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House of Commons Hansard #91 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was promise.

Topics

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

October 28th, 1996 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Anna Terrana Liberal Vancouver East, BC

moved that Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (polling hours), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, today I would like to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-307, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (polling hours). This bill provides that every polling station on election day will close at the same time regardless of the time differences across the country.

As you know, Canada is a large country where distances sometimes make things a lot more complicated, in spite of new technologies and means of transportation.

The fact is that when British Columbians are waking up, Canadians living in St. John's, Newfoundland, are having lunch. The time difference is a major problem for all those who travel, and more so for westerners on election day.

In British Columbia, results from the Atlantic region are in just after 4 p.m., while those from Quebec and Ontario are known an hour later. In British Columbia, where the population is much smaller than in eastern and central Canada, this means that voters always feel excluded from the federal election process.

Many British Columbians feel they are second class citizens. They feel alienated. They have felt alienated all along. The other western provinces have the same problem, although not as much as British Columbia.

It is not right that such a large part of Canada is left out of a process that touches all of us and determines the future of our country. For this reason I have tabled a bill that provides that every polling station on election day will close at the same time regardless of the time differences across the country.

The current elections act gives the following provisions: Section 79(3) provides that elections be held on Monday or Tuesday. Section 109(5) requires that polling hours be from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. across the country. Section 324 carries exceptions for constituencies with two or more time zones. Section 160 asks that ballots be counted immediately after closing of polls. There is no provision for delay. Section 328 says that it is an offence to publish election results in any area before voting ends in that area.

In my bill changes would occur in the hours of voting. They would increase from 11 to 12 and the times would be as follows: B.C. from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Alberta from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saskatchewan and Manitoba from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Ontario and Quebec from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; the maritime provinces from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Newfoundland from 11.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.

After discussions with the Chief Electoral Officer who asked that the hours not be increased from 11 to 12 because of increased costs, I am proposing that we vote for 11 hours as it is done today and that voting from Ontario to the maritimes be from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from 11.30 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. in Newfoundland. In this case British Columbia would receive the Atlantic Canada results around 6 p.m. or 6.30 p.m. which would be acceptable. What is disconcerting is getting the Quebec and Ontario results before the closing of the polls in British Columbia.

Generally speaking, this proposal is acceptable. We know that, in Ontario and in Quebec, 10 p.m. is not very late in the evening. A lot of people start relaxing at this time. However, my colleagues from the maritime provinces tell me that 10 p.m. or 10.30 p.m. is too late in Newfoundland.

If this bill is referred to a committee today, we will have an opportunity to review it and make appropriate changes if necessary. There is a lot of opposition to the idea of voting at the same time and not counting votes until all polling stations are closed, because those working in polling stations located in eastern Canada would

have to wait for a long time. Moreover, we do not want to stop the publishing of results, something which is clearly an offense under the act. The problem comes up every time an election is held.

Only two bills have been presented in the past to change the system. In 1982 Bill C-113, on staggered hours, was tabled and went only to first reading. In 1988 Bill C-79, to establish the prohibition of election results before polls are closed, was tabled and did not make second reading.

Complete staggered hours across the country would not solve the problem. What we have to achieve is to have all of the results from B.C. to Quebec, including the territories north of those provinces, announced at the same time, that is, after 10 p.m. Only the maritimes and Newfoundland would be allowed to announce results earlier, after the closing of polls in those provinces.

In 1989 the Lortie commission recommended changes to the voting hours. In 1991 the report of the special committee on electoral reform recommended that we vote for 10 hours and that those hours be staggered. This solution would not solve western Canadians' sense of alienation and lack of participation. I do not think that people who reside in the central and eastern provinces and in the territories are aware of the difficulty western Canada faces at every election.

It must also be realized that British Columbia is experiencing the fastest growth in the country and that its population accounts for 13 per cent of Canada's overall population. The only poll on the issue was held in 1990. Seventy per cent of those who took part in it said voting hours were a problem, including 41 per cent who considered the problem to be a serious one that had to be corrected. As well, 50 per cent of the participants were in favour of making changes to the system, with 29 per cent strongly supporting such changes.

Yesterday, delegates at the Liberal convention voted unanimously in favour of such changes. As you can see, there is a general consensus. We realize that Canadians care for their country's well-being and for each other. I spoke to a lot of people regarding this issue, and the vast majority of them support the idea. Even newspapers and media people are in favour of this change, and I am grateful to all those who reacted positively to the idea.

The Ottawa Citizen stated: ``Think of how western voters will feel if for once they can go to the polls at dinnertime without knowing Ontario's vote has determined the winner. From time to time Parliament is faced with legislation which is inherently sensible''.

Some people may think that 10 p.m. is too late, but remember that in British Columbia we will only be able to vote until 7 p.m.

instead of 8 p.m. That is the difficulty of administering a country that goes from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Arctic. Remember that this difficulty presents itself only every four to five years and Canadians are able to adjust themselves to these kinds of changes.

I hope this bill will continue to be a lucky one and that we can give it royal assent before the next election. On election day I am sure people in the western provinces would celebrate and would feel a part of this big country of ours when at night in front of the TV they are informed of the election results at the same time as people in the rest of Canada. For the first time in the history of this country they would then feel that they count.

Madam Speaker, if you were to seek it I believe you would find unanimous consent to change the reference of Bill C-307 to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs instead of the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Anna Terrana Liberal Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I want to conclude by thanking all those who supported me, who encouraged me and who provided advice regarding this bill.

I also ask hon. members to give me their support to refer this bill to a committee at the earliest opportunity, for a more in-depth review of this important issue.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.

Bloc

François Langlois Bloc Bellechasse, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-307, which the hon. member for Vancouver-East just moved for second reading.

But first, I want to point out that today is the first day that people everywhere in Canada and in Quebec are wearing, just like the members of this House, a lapel poppy to pay tribute to all those who served in the armed forces during the first and the second world wars, during the Korea War and even during the first wars of the Empire, including the Boer War at the end of the previous century.

Whatever their origins, these people were sent wherever they were needed to defend democracy. In my native parish of Sainte-Claire de Dorchester, there were people who had fought the Bosporus and Dardanelles war and who vividly remembered that experience throughout their lives up until their deaths. I met and still meet with veterans who served during the second world war and in Korea and who are still very proud of the duties they carried out.

Those who never came back deserve, of course, all our admiration and those who fought and were lucky enough to come back know they did world peace a huge favour. Some mothers lost their

sons, some wives lost their husbands, some brothers and sisters lost their brothers and even their sisters.

So, of course, today, all the members of this House spare a thought for those in our families, in our communities, and in all of Canada, who fought to defend the values they believed in.

We have taken over, in a more peaceful fashion, but may the example they have set guide us in the debates we hold and the decisions we have to make.

Regarding Bill C-307, I had the privilege to hear the explanations given by the member for Vancouver-East. Obviously, when polling hours were set, we did not think that Canadians would be able to get the results over the radio immediately via another country. We did not think that a television network such as CNN could broadcast the results instantaneously throughout the world. We did not think that results would be available on Internet.

These technological developments mean that just a few minutes after polling stations close in St. Anthony or Maryston, Newfoundland, the results are available to Canadians via foreign countries, even though they cannot be announced in Canada under the Canada Elections Act. They are available in Langley, British Columbia, in Surrey, in North Vancouver, in Calgary or anywhere in Canada.

Instantaneous communications have rendered the provisions of the Canada Elections Act obsolete and they have to be revised. In this sense, the official opposition, concerned with what goes on from coast to coast, supports in principle the bill introduced by the member for Vancouver-East.

To make a comparison, everybody in this House certainly remembers the all important hockey games we used to have many years ago between Canada and Russia. We got the result on the news before we could watch the game on television. What was the use of watching a hockey game when you already knew the result? Even when the CBC, Radio-Canada and private broadcasters held back the results in response to public pressure, people took to their telephones and always managed to find out who had won a game in international competitions.

The magic of modern communications has made it easy to obtain results, even though the law technically prohibits it. It is therefore time to amend the provisions of the Canada Elections Act so that voters in different time zones voting to elect the same Parliament may cast their ballot on a footing that truly feels equal, not just one that is theoretically equal. Voters in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg all have a right to feel that their participation in the Canadian democratic process carries the same weight as that of any other citizen.

The United States is having the same problem, as we are now seeing. There has been much talk in the western states about whether legislation should not be standardized so that results are not known ahead of time.

Political analysts who have looked at several presidential elections in the United States have shown that there was a snowball effect at play in presidential wins, particularly in the 1980 election. This was noted not only in the selection of the president, but also of congressmen, with eastern results coming in quickly and western voters apparently staying home in droves or voting with the tide, thus creating a snowball effect. This effect is not necessarily desirable.

The hon member for Vancouver East was saying earlier that, in Quebec and in Ontario, 10 p.m. was not particularly late in most municipalities, that in fact there was still quite a bit going on at that time of night. There will perhaps be a small problem in the Atlantic provinces, because there is still a one and a half hour difference with Newfoundland, but these are questions that are worth looking at in committee, and that must not used as excuses to block the bill at second reading.

Thus, in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where we are now in the process of looking at Bill C-63, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, which was referred to us after first reading I might note, we could probably wrap up our examination if Bill C-307 was referred to committee fairly rapidly.

With this in mind, and in order to make our contribution to the debate and show our understanding of the problem associated with the existing Canada Elections Act, we will be supporting the bill at second reading and following its progress in committee attentively.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

On debate, the hon. member for Vancouver North.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Reform

Ted White Reform North Vancouver, BC

Madam Speaker, that is North Vancouver. My constituents get quite upset when they hear it come out the wrong way.

This bill does attempt to address the irritation felt by western voters when they learn from the Ontario and Quebec results which party will form the new government. In that respect I guess C-307 has a lot of appeal.

Of course, irritation when the election results come out is really only a small part of the overall irritation felt in the west in connection with what happens here in Ottawa, or what is run from Ottawa, symptomatic of terrible things to come starting with election night.

Election night is the night when Canadians gather together in front of the television in order to watch the results to see what party will be the next government. Frankly, it is extremely frustrating to be in front of the television, to have the end of the media

blackout and see the 7 p.m. results being announced from Ontario naming the next government barely before our polls even close.

In any case, political junkies, if we can call them that, all have friends in Ontario, Quebec and further east and by about five o'clock B.C. time they are busy calling their friends to find out the first results. Quite often in B.C., if we are honest about it, we really do know what is happening before the media blackout comes off.

Whether or not this spreading of the message by word of month has an effect on the voting patterns is impossible to tell. Obviously we cannot rerun an election to test it under different conditions. Therefore it is impossible to tell whether changing voting hours or some leakage of results have any impact whatsoever.

The remedies proposed in Bill C-307 do go some way forward in dealing with the problem of western voter frustration of the release of election results. However, like all of the other proposals suggested over the last few years, Bill C-307 is not really the perfect answer. For example, although some eastern Canadian results will still be available prior to the closing of the polls in B.C. the rest will be delayed. This leads me to the conclusion that one form of frustration presently felt in the west will simply be transformed into a different form of frustration for eastern voters who will now have to wait up until quite late to begin seeing the meaningful results.

Perhaps it would be easier to critique this bill indirectly by referring to the various solutions that have been suggested over the years by past commissions and study groups. These are not in any particular order but I will number them just for reference. The first suggestion is that all of the polls across Canada open at the same local time of, say, 8 a.m. and close at the same local time of 7 p.m., with the counting of the votes deferred until all the polls are closed.

The problems identified with that sort of solution are that the scrutineers, the returning officers and their staff would probably have to remain in a lock-up for several hours, particularly in eastern Canada, in order to wait for the polls to close everywhere before they could begin counting and releasing the votes. It could possibly be in the wee small hours of the next morning in eastern Canada before that could happen. The average voters in those areas would probably start to complain that they could not wait up so late and would not find out who the government was until they got up in the morning. That would be a legitimate complaint with that suggestion.

The second suggestion uses the same opening and closing hours as the first, but with all of the vote counting deferred until the beginning of the next day in the west. Counting would then take place and the results would be released simultaneously all across the country.

The problem with that is that one has to ask whether the scrutineers and other staff would have to be retained in a lock-up

overnight. Would the ballot boxes have to be removed to somewhere secure in order to make sure there was no ballot tampering before the next day? Either way, this method would probably cause major disruption to commerce throughout the country for the next day because all the those people who are trying to watch the results or who are working within the system to count votes or deal with the other aspects of the election would not be at work. Frankly, it would appear to be a major disruption.

The third suggestion proposes staggered hours across the country so that the polls open and close simultaneously. That is similar to what was proposed in Bill C-307. Frankly, we do not know whether the convenience factor of the polls being opened at certain hours encourages or discourages people from voting. We are well aware that there is legislation requiring employers to give employees time to go and vote but in practice we all know that a lot of people wait until after work. For example, in B.C. they do not go to the polls until 5.30 p.m., 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.

In addition, on the problems mentioned earlier regarding that it would probably then be the wee small hours before eastern Canadians would know the results, it would just transfer the frustration from the west coast to the east coast and so it is not really a solution.

The 1991 royal commission on electoral reform and the 1993 special committee on electoral reform both recommended staggered opening and closing hours at the polls as the best way to address the issue. I am sure they spent a bundle of money coming to their conclusions.

It is almost a shame we are not discussing royal commissions and special committees today because we could probably get in some good shots about the amount of taxpayer money wasted on some of these projects. More often they appear to be simply a way of postponing decisions rather than actually finding sensible solutions.

In addition to the taxpayer funded political commissions that have worked on this in the past, the Chief Electoral Officer has also proposed a solution. That solution would involve the bridging of time zone differences by combining modified staggered polling hours, which sounds complicated but is not too complicated, with special provisions for the counting and deferral of the release of results after closing of the polls. I sense from the speech made by the member for Vancouver East that these solutions could be amendments to this bill.

Under this system, the results from eastern Canada would still be available prior to the close of the polls in B.C. but only by about half an hour. It would involve about 36 seats and would not have a

major impact on the results, and so it is probably not a bad compromise.

There would be a significant alleviation of the time zone effect, with the results in eastern Canada still being available right before 11 p.m.

I support this bill's going to committee following today's debate. It appears to be a non-partisan issue. We are all prepared to talk about it to see if we can find meaningful ways to make this legislation work, which I certainly support.

However, I would like to bring one point forward. It is a very large unanswered question which we did not have to deal with in the past. I will illustrate with an example. On October 12 an election was held in New Zealand. The official results were released poll by poll on the Internet. Anybody could dial up from anywhere in the world to see them, as I did.

I discovered that along with the official results, some unofficial results were being posted presumably by the various riding associations. This will become a major problem-if we call it a problem-in the future. All the media blackouts in the world will not mean a thing if various riding associations, unofficial or not, can just put results on the Internet. There is the potential for hoax results to be put on the Internet in an attempt to affect election results.

That is an issue we will have to deal with eventually. It may well be that the only way we can deal with that is to simply not release any results until a set time. I am not presupposing what the answer would be but I suggest the issue should be looked at in committee.

One way of reducing the effects of counting delays, which would allow for closing of polls more closely together, would be to encourage the use of electronic voting methods. I will be introducing a private member's bill to the House on Wednesday regarding initiative and referendum. There is a provision in that bill to permit electronic voting methods to be used.

For example, touch tone technology is well researched now and has been proven to work. One way we could reduce the counting time is with instant tallies done electronically. I hope the government side will recognize the inevitably of having to move with technology by moving toward those solutions in the long run.

In the long run new technology may actually come to the rescue. It may help us to overcome this problem. Just as one portion of technology is interfering with our ability to block results, another set of technology may help us to overcome the problems.

Although many different proposals have been put forward over the years, like those identified in Bill C-307, none of them has been perfect and none of them has been adopted. Bill C-307 also suffers from the problem of not being perfect but we could hardly expect it to be perfect considering all the problems involved in getting it to work.

On balance, it is probably the best opportunity we will have during this Parliament to at least go part way in addressing the existing concerns. For that reason I am supportive and I would urge other members to support this bill's going to committee before second reading.

The issue crosses partisan lines. There is every reason to believe we can work together to put it into an enactable form. I urge members to support the bill.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Reform

Stephen Harper Reform Calgary West, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise very briefly to address Bill C-307. I consider this an important proposal, an important piece of legislation that apparently has the support of the government and all parties. In light of this unanimity, as a private member I thought it was more important than ever to put on the record my reservations about this bill.

This bill is to address, as I understand it from the member who proposed it, two problems. One problem is people finding out in western Canada the results of elections in eastern Canada before the polls have closed. In other words, knowing what the election results are, which could influence the vote. The second is addressing the problem of western alienation. On the first count, there are some valid concerns. That is the reason the House is looking at this legislation.

For example, in the last election it would be pretty easy to guess that had more westerners known the results from Quebec, it might well have influenced their vote in terms of the choosing of the official opposition. No doubt, with modern computer technology, these results will become more and more known before the polls are closed in western Canada. That is a valid concern.

However, I want to express my own objections and, more than objections, it is an insult to suggest that this is a serious attempt to address western alienation. Westerners often find out that Parliament has already been elected before the polls close in their riding. Our system is structured such that governments can be elected without the support of anybody in western Canada, and can rule this country without any input from westerners no matter what order the votes are counted in.

The cry of government members who are in trouble in the west is that the whole problem is the counting of votes. Let me use a specific reference. In the 1980 federal election, shortly after I relocated to western Canada, the federal Liberal Party got itself elected in eastern Canada by running on a platform of expropriation of western resources. That is how it got elected.

It got elected by getting a majority of the seats in Ontario and Quebec with virtually no representation whatsoever in western Canada. It then proceeded to govern the country, making massive changes to western industry and the resource base without any

input whatsoever from western Canada. It did that on the basis of how our system of government operates. If the votes had been counted first in the west and later in the east, or at the same time, it would have made no difference whatsoever to that.

It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that the counting of the ballots was the problem in that instance. It was a problem of the system of government and the actual policies pursued by the federal government vis-à-vis western Canada.

My colleague from North Vancouver has outlined in great detail and very confidently the deficiencies of this proposal as well as the deficiencies of alternatives. I congratulate him for that.

I want to add, however, one additional concern I have once again as a westerner about this proposal. The staggered hours as modified by the chief electoral officer means that the voting polls would close very early in the evening in western Canada.

Those of us who have worked in many elections know that the evening hours are the heaviest voting hours anywhere in the country. What this proposal does which worries me the most is restrict the access of westerners to the polls far more than it does other Canadians because it impacts the hours when they are most likely to vote. This is a serious concern. I hope the committee will look at the reservations of the member for North Vancouver and consider some of the options available.

That is all I want to say. I want to make it very clear in this atmosphere of unanimity that there are serious reservations about this bill. I want them on the record.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The bill is therefore referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Anna Terrana Liberal Vancouver East, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the House for co-operating and for letting this bill go to committee. I thank all of my colleagues for their interventions and assure them we will work together to make this bill as workable as possible.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West, ON

Madam Speaker, since the House has dealt with its business this morning so efficiently, I think you might find there is unanimous consent to suspend the House until noon.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is there unanimous consent to suspend the business of the House until noon?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Sitting suspended at 11.36 a.m.)

The House resumed at 12.01 p.m.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

The Speaker

The House is now in session. I am going to hear a point of order from the hon. whip of the Reform Party.

Points Of OrderPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, October 22 the member for Wild Rose brought to your attention a matter that occurred at the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. It was a serious matter regarding a breach of Standing Order 114. It was suggested that because it appeared to be an inadvertent act, the issue could be resolved at committee.

I brought the issue back to the committee because, as whip of the party, I was the one who applied Standing Order 114. When I applied the standing order on behalf of my caucus I had certain expectations.

I am aware that committees are masters of their own proceedings. I have experienced and have been frustrated by some internal majority supported rules in the past. What is comforting is that the rules of the House take precedence over the rules of the committees. This lends some predictability and some protection, particularly for those of us in opposition.

The problem arose on Monday, October 21. The member for Wild Rose was substituting on the Standing Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs and attempted to table a motion at that committee meeting. He was told that he could not do that. The reason given by the chair was the fact that he was only a substitute. The chair based her reasoning on an internal rule where 48 hours' notice is required to move a motion.

I refer you to Beauchesne's sixth edition, citation No. 766(1). It describes the status of a non-member. It states that they can participate, but "they may not vote, move motions nor be a part of any quorum". Voting, moving motions and being a part of a quorum is a privilege enjoyed by a permanent member.

However, it is the nature of the work of members of Parliament to be out of Ottawa on occasion, or to have commitments in the House while their committee is meeting. A procedure has always existed to allow for other members to substitute for permanent members. In our present standing orders this procedure is covered under Standing Order 114. The relevant section of the standing order that I applied reads as follows:

At any time-the Chief Whip of any recognized party may effect substitutions by filing notice thereof with the clerk of the committee, having selected the substitutes from among all the Members of his or her party-and such substitutions shall be effective immediately they are received by the clerk of the committee.

This procedure is effective because the substitute is given the full status of a permanent member while the substitution is in force. That full status means the authority to vote, move motions and be part of quorum.

The chair of the committee argued that the member is only a substitute for the day and therefore could not table the motion. Mr. Speaker, if you cannot table a motion at this committee you cannot move a motion. If you cannot move a motion then you are breaching the authority granted the substitute under Standing Order 114. In other words, the committee has redefined the status of a substitute.

Not only is a standing order diminished but a longstanding practice is being ignored. Unlike the House where unanimous consent is required by a private member to table a document, at committee a member can table anything he or she wants. A member can table a document, a letter or a motion. Considering that a substitute has the status of a member while signed in, that substitute can then table a document, letter or motion.

There was concern about whether or not the member for Wild Rose would be signed in for a subsequent meeting to move his motion, provided he was allowed to table the motion. It is not a matter for the chair of that committee to decide or even speculate on that. It is up to the party whips with the authority granted to them under Standing Order 114 to determine the status of their members who attend. It is the House that determines the membership and outlines of procedure and authority for the substitutes, not the chair or the committee majority. That is up to the House in its rules. Such a decision by the chair or by that committee to say that they pre-empt the standing orders of this House borderlines on contempt.

The chair of the justice committee also argued that because another member could table and move a motion on behalf of the substitute that no harm was done.

Mr. Speaker, you were once a chairman of a committee and you know full well it is not uncommon for a small opposition party not to have a permanent member present at a meeting. There are often substitutes representing a party at committee. That is commonly done. Sometimes this is due to the business a committee is dealing with and the wide variety of interests within a particular caucus. Sometimes, as I pointed out to the chair of the committee, someone will be substituted in a committee week after week in order to fulfil the role that the party has asked the member to fill and to reflect his or her interest in the subject matter.

Under these circumstances my party would be unable to table a motion and therefore be unable to move a motion. The committee is telling the House and every party whip of the House that no longer can they just send substitutes to a committee in order to be functional, they now have to ensure that a permanent member is present.

Before this internal rule we could send whomever we determined appropriate in order to fulfil the requirements of our party and our caucus. We did so under the authority of the House. What has happened to that authority? The justice committee has dictated a new criteria for party whips. Standing Order 114 does not mean what it once meant and the tail is wagging the dog.

On June 16, 1994 there was a similar case regarding Standing Order 114. The chairman of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs allowed a member who was not legally signed in to move motions, vote and be part of quorum. Although he was aware of the irregularity, he continued to allow the member to participate as a substitute.

The matter was brought to the House the next day by the member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley. The member for Prince George-Bulkley Valley questioned the chair's primary responsibility to ensure that the committee operated under the rules established by the House of Commons. Although, Mr. Speaker, you rarely rule on proceedings of a committee, this case was a clear breach of Standing Order 114.

In your ruling, Mr. Speaker, you said:

In the matter now before us, I must conclude that this is serious enough to require the intervention of the Chair because it concerns a fundamental right which belongs to the House and not to the committee, namely the right to establish the membership of a committee.

You went further, Mr. Speaker, and stated that:

While it is a tradition of this House that committees are masters of their own proceedings, they cannot establish procedures which go beyond the powers conferred upon them by the House.

We are in the same situation today. This time a member was legally substituted in, but was denied the privileges of that status under Standing Order 114.

Mr. Speaker, when I brought this matter to the committee, as you asked me to do, the chair upheld the rules of the committee over the rules of the House. Your last ruling regarding Standing Order 114 is clear. The committee has no business interfering with the right of the House to establish the membership of a committee. It has no right to diminish the status of a substitute member and it has no right dictating to the party whips membership requirements in excess of what is already in our standing orders.

Standing Order 114 gives a substitute the authority to table, vote, move motions and be part of quorum. The committee, in the case I have cited, has gone beyond the power conferred on it by the House by denying a substitute the right to table and move a motion.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to make a ruling on this to clarify the matter. I have gone to the committee as you have requested but I have not received satisfaction there. I think it is obviously a clear contravention of your previous ruling and the rules of the House.

Could I please ask you to rule on this so that our members and all party whips will know where they stand on this. It is a serious matter which I believe you will take in the seriousness in which it is offered.

Points Of OrderPrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, I want to apprise the House that this is the first instance that this matter has come to my attention. I fully understand that my hon. colleague, the Reform Party whip, to the best of his ability and with the facts as he knows them, is defending the interests of his colleague, the member for Wild Rose. I think his intention is to defend the best interests of committees in general.

However, I submit as a point of verification that in the justice committee the member in question in that most recent incident referred to by my colleague from Fraser Valley East, the member for Wild Rose, is an associate member.

I would also like to inform the Chair that the two members of the Reform Party, who for lack of a better expression I will refer to as full members of the committee, were present at the committee at that time. Under those circumstances and possibly there were others, I certainly understand the Reform Party whip raising this matter at this time.

I only wish I had known about the matter previously. I would have been in a better position to give a better argument to sustain what I believe to be the standing rule of the House, which to a great extent, of course, is the principle that committees are masters of their own destiny.

Mr. Speaker, I recognize, as do all members, if that should be infringed on, I certainly would respect any decision you would make in that area in the best interests of the House and our committee structure. I will leave that matter in your most capable hands at this time.

Points Of OrderPrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. whip of the Reform Party for bringing this to my attention once again, and the intervention of the government whip today.

I will take this matter under advisement and I will, first of all, inform myself of what transpired in the committee. I will inform myself of the precedents, notwithstanding that the whip of the Reform Party has outlined the case which seems to be very well researched. I take the point that there are other people who were at the committee who could have moved that motion.

I believe the crux of the matter, if I can put it in these words, is that we are asking ourselves, does the committee have the power, the right, to make a decision which would supersede a decision of the House?

That is the case which I believe the whip of the Reform Party is trying to make. Did that occur? I intend to inform myself and I will get back to the House with a decision on this matter. I am sure the House will give me a little bit of time so that I can satisfy myself that whatever decision I make will be for the betterment of the functioning not only of the committee but also of the House of Commons. I will get back to the House at an early time.

The House resumed from October 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-29, an act to regulate interprovincial trade in and the importation of commercial purposes of certain manganese based substances, be read the third time and passed.

Manganese Based Fuel Additives ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Essex—Kent Ontario

Liberal

Jerry Pickard LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate today on Bill C-29 outlining the government's actions on methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl, commonly referred to as MMT.

We must be clear from the outset that the government's interest in this legislation is our commitment to the environmental, health and protection elements of the bill. We have made this commitment to Canadians and we intend to make good on our commitment.

When we looked around we asked ourselves how we can most effectively ensure that we protect our environment. We must come to one conclusion. The answer is we must do what we can to prevent pollution. As legislators Canadians expect us to ensure that their safety and the environment are maintained. I would suggest to my colleagues that this is accomplished in C-29.

All of us here in this place and Canadians all across the country are concerned about maintaining our environment. When we think of air pollution we think of automobiles as being a major contributor to air pollution. In fact, autos and all forms of transportation are the leading source of air pollution. It stands to reason that to impact on air pollution, if we are seriously taking action on this, we must focus on the automobile. Bill C-29 does that.

The auto industry, which represents 21 domestic and offshore manufacturers, is convinced that MMT has an adverse effect on the operation of vehicle pollution control components including the sophisticated onboard systems. The industry is adamant that the government must take quick and decisive action to ensure that MMT free fuels are available to Canadian consumers. The auto industry is so concerned and convinced of the detrimental effects of MMT that it is conducting a $10 million test program in the United States in order to obtain definitive evidence in support of this position.

Bill C-29 represents a prudent approach to ensure that Canadian consumers and the environment are protected in the view of uncertainty of the long term impacts of MMT on the advanced emissions control technology such as onboard diagnostics that are being introduced in our cars and will be in widespread use in the very near future.

The automakers have indicated that if MMT remains in Canadian fuels, they would take action ranging from disconnecting onboard diagnostic sensors to the removal of sensors and decreased warranty provisions for our consumers. General Motors has already advised us that certain onboard diagnostic systems in the 1996 models have been disabled.

The onboard diagnostic systems in autos are designed to permit cars to operate more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly manner. If the systems fail or are disarmed because of MMT in the fuel, there is an overall harmful impact on Canadians and our environment. The public must be confident that the government is doing all that it can in order to protect citizens and the environment.

The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment task force on cleaner vehicles and fuels estimates that health benefits of up to $31 billion over 23 years would result from introducing cleaner fuels and more stringent emissions standards into the Canadian marketplace. We can readily see the need for decisive action, action that will reduce air pollutants and ensure efficient operation of vehicles. Bill C-29 has that as its goal.

The EPA in the United States has expressed concerns on the lack of data relating to the use of MMT in gasolines and therefore advocates a cautious approach to the use of these additives in fuels. Unless MMT is banned in Canada, our consumers will be inconvenienced by frequent and unnecessary visits for vehicle maintenance and will encounter warranty problems.

Over the years, Canadians have taken pride in setting an example for our international colleagues on a number of fronts. In the case of environmental issues we should not be overly influenced by unnecessary threats of our neighbour to the south. We have worked for and earned respect worldwide on issues on health and the environment.

I ask my colleagues in the House that we not shy away from taking a leadership role on this issue. The removal of MMT from fuels will provide an opportunity for the introduction of ethanol and other substitutes which could be an important element of a broader based national energy policy. Such a policy would be consistent with our commitments in the red book as well as an Agriculture Canada policy paper to eliminate MMT from gasoline.

Just two weeks ago I attended a ground breaking ceremony for a new ethanol facility in Chatham, Ontario. That event marked a win-win situation for all parties involved in the development of that initiative. The ethanol plant in Chatham will be a $153 million facility producing 150 million litres of ethanol fuel each year. It will allow Canadian farmers, manufacturers and distributors to fulfil Canadian consumer demands and it will provide a safe, clean burning fuel additive to our markets. It will be a success story for our government, industry and consumers.

We must continue to pursue an alternate fuel policy. Our national biomass ethanol program does just that. Our actions to eliminate MMT from Canadian fuels will improve our environment, address health concerns and provide options for alternate fuel additives.

Manganese Based Fuel Additives ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Osvaldo Nunez Bloc Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to participate again in the debate on Bill C-29, an act to regulate interprovincial trade in and the importation for commercial purposes of certain manganese-based substances. Its purpose is to ban the use of manganese-base substances, including MMT.

This is a highly controversial bill, even among ministers and government Mps. The cabinet is not unanimously in favour of it. The majority of provinces are also opposed. As well, it involves a serious conflict between two major industrial sectors: the automo-

tive manufacturers and the oil industry. The former maintain that MMT is harmful to their products, and forces them to adopt mechanisms and practices which could result in purchasers having to pay more for their vehicles. The latter are opposed to the banning of manganese in unleaded gasoline, and contest the legitimacy of the arguments used by the other group.

I object to the way automotive manufacturers are blackmailing the government and the consumer, with their threat of a $3,000 hike in price and restricted warranties if this bill is passed.

The petroleum industry claims MMT reduces nitrous oxide emissions by as much as 20 per cent. Moreover, a study commissioned by the Council of Ministers of Environment, Canada, estimates that the refineries would require $115 million in capital and $50 million yearly in additional operating costs to get rid of MMT in Canada. This would also mean a hike in gasoline prices. In addition, results of tests by the Ethyl Company in the USA contradict the arguments of the automobile manufacturers.

In my opinion, the proposal to ban MMT has no environmental, economic or legal justification.

This bill is not in line with Canada's obligations under trade agreements such as NAFTA and those relating to interprovincial trade. This past September, the U.S. Ethyl Corporation indicated its intention to lodge a complaint calling for $200 million U.S. in damages from Canada under the appropriate sections of NAFTA for the damages sustained by its Canadian subsidiary. This multinational also claims that its reputation has been tarnished by the comments of the Minister of the Environment on MMT.

As for interprovincial trade, by prohibiting the marketing of manganese-based substances, this bill violates federal-provincial trade agreements. It also constitutes an unacceptable intrusion by the federal government in this area. In fact, almost all provinces are opposed to this bill. Last May, even the Quebec National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution, supported by the opposition, asking the government to postpone the passage of this bill.

So it is hard to understand why the government insists on sending this bill through the House, a bill that, by the way, was criticized by the Minister for International Trade. In a letter sent to the environment minister seven months ago, the Minister for International Trade maintained that banning the importation of MMT would be contrary to Canada's obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization and NAFTA. There was no justification for health or environmental reasons, considering the scientific evidence available. He went on to say, and rightly so, that he was afraid this would lead to another trade dispute with the United States.

Premier Romanow of Saskatchewan sent a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada on September 16, in which he said that the legislation was in no way justified at this time. He added that, according to the scientific data available on MMT, there was no indication that environmental benefits would accrue as result of this legislation, and they found it difficult to let the refineries or consumers foot the bill.

At the present time, there is very little justification for banning the addition of MMT to unleaded gas. I may remind the House that from the economic point of view, this bill is a costly one, especially in terms of jobs lost, if we consider the threat to the viability of many refineries, including some refineries in Quebec.

This is in addition to the economic problems arising from the resulting violations of trade agreements with North America and the Canadian provinces. This bill contains a number of legal shortcomings, which may have major consequences for Canada's reputation and economy. How can we expect American businesses to be interested in penetrating the Canadian market, when the Government of Canada interferes with the way they do business or fails to observe its trade agreements by passing bills like C-29?

As far as the environment is concerned, the evidence has shown that removing MMT does not increase air pollution, nor is this substance harmful to public health.

A research program funded by the Quebec Department of National Resources, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute has made it clear that the contribution of manganese from MMT sources is negligible, compared with other industrial and natural sources; highway traffic only has an indirect effect on the percentage of manganese in the atmosphere by recirculating dust particles near roads and streets.

In conclusion, there is every reason to object vehemently to Bill C-29, which creates problems from the economic, environmental, social, commercial and legal points of view. For all of these reasons, I am very much opposed to Bill C-29.