House of Commons Hansard #125 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to be very clear on what it is that we are dealing with here. We were dealing with a point of order on the Liberal opposition day motion, which the government has questioned. I certainly would like to make comments on that.

If we are to proceed, I would like there to be some debate on the point of order and then you can make a ruling. If there are other motions as a result of that for unanimous consent, usually we have discussions among the House leaders and we agree where there is unanimous consent on something or not. However, if the government decides to put forward something, that is its prerogative.

We should be dealing with this point of order and have that concluded before we deal with any other motions.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, like the two members whose just spoke, a Liberal and an NDP member, we would also like to see order in the debate. A point of order was raised on the nature of the opposition day motion presented by the Liberals for tomorrow. We have heard the arguments made by the governing party's representative. I would certainly like to hear the arguments of the official opposition. We also have arguments to present as I am sure the NDP does.

Once the Speaker's ruling is known, if the Chair has not accepted the arguments presented by the Opposition, since we will oppose the point of order presented by the government, we could perhaps agree on another way to work this out. However, as we speak, we have to proceed in an orderly fashion and discuss the government's representative's point of order first.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. government House leader does not need a ruling on his point of order to proceed with requests for unanimous consent. However, since he did begin his statement addressing the point of order, perhaps if there are any commentaries from other parties to address his point of order, we can deal with that and then come back to the request for unanimous consent.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving us the opportunity to comment on the point of order raised by the government House leader.

I will make two specific references and then cite one historical precedent that I hope will help the Chair come to the conclusion that the point of order is not well based and in fact that the motion for tomorrow is perfectly in order and should proceed.

I first draw to your attention to Standing Order 81(13), which says:

Opposition motions on allotted days may be moved only by Members in opposition to the government and may relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada and also may be used for the purpose of considering reports from standing committees relating to the consideration of estimates therein.

The latter part of the citation is not relevant here, but I would underscore the language in paragraph 13, which says that the motions moved on allotted days “may relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”. It seems to me that is very broad language. On a plain meaning of that language, it would appear to me perfectly evident that the subject matter raised by the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine is, in terms of its content, a matter that relates to the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada.

That point is reiterated in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice by Marleau and Montpetit, at page 724, when we find similar language:

Members in opposition to the government may propose motions for debate on any matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada, as well as on committee reports concerning Estimates.

That is found in the section of Marleau and Montpetit which refers to opposition motions.

Accordingly I think we have very clear evidence on the plain meaning of the words that are contained in Standing Order 81(13) and we have confirmation of that very plain language as it appears on page 724 of Marleau and Montpetit.

However, I also note that a matter relating to a procedural issue was, two Parliaments ago, moved on an opposition day, by the party that is now the government, objecting to this procedure. If the House could bear with me for a short time, I will find that precedent where in fact the official opposition, on an opposition day, used the occasion of one of those opposition days to propose a motion, which was at that time ruled perfectly in order, that is of the same genre as the motion that proposed today by the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

Accordingly, because the words in the standing order are crystal clear, because the language and that crystal clear interpretation is reiterated and made plain for us all by Marleau and Montpetit and because there is historical precedent two Parliaments ago for exactly this type of proceeding, I make the argument that in fact the motion is not out of order, it is perfectly in order, and that the debate tomorrow should proceed as planned. Should it be the good wisdom of the House that the motion is approved by a majority of members in the House by the end of the day tomorrow, we could see a terrific expedition of the agenda before the House related to justice matters.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

I look forward to seeing the copy of the precedent the opposition House leader referenced.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

March 21st, 2007 / 4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the point of order, page 724 of Marleau and Montpetit reads as follows:

The Standing Orders give Members a very wide scope in proposing opposition motions on Supply days and, unless the motion is clearly and undoubtedly irregular (e.g., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument), the Chair does not intervene.

Therefore, for all opposition motions, unless there is a clear irregularity, the Chair does not intervene. However, there have been precedents, and I would like to review them. On November 5, 2002, a motion adopted on an opposition day amended the Standing Orders of the House of Commons with respect to the election of committee chairs and vice-chairs. A motion presented on a supply day amended the Standing Orders of the House with respect to the election of chairs and vice-chairs.

On April 18, 2005, the current Chief Government Whip gave notice in the order paper of a motion to set opposition days for the rest of the supply period ending June 23, 2005. It turned out that this motion was never debated because the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons decided at the last minute to withdraw opposition days.

My argument is this: as per the November 2002 precedent, which amended the Standing Orders, it is possible during an opposition day to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Furthermore, when they were in opposition, the Conservatives thought—and I agree—that it was possible to introduce a motion on an opposition day to change the Standing Orders of the House, as evidenced by the April 18 notice of motion by the Conservatives themselves.

It is therefore possible to amend the Standing Orders, and it is also possible to change the Standing Orders by means of a motion introduced during a supply day. The motion before us today proposes a change to the Standing Orders of the House in order to accelerate consideration of certain bills. In light of the precedents, I see nothing unusual about the official opposition's proposal.

The issue here is not whether or not the Bloc Québécois will support the motion of the official opposition. The issue here is the latitude that the opposition parties have to present motions on supply days. I am among those who will always defend the extraordinary freedoms and privileges the opposition parties have in the House of Commons, which enable them to bring any subject before the House that they think is important, interesting or that needs to be debated. Under no circumstances do we object to the government's power to bring up any subject they would like to debate here in the House. But the counterpart to this great power are the 22 little supply days, 22 opportunities during a session here in the House, when the opposition decides on the debate.

The precedents are very clear, and unless there is something very wrong with the motion, unless it is absolutely out of order, it must be agreed to.

We can amend the Standing Orders and we can depart from them. The motion we are discussing today proposes to depart from the Standing Orders, but there is absolutely no reason to doubt that it is in order.

I think it is perfectly in order. Ruling it out of order would strike a great blow to the privileges of the opposition in this House.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, this issue has sparked quite a discussion. It is an important issue that requires serious consideration in terms of what kind of precedent is being set and how we consider the Standing Orders, the rules of the House.

I would note that while we are not debating the merits of the motion which is slated to be the opposition day motion tomorrow, I would point out that the four bills coincidentally that are in the motion were actually the subject of discussions which took place among the House leaders. There is a process whereby the parties can get together and decide whether or not there is agreement to fast track a certain bill or a number of bills for speedy passage. We often do that by unanimous consent. The very bills that are referred to in the motion have been the subject of those kinds of discussions.

I certainly have some concerns that we are now segueing into another procedure. Discussions by the House leaders were taking place in the usual manner and we were to get back to the government about where there was agreement, and I think there is agreement that we may be able to pass some of the bills unanimously, but suddenly, we have been confronted with a motion that bundles things together. The motion is doing through the back door what otherwise would be done through another process. We certainly want to voice some concerns about that in terms of what sort of precedent it sets in the House.

For example, on one of the bills, Bill C-22, the age of consent legislation, we are still in a position where witnesses have not yet been heard.

We are here to debate legislation. We are here to do the public's business. We are here to give due process to things. While that does not preclude any of us from seeking unanimous consent to get something done, I believe that this is a very irregular procedure. On that point, it is something which should be seriously considered as to whether or not it is in order to do business in that manner, especially in the context that these precise items were already under discussion or were already being dealt with using the procedures that we have before us and in a way that everybody understands and in a way which every party partakes.

If that procedure in the motion is approved, this is the kind of thing where we in the NDP, the smallest party in the House, would be the ones who would often be the victims of this kind of procedure as the smallest party. I do not think that is intended.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to consider the points that have been raised. I would ask you not to just give a quick ruling on this, but to actually consider the precedent that is being set here and the fact that it is in some ways subverting the usual procedures that we have established to deal with this kind of business.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond to some of the issues raised by my friends.

First, the opposition leader referenced Marleau and Montpetit and in particular the Marleau and Montpetit suggestion that on an opposition day any matter can be proposed for debate, not to legislate, but to debate. That is the meaning of that section.

What we are facing with this motion is something very different. It is an effort to legislate through an opposition day motion, and that simply is not appropriate. That is not what is contemplated by saying that any matter within the jurisdiction of Parliament can be debated. Effectively, if this is permitted, there will be an amendment to the Standing Orders implicitly by ruling this in order that will allow an abbreviation of our legislative process and all the protections that it creates.

When I do go through those motions later, I believe you will find, Mr. Speaker, that there will not be unanimous consent for all of them. You will find unanimous consent for one of the four items of legislation, but not for the other three. The reason there will not be unanimous consent is that there is at least one party in each case that wishes to see the matter dealt with through the parliamentary process that is established in the Standing Orders.

Much as we would like that to move quickly, much as we would like to see those bills pass quickly, the fact remains the Standing Orders exist as their protection, that this Parliament will work in the fashion that it does. To allow it to move faster than that in the traditions of this Parliament has always required unanimous consent. That is the process by which we have worked.

Should this device be opened up, there would be a new process that has never before existed for eliminating and effectively treading over those rights of the minority parties in the House. That is something which the Speaker has to think about very carefully before making a ruling that represents such a precedent.

The House leader for the Bloc suggested there have been precedents in the sense of opposition motions having dealt with amendments to our Standing Orders. That is a very different matter. Our Standing Orders are adopted by a vote of the House only. Standing Orders do not go through three different readings in the House. They do not go through reference to a committee necessarily and report stage. That is not a requirement for Standing Orders. Absolutely, the committee on procedure and House affairs can study it if it wishes, but the process is not one of a statute. It is one of the rules of procedure in the House. They are Standing Orders. That is entirely different than legislation. I think that one can easily distinguish that precedent. That is something that is very different.

There is one precedent, however, I would refer to and that is a decision of Speaker Jerome on November 14, 1975. Again, this was in a time when motions were confidence motions, but there is a phrase here that I think is very important:

I feel it only fair to indicate that the closeness and similarity of the subject matter of this motion--

--this was an opposition motion--

--and the bill require a caveat from the Chair that under no circumstances could the consideration of this motion or the vote upon this motion...be taken in any way to prejudice the progress of Bill C-73.

There was a clear recognition there of a different world. Even if we are going to debate an opposition motion the subject matter that might be in a bill, it is different than the bill. We cannot legislate through an opposition motion. The Speaker made clear the sense that that is a very different matter.

We have differently set out our rules of procedure in our Standing Orders. We have government orders. That is the legislation the government brings forward. That is the tradition of responsible government. We have private members' bills. That is the opportunity available to other members, including opposition members, to legislate. Then we have supply day opposition motions. They are motions. They are not opportunities to legislate. I think that has always been very clear.

Should this motion be ruled in order in its present form, I believe, Mr. Speaker, you will have effectively amended the rules of order of the House, the Standing Orders; you will have effectively amended our practice and traditions; you will have amended the Constitution of this country. Mr. Speaker, you will have changed from an approach to responsible government that has served us well for many years to one that is dramatically different from that.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, when I was on my feet earlier in this discussion, I indicated that there were precedents for motions of the genre that the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has proposed.

I noticed in the course of his remarks the House leader for the Bloc made reference to one of those precedents, which was the same one that I had in mind, and I have since been able to find the exact reference. It appears in the Journals of the House of Commons for Tuesday, November 5, 2002. There was a motion put forward, interestingly enough moved by a member of the Conservative Party and seconded by a member of the New Democratic Party to change the Standing Orders of the House in that particular case dealing with the election of committee chairs.

The point is this. Like that motion from two or three years ago, the motion which we hope will be before the House tomorrow is a motion that proposes to change certain procedures under Standing Orders. That is the nature of what is being proposed, just as was the motion of a few years ago.

One might logically ask, what is more normal or natural for Parliament to do than to deal with its own procedures and Standing Orders in order to expedite the public business of the country? That surely is a matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada.

The government House leader has tried to circumscribe those words to say they mean something less than a plain, common sense meaning of those words would conclude. We should bear in mind what the words themselves say without circumscription; they say “any matter falling within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”. That open and broad interpretation is confirmed, indeed, by Marleau and Montpetit and there are precedents, including the one to which I have just referred, which indicate that Parliament before has taken the kind of action on an opposition motion on an opposition day as that proposed for tomorrow.

Mr. Speaker, I would also point out that in 2005, when the party that is now the government was the opposition, there were a number of motions on the order paper standing in the name of the Conservative Party that proposed similar types of action. We would have to check the record to see if any of them actually proceeded at that time because there was a long list of various measures put on the order paper, but the important thing to note is that those proposals made by the Conservative Party at that time were of a very similar nature to the kind of proposal that we are discussing.

Again, Mr. Speaker, I would make the point that once you have given this matter thorough reflection, you should in our view conclude, and we hope you will conclude, that the motion in the name of the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine is perfectly in order and the debate tomorrow should proceed as scheduled.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a couple of additional points. The House leader of the official opposition and the House leader for the Bloc are making the argument that the overriding issue is the magnitude and scope of an opposition day motion and that overrides everything. This is an argument to be made, that the opposition supply days should be open, should be broad and should be unfettered. I agree with that.

However, I think there are other issues and principles that come into this discussion. It is one thing to change the Standing Orders, but we are talking about a supply day motion that changes legislation. I do not think it was ever contemplated in Marleau and Montpetit or the Constitution, for example, that members of the House would lose the right to propose an amendment to legislation, without the consent of the mover, which is what would happen in this case. This is definitely a problem.

When we deal with legislation, we have a right to move amendments. In committee we have a right to move amendments at report stage. If this legislation is bundled together in kind of an omnibus bill in a motion, then we are forfeiting the right to move an amendment unless we get the consent of the mover of the motion, which I think is a real problem.

The other point is when we, through the usual procedures, seek agreement on a bill, we do it through unanimous consent. On this basis, using a supply day, we would be doing it on the basis of a majority vote, which is an entirely different procedure.

I understand the arguments that are being made, but there is another principle. Again, as a smaller party, this is something that would affect us very much.

This has to be part of the weighing up of this issue, that it is not just a matter of the scope the opposition has in terms of an opposition day. It is the rights of members to move amendments and whether something can be done through unanimous consent or a simple majority.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

hMr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her comments. However, I would like to point something out. We can do whatever we want on an opposition day, a supply day. We can abolish programs, create others and make recommendations to the government. We can even bring a government down. We can do anything during an opposition day. The opposition party can choose the subject and the content of the debate it proposes.

Mr. Speaker, in 1994, you were the House leader of the New Democrat Party when the hon. Herb Gray, who was the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, decided to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. He did not modify the need for unanimous consent. He modified a whole series of sections to change the legislative process, short-circuit some stages, make some things simpler and others more complex. In short, using its majority in the House, the government proposed some amendments to the rules of the House of Commons. This rule could have been changed at the same time, but it was not.

At that time, Minister Herb Gray proposed a series of about ten amendments to the Standing Orders. Later, with the support of the Conservatives, who were in opposition while the Liberals were in power, we proposed changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. We voted on these changes and they came into effect.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask you a question. Why is it possible for the government to use its majority and propose any necessary or imagined amendments to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons but it is not possible for a member of the opposition to initiate the same process?

To rule in favour of the government's arguments would mean establishing here, today, that there are two kinds of members in this House: those who can amend the Standing Orders by a simple request of their political party and those who cannot amend the Standing Orders by a simple request of their political party.

Why can the government, with the majority of the House, amend the Standing Orders as it pleases, whereas the opposition, with the majority of the House, cannot amend the Standing Orders as it wishes? I am one of those who claims that there is only one type of member in this House. All members are equal and have access to the same procedures. One of these procedures was used by the hon. Herb Gray and by many other House leaders prior to today. It may also be used by the House leader of the official opposition.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a very short point to distinguish what the Bloc House leader has said. He is referring to amendments to the Standing Orders. He was not referring to legislation.

What we have before us is a question of dealing with legislation. In fact, the precedent referred to by the hon. member for Wascana indicated quite clearly that it would be open to an opposition member to move and to have the House adopt changes to the Standing Orders. That is entirely different than what we are talking about here. We are talking about legislating through an opposition day motion, something not contemplated by the Standing Orders.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion
Points of Order
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair has heard the arguments advanced by hon. members and is quite anxious to give a ruling on this matter. In view of the imminence of the debate, this will have to be dealt with tomorrow.

I also would like to give reasons for this, which I am not going to expound on now, tempting as that might be. I am going to reserve my right to give reasons at a later date and I will come back to the House with reasons, but in my the view the motion is unacceptable in its present form.

My reservations centre on two aspects. One is it deals with legislation in the House and amounts to a form of closure on legislation, which we have a procedure for in the rules already, and this would amount to closure on three bills which, in my view, would be out of order if the government were to propose it. Similarly it would be out of order for the opposition to make a similar proposal. I am concerned about doing it with one bill because it is a more abrupt form of closure than we have currently, where the government can introduce one of these motions on its own bill and after a day a half basically of debate on closure, force it through.

We recently witnessed a similar motion introduced in respect of some back to work legislation that was debated one afternoon. It could have been closured if the government chose to do so later and have passed, specifying the time that was allotted for each of the stages of the bill. I think it is possible for a government to do that in relation to one bill by one motion, but not three. This motion deals with three.

I am going to rule now that the motion will not be allowed tomorrow, but I will come back to the House with reasons on this matter in due course.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, of the amendment and of the amendment to the amendment.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It being 5:15 p.m. it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the subamendment now before the House.

The question is on the subamendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the subamendment?