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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 April 18th, 2013
Yesterday, the members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth both rose on a question of privilege regarding the possible premature disclosure of the contents of a government bill prior to its introduction in the House.
Both members referenced an article that appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper that suggested that during the weekly Conservative Party caucus meeting, some Conservative members had expressed concerns about how specific sections of the bill were drafted and had asked that they be rewritten. The members for Ottawa—Vanier and Toronto—Danforth suggested that this demonstrated that the Conservative members may have been provided with the actual text of the draft bill in question. Both members emphasized the seriousness of the premature disclosure of bills and asked the Chair to investigate this matter.
In response, the Leader of the Government in the House assured the House that at the caucus meeting held by the Conservative Party that day, no draft copies of the bill or sections of it were circulated or displayed, nor were excerpts provided.
As members know, it is a well-established practice that the contents of a bill are kept confidential until introduced in Parliament, thus making their premature disclosure a serious matter. However, in this case, a careful reading of the arguments presented to the Chair about what transpired reveals that the concerns expressed appear to be based more on conjecture and supposition than on actual evidence.
Furthermore, the government House leader has stated categorically to the House that no copies, sections or excerpts of said bill were in any way made available to those who were in attendance at the caucus meeting. In other words, he challenges the supposition being made, and he insists that there was no breach of confidentiality regarding the bill.
In light of the lack of evidence and the minister's categorical assurances, the Chair considers the matter closed.
I thank members for their attention.
On Wednesday, March 6, 2013, due to many recorded divisions taken that day, private members' hour was cancelled pursuant to Standing Order 30(7). For that reason, the second hour of debate on Motion No. 412, standing in the name of the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming, did not take place.
Standing Order 30(7) states that this business “shall be added to the business of the House on a day to be fixed, after consultation, by the Speaker”. The Standing Orders then set out two conditions for the selection of the new date. First, the Speaker must attempt to “designate that day within the next ten sitting days” and, second, the Speaker must not permit “the intervention of more than one adjournment period”.
The debate therefore has to take place tomorrow at the latest, following private members' hour. However, I would remind the House that pursuant to an order made on Monday, February 25, 2013, the House will adjourn at 2:30 p.m. I am reluctant to interfere with that schedule, as it precedes an adjournment period for which members will no doubt have already made their travel plans.
Since we are now past 7 p.m., the House would normally be faced with having to reschedule the item, an option that is clearly not possible for the reasons I have just outlined.
Last week I was informed that there were consultations and that it was agreed that the second hour of debate on Motion No. 412 would be added to today's proceedings.
Being now faced with an unforeseen situation and bound by the provisions of Standing Order 30(7), I wish to inform the House that private members' business will indeed take place today, with the two items scheduled for debate as indicated on the notice paper. In doing so, the Chair is mindful of his obligations to “make all arrangements necessary to ensure the orderly conduct of private members' business”, as set out in Standing Order 94.
I thank hon. members for their collaboration.
It being 7:12 p.m, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
Privilege March 27th, 2013
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on March 6, 2013 by the member for Winnipeg Centre regarding the Minister of Justice's statutory obligation to examine government bills and regulations to determine whether they are inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition and the members for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Winnipeg Centre, Mount Royal and Gatineau for their comments.
In raising this question of privilege, the member for Winnipeg Centre explained that, pursuant to certain statutory requirements, the Minister of Justice is required to examine all government bills and regulations in order to determine whether they are actually inconsistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Bill of Rights. He cited section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights, which states:
...the Minister of Justice shall…examine every regulation…and every Bill introduced in or presented to the House of Commons by a Minister of the Crown, in order to ascertain whether any of the provisions thereof are inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of this Part and he shall report any such inconsistency to the House of Commons.
The hon. member then claimed that if the allegations contained in an action filed in the Federal Court by Mr. Edgar Schmidt, a Department of Justice official, are proven to be true, the minister has flouted these statutory requirements. He contends that the minister manages the risk of inconsistency in a cavalier fashion, and he argues that by allowing legislation to be introduced in the House that has a possibility of being inconsistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Bill of Rights, the minister misleads Parliament, thus leaving members with no reliable assurance that proposed legislation is not in violation of the charter and the Bill of Rights.
The member asked that the Chair find that the minister's approach had thus effectively impeded members in performing their duty to exercise due diligence in considering government bills. I note that to do so, the Chair would first need to establish whether the Minister of Justice had acted in accordance with his statutory obligations.
That said, while the member for Winnipeg Centre went on to admit that there exists no evidence that the Minister of Justice deliberately, or even implicitly, gave the House inaccurate information, he claimed that there are serious deficiencies in the examination and vetting of draft government legislation by the Minister of Justice as evidenced by a number of legal challenges to legislation believed to be inconsistent with the charter and the Bill of Rights.
The member contended that even though the matter is before the courts, the sub judice convention does not prevent the House from considering this question of privilege, as it is in no way dependent on the findings of the court, nor will the debate on the question of privilege interfere with the court in carrying out its duties. Acknowledging that questions of privilege must be raised at the earliest opportunity, the member for Winnipeg Centre assured the House that he brought this matter to the attention of the House as quickly as he could bring the research together, given the complexity of this question of privilege.
In response, the Minister of Justice insisted that the matter was not raised at the first opportunity since the court action in question was filed on December 14, 2012, leaving the member many opportunities to have raised this matter in the intervening months—as many other members had done in both committees and in the House. Second, the minister argued that the Chair has no jurisdiction over questions of law, which are for the courts alone to decide. Third, the minister suggested that the sub judice convention dictates that since the matter is before the courts, the House should allow the courts to resolve the matter before undertaking any debate on the matter.
The Minister of Justice noted that the member for Winnipeg Centre had failed to provide any evidence that the House and its members were in any way impeded in carrying out their duties. The minister stated categorically that “this government has never introduced any legislation that I believe was inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Canadian Bill of Rights”.
He went on to remind the House that the member for Winnipeg Centre had acknowledged that he had “no evidence” to suggest that the minister provided deliberately inaccurate information to the House about government bills.
The Chair has listened attentively to members’ interventions on this matter and it seems to me that this question of privilege involves three key points: namely, the timeliness of the question of privilege; the sub judice convention; and the Speaker’s role in determining matters of law.
Regarding timeliness, both the member for Winnipeg Centre and the Opposition House Leader explained that it was only after some time-consuming initial research that the member felt compelled to raise the matter in the form of a question of privilege.
Furthermore, I was interested in the statement of the member for Gatineau, who noted that this question of privilege was raised only after efforts to consider the matter in committee had failed.
While I might come to a different conclusion if the question at issue related directly to a specific incident in the House with regard to this particular question of privilege, I am satisfied with the explanations offered and will not rule this question out of order purely on the basis of timeliness.
The suggestion has also been made that the sub judice convention, in and of itself, prevents the consideration of this question of privilege at this time.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 627 states:
The interpretation of this convention is left to the Speaker since no “rule” exists to prevent Parliament from discussing a matter which is sub judice.
As Speaker, I must endeavour to find a balance between the right of the House to debate a matter and the effect that this debate might have. This is particularly important given that the purpose of the sub judice convention is to ensure that judicial decisions can be made free of undue influence. While O’Brien and Bosc states on page 628, in reference to a March 22, 1983, ruling by Speaker Sauvé,
…the sub judice convention has never stood in the way of the House considering a prima facie matter of privilege vital to the public interest or to the effective operation of the House and its Members.
it also speaks of another aspect of this convention that is too critical to ignore when at page 100 it states:
The sub judice convention is important in the conduct of business in the House. It protects the rights of interested parties before the courts, and preserves and maintains the separation and mutual respect between the legislature and the judiciary. The convention ensures that a balance is created between the need for a separate, impartial judiciary and free speech.
Strictly speaking, in the case before us, while the sub judice convention does not prevent debate on the matter, the fact remains that the heart of this question of privilege is still before the courts, which have yet to make a finding. I believe that it would be prudent for the House to use caution in taking steps that could result in an investigatory process that would, in many ways, run parallel to the court proceedings, particularly given that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada is already a party to the court proceedings and would be a central figure in any consideration the House might give this matter.
Arguments over the timeliness of the intervention of the member for Winnipeg Centre and the extent of the restraints we might choose to impose on ourselves because of the sub judice convention are ancillary matters. It seems to me that the central element of this question of privilege asks the Speaker to determine if the government is meeting its obligations under the law, as set out in section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights and section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act and their relevant regulations. The member for Mount Royal distilled this issue down to its fundamental element in stating:
What is rightly before this House, raised as a question of privilege, is whether minister has satisfied himself of the constitutional compliance of legislation.
This is the very matter the member for Winnipeg Centre has placed before me for my consideration in raising this question of privilege.
Numerous previous Speakers’ decisions point to a very clear practice for the Chair to follow in instances such as this. In a ruling given by Speaker Fraser, on April 9, 1991, which can be found at pages 19233 and 19234 of the House of Commons Debates, he said:
The Speaker has no role in interpreting matters of either a constitutional or legal nature.
In a ruling given by Speaker Jerome, on June 19, 1978, which can be found at page 6525 of the House of Commons Debates, he addressed a complaint that the government of the day may have acted illegally. He stated:
The hon. Member also alleges the Government acted illegally in the manner in which postal rates have been increased. Hon. Members will be aware that I have a duty to decide questions of order, not of law, and furthermore, I understand that this issue is now before the courts. In my opinion, therefore, it is an issue to be settled by the courts, and the Chair should not intervene.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 261, also provides valuable insight. It states:
...while Speakers must take the Constitution and statutes into account when preparing a ruling, numerous Speakers have explained that it is not up to the Speaker to rule on the “constitutionality” or “legality” of measures before the House.
In a ruling on a similar matter, Speaker Milliken, on April 12, 2005, at page 4953 of the Debates, did articulate the limited kinds of legal or constitutional matters the Chair could rule on.
He stated at that time:
What they may decide is whether the terms of a bill are in compliance with a prior resolution of this House, a ways and means motion, for example, or a royal recommendation in respect of a money bill, but beyond that, Speakers do not intervene in respect of the constitutionality or otherwise of provisions in the bills introduced in this House.
More recently, I have also been called upon to make rulings which effectively asked me to interpret the law. On October 24, 2011, at page 2405 of the Debates, I stated:
…it is important to delineate clearly between interpreting legal provisions of statutes—which is not within the purview of the Chair—and ensuring the soundness of the procedures and practices of the House when considering legislation—which, of course, is the role of the Chair.
Given the Chair's limited scope to consider legal matters, and based solely on what is within my purview to consider, I cannot comment on the adequacy of the approach taken by the government to fulfill its statutory obligations. I can therefore find no evidence that the member for Winnipeg Centre's privileges have been breached and cannot see how this rises to a matter of contempt. Accordingly, I cannot find a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank all members for their attention.
Privilege March 18th, 2013
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 25, 2013, by the House leader of the official opposition about statements made by the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development during oral questions on February 1, 2013.
I would like to thank the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. member for Toronto Centre for their comments.
The opposition House leader charged that the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development had deliberately misled the House when, in response to a question about the existence of quotas for Service Canada employees investigating employment insurance claims, she stated that “Departmental employees do not have individual quotas” and “...there are no individual quotas for employees of HRSDC who are looking at EI”. He stated that the minister's response is at odds with media reports describing the contents of employee performance agreements and that in his view it is clear that a quota program exists in her department, even if quotas are called objectives or targets.
In response, in a statement to the House on February 26, the minister countered that Service Canada does not have quotas for staff but, rather, performance targets. She stated:
There is a clear difference between a quota and a target, and that is simply that there are no negative consequences for staff who fail to meet targets.
Insisting that her statements had been neither misleading nor contradictory, she characterized the disagreement over terminology as a matter of debate.
Having carefully reviewed the matter, it appears to me that the Chair is being asked to examine and define certain terminology to determine if the minister has deliberately misled the House. However, I am limited to the role that the House allows the Speaker to play and to cast the Chair as the interpreter of the meaning of what was said is to go beyond that role.
On February 26, 2004, at page 1076 of the House of Commons Debates, Speaker Milliken pointed out that:
As hon. members know, it is not the Speaker's role to adjudicate on matters of fact. This is something on which the House itself can form an opinion during debate.
In another ruling, on January 31, 2008, which can be found at pages 2434 and 2435 of the Debates, Speaker Milliken also stated:
Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of a minister’s response to an oral question is a matter of debate; it is not a matter for the Speaker to judge.
Our parliamentary practice sets a very high threshold for the Speaker to make a prima facie finding of privilege in cases like the one before us. This was acknowledged by the hon. opposition House leader in his intervention and I also referred to this threshold on May 7, 2012, at page 7650 of Debates, in ruling on a similar matter, when I stated:
...one, it must be proven that the statement was misleading; two, it must be established that the member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and three, that [it must be proven that] in making the statement, the member intended to mislead the House.
Furthermore, Speaker Milliken, in a ruling made on April 21, 2005, at page 5412 of the House of Commons Debates, reminded the House of a key element to consider when finding a prima facie instance of privilege. He said:
In the present case, I must determine whether the minister's responses in any way impeded members in the performance of their parliamentary duties and whether the remarks were intentionally misleading.
Taken together, these precedents demonstrate the demanding threshold established by our practice before the Chair can arrive at a prima facie finding of privilege. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 510, summarizes the approach very well when it states:
In most instances, when a point of order or a question of privilege has been raised in regard to a response to an oral question, the Speaker has ruled that the matter is a disagreement among Members over the facts surrounding the issue. As such, these matters are more a question of debate and do not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege.
In the current situation, the Chair is faced with just such a disagreement over the facts, and the evidence presented to support the contention that the minister has deliberately misled the House falls short of the threshold required in cases of this kind.
Accordingly, given the precedents cited and our practice in circumstances of this kind, the Chair cannot find a prima facie question of privilege in this case.
I thank all members for their attention.
I understand the hon. Minister of Justice is rising to make further points to the question of privilege raised before the break.
Canadian Human Rights Act February 27th, 2013
There are nine motions standing on the notice paper for the report stage of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca's Bill C-279, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression).
While it is not usual for the Chair to provide reasons for the selection of report stage motions, in this case, I have decided to do so, as I have received a written submission from the hon. member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca outlining what he feels are exceptional circumstances surrounding the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill in committee.
As members know, consistent with the note to Standing Order 76.1(5), the Chair would not normally select motions that could have been presented in committee.
The hon. member who has submitted motions at report stage was also an active participant in the meeting scheduled for the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. As such, it would appear that the amendments submitted by the member could have been proposed during the committee consideration of the bill. In the present case, however, there appear to be extenuating circumstances.
In his remarks, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca explained that during clause-by-clause consideration of the bill on December 6, 2012, the committee passed two amendments to the first clause of the text as well as the clause itself, as amended. He stated that the committee did not continue studying the bill.
Even the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca's attempt to seek a 30-day extension for the consideration of Bill C-279 in committee was unsuccessful. As a result, clause-by-clause consideration of the bill did not proceed beyond the first clause, and pursuant to Standing Order 97.1, on December 10, 2012, the bill was deemed reported back to the House without amendment.
The Chair has had to rule on similar cases in the past, including one that came up on December 7, 2012—at page 13030 of the House of Commons Debates—regarding Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations). In that case, due to circumstances beyond its control, the committee was unable to complete its examination before the bill was deemed to have been reported without amendment pursuant to Standing Order 97.1. Accordingly, any amendments that had originally been submitted for the clause-by-clause examination of the bill in committee were submitted again at report stage. The Chair therefore selected those motions at report stage for debate, because it was clear that the members in question had attempted to propose their amendments in committee during the clause-by-clause examination of the bill.
In reviewing the sequence of events related to the bill now before the House, as well as the written submission from the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, I am satisfied that despite the efforts of the member to have his amendments considered by the committee, he was unable to do so before the bill was deemed reported back to the House.
Accordingly, Motions Nos. 1 to 9 have been selected for debate at report stage, and they will be grouped for debate and voted upon, according to the voting patterns available at the table.
I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 9 to the House.
Privilege February 7th, 2013
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on January 31, 2013, by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier regarding the procedures of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Canada with respect to providing information to members of Parliament.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. opposition House leader and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House for their comments.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier charged that government procedures requiring elected officials to seek public information through the minister’s office, while ordinary citizens could obtain the very same information directly from the department, impeded him from carrying out his duties as a member, particularly as this information was required for him to prepare to ask questions during question period. He worried that it was the government’s intention to make it difficult if not impossible for him to serve his constituents.
The member further stated that he believed this disparity in procedures was being applied in such a manner so as to create an inequality of access to information between government members and opposition members.
The parliamentary secretary expressed the view that constituency-related duties of a member are not covered by parliamentary privilege and suggested that there are other ways for the member to obtain the information that he is seeking, namely through written and oral questions.
Given that a member’s access to accurate and timely information is an essential cornerstone of our parliamentary system, it is perhaps not surprising that, in the past, other members have raised very similar concerns about access to departmental information.
Simply put, the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier raises the question of whether an alleged interference with a member’s ability to access departmental information in a timely and equitable manner constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
When the hon. member first raised this matter, he spoke of the need to have a, “level playing field of access to information for the benefit of the constituents we have been elected to represent”.
A careful review of various precedents on the issue of whether parliamentary privilege covers a member's constituency responsibilities reveals that Speakers have been quite categorical in stating that parliamentary privilege applies only in instances where members were participating in what is deemed to be a parliamentary proceeding. On October 9, 1997, at page 689 of Debates, Speaker Parent explained:
The Chair is mindful of the multiple responsibilities, duties and constituency related activities of all members and of the importance they play in the work of every member of Parliament. However, my role as your Speaker is to consider only those matters that affect the parliamentary work of members.
In the same ruling, Speaker Parent added, at page 688 of Debates that:
in order for a member to claim that his privileges have been breached or that a contempt has occurred, he or she must have been functioning as a member at the time of the alleged offence, that is, actually participating in a proceeding of Parliament. The activities of members in their constituencies do not appear to fall within the definition of a “proceeding in Parliament”.
In a ruling on a similar matter on February 4, 2008, which can be found at page 2540 of the Debates, Speaker Milliken came to the same conclusion. Other Speakers have likewise had occasion to clearly define what constitutes parliamentary work or a proceeding in Parliament.
The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier did in fact attempt to make that very link to the proceedings in Parliament when he said that he needed the information in question as part of his work in preparing to ask a question during question period. It is the view of the Chair that this falls short of established definitions of parliamentary work. Again, Speaker Parent’s October 9, 1997, ruling is very instructive in this regard. He stated at page 688 of the Debates that:
After careful consideration of the precedents, I conclude that activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.
For his part, the opposition House leader reminded the House of Speaker Bosley's ruling on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of Debates, in which he declared:
I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
This is not to say that the hon. member does not have a legitimate grievance or that the departmental response and process that he encountered does not warrant review, if only for its apparent inefficiency. The member may wish to approach the minister to see if a satisfactory accommodation is possible. In addition, as Speaker Milliken once suggested in a similar case, the member could also seek to have the appropriate standing committee inquire about the departmental procedures in place to assist members of Parliament in seeking information with a view to making recommendations for improvement.
However, as Speaker, I am obliged to assess situations of this kind within the strict parameters that flow from our precedents and usages as they relate to parliamentary privilege. It is beyond the purview of the Chair to intervene in departmental matters or to get involved in government processes, no matter how frustrating they may appear to be to the member.
Accordingly, in keeping with the precedents cited, the Chair cannot conclude that the member for Ottawa—Vanier has been impeded in the performance of his parliamentary duties and thus I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
I thank all members for their attention on this matter.
Interparliamentary Delegations February 4th, 2013
I have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Canadian parliamentary delegation concerning its visit to Chile and Costa Rica from October 6 to October 13, 2012.
Points of Order January 29th, 2013
I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on November 29, 2012, by the member for Charlottetown regarding the relevance of the government's response to written question Q-465.
I would like to thank the hon. member for having raised this matter and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for his comments.
In raising his point of order, the member for Charlottetown contended that the response provided to his written question Q-465 had no link to the question asked. Specifically, he had requested certain information related to all websites accessed by the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Public Safety on government-issued computers and devices within a specific two-week period. The answer received explained, by way of reference to Bill C-30, that the information requested would not be provided. Asserting his right as a member of Parliament to ask questions to hold the government accountable, the hon. member argued that the government does not have the right to decide which questions to answer and which ones to ignore.
In response, the parliamentary secretary reminded the House of the ruling that the chair gave on November 27, 2012, which can be found at pages 12536-7 of Debates, on the appropriateness of answers to written questions.
As to the appropriateness of the answer provided, members are well aware that it is a well-established practice that Speakers do not judge the quality of government responses to questions, whether written or oral. In fact, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 522, states:
There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions.
That being said, I did state in the November 27 ruling to which the parliamentary secretary referred, at page 12536 of Debates, that “As always, however, the Chair remains attentive to these matters and is ready to assist in any way it can in ensuring that written questions continue to serve members as an important channel of genuine information exchange”.
I think all members would agree that members of the House have the right to expect that reasonable answers be given to reasonable questions, particularly given the critical role of written questions in our parliamentary system.
In a ruling on June 14, 1989, at page 3026 of Debates, Speaker Fraser provided an interesting comment on government responses to questions, stating:
It should be understood that there is no obligation on the Government to provide a perfect answer, only a fair one. A Member in framing his or her question would accept part of the responsibility for the quality of the answer.
As I reminded the House on November 27, 2012, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 522, states that “It is acceptable for the government, in responding to a written question, to indicate to the House that it cannot supply an answer”. At the same time, it is expected under our practice that the integrity of the written question process be maintained by avoiding questions or answers that stray from the underlying principle of information exchange.
As is stated in O’Brien and Bosc, again at page 522, “no argument or opinion is to be given and only the information needed to respond to the question is to be provided in an effort to maintain the process of written questions as an exchange of information rather than an opportunity for debate.”
For reasons already given, the Chair is not in a position to delve into the content of answers to written questions. However, as Speaker, I have a duty to remind the House that our written question process is intended to be free of argument and debate. To protect its integrity, I enjoin those submitting questions and those preparing answers to bear that principle in mind, remembering that it remains acceptable for the government to say in response to a question, simply, “We cannot answer”.
The Chair hopes that all those involved in the written question process will bear this ruling and my ruling of November 27, 2012 in mind so that every effort is made to ensure that information is exchanged in such as way as to serve the needs of members while protecting the integrity of the written question practices that have served us so well for many, many years.
I thank all members for their attention.
Points of Order December 12th, 2012
As I committed to do on November 29, 2012, I am now prepared to provide the House with a more comprehensive ruling on the points of order raised on November 28 by the hon. House leaders for the official opposition and the government regarding the report stage proceedings on Bill C-45, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.
In making their interventions, both House leaders made two kinds of arguments. First, they made what the Chair would characterize as strictly technical procedural points related to the mechanics of report stage for Bill C-45. At the same time, they shared other views with the House on broader issues, such as the role of the Speaker in general and in relation to report stage, the role of the House and of the Speaker in a majority setting, and the role and rights of independent members in relation to report stage.
In its earlier ruling on some of the purely procedural matters raised in these points of order, the Chair outlined the rationale for its selection for debate and grouping for voting purposes of motions at report stage of Bill C-45, in particular motions to delete. Motions to delete were a preoccupation for both House leaders: the opposition House leader wanted the Speaker to select them all and allow separate votes on all of them, while the government House leader did not want me to select any of them, to avoid votes altogether.
As I explained to the House on November 29, there are several precedents to justify not only the selection of motions to delete for debate at report stage but also to justify their grouping for voting purposes. These are long-standing practices of the House.
References made by the opposition House leader to rulings by Speakers Jerome and Fraser, while of interest, failed to take into account the evolution of our procedures as they relate to report stage, particularly a very clear direction included in the notes to Standing Order 76(5) and 76.1(5) since 2001. These notes outline the desire of the House to circumscribe report stage and instruct the Speaker to select motions for debate in accordance with certain criteria to ensure that report stage is not a mere repetition of the committee stage.
As I stated in my ruling on November 29, Debates, page 12611:
In the absence of any specific guidance from the House with regard to motions to delete and other matters raised in the points of order, the Speaker cannot unilaterally modify the well-established current practice.
Despite the brevity of the ruling, the Chair believes it puts to rest any ambiguity that may have been perceived with regard to the Chair's approach to the fundamental procedural aspects of selection and voting processes as they relate to motions at report stage.
With regard to the broader issues raised by the two House leaders, the Chair intends to address them thematically, beginning with the discussion on the role of the Speaker.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 307, states that it is the duty of the Speaker:
…to ensure that public business is transacted efficiently and that the interests of all parts of the House are advocated and protected against the use of arbitrary authority. It is in this spirit that the Speaker, as the chief servant of the House, applies the rules. 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...
O'Brien and Bosc further states that:
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.
Speaker Milliken provided useful insight into this role when on April 27, 2010, on page 2039 of Debates, he stated:
—the Chair is always mindful of the established precedents, usages, traditions and practices of the House and of the role of the Chair in their ongoing evolution.
This not only confirms that it is not just written rules from which the Speaker’s authority is legitimately derived, as suggested by the opposition House leader, but that the evolutionary nature of procedure must be taken into account. It was on this basis of the House’s longstanding acceptance, and in fact expectations, of the practices at report stage, in conjunction with the need for adaptation to the current context, that the amendments for Bill C-45 were grouped for debate and voting purposes in the manner that they were.
Nor does the role of the Speaker in this regard vary from Parliament to Parliament, as has been suggested by the government House leader, who said:
It may be justifiable in a minority Parliament for the Chair to accept any questions for the House to decide, because it is difficult to predict the intentions of the majority of members. This is not the case in a majority Parliament in general.
Let me be clear, the Speaker does not make decisions based on who is in control of the House. Report stage motions are not and never have been selected for debate and grouped for voting on the basis of who the Chair thinks might win the vote on them. This is why, in the case of Bill C-45, the Chair rejected the proposal made by the government House leader that the Chair group certain motions, to use his words, “in a manner that recognizes the anticipated will of the House”.
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 for the expressed will of the House itself.
This brings me to a discussion of the role of the House as a whole.
The role of the House in the legislative process must be seen in the larger context of the accountability of the executive branch and the elected members of the legislative branch. Speaker Milliken, in a ruling given on April 27, 2010, which can be found at page 2039 of Debates, stated:
In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and in fact an obligation.
…it is why that right is manifested in numerous procedures of the House, from the daily question period to the detailed examination by committees of estimates, to reviews of the accounts of Canada, to debate, amendments, and votes on legislation.
The House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 250, puts into context how our practices have attempted to strike an appropriate balance between government and opposition. It states that:
—it remains true that parliamentary procedure is intended to ensure that there is a balance between the government's need to get its business through the House, and the opposition's responsibility to debate that business without completely immobilizing the proceedings of the House. In short, debate in the House is necessary, but it should lead to a decision in a reasonable time.
The underlying principles these citations express are the cornerstones of our parliamentary system. They enshrine the ancient democratic tradition of allowing the minority to voice its views and opinions in the public square, and in counterpoint allowing the majority to put its legislative program before Parliament and have it voted upon.
In advocating a much stricter approach to the report stage on Bill C-45, the government House leader seemed to argue that the existence of a government majority meant that the outcome of proceedings on the bill was known in advance, that somehow this justified taking a new approach to decision making by the House and that anything short of that would constitute a waste of the House's time.
This line of reasoning, taken to its logical end, might lead to conclusions that trespass on important foundational principles of our institutions, regardless of its composition. Speaker Milliken recognized this when, on March 29, 2007, at page 8136 of Debates, he stated:
…neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of the numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.
Speaker Fraser on October 10, 1989, at page 4461 of the Debates of the House of Commons, also reminded the House that decisions on legislation are for the House alone to make, stating that:
…we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.
I would now like to turn my attention to the issue of the role and rights of independent members in the context of report stage.
While acknowledging that some accommodation for the participation of independent members was necessary, the government House leader was critical of the current state of affairs, which he claims can allow a single independent member, as the government House leader put it, “to hold the House hostage in a voting marathon”.
As all members know, this year the House has had to deal with thousands of report stage motions when considering the two budget implementation bills, which resulted, in the case of Bill C-38, in around-the-clock voting. While this is not unprecedented, it is the first time it has happened since the rules governing report stage were changed in 2001. As is often the case in the midst of such consuming procedural challenges, frustration surfaces, our practices are examined and remedies are proposed.
As I have indicated, the note to Standing Orders 76(5) and 76.1(5) already provides guidance to the Chair with regard to the selection of amendments at report stage, and in particular, states the following:
For greater certainty, the purpose of this Standing Order is, primarily, to provide Members who were not members of the committee, with an opportunity to have the House consider specific amendments they wish to propose.
It is no secret that independent members do not sit on committees in the current Parliament. In light of recent report stage challenges and the frustrations that have resurfaced, the Chair would like to point out the opportunities and mechanisms that are at the House's disposal to resolve these issues to the satisfaction of all members.
Standing Orders currently in place offer committees wide latitude to deal with bills in an inclusive and thorough manner that would balance the rights of all members. In fact, it is neither inconceivable nor unprecedented for committees to allow members, regardless of party status, permanently or temporarily, to be part of their proceedings, thereby opening the possibility for the restoration of report stage to its original purpose.
For inspiration on the possibilities, members need only to remember that there are several precedents where independent members remain members of standing committees. Short of that, there is no doubt that any number of procedural arrangements could be developed that would ensure that the amendments that independent members wish to propose to legislation could be put in committee.
Thus, it is difficult for the Chair to accept the argument that current report stage practices and rules are somehow being used in an untoward manner by independent members when simple and straightforward solutions are not being explored. Were there a satisfactory mechanism that would afford independent members an opportunity to move motions to move bills in committee, the Chair has no doubt that a report stage selection process would adapt to the new reality.
In the meantime, as all honourable members know, and as is stated at page 307 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition:
It is the duty of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members and of the House as an institution.
Accordingly, unless and until new satisfactory ways of considering the motions of all members to amend bills in committee are found, the Chair intends to continue to protect the rights of independent members to propose amendments at report stage.
Finally, as we prepare to adjourn for the Christmas holidays, the Chair invites all members to reflect on how best to strengthen public confidence in this institution and on how best to balance the competing interests with which we always grapple.
I thank all hon. members for their attention.
Decorum in the House December 12th, 2012
As the House prepares to adjourn for the Christmas holidays, the Chair would like to make a short statement about order and decorum.
In recent months, for a variety of reasons, the atmosphere in the chamber has been at times difficult. This is perhaps not surprising since the House is made up of members who are committed and whose strongly held views are freely expressed on a daily basis.
The House is also an inherently adversarial forum that tends to foster conflict. As a result, sometimes emotions get the better of us and we quickly find ourselves in situations marked by disorderly conduct. Tone and gestures can cause as much of a reaction as the words used in debate. Lately, it appears that at different times the mood of the House has strayed quite far from the flexibility, accommodation and balance that ideally ought to exist in this place.
My task as Speaker is to ensure that the intensity of feeling expressed around some issues is contained within the bounds of civility without infringing on the freedom of speech that members enjoy. The Chair tries to ensure that our rules are adhered to in a way that encourages mutual respect.
However, all members will recognize that ultimately the Speaker must depend on their collective self-discipline to maintain order and to foster decorum. My authority to enforce the rules depends on the co-operation of the House.
Our electors expect all members to make greater efforts to curb disorder and unruly behaviour. So I urge all members to reflect on how best to return the House to the convivial, co-operative atmosphere I know all of us would prefer.
This would be a great help to me and my fellow Chair occupants, about whom I would also like to say a few words.
I would like to take a moment to salute, on behalf of all of us, the excellent work of our Deputy Speaker, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, and our assistant deputy speakers, the members for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock and Simcoe North.
Often under trying circumstances, my colleagues in the Chair have soldiered on, doing their best to uphold the finest traditions of this chamber. As all honourable members are aware, unusual events arise frequently in the House. Thus the task of reading the will of the House is often left to Chair occupants—whether an unexpected sequence of events occurs or an expected sequence of events does not.
Since the House resumed its sittings in mid-September, we have witnessed our fair share of instances where the House has been faced with unforeseen situations but has, nevertheless, found its way with the help of our chair officers. I want to say that the three gentlemen who share duties in the Chair have, in my view, upheld the highest standards of professionalism and impartiality while trying to facilitate the orderly conduct of the House business.
Only those who have had the privilege of serving in the Chair and presiding over the deliberations in this chamber can truly understand to what degree the role involves as much art as science. I am very proud of the way in which the Chair occupants conduct themselves and I want, on your behalf, to thank them for their dedication to the institution and for their ongoing hard work.