I am now ready to provide the House with an explanatory ruling on the admissibility of Ways and Means Motion No. 19. On November 29, 2023, I ruled that the order for consideration of the motion, and the subsequent bill based thereon, be allowed to proceed further.
On November 28, 2023, the House leader of the official opposition challenged the admissibility of the motion. He pointed out that Bill C-318, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act and the Canada Labour Code (adoptive and intended parents), and Bill C-323, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act (mental health services), both currently in committee, were substantially the same as provisions covered in Ways and Means Motion No. 19, tabled earlier that day.
Concurrence in a ways and means motion constitutes an order to bring in a bill based on the provisions of the motion. This is indeed what happened with the subsequent introduction of Bill C-59, an act to implement certain provisions of the fall economic statement tabled in Parliament on November 21, 2023 and certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 28, 2023.
The House leader argued that the two private members’ bills had already been the subject of decisions of the House at second reading. The ways and means motion and Bill C-59 would violate a procedural concept, the rule of anticipation, which he described as the “same question rule”. Quoting from House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at page 568, the member seemed to suggest that a ways and means motion could not anticipate a matter already standing on the Order Paper and which was contained in another form of proceeding. He asserted that Bill C-318 and Bill C-323 were more effective tools to accomplish the desired intent than Ways and Means Motion No. 19. As such, both these bills should have priority over the motion.
He also cited precedents in relation to bills that could or could not proceed further, based on the fundamental principle that the same question cannot be decided twice within a session.
For his part, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader countered that further consideration of Ways and Means Motion No. 19, as well as subsequent proceedings on an associated bill, was in order. He referenced past precedents about similar bills. He made the point that the provisions in Ways and Means Motion No. 19 contained numerous elements that are not found in Bill C-318 and Bill C-323, which indicates that the principle and scope of the ways and means motion are broader than what is found in either of the bills. As such, Ways and Means Motion No. 19, and the bill based thereon, constituted different questions.
In his intervention, the House leader of the official opposition quoted from page 568 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, on the rule of anticipation. The Chair would like to read, from the same page, prior to the quoted passage. It states:
The moving of a motion was formerly subject to the ancient “rule of anticipation” which is no longer strictly observed.
Further down on the same page it says, “While the rule of anticipation is part of the Standing Orders in the British House of Commons, it has never been so in the Canadian House of Commons. Furthermore, references to past attempts to apply this British rule to Canadian practice are inconclusive.”
Even though the notion of anticipation is described in our procedural authorities, and the expression is sometimes colloquially used in points of order and even some past rulings dealing with similar items, it is indeed a very difficult concept to apply in our context.
Establishing a hierarchy between bills and motions, or between categories of bills, and giving precedence to some, may prove difficult, except in very specific cases, detailed in House of Commons Procedure and Practice. Bills and motions are different by nature and achieve different ends.
What the Chair is seized with in reviewing the current matter is the rule forbidding the same question from being decided twice in the same session. It is different from the concept of anticipation and, in the view of the Chair, the one that should apply.
In his submission, the House leader of the official opposition cited various recent precedents, and the Chair thinks it pertinent to describe some of their procedural subtleties.
The first example, from the last Parliament, pertained to two bills not identical, but substantially similar: Bill C-218, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding sports betting, a private members' bill, and Bill C-13, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding single event sport betting, a government bill. Both were at second reading and both were very short bills touching the same section of the Criminal Code.
By adopting Bill C‑218 at second reading, the House had agreed to the larger principle of repealing the very portion of the Criminal Code that Bill C‑13 also sought to amend. This sequencing left the House with a situation where Bill C‑13 could not move forward as long as Bill C‑218 continued its course.
The second example, from earlier this session, described a budget implementation bill, Bill C-19, and a votable private members’ bill amending the Criminal Code regarding the promotion of anti-Semitism, Bill C-250. The latter, introduced on February 9, 2022, contained provisions that were subsequently included in Bill C-19, introduced on April 28, 2022. However, of the two bills, the government bill was the first to be adopted at second reading and referred to committee. One of the key differences was that the two bills were not substantially identical. Bill C-19 was much broader in scope than Bill C-250. By agreeing to Bill C-19, the House de facto agreed with the principles presented in C-250. No decision having yet been made on Bill C-250, the Chair ordered that it be held as pending business until such time as royal assent be granted to Bill C-19.
Finally, the member referenced rulings dealing with two votable Private Members’ Business items, Bill C-243, an act respecting the elimination of the use of forced labour and child labour in supply chains, and Bill S-211, an act to enact the Fighting Against Forced Labour and Child Labour in Supply Chains Act and to amend the Customs Tariff. The two bills had the same objective and only one was allowed to proceed further. The Chair indicated at the time that the case involved an unusual set of circumstances, since normally one of them could have been designated as non-votable by the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business had the sequence of events been different.
Bills C‑318 and C‑323 have been both read a second time and referred to committee, while no decision has yet been made on Bill C‑59. An exhaustive review of its provisions shows that it does contain some similar provisions found in the two aforementioned private members' bills. However, Bill C‑59 cannot be described as substantially similar or identical to them.
The bills are similar in part, but are not substantially the same. The principles of Bill C-318 and Bill C-323, as adopted at second reading, are indeed included in the broader Bill C-59, but the reverse is not true. Therefore, the decision the House will take on Bill C-59 will not be the same. Accordingly, there is no procedural reason to stop the bill from continuing its journey through the legislative process.
To be clear, when a government bill and a private member's bill or when two private members' bills are substantially similar, only one of them may proceed and be voted on. Once one of the two has passed second reading, a decision cannot be taken on the other within the same session. Where bills are only similar in part, the effect of adopting one might have a different impact on the other depending on their principle, scope and, of course, which bill is adopted first.
I note that the House leader of the official opposition rose earlier today on a different point of order considering the application of Standing Order 69.1 to Bill C-59. I wish to inform the member and the House that I am reviewing the matter closely and I do intend to come back with a ruling in a timely manner.
Nonetheless, for the time being, the Chair sees no reason to rule that Bill C-59 be put in abeyance. As for the two Private Members' Business items currently in committee, it seems premature for the Chair to intervene at this time.
I thank all members for their attention.