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 first.

Topics

Aerospace
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to see that the hon. member is interested in the Canadian Space Agency because it is a very important part of our general science program. We have completed our negotiations with the United States on the space station and later this week I will announce the details not only of the space station but also of the long-term space plan.

Aerospace
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, could the minister still tell us whether the reduction in Canada's contribution to this project will have consequences on Canada's ability to conduct experiments in space and what impact this decision will have on scientific progress in Canada in areas such as pharmaceuticals and materials engineering?

Aerospace
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I will be able to provide the member with details respecting some of those concerns later this week.

I assure him that in our preparation of the long term space plan and our negotiations with the United States over Canada's role in the space station we have endeavoured to a very great extent to protect the key interests of Canadian companies in their participation in the space program.

We expect to see the ability of Canada to continue to participate in the space program enhanced by a more general program which emphasizes our important interests in satellite communications, earth observation and remote sensing.

Infrastructure
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Reform

Ed Harper Simcoe Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister responsible for Infrastructure.

Yesterday the minister stated that he would reallocate some of the infrastructure funding to cover the federal share of highway 416. Leeds-Grenville where the construction is to be done is only allocated $4 million under the program.

Will the minister tell the House what areas of the province will find cuts so that he can find the extra $56 million?

Infrastructure
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, there are some 722 million federal dollars in the province of Ontario for infrastructure which, when we add the provincial and local government shares, means a program of over $2 billion in that province.

There are allocations that are tentatively in the province for different municipalities. There are going to be, however, moneys that will not be taken up in the allocation, and certainly the municipalities are welcome to do that. There will be moneys available for reallocation.

We are committed, if the province brings forward an application for this project, to providing the funds so that we can do this much needed project of highway 416.

Infrastructure
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Reform

Ed Harper Simcoe Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, apparently the municipalities are not lining up for this funding under the infrastructure program. There must be something wrong with the program.

Will the government now reverse its decision to add $2 billion to the national debt for a program that is not working?

Infrastructure
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for that supplementary question because it gives me an opportunity to say that there is in fact very good takeup of the funds. We have now reached the billion dollar mark of the $6 billion program.

We well knew when we entered into this program and with the province of Ontario established September 30 as the deadline for the initial round of applications that not all would be taken up in the initial round. It is a two-year program and we fully expect there will be further allocations. We are committed to providing the funds for 416. The member for Leeds-Grenville in the House has had a lot to do ensuring that much needed project gets going.

Transport
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Transport and has to do with the request that the Minister of Transport has received from the United Transportation Union concerning the alarming number of derailments that have taken place lately. The minister will have received a letter from the UTU on that matter.

In light of its concern and the concern expressed by a railway carman about changing practices with respect to maintenance and inspection of rolling stock, I wonder if he could tell us what his response will be to this request.

Transport
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst
New Brunswick

Liberal

Douglas Young Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member brings a question of great interest to people who work on the railways, people who travel on the railways, people who ship goods on the railways. We have been through an extremely difficult winter.

The incidents that have occurred have been investigated, as the member would know, under the legislative and statutory requirements. We expect to respond to it. Both railways have indicated their very deep concerns about the number of incidents that did occur.

I will make sure, in response to the member's request as well as representations made by the unions and others, that we look very carefully at the matter because it is of very serious importance to anyone who understands what has taken place through this very rigorous winter.

Transport
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

It seems we are going to have a rather full afternoon. I have two questions of privilege which I will hear now.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

June 1st, 1994 / 3 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Peterson Willowdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege.

It is obvious that a first draft of a report to the finance committee was leaked to the media. This leaking of a report which had not been considered as of that moment by the committee is a contempt toward the members of that committee who have worked so hard for four months, holding over 60 sessions, hearing witnesses and deliberating.

This is a contempt to Parliament because if documents of this nature cannot be respected, our Parliament cannot function in a fair and equitable way for all members. I would ask that whatever possible be done to get rid of this deliberate leaking of documents in contempt of committees and in contempt of Parliament.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

Before going any further into the question of privilege that the hon. member raises, perhaps it would be more in keeping with the practice that we have had so far if the finance committee were to look into the matter and report to the House itself.

This ruling was made earlier by Speaker Jerome, and if the hon. member would take that under advisement the Chair will continue discussions with the hon. member.

I have a second question of privilege.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Yvan Loubier Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, during Question Period, the Minister of Finance, who is normally a gentleman concerned about fair play, hinted, probably unintentionally, that I was the person who leaked the report on the GST. This accusation is without foundation and I would ask that it be withdrawn.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance and Minister responsible for the Federal Office of Regional Development-Quebec

Mr. Speaker, there is no doubt that the hon. member, who is the finance critic for the Bloc Quebecois, is an honourable person and I respect him. When he says that he did not leak this report, I believe him and, therefore, I withdraw my remarks.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order of which I have given notice to you and to the parties in the House.

It has to do with the fact that we in the New Democratic Party have not been recognized as a party in the House since the beginning of this Parliament. In doing so I am fully aware that certain decisions relating to our current lack of party status were taken before you were elected as Speaker.

I am therefore making these arguments with no intention whatsoever of pointing a finger at the Chair or at anyone else for that matter. The fact that we have been seated in the House as if we were independent members is a good example of what I mean. The seating plan took shape before you were elected as our Speaker, but it is only the most concrete symbol of the whole situation that I want to call into question today.

I have not raised this earlier because I thought it was appropriate for the House to become acquainted with itself after the unprecedented upheaval of the last election. This place operates not only on the basis of written rules but also on the authority of a large body of conventions which come from parliamentary practice. I thought it best to wait until the many new members had an opportunity to become familiar with the importance of conventions in the makeup of our day to day parliamentary constitution.

However, with respect to the issue I wish to raise today, the real conventions of this place and the conventional wisdom are not always the same. The recent conventional wisdom has been that the 12-member threshold for party status is a hard and fast rule understood in an unambiguous way by all concerned.

My point today is that the question of party status has in fact been governed by unwritten convention and practice and that the only thing that is hard and fast is the question of which parties qualify for certain moneys. I begin by making it absolutely clear that what I am seeking is not a change in those sections of the Parliament of Canada Act which pertain to money, but a recognition that that statute applies only to money and that all else is a matter of convention, practice and the discretion of the Speaker as the Chair seeks to fulfil its historic role as the protector of the House itself and the minorities therein.

There are no unambiguous definitions of parties in legislation, in the standing orders or in the procedural authorities, and yet parties are essential to the efficient operation of the House. Their officers, leaders, House leaders and whips try to facilitate what all of us do here as we discharge our public responsibilities.

Parties present themselves to the House as parties and are not created or disposed of by the House itself. Our membership in our respective parties is a matter between ourselves, our fellow caucus colleagues, our extraparliamentary organizations and ultimately our electors. We can leave our parties or be asked to leave our parties. We can create new parties, merge two parties into one, as did the Progressives and the Conservatives, or change the name of our parties as we in the New Democratic Party did.

The tradition of this place has been for the Speaker to accept the party affiliation that the parties and the members report to him or her. Yet since the beginning of this Parliament the Chair has not accepted the party affiliation that we in the New Democratic Party clearly possess.

The only possible precedent for this is the way in which the Bloc Quebecois was treated in the last Parliament. All other precedents, including the way the one Reform member was treated prior to the formation of the Bloc, points to the injustice and inappropriateness of the way the NDP is now being treated.

I would ask members to listen to my argument before they judge it. The authority for not treating us as a party has apparently been the Parliament of Canada Act which since 1963 has set out a threshold of 12 members for parties whose officers are granted special allowances and subsequently for parties whose members may sit on the Board of Internal Economy.

My point today is first to show that the wording of the Parliament of Canada Act does not empower or require the Chair to withhold recognition from parties with fewer than 12 members in spite of the conventional wisdom. Second, I am asking the Chair to follow the established practice of recognizing such parties in the House.

Let us then look at the wording in the Parliament of Canada Act. The words in section 62 read that the officers of "a party that has a recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House" shall receive a variety of allowances. It does not say that a party must have 12 members to be a recognized party and clearly assumes that parties with fewer than 12 members are indeed parties.

In section 50 caucuses that do "not have a recognized membership of 12" are not entitled to have representatives on the Board of Internal Economy but are clearly to be construed as still being caucuses.

These clauses are worded in such a way that the question of other forms of recognition is at worst left open. At best the wording of the statute seems to imply that party as a concept is something independent of numbers and that 12 is the number of seats an already recognized party must have in order to qualify for money but not for recognition as such. Recognition of parties with fewer than 12 members is already implicit in the wording of the statute itself. If the Parliament of Canada Act says anything about official party status then it confirms rather than denies

that party status itself is distinct from the financial provisions of the act.

There being no clear and precise legal definition of party status, we may ask how the financial provisions of the Parliament of Canada Act came to be confused with the acceptance of party status in the House.

Shortly after the passage of the 12-member threshold amendments in 1963, the Ralliement Créditiste divided themselves from the Social Credit Party which was left with only 11 members. In the ensuing debates about the new seating arrangements, the new 12-member threshold was loosely applied to questions of parliamentary practice as the House sought to deal with the fact that two parties had been created out of one, a situation quite unlike the one in which the NDP now finds itself.

Indeed, in the last Parliament the 12-member threshold was also used to deal with the formation of the Bloc out of defectors from the Liberal and Conservative parties, another situation totally different from that of the NDP in this Parliament.

John C. Courtney, a political scientist who published a paper on party recognition in March 1978 in a volume of the Canadian Journal of Political Science , explained the development of the misreading of the 12-member threshold very effectively:

Technically the 12-member threshold in the 1963 act and parliamentary procedure had nothing to do with one another, yet the timing of the events was virtually certain to produce a combination that would lead to the injection of the phrase "recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House of Commons" into future debates over regulations and statutes dealing with political parties. The term, indeed more specifically the number, would gradually assume an authenticity of its own.

The view that the 12-member threshold constitutes a hard and fast rule in law about party status in this House is in fact an illusion. However, in an illustration of the old maximum that hard cases make bad law, misapplications designed to deal with divided and/or new parties are now side swiping the NDP in the absence of an appropriate will to discern the difference between some previous situations and the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.

A more reliable legislative authority for determining party status can be found in the Canada Elections Act. In sections 24 through 42 of that act, it is clear that parties lose party status not when they fall below the 12-member threshold but only when they fail to file certain documents or when they fail to officially nominate candidates in at least 50 constituencies 30 days before polling day.

Even though there is no question that the New Democratic Party is now a registered party under that act, in the House we are treated as if we were independents, no differently than some other members who do not belong to a party registered under the Canada Elections Act.

To this point, informal arguments against the way we are being treated are often met with the argument that real independents could make a similar claim, that it is a primarily a question of degree and that a line has to be drawn somewhere. If the Canada Elections Act were taken into account this argument would hold even less water than it does now if that were possible.

There is therefore no legal authority, either in the Parliament of Canada Act-