House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was self-government.

Topics

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I have given the hon. member a great deal of latitude in putting forth his point of order and, if I might comment, it is very well researched. I was wondering perhaps if the hon. member could now move to summarize on this particular point of order.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would hope you and the House would realize that this argument takes some time to make. I will move as quickly as I can to the conclusion of my argument. However it is not something that we do every day here and I would like my argument to be heard, if that is possible. I will try to move as quickly as I can.

There is no legal authority, either in the Parliament of Canada Act or in the Canada Elections Act, for withholding recognition from us.

Past Speakers have not, moreover, applied the 12-member threshold to questions of party recognition. I would now like to direct your attention, Mr. Speaker, to a number of the relevant precedents which is perfectly in order with what a good point of order should be like, arguing from precedent.

The first and most relevant precedent is the party status accorded to the CCF after the 1958 election. Electing eight members to the House the CCF was then in a very similar position to that of the NDP in this Parliament.

In 1958 the CCF continued to enjoy its full rights as an opposition party. CCF members were seated as a party in the House and were treated as a party in debate and during Question Period. The party leader was treated as a party leader in debate on the speech from the throne, being recognized immediately after Mr. Pearson and Mr. Diefenbaker. CCF members also sat as full members on committees.

After the 1963 introduction of the 12-member threshold, Speakers regularly interpreted the act as one that granted certain financial benefits to parties with more than 12 members. However that did not take away any other rights of parties that had fewer than 12 members.

On February 18, 1966 for instance, Speaker Lamoureux allowed representatives of the Social Credit Party and the Ralliement Créditiste to respond to ministerial statements under what is now Standing Order 33(1), even though they had only five and nine members respectively. He argued that he did not see how the standing order concerning the right of opposition parties to respond to ministers' statements could be "interpreted in light of the amendment to the Parliament of Canada Act", Hansard , February 18, 1966, page 1435.

The force of the tradition of protecting the rights and status of small parties can be seen again in the treatment of the Social Credit Party after the 1974 election. With only 11 members the Social Credit Party once again fell below the legal threshold of 12 members required in order to receive financial benefits. The Board of Internal Economy nonetheless granted the Social Credit Party $50,000 for research purposes at its meeting of October 22, 1974, a meeting attended by the present Prime Minister and by Mr. Mitchell Sharp.

I am raising this point not to ask for similar financial benefits, but to illustrate how previous Parliaments have protected the rights of small parties so assiduously that they sometimes have ignored the 12-member threshold on financial matters.

In 1979 in a Parliament in which I myself participated the Social Credit Party sent only five members to the House. A striking committee did not include a member from the Social Credit Party although they did sit in the front row of the House, right down in that corner.

There was a motion by the Social Credit member that his party should have a representative on the striking committee. In the ensuing debate on October 9, 1979, it was made clear by the Conservative government and Liberal opposition that what was at stake was not only the particular issue of the membership of the striking committee but also the party status of the Social Credit caucus.

When the Social Credit motion failed, Speaker Jerome at first decided that the motion obliged him not to grant the Social Credit members party status. On October 10 he did not recognize their leader in the debate on the speech from the throne. His ruling can be found on page 69 of Hansard for October 11, 1979.

The next month Mr. Speaker, your predecessor, Speaker Jerome, revised his position and took into account the important responsibility of the Chair to protect minorities in the House. In debate on an opposition no confidence motion on November 6, 1979, Speaker Jerome recognized the leader of the Social Credit in debate immediately after the other opposition party leaders. He gave an eloquent justification for his decision from which I would like to quote. It is an important piece of evidence because it qualifies the original ruling of October 11 published in the edition of Speaker Jerome's rulings.

I quote: "We ought to be clear at the outset that it is not a transgression of propriety to mention the name of the political party of the members who are involved; it is the Social Credit Party of Canada. Its members are members of this House of Commons and their leader is the hon. member for Beauce. Those are the realities. The vote"-on the striking committee motion-"under no circumstances, may I say, can be taken to pass out of existence a political party, nor can it be taken to render as independent members the group which has been recognized as a party and which has in fact been seated together as a political party. The Social Credit Party exists as a political party and the five members exist as members of that party under their leader".

He went on to say that even though the House had expressed itself on the question of the membership of the striking committee, he had certain responsibilities as Speaker.

Again, I quote Speaker Jerome: "It seems to me that the responsibility of the Chair and the responsibility of the House of Commons is to protect whatever rights minorities do enjoy and therefore it seems to me that I must conclude what it is that the members of the Social Credit Party are entitled to-.I think that what those members are entitled to respects the fact that they are members of a political party so long as it does not give them an advantage that they would not otherwise enjoy as five members and secondly so long as it does not deprive other members of their right to participate in some way". Hansard , November 6, 1979, pages 1008-9.

This is the approach to the question of party status I am asking you to take toward myself and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party in the House. We are asking you to recognize us as a party in the House just as previous Speakers have recognized small parties in the past.

One result of previous Speakers' recognition of small parties can be seen in the seating plans of past Parliaments. I would like to table some of these past seating plans for your consideration. I submit these for your consideration because they show that parties with fewer than 12 members have indeed been designated as parties and seated as parties with representation on the front benches.

I draw your attention in particular to the seating plan dated April 1989 where even only one member, the member for Beaver River, was designated as a member of the Reform Party. As I mentioned earlier however, this designation of the member for Beaver River disappeared with the advent of the Bloc and the decision not to treat it as a party. Currently the nine NDP

members in the House are afforded no such appropriate nomenclature in the seating plan of this Parliament.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member will recognize that he has had every latitude. I have had indications that other members will want to participate in this point of order. I would ask the hon. member to wrap up now.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will wrap up. However, if I might be so bold as to say on my point of order, if I am being irrelevant or I am not speaking to the point, but I believe that I am-

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. The Chair in no way indicates that the point of order is irrelevant. The Chair has heard a great many of the very relevant arguments the hon. member has put forward. The Chair at this point would ask again respectfully, that the hon. member come to a conclusion. Then we can have other views on this point of order.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will indeed come to a conclusion.

The weight of almost all the evidence in both law and convention therefore comes down in support of our claim to be recognized in this House as the party that we clearly are. The only precedent that breaks the pattern is the treatment of the Bloc in the last Parliament.

At this point I do not wish to open the question of whether a party that forms between elections as a result of defections from existing parties should enjoy the same status as a party of members who sought election under their party banner. I do not want to enter into that debate.

What I do want to argue is that your ruling on party status should be based on a clear reading of the law and on the overwhelming number of precedents in support of our claim to party status, not on a single problematic precedent that itself broke with all precedent.

I will say what we are asking for so that you are absolutely clear of what I am on my feet about.

We ask first that the seating arrangements be adjusted to seat us as a party with proper precedence given to our leader as a leader and as a Privy Councillor, and that the published seating plan identify us as New Democrats, as is already the case in Hansard .

We ask that we be treated as an opposition party during question period where at present we are recognized only very rarely, systematically denied supplementaries and always relegated to the last question.

I would point out that in the last Parliament the leader of the Bloc was regularly recognized at about two-thirds of the way through question period. I direct your attention to Hansard of 1993 for February 11 and 25, March 9 and 24 and May 4. Therefore, it is clear that the leader of the New Democratic Party has been treated in an unprecedented manner and that due consideration should be given to changing the way our leader has been treated since the opening of this Parliament.

My final point, for guidance on this matter let us return to Mr. Jerome's ruling of November 6, 1979. He said regarding the rights of small parties: "Participation in question period is their right, the same as any group of five members. It is not difficult to calculate mathematically what five members are entitled to as a proportion of the membership of the other parties". Hansard , page 1009.

If we apply Mr. Jerome's arithmetic to the situation in this Parliament, NDP members comprise 8 per cent of the opposition members and are therefore entitled to roughly 8 per cent of the opposition questions. By my calculations in a typical week there are some 125 questions and supplementaries posed by opposition members of which we should be entitled to 10. In practice you typically recognize us for only two questions per week. Occasionally you have not recognized us at all, as in the week beginning April 11 and only once have you recognized us for as many as four questions.

We therefore ask that we get the number of questions due to a party of nine members, that our leader be recognized after the leader of the Reform Party, that we be allowed supplementaries, and that we not always be relegated to the last question.

Finally, we ask that in general we be treated as a party under the Standing Orders and that you work with our caucus officers in the customary ways to facilitate the operations of the House. My party colleagues and I are asking only that we not be discriminated against simply because we did not meet an arbitrary threshold of dubious relevance that has not even customarily been applied by previous Speakers to procedures in the House, against which there is ample parliamentary precedent for alternative approaches.

We have every confidence that you will see the merit in our case and we look forward to the results of your review of this question. We are not asking you to rule on this in a hurry, Mr. Speaker. However we certainly hope that by the time Parliament resumes its business in the fall after the summer recess that some changes will have been made along the lines which I have suggested in this point of order.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

The point of order is indeed a very important one. That is one of the reasons the Chair gave every latitude to hear all of the arguments.

Are there other interventions? The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I was impressed with the very able argument of the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona on this important point.

I was also amazed because my recollection is that during the last election campaign, one of the pitches the New Democratic Party put to the Canadian public was that they should vote NDP in order that they could have 12 seats in Parliament and therefore be recognized as a party, because if they did not get those votes and did not get those seats then somehow Canada was going to suffer terribly.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

It is.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Milliken Kingston and the Islands, ON

It is not. The hon. member says it is but of course it is not. It is doing better than it was. I think that is in large measure because there are fewer New Democrats in the House, but I do not want to get into that. It is irrelevant to the issue.

The fact is there are fewer members of the New Democratic Party here today. The hon. member has raised a point about the representation of the party in the House. Some of those points, Mr. Speaker, are ones you will want to consider when you review the arguments put forward by the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona.

Many of the rulings he has mentioned are accurate citations. However, I think he has ignored, perhaps deliberately, some of the rulings of Mr. Speaker Fraser on this issue in the last eight or nine years. They have significantly altered the thinking in respect of the application of the Parliament of Canada Act to the Standing Orders of the House.

I refer Your Honour to the decisions of the Speakers under Standing Order 33, which as Your Honour recalls allows for ministers to make statements in the House on Statements by Ministers and for the opposition parties to respond to them. The question of who constitutes an opposition party for the purposes of Standing Order 33 has led to the use of the Parliament of Canada Act as the criteria for making that decision.

I note that when this very argument took place in the last Parliament the New Democratic Party fully supported the position taken at that time by the government, by the opposition and by the New Democratic Party as the third party. The position was that one required 12 seats in the House in order to have the right to make a reply to a statement under Statements by Ministers. That effectively excluded the Bloc Quebecois at that time from participating under Standing Order 33.

I would feel much more sympathetic toward the position of the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona had he and his colleagues taken a different position in the last Parliament, but of course they did not. They may have been wrong at the time; we all might have been wrong. I invite Your Honour in considering the matter to review the authorities at that time.

I also think it fair to bear in mind in looking at this that the hon. member says he is not asking for money. He is not asking that the Parliament of Canada Act's financial provisions be applied to his party. I agree with him.

I recall when his colleague, the hon. member for Kamloops, shortly after the election said he was going to put a pitch for money in the House there was a howl of outrage from the Canadian populace. The hon. member for Sherbrooke made the same kind of suggestion, that he should have money for his party and the outrage in the Canadian public was palpable. I received many letters on the subject expressing extreme disagreement with the thought of giving money to these other parties when they had been properly thrashed by the electorate for the poor service they had rendered Canadians in the previous Parliament.

I sympathize with Canadians in their judgment. I agreed with Canadians in their judgment and I, for one, was not prepared to give that additional money. Therefore I am pleased that he has not done that today.

On the other hand, he has raised some points that the Chair ought to consider. They are ones, considering the equities of the situation, that ought to be reviewed very carefully. I invite the Chair to take into consideration everything that the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona said and render a decision to the House that will be fair and equitable as between all the members, based on his submission.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Gilles Duceppe Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, a request similar to this one was made at the beginning of the session by the member for Sherbrooke, on behalf of himself and his colleague, therefore on behalf of the entire caucus of the former Conservative Party. At the time, the Speaker refused to recognize the Conservative Party.

Therefore, this subject has been debated. At the time, I pointed out that the arguments raised by the Conservatives, and again today by the NDP, were raised three years ago by the Bloc Quebecois. The Speaker of the day had ruled that these arguments were not valid enough to formally recognize the Bloc. We have since come to agree with the Speaker's ruling. I have considered all the arguments put forward by my colleague and I believe that the rule of 12 continues to apply, except under certain circumstances.

Most of these circumstances arise when there is a minority government in the House. Such was the case in 1979, 1963 and 1957 when the parties agreed to recognize a party without 12 members. For reasons that are fairly obvious, the Clark government may have needed the support of the Ralliement créditiste. Moreover, we saw what happened when they later withdrew their support. Therefore, in some specific instances, primarily when there is a minority government, official status will be granted to a party that does not have the required number of sitting members.

It has also been argued that the same rules should not apply to parties who did not field candidates during the election, as was the case with the Bloc at the time. One of the examples given by my colleague was the Ralliement des créditistes, a party formed in 1963. Need members be reminded that this party did not exist at the time of the election? Then, the party was known as the Social Credit Party and it was headed by Mr. Thompson. A split developed within the ranks and Mr. Caouette founded the Ralliement des créditistes, a party which had not formally existed at the time of the election, a situation similar to that of the Bloc. Yet, the government of the day recognized the Ralliement des créditistes precisely because it was a minority government. The situation was quite different when the Bloc came into being. However, the Ralliement was no more a party at the time of the election than the Bloc was.

Therefore, the precedent exists for granting official status to a new party, although it was not considered when the Bloc requested such status. However, with respect to my colleague's question concerning the seating arrangement in the House, I will concede that the Bloc members were allowed to sit next to one another, pursuant to an agreement between all independent members. As I recall, we had reached an agreement with the Reform member and the two independents, Mr. Kindy and Mr. Knowlan. If there is agreement among the independents, I see no reason why the NDP members cannot sit next to each other. Provided, of course, there is agreement.

As regards identification, I think the hon. member is right. The Bloc's name appeared in Hansard and during the televised debates. I do not know if it is the case now for the NDP, but it was for us. I think this could be done for them. We did not get that recognition at the beginning. We raised the issue in various more or less pleasant ways and, it the end, we succeeded in having the name of our party appear on TV and in Hansard . I think we could apply that decision to grant the same privilege, with respect to the number of questions per week.

I am rather surprised to hear that Lucien Bouchard, the leader of the Bloc, was allowed to ask many questions. In fact, the figures show that, on average, he asked one and a half question per week. Whether that question had a major impact is a totally different issue which has nothing to do with the number of questions itself but, rather, with their quality. Again, the figures show that, on average, Mr. Bouchard asked 1.5 question per week, which is about what the NDP is allowed. I might add that those questions are always the last ones of the day, at about two minutes before three o'clock. In this regard, also, there is no change, compared to what the Bloc experienced.

These are the comments I wanted to make to help you make a decision.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be reasonably brief.

I want to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Transcona for giving notice of his point of order. I would like to make a few comments on it, though first of all I would like to quote from Hansard of November 27, 1990, when a similar point of order was being discussed. At that time Ian Waddell, the New Democratic Party member for Port Moody-Coquitlam, argued in the House with regard to the Bloc Quebecois saying:

It is not a party. It does not have 12 people. Those are the rules. They should stop whining. The House has been very liberal to them and I find it shocking when they get up and whine, bitch and complain.

With regard to participation in question period and in members' statements, the House has been very generous with independent members and the Chair has been very generous, considering that very likely the New Democratic caucus has the poorest attendance record in the House.

I would like to get to some of the arguments that the member made with regard to having official party status. In 1974 the Ralliement Créditiste brought 11 members to the House of Commons. Despite their having less than 12 members all privileges which come with party recognition were given to them except for the extra stipend given to the leaders of the parties, other than the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, with at least 12 members.

In October 1979 Prime Minister Clark was in the process of setting up his new government. He put forward the names for composition of the striking committee and moved approval by the House. Initially one issue raised for decision by the House was whether the Ralliement Créditiste with six members should be represented on the striking committee. Mr. Clark moved approval of the committee with no Créditiste. Mr. Roy of the Créditiste put forward an amendment to the motion to include a Créditiste.

Mr. MacEachen, House leader for the Liberals, raised the following additional issues for consideration: first, whether the group would enjoy the status, particularly the leader of that group, equivalent in standing to that of the Leader of the Opposition, who was Mr. Trudeau, and the leader of the New Democratic Party; second, whether they would have full status of other parties in respect of the question period; and, third, whether they would have full status of other parties in respect of statements on motions in response to ministerial statements.

Additionally, Mr. Knowles, the House leader for the New Democratic Party, who is now a member at the table, reiterated some of the above arguments and added a fourth issue for consideration. He stated:

While it has come to be thought that 12 members were required for party status, we overstepped it when the party had only 11 members last time.

He was referring to 1974. He further stated:

Can a party that has used a name in election come here and claim all of the advantages that go with party status regardless of how small it is?

That is from Debates , October 9, 1979, page 13.

Mr. Knowles, Mr. MacEachen and others argued to the Speaker against party status for a party with less than 12 members in the House. The outcome of this deliberation and the decision of the House rendered by recorded division was nay. The Speaker twice refused to overturn the decision of the House on appeal from the Creditiste even when attention was called to the popular vote which the Ralliement Créditiste received. That is in House of Commons Debates, October 10, 1979.

Other issues are that the stipend which is given to leaders of parties with at least 12 members, excluding the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, is covered by the Parliament of Canada Act which states:

-to each member of the House of Commons, other than the Prime Minister or the member occupying the position of Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, who is a leader of a party that has a recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House-

This can only be changed by a legislative amendment, not by a ruling of the Speaker.

A final issue connected with recognition of parties in the House has to do with research funding. The requirement that parties must have at least 12 members can be waived by the Board of Internal Economy which includes three opposition members.

My conclusion is that if the House were to grant recognition of the New Democrats or the Progressive Conservatives as parties in the House they should first address the precedents against recognizing parties with fewer than 12 members, including the 1979 precedent.

It should be noted that in addition to Messrs. Clark, MacEachen and Knowles, that Messrs. Chrétien, Axworthy, Gray, Kilgour, MacLaren, Masse and others voted nay to the amendment. Further, it should be noted that the Speaker at that time refused to overturn the decision on appeal since the House had raised these issues and put them to a vote.

Therefore a decision of any of the issues given should be given careful consideration by the Speaker of the 35th Parliament. The independent members in the House should not be given recognition beyond what should be accorded by any individual member unless the House agrees to give such recognition.

In brief summation, the recourse of the members of the New Democratic Party is to appeal to the House for changes in the legislation whereby they would be recognized. We believe it should not be an appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to make a ruling on this issue.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

The Speaker

The case has been well put today and well documented. The Chair thanks all hon. members who have taken the time to advise the Chair. I have heard from all parties in the House, including interventions made by the independents.

I will undertake to review the entire transcript of today, look at all of the precedents mentioned and come back to the House with some recommendations on the matter.

The Chair feels this is not a new issue to Parliament. I feel that the arguments have been very well made. I believe that I have received enough information at this point on which to at least base the beginnings of my own studies to come back to this House with a decision.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, this point of order addresses another matter entirely.

Citation 317 of Beauchesne's sixth edition states:

(1) Points of order are questions raised with the view of calling attention to any departure from the Standing Orders or the customary modes of proceeding in debate or in the conduct of legislative business-

I would like to address my comments to the conduct of legislative business.

In a statement last Thursday, the government House leader indicated that the business for today would be Bill C-18, the Electoral Boundaries Redistribution Act. Instead we were advised at the House leader's meeting yesterday that we would be debating Bill C-34, an act respect Yukon self-government.

Although Bill C-34 was put on notice on May 25, it was not introduced until yesterday.

There is a concern here. How can the government expect the House to properly conduct legislative business when it does not even give members 24 hours to review the legislation before it is debated in the House?

Every Canadian will recognize that aboriginal self-government is an important national issue and deserves proper attention. The Reform Party has shown a willingness to co-operate with the government. We would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use all powers and influence at your disposal to move the government toward conduct of legislated business that permits the members of the House to effectively fulfil their mandate as elected representatives.

Standing Order 1 states:

In all cases not provided for hereinafter, or by other Order of the House, procedural questions shall be decided by the Speaker or Chairman, whose decisions shall be based on the usage, forms, customs and precedents of the House of Commons of Canada and on parliamentary tradition in Canada and other jurisdictions-

We would ask that you consider this standing order when making your ruling.