House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was senate.

Topics

Parliamentary Librarian
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carolyn Bennett St. Paul's, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure for me to rise on behalf of the Liberal Party to pay tribute to not only a remarkable parliamentary librarian, but an inspirational servant of Parliament and of Canadians for over 20 years.

As my colleague, the co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the Library of Parliament, said, there have only been six previous parliamentary librarians: Alpheus Todd, came in with the country, Martin Joseph Griffin, Martin Burrell, Francis Aubrey Hardy, Erik John Spicer and Richard Paré. Each of these distinguished Canadians evolved the role of librarian to something way more than its traditional interpretation. This was not only about resources, but about the analysis and eventually, under Bill's watch, to the most trusted source of information that parliamentarians could receive. It means that each of us in the House performs to our best possible ability.

As Bill said in his interview in the Canadian Parliamentary Review on his appointment:

Most parliamentarians are here because they have a sense of purpose and public life-they are here to accomplish something. The Library's job is to help them succeed and to nurture the deliberative process for the benefit of all Canadians,

I first met Bill Young when he was the researcher on the HRDC committee in 1997 when I was first elected. I was pretty impressed then that he seemed to be able to have a relationship with almost every member of the committee. When Wendy Lill, the NDP member of Parliament, had pointed out that the issues of persons with disabilities had not really been discussed for over two years at committee, it became quite clear that Bill would help us form a subcommittee that I had the honour to chair.

That subcommittee became known as the tiny perfect committee. It ended up with Wendy Lill, Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral and Deb Grey. We all worked together to really fight for persons with disabilities, the disability tax credit, the Canadian pension plan disabilities. Under Bill's guidance, we were able to call ministers from all departments and commissioners. We were able to design one of the most interactive tools in terms of e-consultation that a parliamentary committee had ever done.

My love for Bill Young came, having him sit at my right shoulder for those five years, not only because of the institutional memory he carried for this place, but also the fact that when officials would come before our committee, he would whisper in my ear and said, “They said that last year”. It was only because of his coaching that we were able to get on and later understand his real understanding of the citizens of our country.

In 2000 I asked for help from the Library of Parliament, as I was concerned about the role of the citizen in our representative democracy and whether it was evolving over time. Bill wrote the most beautiful paper called “The Citizen Engagement and the Elected Representative” in which it began in his beautiful writing:

The social contract in our democracy is founded on the consent of the governed. This implies not just that voters select their governments, but also that there is more or less continuous contact between citizens and their elected representatives in order to exchange knowledge and opinions. It also implies the expression of preferences on the part of the citizen as well as a certain level of attentiveness and consciousness of what government is doing, or wants to do.

He helped us put together a conference in which Robert Putnam came from Harvard, Ted White, the Reform member of Parliament, Audrey O'Brien, Charles Pascal, Carol Goar, Monique Bégin and the hon. member for Toronto Centre. After that conference, we began to start to refer to this concept of democracy between elections, which is truly what the parliamentary librarian is able to provide us with.

Later in 2002, as co-chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the Library of Parliament, I was able, with our co-chair Yves Morin, as well as Deb Grey, working with Graham Fox, to work on the consultations 2002 called “The Parliament we Want”.

It is very interesting that in the conclusion of that document, again a lot with the leadership of Bill, said:

Our message, based on our consultations, is this. In weighing the many options we have before us, and in making decisions on the future role of Parliamentarians, we should keep in mind that the reforms should aim to:

lead to more meaningful work;

look to the future, not the past;

enhance Parliament’s oversight of government activity;

enhance Parliament’s contribution to policy debates;

strike a balance between the adversarial and the consensual aspects of our democratic system;

focus on committees as an immediate priority;

make Parliamentarians knowledge-brokers;

and strike a new bargain between Parliament and the public service.

That is, in short, the Parliament we want. Parliamentarians ask, and Canadians deserve, nothing less.

When Mr. Young was appointed in 2005, his biography indicated that he had a Ph.D. in history and was a professional historian. Mr. Young is the author of a number of books as well as academic and popular papers. He has also written many parliamentary reports.

It is, indeed, the case of Bill Young, from his Ph.D thesis on the role of the National Film Board and propaganda in World War II to the many reports he wrote on disability issues, with Dr. Halliday and Andy Scott, to the London diaries of Paul Martin Sr., to Sacred Trust, a book he wrote with David Bercuson and Jack Granatstein on Brian Mulroney and the Conservative Party.

Since his nomination, he has continued to embark, as we have heard already, on a significant renewal of the Library, with the modern controllership of its resources and the redesign of numbers of products for parliamentarians better suited to their needs in the time and format they need.

As well as the historian, he reconstituted debates of early years of Parliament for future generations with the digitalization project. He also worked with his posse of parliamentary librarians from around the world, like John Pullinger from the U.K. parliament of Westminster, Soledad Ferreiro in Chile, to commission Nick Nanos and others on the parliament of 2020 and what the future of Parliament would be like using the kind of evolving communication technologies and how that could support a more effective Parliament and a more engaged public in the future.

He was seconded to the Department of Social Development for two years, where he was the departmental assistant to the deputy minister. His minister, who Bill lovingly referred to as number 29, asked me to send Bill this message. It states:

Bill is the good civil servant. He embodies why doing a government's work matters. He believes good can be done, that better is possible, but he also knows that bad and worse are much easier to deliver. So he looks--every day--to do the good and the better and expose the bad and the worse.

He has a joy about him. A joy that comes from knowing why he does what he does, from a pride, but also from always putting people at the centre. He knows that it's with people that he does things, and for people that he does them, people with all their--and his own--wonderful strengths and wonderful foibles. So to Bill nothing is ever old and dry and boring.

He has a curiosity, this fascination, with life. He wants to know - everything. About everyone. Every delicious fact; every delicious insight; and every delicious morsel of gossip. Always, of course, delivered with that twinkle, and that laugh.

As Ken Dryden has said, Bill Young is more than an institutional memory. To me, Bill Young is the ultimate leader of vision, values and risk taking. He imparts that to his team and his team knows, as the best of every team leader, that it will be allowed to do its very best performance, but when it stumbles, he will be there for it.

Parliament is not only losing a great friend, a great defender of this institution, but also a great believer in the role of citizens in their democracy and the need to build better mechanisms between citizens and their Parliament and their parliamentarians to ensure that their voices are heard.

The eighth parliamentary librarian will have a tough act to follow, big shoes to fill, but the most important qualification will be the love of this place and the understanding of the good it can do.

We wish Bill and Philippe some well-earned time, but I cannot wait until the next chapter when he is back actually inspiring us all to just do better.

Parliamentary Librarian
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-François Fortin Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to speak to the excellent character of Mr. Young. I have met him on a number of occasions. The first time was in 2006, just after he was appointed.

Mr. Young is a dedicated, caring and competent person. He cares about the important role of parliamentarians. Those who have made his acquaintance also know that he uses humour intelligently. He is a good person and a good boss. I have it from a reliable source that many of his employees consider him to be an exceptional man. Involved and respected by everyone, Mr. Young is personally committed to causes dear to him and I would like to take off my hat to him.

I had the opportunity to work with him through the Library of Parliament's programs for teachers. I attended the Teachers Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy. Mr. Young was committed to providing teachers with the tools they needed to teach about parliamentary democracy in Canada and Quebec.

In his role, Mr. Young supported teachers in what they did on a daily basis. He did so especially in programs for the public. The Library of Parliament's educational programs serve all Canadian youth, whether they live in Alberta, British Columbia or Quebec. These young people can learn about Parliament by using the Library of Parliament's tools, thanks to Mr. Young's efforts to promote all these tools. This allows young people to embrace democracy and the parliamentary system in a non-partisan way.

I sincerely hope that Mr. Young will have some wonderful challenges after he leaves us. He is always steadfast and looks to the future. On behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I wish him all the best in the future. I take off my hat to him again for all his wonderful accomplishments as parliamentary librarian.

Parliamentary Librarian
Oral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Mr. Young, on my own part, I would like, on behalf of all members of Parliament, to thank you and add my best wishes and offer you our heartfelt best wishes for a long and happy retirement.

I would like to also thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh for allowing the tributes to proceed. Now he might like to ask his Thursday question.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have been thinking about the importance of leading by example. I think that the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons should do the same. Last week, he said that we would conclude law-abiding Canadians week and that this week would be democratic reform week. That is very ironic.

It is ironic because of what happened this week. We saw the passing of Bill C-10 on Monday, a bill that has been almost universally panned as being ineffective, not even knowing how much it is going to cost the Canadian public at both the provincial and federal levels. It is probably going to increase crime in this country at the end of the day. Yet, that was supposed to be part of the week when the Conservatives were having their crime agenda.

Then we saw this spectacle yesterday at the Federal Court, slamming a minister, berating a minister actually, in the written judgment for breaking the Canadian Wheat Board Act. It was to the extent, and this is quite unusual, that the federal court judge actually awarded costs to all the applicants against the government for the breach of that act. So that was the Conservatives' crime agenda.

Then, democratic reform is supposed to be this week. What did we see this week? We saw the Conservatives, once again, set the all-time record for closure and time allocation motions by doing so for the 12th time in less than 70 sitting days. The Conservatives beat the Liberal record by almost 40%, if my math is correct. That is what we saw.

In all honesty, after what we have just seen go on, I am almost afraid to ask the question of what is coming this week not knowing the consequences. However, I will close with the question, since that is my duty here, to the House leader of the Government and it is with substantial trepidation that I do this.

I would like to know, and I think Parliament and Canadians would like to know, what is going to happen in the House the rest of this week and the week coming up to next Friday, which is when the House will rise for the winter break? In part, we need to know that. Parliament and Canadians need to know, so they can get ready for what may be some of the consequences if we see the same kind of experience we have seen this week.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:30 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, one of the most important things we are looking forward to in the next week or so is the passage of the major priority pieces of legislation we have been advancing this fall, for which we have been seeking to set timetables to ensure they could pass to be in effect for next year. They are our budget implementation act to ensure that important tax measures are in place like a tax credit for job creation and accelerated capital cost allowance to create jobs; our bill to ensure fair representation, to have that in place in time for the redistribution that is going to unfold next year; and in addition to that another bill which again is a time priority, the crime bill, and I do not think we are going to be able to make that objective.

However, we are looking to get those in place and, having done that, we look forward to, in the next 10 days or so, the very first of those bills we have been working on all fall to actually becoming law. That will be a very exciting time for us when we finally achieve Royal Assent, having spent that time.

I should advise members that next week will be free trade and jobs week. We will begin Monday morning with second reading of Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama free trade act. This free trade agreement was signed on May 14, 2010. It is now time for Parliament to put it into effect, so that Canadians can benefit from the jobs and economic growth it will deliver.

It being free trade and jobs week, we will begin second reading debate on Wednesday of another bill to implement a job-creating free trade agreement. In this case, we will discuss Bill C-23, the Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act, which will implement Canada's first free trade agreement with an Arab country.

This will be the last week before the House adjourns for the holidays. And it is with the Christmas spirit in mind that we hope to have the co-operation of all members in making great progress on a number of important bills with a focus on job creation and economic growth.

On Monday, if we are able to pass Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama free trade bill, we would call Bill C-11, the copyright modernization act. Bill C-11 is another bill that would lead to more jobs in Canada, and our world-leading digital and cultural sectors. Earlier this week, the Liberal motion to block further debate on this important bill was defeated in this House. That means we can get back to second reading debate and I would hope that after being debated for over one sitting week, the opposition will finally allow this bill to get to committee.

If we continue to make the progress I am hoping for, we will then call Bill C-14, the Improving Trade Within Canada Act, for further second reading debate. This is a fairly straightforward bill that will benefit the economy by implementing amendments to the Agreement on Internal Trade agreed by the provinces. I expect all parties will allow it to move swiftly to committee.

In addition to passing these job creating bills, on Monday, ideally, we would then call C-26, the citizen's arrest and self-defence act for further debate.

For the balance of free trade and jobs week, we will continue to debate any of those bills which have not yet been referred to committee. We would also look to begin second reading debate on Bill C-28, the financial literacy leader act. This bill will create a new position in the government dedicated to encouraging financial literacy for Canadians.

As for the balance of this week, which is democratic reform week, Bill C-20, the fair representation act, will be debated tomorrow at report stage, further to the motion adopted yesterday. Third reading in the House on this bill will be Tuesday. This will be followed by a vote Tuesday night, a vote that will give all members in this place an opportunity to vote on the important democratic principle of representation by population.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on this question of privilege to request, in recognition of the decision made yesterday by Mr. Justice Campbell of the Federal Court, and the need that this House be in compliance with the rule of law and be seen by all Canadians to actively demonstrate its willingness to accept and defer to the rule of law, that you reconsider the basis of your earlier ruling stemming from the question of privilege raised by my colleague, the member for Malpeque, on October 18 of this year.

It is now unambiguous that as members of Parliament our privileges have been violated as a result of our participation in the Minister of Agriculture's single-minded mission to dismantle the Wheat Board without first consulting with and determining the will of western Canadian wheat and barley farmers, as he remains required to do.

In light of the ruling of the Federal Court, dated December 7, 2011, in the case of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board et al. v. The Attorney General of Canada and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, it is now apparent that this honourable House was forced to participate in a debate that is now, and was then, contrary to the rule of law.

In his ruling yesterday, Mr. Justice Campbell ordered the following declaration be made:

--the Minister failed to comply with his statutory duty pursuant to section 47.1 of the Act, to consult with the Board and to hold a producer vote, prior to the causing to be introduced in Parliament Bill C-18,--

The very same argument was made at that juncture by the member for Malpeque, the member for Winnipeg North, and me on October 18. In fact, it has been the position put forward by this party from the very beginning of the Minister of Agriculture's quest to fulfill his ideological obsession.

Let farmers decide. It is a simple enough precept.

Indeed, prior to our last general election on May 2, 2011, a then keen Minister of Agriculture assured farmers in Minnedosa, Manitoba, and in mid-March 2011 that he would not act arbitrarily and that the wishes of farmers would be respected.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the May 2 election, having finally won the majority it coveted for so many years, the Conservative government no longer felt it necessary to grant western grain farmers the very vote on the issue they were guaranteed by statute and was assured them by the minister.

Instead, the government spoke at length about the mandate given by Canadians. Which mandate? There is no mandate that enables the government to trample on the rights of western Canadian grain farmers, or any other Canadians, with impunity. What is the evidence of this complete lack of regard for the law by the government?

In the face of the words of Mr. Justice Campbell where he said, “The second and most important effect is that the minister will be held accountable for his disregard for the rule of law”, the Minister of Agriculture replied, “I can tell you that, at the end of the day, this declaration will have no effect on continuing to move forward. Bill C-18 will pass”.

This is important. The minister does not understand that while the Conservatives can change the law, they cannot break the law while changing it any more than they can ignore procedure within this very House when we make new laws.

Why is it that Parliament or government should be any less bound to laws than they are to the procedures in the House when passing those laws?

Many prairie farmers no doubt voted Conservative, but they did not vote for Conservative candidates only to see their democratic rights stripped from them as soon as the ballots were counted.

Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to Chief Justice Fraser's comments in Reece v. the City of Edmonton, 2011, cited at paragraph 3 of Mr. Justice Campbell's ruling, where the Chief Justice states:

When government does not comply with the law, this is not merely non-compliance with a particular law, it is an affront to the rule of law itself.

Moreover, in Justice Campbell's decision at paragraph 27, he makes reference to a memorandum of fact and law of an intervenor in the case before the Federal Court, which states:

As the Applicants note, western farmers relied on the fact that the government would have to conduct a plebiscite under section 47.1 before introducing legislation to change the marketing mandate of the CWB. Disregarding the requirements of s. 47.1 deprives farmers of the most important vehicle they have for expressing their views on the fundamental question of the single desk. Furthermore the opportunity to vote in a federal election is no answer to the loss of this particular democratic franchise. Until the sudden introduction of Bill C-18, Canadian farmers would have expected the requirements of s. 47.1 to be respected.

When originally introduced by a Liberal government in 1997 and finally passed in 1998, the intention of the bill introducing section 47.1 was to empower farmers with the necessary self-determination before the government could unilaterally or fundamentally alter the Canadian Wheat Board.

At that time it was argued, and I quote:

Throughout its history the Canadian Wheat Board has been governed by a small group of up to five commissioners, all appointed by the Government of Canada without any requirement that anybody be consulted and legally responsible only to the Government of Canada. But in today's dynamic

--this was back in 1997--

and changing marketplace, producers have made it clear that they want the Canadian Wheat Board to be more accountable to them. They want more control....

...empowering producers, enshrining democratic authority which has never existed before, providing new accountability, new flexibility and responsiveness, and positioning farmers to shape the kind of wheat board they want for the future.

The institution of the Canadian Wheat Board is considered so sacrosanct that codified in the statute is a mechanism designed to protect farmers from a government arbitrarily removing the strength and clout of an agency that markets and sells wheat and barley at the best possible price on behalf of all western Canadian grain farmers.

It is for this very reason that in his ruling yesterday Mr. Justice Campbell stated, and I quote:

I accept the argument that the CWB's democratic marketing practices are “significant and fundamental' because they are long standing, and strongly supported by a large number of the some 17,000 grain producers in Western Canada.

On October 18, Mr. Speaker, you spoke to your inability to rule on the legality of a bill, as it was the responsibility of the courts to decide. Well, now the courts have spoken, and just as we argued then, without first having consulted with the Canada Wheat Board and conducting the required plebiscite pursuant to section 47.1, the bill is illegal. These are exactly the circumstances that the member for Malpeque was rightly trying to steer this House away from: a situation wherein this House and its process is in contravention of the law, as is the participation by each of its members in such process.

According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 111:

A Member may also be obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by non-physical means.

Not only have we debated and voted on a bill that was not in the proper form, but our participation and the bill itself are illegal, as the bill did not respect the rule of law, let alone the farmers it affected most. Introducing a bill that was not in the proper form and was in violation of the rule of law for failure to follow the process dictated by section 47.1 has obstructed and interfered with our privileges by non-physical means.

Our Constitution, which we are all collectively responsible to uphold, maintain and protect, is so much more than just a written text; it is also an organism that is responsive to a number of underlying quintessential elements, foremost among them the rule of law.

The government continues to argue with impunity that it need not be bound by the legislation of a past government and that Parliament is supreme. While I agree that Parliament is indeed the paramount Canadian institution, it too is subject to the rule of law. In this case, the process that the minister ought to have followed as set out in section 47.1 of the Canada Wheat Board Act. Given this abuse and other abuses the Speaker is now considering, such as the case before us for the member for Mount Royal, what further abuses can we expect?

At paragraph 67 of the Quebec secession reference, the Supreme Court wrote the following:

The consent of the governed is a value that is basic to our understanding of a free and democratic society. Yet democracy in any real sense of the word cannot exist without the rule of law. It is the law that creates the framework within which the “sovereign will” is to be ascertained and implemented. To be accorded legitimacy, democratic institutions must rest, ultimately, on a legal foundation. That is, they must allow for the participation of, and accountability to, the people, through public institutions created under the Constitution. Equally, however, a system of government cannot survive through adherence to the law alone. A political system must also possess legitimacy, and in our particular culture, that requires an interaction between the rule of law and the democratic principle.

Through any number of actions, the government time and time again demonstrates its willingness to abuse, ignore and delegitimize democratic institutions, be it the Speaker's contempt ruling of spring 2011, the thoroughly outrageous deceit it has spread in the Mount Royal area about its member of Parliament, or its complete contempt of democracy and the rule of law in dealing with the outcome of the Canadian Wheat Board.

At the end of every week, I go home to my constituents, as every member in this place does. We are accountable to them. If anything must prevail, regardless of our party's affiliation, we must be able to say to them that we followed the legal process. This is what we have fought and died for in other lands.

It is not too late for the Minister of Agriculture to appeal to the Prime Minister to ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate to suspend deliberation on the bill at least until the end of the proceedings of the appeal, because if he fails to do so and the Federal Court ruling is upheld on appeal, we shall again find ourselves in the same embarrassing, unfortunate and antidemocratic circumstances in which we find ourselves now. Should the subsequent ruling favour the Canadian Wheat Board, the government could finally and rightfully hold the farmers' vote that is so richly deserved by western wheat farmers; if it does not, then the matter can proceed.

Parliament is supreme--not the Minister of Agriculture , not the Prime Minister, not any one of the members opposite, but Parliament as an institution. Barring an immediate decision by the government to reconsider its ill-conceived actions, I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to find that the actions of the minister and the government, which Mr. Justice Campbell declared to be conduct which is “an affront to the rule of law”, have violated our privilege as members and have sullied the honour of this venerable institution.

Accordingly, I therefore submit, Mr. Speaker, that you should find the matter a prima facie case of privilege. I would be prepared to move one of the following motions: that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study and recommendations to the House, that a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint senators of the Federal Court ruling and ask that in light of this ruling, all action on Bill C-18 be suspended.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:50 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I should start out by correcting the hon. member for Guelph.

He misrepresented from the outset what Bill C-18 is all about. He said it was about dismantling the Wheat Board; it is clearly not about doing that. It is in fact about maintaining the Wheat Board in existence while providing to western Canadian farmers the same choice that farmers in his part of Ontario have, which is to choose whether to market to the Wheat Board or to other entities. I think it should be clear that this is what the bill is about. His representation is inaccurate.

I am a little puzzled by what he is seeking to do here. You have already ruled on this matter. I see no reasonable challenge to that ruling here.

In terms of the remedy he is seeking, he is asking that you, Mr. Speaker, request the Leader of the Government in the Senate to suspend consideration of this matter. I suppose this House could, if it chose to, pass a resolution making such a request if it saw fit to do so. I do not think it is your place, as Speaker, to seek to apply your jurisdiction as Speaker into that other place and pretend to tell it how its affairs should be managed. That would be inappropriate for you in your role as Speaker and in your jurisdiction as Speaker.

In fact, what is truly fascinating is that this entire point of order is on a matter that is no longer before us. It is a matter on which we are functus, if you will. It is a matter on which this House has already made its decision, made its determination, and the jurisdiction with it lies right now entirely with the Senate. Should it seek changes and send the bill back to us, we will once again have a functional role, but at this point in time there is nothing before us to decide. As a House, we have no jurisdiction to deal with this matter at all.

In terms of the core questions at stake, the fundamental constitutional question that he is seeking to challenge is that of the ability of this Parliament to legislate and that we cannot change laws. He is saying that if a law purports to pose obligations in the future for the changing of a law, those obligations are valid. In the previous ruling that kind of fettering of discretion was canvassed extensively, and obviously this Parliament maintains that jurisdiction to legislate.

Let us examine whether there are any consequences that flow from the court decision that was rendered in this matter.

I think we have to look at the decision. I do not know that the hon. member for Guelph took you through what it actually determined. However, the justice, in his summary of the issues, did state the following:

“The Applicants

--those being the people who brought the matter to court--

--confirm that the validity of Bill C-18, and the validity and effects of any legislation which might become law as a result of Bill C-18 are not in issue in the present Applications.

It did not contest the validity of the bill or the validity of it to be before this House. In fact, a further statement is:

The Applicants make it clear that their Applications are no threat to the Sovereignty of Parliament to pass legislation.

Therefore the question of whether or this House could deal with it and whether it was appropriate for this House to deal with it was not even before the courts. The applicants confessed or acknowledged that it was fully within the jurisdiction of this House to deal with those matters, and that was not a decision. Should there be any confusion on that, one can go to the end of the decision. It is at page 21 of the decision of Justice Campbell. In that conclusion, he poses the question of the effects of his declaration.

He issued a declaration; he did not issue an injunction prohibiting Parliament from dealing with the legislation at all. He said that the applicants acknowledged it was appropriate for Parliament to deal with the legislation, but they did not dispute the validity of the legislation.

That raises the question of what the effect of his decision is.

He makes it clear that there are two meaningful effects of granting the declarations. The first effect is that to provide a meaningful opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard was the purpose of the legislation. The ruling says:

Judicial review serves an important function; in the present Applications the voices have been heard, which, in my opinion, is fundamentally important because it is the message that s. 47.1 conveys.

He said the court proceeding allowed those voices to be heard, and that is an important effect.

“The second and most important effect”, he says, “is that the minister will be held accountable...”.

He himself says that there are only two effects, and neither of those effects limits the ability of this House of Commons or of the Senate or this Parliament to pass legislation.

The section in question, section 47.1, is actually one that is being sought to be changed, to be repealed, in fact. Obviously, that would have no effect should the legislation be successful. The justice has clearly said in his decision that there is no effect at all on anything we are doing in this place.

Based on that decision itself, there is nothing new that my friend has brought to you, Mr. Speaker. I listened closely to his arguments. I did not see any authorities that suggested otherwise. I did not see anything that he could glean out of the decision that said we had to cease our discussions, and the Senate had to cease its discussions. No injunctive relief was provided in that regard. As a result, Mr. Speaker, I think the decision that you rendered in the earlier arguments on this matter fully satisfies the questions, and we are re-plowing the same turf all over again quite unnecessarily.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to correct the government House leader, because his government obviously does not understand the nature of the decision that was made, and quite frankly, the nature of the law on this point.

The Conservatives are absolutely right that a parliament cannot pass legislation that would prevent a subsequent government administration from passing laws to change that law or do away with it completely, but it can restrict subsequent parliaments as to how they do it. That is exactly what was done in the Canadian Wheat Board Act, and that is exactly what was found as being proper by Justice Campbell of the Federal Court in his decision yesterday.

The position the Conservatives are taking obviously shows a significant lack of knowledge and understanding of that legislative constitutional principle. I hear from the government House leader that he thinks it is stupid. It may in fact be stupid, but it is the law of the land, and the Conservatives do not get the opportunity to unilaterally break the law of the land. I think this actually would require a constitutional change in order for that principle to be altered.

Mr. Speaker, I am, however, cognizant of his argument that he makes with regard to your status as Speaker to rule on this matter. Obviously the statute is no longer here; Bill C-18 has passed and has gone on to the other house, and so it should lie in the hands of the Speaker there. I have to admit ignorance in this regard in that I do not understand the rules of the other place. I am not sure anybody understands its rules, quite frankly, but I admit that I do not. Whether there is jurisdiction in the Speaker in that place, I simply cannot say.

At first blush one might wonder what jurisdiction and authority you have to rule on this, since this House has passed the bill. I want to say at this point, Mr. Speaker, and I am reserving my right to come back to you tomorrow if I can find more on this, that your jurisdiction may lie in the fact of being able to say to the minister of the day, “Your conduct has in fact breached our privilege. You should have known the law of the land. Every government is supposed to know that. Either out of incompetence that you did not know or out of refusal to acknowledge the law of the land, you went ahead, placed the bill before the House, voted it through the House by your majority government, and that has now clearly been determined by the courts of this land to have been improper conduct, to be illegal conduct on your part”.

Mr. Speaker, your order then would be, because you do have control over that member even though he is a minister, to in effect cease and desist, to find the prima facie case. I think anybody can argue clearly that our privileges have been breached. Our reputations as members of Parliament have been breached very clearly. We are a laughing stock in the general public. The bill went through this House clearly by that decision, and I will not give the government any hope at all that it will be successful on appeal. The government will lose that appeal, almost certainly.

It is a simple finding of fact. The bill reads this way. The existing law reads this way. It fits into the constitutional framework of our country. It is not a substantive issue of law. It is simply a form, how this law is to be changed. The Conservatives are bound by that. Parliament is bound by that. Our reputation has therefore been damaged, the reputation of all of us.

I will leave it at that point, but I would reserve the right to come back to you one more time, at least by tomorrow, if I can find more on it, Mr. Speaker.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Guelph had quite a lot of time to make his original remarks, but given that he seems to be indicating that it will be less than a minute, I will hear him very briefly.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

4 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is in response to the comments by the government House leader.

First, Justice Campbell did not comment on the validity of Bill C-18 because he was not asked to. He made no comment one way or the other. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, you should not give any weight to the suggestions by the government House leader on that point.

Second, no injunction was granted because no injunction was sought. Mr. Speaker, you can give no weight to that comment by the member opposite.

Third, and this is the point I made very briefly, the government has an obligation to follow the law if it is changing the law, just as surely as it has an obligation to follow the rules of this House and all procedures associated with it when we are making new laws.

Those are my three points and I thank you again for your indulgence, Mr. Speaker.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I suppose fair is fair so the hon. government House leader has a brief opportunity to speak.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

4 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to respond to two new points that were raised by the opposition House leader.

The first is simply with regard to the appeal of this matter. I tried not to re-litigate the appeal before us but I would say that we simply do not accept the notion that this Parliament's powers can be, as section 47.1 of the statute indicated, delegated to other parties, particularly parties that are so vague and open to interpretation. That is what, of course, section 47.1 seeks to do. I certainly part ways with the member on the prospects for success on appeal.

On the second issue, with regard to the question of the conduct of the minister, I would ask for an opportunity for him to come back and speak to that himself.

Legislation to Reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board
Privilege
Oral Questions

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I thank hon. members for their interventions.

Orders of the day.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

December 8th, 2011 / 4 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park
Alberta

Conservative

Tim Uppal Minister of State (Democratic Reform)

moved that Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (accountability with respect to political loans), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to continue with our democratic reform week and begin the debate on Bill C-21, the political loans accountability act. The bill is another one of our government's long-standing commitments and I am happy we are moving forward on it today.

As we have shown with previous bills, our government is pursuing a principled agenda to strengthen accountability and democracy in Canada. In this case, we are addressing the rules respecting loans to political entities.

Currently, there are no limits on loans that corporations, unions, or wealthy individuals can grant to political entities. It is unacceptable that the political loans regime does not meet the same standards of transparency, accountability and integrity expected of the average Canadian. Hard-working ordinary Canadians are expected to pay back loans under strict rules, whether it is for starting a business, going to school, or purchasing a home, and the same rigorous standards should also apply to politicians.

As it stands, there is a loophole in political financing legislation. We are addressing the loophole with this bill.

Our government, in its first bill in 2006, established strong standards for political contributions in the Federal Accountability Act. The act eliminated contributions by corporations and unions. It changed the rules to ensure that politicians would not be beholden to those with deep pockets and unions or corporations that give too much money. However, our law still allows those with deep pockets to lend too much money. The rules concerning political loans should be consistent with the rules for political contributions.

One major issue regarding the treatment of loans in the Canada Elections Act is the loophole in the current standards that fails to impose restrictions on the source and the amount of political loans in a way that is consistent with the rest of the rules for political financing.

A second important issue that our government seeks to address is the inconsistency in transparency requirements for political loans. As it stands, the inconsistencies on how political loans are treated unduly complicate the enforcement of the Canada Elections Act and do not provide for consistent transparency across the Canadian political finance regime.

This lack of rules may result in loans being used as de facto contributions. Clearly, it is a situation where politicians could be beholden to those who lend them large sums of money instead of being beholden to those who brought them into office with votes. This is unacceptable.

By limiting the amount of a loan a candidate or another individual can make to fund political activities, the political loans accountability act would increase integrity in the political loans process by ensuring that all candidates are on a level playing field, regardless of their personal wealth or their connections with elite interests.

The bill would also ensure that members of Parliament are accountable to their constituents first by removing the opportunity for undue influence by unions and corporations on elected representatives.

However, the bill would also ensure that parties, associations and candidates will continue to be able to secure sufficient financing for their electoral campaigns. Political entities will be able to borrow money from a wide range of financial institutions, including trust and loan companies, credit unions and insurers.

The bill is consistent with a recommendation from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. It reflects a legal approach to political loans already in place in several provinces, including Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

To fully highlight the practical benefit of our proposed measures, I would like to discuss some of them in more detail.

The Federal Accountability Act established fixed contribution limits for individuals and completely eliminated contributions from corporations, unions and associations.

Following the passage of our flagship Federal Accountability Act, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs asked the former chief electoral officer to prepare a report on political financing issues with recommendations respecting the use of loans.

The Chief Electoral Officer's report was submitted in January 2007 with respect to the existing rules on political loans. He acknowledged that:

While Parliament has imposed an extensive regime to control the source and extent of contributions, it has not done so with respect to that other source of funding constituted by loans.

The Chief Electoral Officer suggested that loans to political entities by lenders that were not in the business of lending ought to be restricted, because such loans granted at non-commercial rates at terms and conditions that were available to the general public and without expectation of repayment may lead to the perception of abuse and undue influence by those with the financial means to grant these loans.

To prevent such abuse or unfair influence by those wealthy entities with the ability to make large loans or any perception of it, the Chief Electoral Officer made the following recommendations: that the limit on loans be made by individuals should be to their contribution limit; that political entities may borrow money in excess of the contribution limit only from financial institutions; that all loans by financial institutions be at commercial rates of interest; and that a separate regime for the treatment and reporting of loans be established in the act.

In response to these recommendations, our government introduced the political loans accountability act, which had it been adopted would have regulated the use of loans by political entities to ensure full disclosure and greater accountability in the financing of political campaigns.

This legislation was passed by the House of Commons as Bill C-29 in 2008 and was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved for the 2008 election.

The legislation we are discussing today is substantively the same legislation as passed by the House in 2008 as Bill C-29. Our government worked collaboratively with opposition members to pass Bill C-29, which was awaiting second reading in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved.

Some changes have been incorporated from its original version. For example, the bill now would exclude from the annual contribution limit any portion of a loan that was repaid to the lender and any unused loan guarantees, as proposed by our government during the committee's study period.

It would require the Chief Electoral Officer to hear representations from affected interests before making a determination about a deemed contribution, as proposed by the opposition.

It would establish contribution limits for leadership contestants on a per calendar year basis rather than a per contest basis.

These amendments demonstrate that our government developed the political loans accountability act in a collaborative spirit with opposition parties throughout the process. Indeed, when the political loans accountability act was introduced, with the amendments above during the last Parliament, in 2010, there was widespread support in the House, including among the NDP, for the updated bill.

We think these incorporated changes make the bill even better. The act we are discussing today is the reintroduction of this updated legislation from the last Parliament.

Here are some of the important changes brought by our bill to Canada's political financing regime.

The bill would establish a uniform and transparent reporting regime for all loans to political parties, associations and candidates, including the mandatory disclosure of terms, such as interest rates and the identity of lenders and loan guarantors.

Unions and corporations would be banned from making loans to political parties, associations, candidates and contestants, consistent with their inability to make contributions as set out in the Federal Accountability Act.

Total loans, loan guarantees and contributions by individuals cannot exceed the annual contribution limit for individuals established under the Federal Accountability Act, which is currently $1,100 in 2011. Only financial institutions and other political entities can make loans beyond that amount. Loans from financial institutions must be at fair market rates of interest.

Rules for the treatment of unpaid loans will be tightened to ensure candidates cannot walk away from outstanding loans. Riding associations or parties will be held responsible for unpaid loans taken out by their candidates.

By prohibiting loans from unions and corporations and requiring that loans from financial institutions be granted at a market rate of interest, this bill would prevent corporations and unions from doing indirectly, through loans, what they are now prohibited from doing directly through contributions.

Together with the Federal Accountability Act, this measure will no doubt yield more fairness for electors. Politicians will now have to seek financial support from voters, not corporate entities or special interest groups. Politicians will be entirely accountable to voters as opposed to corporations or union interests.

Requiring a fair market rate of interest will allow all parties and candidates to be on an equal playing field by no longer allowing situations whereby favourable or entirely unknown terms of loans are granted without transparency. This change will also serve parliamentarians, riding associations and parties by protecting them from perceptions that they might be indebted to unions or corporate interests.

In addition, our government believes it is unfair that a candidate can walk away from his or her campaign debts. Everyday Canadians are expected to pay back their loans under strict rules, and the same should apply to politicians. This is why our bill proposes to transfer a candidate's unpaid loans to riding associations. This will ensure that the money borrow will be repaid.

Another important impact of the proposed bill will be to subject loans made by individuals to their contribution limits. This measure will prevent the current ability to bypass a contribution limit by lending large amounts of money without any expectation of ever being reimbursed. This measure will ensure greater accountability to citizens and enhanced transparency and integrity in our political financing regime.

The last, but not least of these changes that I want to discuss today is the increased transparency requirements for loans to all political entities. From now on, all loans will need to be recorded in writing and reported to Elections Canada. This change will increase transparency, especially in the case of candidates and nomination contestants who currently have only limited disclosure requirements. Putting in place effective transparency standards for candidates and nomination contestants will allow Canadians to know who is financing their campaigns and under what terms. I think these measures will find wide support in the House of Commons and among Canadians.

I would like to emphasize how the bill, in conjunction with the Federal Accountability Act, democratizes the political financing regime by focusing on grassroots voters. Wealthy individuals will be unable to bankroll their own campaigns by making large loans to themselves. Candidates will be unable to rely on a small number of wealthy contributors to finance their campaigns. They will instead need to seek support from those they wish to represent in the House of Commons.

Lending will not be limited to banks. Indeed, there will be a wide range of financial institutions still able to provide loans. What the bill does is preserve the important role for small community lenders and financing grassroots political campaigns, such as families, friends, supporters, credit unions and caisse populaires. By making political parties and candidates dependent on their supporters for financial support, parties and candidates now have a greater incentive to be responsive to the average Canadian.

What I hear from my constituents, and indeed many more Canadians across the country, is that they do not want to see parties and candidates using large loans from wealthy individuals, corporations, or unions to finance their campaigns. Large individual contributions are not permitted, so large individual loans should also not be permitted. Corporations and unions are not permitted to donate to federal political entities, so corporations and unions should be unable to loan large sums of money to political entities.

When our government was elected in 2006, we made the Federal Accountability Act our first priority, which among other things tightened the contribution limits to ensure corporate and union interests and wealthy individuals would not unduly influence politics.

With the introduction of the political loans accountability act, we are building on our flagship Federal Accountability Act by bringing greater transparency and integrity to political loans. The bill would strengthen Canada's political finance regime, already one of the strongest political finance regimes in the world. This is good news for Canadians and for the political process.

I encourage all parliamentarians to vote in favour of the bill.

Political Loans Accountability Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

David Christopherson Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, for the most part, the official opposition is generally supportive of the general direction of this legislation. It is our intent at this point, unless we have reason to change our opinion, to support the bill at second reading and send it to committee. It is at committee where I would like to pose my question.

I do not know whether the minister knows or not from talking to his predecessor, but discussions were held in the last minority Parliament when the government was looking for our support to carry this legislation. One of the areas that was a problem in that draft legislation, and it remains a problem in the bill, was the treatment of loans for riding associations once they had a candidate, and I will use myself as an example.

Mine is not a rich riding in terms of demographics. We always have to borrow money through a line of credit and it always takes us the whole term to pay it back. We seem to pay it off just in time to get another line of credit for the next campaign. That is just the nature of my riding, because it is made up of mostly working people who do not have a lot of money to contribute to politicians. They contribute what they can but it is not a lot.

If I am interpreting Bill C-21 correctly, we will be in a situation where to get a $20,000 line of credit, after a candidate has been chosen and the election is either about to be called or has been called, it will take 18 to 20 people at a contribution of $1,100 each, because that is the maximum, to back it up. Given that it is a political loan, banks often want dollar for dollar collateral. Using the round number of 20 people, that is a lot in terms of contributions. That money is then tied up for the campaign and cannot be contributed.

Is the minister willing to roll up his sleeves and look at making some changes in this area?