Last week was a somewhat unusual one in Ottawa as much of the focus was on SO-31's, otherwise known as "Member's Statements" and the ability of Members of Parliament to engage in these 60 second statements delivered in the House of Commons directly before question period. Ultimately some in the media had this story turning into a full blown crisis of free speech and/or a large scale mutiny by some of the Government back-benches. If you are unfamiliar with a "Member's Statement", the summary definition is stated as "Members who are not Ministers are permitted to address the House for up to one minute on virtually any matter of local, provincial, national or international concern". Although the definition is quite open, there are in fact a number of restrictions that apply. During a member's statement there are to be no personal attacks on individual members or an attack on Senators and the actions of the Senate cannot be criticized. Likewise, questioning court rulings or the character of judges is also deemed inappropriate as is defamatory comments on non-members. In addition the use of verbatim comments from private citizens is to be avoided and comments should not be of a commercial nature.
As for the speaking order for these statements in the House of Commons, it is defined by the Chair who "consults speaking lists provided by the Whips of the various parties and attempts to recognize government Members and Members in opposition on an equal basis". This is not my definition but rather the definition from the House of Commons Compendium of Procedure. I raise this point as contrary to what you may have heard in the media, Parliamentary practice is clear in recognizing that Whips of a respective party have long been involved in the process of determining the speaking order during Members Statements. Much of this current debate is in questioning to what extent a whip should (and by extension a party) be involved in what individual Members of Parliament can or cannot say within the House of Commons. This is largely the more important subject and one that I would like to address in my report today.
First, I believe it is imperative to recognize that once you exclude Ministers, there are still hundreds of MP's who can and do speak on matters of importance to their constituents each day the House of Commons is sitting, without incident or controversy. In fact last week in recognizing World Autism Day, my colleague MP Mike Lake delivered one of the most touching Member's Statements I have yet heard in the House of Commons. However as is often the case, such a truly meaningful statement, eloquently delivered by MP Mike Lake, ended up being overlooked by the media- some might say upstaged in terms of coverage, by a statement from another MP that never even occurred.
Obviously I cannot speak for other Members of Parliament however from my own experience I have been able to deliver many Member's Statements in the House of Commons without incident. Examples of some of my statements include last year's record breaking season of the Penticton Vees, the good work that Canadian Shriners do on behalf of sick children across Canada and more recently recognizing the importance of responsible resource development to our rural communities such as Logan Lake and Merritt. I have received positive comments on these statements from colleagues on both sides of the House and from many local citizens. Often I find there is great interest in these types of statements as they help to reflect the diversity of our great country. My most recent statement spotlighted the work of International Space Station Commander Hadfield via radio at Uplands Elementary School as well as Olympian Kristi Richards at the Summerland Middle School. Both of these individuals are excellent role models for our youth and continue to encourage young Canadians to work hard and follow their dreams.
These are a few examples of Member's Statements I have given in the House of Commons on behalf of the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla. If anyone is so interested I also post these members statements to video and the link can be found here.
I make a point of authoring my own Member's statements largely based on events and achievements occurring within our riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla. My Member's Statements are not directed by any outside influences and it has never been suggested to me what I should or should not say as a Member of Parliament. From my own experiences in representing the citizens of Okanagan-Coquihalla I have found Members Statements to be a brief but very important way that we as MP's can share events that occur in our ridings with other Canadians, and I have never encountered any difficulty whatsoever in doing so.
As the House is temporarily recessed to allow Members to work in their respective ridings, I will be meeting with constituents throughout our communities this week and look forward to hearing and discussing your comments and concerns. If you have any feedback on Federal issues or legislation before Parliament please do not hesitate to contact me by phone at 1-800-665-8711 or by email at [email protected].
Dan Albas is the Member of Parliament for Okanagan-Coquihalla. His blog is DaninOttawa.com and previous MP reports are on line at www.danalbas.com
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.