House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was infrastructure.

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Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Subcommittee
Routine Proceedings

June 12th, 2003 / 10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Subcommittee has been working very diligently the last few weeks to try to hear all members who filed objections to the reports of the electoral boundaries commissions for British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.

The subcommittee had just 30 sitting days in which to hear 10 members from British Columbia, 28 members from Ontario, and 29 members from Quebec. The reporting deadline for all three provinces is next Monday, June 16. Despite the subcommittee's best efforts, production difficulties will not allow our committee to deliver its report and evidence to the Speaker in time to meet the deadline.

In order to allow members' objections to the electoral boundaries reports to be forwarded to the commissions, I move:

That, notwithstanding the Standing Orders and the usual practices of this House, the Subcommittee on Electoral Boundaries Readjustment be empowered to file any or all of its reports with the Clerk of the House when the House is not sitting, and that any report so filed be deemed to be the report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and to have been laid on the Table.

This would allow the subcommittee, in terms of tabling reports in the House, to act on behalf of its main committee should the House not be sitting in days ahead. Otherwise it would be necessary to call the full committee to approve the report in order that the committee could table it with you, Mr. Speaker.

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Subcommittee
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Subcommittee
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I move that the 39th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House earlier this day be concurred in.

My first motion allowed the subcommittee to table reports in place of the main committee. This allows the subcommittee to continue its work, if necessary, should the House close down for the summer.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, presented on Wednesday, April 30, be concurred in.

Before I get into my remarks, there are two things I wish to state. First, I will not be voting either for or against concurrence of this report because this matter has been brought to your attention on a couple of occasions that, given the content of the report which was adopted by the committee and reported in the House, it might involve a conflict or perception of conflict.

Even though I am moving this motion so that I can seize the House of the content and the subject matter in order to avoid any perception of conflict, I will not be voting for or against this report. I shall abstain if ever it comes to a vote.

Second, I will make all of my remarks in English in order for some Canadians who might be listening and in particular the member who is involved in this matter so he can follow the debate in his own language.

Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

The Speaker

Before the hon. member continues, I wish to make a ruling on a point of order that was previously raised in respect of this matter.

The situation before us is this. The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier has risen to move concurrence in the sixth report of his committee and, in doing so, has provoked a point of order as to the acceptability of his moving concurrence in a report in which he may be perceived to have a pecuniary interest.

The sixth report transmits to the House the following resolution of the Standing Committee on Official Languages adopted April 29, 2003 , and reported to the House on April 30. It reads as follows:

It was agreed,--That the Standing Committee on Official Languages express its support for the initiative of Mauril Bélanger, M.P. (Ottawa-Vanier), in the Quigley v. Canada (House of Commons) case, and request the House of Commons suggest to its Board of Internal Economy to make available a maximum budget of $30,000 to cover a portion of the legal fees incurred by Mr. Bélanger for his role as intervener in this case.

However, Standing Order 21 provides as follows.

No Member is entitled to vote upon any question in which he or she has a direct pecuniary interest, and the vote of any Member so interested will be disallowed.

The House will recall that a point of order was raised on Thursday, May 1, 2003, by the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast concerning the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages and arguing that the chair signing the report, which directly concerned his interest, was not in order.

In that case, the Chair explained that the reimbursement referred to concerned legal costs incurred by the hon. member as a third party intervener and not, strictly speaking, a grant of money to the member personally, and noted that there had been no suggestion that the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier stood to receive any direct monetary gain.

I then went on to review the very strict interpretation that has always been given to Standing Order 21 relating to conflict of interest. The House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 194 states:

--the Standing Orders of the House provide that Members may not vote on questions in which they have direct pecuniary interests; any such vote will be disallowed. The pecuniary interest must be immediate and personal, and belong specifically to the person whose vote is contested.

Then again, on May 12, the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast rose to contest that the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier had filed a notice of motion for concurrence in the sixth report. The Chair noted the objections and said he would return to this matter in the event the motion was moved, and today that has happened.

I have reviewed the arguments presented in this case, both on May 12 and today, and I can find no grounds for ruling the motion out of order. Standing Order 21 is quite explicit that the prohibition relates to voting. The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier has explained already that he will not be voting on the motion he has proposed and the Chair is, accordingly, satisfied that it is in order for him to move the concurrence motion and debate may proceed accordingly.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by giving a brief chronology of the events leading up to this day and perhaps into the near future.

In the spring of 2000, a gentleman by the name of Louis Quigley, who is a resident of Riverview near Moncton, New Brunswick, wrote to the Commissioner of Official Languages of the day complaining about not being able to follow the debates in the House of Commons in his own language. Mr. Quigley is an anglophone and the cable distributor in his municipality offered strictly the floor sound.

Whenever someone intervened in the House in French, he could not follow that discussion and interventions. This is because the cable distributor for Riverview has opted to only broadcast the floor sound, instead of broadcasting two channels, one in English and one in French.

Mr. Quigley wrote to the Commissioner of Official Languages in the spring of 2000. In October 2000 the Commissioner of Official Languages tabled the reports of the inquiry that was conducted in this matter. The reports concluded that the Official Languages Act obliges the House of Commons to ensure that all citizens of Canada have an equal access to the debates of the House of Commons in both of Canada's official languages.

In December 2000, after the report of the Commissioner of Official Languages had not been accepted by the Board of Internal Economy of the House of Commons, Mr. Quigley sought redress at the Federal Court Trial Division, as the Official Languages Act entitled him to do.

On December 5, 2001, the case was heard in Halifax. It was a case where the Commissioner of Official Languages was granted intervener status defending the recommendations of her committee.

On June 5, 2002, Judge O'Keefe of the Federal Court Trial Division ruled in the Quigley case and stated that indeed the House of Commons was subject to the Official Languages Act, with special reference to article 25 of that act. Judge O'Keefe ordered the House of Commons to ensure that where its debates were available to Canadians that they be available in both official languages within a year.

One June 21, 2002, the Board of Internal Economy appealed the decision of the Federal Court Trial Division. On July 29, 2002, the Standing Joing Committee on Official Languages issued a press release after it had met stating essentially that: first, it welcomed the decision of Judge O'Keefe of the Federal Court Trial Division; second, it regretted the decision by the Board of Internal Economy to appeal that decision; and third, it would consider seeking for itself intervener status.

On September 16, 2002, Parliament was prorogued and all committees were disbanded.

On September 27, 2002, and it gets a little complicated here and that is why these things have to be put on the record, the Attorney General of Canada advised the Federal Court that it would not seek a leave to appeal this decision. It was satisfied and accepted the decision of the Federal Court Trial Division.

On October 10, 2002, the other place made a decision to create its own official languages committee, thereby causing the House to review its own regulations to have its own standing committee. There was some delay in setting up the committee, which occurred on November 7, 2002.

In that timeframe the decision to seek intervener status had to be made because the ability to do so was closing. Acting on my own, but with the full knowledge of the members of the official languages committee, I sought intervener status. There were no objections from Mr. Quigley and no objections from the Commissioner of Official Languages. The Board of Internal Economy also had no objections as long as I sought it personally, which I did.

On November 22, 2002, I obtained intervener status in this case, which I believe might be heard at the end of September 2003 in Halifax.

The reason why I and the committee felt it was important to seek intervener status was because we felt that the House of Commons was subject to the Official Languages Act and that the invocation of privilege, although we recognized privilege, had its limits.

In this case our view is that it is up to the House to decide whether it wishes its debates to be broadcast, and no one will ever question that privilege, certainly no member of the committee. However once that decision has been made, it is our view, mine in particular, that the House must ensure that these debates are available to all citizens through their cable distributors in both of Canada's official languages.

As the past co-chair of the joint committee and current chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, I thought it was my responsibility, as it is that of the committee, to ensure that the Official Languages Act was respected. The act itself gives such a mandate to the Standing Committee on Official Languages. Therefore it has had an interest in this issue since day one.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

An hon. member

Time.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

There is time. Twenty minutes is allowed for motions to be moved.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB

It feels like an hour and a half.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

It seems like an hour.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will continue. The Government of Canada, as instructed by the Parliament of Canada, has created a court challenges program. This Parliament has recognized that it should be providing assistance to its citizens who wish to uphold their rights, despite actions of the government or of Parliament, rights that are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We created the court challenges program to that effect, which has been used time and again to challenge government and parliamentary decisions so they are respectful of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution of the country. Unfortunately, as members of Parliament, we are precluded from applying to the court challenges program. Therefore that avenue is closed.

As colleagues know, we cannot use our members' operating budgets to seek legal advise, or legal help or to pay the costs associated with the preparation of legal briefs. We must get it from the House. In this case we are in a bit of a quandary because the Board of Internal Economy holds a different position than I and many members of the House. The committee asked, through the proper channels, that the Board of Internal Economy supply financial assistance so the opposite view could also be defended, as the courts have agreed to hear it. That has been turned down.

We now have a situation where the privilege of members of Parliament, I believe, is being infringed upon, not by any intent but by circumstance. If members of Parliament are restricted from using the court challenges program, if the Board of Internal Economy will not provide any assistance, and if a member's operating budget cannot be accessed for that, how is one supposed to challenge the chair, challenge the Board of Internal Economy, challenge the laws, as it is our duty to do, especially in the matter of official languages where the committee is given a mandate by the Official Languages Act to do so?

It is rather unfortunate that the Board of Internal Economy chose not to consult the committee, a committee struck by the House, with a mandate to look at the Official Languages Act and its application. That is fine. However I believe the committee and myself, representing it in this case and as a member of Parliament, have a right to that.

I thought it was important that these matters be put on the record. What the courts will decide, the courts will decide and we will act accordingly. However I believe it is important that members of Parliament be given the ability, if the courts will recognize their applications to be interveners in a case, to have funding to that effect. It is a principle that is adhered to in Canada. We adhere to that as Canadians.

For Canadians to be unable to listen to the debates in their own language, means we would then have trumped their rights. If we can speak either language in the House and they cannot access those debates in their language, whether it be French or English, then someone's rights are not being respected as per the Constitution of this country and as per the Official Languages Act.

I understand that the members opposite are not fussy about official languages and respect of rights, but I would hope that this message would be conveyed to the Board of Internal Economy in due course.