House of Commons Hansard #204 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was million.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege today because I feel my privileges as a member of Parliament were severely breached during committee proceedings last night.

As the House knows, the Standing Committee on Human Rights and the Status of Disabled Persons was considering, clause by clause, Bill C-64, an act respecting employment equity. During debate on clause by clause my first amendment was ruled inadmissible by the chairman, the hon. member for Winnipeg North, on the grounds that it was only available in English.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the rules of Parliament state that a member may move an amendment in the language of his or her choice. This happens all the time. No notice is required and the onus is on the chairman and the clerk of the committee to provide the translation to members of the committee if needed.

The chairman's ruling was immediately challenged by members of my party but overruled by the rest of the committee. In supporting a ruling on a matter over which the committee had no authority in the first place, the committee breached my right as a member of Parliament to move amendments to a very significant piece of legislation.

I approached the chairman and the clerk to try to obtain an explanation of this obvious breach of my privilege. In a questionable justification of his ruling, the chairman explained his actions in an inconsistent manner, ruling my amendments out of order because I was "not a member in good standing of the committee", which the clerk immediately refuted. I was a member in good standing.

The chairman's subsequent behaviour was reprehensible. Legitimate motions were tabled and immediately ruled out of order. Debate was cut off. The questioning of witnesses was curbed. The list goes on and on. On more than one occasion we were put in a position to challenge the ruling of the chairman. I believe the record, upon review, will speak for itself.

As an example, the committee had agreed to adjourn at midnight. I brought to the attention of the chair that midnight had come and gone and he continued with the next motion. At the end of that motion, which was voted and carried by the government side, I again brought it up that it was past midnight, according to our previous agreement, and they passed a motion without a vote.

I recognize that committees are masters of their own destiny, but democracy must prevail. I will quote from Speaker Fraser in his ruling of 1987, which states:

It is essential to our democratic system that controversial issues should be debated at reasonable length so that every reasonable opportunity shall be available to hear the arguments pro and con and that reasonable delaying tactics should be permissible to enable opponents of a measure to enlist public support for their point of view.

Despite this, the members of the committee then proceeded to move time allocation, restricting the debate to five minutes per clause, and this after two hours of committee proceedings. Five total minutes was given for all parties on this clause by clause.

This is totally unacceptable. There were clauses last night on which not only was I not allowed to move an amendment, I was not allowed to utter one word of debate. I cannot do my job as a member of Parliament if I am not allowed to move amendments and debate amendments. It is just absolutely unacceptable. I do not know what I can do. I am a bit beside myself.

In his conduct last night, the chairman of the committee, the hon. member for Winnipeg North, overstepped his authority.

I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you rule on this very important matter and you suspend clause by clause consideration until such time as you do rule, because the committee sits as we speak. I am at your mercy. I know not what to do. I cannot speak and I cannot move amendments. I give up.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

An hon. member

No, don't give up.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC

No, I do not give up.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know at least one other member wants to address this representation, there is a point of privilege.

The first thing I want to submit to the House is that the committee has not yet reported. As per the conventions of this House, if a committee has not yet reported the House is in no position to rule as to whether or not there has been a prima facie case of privilege.

Notwithstanding that, even if the committee had reported to the House, the committee itself would be the master of its own business pursuant to the rules this House has established for the committee.

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC

Do you call that democracy?

Privilege

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Standing Order 108 and other standing orders of this House are clear in that regard. Therefore, it is my submission that the chair should not be ruling on this at this time. However, in the unlikely event that the chair does decide to rule on this issue at this time, I want to make representation to the Speaker in regard to the substance of the alleged point of privilege.

First, there has been an allegation made today that there was some sort of an attempt to prevent the member from speaking on and studying this bill thoroughly. This bill has been the subject of study for five months. Yesterday alone, the committee sat for over six hours and adjourned at 12.05 this morning. This hardly sounds like an attempt by anyone to stifle debate.

The next thing that is important to add at this point is that yes, it is true that an hon. member of the committee did propose to limit the time of debate per motion. That was not a government attempt. It was a member of the opposition. Therefore an accusation that the government is trying to stifle the opposition would not be totally accurate. In fact, the motion in question, which duly carried, was proposed by an opposition member and carried by the committee as a whole.

On the issue of the motions, it should be noted that there were a number of amendments proposed yesterday. As a matter of fact, I am told that some 40 amendments had been proposed prior to the committee sitting yesterday. And yesterday amendments in a stack several times thicker than the original bill were proposed by one member.

At the first occasion on which the amendments were proposed, the member in question was not a duly signed member of the committee. Therefore all the amendments he proposed were out of order because the member had no standing before the committee. Later on the member was afforded an opportunity to become a duly signed member of the committee as per our rules. In other words, his whip signed him in. I understand at that point he was able to move the amendments.

If I can speak to the issue of the amendments and the language for a moment, it is true of course that the House and its committees have permitted and will permit an amendment to be produced in only one of the two official languages. We have done that before. But it is equally true that a substantial document of the House must be, not only because of the Standing Orders but because of elementary courtesy, produced in both official languages, because our rules make it such and simply because of the volume, in order to enable all members to participate.

May I suggest that when someone moves a stack of amendments several times thicker than the bill itself, that rule then must apply as well. In other words, several hundreds or dozens of amendments should be translated, again in order to accommodate all members of the House to participate. It is not a matter of one or two amendments where one member can listen to the interpretation system and hear the three or four words proposed to be amended. We are talking here of hundreds and perhaps thousands of words being amended in a particular bill. That courtesy was judged by the chair of the committee to be essential to the good functioning of the committee and ultimately of the House.

I am told the chair did rule as well that some, if not a large number, of the amendments were not substantive but were dilatory in nature and nothing else. I am told, as an example, that someone wanted to exempt people working in restaurants from being obliged to hire people of different ethnicities and so on. Mr. Speaker, you have already recognized that is not even in the area of federal jurisdiction. An amendment such as that and several others, according to the committee, had little or no purpose other than to stall the process of the committee after five months of deliberations and six hours of sitting in one day. The purpose was not at all to amend the bill.

Finally, the committee did adjourn nominally at five minutes past midnight. That was invoked as part of the alleged point of privilege. The House will know that adjourning five minutes later than the usual time when there is general agreement on the committee is not exactly something unprecedented in order to complete the business before the committee.

After three hours of debate on one clause of the bill the committee judged it was for the betterment of the committee that a time limit of five minutes per clause was appropriate. The committee decided that by virtually unanimous consent, with the exception of one or two members. The committee did make that decision with full democratic principles in mind, as it had the wisdom and the right to do.

The committee has not yet reported to this House. When it does report to the House, any member who was not a member of the committee-as is the case of the hon. member who proposed the amendments initially-is perfectly in order to produce amendments again at report stage, if the Speaker and his very able staff determine the amendments are in order.

Therefore, in my view there is no point of privilege. Even if the points raised by the hon. member were valid-and I submit they are not-this would not constitute a point of privilege now but only at a later date.

I believe hon. members worked very hard on that committee. I know the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and several other members have worked very hard. They stayed up very late last night to continue the work after five months of deliberation.

Perhaps some people are not in agreement with the bill. That will not change by invoking points of privilege in this House, which are not really points of privilege at all, and even if they had been, they were not invoked at the appropriate time. I submit the chair of the committee ruled properly with the able advice of his clerk and staff, and did make the committee function to advance the legislation before the committee, as is the role of the chair. He did nothing different from the usual work of a committee chair. I am sure I speak on behalf of most members of this House when I say he is an outstanding committee chair.

Privilege

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, may I add two clarifications so that my colleague will not keep the chair in the dark about certain facts. In accordance with common practice, the hon. member for Fraser Valley East was allowed to introduce unilingual amendments during proceedings.

You should know that as soon as we started our proceedings, the committee clerk asked all participants several times to hand over their amendments, so that they could be translated and made available in both languages. What is at issue here is that, at the start of the proceedings, my colleague from Fraser Valley East was tempted to table some 30, if not more, amendments. Given this pile of amendments, we in the official opposition asked that they not be considered, since one basic element of the rules adopted by the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure is that all documents and amendments tabled during proceedings must be available in both languages.

I should point out to you that the Reform Party has representation on the Sub-committee on Agenda and Procedure. They supported these rules and I am concerned about the hon. member for Fraser Valley East's lack of courtesy and respect for francophones. I wish to draw your attention to the fact that I mentioned during proceedings that-again, in accordance with common practice-we agreed to let the hon. member for Fraser Valley East introduce handwritten unilingual amendments.

You should know that we have always tried to co-operate and that the hon. member is quite brazen, to say the least, in claiming that his remarks were cut off, as a look at the time allocated shows that the hon. member for Fraser Valley East took up between 80 and 90 per cent of the time available for debate. It is only after a two hour filibuster based not on content but on form that we felt the need for consent, as part of committee proceedings, to suggest to the chairman that we should be able to call for a vote after spending five minutes on each clause under consideration.

In a fit of generosity, the chairman proposed that 15 minutes be allocated, and you may be surprised to hear that my colleague from the Reform Party was opposed.

So I am counting on the Chair to hand down a ruling that will respect the rights of francophones in this country.

Privilege

10:30 a.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member for Fraser Valley East on the same point of privilege. I would ask the hon. member please to make his intervention at this point fairly brief.

Privilege

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is important to clarify several facts, as the Speaker was not able to be at our committee last night.

One thing is that the member who made the intervention from the government side was not there either, but he may have been fed some wrong information.

Originally I sat at the committee table and proposed a motion about calling more witnesses. It had nothing to do with clause by clause. At that time it was pointed out to me that I had not submitted my form to the clerk about being a member of the committee. I immediately gave the sheet to the clerk of the committee and to the chair so that I could take part in the clause by clause voting.

After I had submitted my proper documentation to the clerk, and I am sure the Speaker will check with the clerk on this, then I moved my amendments. They were then ruled out of order and tossed away. I asked for them back and could not get them. I could not even get them. I had a stack of amendments. All of them were taken and they went into a black hole or wherever they go.

We were not restricted to five minutes per motion which would have been bad enough. It was five minutes per clause.

Even the government side had as many as three or four amendments per clause which were read out with an explanation and that was considered the total debate. It was not per motion, per amendment, or per subamendment. It was per clause. We passed entire sections, sometimes running an entire typewritten page in the bill, without a word of debate.

It cannot go on, Mr. Speaker. It is going on right now. Clauses are being passed without debate. You cannot allow that. I do not know what to do. I could go back there and stomp on the table, but they are just passing clause after clause without debate. It cannot continue.

My final point is it is interesting that the member mentioned that the committee did adjourn at 12.05 a.m. which is an admission that it did go past the hour of adjournment, not that it was not pointed out to the chairman. I brought attention to it in two different points of order that we had agreed to stop at midnight. The chair said we must continue with it. Another amendment was passed. I said that it was now really past midnight, it was five minutes after midnight. I said that I could not see that we could proceed. The chair hit the hammer and passed the amendment without even a vote. The amendment was passed without a vote.

How can you pass an amendment without a vote? You cannot do it. To say that this is somehow speeding up the procedure, I guess it is. Speeding up procedure does not involve trampling on the rights of members of Parliament who want to debate the clauses and have the right to bring amendments in both official languages. If members on the government side think they are appealing to some unknown masses out there by running roughshod over the rights of members of Parliament who have the privilege of bringing forward concerns from their constituents, it is hypocrisy, it is dictatorship, it is despotism and it is out of order.

Privilege

10:30 a.m.

The Speaker

Order. Colleagues, I have listened to this question of privilege. I think I have enough information. I am starting to get the complete drift of what went on.

Hon. members from time to time become frustrated in their work because things are not going one way or another. That is understandable. That is about par for being here in this place. Things do not always go the way we want them to go. I want to point out some of the similarities that hon. members have brought to the attention of the Chair.

The hon. member for Fraser Valley East said in his opening statements that indeed the committee is master of its own destiny. The reason for that is that with all of the standing committees that we have, if we had appeals from the committees to the House then the time of the House would be taken up with these appeals.

Speaker Fraser in an earlier ruling has indeed said that there are exceptions to everything. From what I have heard here today, it would seem to me that the committee which is master of its own destiny by a democratic way of coming about it has decided to proceed in a particular way. If one, two or five members disagree, again the disagreement is noted.

When a member asks the Chair to make a ruling, as an overwhelming rule the Chair has always waited for a report to come from the committee to the House. In this report the grievance that was brought up, if the committee decides to report it, would be brought to the House.

Here, all of us together would have a chance to look at it and make a decision as the House because we, the House, are masters of our destiny. Speakers in the past most of the time have given great latitude to committees because of the far reaching importance of the work they are doing and have waited for them to come to the House.

It is my decision at this point that I do not have a report from the committee in front of me. Therefore, I do not want to make a ruling until the committee as a body brings this report up. It could be that the hon. member will have a question of privilege to bring up at a future time. I do not discount that but it would seem to me that at this time I would rule that there is no question of privilege.

Privilege

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, on the same question of privilege but in a different vein-

Privilege

10:35 a.m.

The Speaker

Order. I have ruled on the question of privilege. That question of privilege is now put to one side. If the hon. member has another question of privilege that he wants to bring up I will listen to it, but if it is on the same question of privilege I beg the House to accept the ruling of its Speaker.

Privilege

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I guess I need some clarification from you on one instance.

I want to bring forward another very important issue. First of all my understanding of the standing orders is that a question of privilege must be brought forward at the first opportunity. How can we justify saying we have to wait until a report is given before a member can put forth a question of privilege when he at the same time must put forth a question of privilege at the first opportunity?

My hon. colleague has brought forward what is a very legitimate question of privilege at his very first opportunity. I appeal to you on that basis.

The other thing I would like to bring to your attention is that there are changes in the standing orders. This is the first Parliament in which these changes have been implemented. It may mean that a new precedent is being established and it may be very important for you to play a role in establishing a proper precedent.

When bills are submitted to committee prior to second reading, this House forgoes second reading debate. The House is sacrificing an opportunity to debate in the House so that would happen in committee. There are 180 minutes permitted of debate on a motion to submit the bill to committee prior to second reading. There really is no second reading debate. The vote on second reading is held without debate.

Therefore, it is very important that a precedent be established to allow proper debate at second reading. The spirit of the agreement to change the standing orders was so that amendments could be brought forward at committee and that proper time could be taken to deal with the clause by clause study.

Mr. Speaker, on that basis I ask you to consider very carefully what precedent is being established here, whether or not the rights of members are protected under the standing orders as they now stand in light of this new procedure. I think it is very critical and may be repeated many times in the future in the House and in committee. I just want to make it very clear that we are concerned.

Privilege

10:40 a.m.

The Speaker

I would accept the intervention as a point of clarification.

Your Speaker is guided at all times by the rules decided upon by this House. If a member has a grievance, the member could appeal to the Speaker for clarification, if you will, but there are other avenues that a member can take for doing the same thing. Perhaps the member would want to bring it forth with the committee on rules and procedures.

However, for your Speaker today, in this particular instance that was brought forward, I have listened to all interventions and in my view there is not a question of privilege. A point of privilege might be brought forward in the committee itself. Who am I to tell members how they should go about their business?

As I am thinking here, I do not know that this was brought forth as a point of privilege in committee. I do not know that. All I know is what the members here have brought in front of me. On the basis of what members have said here today in this House, then I would rule that there is no point of privilege.

Committees Of The House

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Bélisle La Prairie, QC

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. When the Auditor General of Canada tabled his report in February 1994, the issue of pension overpayments, which reached between $120 million and $200 million, in the auditor general's estimation, was raised repeatedly.

For the committee, behind the figures lay a more important issue: the department's ability to efficiently manage pension programs. This prompted the committee to meet twice with senior officials of Human Resources Development Canada and the Office of the Auditor General of Canada.

In this report, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts makes a number of recommendations, which, for the most part, have an implementation deadline. The dissenting opinion of the hon. members of Chicoutimi and Joliette is appended to the report.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to this report.