Well, not under present circumstances, because if the leader of the opposition carries on with this policy of the Tory party, of the big shots of Bay street and St. James street-".

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

They are all Liberals.

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LIB

Joseph-Alfred Dion (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Liberal

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

The hon. member should confine his remarks to the motion before the house.

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LIB

Alcide Côté

Liberal

Mr. Cote (Maiapedia-Malane):

I have a hunch that somehow the Tory party will be recognized as being the party of the capitalists and the bigwigs. I should like to pay a compliment to the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) for having introduced a motion which has had the effect of bringing together in marriage the leader of the opposition and the hon. member for Eglinton (Mr. Fleming). For the first time, in this session at least, they are in accord.

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

I rise on a question of privilege. The hon. member is suggesting that the leader of the opposition and I are in accord for the first time on this question. That is

absolutely untrue. The leader of the opposition commands my confidence, and my loyalty as my leader.

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Mr. Coie@Maiapedia-Maiane

I still have the convention in mind.

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PC

Donald Methuen Fleming

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Fleming:

Better get up to date.

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Mr. Coie@Maiapedia-Maiane

Let us get

down to brass tacks.

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PC

Alfred Johnson Brooks

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Brooks:

Sit on one.

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Mr. Coie@Maiapedia-Maiane

The hon. member for Peterborough West is not here. The Tories are against a second session to deal with the job that we have to deal with in parliament. May I suggest that twenty times during this session we have tried to promote legislation and estimates and the leader of the opposition and the Tory party brought up matters that they stated were emergency matters and they insisted on discussing another topic. That has happened over twenty times this session. Now the opposition is saying that it is the fault of the government that we did not make greater progress than we have made. I would suggest that they should have a sort of examination of conscience, and see how many days we have spent here, at the expense of the taxpayers, in discussing so-called emergency matters that were not emergency matters.

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June 8, 1951