Mr. Speaker, I rise today to provide additional information to that provided by the government House leader as to why the point of order raised by the member for St. Albert is not a valid one. In no way do the estimates which are before the House derogate from or usurp the authority of this House to adopt legislation, nor do they presuppose the will of this House in any way.
To begin with, I would like to commend the hon. member for St. Albert on his continuing interest in the supply process and for the diligence of his research. He will recall, through his active participation in the improved reporting to Parliament project, the initiatives that the government has taken in improving the information provided to parliamentarians over the last 12 months, initiatives in which the hon. member has been an active participant and which he has supported on two occasions in this House.
As part of the 1997-98 estimates process, the government introduced modifications to part III of the estimates on a pilot basis for 16 departments. These changes were intended to improve the quality of the information provided to Parliament and to provide better information on strategic and future plans, as well as to lay the basis for providing performance information on a more timely basis.
It is in fact from the part IIIs for these pilot departments that the hon. member has drawn most of the information he uses to support his point of order.
The point of order is based broadly on the precept that the estimates should neither anticipate enabling legislation, nor should appropriation bills be used to legislate. This is a fundamental principle and one which the government wholeheartedly supports. I am not going to question that principle at all. I would just indicate that the point of order which the hon. member has made in fact does not apply in this case.
The hon. member identifies five votes in which he claims that the government is seeking parliamentary approval of funds for purposes for which Parliament has not yet given legislative authority. I will argue that this is simply not the case in any of the five votes which have been mentioned.
I can understand why the hon. member may have come to his conclusion. The part IIIs explain the government's plans for the next three years, not just the first year, 1997-98, which is the only subject of the appropriation bill.
In each of the five cases cited, the government has signalled its intention to modify the way it does business. It has done this through tabling draft legislation for consideration by Parliament and, as it undertook to do as part of the improved reporting to Parliament project, it has done this by spelling out its plans in the part IIIs of the department concerned, not just for the main estimates here but for two additional years.
In being asked to approve supply legislation, Parliament is requested to approve a series of specific votes. It is the wording of these votes that provides the legislative basis for the expenditures of government.
The previous Speakers' rulings which the hon. member cited dealt with specific instances where this wording was considered inappropriate. That is not the case with the appropriation bill at issue here. In no case is the vote wording providing or seeking additional authority that has not already been granted by Parliament.
In each of the five cases identified the funds sought through the estimates process are needed for continuing operations of the programs concerned. If the legislation authorizing the operational changes is approved by Parliament, and only if, in each case, then the funds will be spent in accordance with the new legislation. If the enabling legislation is not adopted, then these same funds will be spent in accordance with existing parliamentary authorities.
The part IIIs from which the hon. member draws his information are all quite clear that they are dealing with future plans and in depicting any legislation at issue as proposed.
For example, part III states clearly, under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and I quote:
Priorities over the next three years include continuing reform of safety nets and grain policy.
Part III under the heading Environment Canada is equally clear:
The proposed new CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, will result in a more efficient process for categorizing toxic substances.
For the hon. member to argue that these votes be struck down on the basis that the government has provided specific details on its future strategies is to argue that the government should retreat under a veil of secrecy. That is precisely what we are trying to avoid as part of the improved reporting to Parliament project, a project that, I underline again, has received the hon. member's support, for which I both commend and thank him.
What a wonderful opportunity these documents provide. Parliament now has a three year planning horizon to help them understand the context within which new legislative proposals will operate. I would go so far as to suggest that this level of future planning information and disclosure is probably unique among our fellow OECD countries.
The situation is similar for the three items where the hon. member claims that we are legislating through supply legislation. Again, this is simply not the case.
Vote 35 for the Canadian International Trade Tribunal is simply for program expenditures. That is the wording of the vote. There is nothing in these words that could possibly be construed as extending its mandate as the hon. member suggests. The vote is neither providing nor is it seeking new or additional authority. It is merely seeking supply.
As the hon. member notes, the Canada Communications Group item is statutory. By definition, the amount shown is authorized by legislation previously approved by Parliament and by that same definition it is shown in the estimates or information as it does not form part of the appropriation bill that Parliament will be asked to approve. It is statutory.
The final item with which the hon. member takes issue is the Canada Information Office. The fact of the matter is that the order in council in question is presumed valid until repealed or set aside by a court. Given this fact, the “program expenditures” referred to in the vote can be nothing but entirely consistent with that order.
The hon. member's arguments simply challenge the basis for the order in council and have nothing to do with either the supply process or any impropriety in the estimates themselves. The order in council can be challenged, but once again it is valid as long as it has not been set aside, repealed or declared invalid by the government or by the court.
Part II of the estimates that I tabled earlier this year contained two assurances. I will repeat both here again.
Individual expenditure proposals included in votes seek authority during the 1997-98 fiscal year to make expenditures necessary to deliver various mandates which are under the administration of a Minister and are contained in legislation approved by Parliament.
In light of the House of Commons Speaker's ruling in 1981, the government has made a commitment that the only legislation that will be amended through the estimates process, other than cases specifically authorized by statute, will be previous appropriation acts.
I think that in the estimates what we have done is have submitted for the vote of the House expenditures which correspond exactly to the wording of each vote.
The explanations given in part III, which once again are for three future years, explained the plans of the government in case new legislation or new policies are adopted. In every one of the cases mentioned by the hon. member for St. Albert, the expenditures that are sought in supply are expenditures under the authority expressed properly by the wording of the votes.