House of Commons Hansard #50 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arctic.

Topics

Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley
Vacancy

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Order, please. It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely Mr. Bill Casey, member for the electoral district of Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, by resignation effective April 30, 2009.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed a warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

It being 11 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from March 13 consideration of the motion.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak in favour of this important motion.

Let me say at the outset that I think that it is important for all members to understand that there is a difference in the regime of private members' bills in our place and the regime of private members' bills and the process with which they are dealt in the Senate. If this motion is adopted, it would change the way Senate private members' bills are dealt with in our place.

Mr. Speaker, as you know and I think as most members know, when a Senate private member's bill currently makes its way to our place, it is given some precedence in our place. In other words, we have a Standing Order that allows for Senate private members' bills to be dealt with in a more expeditious manner than House of Commons bills that go to the other place. I would point that out because I think what we are talking about with this motion is the principle of House of Commons private members' bills and the way with which they are dealt.

I would argue to all members here that we are at somewhat of a disadvantage inasmuch that in any particular Parliament there are only a handful of members of Parliament who actually get to introduce and debate their private member's bills. That is because, as we all know, we have a draw or lottery that allows for the order of precedence to be established. That determines which private members' bills are introduced at what time. Currently, with 308 members of Parliament sitting, it is unlikely that a private member's bill could be introduced and debated in this place unless one was in the top 50 or 60 names drawn in the lottery of which I speak.

However, what makes the situation even more difficult for members of Parliament to get some of their private member's bills and legislation debated is the fact that Senate private members' bills are given precedence. In other words, as we all know, the first draw has the names of 30 members of Parliament drawn in order: one through 30. That is the order in which their private member's bills would be introduced. However, if a Senate private member's bill came over, it would automatically go to spot number 31. If there were 10 Senate private members' bills that were passed in the Senate and made their way over to our place, the spots would be then taken from spots 31 to 40.

In other words, members of Parliament are disadvantaged. If I happen to be in spot 31 or 32, but 10 Senate private members' bills came over to our place, then I would not be able to present my private member's bill for debate in this place until all of those Senate private members' bills had been dealt with. I think that is fundamentally unfair to members of Parliament. I think there is a principle. Since we are the elected body, the private members' bills that we introduce should be given more precedence than any Senate private member's bill that comes over to our place by the unelected Senate.

I would also like to point out that there is a huge difference between the way in which we treat private members' bills from the Senate and the way in which the Senate treats private members' bills from our place. In other words, when a House of Commons private member's bill makes its way to the Senate, it is not given the same priority that we give to Senate bills. There is a daily routine of business in the Senate that allows for all items on the order paper to come up for debate on a given sitting day.

This means that any private member's bill, whether it be a House of Commons bill or a Senate bill that happens to be on the order paper over there, can be brought forward at any time. Even more than one Senate bill can be debated in one day. While we have a strict order of precedence here, that is not the case in the Senate. There is no precedence, no priority, given to House of Commons private members' bills that make their way to the Senate, but we give priority to Senate private members' bills that come to our place. Fundamentally, that is wrong and it must be changed.

That is what the motion we are debating today attempts to do. It would merely prevent priority being given to a Senate private member's bill. Senate private members' bills would not automatically be added to the order of precedence thereby bumping a House of Commons MP's private member's bill.

The motion would still allow for Senate private members' bills to be debated. If a member of Parliament, who is on the order of precedence, chose to sponsor one of those Senate bills, that member of Parliament could do so, and then that Senate bill would be debated in the slot provided to that member of Parliament. Right now we cannot do that. We are forced to debate Senate private members' bills at the expense of members of Parliament private members' bills.

Some have argued in committee that this really has not been a problem. To date, that is probably true. It really has not been too much of a problem because we have not had that many Senate bills come across to our place, but it appears that things are changing.

Right now, on average, one Senate private member's bill is introduced in the Senate every day. Theoretically, we could see a whole raft of Senate private members' bills make their way into our place, thereby bumping many members of Parliament's PMBs from the order of precedence. Let me give the House a graphic example.

Currently, there are, I believe, eight Senate private members' bills being discussed in Senate committees. There are six more private members' bills in the Senate that deal with business that has been previously introduced in the Senate. Once debate and discussion has been held on a bill, if another bill is introduced similar to that first bill that has already been debated, the Senate tends to move those bills through fairly quickly.

Quite possibly we could have a situation where 14 Senate bills would go on the order of precedence in our place. That would mean that the next time there is a replenishment of private members' bills, and we always replenish in lots of 15, they would all be bumped back and delayed because the Senate private members' bills would take their place.

Normally, a replenishment and debate on those private members' bills takes about six weeks. What that would mean, again theoretically but quite possibly, is that all of the members of Parliament whose names have been drawn for replenishment would have to wait at least six weeks before their bill could even be introduced because we were dealing with the Senate bills that have been given priority.

Again, I would argue, that totally disadvantages members of Parliament, and in particular, members of the opposition parties. It very much disadvantages members of the Bloc Québécois and the NDP because it is highly unlikely that we will ever see a federal government comprised of NDP members. It is also impossible for the Bloc Québécois to form government since that party does not run enough MPs to form a majority government at any time.

The only opportunity members of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois have to bring forward legislation, since they will never be in government, is through private members' bills. If an NDP MP was on the order of precedence and his or her bill was bumped because of the Senate bills coming across, that would disadvantage that member from even introducing a bill, and if Parliament dissolves, there goes that private member's bill.

Therefore, based on principle, this motion is intended to allow House of Commons private members' bills to be given the priority they should be given. It is fundamentally unfair for the Senate to allow its bills to take precedence over ours. I hope all members will vote in favour of this very important bill.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, today the House will complete the last hour of debate on private member's Motion No. 277, sponsored by the member for Beauce.

The motion reads as follows:

That Standing Order 89 be amended by deleting the words “and of second reading of a private member's public bill originating in the Senate”; and Standing Order 86.2(2) be amended by deleting the words “a Senate public bill or”.

As my time is limited, I will concentrate my remarks on the purpose of the motion and what I believe to be the sponsor's motives in bringing this proposal forward.

However, before I get to the purpose of the motion, I would remind viewers that bills can be introduced by the government, known as the executive, or by private members, parliamentarians who are not in cabinet, through the legislative process. I had the opportunity in the last Parliament, as the member for Cape Breton--Canso, to introduce a private member's bill regarding a tax deduction for firefighters. Bills can also be introduced by the government or private members in either the House of Commons or the Senate.

The purpose of the motion is to amend the Standing Orders with respect to private members' bills originating in the Senate. If Motion No. 277 were to be adopted, the effect would be twofold: first, the House would not to give automatic or guaranteed consideration in the order of precedence to Senate public bills, as is the case now; and second, to force those wishing these bills to progress to the House to sponsor them by giving them their own item.

As an example, under the new rule, let us say that the Senate has passed a bill. The bill gets to the House but is not placed on the order of precedence automatically, as is the case now. Instead, a member must use up his or her spot in the priority list to sponsor the Senate bill. Therefore, a private member who is a member of the Senate will see his or her chances of getting a bill through the legislative process severely restricted, even though no restriction will be placed on the government's chances of seeing its bill evolve, even if introduced in the Senate.

The question I ask myself is why the member for Beauce and his party feel the need to restrict the chances of senators or private members to see their bills evolve through the legislative process. Does the member for Beauce feel that senators have abused the treatment that the Commons gives their private members' bills? The facts are contrary to that.

In the current session of this Parliament, the government has introduced 28 bills in the Commons and 6 bills in the Senate. Therefore, 18% of the government's legislative agenda has been introduced in the Senate. How many private members' bills originating from the Senate have found their way onto the order of precedence? The answer is zero.

Therefore, it is clear that the hon. senators have not been flooding this House with private members' bills. I must ask myself again why the member for Beauce feels it is necessary to amend the Standing Orders in this way.

I should also point out that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is permanently mandated with reviewing the Standing Orders, is currently looking into the rules governing private members' business.

For that reason, I feel that this initiative is premature, as the member for Beauce could have waited for the committee to table its report.

I also agree with my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine when, on March 13, she said:

Now while some members may mistakenly believe that if fewer Senate bills were on the House order of precedence, more House bills would pass, but the effect is the exact opposite. In fact, we in the House give priority to the small number of Senate private members' bills that reach our House and, in exchange, our private members' bills receive priority in the other House. It does not mean that the House always gets its way but it does mean that the absence of this reciprocal agreement would be to the disadvantage of the House.

Maybe the Conservatives are afraid of the kind of legislation that may come from the Senate if not sponsored by the government. Maybe the government is worried that such legislation will not be conservative enough and respect strict right wing ideology.

Therefore, being faced with the possibility of having to deal with more moderate Liberal legislation, the Conservatives prefer to restrict democracy. For this reason, I will vote against Motion No. 277.

It will be an interesting vote. I do not believe the NDP will speak to this. I know that, of the about 170 pieces of private members' business, the NDP has sponsored about 100 of them.

My party believes in private member's business. We do not whip private members' business. We encourage our members to engage in a broad range of private members' issues and I know that many have come from the other place to the House and have been very vigorously debated by both sides.

In light of the fact that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is doing a study and that it will soon be completed and tabled, it would be prudent on the part of all parliamentarians to see it through. This motion is somewhat premature. We believe the current system is serving all parliamentarians very well now. There is a good relationship.

Obviously, from my remarks, everyone knows that if there is a perceived problem, that is all it is. In actuality, there is no problem. We are not being flooded from the upper chamber by private members' bills.

On this side of the House, we will, for the most part, not support this motion.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought there would be a whole lot of interest in this subject this morning.

The member for Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre gave reasonable remarks. He is the parliamentary secretary--

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I have just been informed by the clerks that the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River has already spoken to this motion. Therefore, pursuant to the Standing Orders, he will not be able to address the House again.

Resuming debate. There being no other members rising, we will go to the hon. member for Beauce for his five minute right of reply.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Maxime Bernier Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 277 concerning House private members' business.

According to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, Senate private members' business that is referred to the House of Commons is automatically and immediately added to the order of precedence when it is sponsored or introduced by a member of this House.

However, a member can introduce an item of business only if his or her name is on the order of precedence.

At the beginning of each Parliament, the first 30 members on the list for the consideration of private members' business are added to the order of precedence for introducing a measure in the House.

Once the first 15 items of business on the order of precedence have been passed, rejected or referred to committee, the names of the next 15 members are added to the list.

In other words, the members of the House have to wait their turn, whereas Senate private members' business is automatically added to the order of precedence immediately. Clearly, this is extremely inequitable.

Motion No. 277 would change the rules and make them more equitable. Senate private members' business would receive the same treatment as House of Commons private members' business. We just want to be fair to the members of the House and the members of the Senate.

Motion No. 277 would give a member on the order of precedence freedom of choice. At the appropriate time, the member would be free to choose an item of business to introduce in the House. The member could choose any of his or her own items of business or an item from the Senate. The member would have the choice of sponsoring a Senate private member's bill or item of business or one of his or her own bills. That is freedom of choice.

Some members may say that we should not worry about Senate business, because only one item of Senate business has been passed during this Parliament. I disagree, and I will explain why we should be concerned about this.

During the first 30 days of the session, the senators introduced 33 private members' bills, an average of one a day while the Senate sat.

As I mentioned, the Senate has passed one private member's bill, but the House has not passed a single House private member's bill.

Moreover, four Senate private members' bills have been referred to committee in the Senate and could well be passed by the Senate by the end of May.

If that were to happen, the next replenishment planned for the last week of May would be postponed to June. As we can see, the time that should be devoted to private members' business from this House is currently being devoted to business that comes from the other place.

The many items sent from the Senate do actually make a difference, because time is very precious in this House. We, the members, lose precious time when our items are not addressed. Indeed, time—and I am choosing my words carefully—is of the utmost importance in this democratic institution we represent, and we cannot use this time any way we like.

At the rate at which Senate private members' business is passed, 10 other such items could be brought before the House of Commons by November, when the next replenishment of the order of precedence is scheduled.

Those 10 items could delay that replenishment by two sitting weeks.

In other words, this problem will only get worse over time, and items from the Senate will continue to be favoured at the expense of items brought forward by members of this House.

That is why we must act immediately to ensure that members of the House can present their items at the appropriate time.

I therefore call on all members of this House to support Motion No. 277.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

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

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those in favour will please say yea.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Standing Orders of the House of Commons
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.