House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was liberal.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

October 9th, 1997 / 3 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in regard to the matter of introducing government public bills in the Senate.

My leader raised the issue with you under the provisions of Standing Order 52. It should be noted that since my leader's application for a special debate, a third bill has appeared on the Senate order paper today.

I bring this to your attention at this time, not as a matter of ministerial responsibility and not as a matter of debate, but as a matter of our procedures and practices which only you, Mr. Speaker, can entertain under the guise of privilege. The situation is unique to this Parliament, so I ask that you be patient and consider my arguments carefully.

This situation is unique because three out of the five recognized parties in the House of Commons do not have representation in the other place. The Prime Minister's use of the Senate as the first house to consider his government's legislation is insulting and offensive to the dignity of this elected House. It is also disrespectful to the new political reality of this House and its members.

Beauchesne's sixth edition, citation 28, states “Parliament is a court with respect to its own privileges and dignity and the privileges of its members”.

In Erskine May's 21st edition, at page 115, it states that an offence for contempt “may be treated as contempt even though there is no precedent for the offence”.

This is the first time that the Senate will consider government public bills prior to the House at a time when the party representation in the Senate is so out of sync with the wishes of the electorate. While there is clearly no precedent for this situation, we are not precluded from finding that the action of the Prime Minister is in contempt of this House.

Mr. Speaker, I refer you to Beauchesne's citation 3 which describes some elements of the Constitution Act as follows “If the electorate so wishes, the system presupposes an opposition ready and willing to attack the government in an attempt to have its legislation altered or rejected”.

Our system presupposes that the elected members be the real opposition to government legislation. The electorate has elected its government and its opposition. The role of the Senate is for sober second thought and must not be the front line of opposition to ensure government accountability.

Some might argue that the procedure the Prime Minister is using is in order. What they fail to recognize is the changing circumstances that guide our practices. I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Beauchesne's sixth edition, citation 11, which reads “The House is to adjust the interpretation of its precedents and tradition in the light of changing circumstances”.

In conclusion, we claim the right to consider government public bills first. The Prime Minister's conduct in introducing government legislation in the Senate is offensive to the dignity of this elected House, disrespectful to all of its members and is a contempt of this House.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Qu'Appelle, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to say a word in support of the question of privilege before the House and to welcome the Reform Party to the feeling we have been having for years. There has always been something out of sync and out of character in the history of the CCF and the NDP in that we have never had representation in the other place, nor did we want it.

It is even more pronounced now that three parties in the House have no representation in the other place. That is the new fact which makes this a very legitimate question of privilege.

The other point I want to make is that we also have a duty in representing our constituents to offer constructive criticism to government bills. Since three parties do not have a voice in the other place, that is very difficult to do at the important initial stage.

I conclude by saying that there is a history of technical bills being introduced in the other place. I believe that practice will now be expedited by the government. Just because those bills have been introduced in the Senate in the past does not make it right. There has been an evolution of thought in the country over the last number of years and people want more input. They want their elected members of Parliament to play a more meaningful role. In view of that fact, we must have evolution in the practices of the House as well.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, on the same question of privilege, I think you should give positive consideration to the proposed motion because, in our evolving parliamentary system, it is extremely important to give more authority to the elected and less to those who are backward-looking and who do not reflect today's reality.

I think that elected representatives as a whole and the people of Quebec and Canada want above all for decisions on legislation to be the responsibility of the House of Commons and that this be the only way to proceed.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to add to this point of privilege.

It may be a small thing to some people, but normally in the course of our day's Routine Proceedings, bills are routinely brought before the House of Commons, the elected house in this Parliament, for printing and for examination.

The bills which are introduced in the Senate are not introduced that way to this body. We only see them after the fact, after debate of whatever depth and degree that the other place decides. Only then are they brought to this House for consideration.

The standing orders have gone through an evolution since I have been here. For example, on referral after first reading, we have tried to increase the influence of this place and of ordinary members on legislation in committees and otherwise in an attempt to bring the new political reality we are all talking about to bear on the 1990s and into the next millennium.

The practice that is obviously taking place now, which is to short circuit the normal, the average, the common way of introducing bills by sending them off to the Senate to be talked over and agreed to in the old boys club and then brought here only after it is a done deal is an affront to Parliament. I think it is affecting our privileges as the elected body in this Parliament.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, if this was not so silly it would be—

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Hon. members across the way have, in fact, tried two methods, each one as unsuccessful as the previous. Today there was a call for an alleged emergency debate on the same issue and now an alleged question of privilege.

There is nothing before the House today on which a question of privilege can be raised. Hon. members will know that any proceeding in the other place is totally out of bounds in terms of raising it in this House. We all know that is the case.

It may well happen some time in the future that the House will receive a message from the other place informing us that it has passed a bill, or a number of bills for that matter, and inviting us to consider those measures. Some of those measures will be sponsored by ministers and set down for consideration under Government Orders.

The standing orders of the House explicitly provide for the introduction of Senate public bills and the subsequent consideration thereof. As a matter of fact, I will read the Projected Order of Business for today. Members I am sure will be familiar with the document. It is not something that happened at some point in our history. It states the following: Tabling of Documents, Statements by Ministers and so on. Just before Motions is First Reading of Senate Public Bills. This is today's Order Paper for the House of Commons. Therefore, under today's standing orders this applies.

All measures will be considered by this House in the same manner, whether they are initiated here and debated in the other place subsequently, or initiated in the other place and debated here subsequently. The alleged argument made by members is that somehow this sequence constitutes a question of privilege.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Jack Ramsay Crowfoot, AB

What are you afraid of? The fix is in.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, we just heard a remark from someone who I think had better brush up on the rules. Whether a bill is introduced in one House or the other, they are of course debated in both Houses.

It is also a reversal of policy for the Reform Party. I invite hon. members, especially him, to pay attention because in the last parliament and in all parliaments we have had Senate public bills debated in the House.

In the last parliament government Bill S-2 respecting a tax convention, which was very similar to one of the bills presently before the Senate, was passed without any recorded division. In other words members of the Reform Party voted for it.

Today they issued a press release saying that introducing bills is undemocratic, yet they have voted for what they considered to be undemocratic bills.

Government Bill S-9 respecting a tax treaty with the United States was also introduced. There were two divisions on that bill. There were two division bells.

One was on an amendment proposed by a member on this side of the House. It is recorded at page 2020 of the Journals of October 17, 1995 that Reformers thought so highly of the Senate's legislative work they voted against the proposed amendment.

More important, this is against an amendment proposed by a member of the House and in favour of the version proposed by the other place.

As well, on page 2021 of the Journals for that day we see on the motion to concur in the Senate government bill that the Reform Party voted in favour of the bill, once again telling us that the procedure is quite correct.

In the last parliament Reformers were so comfortable with government bills being introduced in the Senate that they specifically voted on them when division bells were rung.

I draw the attention of the Speaker to the October 17, 1995 Journals at page 2022. In that division a number of Reform members voted for the bill: the hon. member for St. Albert, the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia, the hon. member for Calgary—Nose Hill, the hon. member for Macleod, the hon. member for Cariboo—Chilcotin and a number of others.

All these members and a number of others from the Reform Party voted in favour of a division supporting a Senate bill and against an amendment made by a member of the House. They cannot today claim that the Senate procedure is illegitimate when they fought so valiantly in favour of it.

This is not a question of privilege. This is a concocted argument by the Reform Party in a desperate attempt to find some way of getting pubic attention.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Calgary Southwest
Alberta

Reform

Preston Manning Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I have several points that will constitute new information to assist you in making your decision.

The House leader's defence of this practice just given rested on two points. The first one, and he quoted a number of references to support it, is that what happens in the Senate is out of bounds in the House. That notion is completely out of sync with the reality in the country.

What if our constituents want us to make what goes on in the Senate the business of the House? Are we not under an obligation as members to bring that to the House, including the relationship between the House and the Senate? Surely the will of our constituents takes precedence over these earlier precendents he quoted.

The second point is that he made reference to the last parliament and instances in which members of the current opposition received and supported bills that had originated in the Senate. We simply reply to that by saying that was then and this is now. The composition of the House is moving further and further away from the composition of the Senate.

At the last election the composition of the House passed the point where three of the parties, including the official opposition in the House, are not represented at all in that other chamber.

Both of the arguments raised by the House leader are extremely weak. We are simply standing before you, Mr. Speaker, to claim the right to consider government public bills first in this place.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

As always when questions of privilege are raised I am very much interested in them and how they affect the House. You have empowered your Speaker to specifically interpret the rules of the House and to give rulings on the rules we have agreed on as an assembly of the House of Commons collectively.

I am looking at the standing orders that were referred to by the hon. Leader of the Opposition and by the government House leader. Standing Order 69(2) at page 36 reads:

When any bill is brought from the Senate, the question “That this bill be read a first time” shall be deemed carried, without debate, amendment or question put.

We have adopted our standing orders from proceedings in the British House of Commons in which there are ways to introduce a bill. It may be brought in upon an order of the house. It may be presented without an order under the provisions of Standing Order 58(1), which is what we base it on. It may be brought down from the House of Lords which is our Senate.

Members have asked me to rule on a procedure on which the House collectively has decided. Unless and until the House collectively decides that it wants to change the standing orders, as your Speaker I am bound to follow the rules.

I would rule that in this particular case there is no question of privilege.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, my point of order refers to question period and a question raised by the Liberal member for Oak Ridges and directed to the Minister for International Trade.

Could the Speaker rule whether the question was in order? He asked the Minister for International Trade how Canada compared to other countries with respect to investment and jobs.

Everybody who reads their own briefing notes and papers that all members get would know that we compare quite favourably. I wonder what the purpose of his question is. Perhaps he did not read his briefing notes.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

With respect to all members of Parliament, I am not here to judge the quality of a question or the quality of an answer. I am here to see to it that a question is properly put and that the minister, the government or the person to whom it is directed has a chance to answer.

What the member is asking me to do is outside the purview of the Speaker. If that were the case, should I judge on the quality of all questions in the House?

I urge all hon. members to pose questions that will be of interest to most Canadians, or at least to a certain part of the country, perhaps a constituency where a specific answer is needed on something.

I decline to ever judge on the quality of either a question or an answer. My colleagues, you are the judges of that. You are the ones who will put the questions and you are the ones who will answer them.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. During the S. O. 31 period the member for Surrey Central gave a tribute to his Sikh heritage and to the anniversary of the Sikh presence in Canada. Unfortunately both the announcement of his name and his riding on the television screen were wrong.

It was the member for Surrey Central who made that statement.

Points Of Order
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

If something like that occurred I accept responsibility for the simple reason that I—