I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on May 6, 2010, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons concerning Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, standing in the name of the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona.
I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona for her comments.
In raising his point of order, the parliamentary secretary set out two grounds on which he considered Bill C-469 to infringe the financial prerogative of the Crown. First, he argued that the bill creates potential new legal liabilities for the government because it allows the Federal Court to order that the government pay for the restoration or rehabilitation required by environmental harm or for the protection or enhancement of the environment generally. He pointed out that not only procedural authorities but also a number of previous Speakers' rulings make it quite clear that the imposing of liabilities on the Crown requires a royal recommendation.
His second point dealt with the role which the bill assigns to the Auditor General. He noted that clause 26 of the bill would require the Auditor General to review every regulation or government bill in order to determine whether or not they were consistent with the provisions of Bill C-469. This role would, according to the parliamentary secretary, shift the role of the Auditor General from one of simply auditing to that of reviewing policy proposals that have not yet been approved. He regarded this as an inadmissible expansion of the Auditor General's mandate. In support of his view, he noted that, in a ruling given on February 11, 2008, Debates pages 2853-4, concerning Bill C-474, the Federal Sustainable Development Act, an expansion of the role of the environment commissioner to include a national sustainability monitoring system had been found to represent a change of mandate that required a royal recommendation.
In addressing the point of order, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona argued that the bill does not create a new liability for the government, but merely provides legal standing for actions to be brought should the government fail to assert its existing jurisdiction and legislated powers. She also drew the attention of the House to the fact that statutory authority to make payments exists under the provisions of the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, should the government fail to carry out its duties.
With respect to the mandate of the Auditor General, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona pointed out that the Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development falls under the authority of the Auditor General. She indicated that a broad mandate is given to the commissioner and that, in her view, none of the requirements of Bill C-469 went beyond the authority already provided to the commissioner by the Auditor General Act. She also noted that any increased expenditure would be operational in nature and would not involve a new activity or function.
The Chair has examined Bill C-469 carefully, as well as the authorities and precedents cited. There are essentially two points which the Chair is asked to address: first, does the bill authorize new expenditures of public funds by creating new or contingent liabilities for the Crown and, secondly, does the bill alter the role of the Auditor General by expanding her mandate beyond that currently provided for in the Auditor General Act.
In his remarks, the parliamentary secretary cited two cases in which an extension of Crown liability was ruled to require a royal recommendation. In one case, concerning the Farm Improvement Loans Act, it was proposed to raise the loan ceiling from $25,000 to $40,000. In the other case, a bill sought to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act in a way which would have increased the government's liability under the Canada Student Loans Act. In both of these cases, the government, as guarantor of the respective loans, would have been exposed to increased liability.
While the requirement for a royal recommendation in cases concerning loan limits and loan guarantees is well established, not all types of liability are subject to the same requirement. It is important in this context to distinguish between a liability for new payments under an existing program and a liability arising by reason of a court judgment rendered against the Crown. The rulings to which the parliamentary secretary has referred relate to a liability of the first kind. Erskine May, 23rd edition, at page 888 states that no recommendation is required from the Crown where: “—such a liability arises as an incidental consequence of a proposal to apply or modify the general law.”
The parliamentary secretary has argued that new liabilities are created by Bill C-469. The Chair is not convinced of this. The bill provides a new means by which the Crown can be proceeded against where it has failed to meet its legal obligations. This is simply a new means of being called to account, not to a creation of a new responsibility for which additional expenditures of public funds will be required.
The Chair is also of the view that creating a new basis for legal actions against the Crown does not extend the Crown's liability as it currently exists under the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act. In the absence of an expansion of a liability for the new payments under an existing program, there does not appear to be a basis for the claim that the objects and purposes of that act are being extended to where an authorization is being given to make new expenditures of public funds.
The Chair would now like to turn to the question of whether or not Bill C-469 seeks to expand the mandate of the Auditor General.
As the member for Edmonton—Strathcona pointed out, the Office of the Auditor General includes the position of Commissioner of the Environment, who reports to Parliament through the Auditor General. The Commissioner is given a broad mandate with respect to the content of that office’s reports, as set out in paragraph 23(2) of the Act, which reads, in part:
The Commissioner shall, on behalf of the Auditor General, report annually to the House of Commons concerning anything that the Commissioner considers should be brought to the attention of the House in relation to environmental and other aspects of sustainable development—
The provisions of Bill C-469 concerning the Auditor General are limited to the examination of federal bills and regulations. Here again, it does not appear that the bill broadens the mandate of the commissioner, nor does it require the commissioner to undertake any work not already within his purview.
In conclusion, the Chair is unable to find any authorization for a new expenditure of public funds in Bill C-469, nor does the bill appear to assign any function to the Office of the Auditor General that goes beyond the existing mandate of that office. I therefore rule that Bill C-469 does not infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown and so does not require a royal recommendation.
I once again would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for having raised this matter, as well as the member for Edmonton—Strathcona for her comments.
I thank honourable members for their attention.