Mr. Speaker, based on your comments I would like to put on record some of our thoughts with respect to the point of order raised by the government House leader. I am certainly prepared to provide serious input into the matter.
I am pleased to participate in what I consider to be a very serious discussion on whether Bill S-15 is in order. The government House leader has suggested that you, Mr. Speaker, should not allow Bill S-15 to proceed further because it is, in his view, and I assume the government's view, in all important aspects, a public tax measure. As such, he has argued that it should not be allowed in the House because it originates in the Senate and is missing the required warrant.
Members who spoke before me have put forward some compelling arguments why first reading of Bill S-15 would be in order without a royal recommendation.
Mr. Speaker, you will recall, and the government House leader referenced this in his remarks, that a similar debate arose in parliament on November 18, 1998, with respect to Bill S-13 which was the forerunner to Bill S-15. At that time I suggested we were dealing with a grey area in terms of procedures and constitutional and legal issues around a bill of this nature coming from the Senate.
Speaker Parent at that time ruled on the point of order on December 2, 1998 and stated:
The question that I must consider in relation to Bill S-13, that is whether or not the charge imposed by the bill is a tax, relates to the procedural rules and practices of this House as well as to the time honoured privilege of this House in respect of taxation measures.
Speaker Parent went on to give a very lengthy elaboration of the issues involved and made a very definitive conclusion indicating that he believed the point of order was in line and would be accepted. He said very clearly that he felt the bill included a tax measure that, because of its origins in the Senate and without royal recommendation, was not allowed for debate in the House.
Speaker Parent went on to state:
I am forced to conclude that the charge imposed by Bill S-13 is directed not toward any benefit to the tobacco industry but to a matter of public policy, that is, the health of young Canadians, a laudable purpose without doubt.
Simply put, any bill imposing a tax must originate in the House of Commons and must be preceded by a ways and means motion. Since Bill S-13 proposes a tax, did not originate in the House of Commons and thus was not preceded by a ways and means motion, I therefore find that it is not properly before the House.
I want to say this afternoon that since Speaker Parent's ruling and since the time that we discussed Bill S-13, or at least discussed whether or not it should be permitted for debate in the Chamber, the bill has been significantly redrafted. There are some very significant changes to Bill S-13 as now outlined in Bill S-15.
The first change is that a detailed preamble has been added to the bill that sets out the facts that define the problem of youth smoking.
The second change is that an entirely new part has been added to the bill which lists the number of benefits to the tobacco industry. The sponsor of the bill has indicated that one of the most important benefits is that the tobacco industry would be seen to be involved in an initiative dealing with the problem of smoking.
Mr. Speaker, I would argue before you today that given those changes we are back to dealing with a grey area in our House procedures and that you are now faced with a very new challenge in ruling on this point of order.
I will try to make the case that Bill S-15 ought to be pursued in the Chamber and that the House of Commons needs to debate the merits of this legislative initiative.
I base this argumentation on several factors. First, I believe that Bill S-15 is a serious attempt to address a critical problem in our society today, that being the high incidence of smoking, particularly among young people. The sponsors of the bill have been vigilant in their pursuit of changes in this regard and in their attempts to provide a reasoned public policy response dealing with a serious problem.
Mr. Speaker, if your rulings were based simply on dogged determination then you would have no problem ruling on this one in a flash, but obviously such argumentation does not factor in. What is relevant though is whether Bill S-15 is in the public interest, whether or not it is a public bill.
Bill S-15, as has been said, seeks to create a public agency and proposes collecting dollars from rich tobacco companies to spend it on community measures which are supported by a host of public agencies.
Evidence of the bill being in the public interest has been brought forward to all of us in the House by the number of letters, faxes and phone calls that we have received from individuals and organizations in our own constituencies and from across Canada. I have personally received dozens of letters and faxes from constituents and other Canadians in support of this initiative.
This is not to say that from a procedural point of view this initiative is necessarily a public bill. If one were debating the merits of the bill, which obviously we are not doing today and not able to do according to the rules of the House, we would expect to hear concerns from members in my caucus about the perception that the bill caters to the needs of the tobacco industry. We would also point to evidence that the bill is in the industry's interest based upon the amount of money and energy being spent by tobacco companies to support the legislation. We would also talk about the campaigns against youth smoking being run by tobacco companies in the United States and Europe which are very similar to those that Bill S-15 proposes to fund.
The point of saying this is not to debate the merits of the bill but to highlight a question that you, Mr. Speaker, must address, and that is whether this is an industry bill that benefits the public or whether it is a public bill that benefits the industry itself. Whether or not we like the changes in the bill, the fact is that you are left with the fundamental question about the nature of the bill. As it has been changed from Bill S-13 to Bill S-15, it can now be argued that the financial implications of the bill constitute a levy and not a tax.
Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that your task is to look at the very fundamental question of whether the bill is in the public interest. Your task is to look at whether the bill is a public bill benefiting not only the industry but other broader objectives in our society today or whether it is an industry bill benefiting the citizens of the country and being done in the interest of good public policy.
Speaker Parent's ruling in December 1998 clearly stated that Bill S-13, at that time, was dealing with a public policy matter and that the money being generated through the provisions offered in the bill constituted a tax.
The bill has now been fundamentally changed. It is a bill that is much more clear about benefits to the tobacco industry. We are talking more specifically about a levy as opposed to a tax. I think that is something you, Mr. Speaker, must seriously consider.
Our party certainly has major concerns about any attempt to cater to the tobacco industry and to support it in its efforts to win public support. However, the real question at hand is whether or not this initiative should be debated in the House and on what basis should a bill from the Senate be allowed into this Chamber.
I would be remiss if I did not point out in my argumentation that the government seems to want it both ways when it comes to using the Senate in terms of the whole legislative process. As I said in November 1998, and I am now more firm in my beliefs than ever in this regard, it is curious that the government, in rising on this point of order, actually expressed concerns about the democratic right of the elected House of Commons versus the rights of the unelected Senate. Certainly it is causing us some concern because we know that this is a government that has resurrected the undemocratic practice of routinely introducing government bills in the Senate before doing so in the House, something which the New Democratic Party has vigorously protested.
Since we are dealing with a new bill that has changed substantially from Bill S-13, the ruling by former Speaker Parent may no longer apply to the situation at hand and therefore you, Mr. Speaker, must revisit this situation and look for precedence in order to make a determination based on these new factors.
I would suggest that we are again in a very grey area in terms of whether the bill is eligible for debate in the House. On that basis and without quoting, I would refer you to some of the references I made in the House in November 1998. I cited references in Erskine May, 21st edition, at page 716 and Beauchesne's at page 97, citation 324. Further, I made reference to Bourinot's two principles outlined on page 491 and other citations which can be found in my speech at that time.
It would be in the interest of the House and of all Canadians that we have a debate on the ideas being proposed in Bill S-15. We are all concerned about smoking and how our young people are being addicted to cigarettes at an early age. We want to do everything in our power to correct that situation. We need to look at the circumstances surrounding Bill S-15 and the history of tobacco legislation. We must consider the public interest and the health of children in these deliberations. Mr. Speaker, I recommend this position to you.