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Conservative MP for Regina—Qu'Appelle (Saskatchewan)
Won his last election, in 2011, with 53.50% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Privilege February 17th, 2015
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on January 26, 2015, by the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard related to the government’s response to written question Q-393, which was given to the House on May 14, 2014.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Pierrefonds—Dollard for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the hon. opposition House leader for their comments.
In raising this matter, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard expressed concerns about the response she received to her question, Q-393. She argued that there was interference by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration who, she claimed, ordered officials in the department to stop preparing a response and, instead, use the same answer that was given in response to written question Q-359 on May 12, 2014. She asserted that that answer constituted a non-answer to a question submitted by the member for Markham—Unionville. Having received the same non-answer, she contended that this impeded her in the performance of her parliamentary duties since she was not provided with a satisfactory response to her question. From this she argued that a breach of privilege had occurred.
In response, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration explained that it was the length and breadth of the member's very extensive question that was preventing departmental officials from being able to comply with the 45-day response deadline. Once advised of this, he provided the response that the member received.
Members will be familiar with the provisions of Standing Order 39(5)(a), which states:
A Member may request that the Ministry respond to a specific question within forty-five days by so indicating when filing his or her question.
In essence, the member is seeking redress with respect to perceived ministerial interference, which in her view, prevented departmental officials from responding to her question.
On previous occasions, the Chair has been asked to rule on issues related to the government’s responses to written questions. In each instance, the Chair has sought to remind members of the clear limitations of the role of the Speaker in this regard.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states, at page 522:
There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions.
Speaker Milliken also noted on February 8, 2005, on page 3234 of Debates:
Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of this response is a matter of debate. It is not something upon which the Speaker is permitted to pass judgment.
This applies as well when the government indicates that it is unable to provide an answer. O'Brien and Bosc confirms this approach at page 522, where it states:
As with oral questions, it is acceptable for the government, in responding to a written question, to indicate to the House that it cannot supply an answer.
How or why the government chooses to provide such a reply, or non-reply as some see it, is not something to be questioned by the Chair. Nor is it for the Chair to question the decision of members to ask for a response to a written question within a 45-day limit, as per Standing Order 39(5)(a), even when the question is lengthy and complex.
Specifically, as Speaker, I must assess the role the government played in the preparation of responses within the limited scope that is granted to me by our practice and precedents. As I indicated in my ruling of April 3, 2014:
The Chair understands that the member is not asking for judgment on the accuracy of the answer provided. However, he is asking the Chair to judge the actions of the minister and the effect these have had on his ability to function as a member of Parliament. To do so would require the Chair to judge not only the content of answers provided, but also to delve into internal departmental processes past and present. Regardless of whether the department's internal processes on written questions have changed or not, it remains beyond the role of the Chair to undertake an investigation into any such matter or to render any judgment on it.
In view of the particular jurisprudence cited by the Chair with regard to written questions, I cannot conclude that the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard has been impeded in the performance of her parliamentary duties. Therefore, I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
That being said, the member for Pierrefonds—Dollard does have one other avenue she could pursue. She could consider resubmitting her question without requesting an answer within the forty-five day deadline, particularly in light of the Minister’s comments regarding the question's length and complexity.
I thank honourable members for their attention.
House of Commons Security Personnel December 11th, 2014
Today I would like to acknowledge, on behalf of all hon. members, the courage, professionalism, and dedication of the personnel of the protective service of the House of Commons.
We are all, without question, in their debt. Under the leadership of the Sergeant-at-Arms, Kevin Vickers, and director general, Patrick McDonell, the House of Commons Protective Service is a reassuring presence in the Parliament buildings. Each and every day, this remarkable team demonstrates its commitment to ensuring the safety of members, employees, and visitors to the Hill.
On October 22, 2014, their quick response during the attack in Centre Block most certainly prevented an even more tragic conclusion to the day's events.
As hon. members will know, Constable Samearn Son, a valued member of the House of Commons protective service for 10 years, was injured while attempting to disarm the gunman, despite being unarmed himself. His selfless action, putting his own body in harm's way, was a stunning example of bravery and brought further honour and esteem to the protective service.
We also remember those constables who stood guard, protecting parliamentarians, employees, and others who waited to receive word that all was clear. They provided reassurance in the early moments following the gunfire, and remained calm in the performance of their duties as the lockdown continued throughout the day and into the evening.
Throughout the day’s events, along with great acts of bravery, there were many acts of kindness and generosity as well.
A group of Swiss students visiting Canada for the first time was in the midst of a tour of Parliament when the incident began. While they were safely ushered to a secure area, the group had been split over two different tours and found themselves separated and anxious about their classmates and fellow teachers. Constables were able to account for the full group and provide assurances that everyone was safe. In the midst of everything that was going on, I can only imagine the measure of relief that this brought to the teachers and parents accompanying their group.
The response on October 22 was certainly a team effort, as much a result of rigorous training and skilled leadership as it was the product of individual bravery and basic kindness.
It is also important to acknowledge the support provided by the House administration and the many parliamentary services that worked tirelessly behind the scenes to support our front-line protective service personnel and to ensure that we could return to work, business as usual, the very next morning.
I believe the sentiments we all share were aptly captured by the chair of the procedure and House affairs committee, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, when he recently stated, “We had acquaintances with some of the constables up until that day. I think (we) have formed lifelong friendships with some of them now”.
On behalf of all members, it is a sincere honour to express our gratitude here today to all the men and women of the House of Commons protective service. We know we are safer because of you and your actions will not be forgotten by anyone in the Parliament Hill community.
Privilege December 4th, 2014
I would like to thank the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley for raising this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition for their interventions.
The hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley explained that on November 12, 2014, the Minister of Finance delivered the government's official economic and fiscal update to a private audience of financial professionals rather than in the House. This, he argued, obstructed members' access to that critical information, which is required to fulfill their parliamentary functions, thereby constituting contempt of Parliament if not a breach of members' privileges.
The hon. government House leader responded that, since the economic and fiscal update is not the budget, it is not governed by the Standing Orders. Consequently, the minister was not obligated to deliver that statement in the House and, in fact, there is a long-standing practice of the government making announcements outside the House on a range of policy issues.
The release of and accessibility to information is, of course, a matter of importance to all members since it touches the role of members as legislators. The chair shares Speaker Parent's views when he indicated on November 6, 1997 at page 1618 of Debates that this role should not be trivialized. In fact, we should take every opportunity to underline its significance in our system of responsible government.
That is not to say, however, that every proceeding or activity related to delivering or accessing information by members implicitly involves their parliamentary duties.
For instance, in 2009, Speaker Milliken was asked to determine whether the public release of the government's third report on the economic action plan made in Saint John, New Brunswick, was a breach of privilege.
In a ruling on October 5, 2009, Speaker Milliken stated:
Matters of press conferences or release of documents, the policy initiatives of the government, are not ones that fall within the jurisdiction of the Speaker of the House unless they happen to be made in the House itself.
It is very difficult for the Chair to intervene in a situation where a minister has chosen to have a press conference, or a briefing or a meeting and release material when the Speaker has nothing to do with the organization of that [event].
In fact, a review of economic and fiscal updates delivered by the Minister of Finance has revealed that, since 2009, the minister has provided this update to a business audience in various provinces, with last year's being delivered to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce on November 12, 2013. Furthermore, the Chair can find no cases of questions of privilege or points of order in relation to these updates.
In addition, Speakers have consistently ruled that there are certain fundamental conditions that must exist in order for it to constitute a matter of contempt or privilege. As O’Brien and Bosc states at page 109:
In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member's claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
Based on the precedents established by previous Speakers, I cannot find evidence that members were obstructed in the performance of their parliamentary functions. Accordingly, I must conclude that there are not sufficient grounds to arrive at a finding of a prima facie breach of privilege in this case.
I thank the House for its attention.
Privilege November 26th, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on September 15, 2014, by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands regarding the use of time allocation.
I would like to thank the hon. member for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the House Leader of the Official Opposition for their interventions.
In raising this matter, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands contended that the limitation of debate occasioned by the government’s frequent use of time allocation deprived members of the ability to debate issues adequately, thereby impairing their fundamental right and indisputable privilege, if not obligation, to hold the government to account. She claimed that this undermined and obstructed members’ ability to perform their parliamentary duties and that this consequence was disproportionately felt by members of smaller parties and independent members.
The government house leader replied that, as the rules of the House had been properly followed in the application of time allocation, the privileges of members had not been offended, nor did the Chair have the authority to intervene unilaterally with regard to the use of this procedure. Furthermore, he argued that the government’s use of time allocation was merely a “tool for the orderly and predictable management of the legislative agenda”. He also referred to my ruling of April 23, 2013, to point out that catching the Speaker’s eye to be recognized to speak during any proceeding remained the ultimate and individual right of each member.
For his part, the House Leader of the Official Opposition supported the views expressed by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands that the present use of the time allocation procedure violated the rights of MPs to speak and represent their constituents.
As early as 1993, Speaker Fraser spoke of the limits of the Speaker’s authority in relation to the use by the government of Standing Order 78. On page 17861 of the Debates of March 31, 1993, he said:
I have to advise the House that the rule is clear. It is within the government’s discretion to use it. I cannot find any lawful way that I can exercise a discretion which would unilaterally break a very specific rule.
On March 1, 2001, Speaker Milliken confirmed that interpretation, stating at page 1415 of the Debates:
The rules and practices of the House established by this House with respect to time allocation leave the Speaker with no alternative in this matter.
Members of the House are also aware that it is not for the Speaker to judge whether an issue has been sufficiently debated. As recently as June 12 of this year, on page 6717 of the Debates, I stated:
With respect to the amount of debate a bill must receive before notice of a time allocation motion can be given, the Chair is being asked to render a decision on a matter over which there are no explicit procedural rules or practices and, thus, over which it has no authority. Rather, it is the House that retains that authority and, therefore, must continue to make that determination as to when and if a bill has received adequate consideration.
The body of precedents available to me all point in the same direction. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, succinctly sums up the jurisprudence on the matter when it states, at page 648:
When asked to determine the acceptability of a motion to limit debate, the Speaker does not judge the importance of the issue in question or whether a reasonable time has been allowed for debate, but strictly addresses the acceptability of the procedure followed. Speakers have therefore ruled that a procedurally acceptable motion to limit the ability of Members to speak on a given motion before the House does not constitute prima facie a breach of parliamentary privilege.
As the Chair can find no evidence that the ability of members, even the independent members, to perform their parliamentary functions has been compromised, I cannot find that this matter constitutes a prima facie case of privilege.
That said, the Chair does, however, intend to return to the House at a later date with a separate statement to address other elements raised by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.
I thank the House for its attention.
Privilege November 4th, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised yesterday by the House Leader of the Official Opposition as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, regarding the right of the member for Peterborough to sit and vote in the House.
I would like to thank the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for having raised this, and the member for Winnipeg North for his intervention.
In raising this question of privilege, the opposition House leader explained that, on October 31, 2014, the Ontario Court of Justice found the member for Peterborough guilty on four charges under the Canada Elections Act in connection with the 2008 federal election. Though the act provides that the member should therefore no longer sit in the House, the opposition House leader maintained that it was solely for the House to determine the composition of its membership, and as such, it should be seized of this important matter.
For his part, the hon. government House leader further affirmed the authority of the House in determining whether a member may continue to sit and vote , and proposed an approach whereby the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs would study the matter.
As with any question of privilege, the Speaker's role is to determine procedural matters, not matters of law, and is ultimately limited to determining whether, at first glance, the matter raised is of such significance as to warrant priority consideration over other House business.
The right of a member to sit and vote in the House is of fundamental importance, as it is at the very core of the collective privileges of members. As I stated in my ruling of June 18, 2013:
The right—in fact, the absolute need—for members to be able to sit and vote in the House is so integral to their ability to fulfill their parliamentary duties that it would be difficult for the Chair to overstate the importance of this issue to members individually and to the House as a whole.
Further, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, clearly states that it is only the House that can determine matters affecting its own membership. On pages 244 and 245, it states:
Once a person is elected to the House of Commons, there are no constitutional provisions and few statutory provisions for removal of that Member from office. The statutory provisions rendering a Member ineligible to sit or vote do not automatically cause the seat of that Member to become vacant. By virtue of parliamentary privilege, only the House has the inherent right to decide matters affecting its own membership. Indeed, the House decides for itself if a Member should be permitted to sit on committees, receive a salary or even be allowed to keep his or her seat.
As can be seen in this citation, the House reserves for itself a range of remedies it may wish to impose in a given situation.
In the present case, both members who have raised what is essentially the same question of privilege have chosen to read into the record the motion they propose to move should I arrive at a finding of prima facie.
As always in matters of this kind, the Chair's focus is on process, and my role is limited to making a determination of whether the matter is of sufficient gravity and importance to warrant being debated immediately.
In this light, it is evident to me that this is a prima facie case of privilege, and, as such, I have concluded that it merits immediate consideration by the House.
Given the rare and exceptional nature of the circumstances, I will leave it to the House to determine the nature of the remedies it wishes to explore.
Accordingly, as is the practice where two members have raised the same question of privilege, I will now invite the hon. opposition House leader, who was the first to raise it, to move his motion.
Parliamentary Precinct October 23rd, 2014
Before moving on to the Thursday question, I would like to provide a brief update to reassure all parliamentarians and everyone in our parliamentary community.
Yesterday, I had regular meetings with the sergeant-at-arms and the director general of security services to receive reports as the situation unfolded. Today, I have asked for thorough reports, which I will share with the Board of Internal Economy, on measures to ensure the continued safety of the parliamentary precinct.
This morning I met with the party whips to give them all the information, which they will share with their members. I will contact independent members directly to keep them up to date as well.
I have also taken additional steps to ensure the integrity of the ongoing investigation into yesterday's events. Parliament is closed to visitors today and tours have been cancelled. However, I have stressed that these must be temporary measures. Parliament must remain an institution that is both open and secure.
Access to the grounds of Parliament Hill will be controlled and I do ask that all employees ensure that their IDs are visible at all times. I have also asked for a review of screening protocols and will report the results to the board as well.
I also asked my staff to ensure that the employee assistance program is available to anyone who needs a little more support in dealing with yesterday's terrible ordeal.
Finally, I will be ordering a comprehensive review of all actions that were taken yesterday, examining our security systems and procedures, identifying what worked, and making improvements where necessary.
Members will ask, indeed Canadians will ask, how this came to occur and what specifically will be done to prevent future occurrences? These are legitimate questions and they require comprehensive answers. I resolve to work with the leadership of all parties and indeed all members to ensure that the House obtains answers to these vital and important questions.
I would like to briefly echo the sentiments that were expressed this morning, specifically thanking the brave men and women of our House of Commons security forces, the RCMP, and the Ottawa Police.
Our thoughts are also with Constable Son, who suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. Thankfully, I can report that he is in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery.
I would like to thank our own Kevin Vickers. On behalf of all members, I add my voice of thanks for his bravery and courage.
Statement by the Speaker September 24th, 2014
Before we proceed to question period, the Chair wishes to make a brief statement.
The office of Speaker is an ancient one, and there are many procedural authorities in this country and abroad that describe the Speaker's role. Our own tome, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, encapsulates my role, as follows, at page 307:
The Speaker is the servant, neither of any part of the House nor of any majority in the House, but of the entire institution and serves the best interests of the House as distilled over many generations in its practices.
Despite the considerable authority of the office, the Speaker may exercise only those powers conferred upon him or her by the House, within the limits established by the House itself.
With respect to question period proceedings, contrary to what some members and others may believe, this means adhering to practices that have evolved over a broad span of time and that have consistently been upheld by successive Speakers.
By way of example, on October 28, 2010, Debates page 5505, Speaker Milliken said:
As all of the hon. members know, the Speaker has no authority over the content of answers given by a minister or parliamentary secretary in response to a question asked during question period.
The issue came up again on December 1, 2010, Debates page 6677, and on that occasion Speaker Milliken stated:
The minister, in his response, may not have answered the question, but it is not the role of the Chair to decide whether a response is an answer or not to the question. Indeed, the Chair has no authority to rule an answer out of order unless the answer contains unparliamentary remarks or a personal attack on some other member.
It is not for the Chair to decide whether the content of a response is in fact an answer. As we have heard many times, that is why it is called question period not answer period.
In my own ruling regarding question period proceedings, delivered on January 28, 2014, I stated very clearly:
There has been much discussion recently about the nature of answers during question period, with calls for the Speaker to somehow intervene, citing practices in other countries....
Each parliament has its own traditions. Successive speakers in our House have maintained our tradition of not intervening in respect of answers to questions, and I do not intend to change that. For me to deviate from this long-standing practice would require an invitation from the House.
To date, the House has not seen fit to alter our practices or to give directions to the Chair in that regard.
That being said, I have no doubt that Canadians expect members to elevate the tone and substance of question period exchanges. As your Speaker, I hope the House can rise to that challenge.
To be absolutely clear on another point, any suggestion that the rules of repetition and relevance apply to question period is wrong and ignores the long list of Speakers' rulings to the contrary.
Another of our time-honoured traditions is that of respect for the office of Speaker. O'Brien and Bosc, at page 313, states that:
Reflections on the character or actions of the Speaker--an allegation of bias, for example--could be taken by the House as breeches of privilege and punished accordingly.
I wish to conclude with an appeal to members on all sides. Needless to say, the kind of unsavoury language or expression that we heard yesterday do little to assist the Chair in managing question period proceedings, and I urge all members to be judicious in the expressions they choose to use.
I also ask all members to heed my request of last January 28, when I asked members:
...to consider how the House can improve things so that observers can at least agree that question period presents an exchange of views and provides at least some information. The onus is on all members to raise the quality of both questions and answers.
Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act September 22nd, 2014
Before providing my decision on the selection of report stage motions for Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, I would like to address the concerns raised and the supplementary information provided earlier today by the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, concerning report stage Motion No. 3, standing in his name on the notice paper.
I would like to thank the honourable member for having raised this matter.
As mentioned by the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, he also did write to me to urge that I select his report stage motion on the basis of exceptional significance.
I wish to reassure the hon. member that I have carefully reviewed all the relevant contextual and substantive circumstances surrounding the matter. While each case is different, and occasionally there are exceptional circumstances that merit the selection of certain report stage motions, ultimately I must be guided by the procedural practice relating to the selection of report stage motions.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice sets the following general principle with respect to the selection of report stage motions. At page 783 it states:
As a general principle, the Speaker seeks to forestall debate on the floor of the House which is simply a repetition of the debate in committee…the Speaker will normally only select motions in amendment that could not have been presented in committee.
More guidance as to the selection of report stage motions can be found in Standing Orders 76(5) and 76.1(5). The note accompanying those standing orders states, in part:
A motion previously defeated in committee, will only be selected if the Speaker judges it to be of such exceptional significance as to warrant a further consideration at report stage.
As evidenced by his first having written a detailed letter, and now having raised the matter again in the form of a point of order, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca clearly feels that the circumstances surrounding the committee's consideration of his amendment are exceptional, and on that basis, the House as a whole should decide whether Bill C-13 should be amended in the fashion he is proposing. While I understand his argument, I would remind him that the Chair cannot make decisions on selection based on the likely outcome of the vote.
As I stated in the decision on December 12, 2012, page 13224 in the Debates, in relation to a point of order raised by the government House leader:
The Chair is and will continue to be guided by procedural imperatives in all of its decisions, not by somehow substituting the Speaker's prediction of the likely outcome of a vote expressed by the House itself.
His belief that the outcome might be different in the House from what it was in committee, or that a certain foreknowledge exists as to the will of the House on a given question, is not sufficient grounds for the Chair to determine that exceptional circumstances exist that would warrant the selection of this particular amendment.
Furthermore, I would note that Bill C-279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity) at present stands referred to a Senate committee. The Criminal Code has not yet been amended in the manner that Bill C-279 proposes. Presumably, as both Bill C-279 and Bill C-13 advance through the legislative process, Parliament will, in due course, choose which approach it prefers.
With respect to the existing practice relating to report stage, I would remind members that since 2001, report stage has undergone a significant evolution so as not to repeat debate that already occurred in committee. As such, the Speaker is empowered to decline to put report stage motions that would be tantamount to a repetition of the work that was already done in committee.
Were I to select Motion No. 3 on the basis of the arguments put forward by the member, I fear it could lead exactly to a situation that our report stage practice was designed to avoid, namely a repetition of the debate that occurred in committee on this matter. Therefore, I must inform the member that Motion No. 3 will not be selected for consideration at report stage.
There are nine motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-13.
Motion No. 3, as indicated previously, as well as Motion No. 6 will not be selected as they are identical to amendments defeated in committee.
I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7 to 9 to the House.
Bill C-479, An Act to Bring Fairness for the Victims of Violent Offenders September 15th, 2014
I wish to inform the House of an administrative error that occurred with regard to Bill C-479, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (fairness for victims).
Members may recall that the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security made a series of amendments to the bill, which were presented to the House in the committee's second report on March 5, 2014. The committee also ordered that the bill, as amended, be reprinted for the use of the House at report stage.
On May 7, 2014, the House concurred in the bill as amended at report stage with a further amendment, and later adopted the bill at third reading.
As is the usual practice following passage at third reading, House officials prepared a parchment version of the bill and transmitted this parchment to the Senate. Due to an administrative error, the version of the bill that was transmitted to the other place did not reflect the amendment adopted by the House at report stage, but was instead a reflection of the bill as it had been reported back from committee. Unfortunately, this error was not detected until after both houses had adjourned for the summer.
I wish to reassure the House that this error was strictly administrative in nature and occurred after third reading was given to Bill C-479. The proceedings which took place in this House and the decisions made by the House with respect to Bill C-479 remain entirely valid. The records of the House relating to this bill are clear and complete.
However, the documents relating to Bill C-479 that were sent to the other place were not an accurate reflection of the House’s decisions.
My predecessor, Speaker Milliken, addressed a similar situation in a ruling given on November 22, 2001, and found on page 7455 of Debates. Guided by this precedent, similar steps have been undertaken in this case. First, once this discrepancy was detected, House officials immediately communicated with their counterparts in the Senate to set about resolving it. Next, I have instructed the Acting Clerk and his officials to take the necessary steps to rectify this error and to ensure that the other place has a corrected copy of Bill C-479 which reflects the proceedings which occurred in this House. Thus, a revised version of the bill will be transmitted to the other place through the usual administrative procedures of Parliament. Finally, I have asked that the “as passed at third reading” version of the bill be reprinted.
The Senate will of course make its own determination as to how it proceeds with Bill C-479 in light of this situation.
I wish to reassure members that steps have been taken to ensure that similar errors, rare though they may be, do not reoccur.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
It being 11:05, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
Points of Order June 12th, 2014
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on May 16, 2014, by the House Leader of the Official Opposition regarding the use of Standing Order 56.1.
In raising his point of order, the House Leader of the Official Opposition argued that the motion adopted by the House pursuant to Standing Order 56.1 on March 27, 2014, should have been deemed inadmissible as it directed the affairs of a standing committee.
In particular, he suggested that Standing Order 56.1 is not intended to be used as a way for the House to instruct committees to conduct certain studies or to hear particular witnesses, but, rather, as a way to expedite routine business or to grant powers to committees that they do not already possess. In his view, instructing a committee to undertake a study cannot be construed as simply establishing a committee power, nor can it be considered simply a routine matter.
Noting the potential difficulties of the current requirements of the Standing Order for smaller parties, as well as its use for matters with regard to which it was never intended, the House Leader of the Official Opposition asked the Chair for clarification on the limits of Standing Order 56.1 in general and, in particular, whether the motion in question was admissible.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons agreed that Standing Order 56.1 was not meant to be used to reach into the conduct of committees to direct them but, instead, was meant to provide committees, in a routine manner, with powers that they do not already have. In addition, he explained that, although committees generally have the power to send for persons, they are not empowered to compel the attendance of members of Parliament. Thus, he argued that the motion in question sought only to empower the committee, or at least remove any doubts about their power to study that matter and to compel the attendance of the Leader of the Opposition. Furthermore, since the motion was not related to the passage of a bill, he claimed that it did not violate the restriction against using Standing Order 56.1 on substantive matters, as enunciated by Speaker Milliken's ruling of September 18, 2001.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons disagreed with the House Leader of the Official Opposition asking the Speaker to provide direction for the future, viewing this as an inappropriate practice and role for the Speaker. He also questioned the timing of the point of order, stating that it should have been raised early enough to allow for the Speaker’s decision to be of some consequence.
Before I continue, I would like to read, for the benefit of the House, the motion at issue in this case:
That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to consider the matter of accusations of the Official Opposition's improper use of House of Commons resources for partisan purposes; and
that the Leader of the Opposition be ordered to appear as a witness at a televised meeting of the Committee to be held no later than May 16, 2014.
Since its adoption by the House in April, 1991, Standing Order 56.1 has been used as a legitimate procedure to allow the House to deal with what the Standing Orders call “routine motions”.
According to Standing Order 56.1(b), a routine motion:
—shall be understood to mean any motion, made upon Routine Proceedings, which may be required for the observance of the proprieties of the House, the maintenance of its authority, the management of its business, the arrangement of its proceedings, the establishing of the powers of its committees, the correctness of its records or the fixing of its sitting days or the times of its meeting or adjournment.
At issue then is whether the motion in question was an admissible motion, pursuant to Standing Order 56.1. While the wording of the Standing Order has not changed over time, at times its interpretation and use have. Consequently, its attempted use for various ends has, in turn, resulted in some procedural challenges. As a result, a body of practice and rulings has emerged, leading to a better understanding of the appropriate use of this Standing Order. As an example, it is now accepted that Standing Order 56.1 can be used to authorize committee travel.
At the same time, however, the understanding of what constitutes a routine motion has been allowed to expand over the years, a development that has caused concern to successive Speakers. Speaker Milliken characterized it as a “disturbing trend” as early as 2001.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice makes reference to this trend when, on page 671, it provides a list of examples of motions which had been allowed to proceed, but states that, “[Not] all of these uses were consistent with the wording or the spirit of the rule...”.
The motion in question in this case deals specifically with committees and, in that respect, while the Standing Order does allow motions for the “establishment of the powers of its committees”, the question before me is whether the motion adopted falls squarely within those parameters or whether it strayed beyond them to direct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Deputy Speaker Blaikie stated on June 5, 2007, at page 10124 of Debates:
A key element...is the fundamental precept that standing committees are masters of their own procedure. Indeed, so entrenched is that precept that only in a select few Standing Orders does the House make provision for intervening directly into the conduct of standing committee affairs.
A careful reading of the motion is telling: the committee was “instructed” to consider a matter and the leader of the official opposition was “ordered” to appear. In fact, it leads the Chair to the conclusion that the motion was an attempt to direct the internal affairs of the committee, thus stepping beyond what the House has come to accept as being within the confines of Standing Order 56.1. The government House leader argued that the motion granted the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs a power it did not have, namely the power to order a member to appear before the committee. But the motion went beyond simply granting the committee that power; it made the order for the committee. In the Chair's view this would have been more appropriately done by way of a substantive motion.
The House does have the power to give instructions to committees but it is how this is achieved that is important. The Chair does not believe the House ever intended that this be done by way of Standing Order 56.1. This was noted by Speaker Milliken, who stated, on September 18, 2001, at page 5258 of Debates:
The standing order has never been used as a substitute for decisions which the House ought itself to make on substantive matters.
The government House leader may have been correct in noting that substantive motions were used in the passage of legislation but one cannot draw the conclusion from that, that, therefore, motions not related to legislation are routine. There are in fact other types of substantive motions that are not bound to legislation.
At page 530 of O'Brien and Bosc, it states:
Substantive motions are independent proposals which are complete in themselves, and are neither incidental to nor dependent upon any proceeding already before the House. As self-contained items of business for consideration and decision, each is used to elicit an opinion or action of the House. They are amendable and must be phrased in such a way as to enable the House to express agreement or disagreement with what is proposed. Such motions normally require written notice before they can be moved in the House. They include, for example, private Members' motions, opposition motions on supply days and government motions.
The government House leader also attempted to draw a comparison with the November 8, 2012, precedent when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights was “mandated...under Standing Order 56.1, to conduct the study required by section 533.1 of the Criminal Code”. However, it was not so much that the committee was instructed to conduct a study but, rather, that due to a mandatory statutory review of an act, the committee needed an order of reference from the House to proceed. As the opposition House leader suggested, it was a routine motion.
Thus, for the reasons stated, I would have been inclined to rule the motion out of order had this matter been raised within a reasonable delay. To be clear, the Chair did not readily deem the motion to be procedurally admissible, as the opposition House leader suggested. Instead, in the absence of any objection at the time that the motion was moved, the matter went forward and the motion was adopted.
The operation of Standing Order 56.1 has long been difficult for successive Speakers. This is in part because of the legitimate expectation that a motion moved pursuant to that Standing Order will be put to the House for decision without undue delay. This obligation is further complicated in instances where the Chair has had no advance notice that such motion is to be moved, as was the case in this particular instance, so I am sure all members will understand the quandary in which the Chair is left.
As the history of the use of motions under Standing Order 56.1 demonstrates, past speakers have all struggled with this dilemma and have almost invariably allowed even motions about which they had reservations to go forward, having had no time to properly assess their content and formulation. This is done in the expectation that alert members of the opposition will, if they deem it appropriate, rise to object. In this case, no one raised objections, the motion was put to the House and it was adopted.
The fact that the House leader of the official opposition waited so long to raise this point of order resulted in the terms of the motion having already been carried out. This is reminiscent of the situation faced by Speaker Milliken in 2001 when the government resorted to Standing Order 56.1 in a bid to dispose of numerous items of business—in this case some bills and certain supply proceedings—over the course of two sitting days. In that case, Speaker Milliken explained that he allowed the motion to proceed “because there were no objections raised at the time it was moved”. As he stated on September 18, 2001, at page 5258 of Debates:
However, to speak frankly, had the objection been raised in good time, I would have been inclined to rule the motion out of order. This situation serves again to remind members of the importance of raising matters of a procedural nature in a timely fashion.
The continuing trend away from the original intent of the Standing Order toward the moving of motions that are less readily identifiable or defined as routine is a concern that I share with my predecessors and one which continues to underscore the need for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to review and define the spirit and limitations of Standing Order 56.1. There is no doubt that this would be helpful to the Chair.
Finally, the House Leader of the Official Opposition raised the issue of the fairness for smaller parties of a Standing Order that requires a minimum of 25 members to stand in order for it to be withdrawn. It is not for the Speaker to judge whether it is appropriate or not. As is the case with other rules adopted by the House, such as the threshold of five members to request a recorded vote, the Speaker’s role is to enforce it, not question it. As Speaker, I can only suggest that the member raise the matter with the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which is designated to review the rules of the House.
I thank hon. members for their attention.