House of Commons Hansard #154 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was icsid.

Topics

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to erase the confusion in the Minister of Public Safety's response to my question for him. He said that I had never asked questions on this when I was parliamentary secretary. I have never been parliamentary secretary for public safety and security. I hope that establishes the correct fact.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla
B.C.

Conservative

Stockwell Day Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I think the record will show that I never accused the member opposite of the apparently odious crime of being associated with public safety. I do not think I mentioned that. I said that she was largely silent on this issue while it was taking place under the Liberal regime.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am sure all hon. members appreciate the clarification.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, during question period, the Prime Minister made a remark suggesting that the official languages action plan, which was implemented by the now Leader of the Opposition was a failure. However, I draw to the attention of the House the website version of the report of Mr. Fraser. Page 14, chapter 2, clearly indicates the plan was indeed a success.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

We seem to be getting into a lot of debate about what is correct and what is not in questions or answers. As hon. members know, question period ends and we move on to other business.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Beauce
Québec

Conservative

Maxime Bernier Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the leader of the NDP said that it was not in the budget. It is on page 177 of the budget. I want to read it:

The Government will task an expert independent panel to undertake a comprehensive review of Canada’s competition policies and report, before Budget 2008...

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I think hon. members understand when I say I am not sure these are points of order. It does sound like debate, but we will do something else for a moment. I have a ruling.

Bill C-280—An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

The Chair is now prepared to rule on a point of order raised by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform on May 3, 2007 in relation to Bill C-280, An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (coming into force of sections 110, 111 and 171), standing in the name of the hon. member for Laval.

In his submission, the parliamentary secretary explained that Bill C-280 proposed to change the manner in which provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act would come into effect. That act was amended in 2001 by Bill C-11, which contained a clause, clause 275, providing that:

The provisions of this Act come into force on a day or days to be fixed by order of the Governor in Council.

This sort of clause is frequently found in bills and is commonly known as the “coming into force clause”.

Some provisions of Bill C-11 have yet to be proclaimed by the governor in council. Bill C-280 proposes to have three such provisions, namely sections 110, 111 and 171 of the act, brought into effect immediately upon royal assent of Bill C-280, and not by way of proclamation to be determined by the governor in council.

The parliamentary secretary noted that the substantive effect of implementing sections 110, 111 and 171 of the act would be to establish the refugee appeal division at the Immigration and Refugee Board and that this would entail significant new expenditures of an administrative nature. He then went on to explain that through its coming into force clause, Bill C-11 gave the governor in council the power to determine at what time the division would be created and the associated expenditures would be incurred.

The parliamentary secretary contends that by changing the coming into force of these sections of the act, the terms and conditions of the royal recommendation accompanying Bill C-11 are being altered. He read from citation 596 of Beauchesne's sixth edition, which explains that the royal recommendation not only fixes the amount of an expenditure but also the way that it would be incurred.

He went on to cite two precedents from 1985 and 1986 to support his arguments that Bill C-280 should therefore be accompanied by a new royal recommendation.

The Chair has examined the two precedents cited by the parliamentary secretary in support of his basic argument that an alteration in the coming-into-force provisions of a bill infringes on the financial initiative of the Crown.

The first precedent, in 1985, concerns a report stage motion to Bill C-23, an act to amend the Small Business Loans Act. The bill sought, among other things, to restrict to 90% the amount of loss sustained by the minister for loans made to small business enterprises after March 31, 1985. The report stage motion sought to maintain the existing law and make the minister liable for the full amount of the loss. On March 26, 1985, Mr. Speaker Bosley ruled the amendment inadmissible because it relaxed a condition of the royal recommendation.

The second precedent, in 1986, concerns an amendment put forward during consideration in committee of the whole of Bill C-11, an act to amend the Income Tax Act. The bill sought to allow the prepayment of a child tax credit in the following taxation year. The amendment would have permitted the prepayment during the greater part of the current taxation year. In ruling the amendment inadmissible on October 17, 1986, the chairman of the committee of the whole simply explained that the proposed amendment infringed on the royal recommendation.

While these precedents may be useful in understanding how programs may be limited or extended in their application, they do not assist us in better understanding the issue at hand.

The fundamental issue in the present case is whether the coming-into-force provision of an act which was originally accompanied by a royal recommendation can be altered without a new royal recommendation.

After considerable reflection on the matter, the Chair would present the situation as follows.

In 2001 Bill C-11 sought an authorization from Parliament to establish the refugee appeal division. As I see it, the action of setting up the statutory framework for the new division required that a royal recommendation accompany Bill C-11 because a new and distinct authority for spending was being requested.

As it happened, Bill C-11 also contained a coming into force provision which would allow the governor in council to decide when the refugee appeal division would be formally established. In the view of the Chair, it is very important to remember that even after the governor in council proclaims the establishment of the division, Parliament would still have to approve spending plans for its operations through the estimates and the subsequent appropriation act.

In this light, therefore, it appears to the Chair that the chief financial components which require a royal recommendation are: first, authorization for setting up the statutory framework for the refugee appeal division, duly provided by Bill C-11 with its original royal recommendation; and the operational funding to be sought in a future appropriation act where financial authority can be duly provided in the usual estimates process.

Although the proclamation of the coming-into-force provision will set into motion the establishment of the refugee appeal division, it should be seen as independent of the royal recommendation and not part of its terms and conditions.

Our rules and practices hold that coming into force clauses of bills have always been open to amendment and a vote. If we were to accept the argument that an alteration in the coming into force provision would somehow infringe upon the royal recommendation, then it should not be admissible for a committee or the House to negative or amend such a clause unilaterally. Such is clearly not the case.

Essentially, it is a question of timing. The royal recommendation originally attached to the bill applies, unaltered, to its provisions irrespective of the point in time at which such provisions come into force and, from a procedural standpoint, the alterations to the coming into force provisions of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, as expressed in Bill C-280, cannot be seen as infringing on the financial imitative of the Crown.

Consequently, Bill C-280 may proceed for debate and a vote at third reading.

I think that the hon. Leader of the Opposition wishes to rise on a question of privilege.

Standing Committee on Official Languages
Privilege
Oral Questions

May 15th, 2007 / 3:10 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville
Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a question of privilege in the wake of the government's decision not to appoint a new chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages after the committee voted that it no longer had confidence in the chair. This decision is preventing the members from meeting as a committee and doing their work.

Mr. Speaker, I refer you to page 67 of Marleau and Montpetit:

Thus, the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of the House in the discharge of their duties—

The chief government whip threatened the chief opposition whip that if the Standing Committee on Official Languages said it no longer had confidence in its chair, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, the chief government whip would paralyze the committee by refusing to allow any Conservative member to be considered for chair of the committee. I understand that the member for Acadie—Bathurst received the same threats from the chief government whip.

The government did not just threaten and intimidate the MPs, it carried out its threats. In fact, that is exactly what the government did this morning in committee.

After the members of the committee passed a non-confidence motion in respect of the committee chair, the members of the opposition tried three times to appoint a Conservative member of the committee as the new chair. The Conservative members of the committee rebuffed each attempt, thus preventing the committee from meeting. As I speak, the committee cannot meet, cannot do its work and cannot report to this House. On the very day that the Commissioner of Official Languages, an officer of Parliament, tabled his annual report, the government decided to kill the standing committee charged with studying the commissioner's report.

After the Commissioner of Official Languages accused the government of not respecting the Official Languages Act because it abolished the court challenges program, the government decided to silence the members. Hence, the committee cannot call witnesses, can no longer question the ministers or even convene an officer of Parliament, such as the Commissioner of Official Languages.

The government cannot simply prevent MPs from meeting to examine issues that embarrass the government.

In conclusion, the government is using the rule that only a member of government can chair this committee to force government members to support the Prime Minister's choice of committee chair. Therefore, the government is deliberately preventing the committee—and therefore this House—from carrying out its responsibilities.

Mr. Speaker, should you deem that this constitutes a prima facie question of privilege, I am prepared to table the appropriate motion in both official languages.

Standing Committee on Official Languages
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, that is not at all what happened. The opposition is using the committee as a pawn in its political chess game and is preventing the members from carrying on with their good work. In fact, the opposition said that the chair should step down.

It is the opposition that has been making the threats. It is the opposition that has been carrying out a campaign of persecuting a very honourable member of this House, a member who has conducted himself in a most dignified fashion for a long time.

The member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry is a proud Franco-Ontarian who has served very well in the capacity as chair of the committee.

Standing Committee on Official Languages
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Standing Committee on Official Languages
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. We are hearing an argument on a question of privilege. We will have some order so I can hear the submissions of the hon. government House leader.

Standing Committee on Official Languages
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think in that fashion you have illustrated exactly the kind of behaviour we have been seeing from an opposition that is entirely incapable of articulating an effective issue in the House of Commons and now is resorting to paralyzing the business of government at the committee level.

That is a failure of leadership. It is a further failure of leadership that their leader would come to this House on an alleged question of privilege when in reality it is a crusade by them to persecute members of a committee who are doing their business and doing their business well.

The Speaker knows full well that committees are masters of their own business. The Standing Orders and the rules are clear. An appeal to this House in this fashion is entirely out of order. It does not raise a prima facie case of privilege. I am surprised and shocked that the Leader of the Opposition, with his years of experience, is not aware of those very basic rules of procedure in this House of Commons. Apparently he still has a lot to learn in his new job.

However, I will reflect that the rules are clear and that it is from the government that a chair is selected. It is from the opposition that a vice-chair is selected and it is from a third party that a second vice-chair is selected. That selection is done by the committee.

It is clear in this case that the members of the Conservative Party have, with very good reason I might add, a lot of confidence in the chair of that committee, the member for Stormont—Dundas—South Glengarry, who has conducted himself very well.

The Leader of the Opposition may not like the fact that they do not have confidence in him. He might not like the fact that the Conservative Party, the government here, does not have much confidence in his ability as Leader of the Opposition. However, the fact is that it is their privilege to decide who they wish to represent them, the same as it is the privilege of the Liberal Party to decide who they wish to put forward as the vice-chair or who they wish to put forward, for that matter, as their leader. That is the way things work in our democracy.

It is rather presumptuous for them to now want to manage the affairs within the Conservative Party, within the government, but that is the reality of what he is seeking.

As you can see, Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no question of privilege that arises from this. If there has been any obstruction of the work of the committee, anybody putting up obstacles to the committee proceeding with its business, those obstacles have been put up by an opposition that is taking actions to remove the committee chair and thereby paralyze its ability to continue to work.

The government members on that committee have made it clear that they continue to have confidence in that member. Those are the rules in the Standing Orders and they should be respected. If they wish to respect those rules and respect the business of the House and the way this House should operate, they should stop playing games at that committee and at so many other committees and now here in the House, respect the rules, respect the confidence that those Conservative members have in their chair and allow them to get on with the business of government.

I know getting on with the business of governing is not what the Liberal Party is interested in right now. They are interested in paralyzing the business of government. We have seen it with Bill S-4 where the Liberal senators have refused to do their work for a year. We are seeing it now at committees where the Liberals are again refusing to do their work. It is time that they got on with it and allowed them to do their work.

Standing Committee on Official Languages
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of my Bloc Québécois colleagues to support the leader of the opposition's question of privilege. It is disingenuous of the leader of the government to say that committee members control committee procedures. It seems to me that the government is making a concerted effort to stop committee members from acting according to the will of the majority.

It is clear that the chair has lost the confidence of the members of the three opposition parties and as a result, they want a new chair to preside over their work. By asking all Conservative members to refuse to let their names stand for the position of chair, the government is blocking the committee's work. In my opinion, this situation requires a major intervention.

This is not the first time the government has used this kind of blackmail. When I was a member of the Standing Committee on International Trade, the government threatened to suspend the work of the committee if we went through with our unanimous intention to replace the chair. We wanted the work to go on, so unfortunately, we were forced to give in to blackmail. That was at the time of the softwood lumber crisis.

We have to find a solution to this kind of situation, which is not in line with the rules of democracy, and which, in my opinion, casts a shadow over the institutions of the House of Commons and Parliament.

Standing Committee on Official Languages
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise as well to support the Leader of the Opposition on the question of privilege he has raised. The fact is that the position taken by the government today breaches the privileges of all parliamentarians.

I have been a member of this House since 1997. How many times, Mr. Speaker, has a member risen on a point of order or a question of privilege relating to parliamentary committees? Your decisions held that a committee is the master of its own house.

How many times have we raised a question of privilege in this House and you, Mr. Speaker, have come back saying that parliamentary committees were their own masters?

If we are master of our own house, does that mean that the chair of a committee can go against the decision of a majority of the committee? The government, with its chair, decided to refuse to hold meetings to discuss the court challenges program. The chair, on his own, refused to hold meetings, when the Government of Canada had paid to have witnesses from Winnipeg appear before the committee. That was paid for by the taxpayers. The Government of Canada paid for witnesses to come from Montreal to testify before the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

I can understand that a chair would have the power to cancel a meeting. For example, if he receives a call informing him that the witnesses are not available, that they missed the plane and there are no witnesses, I can understand that a chair would be given the power to cancel a meeting, but not when he says that it is because of partisanship. Have the Conservatives forgotten that we are doing politics here, that we are in the Parliament of Canada where what we do is debate democratically and make decisions?

To take away the privilege, our privilege, as members of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, to hear witnesses on a relevant subject such as the court challenges program, that shames our Parliament! It is shameful to do this today, the day on which the Commissioner of Official Languages has condemned the government for what it has done in relation to official languages.

In order to paralyze our work on that committee, the government is supporting the chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages and refusing to appoint someone else. How can it say that it is acting democratically? How can it say that it supports the official languages of our country?

It is shameful that the government is paralyzing its work, when the chair has lost the confidence of the committee. He lost that confidence because he wanted to make a unilateral decision that went against a democratic decision by the majority of the committee: to hold hearings about the court challenges program.

For these reasons, and because in the past you have said that we were masters of our own house, “the masters of their own house”, there can be no one who decides in the committee’s name.

I would therefore like you to consider this view, and tell the House what direction it should take. It is unacceptable, in a democracy, for a person in Canada to be able to make decisions in this way and take away our privileges, here, in the Parliament of Canada. We were elected to represent the people from all parts of this country.

The government cannot decide to do this because it is being criticized by francophone communities for the cuts it has made. It is being accused of taking away the ultimate tool that gave us schools in Prince Edward Island, Montfort Hospital here in Ottawa, schools in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

If it does not like its cuts, it can reinstate the court challenges program. It is unacceptable to paralyze the Standing Committee on Official Languages, to take away our privilege of sitting on the committee, and to refuse to appoint someone to chair it. If it refuses to appoint a chair, that means that it does not support the official languages of our country.