I am now prepared to rule on the points of order raised on November 26, 2012, by the hon. House leader for the official opposition and the member for Kings—Hants, both of which arose from proceedings in the Standing Committee on Finance during its consideration of Bill C-45, a second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures.
I would like to thank the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition and the hon. member for Kings—Hants for having raised their concerns, as well as the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for their interventions.
In raising his point of order, the opposition House leader asserted that the Standing Committee on Finance, through the adoption of a timetabling motion on October 31, 2012, regarding how it would conduct its proceedings on Bill C-45, went beyond its mandate and usurped the authority of the House when it invited other standing committees to study particular sections of Bill C-45 and to forward any proposed amendments back to the finance committee. He drew particular attention to that part of the finance committee's timetabling motion that provided for amendments to the bill recommended by other committees to be deemed proposed to the finance committee and must be considered in its proceedings along with amendments proposed by members of the committee. He argued that, as the House had referred the bill specifically and solely to the finance committee and had not adopted a motion of instruction authorizing other committees to study specific parts of the bill and subsequently report back to the House in the usual manner, the 13th report of the committee on Bill C-45 should be ruled out of order.
In replying to these arguments, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons insisted that the Standing Committee on Finance had at no time relinquished any of its authority over the committee proceedings on Bill C-45, as it had simply invited other committees to offer suggested changes to the legislation. Further, he stated that there was an established practice whereby a committee charged with studying a bill has consulted other committees by inviting them to study a particular subject matter in the bill and then provide feedback.
The point of order raised by the member for Kings—Hants centred on the manner in which the committee dealt with the amendments to the bill which he, as a member of the committee, had submitted. He pointed out that the motion adopted by the committee on October 31, 2012, specified that once a specific time was reached, “the Chair shall put forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, each and every question necessary to dispose of clause-by-clause consideration of the bill”, and explained that, accordingly, the chair of the committee ruled that the committee would not be voting on any amendments on notice which had not been moved prior to the deadline.
Because the committee overturned that decision by the Chair, the member for Kings—Hants argued that the committee forced votes to be held on all amendments submitted, even those which had yet to be moved. He alleged that the removal of his discretion to decide which amendments he wanted to move, coupled with the overturning of the Chair’s procedurally sound ruling, constituted an abuse of the committee process.
The government House leader began his remarks by pointing out that, as committees are masters of their own proceedings, such matters ought to be settled in committee. He then argued that a broader interpretation of the timetabling motion adopted by the finance committee was needed in order to have a consistent interpretation in committee and in the House of such practices. He asserted that, in overturning the chair's decision, the committee broke no rules, nor did the putting of the question on all amendments submitted result in the member's rights being denied.
The Chair is therefore being asked to address two questions. First, did the Standing Committee on Finance overstep its authority when it adopted a timetabling motion, which, among other provisions, asked other standing committees to consider the subject matter of various parts of Bill C-45 and to offer suggestions as to possible amendments?
Second, do the actions of the committee in overturning the Chair so as to have all amendments on notice—including all the amendments of the hon. member for Kings—Hants—deemed moved during clause-by-clause consideration constitute a denial of his rights as a member?
The government House leader and the parliamentary secretary have both argued that the approach taken by the Standing Committee on Finance, namely, to seek the assistance of other standing committees in the consideration of the subject matter of a bill, is not extraordinary. In support of that contention, the parliamentary secretary referred to a motion of the Standing Committee on Finance on April 28, 2008, when it proceeded in a similar fashion by requesting that the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration consider the subject matter of a part of Bill C-50, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26, 2008 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget.
While it may be overstating matters that this is “established practice”, it is true that committee practice is of considerable flexibility and fluidity. This is acknowledged by the opposition House leader himself who spoke of the need for committees to respect clear and distinct limits but declared to that, “when work is assigned to it by the House, it is largely up to the committee to decide how and when to tackle it”.
It should be noted that in the present case, even though other committees were invited to suggest amendments, it is the finance committee itself that chose to do so. It also decided how to deal with any suggested amendments and it retained the ability to decide whether or not to adopt any such amendments.
This is not the first time proceedings in a committee have given rise to procedural questions in the House and concerns about precedents being created. The Chair is reminded of a ruling given by Speaker Fraser on March 26, 1990, which can be found at page 9757 of the Debates of the House of Commons, in relation to a particularly controversial committee proceeding. He said:
I would caution members, however, in referring to this as a precedent. What occurred was merely a series of events and decisions made by the majority in a committee. Neither this House nor the Speaker gave the incidents any value whatsoever in procedural terms. One must exercise caution in attaching guiding procedural flags to such incidents and happenings.
The case at hand is not necessarily analogous to the one before us now but, nevertheless, this quote from Speaker Fraser serves as a useful reminder that committee practice is in continuous flux and that it is important to place particular occurrences in context.
As all members are aware, it is a long-established practice that committees are expected to report matters to the House before they can be considered by the Speaker. Speaker Milliken, in a ruling made on November 27, 2002, which can be found at pages 1949 and 1950 of the Debates, put it this way:
As Speaker, I appreciate the responsibility that I have to defend the rights of all members and especially those of members who represent minority views in the House. At the same time, it is a long tradition in this place that committees are masters of their own proceedings. Ordinarily the House is only seized of a committee matter when the committee reports to the House outlining the situation that must be addressed.
In the same ruling, he added:
...it is true as well that committees are permitted a greater latitude in the conduct of their proceedings than might be allowed in the House. It may not always be clear in a particular set of circumstances how best to proceed and so the ultimate decision is left to the committee itself.
Even the rulings of the chair of a committee may be made the subject of an appeal to the whole committee. The committee may, if it thinks appropriate, overturn such a ruling.
Today, I am being asked to decide, in the absence of a report from the committee whether, in this particular instance, the committee exceeded the limits of its powers to such an extent as to warrant an intervention from the Chair. As I see this case, the House referred the bill to the committee for study. The committee proceeded to study the bill, as has been described, and then the committee reported the bill back to the House without amendment. The report of the committee returning to us the bill is all this House has before it.
In other words, I cannot see how the Chair can reach into committee proceedings to somehow provide redress without a report to the House from the finance committee detailing particular grievances or describing a particular set of events. Accordingly, I cannot find sufficient evidence that the standing committee exceeded the limits of its mandate and powers in the manner in which it considered Bill C-45.
The Chair is fully aware that some members are frustrated with the way in which the proceedings took place in committee, particularly given that, as events unfolded there, they believe they were left without recourse. However much I might appreciate these frustrations, the fact remains that none of the actions of the Standing Committee on Finance have been reported to the House for its consideration. Therefore, in keeping with the long established practices of the House in that regard, the Chair is not in a position to delve into the matter further.
In conclusion, the Chair finds that the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Finance on Bill C-45 is properly before the House and, accordingly, that the bill can proceed to the next steps in the legislative process.
I thank members for their attention.