moved, seconded by the member for Scarborough Southwest, that Bill C-202, an act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act (disallowance procedure for statutory instruments), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker,I am very pleased to rise on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central and in fact all Canadians to debate my private member's bill, Bill C-202, an act to amend the Statutory Instruments Act, disallowance procedure for statutory instruments, also called negative resolution procedure.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Scarborough Southwest, a veteran Liberal member and vice-chair of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, for seconding the bill.
As members will recall, a similar bill was tabled by the hon. member for Vancouver Island North in 1996 but it died on the order paper. The proposed amendments to the Statutory Instruments Act largely mirror the current disallowance procedure which is set out in the standing orders of the House of Commons.
For the information of the folks who are listening and watching the debate on the TV, statutory instruments or regulations, also called delegated legislation, give form and substance to legislation. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details or sometimes in the fine print. Let me say that here in this business the devil is in the regulations.
Twenty per cent of the law in the country is made up of legislation. The remaining 80% of the law is made up of delegated legislation, commonly called regulations and frequently called red tape. Legislation or bills are passionately debated in the House and voted in parliament, whereas there is virtually no debate, public input or even media scrutiny on regulations. This is an affront to democracy.
The only and limited scrutiny of delegated legislation or regulations in parliament is done by the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, a joint committee of the House and the Senate. The members of the committee, legal counsels and staff, work very hard scouring through thousands of papers on dry, technical and legal subjects doing a painstaking, fastidious and thankless job. This is a committee that is generally misunderstood and ignored but it is an essential watchdog in protecting democracy, controlling bureaucracy and holding the government accountable. There is room for more public input and interest by the media.
The joint committee is non-partisan or less partisan and more objective than other committees of parliament. Its scrutiny of the regulations is limited to the validity and legality on the basis of a set of uniform and defined criteria and not on the basis of policy matters, general merits or necessity of a statutory instrument.
The committee works meticulously but due to many elements involved it works at a slow pace. That is the nature of the committee. It has a huge backlog of work in progress. Staff and resources allotted to the joint committee for the important work it does are nowhere near adequate.
I happen to be a three term co-chair of the joint committee representing all members in the House. Members across all party lines and legal counsels of the committee support Bill C-20 and it is on similar lines written earlier by the standing joint committee to the justice minister for appropriate action.
The joint committee works to improve and correct defects in regulations but its ultimate weapon is to disallow defective regulations, only used when strictly necessary. The status quo disallowance procedure is seriously defective.
Bill C-202 would establish a statutory disallowance procedure that would be applicable to all statutory instruments subject to review and scrutiny by the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. This enactment would ensure that parliament will have the opportunity and the ability to disallow any statutory instruments made pursuant to authority delegated by parliament or made by or under the authority of the cabinet.
Through the bill, the Statutory Instruments Act is amended by adding a new section comprising the 10 subsections after section 19, which is the procedure for the disallowance of subordinate and delegated legislation.
Disallowance is a means at the disposal of parliament to control the making of delegated legislation. Parliamentarians are given an opportunity to reject a subordinate law made by a delegate of parliament.
Any general disallowance procedure ought to have a statutory basis. The lack of a general disallowance procedure as a means of asserting parliamentary control of delegated legislation prompted a great many recommendations that such a procedure be put in place.
Following the recommendation of the McGrath committee and as part of its overall regulatory reform strategy, the placement of the current disallowance procedure in the standing orders in 1986 was intended to be on an experimental and temporary basis.
The time has now come to give a more permanent status to that procedure, which was temporary and on an experimental basis, through its inclusion in a statute, preferably the Statutory Instruments Act.
In its 1992 report, the subcommittee on regulations and competitiveness of the finance committee recommended that the defect in the current procedure be addressed by proceeding with the adoption of a statutory procedure covering all statutory instruments. A mere resolution of the House of Commons is all that is required to amend the standing orders of the House.
Disallowance would be most appropriately dealt with in the Statutory Instruments Act but it can also be dealt with in a number of other statutes, such as the Parliament of Canada Act, the Interpretation Act or even in distinct statutes. Various disallowance procedures have been in existence in other Commonwealth jurisdictions for many years.
I would mention two glaring defects of the current procedure. First, that the procedure only applies in the House of Commons and not in the Senate.
Second, the disallowance is limited to those statutory instruments that are made by the governor in council or ministers of the crown. A fairly large body of subordinate law is not subject to disallowance, thus to parliamentary scrutiny. A large number of delegated laws escape parliament's scrutiny and there is no good reason, either in theory or practice, why a regulation or statutory instrument made by the governor in council or a minister can be disallowed by parliament while a regulation made by an agency or board cannot.
Under parliamentary orders the governor in council also delegates authority to make regulations to a number of quasi-government agencies or boards, such as the National Transportation Agency, CRTC, CIHR, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the National Energy Board, but parliament, through its standing joint committee, lacks the authority to propose the disallowance of any of those regulations of the excluded class. As a result, parliament is deprived of the opportunity to disallow important regulations made by these agencies or bodies.
It is clearly both logical and desirable that all statutory instruments subject to review by parliament under the Statutory Instruments Act be subject to disallowance. The current procedure simply cannot be invoked in relation to a large class of statutory instruments reviewed by the joint committee.
These two bodies of subordinate law are entirely a consequence of the choice made in 1986 by means of amending the standing orders of the House. This reform was meant to be temporary and if it had been successful it would have been extended to all statutory instruments reviewed by the committee.
After more than 15 years the time has come, although it has been long overdue, to place this procedure on a statutory footing with a view to increasing the effectiveness of parliamentary control of delegated legislation.
Another weakness of the existing procedure is that a House of Commons order asking the department to revoke a statutory instrument contains no form of sanction that would compel compliance, except in the case of contempt for the House of Commons.
Where the joint committee considers that a regulation should be annulled it can make a report to the House of Commons containing a resolution to the effect that regulation x should be revoked. Once that report is tabled in the House the applicable procedure would depend on a decision by the responsible minister. Should the appropriate authority neglect or refuse to comply with the disallowance order it would be open to the House to treat the failure to comply with the order as involving a contempt of the House.
While the House could deal with the matter as one of contempt there are no other legal sanctions, or even consequences, that arise from a failure to comply with a disallowance order. As a matter of law an order of the House of Commons that a particular regulation be revoked is not binding on the author of the regulation and cannot be enforced by a court of justice.
The standing orders also provide that where the committee recommends to revoke an instrument, and the report being tabled, no request is made by a minister for a debate. The resolution contained in the report is deemed to be concurred in by the House at the expiration of 15 sitting days. In this case as well the resolution is then treated as an order of the House that the regulation be revoked.
Under the status quo procedure, the revocation of an instrument disallowed by the House of Commons would ultimately depend on a decision of the governor in council or the appropriate minister to obey the order of the House of Commons or not.
Placing the disallowance procedure on a statutory footing, as this bill recommends, would remove the need for a regulation making authority to take subsequent action to give effect to an order of the House, thus eliminating the potential for conflict between the legislature and the executive.
Proposed subsection 19.1(9) is a new provision. By putting the disallowance procedure on a statutory footing, the procedure is also made more efficient as there is no longer a need for the House of Commons to address an order of the cabinet ordering the revocation of a statutory instrument. The legislation itself would now deem a disallowed instrument to be revoked. By eliminating the need for further action by the governor in council or the minister who adopted the disallowed instrument compliance with a disallowance decision would be improved by eliminating any possibility of a regulation making authority not complying with a disallowance order of the House.
It seems a little complicated and technical but those veteran members of the standing joint committee should understand. I am sure that other members have a fairly good idea. I tried to make it simple for them.
By providing that the revocation of an instrument does not take effect before the expiration of a 30 day deadline, the bill would ensure that the regulation making authority that made the disallowed regulation has an opportunity to take measures to mitigate any negative impact that the revocation might have, including the enactment of alternative regulations.
Proposed subsection 19.1(10) is also new. It would provide for the situation in which a minister has filed a motion to reject a proposed disallowance and the motion is not adopted. In that case, the proposed subsection 19.1(9) would deem the regulation or other instruments to be revoked at the expiration of 30 days from the day on which the motion to reject the disallowance was considered but failed to obtain the approval of the House.
Putting the present procedure on a statutory footing would not only ensure that parliament has effective control of the delegated legislation it authorizes, it would also allow for a simplification of the current procedure. Some 80% of the laws that Canadians face are through regulations and statutory instruments and most of them fall within the federal jurisdiction and affect every Canadian in many ways.
Bill C-202 is of very significant public concern. There is significant support from small, medium and large businesses, various organizations and stakeholders, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and chambers of commerce throughout the country.
As members of the House representing Canadians our most important responsibility is to protect democracy. It is incumbent upon all of us in the House irrespective of political parties to make the disallowance procedure more transparent and effective. This is a non-partisan issue. All of us must ensure than an appropriate and effective procedure is in place that has a statutory footing and that is enforceable.
The current practice of disallowance is not statutory, rather it is a halfway house. Because it is embodied in the standing orders it is limited to instruments the governor in council or a minister has the authority to revoke. It does not apply to all statutory instruments and most notably, does not apply to regulations made by agencies and bodies I mentioned. Nor does the disallowance take effect automatically after the reporting in the House. The governor in council or a minister must act in a sense ordered by the House.
By providing a clear legislative basis for the current disallowance procedure Bill C-202 would: first, allow parliament's authority to extend to all instruments subject to review under the Statutory Instruments Act instead of only those made by the governor in council or a minister.
Second, it would remove the necessity for additional action on the part of the regulation making authority in order to give effect to an order of the House that a regulation be revoked. Bill C-202 not only gives the act two recommendations made by numerous parliamentary committees who have studied the matter, but would both strengthen the current disallowance procedure and make that procedure more effective. Providing a statutory basis for disallowance would allow this defect to be corrected and would ensure parliament's full control of delegated legislation.
This regulatory reform is the beginning. I am certainly aware that further regulatory reforms are needed and there is room for improvements and amendments and strengthening of the bill can take place when it goes to committee.
I want to thank all the members from all parties who will be speaking to the bill, particularly the hon. members for Scarborough Southwest, Scarborough--Rouge River, Témiscamingue; Regina--Qu'Appelle; Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough and Dauphin--Swan River, as well as many Senators who are supporting the bill, my co-chair Senator Hervieux-Payette and many other Senators who have been working hard on this committee. They understand what this disallowance procedure means and why it is important to restore transparency and protect democracy in the House of Commons.
I am optimistic that all members of the House will support this important, long overdue initiative by looking through the non-partisan lens. As the bill is votable I trust members will vote in favour of Bill C-202. All of us in the House, as one body, as Canadians with one voice, can reassure and strengthen democracy in parliament.