House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was norad.

Topics

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

May 29th, 2003 / 10:05 a.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the 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 response to three petitions.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is somewhat of an historic day here. I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the third report of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. We have reduced an estimate.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Comuzzi Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Standing Committee on Transport has considered the estimates for 2003-04 and has the honour to present its third report.

Pursuant to the orders of the House dated Wednesday, February 26 for the consideration of estimates 2003-04 on votes 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60, your committee has considered vote 25 under transport, VIA Rail Canada Inc., for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2004, and has reduced vote 25 from $266,201,000 to $257,201,000, which is equivalent to a 2.95% reduction, amounting to $9 million.

A copy of the relevant minutes of the proceedings of Meeting No. 30 is hereby tabled.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

The House has just been presented with the report of the Standing Committee on Transport. This committee reported the estimates this morning, which were referred by the House of Commons. So, the committee's decision is the result of an order from the House, meaning that the House mandated the committee to make such a decision.

The committee, therefore, made certain decisions and reported them to the House; this is an official report. This is the ultimate responsibility of parliamentary committees in terms of reports and decisions.

That said, I draw the Chair's attention to Marleau and Montpetit's House of Commons Procedure and Practice , pages 244 and 245. Under “Committee Rooms”, it says:

Committees may meet anywhere in the parliamentary precinct provided the requirements for—

This is a condition.

—interpretation—

This is the first requirement.

—and recording—

That is it.

—are met.

This was not, in my opinion, observed this morning.

Referring to Marleau and Montpetit page 835 respecting committees:

Meetings of committees usually take place in specially equipped rooms in the Parliament Buildings, but committees may hold meetings elsewhere in Canada. The meeting rooms are usually arranged in an open-rectangle configuration.

There is discussion of the equipment in the room, the staff assigned to committee members, where everyone sits and it is then stated that:

Committee meetings are ordinarily open to the public—

So, the decisions reached on matters referred by this House, particularly formal decisions, are made in rooms “open to the public and the media”. The reference continues as follows:

Simultaneous interpretation services are offered to committee members, witnesses and members of the public at all committee meetings.

The public has a right to be present, and simultaneous interpretation is available. As I have already said, recording must also be possible.

I would invite the Chair to look into this. Before the report is accepted, I would ask you to defer your ruling until later today, if you would so desire. Firstly, this ruling will determine whether these rules, and the respect of Canada's official languages, were observed when the decisions were reached at this morning's meeting, as well as the public aspect. There were no witnesses to be heard, and I know that certain employees of Parliament were denied access to the room. The ruling will also address the matter of recording and, thirdly, the strict observation of our rules relating to official languages as far as simultaneous interpretation is concerned.

I am certain that the Chair will have no option but to reach the conclusion that these rules were not duly observed and that this report, as presented to us this morning, is not indeed such and is therefore found to be out of order by the Chair.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would hope the government side is not citing a technical rule for a perverse purpose, because its real argument is the issue of the substance of what the committee reported and it is only using a technical argument.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Comuzzi Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to what the House leader had to say. He referred to some references in the parliamentary procedure. I would like to report as an aside that perhaps if we had proceeded and had some control over the process that has been happening in the House of Commons over the last little while we could have avoided the problem we found ourselves in last evening.

We started our meeting yesterday afternoon at 3:30. There was much debate over the estimates. We concluded the meeting last night after a continuous hearing from 3:30 in the afternoon to 9:30 last evening. We did not adjourn the meeting last night. We suspended the meeting at that point in time in as much as we did not have a quorum present at 9:30. We attempted and the clerk attempted to get a quorum.

When the meeting was suspended last evening and because there was no other place in the House to conduct that meeting we decided to use a room in the parliamentary dining room. At 8 o'clock this morning the suspended meeting of last evening was commenced again. We did have interpretation and recording. An interpreter from the interpreter's department was present at the table to offer interpretation.

Therefore we did in fact provide the proper interpretation services. We had the recording, the clerk was present and we had a quorum. We debated until five minutes to ten because the estimates had to be presented today or else they would go on as approved.

I am really disappointed in the actions that our House leader has taken this morning with reference to a legal technicality. I think we have obliged every rule of jurisprudence in the House. I want to compliment the members of the transport committee for having the diligence and perseverance to go through the work that we have had to go through for the last several weeks in order to get these estimates through.

I take what the House leader has said as an affront to the work of the committee, and I stand by the recommendations that I presented.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is important to put on the record, as this could be setting a terrible precedent, that committees are masters of their own proceedings. I also want to point out that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs often allows its striking committee to meet without a quorum and without interpretation but their reports are always accepted.

I think it is very important to put that on the record when you, Mr. Speaker, are considering this matter, and to say that it is no different in this case.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I attended the meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, this morning. The committee's chair told this House that, yes, there was no quorum yesterday evening. Obviously, the opposition members were in attendance, but some members from the government side were missing. The committee adjourned this morning.

I must advise the Chair that I had made sure to obtain the services of an interpreter; so, I had an interpreter with me. I presumed, however, that the committee had met all the requirements, including for transcription services, among others. This is important, obviously, since we had to produce a report.

I hope there was transcription; I am picturing the room and trying to see how it would have been possible to transcribe everything that was said. If the committee's deliberations were not transcribed, then I agree with the government House leader: if the committee did not follow the procedure, then, your good judgment is required, Mr. Speaker; you must render a decision today.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the government House leader's concern is understandable. I sit on the Standing Committee on Official Languages and I want both languages to be respected; that has always been my position, as a member of Parliament and as a member of that committee.

It would be to the Liberal government's credit to respect Canada's official languages, as this House has been asked to do this morning.

If I talk about the technical aspect of the situation, I may end up saying the opposite of what I usually say about official languages. Sometimes the issue of official languages is used simply because the Liberals do not like a bill, and I think that is wrong. I am having a hard time finding the right words and I believe the Speaker is signalling to me that I am out of order.

We can look at the Dion report and all that is happening in Canada in terms of respecting the official languages. I would not want to see a bill rejected because of that; we had both francophone and anglophone members on the committee and they were all comfortable. A ruling must be made. We always say that committees are their own masters, but at the same time, there are rules we must follow.

I hope that this will not happen again in the future. I would not want to see a bill fail just because of technicalities, using the official languages issue however they see fit, when the government is not able to respect them every day across the country.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us get the facts straight. I was informed last night that when the committee adjourned at 9:30 p.m., the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel went to the interpreter's booth on his own initiative to ask one of the interpreters to accompany him this morning at breakfast at 8:00 a.m. in the parliamentary restaurant. That is the first thing we need to clear up.

Moreover, when we as francophones try to follow a conversation using an elbow interpreter, we feel that we are at a disadvantage. Let me be clear, I am not disparaging the Hill interpreters. They do tremendous work. That is not the issue. However, since the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel was accompanied by an elbow interpreter, he could not have appreciated the full scope of the discussions in committee.

That covers the first point. We agree with what the government leader read in the House earlier.

As for the second point, there is something I do not understand. In the dining rooms of the parliamentary restaurant, room 601 or 606—I do not remember which it is—how can recording services be provided? How can the deliberations be recorded? When a committee meets outside the House at a hotel—I went with the member for Thunder Bay—Superior North to the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay—the necessary equipment is provided to electronically record everything that is said. With all due respect, this was not possible in the parliamentary restaurant dining room. When the Chair of the Transport Committee and member for Thunder Bay—Superior North says that the discussions were recorded, I find this hard to believe.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The hon. government House leader may speak on the condition that his comments remain factual and do not provoke a debate.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I fully respect your decision. I forgot to raise a specific point that I wanted to add. It was about the notice that must be given for committee meetings.

A meeting was held this morning and we have been told that there was no notice that it would take place. Apparently, no notice was given because last night, they did not have quorum at the meeting. Therefore, the meeting ended and resumed this morning. We were told that the committee did not adjourn, but that the meeting was suspended and that it was not necessary to give notice because the suspension that began yesterday continued until today.

I feel that this contravenes the rules. When we do not have quorum in the House, the sitting is adjourned, not suspended. If there is no quorum, then we adjourn. We have to sign the register and we come back the next day. Procedure is clear on this. It is not suspended.

The House can suspend its sittings. You have had to do this in the past. Obviously, you and your colleagues in the Chair have done so from time to time. However, I do not believe that we can describe a lack of quorum as a suspension. And if it is not a suspension, there must be a notice of a meeting in order for it to be held according to the rules.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I do not believe standing orders require notice except for an inaugural meeting. Second, I would contradict what the House leader of the Liberal Party has to say, because this place does suspend the sitting when there is a quorum call. Quorum is called. There is a procedure later. Quorum was not called; the meeting was suspended because there was not a quorum and it was a choice of the chair concurred in by those present.

The other point I would like to make is that last night at committee the minister appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport and the minister himself specifically asked for the recording to be turned off. It was a choice of the minister. I do not think the minister figures that he was not at that meeting because he asked for the recording to be turned off. The House leader makes the point that the meeting this morning was not valid because it was not recorded and yet his own minister last night asked at a meeting for the recording to be turned off.

Now, either the minister was asking us to act contrary to allowable procedures or the procedure followed this morning was in order.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Comuzzi Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that you are going to have to take this decision under advisement. Let me just say that there was no objection this morning in the resumption of the meeting. I thought the member of the Bloc was satisfied that he had at his side a member from the translation services. If there had been an objection at the time, it would have been listened to.

I think we complied with the essence and the meaning of the act, with the intention of whatever the regulatory control is, in holding a meeting this morning in order to oblige the rules of the House that unless estimates were presented today they would be considered passed.

I again want to compliment the members of the Standing Committee on Transport for the hard work they did throughout this whole estimates process. I think we complied with every rule and every intention of the House. There was no mischief involved.

Mr. Speaker, I hope that you give the results of this meeting and the report that is tabled today your favourable interpretation.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I think that all points of view have now been heard.

The hon. chief government whip.