Bill C-407 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality)
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.
Mauril Bélanger Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
April 26th, 2002 / noon
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have been paying close attention to the discussions in the last two days in the House about private members' business. I find it particularly interesting that various House leaders would see fit to consider adding a bill to the order of precedence and declaring it votable.
I would like to know if you would seek unanimous consent to declare votable one of the items that is already on the order of precedence as No. 11, Bill C-407, which would give Canadians living in linguistic minority situations, whether they be anglophones or francophones, better access to medical services, which I think is as important as those we have been dealing with in the last two days. Would you please seek unanimous consent for that, Madam Speaker?
Oral Question Period
March 22nd, 2002 / 12:05 p.m.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier on March 18, 2002, concerning the selection of votable items by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
I thank the hon. member for Ottawa--Vanier for drawing this matter to the attention of the Chair, as well as the hon. member for Yorkton--Melville and the hon. government House leader for their contribution on this question.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier in raising the matter argued that the bill he sponsored, Bill C-407, an act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality), should have been selected as votable since it met all the criteria (approved by the House) in order to be considered eligible for “votable” status.
The member expressed himself very clearly and conveyed a deep sense of dissatisfaction and frustration with the way that private members’ business currently operates, especially with the fact that he was not able to obtain an explanation as to why his bill was not selected as a votable item.
As all hon. members know, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has the mandate to select votable items from the items placed on the order of precedence as the result of a draw. The committee must determine, in accordance with a set of criteria that it has adopted, the selection to be made.
I refer the House to a decision by Mr. Speaker Fraser on December 4, 1986 ( House of Commons Debates , p. 1759) with respect to the responsibility that the House has delegated to the procedure and house affairs committee relating to the selection of votable items.
—its decision in regard to the selection of items of business which must come to a vote cannot be challenged. When embodied in a report which is presented to the House, that report is deemed adopted by the House. The Committee, therefore, plays a very important role in safeguarding the rights of private members.
—It is not for the Chair to dictate to the Committee how it should take care of its responsibilities.
I want to emphasize that the Chair takes this matter very seriously even though, after careful examination, the case raised by the hon. member cannot be considered a question of privilege. It is a procedural matter which requires a procedural solution.
As hon. members know, several attempts at finding such a solution have been made and continue to be made. To begin with, a number of recommendations were made by members, in particular during the procedure debates in the House on March 21, 2001 and May 1, 2001.
These suggestions were taken into consideration by the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons and there is a reference to the issue in the committee’s report as adopted by the House on October 4, 2001.
While acknowledging the dissatisfaction with private members’ business as it currently operates and recognizing the need for changes, the special committee could not find consensus on the nature of specific reforms.
Following the report of the special committee the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs further considered the question of improving procedures for the consideration of private members' business and concluded in its report presented to the House on December 14, 2001, that:
--changes to the Standing Orders for the consideration of Private Members' Business, including a workable proposal allowing for all items to be votable, cannot be achieved at this time.
This leaves the door open for the committee to consider the matter once again in the future.
The hon. government House leader in his response to the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier reflected the opinion of many members when he said that “this subject matter has expressed itself in frustration on all sides of the House of Commons” and that he thinks “that there is a general desire in the House to find a better way of dealing with these matters”.
I can only urge the hon. government House leader to follow up on his suggestion that an attempt be made to find another way of solving these issues to the satisfaction of all members so that our procedures may be improved in this regard. I am sure that, with the help of interested members, like the member for Ottawa—Vanier, the member for Yorkton—Melville and others, including the nembers of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, a solution will be found.
I thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for having drawn this very important matter to the attention of the House.
March 18th, 2002 / 3:20 p.m.
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw your attention to a situation that, in my opinion, prevents me from doing my work as a member of parliament properly, and therefore is a question of privilege. Incidentally, I did give notice of this question, pursuant to the standing orders.
I am new to this, so I would ask your indulgence and a bit of patience.
On Friday March 15—beware the ides of March, by the way—the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented its 48th report, which determined that four items, Bills C-292, C-415, and motions M-414 and M-432 would be deemed votable. The other business from the February 28 draw, would therefore not be votable: motions M-34, M-431, M-329, M-357 and M-435, and Bills C-429, C-304, C-391 and C-407.
Bill C-407 is among this group, and it is a bill that I sponsored. The bill came about as a result of the Montfort hospital saga, this saga has tremendous importance for minority language communities in this country, be they French or English.
Furthermore, I can attest unequivocally that this bill meets all five of the criteria approved by the House in order to be considered eligible for “votable” status.
On March 13, I appeared before the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business and presented a document demonstrating that Bill C-407 met the criteria. The one question that a committee member asked dealt with the substance of the bill, and did not question the criteria. In fact, the chair of the sub-committee, the member for Hull--Aylmer congratulated me by saying:
I must congratulate you, because you are one of the rare members to respect the spirit of the five minutes to demonstrate that your bill is acceptable, rather than selling us on the merit of the bill, because the idea is not to sell us on the merit. The idea is to sell us on the fact that it should become a votable bill.
Then, on March 15, to my great surprise, I learned that Bill C-407 would not be deemed votable.
Despite my dissatisfaction and my frustration with a system that I consider to be cumbersome to say the least, I tried to find out why the subcommittee and the standing committee did not deem it votable.
Before the draw on February 28, one votable item remained in the order of precedence. The subcommittee could therefore add nine, but decided to add only four. Since the refusal to declare votable Bill C-407 and other items, such as Bill C-429 or Motion M-431, which, by the way, I also urge you to review, is therefore not due to a lack of room, it must therefore be because it did not meet the five criteria. If the refusal is not based on these criteria, the situation is even worse than we imagine.
I will not go over the five criteria for the House. They are readily available, and you are probably more familiar with them than anyone, Mr. Speaker.
I spoke with four of the six subcommittee members. I was trying to understand. One told me that he thought that the bill was not federal in nature. Another one said that was not it at all. A third one told me that I should have spoken to him about it in advance, and added that this was not the best way of moving the issue forward, that it would be preferable to refer it to a committee. The fourth one refused to tell me anything at all, even after admitting to a certain incongruity in the situation. The other two people did not return my call.
It was therefore impossible for me to find out why or which of the principles the bill did not comply with.
The reality is this that I am faced with the following situation, along with all other members whose motions were declared non-votable: the decision is one that has been made behind closed doors, with no explanation, and no means of appeal.
Even prisoners who are refused parole can know the reason. The public can take part in meetings where reasons are made public. Any citizen of this country can request information under the Access to Information Act and if this information, or part of it, is refused, the government has to give the reason.
Yet in the Parliament of Canada, in the House of Commons, a member is not entitled to know why his bill or motion is not votable.
This bill addresses something of importance to millions of Canadians throughout the entire country and I cannot be told why it has been declared non-votable. One of my primary roles is that of legislator.
This tool available to members, private members' business, is vitally important. Yet when my bill is blocked and no reason is given, my privileges as a legislator are being attacked. If we are not to be told why it is held up, how can we move a bill ahead? This is where I deem that my privilege as a parliamentarian has been breached.
This past weekend, I read several reports of previous rulings, and came to realize that this is a very particular and very difficult question.
In what I hope is the very unlikely event that you should decide this is not a matter of privilege, I would like to also, with your leave, raise a point of order.
According to the standing orders, private members business is to be determined as votable or non-votable based on merit and not on the number of supporters. In order to determine this merit, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as well as its Subcommittee on Private Members' Business, have set certain criteria. These were amended in 1999 with the 70th report of the standing committee, tabled in the House on April 20.
Let me quote from the December 11, 2001 evidence of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It states:
We have the criteria and when I design a bill or motion and have it drafted, I try to have it meet those criteria. Then you find out that the subcommittee on votable items doesn't like it, so they don't support making it votable. To me, if you're going to have criteria, everything that meets the criteria should be votable, or why bother the hell having criteria?
What I sense is that the subcommittee, of which I am part, despite its claims to the contrary, ends up passing judgment on whether the motion or bill that has gone through the lottery, if you're lucky enough to have your name drawn, meets our standards of being worthy of a vote or not. And therein lies the problem. If it meets the criteria, however many criteria there are, it should be votable.
I don't see how you can have it one way or the other. You either throw out the criteria and say this silent group of people is going to be judge, jury and executioner of all private members’ business--because that is what is happening now--or you have criteria and make everything votable if it meets the criteria.
Those were the words of the hon. member for Prince George--Peace River.
My first procedural point of order is whether or not the subcommittee is adhering to the criteria set by the standing committee. In recent times the standing committee has taken to accept without question, in camera and without explanation the decisions of the subcommittee. If the standing committee does not verify that the criteria are properly applied, who does?
Would this fall under the gambit of Standing Order 1? Would the matters I have raised under the question of privilege for that matter also fall under the same gambit?
My second point, and I am concluding with it, is about the way the subcommittee reaches its decisions by consensus, which is rapidly becoming by unanimity. A review of the standing committee's discussions on the matter of private members' business in the fall of 2001 seems to indicate that this is becoming a preoccupation. Yet this practice is not well defined and could lead to problematic situations such as the subcommittee has experienced lately. We all know the power contained in the necessity of unanimity. I think this has to be addressed.
Finally, I do not have any antipathy toward members of the subcommittee. I believe they are caught in a rather awkward situation. I hope that this can be addressed because I now understand firsthand some of the frustrations other members have experienced. I think the system we have for private members' business must be corrected. The way we do it now can lead only to more and more frustration and lack of respect for members of the House.
Points of Order
March 15th, 2002 / 12:05 p.m.
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
Mr. Speaker, I can hardly believe what I read in the report, and I am talking about the fact that Bill C-407 will not be voted on.
First, I wish to express my opposition to the adoption of this report and, second, I must advise you of my intention to raise a question of privilege at the next sitting of the House, because this is totally unacceptable.
November 19th, 2001 / 3:40 p.m.
Canada Health Act
November 1st, 2001 / 10:10 a.m.
Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-407, an act to amend the Canada Health Act (linguistic duality).
Mr. Speaker, the bill we give first reading to this morning will add a sixth principle to the Canada Health Act so that the provinces, which administer health services, will respect linguistic duality.
Official language minorities in Canada have limited guarantees in the area of health services. The provinces must therefore show a willingness to offer health services to their minority, which is a poor guarantee, as the case of the Montfort hospital in Ontario recently revealed.
Anglophones in Quebec and francophones in the other provinces and territories are entitled to receive health care in their mother tongue, English or French, when they are at their most vulnerable, especially since the Canadian Constitution recognizes both languages as the country's official languages.
I hope we will soon have the opportunity to debate this bill in the House of Commons and then in committee.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)