House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judges.

Topics

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the remaining questions be allowed to stand.

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions Passed as Orders for Returns
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-317—Income Tax Act—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh concerning ways and means proceedings on Bill C-317, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (labour organizations) standing in the name of the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh for having raised this matter, as well as the bill's sponsor, the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, for their interventions and the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for his comments.

The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out in his remarks that the purpose of Bill C-317 is to require that labour organizations provide specific financial information to the minister for public disclosure. The member also pointed out that failure of a labour organization to comply with this new requirement could result in a labour organization losing its tax exempt status, noting, as well, the subsequent impact this would have on dues-paying members of that organization.

He characterized the effect of Bill C-317 in the Debates, on October 18, 2011, page 2171, as follows:

—the income tax exemptions that apply to labour organizations and the reduction of taxable income as a result of writing off the dues paid by their members would easily qualify as alleviations of taxation. Further, the provisions of Bill C-317 would repeal those alleviations by terminating the labour organization's Income Tax Act exempt status.

The member for Windsor—Tecumseh explained that any labour organization not in compliance with the financial disclosure requirements outlined in the bill would no longer enjoy the tax exempt status as provided for in section 149(1)(k) of the Income tax Act. He argued that this would have the effect of taxing a person, or in this case an organization, that was not already a taxpayer. He concluded therefore that Bill C-317 should have been preceded by the adoption of a ways and means motion.

In his submission, the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale in the Debates, on October 25, 2011, page 2438, contended that the purpose of Bill C-317 was limited simply to providing a mechanism for the public disclosure of union finances and only augmented the existing types of information that the Canada Revenue Agency was already empowered by its mandate to compel organizations or taxpayers to provide.

He also referred to a ruling from the 40th Parliament on Bill C-470, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (revocation of registration). He found a parallel between Bill C-317 and Bill C-470. Where it had been argued that charitable donations were discretionary so that Bill C-470 did not affect any existing alleviation of tax, the hon. member argued that in the case of Bill C-317 payers of union dues could exercise their discretion by opting to join a union or labour organization that adhered to the financial disclosure provisions of Bill C-317 and, thus, maintain the tax exempt status of their dues.

Before analyzing the arguments presented, it is important to take into consideration the context of this discussion as it is worth noting that the financial procedures of the House are based on long-established and strictly observed rules of procedure, procedures that are based on the concept of the financial initiative of the Crown. This concept is clearly presented in Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice, 23rd edition, at page 848:

—it is for the Commons, acting on the sole initiative of Ministers, first to authorize the relevant expenditure (or 'Supply') and, second, to provide through taxes and other sources of public revenue the 'Ways and Means' deemed necessary to meet the Supply so granted.

The role of the Speaker in the present situation is to determine if Bill C-317 is a legislative initiative which imposes a tax or other charge on the taxpayer and therefore would have required the prior adoption of a ways and means motion by the House.

In order to respond to that question, it may be useful to examine more closely the different precedents cited by the members who intervened on the present case.

During his initial point of order, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh referred the Chair to the ruling of November 28, 2007, on Bill C-418, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of remuneration). In that ruling, at pages 1463 and 1464 of the Debates, the Chair made reference to Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice, 23rd edition at page 896, where it explains, “the repeal or reduction of existing alleviations of taxation” must be preceded by a ways and means motion.

The Chair concluded that Bill C-418 removed an existing tax exemption which then resulted in an increase in the tax payable by certain corporations. In the Chair's view, this constituted a reduction of an alleviation of taxation and therefore required that it be preceded by a ways and means motion. I would ask hon. members to retain the phrase, “alleviation of taxation”, as I will return to that concept shortly.

First, let me address the differing interpretations of how an individual union member’s rights are affected by Bill C-317. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh argued that union members do not have the automatic individual right to stop paying dues to an organization that no longer enjoys a tax exempt status. The member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale countered that, in his estimation, union members would have the ability to select a labour organization that complies with the provisions of C-317 to ensure that they maintain their tax exemption. While this is more a question of labour law than procedure, the Chair is aware that members of a labour organization cannot easily change which union they belong to nor can they simply withhold paying their union dues except in extremely limited situations provided for in the law. As pointed out by the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, this is in stark contrast to donors to a charity who may choose whether they wish to contribute, the organization they wish to contribute to and the timing of any such contribution.

The Chair must agree with the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh that the non-compliance of the labour organization would also remove a current income tax deduction for the dues-paying members of the union. For the Chair, there can be no doubt that this also can be characterized as the removal of an existing alleviation. For this reason alone, Bill C-317 would need to be preceded by a ways and means motion.

Let us return to the larger context. The Chair appreciates the point made by the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale that the Canada Revenue Agency already enjoys the authority to compel the financial disclosure of certain financial information. However, it is not the power of the CRA to require the disclosure of certain information that is at issue.

It is true, as the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale claims, that Bill C-317 changes the reporting requirements for labour organizations. However, contrary to what the member asserted, that is not all it does. In stating that non-compliance with these new requirements makes a labour organization ineligible for tax deductions available to labour organizations, Bill C-317 potentially removes an alleviation of taxation and in so doing, the bill potentially creates a new statutory authority that removes what is currently an unqualified exemption.

Perhaps the distinction can be better understood by looking again at the example offered by Bill C-470 in the third session of the 40th Parliament. That bill changed the definition of a class of taxpayers, specifically registered charities, but the alleviation of tax for registered charities as a class of taxpayer remained unchanged. By contrast, Bill C-317 does not change the definition of a labour organization. It demands disclosure of certain types of information, failing which disclosure, the bill provides that the tax alleviation in place for labour organizations will no longer apply to non-complying labour organizations.

This is a subtle difference, but it is a crucial distinction for the Chair.

The ruling on Bill C-470 determined that the bill altered the conditions and requirements for an organization to be classified by the minister as a registered charity but did not alter the class of taxpayer. In more basic terms, Bill C-470 proposed to alter the definition of what constituted a registered charity but did not change the tax exemptions for registered charities. In the ruling on C-470, delivered on March 15, 2010, and found on pages 419 and 420 of the Debates, I stated:

It seems to me that the bill instead seeks to provide a new criterion that would allow the minister to determine into which existing class of taxpayer an organization falls. The existing tax regimes and the existing tax rates are not affected.

However, unlike Bill C-470, Bill C-317 does not attempt to alter the conditions or requirements for an organization to be classified as a labour organization.

According to the provisions of Bill C-317, under the Income Tax Act, a labour organization would remain a labour organization, whether it complied with the proposed disclosure requirements or not. If enacted, Bill C-317 would thus create a situation whereby labour organizations can be differentiated into two distinct categories, those that comply with the financial reporting mechanism and those that do not.

In the Chair's opinion, this new category of labour organization would constitute a class of taxpayer that does not currently exist. Labour organizations in the newly created class, that is those that do not meet the financial reporting requirements outlined in the bill, would see the removal of their current tax-exempt status. Put simply, Bill C-470 did not alter the tax-exempt status of registered charities, whereas, in contrast, Bill C-317 proposes to alter the current tax-exempt status of labour organizations.

As a result of this determination, I find that Bill C-317, by distinguishing between certain labour organizations, creates a new class of taxpayer and that this new class of taxpayer would then be subject to a removal of an alleviation of taxation.

For the reasons stated, I must, therefore, rule that Bill C-317 should have been preceded by a ways and means motion. Consequently, I also rule that all proceedings on the bill to date, namely introduction and first reading, have not respected the provisions of our Standing Orders and are, therefore, null and void. Accordingly, the Chair directs that the order for second reading of the bill be discharged and the bill be withdrawn from the order paper.

However, I am reluctant to deny the member what is likely his only opportunity in this Parliament to have an item on the order of precedence.

As members are well aware, Standing Order 94(1) provides the Speaker with the authority to “make all arrangements necessary to ensure the orderly conduct of Private Members' Business”.

In light of the unique nature of this particular situation, the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale will be permitted to substitute another item onto the order of precedence. The substitution shall be done pursuant to the spirit of Standing Order 92.1, which allows a member 20 sitting days to substitute another item of private members' business for the item that has been discharged and withdrawn. Should the member choose not to replace the item within the next 20 sitting days, his name will then be dropped from the order paper.

I thank the House for its attention.

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, something happened in the House at the end of question period, which is really serious with regard to the state of our democracy. A public servant just quit over what he felt was principle when the President of the Treasury Board asked to have tabled in the House the fact that he had given a donation to a political party. It happened to be our party, but it could have been any party.

That goes against everything that we stand for in this democracy. It is fear and intimidation. It can put the chill of fear into public servants and individuals in Canada donating to a political party that a minister will use that against them. By implication, it can be damaging to a person's reputation. In my view, it goes against freedom of choice, freedom of speech and freedom of political affiliation. The government has access to information on Canadians all over the place, whether it is their tax matters, health matters or whatever it may be. This is unbecoming of a minister to do. I do not have a clue what rule to apply here, but I think what that minister has done is wrong.

We know that during the election the Conservatives used Facebook and Twitter to prevent people from coming to certain meetings. This is the kind of stuff that we would expect to see in Russia, where people are spying on others and where fear and intimidation are used to prevent people from doing certain things.

I think what the President of the Treasury Board did in the House, by naming a person's individual political affiliation to try to make a point and destroy his reputation, because he resigned on principle, is absolutely and utterly wrong in this country called Canada.

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Carleton—Mississippi Mills
Ontario

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Minister of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, the information that was provided is public information. One can go to a website and find information on all donations. One can find that I actually donated to the Conservative Party. I will publicly admit this.

We are not talking about any confidential government information. It is publicly available information. I see no problem or offence committed in giving out publicly available information.

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order. What happened after question period is shameful, especially since it came from the President of the Treasury Board. Frankly, that individual is in no position to lecture anyone, considering everything that is going on and the money he used to line the pockets of his friends in his riding during the G20 and G8 summits. What is even more shameful is that they are attacking a public servant, someone who worked for the well-being of the community for 30 years.

Fortunately, nothing in our democracy prohibits someone from donating any sum of money to a political party, in accordance with the Canada Elections Act, even if that person is a public servant or senior official. Ever since this government came to power, it has created a climate of fear. I began working as a member's assistant in 1993 and, until the Conservatives came to power, never, ever did any public servants tell me that they could not answer, that they did not know anything, that they might call me back and that it would be better to go through political channels rather than through the public service. This began precisely when the Conservatives came to power. This government suddenly created a climate of fear and began scaring public servants. It is trying to prevent them from doing their jobs. What this government is doing publicly today is unfortunately more of the same.

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I have already heard from the member for Winnipeg North just before we went into routine proceedings. If he has something new to add, I will hear him now very briefly.

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the government representative stood up and indicated that he, too, has contributed to the Conservative Party.

What he is really doing is trying to minimize the severity of what actually took place after question period. Although I do not know him personally, there is a 30-plus year career civil servant who has taken a stand on a very important issue that all Canadians are concerned about.

The government has sent out a message to the civil service. This is where it starts to get on to our privileges as members of Parliament. We rely, in part, on civil servants being able to provide information, whether it is in committee or elsewhere, freely. The government message here is that if they say or do or take any actions against the government, it will come down with a heavy arm.

In this case, it was meant to intimidate and discredit the actions of that particular career civil servant. I believe the government, at the very least, owes the civil servant a formal apology. In fact, I would suggest that it is an issue that you, Mr. Speaker, should take under advisement and come back to this House in terms of the ramifications of the point of order that was raised by the President of the Treasury Board.

I take it very seriously. The government is trying to silence—

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will just stop the hon. member there so that we do not get into a whole debate on a point of order.

I will hear the hon. Chief Government Whip and then I will take it under advisement and come back to the House if necessary.

Tabling of Document by President of the Treasury Board
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said previously, the information provided is publicly available. The President of the Treasury Board did not provide any confidential information. He did not provide anything with respect to that individual.

However, I find it interesting that the report of the individual's retirement first came from the Liberal Party.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, An Act to amend the National Defence Act (military judges), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with my own injunction to try to be brief, I will offer a few brief remarks with respect to this bill. It is, after all, a two-page bill. It is not earth-shattering.

First, since I will not be on my feet here at any other time before November 11, I want to take this opportunity to recognize the brave men and women who serve us so well. We are very fortunate in this country that we have people who are prepared to put their lives, bodies and minds on the line for us.

I want to make the point that some parties in particular take every opportunity to enthusiastically embrace the military; however, there seems to be a somewhat less enthusiastic embrace for our veterans. On November 11, I hope that our embrace is far more enthusiastic and that they get a level of support similar to what our military gets.

I offer my condolences to the Greff family and to the Gilbert family. This must be a particularly poignant time for them. Both families are hurting and are classic examples of people who give their lives so that we can operate in this chamber as we do.

Bill C-16 has had a tortured path getting here. It went through a number of reiterations, prorogations and dissolutions and was derailed in various other ways as well. We saw another example this morning, when some members of House, rightly upset that they could not offer their observations with respect to Remembrance Day, denied unanimous consent to proceed in an expedited fashion. As a consequence, we have taken far longer than we ever should have in order to deal with the bill.

The bill has three components and revolves around a core concept: the tension between the independence of the judiciary and the hierarchy of the military command structure. Indeed, pretty well all of the justice issues in the military, the conflicts over those two points of principle, are the subject matter of both Bill C-16 and Bill C-15. Sometimes it is with respect to the independence of the police, but in the case of Bill C-16, it is with respect to the independence of the judiciary.

We are here because the courts have told us that the system has to be repaired. We cannot have a system in which the independence of the judiciary is subject to the whims of the CDS or anyone else in the chain of command. The bill does respond to the Regina v. Leblanc case and it requires a retirement age of 60.

I appreciate that in order to be a military judge, one also has to be a military officer, but it is an interesting conflict. Frankly, for lawyers and judges the age of 60 is frequently prime time in their careers. Ironically, by requiring that age of retirement and by requiring that the judge be an officer, in effect we are limiting the pool of people who would, in all other circumstances, be excellently qualified for the judiciary.

As a classic example, last week we had a hearing with respect to two judges for the Supreme Court of Canada. One was 63 and the other was 56 years old. Ironically, one would not be qualified to be a military judge and the other would only be entitled to one appointment.

There is an interesting debate as to whether one has to be an officer in order to be a military judge. I am not sure that we should not actually be debating that a little more extensively; possibly a retired officer could be a military judge beyond age 60. There is another argument as to why one has to achieve the fitness levels required of officers up to age 60 in order to sit as a judicial officer.

Those issues aside, this bill does warrant our support. I think the regime that the government has put forward in the bill is an appropriate regime. A military officer who is a military judge will be automatically required to retire at age 60, as opposed to the requirement in the civilian system for retirement at age 75. The person can be removed for cause, and there is an inquiry process, again independent of the chain of command. That is an appropriate form of removal, given our requirements for the independence of the judiciary. Of course, there is also resignation.

There is this ongoing tension between chain of command and the independence of the judiciary. Bill C-16 does achieve some balance between those two tensions, and I and my party will support this bill; indeed, we would have supported it at all stages had the government handled the desires of other people in this chamber a little more sensitively. In fact, possibly by this time we would have gone to committee of the whole and had this bill passed and on the way to the Senate. There is a time deadline of December 2, and I am rather hoping that we still achieve that time deadline; otherwise, a decision will be imposed upon us.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member who just spoke. I would like to tell him that we also support this bill.

However, when I returned to my office, I heard criticism from a Conservative member. First, you clearly established the rules here in this House by saying that he did not have the right to mention the absence or presence of a member. One thing is for certain: while I was away, I was still watching the House of Commons debates on television and I heard this same member criticizing the Bloc Québécois for taking steps to delay the bill—a bill that we support—which is completely false. I would like to ask the hon. member whether he shares my opinion in this regard.

This bill was introduced on October 7. The House resumed on September 19. It is the Conservative government that is in charge of the legislative agenda here in the House. Subsequent to the court's decision, the Conservatives could very well have introduced this bill earlier and made sure, of course, that the whole process was followed and that this bill was passed quickly. Everything could have been done but, instead, the Conservatives introduced a bill to abolish the Canadian Wheat Board and a bill to reduce the political weight of Quebec. They introduced all kinds of bills but not this one. So if anyone is to blame for the speed with which the bill must be passed, it is the Conservatives themselves.

Security of Tenure of Military Judges Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

I am not sure that was a question Mr. Speaker, but it was a comment.

I largely agree with the sentiments of the hon. member. The bill was initially presented in a form that incorporated a number of other things, many of which were quite problematic. It could have actually been presented as a stand-alone bill in the last Parliament and could have been law by now.

The government chooses to proceed in whatever way it chooses. It prorogues at its whim, it formulates its bills at its whim, and it alienates members of the opposition, apparently, at will as well, the consequence being that things that should not be delayed do get delayed.

I say to my colleagues on the government side that what goes around comes around.