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House of Commons Hansard #43 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was referendum.

Topics

Human Resources DevelopmentOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Brant Ontario

Liberal

Jane Stewart LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I am the minister who received the results of this audit. I am the minister who has taken this seriously. I am the one who is committing to Canadians that we will implement a plan to ensure that this issue is fixed and that our programs will have the integrity that they are depending on.

Human Resources DevelopmentOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I would remind members that questions are addressed to the government and not to a specific minister.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of His Excellency Boris Trajkovski, President of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Presence In GalleryOral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

February 7th, 2000 / 3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Earlier today the hon. member for Athabasca raised a question of privilege in the House. In effect, in his question of privilege he mentioned the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington. The hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington is now in the House. Is the hon. member aware of what was said earlier today? He has signalled that he is aware of what was said earlier today.

I would ask the hon. member if he could please address this question in which he was personally named.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I was taken entirely by surprise by the member for Athabasca's point of privilege this morning. I came into the office and it was remarkable to be named on a point of privilege when I have advanced what I think is one of the most important private member's initiatives that the House has seen for many years.

The member has chosen to attack the very presence of this bill in the House, which has now arrived on the order of precedence.

In essence, what the member has suggested is that there is some impropriety in the fact that I introduced this bill at first reading two years ago at about the same time as the subcommittee on Private Members' Business, that is, the House procedure and affairs standing committee on Private Members' Business, introduced an amendment and made a recommendation to the effect that any member of this House who had a private member's bill that enjoyed more than 100 seconders from three parties should go directly on the order of precedence.

Indeed, I sought and did obtain 113 signatures, all from backbenchers; none from members of the government and no parliamentary secretaries. But I did obtain the support.

Subsequent to obtaining that support, as a result of representations made to me on my bill, I submitted a revised version of the bill in June 1998, and that bill now is before the House as the result of the member for Langley—Abbotsford, a member of the Reform Party—

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. If members have conversations I would ask them to please take them into the lobbies. I want to hear this question of privilege, as I am sure all hon. members do.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate your intervention because this is an issue of great importance to all members of this House.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the reason this bill is now on the order of precedence for Wednesday—it is to be debated Wednesday—is because the member for Langley—Abbotsford, who is now not in favour with his party, surrendered his position and agreed to change his position on Private Members' Business for Wednesday for my bill, and that is how it advanced.

But I wish to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, that the issue of concern to the member for Athabasca pertains to something that occurred on June 11, 1998, 19 months ago, and he has held off making representations about his concern until today. At no time has he spoken to me about his concern. At no time, I believe, has he spoken to other people. He has chosen this very last moment, and so while he had 19 months to prepare his submission this morning, I have only had a few hours. You will have to forgive me, Mr. Speaker, if some of my remarks are a little disjointed because I have had to put this defence together very rapidly. But I am prepared to defend it because I do not feel that the member for Athabasca's charges—and they are very extreme charges—have any substance. I will take my chances and go right from here.

I am just going point by point from the speech this morning, but I only have the advantage of the blues, Mr. Speaker. One of the member's complaints was that the member for Wentworth—Burlington was carrying invalid support for Bill C-264, which is the access to information bill, over to the second session by applying it to the new procedures for Private Members' Business. I contest the use of the words invalid support. The people who seconded my bill, and I have the signatures before me, knew in principle what the bill was about. I would contest the use of the word invalid. There was nothing invalid about the support.

The member for Athabasca claims that he did not second Bill C-264 in the form that he now finds it before the House, in the form of Bill C-206. Mr. Speaker, you will have to understand that after the resumption of the session I had to reintroduce the revised version of Bill C-264 and it has now become Bill C-206. But the point to remember is that the original bill was submitted before this House on June 11, 1998 and had the unanimous consent of this House that it should go forward in that revised version.

Now the member says that he did not officially and wilfully second the new version of Bill C-264. Mr. Speaker, the member for Athabasca was in the House at the time I submitted the revised version. He was here. He has had 19 months to examine the bill. He has had 19 months to decide that he did not like what he gave his unanimous support for, and yet he leaves it to the last minute.

No, Mr. Speaker, the member was in the House and he knew that the bill had changed. If he had objections he has had ample time to raise those objections. He was in the House with his own private member's bill, Bill C-227, and Mr. Speaker you will find it in Hansard on that occasion.

I refer to Hansard of that particular occasion because the member also raises that issue. What I said at the time, Mr. Speaker—and he was there when I said it—was that the reason why I wanted to resubmit a revised version of Bill C-264 was that many people had made representations to me and felt that there were some flaws and technical difficulties. Mr. Speaker, indeed I feel there were flaws and I did change them accordingly. So it is very clear that I am not talking just about technical difficulties; I am talking about inadequacies in the bill as I originally wrote it as Bill C-264 and some changes were made. The member knew about those changes. He did not know them in detail, but he knew that changes had occurred.

The essence of the member's complaint is that he is saying “I did not support Bill C-264 in its revised version”. Now I will set aside for a minute, Mr. Speaker, the fact that he gave his unanimous consent. Remember what is occurring here. When a private member—and this was one of the first times that it happened—seeks seconders for his bill in order to get it on the order of precedence, he only seeks seconders.

I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that I do believe that many people who seconded my Bill C-264 in its original version had not actually read the contents of it. I interpreted the seconding of my Bill C-264 as supporting Bill C-264 in principle. Of course there are going to be aspects of the bill that are going to be subject to debate, to controversy. Of course when it goes to second reading we are going to debate it. There is no guarantee that anyone who seconded the bill is going to actually vote for the bill. Mr. Speaker, all we did by having the seconders was to enable the bill to get on the order of precedence.

I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to an actual document. I will not show it to the House, but this is the petition I sent around with various signatures. It contains the signature of the member for Athabasca and 112 signatures of other members of the House. The wording I used in order to obtain those signatures was precisely this: “I second Bill C-264 and would like to see it be placed immediately on the order of precedence”. There was no promise about the detailed contents of the bill. It was simply an undertaking that they would support the bill and to see it on the order of precedence so it could be debated.

I refer you also, Mr. Speaker, to the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, the subcommittee that examined the issue of private members' business when it considered the various representations to have the 100 signatures as a means of seconding a bill and getting it on the order of precedence.

That report came out about a year ago. It says, “If the sponsoring member is prepared to work hard to solicit support, and if enough members feel that the item should be debated”, just be debated, “then this alternative procedure” should be instituted. The alternative procedure in the recommendation is that the standing orders be amended to allow items outside the order of precedence that have been jointly seconded by at least 100 members from at least two recognized political parties in the House of Commons to be placed on the order of precedence.

We are not talking about the deep substance of the bill. We are talking about the bill in principle. We are talking only about the bill getting into the House to be debated.

He said that he would expect any changes, major or minor, should have been brought to the attention of members of the House. When we have a very large bill it is impossible to discuss with 113 members every change we might be contemplating, because the details of any legislation in the House, be it private members' legislation or government bills, are a matter of debate in the House and in committee. The committee and the House decide on the fate of the bill based on that debate.

It is totally unreasonable for the member for Athabasca to have expected me to go to him and 112 other members to detail every change I contemplated with the bill. I repeat that the member for Athabasca was in the House when the revised version went forward.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

An hon. member

He was not paying attention.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

John Bryden Liberal Wentworth—Burlington, ON

He was not paying attention, someone said, and that may indeed be the case.

Mr. Speaker, toward the end, and this is probably the thing that is most wounding about this, he accuses me of having forged, falsified, altered or fabricated the legislation that came before the House.

I repeat that these are very wounding remarks. That bill went before the House. The House had ample opportunity to read it. He had 19 months. There is nothing in the bill that I have attempted to hide in any way.

The member even sends out a red herring. He complains that I misled the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business.

He says that I only said the bill had technical changes in it, but he is referring to the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business that met on October 28, 1999 which determined the votability of a bill. The contents of the bill in detail were not germane to that debate. The members considered the votability and those members of that subcommittee had the bill before them. So there was no attempt, there was no opportunity.

Why would I as a private member attempt any form of deceit with respect to private members' legislation that every member in the House should want to at least see get on the order of precedence and debated? If there are flaws or problems, if things have to be changed, even if the bill does not succeed, there is no reason to block, stop or halt this bill from going on the order of precedence and being debated in due course.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Earlier today when the point was brought up there were two members on their feet, the hon. house leader of the opposition party and the hon. member for Berthier—Montcalm. I said that I would hear them.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to quickly go over why this is a very serious issue and why I believe the Speaker should refer this to the procedure and House affairs committee for further investigation.

To begin with, there is no precedent for this particular case. This procedure involving getting 100 signatures from more than two parties in the House is a relatively new one. We have experimented with it for the last year or so. As far as I know this has never been a problem before because this is a relatively new procedure. I think the Speaker needs to give us some guidance and I would suggest allow the procedure and House affairs committee to give guidance to the House in general.

There is no precedent because the rules are new but there are some examples involving signatures and signed documents presented to the House. The authorities on parliamentary privilege agree that the House demands the utmost integrity of the documents presented to it.

Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada on page 233 states that forgery or fraud in the preparation of petitions could be treated as a matter of contempt since that would constitute an affront to the House of Commons. In other words, the integrity of documents is treated very seriously.

Erskine May talks about an abuse of the right of petition. It points out that it would be an abuse to attempt to alter the prayer of a petition after it had been signed. In other words, a person might think he or she could improve it by changing some words but Erskine May said it would be an abuse to do that, to change something after there were signatures on that page.

I agree with the member for Athabasca that this same type of abuse has happened in the case of Bill C-206. This is not a motion that was presented to the House where we could debate a motion, a generality, something that was just a statement of opinion in the form of a motion and we could give and take on the debate, one side or another. This was a complete bill, a bill in its entirety, presented to members in the House saying “This is the bill I want to present in the House; please sign your name on the bottom”. That name was signed in good faith. There is the bill. There is the document. That is the bill. It is not a concept. It is not a theory. It is not even an agreement in principle. That bill is what that signature applies to.

I know the member thinks he has improved this bill. But these were not technical changes such as having the wrong date at the top of the page or the clauses were not numbered correctly. Clauses were added to the new bill. Clauses were deleted from the old bill. This is a new bill.

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that one of the main reasons this bill had the support of over 100 members of parliament is because it specifically said that it could release polling information regarding the national unity file. This is something that the government traditionally holds close to its chest, refuses to talk about, spends taxpayers' money on but will not release to the public. The original bill would have forced the government to release it to the House of Commons and to the public. That is a bill worthy of support.

Unfortunately the revised bill, and the member can stand and admit this, specifically excludes the polling information on the national unity file. It is a huge difference. It is poles apart.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you find a prima facie case here, that you ask the member for Athabasca to move the appropriate motion that this matter be sent to the procedure and House affairs committee because this is the first time we have dealt with it. It involves the changing of documents without the knowledge of the signators on the bottom. It involves a huge change in the content of the bill itself, an additional clause and deletion of other clauses or portions of clauses which changes the essence of the bill.

To fail to refer that to committee would mean that any bill that is signed by 100 members of parliament and subsequently changed by unanimous consent, and people should know that often that is as few as two or three members present in the House, from here on in if members sign their names on the bottom of a bill, they have no idea what will come down the pike a couple of weeks later. That is not right for members of parliament who have the right to know when they sign on the dotted line that nothing will change until they have had their say here in the House.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Bellehumeur Bloc Berthier—Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that it is worthwhile, considering how complicated the process has been—the hon. members who spoke one after the other earlier did not go into the historical aspects—to mention the dates, which are extremely important.

What the Liberal member has also done—and I would like to have his attention—in connection with the consent relating to signatures, raises sufficient doubt to warrant taking our time to address this very important question which affects the privileges of all of the members here, particularly the way signatures are handled.

The ruling of the Chair is a very important one because it will impact upon how this matter of signatures will be handled in future. I think that all of the parties will need to question themselves after you bring down your ruling.

On December 23, 1997—we were in the first session of the 36th Parliament—the member tabled a bill, or in other words Bill C-264 was read for the first time. With that bill, the member obtained a series of signatures. He even boasted of this on June 11, 1998. At around 6.20 or 6.25 p.m., he sought the unanimous consent of the House. I will quote him directly because what he said is very important:

Mr. Speaker, I rise as a private member on a point of order to seek unanimous consent. I feel very awkward after what just occurred two seconds ago.

Last October I submitted a private member's bill dealing with the access to information bill which proposed a great number of amendments to the legislation. I received support from all parties. There were representations from the Bloc, the Reform Party, the Conservatives and the NDP. I received seconders from all opposition parties and seconders to a total of 113 on the government backbenches.

Unfortunately in the time since then I have had many representations on my bill. A lot of people looked at it and made suggestions. They have noticed some flaws and some technical difficulties in a few areas which maybe I did not think out very clearly.

I emphasize here it is still at first reading; it has not been picked. If it ever does get to be read in second reading I would not want debate to be deflected on the flaws. I would hope the debate would deal with the good points of the bill.

That day, he obtained unanimous consent. No one has yet read the bill he is introducing or the little discrepancies, little changes—essentially technical ones as his Prime Minister puts it on other matters. But when we look at these little changes—and what I am about to say is still very important—these two bills are worlds apart.

I will give only a few changes, and members will see that they are not just little discrepancies or small technical changes.

The member's new bill refers to Canada's constitutional integrity, whereas in the first one there was no mention of integrity or anything to do with the Canadian Constitution.

The second extremely important little change is that clause 9 introduces a section 14. Previously, there was reference to negotiations between the federal and provincial governments. Now, there is reference to federal-provincial—the way it is drafted is very ambiguous—relations.

The following clause, which is the best, and which also was not in the initial bill for which he obtained the signatures of the House, reads “The head of a government institution may refuse to disclose any record requested under this Act that contains information on plans, strategies or tactics relating to the possible secession of a part of Canada, including information held or collected for the purpose of developing those plans, strategies or tactics”.

How is it that the first bill contained no mention of this and this one does? Because the House gave unanimous consent, we are going to let this be done?

Who revised this bill? Who advised the member? Was it the Council on Canadian Unity, the Privy Council, the Office of the Prime Minister, without our consent? We do not know who advised him or anything. This makes no sense.

I think very sincerely that the member is abusing certain privileges and cannot, as indicated here, use Standing Order 87.6, which the Chair knows very well, and use the question of the 100 and more signatures to have his bill given precedence.

You must, Mr. Speaker, with what you have heard in this House, simply withdraw this bill, remove it from the order of precedence of this House, because, otherwise, you will set a precedent and, more importantly, you will change forever how things operate here with the famous system of the 100 signatures of the House.

The member proceeded unreasonably, and you cannot approve that.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I have now heard from four members of parliament. I see the hon. member for Athabasca is rising. I do not necessarily want a rebuttal but if he has something new and very short to add I will listen to him.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Reform

Dave Chatters Reform Athabasca, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of points which I think are relevant. They come out of the member's defence, which was very elegant but quite irrelevant to the issue here.

I was in the House when he asked for unanimous consent to change the bill but I had no idea on the substance of the change. He said that the change was minor and technical and I took on faith that was in fact the case. It turned out that it was not minor and technical. On that basis, I would not have supported the change which, in essence, gave the government a loophole to avoid releasing information that I would support the release of to the public. I thought the change was very substantive and I could no longer second the bill.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree that a number of aspects have been covered regarding the standing orders, but I would like to add another one which I do not think was adequately covered. I am referring to the commitment made by a member of parliament when he or she puts his or her signature on a bill.

I have always taken part in the discussions that we have had, all of us together, to include in the standing orders the new possibility for a member of parliament to bypass the rule of the luck of the draw, which was the only one that existed previously, by using the signatures of colleagues representing various parties, including the government, to promote a private member's bill.

When that rule was drafted, no one ever thought that, by putting his or her signature on a bill at the request of a colleague, the member had to make sure that the bill could never be the object of a request for the unanimous consent of the House to be amended. If this were the case, not a single parliamentarian would agree to sign in support of a bill whose nature could be changed at any time, unbeknownst to that member, by another member of parliament.

If you were to agree to the hon. member's request, you would introduce a totally new legal concept. It would be tantamount to saying in the business field “I put my signature at the bottom of a document, on the fifth page of the document, as is required, but the person who is the owner can decide to change the third, the second or the first page, since the signature is there on the principle that we agree.

When a member puts his or her signature, he or she does so while being very aware that the colleague submitted a bill with which he or she agrees. We support the legislation; we show openness. But to try to change anything relating to the very nature of the document is an attempt to unfairly and inappropriately use the signature of a colleague.

There are terms which I will not use in this House to describe this kind of attempt to use other people's signatures for purposes other than those for which that signature was given.

But I implore you, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian not just of parliamentary traditions but of the new standing orders, as the guardian of our parliamentary rights, as the guardian of the spirit in which the standing orders were changed, and in the knowledge that you too, as Speaker, were associated with this change, which you saw come into being and about which you are very knowledgeable, and that you took part in the discussions surrounding it, I am convinced that you have no choice but to reject the member's initiative and to reject any similar initiative in future.

This would make it clear to the member that never, because another change to the standing orders in which I participated and helped to bring about in order to facilitate private members' bills allows a bill that was before the House to be introduced for consideration at a later date, should these two standing orders on which I worked and with which I was in agreement, and I remember very clearly the spirit in which they were introduced, and I would be deeply hurt by this, never should these two standing orders be used today by someone who wants to turn private members' business into something personal and partisan.

We cannot allow a member, not this member or any other member of the House, to use the signatures of colleagues under false pretences, without running the risk of destroying the little trust that remains between members in this House, a trust based on mutual respect, which transcends partisan politics and is rooted in the belief that we are all honest people, people who take a stand and hold what they sign, write and say in respect.

If the member opposite has problems with that, Mr. Speaker, it is your duty not just to reprimand him but to ensure that never again will anyone try to use our signatures for such ends.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:35 p.m.

The Speaker

It is a very interesting point.

This is a new procedure in the House. I have listened carefully to what members on both sides of the House had to say and the points raised are very important to me and to all members of the House.

I would like to have until tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. At that time I will return to the House with a decision. I hope that this decision will help us to improve how we work with the new standing orders.

I will hold my decision on this until tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. When I come in to open the House, I will give my decision at that time.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc Verchères, QC

Mr. Speaker, in a few minutes we are going to debate Bill C-20, a bill aimed at limiting and shackling the basic democratic rights of Quebecers. I ask for the unanimous consent of the House to table a document that will shed some light on this debate. It is an article published in the March 16, 1995 issue of Le Devoir showing that the 50% plus one rule is in use all over Canada. It would appear that it should be otherwise in Quebec.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Bloc Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, during Oral Question Period, the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs talked about the Quebec companies and associations that want to come and testify on Bill C-20, and he called them “mothball groups” or “mothball” associations. Would I have the unanimous consent of the House to table the list of the organizations the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs calls “mothball clubs”, which represent more than—

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Is there unanimous consent?

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Point Of OrderOral Question Period

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.