I'd like to call to order meeting 63 of the Standing Committee on International Trade.
Before we get to the business before the committee today, there is an issue that requires our immediate attention, I believe. I was asked by several members of the committee to deal with this at the start of the meeting today.
You all know there's been a motion of non-confidence proposed by Mr. Julian. I know there's been some discussion, both among the committee members and in the press, regarding my actions at committee on Thursday, May 10. I'd like to take a few minutes to explain my actions and lay out the procedural groundwork for them.
Section 117 of the standing orders reads as follows:
The Chair of a standing, special or legislative committee shall maintain order in that committee, deciding all questions of order subject to an appeal to the committee, but disorder in a committee can only be censured by the House, on receiving a report thereof.
You will also find on pages 827, 856, and 858 of the English version of Marleau and Montpetit the relevant sections dealing with the chair's role in maintaining order. Page 858 states:
In the event of disorder, the Chair may suspend the meeting until order can be restored or, if the situation is considered to be so serious as to prevent the committee from continuing with its work, the meeting may be adjourned.
During the meeting the witness, Mr. Laxer, spoke on a subject that was not relevant to the agreed-upon topic of the security and prosperity partnership. He was instructed on several occasions to tie his argument into the subject at hand, which in my opinion he did not do.
I was repeatedly challenged by both members and the witness, all of whom were speaking out of order. I tried to regain control around the table; however, opposition members and the witness himself would not allow for this. As well, I was overruled for the second time in as many meetings on procedural rulings that were clearly within the Standing Orders. At that time, and as is within my authority as the chair, I decided that I'd lost control of the committee meeting and adjourned.
I will remind the committee of the events of meeting 61 on Tuesday, May 8, 2007. I will read from the official minutes of the meeting:
Peter Julian moved, -- That the question be now put.
The Chair ruled that according to the Procedure and Practice of the House of Commons the question cannot be put.
Whereupon Guy André appealed the ruling of the Chair.
The question: “Shall the decision of the Chair be sustained?” was put and the decision was overruled.
I'll also read from the minutes of our last meeting, meeting 62, on May 10, 2007:
Gordon Laxer made an opening statement.
The Chair ruled that the statement was not relevant to the Order of the Day.
Whereupon Peter Julian appealed the ruling of the chair.
The question, “Shall the decision of the chair be sustained?” was put and the decision was overruled.
Committee members can read on page 786 of the English version of Marleau and Montpetit that putting the question or, as it is also known, the previous question, is clearly out of order within the committee structure.
I will also cite Standing Order 11(2), which says:
The Speaker or the Chair of Committees of the Whole, after having called the attention of the House, or of the Committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or repetition, may direct the Member to discontinue his or her speech, and if then the Member still continues to speak, the Speaker shall name the Member or, if in Committee of the Whole, the Chair shall report the Member to the House.
Members can find the application of this standing order to the committee on page 857 of the English version in Marleau and Montpetit, which reads:
The Chair may, at his or her discretion, interrupt a member whose remarks or questions are repetitious, or not relevant to the matter before the committee. If a member's comments continue to be repetitious or irrelevant, the Chair may recognize another member. If the offending member refuses to yield the floor and continues speaking, the Chair may suspend or adjourn the meeting. A point of order calling attention to a departure from the Standing Orders or from the customary manner in which a committee has conducted its proceedings may be raised at any time, by any member of the committee. In doubtful or unprovided cases, the Chair may reserve his or her decision.
I would also invite committee members to remember that shortly after 11:30 at meeting 62 last Thursday, I called to order Mr. Menzies, who had proceeded with a line of questioning that was not relevant on the topic of the day.
That same courtesy was granted to Mr. Laxer. I cautioned Mr. Laxer that he needed to establish a connection between his opening statement and the topic at hand. I provided him the opportunity to respond to my concerns, I even allowed him to continue his statement. He did not draw a connection between his opening statement on energy security to the security and prosperity partnership. He made no reference to the impact of greater regulatory synchronization between Canada and the United States. Instead, he made numerous references to foreign countries and was in the process of talking about Russian imports of natural gas when I cut him off for the final time.
If committee members are not going to follow the Standing Orders, then I, as chair, will not be able to ensure that this committee is able to fulfill the mandate the House has granted us. As a committee, we cannot pick and choose what Standing Orders we wish to follow on a selective basis. The Standing Orders exist as they do because they've been proven to ensure that Parliament functions properly. Exceptions may arise from time to time that require us to step outside the Standing Orders, but those times should be exceptional in nature.
Both of these recent cases where I was overruled clearly do not require the exceptional response of overruling the Standing Orders. As a direct result of the failure of this committee to uphold the Standing Orders and the prevailing disorder at the committee, I decided that I could no longer claim to have control over the proceedings of this committee. Therefore, I did the only thing that I have recourse to do, which is to adjourn the meeting.
Now Mr. Julian has introduced a motion of non-confidence in me as a result, and I am fully answerable for my actions. I do not hesitate to stand behind them for the previously mentioned reasons.
I believe that until this question of confidence is settled, the committee cannot proceed to other business, as it would be foolish while there is a question of confidence hanging over us.
Therefore, I would ask, Mr. Julian, if you would move your motion now so that we can deal with this issue and put it behind us. Mr. Julian.