House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebeckers.

Topics

Points Of Order

10 a.m.

Hull—Aylmer
Québec

Liberal

Marcel Massé President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for Infrastructure

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to provide additional information to that provided by the government House leader as to why the point of order raised by the member for St. Albert is not a valid one. In no way do the estimates which are before the House derogate from or usurp the authority of this House to adopt legislation, nor do they presuppose the will of this House in any way.

To begin with, I would like to commend the hon. member for St. Albert on his continuing interest in the supply process and for the diligence of his research. He will recall, through his active participation in the improved reporting to Parliament project, the initiatives that the government has taken in improving the information provided to parliamentarians over the last 12 months, initiatives in which the hon. member has been an active participant and which he has supported on two occasions in this House.

As part of the 1997-98 estimates process, the government introduced modifications to part III of the estimates on a pilot basis for 16 departments. These changes were intended to improve the quality of the information provided to Parliament and to provide better information on strategic and future plans, as well as to lay the basis for providing performance information on a more timely basis.

It is in fact from the part IIIs for these pilot departments that the hon. member has drawn most of the information he uses to support his point of order.

The point of order is based broadly on the precept that the estimates should neither anticipate enabling legislation, nor should appropriation bills be used to legislate. This is a fundamental principle and one which the government wholeheartedly supports. I am not going to question that principle at all. I would just indicate that the point of order which the hon. member has made in fact does not apply in this case.

The hon. member identifies five votes in which he claims that the government is seeking parliamentary approval of funds for purposes for which Parliament has not yet given legislative authority. I will argue that this is simply not the case in any of the five votes which have been mentioned.

I can understand why the hon. member may have come to his conclusion. The part IIIs explain the government's plans for the next three years, not just the first year, 1997-98, which is the only subject of the appropriation bill.

In each of the five cases cited, the government has signalled its intention to modify the way it does business. It has done this through tabling draft legislation for consideration by Parliament and, as it undertook to do as part of the improved reporting to Parliament project, it has done this by spelling out its plans in the part IIIs of the department concerned, not just for the main estimates here but for two additional years.

In being asked to approve supply legislation, Parliament is requested to approve a series of specific votes. It is the wording of these votes that provides the legislative basis for the expenditures of government.

The previous Speakers' rulings which the hon. member cited dealt with specific instances where this wording was considered inappropriate. That is not the case with the appropriation bill at issue here. In no case is the vote wording providing or seeking additional authority that has not already been granted by Parliament.

In each of the five cases identified the funds sought through the estimates process are needed for continuing operations of the programs concerned. If the legislation authorizing the operational changes is approved by Parliament, and only if, in each case, then the funds will be spent in accordance with the new legislation. If the enabling legislation is not adopted, then these same funds will be spent in accordance with existing parliamentary authorities.

The part IIIs from which the hon. member draws his information are all quite clear that they are dealing with future plans and in depicting any legislation at issue as proposed.

For example, part III states clearly, under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and I quote:

Priorities over the next three years include continuing reform of safety nets and grain policy.

Part III under the heading Environment Canada is equally clear:

The proposed new CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, will result in a more efficient process for categorizing toxic substances.

For the hon. member to argue that these votes be struck down on the basis that the government has provided specific details on its future strategies is to argue that the government should retreat under a veil of secrecy. That is precisely what we are trying to avoid as part of the improved reporting to Parliament project, a project that, I underline again, has received the hon. member's support, for which I both commend and thank him.

What a wonderful opportunity these documents provide. Parliament now has a three year planning horizon to help them understand the context within which new legislative proposals will operate. I would go so far as to suggest that this level of future planning information and disclosure is probably unique among our fellow OECD countries.

The situation is similar for the three items where the hon. member claims that we are legislating through supply legislation. Again, this is simply not the case.

Vote 35 for the Canadian International Trade Tribunal is simply for program expenditures. That is the wording of the vote. There is nothing in these words that could possibly be construed as extending its mandate as the hon. member suggests. The vote is neither providing nor is it seeking new or additional authority. It is merely seeking supply.

As the hon. member notes, the Canada Communications Group item is statutory. By definition, the amount shown is authorized by legislation previously approved by Parliament and by that same definition it is shown in the estimates or information as it does not form part of the appropriation bill that Parliament will be asked to approve. It is statutory.

The final item with which the hon. member takes issue is the Canada Information Office. The fact of the matter is that the order in council in question is presumed valid until repealed or set aside by a court. Given this fact, the “program expenditures” referred to in the vote can be nothing but entirely consistent with that order.

The hon. member's arguments simply challenge the basis for the order in council and have nothing to do with either the supply process or any impropriety in the estimates themselves. The order in council can be challenged, but once again it is valid as long as it has not been set aside, repealed or declared invalid by the government or by the court.

Part II of the estimates that I tabled earlier this year contained two assurances. I will repeat both here again.

Individual expenditure proposals included in votes seek authority during the 1997-98 fiscal year to make expenditures necessary to deliver various mandates which are under the administration of a Minister and are contained in legislation approved by Parliament.

In light of the House of Commons Speaker's ruling in 1981, the government has made a commitment that the only legislation that will be amended through the estimates process, other than cases specifically authorized by statute, will be previous appropriation acts.

I think that in the estimates what we have done is have submitted for the vote of the House expenditures which correspond exactly to the wording of each vote.

The explanations given in part III, which once again are for three future years, explained the plans of the government in case new legislation or new policies are adopted. In every one of the cases mentioned by the hon. member for St. Albert, the expenditures that are sought in supply are expenditures under the authority expressed properly by the wording of the votes.

Points Of Order

10:15 a.m.

The Speaker

Yesterday when the point of order was brought up I permitted what was like a mini debate. This is new information which I have decided to hear. If there is anything else to be added, if you are going to make an interjection you will get one shot at it. We are not going to go back and forth. Whatever you have to say on this point of order I will listen to. I will then take all the information, retreat and make my own decision.

Points Of Order

10:15 a.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the President of the Treasury Board with interest and I appreciated the compliments regarding the work we have done on the improved performance and reporting to Parliament.

The point we want to make is that by the very definition of improved reporting to Parliament we are in command of better information in order for us to make appropriate decisions and vote according to the information laid before us.

I think the government and the estimates, especially the part IIIs, have not provided that information to us or the minister is alleging that we are unable to discern from these part IIIs what monies are to be expended including the part IIs and what are for future years.

I have already written to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans regarding one item in this improved reporting to Parliament regarding TAGS. TAGS is a very important program for Atlantic Canada because of the situation there. The new improved reporting to Parliament contains three lines regarding TAGS. The auditor general had to write three chapters on the issue. The fisheries committee has been consumed with the issue since then. However, this improved reporting has given us three lines to tell us the government's initiatives, its plans, its hopes and aspiration for this program.

Therefore, what I am trying to tell you, Mr. Speaker, is that this improved reporting to Parliament has a long way to go. Perhaps this debate we are having today would indicate that the government has an obligation to clearly set out in the part IIIs, which is an amplification of the information in the part IIs, the Appropriation Act, so that we can understand what is in the part IIs and also provide their direction as to where they are going down the road in the future.

I draw your attention to the points I raised yesterday regarding the Ports Canada Corporation. In the part IIIs and in the part IIs the budget has been reduced to zero for this fiscal year. The corporation is still ongoing because the legislation has not been passed in this House. Obviously the work the corporation was doing is still ongoing. Obviously the money it is spending is coming from somewhere because the proposal by the minister is that budget be zero. We are being asked to vote on that budget to say the budget is zero.

We know, the minister knows, the Minister of Transport knows that the work is ongoing and the methodology and the focus of the government will change once the legislation is passed. Here we are in this particular instance, and no doubt it applies to the others too, where by our vote this evening, if we are to vote, we will endorse something the government intends to implement rather than voting for what has taken place so far.

The minister talked about legislation, using the part IIIs, improved reporting to Parliament and how they outline initiatives that the government may wish to take. Hence he used that to justify his argument about legislation to be introduced.

As I said, the government has an obligation to tell us what we are voting on. We do not want to debate the issues of the estimates in a vacuum. This was the whole debate regarding the improved reporting to Parliament as far as the estimates, the performance documents and so on, and the whole debate circled around that. But we do not want to try to determine the $50 billion odd that we are voting on without having it in context.

So we ask the government to lay out its plans for the future. The performance documents will give us some historical documentation in the same format so we can assess the issues. But we specifically ask that the estimates be laid out clearly as this year's appropriations within the context of a wider vision, forward and historical.

Again I tell the minister, and I use the TAGS example of three lines for a very major and important program that affects very seriously a major part of this country, that if the government feels that improved reporting to cover what it is doing this year, next year and how it is going to resolve the issue down the road can be covered off in three lines, that beats me. I think that speaks for itself.

The minister talked about the proposed environmental protection act. Part IIIs talk about the proposed environmental protection act. It was introduced in the last Parliament. I said yesterday that the part IIIs were introduced last February 20 and the identical documents were introduced on October 1, even though it now appears that with the intervening election the government's initiatives, agenda and list of priorities have changed.

We are being asked to vote an appropriation act based on the government's agenda as it was before the election, not as it is today. We know, because the government did not table all the legislation that died on the order paper, that the government's agenda has changed.

Surely if the government had respect for this House it would have redrafted the estimates to reflect the new initiatives and it sought not to do so.

The mandate for the International Trade Tribunal appears, again according to the part IIIs, to have been expanded and extended and legislation is required for that. There is nothing in the part IIIs to suggest that the government intends to introduce legislation.

On CCG, the Canada Communications Group, the minister talks about it being a statutory program. I outlined in my argument yesterday why even though it is a statutory program we as parliamentarians are being asked to vote on it. It is because it has a revolving fund and we vote on revolving funds. Take that into consideration, Mr. Speaker, when you are doing your deliberations please.

Finally, when the minister talked about how they are valid until challenged and struck down here or in court, this is the highest court of the land. I am asking you, and I asked you yesterday, not to defer this decision to a court, but this court; this court that defends the rights of the people and the rights of the Commons, that has the sole right to grant supply to the crown. No one else has it. No one else has ever had it.

We know that by our parliamentary democratic procedure that nobody else should have it. If we are to believe in the theory of taxation and representation this House and this House alone retains for itself the right to pass these things.

Therefore I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to set aside the minister's arguments that this is a valid procedure until struck down by a court of law.

We are asking you, Mr. Speaker, to stand up for this court and rule accordingly.

Points Of Order

10:25 a.m.

Reform

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, you heard from the official opposition yesterday what our concerns were. We indicated to you that there was a considerable amount of expert study into this matter. This is not something that just a couple of researchers had looked at. It had been done for some time.

The President of the Treasury Board has had an overnight look at this and has come back with some argument on it, and that is good. Mr. Speaker, you have now heard from both sides.

I could go through some of the comments the President of the Treasury Board made but I do not think I want to duplicate anything and I believe my colleague from St. Albert has done a very good job on that. However, I want to make two observations on the differences in the argument.

For instance, the minister said he was not seeking new authority, he was seeking supply. We maintain that there is no legislated authority to seek supply for, and that is the big substantive difference in this argument.

Mr. Speaker, I think all the way through the argument that was put to you by the government side, notwithstanding what the minister said, he needs to get the Canadian information office, for instance, established before seeking supply. Therein lies the problem with the vote tonight. We are being asked to supply before we legislate. It cannot be. This party cannot vote for such an approach.

I sincerely hope, Mr. Speaker, that when you deliberate and look at this today and decide prior to the votes tonight you remove those items that are in fact illegal. Give us an opportunity to approve or at least vote for the items that we feel perhaps could pass that test. There is a very important test today that you are being asked by the official opposition to apply and look at.

Points Of Order

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

Hon. members in the opposition had, to use a colloquialism, two kicks at the can. I am going to have one last crack at it here. The hon. President of the Treasury Board.

Points Of Order

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Marcel Massé Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with care and attention to the arguments being given. I would submit to you that the first one by the hon. member for St. Albert that the part IIIs should be improved is certainly one with which I could agree. Part IIIs should be improved. In the course of the years to come we plan to give more information and more specific results. However, I would also indicate that this fact does not affect the controversy on whether the five votes are properly submitted to the House.

On the second comment that we should have redrafted the estimates because the government after an election has new priorities, I suggest that if we did that we would be committing the sins that the opposition is reproaching us for which is that before having legislative approval in the House we would be redrafting the estimates to show what our new priorities are before they have been implemented through legislation approved by the House. Therefore, although I agree that the estimates should be drafted in the most appropriate manner possible, I submit they are at present drafted in the right way until new legislation has been approved by the House.

On the point that this House is the highest court of the land, I would not oppose the argument. I would merely submit that when we have an order in council that gives the authority for a program to be implemented, that order in council remains as the legal authority until it is repealed or set aside and until Parliament perhaps, if it is the highest court in the land, declares that it is illegal. Until that point, that order in council is a valid basis for a vote to include supply.

My last point about the information office is exactly that. The information office must be established first before seeking supply. I submit that the information office has been established. It was established by order in council. We and our lawyers believe that the order in council is valid. Once again it is held to be valid as the authority for establishing a program until it is repealed or set aside, which it has not been. Therefore the vote that deals with the information office is also under the authority of an order in council that is still valid and therefore means the creation of a proper information office for which we can seek supply because the information office has a legislative basis.

Points Of Order

10:30 a.m.

The Speaker

I do think all the members who took part in this point of order are trying to clarify both sides. As I said yesterday, I have been gathering information. I will take into consideration the material and opinions that have been put forward this morning.

It is my intention to rule on this. If it is at all possible, I will rule on this before the votes take place this afternoon. That is my intention right now.

Environment
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Northumberland
Ontario

Liberal

Christine Stewart Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, as part of my ongoing commitment to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental assessment, I am tabling today as the ministerial guideline to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act procedures for an assessment by a review panel. I present it in both official languages.

Government Response To Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table in both official languages the government's responses to five petitions.

Proportional Representation Review Act
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Lorne Nystrom Qu'Appelle, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-287, an act to provide for the study of proportional representation in federal elections and a national referendum on the recommendations that result from the study.

Mr. Speaker, the bill would simply establish an all party committee that would have the power to travel to all provinces and territories of this country to consult the Canadian people on various forms of proportional representation that could be mixed into our current system and to study the various forms of proportional representation.

The committee would report back to the House and with the concurrence of the House cause a national referendum to be held where the people themselves could choose between the current single member constituency electoral system that we have and the method of proportional representation to be mixed into that system as recommended by the House of Commons through that committee.

I believe this would allow the people's votes to be reflected accurately in the House of Commons which is not the case today. It is really a new democracy for a new millennium.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Broadcasting Act
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Sarnia—Lambton, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-288, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act (broadcasting policy).

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to introduce this bill which will amend the Broadcasting Act, specifically the broadcasting policy section.

The bill as presented today is the same bill that was introduced in the 35th Parliament and as subsequently amended by the Senate. It has received the support of the Minister for Canadian Heritage as stated in the House last spring. The bill will simply give consumers the right to say no to cable company services, something that consumers have wanted as evidenced most recently by the unfair practices of Videotron in the Montreal marketplace.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Bank Act
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-289, an act to amend the Bank Act and the Statistics Act (equity in community reinvestment).

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by indicating that this bill is inspired by an act that has been in existence in the United States since 1977, called the community reinvestment act. The purpose of this bill is to require banks to reach, to all intents and purposes, a better balance between the deposits they receive and the loans they make, particularly where disadvantaged communities are concerned.

I hope this bill will receive unanimous consent in this House.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on behalf of a number of constituents from the Trochu area of Alberta. Their petition states the following.

That section 43 of the Criminal Code states that every school teacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or a child who is under his care if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

That section 43 recognizes the primary role of parents in raising and disciplining their children.

That the federal government is under pressure from various sources, including the United Nations to remove section 43 because we ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child.

That the removal of section 43 would strengthen the role of bureaucrats while weakening the role of parents in determining what is in the best interests of children and therefore would be a major and unjustified intrusion by the state into the realm of parental rights and responsibilities.

That despite its stated intent to preserve section 43 at this time, the government continues to fund research by people who advocate for its removal and will be facing Senate Bill S-14 which calls for the repeal.

Your petitioners request Parliament to affirm the duty of parents to responsibly raise their children according to their own conscience and to retain section 43.

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wish to present a petition in which the petitioners call upon Parliament to urge the federal government to join with the provincial governments to make the national highway system upgrading possible beginning in 1997.

Questions On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:40 a.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.