House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was vote.


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5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, of course the answer is yes. I came here with fewer illusions than some members because I had worked as an adviser on the Hill before being elected. I realized that private members had limited influence on the major agenda of the day. It struck me that it therefore made sense to try to be as good a constituency representative as possible.

There are any number of local issues that might not come to the attention of ministers and the ministry. It is only natural that issues which are important locally would not emerge at the national level.

I will cite a couple of issues of interest. I will bring before the House, among other things, the issue of one of the highways that goes through my riding, Highway 7. It has come to be known as the killer strip due to the large number of fatal accidents that occur on it. It is a two lane highway with a very high traffic volume.

The issue of level crossings is an area of federal jurisdiction because rails are within federal jurisdiction. Every town in the Ottawa valley has level crossings. The funding formula for providing warning signs is arcane and hard to work with. In my home town of Carleton Place the street I live on has low traffic volume and uses wig-wags. The major street in town uses only lights to warn of a coming train. This sort of thing has recently led to a fatality in the Ottawa valley.

There are other issues of importance on a different level. Religious freedom in China is of great importance to me and to some of my constituents who are practitioners of Falun Gong. Some of them have friends or relatives in China who have been arrested for practising their faith. These are some of the issues it would be nice to put before the House and see come to a vote.

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5:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be able to speak to the motion. It alarms and amazes me. I have only been here six months. When I talk to my constituents back home and explain to them that we can come into this place, discuss private members' business or any business and not be able to vote on it freely or even at all, it is absolutely unbelievable in their minds. It is very difficult to explain it to them. What I have seen and witnessed in this place since I have been here has increasingly impressed upon me how dysfunctional it can become.

We need to think a bit outside the box. We think we are taking a large step today by saying private members' bills should be votable, but how radical is that? We should go a little further and say private members' bills should not only be votable but freely votable. If something very specific and of importance comes before the House that we can debate and vote on, we should be able to vote on it in the best interest of Canadians. That is who we are truly representing.

That would be the first step toward parliamentary reform, and parliamentary reform is something this place cries out for. Canadians cry out for it as well.

I am pleased to represent a party that believes in democracy, free votes and the ability to debate openly. Sometimes that causes trouble and is a bit messy, but that is fine. We admit we do not have all the answers. However Canadians need to be able to vote freely for the government and be represented freely. This opportunity is very important.

The supply day motion is a very important step in the process. Canadians will learn to recognize and understand that. I sense that there is support. As a new member I am alarmed that we did not get here sooner. It amazes me.

Another thing we do in this place, as I discern from what is happening in the seats around me, is forget whose chairs we are sitting in when we come into this place to speak, debate, talk or put forward motions such as private members' bills.

Members forget that while a seat may have their name on it, it should not. I think this one does. Yes, my name is right here, but this is not my seat. It is not the seat of the Canadian Alliance people who voted for me. It is not the seat of people from whatever side, Canadian Alliance members or anyone else, who voted for me. It is definitely not the seat of the Prime Minister, and we see how much power is in that seat. It is the seat of the 100,000 residents of my constituency. That is whose seat this is and that is who sits here. It is not I. We forget that so easily in this place.

As I discern what happens around this place, I would suggest we change those signs because so easily we forget exactly what we are doing here and who we are representing. As a newcomer here that is my first take as to what is going on.

It is wonderful that we have the opportunity to put forward private members' bills because the government does not have a monopoly on insight, good ideas or brainpower. Private members have an obligation to represent the people who send them here. Putting forward legislation on behalf of those people is an absolute right of representative democracy.

The motion would in some ways clearly rectify the oversight of the current system. Why it has not been here up to this point is something I must ask myself. Is it that the government is fearful that members from the other side of the House might upstage it with quality legislation? Is it that the government does not trust the public to bring forth worthwhile legislation? Perhaps it is that the government is fearful that when good legislation comes forward it will not have time to steal the ideas for itself and introduce them on its own time. This is, as we have heard from a previous speaker, exactly what has happened.

Voting on private members' business is a minor change on the road to parliamentary reform because so much needs to be reformed in this place. I think Canadians are crying out for reform in many ways. We sense that when we see the number of people who failed to exercise their right to vote in the last election.

The fact that we can put forward bills is a bit of a fail-safe to the government's claim to ultimate power. However the government should not be alarmed at that. It can vote down private member's bills any time it wants. Private members' bills are not a threat to a government in power but they give Canadians an opportunity to speak in an effective and fruitful way.

I hope this is just one step toward many reforms that will take place in the country. We should recognize that one of the things we should be doing here is realizing whose seat we are in. We should be able to vote freely not only on private members' business but on all business in the House. I am dreaming, and I think Canadians are dreaming, of the day that will take place. Perhaps it will come sooner than some of us might imagine.

Private members' business over the years has been an important mechanism in the federation. It is not something new. The fight over private members' business has been happening for 130 years. As a government comes to power, backbenchers seem to duel about whether private members' business can come forward. The government at times pushes back private members' business only to have the pendulum swing again in the other direction.

This is one of those times when we have an opportunity to push back the agenda because the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. What a golden opportunity it is for the House to represent Canadians in a more effective way. The time has come to push back. I believe there is an appetite for it in the House. I am certainly pleased at what I hear colleagues in all parties in the House saying about the bill. I look forward to what that will mean to this place. It is one small step in a journey we all need to take together.

MPs are frustrated with merely rubber stamping government legislation by the majority. Opposition MPs lack an outlet for their ideas. The motion would go a long way to facilitating that.

I support the motion. I congratulate my colleague for introducing it and congratulate every member who will vote for it in the House. It is one step in a journey that is long overdue.

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5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to stand in the House and say how insightful it is to hear from what we like to classify in the House as a rookie.

It is my third term and sometimes we lose sight of why we are here. When the member mentioned that his seat belonged to his constituents, all 100,000 of them and not just those who voted for his party, it brings back the reason all of us from all parties of the House came here.

Why is it necessary to make private members' business votable? It is in many cases the only opportunity backbenchers ever get to put forward their ideas. We know that. The member asked why it has not been done before. He asked what happened and why it had taken so long. He mentioned that the government might be fearful it would be unable to take some of the ideas.

Unfortunately, I think he was right. That is one of the reasons. I can honestly say that I hope the government takes all the ideas. I do not think there is any such thing as stealing, borrowing or anything else in this Chamber. I know we joke about sending brown envelopes over. I would gladly send the government brown envelopes every night if it would adopt the ideas.

My big fear is that private members' bills would not truly be independently voted on but would be guided by partisan interests. Could the member say whether that is a fear of his too?

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5:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rob Merrifield Canadian Alliance Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member's question begs another question: Why is all business in the House not voted on by the people we truly represent, the 100,000 people in our constituencies?

That is a question Canadians are having a difficult time getting their minds around. If something is put forward in the House and it is a good idea, it must garner the support of 50% plus one of 301 members. If it is good for Canada it is good for Canada. If not, it will not achieve the consensus of the House.

We hurt ourselves badly by the process in place now. Surely we can start on private members' business, which is very funnelled and focused on specific ideas, and open it up to an open vote in this place. If it is good for Canadians it is good for Canadians. It is not about party politics. It is about leading the country. Our job here, as I discern it, is to be leaders in the country. I would challenge hon. members to do that.

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5:55 p.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to split my time with the member for Scarborough—Rouge River.

I am glad to see today's motion and delighted at the enthusiasm shown by Canadian Alliance members at the possibility of improving the rules and procedures of the House of Commons.

I listened to several speeches and I really appreciate the comments by members of the other political parties.

With respect to private members' business, I am one of the lucky ones. My name gets drawn rather often because it is true that I present a lot of motions, but that is not the issue, since our name stands only once for the draw.

One day, just to explain how it works, I had spoken for an hour here in the House on a motion to pay a salary to women who stay at home.

When my hour was up around noon, I immediately went to the clerk's office and I again presented my motion. It was a Tuesday and, the next day, during the afternoon, the motion I had brought forward had a new number. There was a draw and again I won; I chose this same motion. Recently I have been lucky and my name has been drawn twice.

I support the motion because solutions must be found. It is true that some members have presented motions for four years and their motions have never been drawn. A solution must be found.

What I have trouble with is the way the decision is made about whether a motion or bill is votable or not. We must go before a committee made up of members from all political parties. At the very end, we have five minutes to explain what our bill is all about.

Then a decision is made, but it all depends on how the discussions went: outside the House we are all friends, but inside it is like a hockey game, and it is not easy. In committee, if just one member is opposed to the bill, it cannot be a votable item.

I experienced that recently. I presented a bill concerning the posting of the gross price of a litre of gas before taxes. When I look at the criteria set in April 1999, this bill, which reflected the public's wish—because we always serve our constituents and all Canadians—was perfectly in keeping with what the public was asking for with respect to the price of gas.

What I find troublesome is the fact that decisions are made by friends or colleagues, members who are against us within the House. We should testify before an independent committee made up of three people who have experience in the House of Commons and to whom we would explain for five minutes what our bill is all about.

Once a decision is made, the reasons why it is or is not a votable item should be put into writing, specifying under which criteria. We never get a written decision, as it is all done verbally, as to why our item is votable or not, and we are never told why. All of a sudden, we are out of luck.

This is rather troublesome, because all the members of this House work very hard. They put a great deal of effort into finding solutions to everything that affects Canada. This is why I am saying that we must find solutions.

I am pleased by the motion put forward today by the Canadian Alliance member, because it calls on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to use its great expertise in this area, precisely to find solutions.

Even you, Mr. Speaker, have examined reports and tried to find solutions Today, we are back at it again.

I will vote in favour of this motion this evening and I truly appreciated the comments made today.

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6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Darrel Stinson Canadian Alliance Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member with regard to his comments. I too have been lucky on the order of the draw, but I also know the frustrations of having just five minutes to go before a committee to justify why my bill should be deemed votable.

I have had the opportunity to work on both sides. I sat on the committee on private members' business. I know full well the frustration of seeing people come to the committee who have spent months putting their private members' bills together. Then we drew five or six bills which should have been made votable, but we only had a time slot for one. Therefore we had to say that five would be non-votable.

I strongly feel the motion we will be voting on today will answer all of these problems. Does the member concur that these problems can be addressed through the simple measure we put forward today?

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6:05 p.m.


Guy St-Julien Liberal Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is true that we will not resolve all the problems here by November. There will always be something somewhere that needs improving, but this evening, with the motion brought forward earlier today, we will improve things. That is what counts.

We must find a solution together to improve things so we can say to the other members “Go on, introduce bills, bring forward motions, you will have a chance”. Today, many members are no longer bringing forward motions or introducing bills. I was not bitter following the committee's decision because the members of the committee do good work.

In conclusion, the second time I appeared before the committee I was in good humour and said “I do not want my motion to be votable. I wish you a good day and will let you continue your work”. I was not in a bad mood. However, it is true there are always things to improve. The member is right. There will always be something to improve. Perhaps this will happen even next December. I appreciated the member's question.

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6:05 p.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River Ontario


Derek Lee LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to participate in the debate today. Some weeks ago it would have seemed strange that we would have an opportunity to spend time debating an issue like this in the House. I congratulate the official opposition for putting it on the table so we may exchange views on making some improvements in the way we do our business here.

It is worth noting that the opposition day motion, which is the format we are following today, is one of approximately six opposition motions which have been adopted since we came back to the House from the last election. It seems a rather high number to me but it is a tribute to both the quality of the motions and perhaps the reduction in partisanship applied in considering them.

I do not know what colleagues will do with this particular motion, but it certainly is an attempt to improve the role of private members' business in parliament.

I have had the opportunity and privilege of chairing the procedure and House affairs committee, which in a bit of an arm's length way looks after some of the private members' business procedure, and the infamous private members' business subcommittee which up until now selected private members' business for votability. The particular task of chairing or even serving on that committee is a mission of real dedication. It is not an easy task because inevitably a few members are pleased with the results and a larger number are displeased.

We try to circulate our colleagues on both sides of the House through the subcommittee as quickly as possible so they are not too bruised and battered. It is an exercise in politics and in trying to make the procedures work. The motion today suggests that there may be another way to do it.

After listening to some of the opposition speeches today, I suggest we should be careful. We really should be careful about stereotyping members on both sides of the House. Not every person on this side of the House thinks the same way, acts the same way or deals with policy issues the same way. The same is true among the membership on the other side of the House.

When a member opposite looks at the government's side and sees all the government members voting together, as so often is the case on a government bill, I understand why they would tend to stereotype us as being one huge group of MPs that simply gets up and votes en masse for a bill. However in many cases it is never 100% clear before we all come into the House how our members will vote. There is always a lot of political pushing and shoving in our caucuses before we come in to vote, as we all try to convince each other to vote in particular ways. This is not strange to politics. It is very much part of the job we have here.

The motion today properly reflects the important historic role of private members' business. The member for Yorkton—Melville who moved the motion has pointed out that private members' business was actually the main stock of business of earlier parliaments. We do not have to go back too far. It was a few generations ago. It was out of private members' business that all bills tended to evolve.

Over time the government agenda dominated and the private members' business portion was squeezed into smaller procedural portions of the day, the week or month, as the case may be. I suppose that is the bad news for a private member. However, the good news is that as an element of parliamentary business, private members' business has never been lost. It is still alive and there.

When I first came to this House in 1988, it was my perception that private members' business, as a living entity, was virtually on life support. I recall a private member's bill, involving tobacco use, quite extraordinarily being passed. There might have been another one passed one a year later.

However, the House and the government since those days have actually accorded a wider berth to private members' business. I am sure someone is keeping track of the fact that there are now quite a few private members' bills and motions that have been adopted by the House, as have opposition day motions, as I pointed out. There seems to be a modest freeing up of partisanship, time and procedure for private members' business and the whole envelope of non-government business.

This has been very healthy. I see members in the House who have had private members' business adopted. I was fortunate in that regard at one point in time. I was very proud of the item that was adopted by the House, and the thumbprint of that work exists to this day.

The member for Elk Island indicated that he had counted some 4,000 pieces of private members' business since 1993. That is huge. That bundle of work by members of parliament on both sides of the House is actually a breeding ground for creative, fresh public policy. Yes, the government does cherry-pick from that pool of creative work. However, of those ideas put forward by members to the House as part of the public record, not all but a lot become part of public policy debate or actual public policy that is adopted in one way or another. That is positive.

Also government votes on private members' business these days are not whipped. It is a free vote that has created some interesting voting patterns, but it has been healthy. The Prime Minister made that commitment and has kept to it. It is a very interesting evolution.

The proposal is that all private members' business items become votable. As I mentioned, with 4,000 pieces of private members' business since 1993, there would be a need to ration the volume in terms of House time. We could not have fit in 4,000 items over the last seven or eight years. It is just too much. For that purpose we have been using a lottery. It is not very pretty, it is not very rational, but members seem to accept it. Perhaps that is not the proper tool. Maybe we should change that.

We also have found it necessary to ration for quality or relevance. That is why the subcommittee reviews the bill.

The suggestion is that we do not need to scrutinize for quality or relevance as we can let the House do that. There are a number of private members' business items that members do not believe will go too far. Is it appropriate to accord House time to a private member's business item that a member happens to like but knows will not go anywhere?

With regard to the rationing mechanism that we are searching for, I would point out that the 22nd report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is before the House and gets rid of the 100 signature rule. We are looking for a replacement. The opposition day motion, if adopted by the House, would undoubtedly trigger an exercise that would produce a mechanism to treat private members' business appropriately.

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6:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Maurice Vellacott Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise on the particular item today. I will be splitting my time with my Canadian Alliance colleague from Wild Rose who will be wrapping it up at the end of the hour. I would like to read the text of the motion into the record again. It states:

That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to draft, and report to this House no later than November 1, 2001, changes to the Standing Orders improving procedures for the consideration of Private Members' Business, including a workable proposal allowing for all items to be votable.

For our viewing audience and those looking in, the important part of the motion is to come up with a workable proposal allowing for all private members' business items, meaning the motions and the bills introduced by individual MPs, to be votable.

I commend my Canadian Alliance colleague, the member for Yorkton—Melville, for bringing forward the motion. We should not be surprised as he has brought forward many other fine things on agriculture, opposition to the gun bill and so on. I commend him on the common sense proposal he brought forward that hopefully will have the support of members on all sides of the House when the vote is taken. I also commend the members for Scarborough—Rouge River and Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik on their comments. They made some thoughtful and supportive remarks as well.

Private members' business for those of us in this place is indisputably valuable because it ought not to be on party lines. MPs have a greater latitude to vote freely, which is not generally the case with government business. There is that sense that if we do not vote a government bill forward then it is a lack of confidence. I believe that is a myth, a problem, and hopefully we will bring that down some day. As it stands, private members' business is not a perceived threat to the government. It is not perceived as a vote of non-confidence in the government of the day.

The motion we have before us in terms of all private members' business being votable would improve private members' business. Without a doubt it would give a backbencher a more meaningful role. Backbenchers from the government side and from opposition parties could put forward sane and sensible proposals called for by constituents throughout the country.

These proposals would have a good chance of being adopted on a non-partisan basis. It would be good for members of parliament and backbenchers in the sense that they would be forced to listen to debates carefully since they would be voting freely and not necessarily with their parties. They would have to form an opinion of their own rather than some ministerial department or critic crafting a particular recommendation. It is good from that point of view as members would have to assess, engage and think through the merits and implications of a particular item.

It would also encourage Canadians to vote for a local candidate because of his or her views and not just for a national party. That would be good for democracy in that it would engage more people because the individual who is going forward, be it a nomination within a party and subsequently at election time, would likely be putting the ideas he is a strong proponent of into the form of a private member's bill.

It would in some sense revolutionize the process. That is probably not too strong a word in the sense that it would engage more constituents and more of the public across our country in democracy. Many have grown cynical and apathetic and I think this would be a way of turning that around.

It also respects the democratic rights of constituents because private members' business is currently the only real way that an MP's constituents can have direct input between elections into actual legislation. Some might say if individuals are close to a minister they could have input in that way, but I think it would be fair to say that over the course of the last number of years it is the Prime Minister's Office that controls it. It is even questionable how much influence various ministers around the cabinet table exert.

In a very deep way private members' business would give the opportunity of direct input from constituents via their members of parliament. We must improve it if we can. Making private members' items votable is an obvious improvement because democracy demands that we actually vote on something. It makes sense that if there is something coming forward we should be able to vote on it.

For example, the prime minister of the day could call for an election campaign to run a certain length of time. Individuals throughout the country could simply present their ideas. If, when everyone reached an end point, which would be election day, there were no vote, there would be nothing. In this respect it only makes logical sense that if there are items put forward, debated and so on, they should be voted on.

The follow-up is that the current system is undemocratic. How could there be democracy without any voting? The problem of items not being made votable has worsened in the past while. In the second session of the 36th parliament 30% of drawn items were made votable, but in this session it is only 20%.

I will not belabour the lack of democracy because it has been mentioned by others. Some even see the subcommittee's decision making as being rather arbitrary. Some go further to say it is an unfair selection process. With regard to the stated selection criteria, there is a grid that we are supposed to fall into line with to make items votable.

It seems that most members following that criteria can make an item such that it would be votable. Yet it comes down to a judgment call by a small subcommittee that operates on a consensus basis. It is incomprehensible. It is ineffable to some of us why some are not made votable. We need something changed in that respect.

My own experience was that I had 100 signatures of members of parliament voting for something that I brought forward. It was a freedom of conscience bill, Bill C-246. I assumed that it would be a matter of a vote at the end of the day. That was the whole point of gathering the signatures. Something went sideways on it and the process was suspended. I did not have the vote as I assumed I would after having collected so much support across the House of Commons. It was only the waste of time and energy that went into it.

People talk about drawbacks but there are ways that we can respond. Some say that there would not be enough time for House business if every item were votable. The time for debate can be reduced on each item. The number of items drawn can be reduced. The time allotted to private members' business can be increased. There are all kinds of ways in which we can respond to that.

If silly items are sometimes introduced, the individual probably pays the price politically. However that has been very rare. The House would obviously vote against those frivolous things. I think any of these things can be addressed. In my view there is no concern that cannot be responded to in terms of making all items votable.

I strongly support the motion the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville put before us today. I encourage my colleagues on all sides of the House to give it due consideration and have it put forward for the fall session.

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I do not have the full amount time so I will try to be as fast as I can. There are a couple of things I would like to point out. I am certainly behind the motion and I congratulate my colleague for bringing it forward.

I will talk about some private members' business that has been successfully voted on in this parliament. There was a bill from the member for Winnipeg North Centre regarding labels on alcoholic drinks and a warning of the dangers of drinking while pregnant. I believe it was voted on and passed.

In the first session of the last parliament the member for Winnipeg Centre had a private member's bill on the retrofitting of government buildings for energy efficiency, which passed.

In the second session of the last parliament the member for Acadie—Bathurst had a private member's motion pass regarding the study on benefits for seasonal workers.

A long time ago when John Nunziata was sitting on that side of the House he brought forward a private member's bill to eliminate section 745 of the criminal code and it was passed by the House.

The member for Mississauga East brought forward a private member's bill forward proposing consecutive sentencing for certain sexual crimes and it was passed.

The member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley brought forward a very good private member's bill on drunk driving causing death and mandatory sentencing of seven years and it passed.

To my recollection, there have been many more private members' bills that have been voted on in the House of Commons. However, the problem I see is that I do not believe any one of them have ever been implemented.

I know that section 745, which was introduced in 1994, is still in the criminal code. It is still the faint hope clause. Nothing was done after the House accepted it. Members wanted it to pass and to become law but it never did. I was on the justice committee at the time. I saw John Nunziata's private member's bill come to the table of the justice committee and die because it was never brought forward for debate or discussion at the committee level. Even though I was a member of the committee and I asked hundreds of times to get the issue up for discussion and debate so that we could call witnesses and get it into law, it was ignored.

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6:25 p.m.


Stan Keyes Liberal Hamilton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. member but he should know that there were changes to section 745 in the bill and those are on the record. Compromises were made.

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6:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Canadian Alliance Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Mr. Nunziata's bill was to eliminate section 745 and it was never eliminated.

There is also consecutive sentencing. The courts have the capability of doing that but the sentencing bill that was passed in the House made it mandatory for the courts to give consecutive sentencing. Lo and behold, one day I saw consecutive sentencing. It really made me feel good that the courts of the land finally brought it in. It was in the case of a farmer who had two counts against him for selling his wheat across the border. He was sentenced consecutively for each count. I was in the courtroom and saw that. What a disgraceful thing to happen.

All of these good bills, which the highest court of the land agree to and that should come to pass, never come to pass. What kind of an outfit do we have running the show here?

The government gets direction from all members on all sides of the House to bring in some legislation to implement the very things that we all agree should happen. Why does it not happen? What kind of government do we have that would ignore a decision made in the highest court of the land? We already know it ignores the people across the land but for it to ignore very important decisions of the House of Commons blows my mind.

I am sure that at the end of this day government members will vote for the motion. I am pleased about that. It is a great idea, but I wonder how old I will be before it is ever implemented. That scares the daylights out of me. This outfit is very ineffective and is not functional. If it does not start listening to the people across the land and to its own members, who the devil will it listen to?

SupplyGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 6.30 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

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

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6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to)

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2001 / 6:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for St. Albert concerning vote 1 under National Defence of the operating expenditures in the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2002.

In his argument the hon. member states that the estimate should be ruled out of order because in his view and that of the auditor general the expenditures related to the development of the Downsview Park site, approximately $2 million of the $4.8 million, are not a valid charge against National Defence vote 1 and that the Department of National Defence should not be funding Downsview Park from its operation expenditures. If the government wants to develop and operate Downsview Park, it should introduce legislation accordingly, then seek the appropriate funding through the estimates rather than through National Defence.

Before beginning, I would like to thank the hon. member for raising the matter and I also want to acknowledge the contributions of the hon. Minister of Transport, the hon. House leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, the hon. Leader of the Government in the House, the hon. opposition House leader and the hon. member for Athabasca on this point.

In his point the hon. member for St. Albert stated that in the 1994 budget the government announced the closure of Canadian Forces Base Toronto at Downsview and indicated that it was to be held in perpetuity as a unique urban recreational green space. For the project to go ahead, the government issued an order in council authorizing Canada Lands Company Limited to incorporate a new crown corporation, Parc Downsview Park Inc., as a subsidiary of Canada Lands Company Limited pursuant to the Financial Administration Act.

The hon. member also stated that management of the Downsview lands has been transferred from National Defence to the Canada Lands Company and that National Defence still continues to hold the title to the lands.

In addition, initial funding to the Parc Downsview Park Inc. was provided for from an existing National Defence vote. The government issued an order in council authorizing the transfer of the first parcel of land to Parc Downsview Park Inc. pursuant to the Federal Real Property Act.

The parties to this complaint, that is, the hon. member for St. Albert, the Minister of Transport (formerly the Minister of National Defence), and the auditor general, are in agreement on several key elements.

First, as all three have noted, the Department of National Defence continues to hold title to the lands in question.

Second, in its 1994 budget, approved by the House, the government announced its intention to close certain Canadian forces bases, and referred to the National Defence budget impact paper tabled with the budget, which spoke of the intention to hold the Downsview site “in perpetuity and in trust primarily as a unique urban recreational green space for the enjoyment of future generations”.

Third, as the auditor general has noted “each step in the founding and development of Downsview Park was completed in accordance with the relevant governing legislation”.

Finally, the House has previously, in 1999-2000, given its approval for the allocation of funds to operations and development of Downsview park.

These facts are not in dispute. The minister has informed the House that in addition to retaining title to the lands, the Department of National Defence maintains ongoing activities on the Downsview property.

The auditor general in his report takes the position in paragraph 17.73 that:

—if the Government of Canada wishes to set up an urban park and invest...public funds therein, it should have...approval from parliament to do so.

The government takes the position that it has the necessary approval, having received parliamentary approval first on its budgetary policy of 1994 and second on its allocation of funds in 1999-2000. I note the observation in the auditor general's report:

The mandate and purposes of Parc Downsview Park Inc. are fully consistent with those of the parent corporation, the Canada Lands Company Limited, and the other current and past subsidiary corporations of the parent, for example, the CN Tower and the Old Port of Montreal.

That is, there is no departure here from previous government practice.

There is a disagreement between the government and the auditor general with respect to the extent of the existing authority of the Department of National Defence to allocate funds to Downsview Park. However, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the hon. Minister of Transport, it seems that the House has up to this point sided with the government.

For example, when the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs met on March 13 of this year to consider the main estimates, my understanding is that no questions were raised pertaining to Downsview Park and the committee elected not to present a report in the House. In this regard, therefore, the Speaker can find nothing out of order.

It also seems evident that the government and the auditor general are not in agreement concerning certain of the government's accounting practices. If this is indeed the case and if it is something hon. members wish to investigate further, that would be for the House or its committees to pursue. It is not a matter for the Speaker to decide.

To conclude, I see no clear evidence that any procedural irregularity has occurred, and accordingly I rule that there is no point of order here. I thank the hon. member for St. Albert as well as those who contributed to the discussion.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

6:35 p.m.

The Speaker

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. Leader of the Government in the House on May 30, 2001, concerning the procedural acceptability of Bill S-15, an act to enable and assist the Canadian tobacco industry in attaining its objective of preventing the use of tobacco products by young people in Canada.

I wish to thank the hon. government House leader, the hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, the hon. member for Richmond—Arthabaska, the hon. member for Winnipeg North Centre, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and the hon. member for Calgary West, as well as the hon. opposition House leader and the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for their interventions.

I would also like to thank hon. members for the additional material they submitted for my consideration.

Let me first set the stage for this ruling. As your Speaker, it is my duty to examine each case on which I must rule in light of our practice and procedure and to make my decision, mindful that each ruling adds to that body of precedent.

Marleau and Montpetit, in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 261, phrase this simply, stating:

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of members and of the House as an institution.

Chapter 18 of Marleau and Montpetit provides a comprehensive history of our financial procedures and I would commend to hon. members reading pages 701 to 714, if they have not read the whole book already, as being particularly helpful.

Before I address the arguments presented for and against Bill S-15 proceeding in the House, I want to provide the procedural context against which I have to consider this point of order. I ask hon. members to bear with me as I present the following extracts from pages 701 to 703 of Marleau and Montpetit so as to situate the issues raised by Bill S-15 in the larger context:

The manner in which Canada deals with public finance derives from British parliamentary procedure, as practised at the time of Confederation—

That is on page 701. It continues:

The whole law of finance, and consequently the whole British constitution is grounded upon one fundamental principle, laid down at the very outset of English parliamentary history and secured by three hundred years of mingled conflict with the Crown and peaceful growth. All taxes and public burdens imposed upon the nation for purposes of state, whatsoever their nature, must be granted by the representatives of the citizens and taxpayers—

That is on pages 701 to 702. It continues:

Initially, the Commons were content simply to have grants of Supply originate in their House. However, over time the Lords began “tacking on” additional legislative provisions to Commons “money bills”, by way of amendments. This was viewed by the House as a breach of its prerogative to originate all legislation which imposed a charge either on the public or the public purse, and led the Commons in 1678, to resolve that:

All aids and supplies and aids to his Majesty in Parliament, are the sole gift of the Commons; and all Bills for the granting of any such aids and supplies ought to begin with the Commons; and that it is the undoubted and sole right of the Commons to direct, limit, and appoint, in such Bills, the ends, purposes, considerations, conditions, limitations, and qualifications of such grants; which ought not to be changed or altered by the House of Lords.

It is striking that over 300 years later a virtually identical formulation is found in our own House of Commons Standing Order 80(1) which reads:

All aids and supplies granted to the Sovereign by the parliament of Canada are the sole gift of the House of Commons, and all bills for granting such aids and supplies ought to begin with the House, as it is the undoubted right of the House to direct, limit and appoint in all such bills, the ends, purposes, considerations, conditions, limitations and qualifications of such grants, which are not alterable by the Senate.

This same principle is captured in an early source on Canadian procedure, Bourinot 4th ed., at page 491, which states, and this is a translation:

As a general rule, public bills may originate in either house; but whenever they grant supplies of any kind, or involve directly or indirectly the levying or appropriation of any tax upon the people, they must be initiated in the popular branch, in accordance with law and English constitutional practice.

In Canada, the constitution itself enshrines the ancient English practice whereby the elected representatives of those who will be affected by any tax measure should be the first to examine such a measure and accept or reject it.

In matters of taxation, the House is provided with priority over the Senate. The Constitution Act, 1867 provides, in section 53: “Bills for appropriating any Part of the Public Revenue, or for imposing any Tax or Impost, shall originate in the House of Commons”. The standing orders provide that the House may only consider taxation measures that have been initiated by a minister through the usual ways and means procedures.

I have judged it necessary to offer this rather lengthy, but by no means comprehensive, review of the history of our financial procedures because I believe that the question of the primacy of the House of Commons in taxation matters lies at the very heart of our parliamentary practice and is, of course, central to a ruling on this point of order.

I fully appreciate the frustration exhibited by passionate proponents of the aims of this bill who want to give the House an opportunity to debate the merits of the bill. They may balk at arguments about procedure, calling them obtuse or arcane, or technicalities irrelevant to debate on public policy in the 21st century.

Whatever sympathy I as a member or a citizen may have for those views, as your Speaker I am bound to be the guardian of the parliamentary rules and precedents that guide our deliberations and it is against that standard that my ruling must be made.

Now let us return to consider the specifics of the matter at hand.

The government House leader's complaint is twofold: first, that Bill S-15 originated in the Senate rather than the House and so violates the priority of the House in matter of taxation; secondly, that Bill S-15 was not preceded by a ways and means motion, an essential preliminary to the introduction of a tax bill.

Those who spoke in defence of the bill claim that the bill does not in fact seek to impose a tax but rather a levy desired by the tobacco industry for a purpose which the industry considers as beneficial to itself. If this argument is accepted then the major impediment to the bill has been overcome, for as Erskine May, 22nd edition at page 781, states:

Levies upon employers in a particular industry for the purpose of forming a fund used to finance activities beneficial to the industry are not normally regarded as charges—

That is, taxes. It is this issue, the distinction between a levy and a tax, which will provide the key to the ruling.

I have re-examined with care previous cases where levies were imposed. As the House knows, there have been very few bills involving levies, and fewer still which gave rise to procedural discussion. I have studied the examples cited by the hon. member for Lac-St-Louis, namely: the 1997 Act to amend the Copyright Actimposing a levy on blank tapes in favour of performers and recording artists; the 1987 Canada Shipping Act imposing a levy against shipowners to deal with oil spills caused by tankers and other ships; and the 1985 Canada Petroleum Resources Act imposing a levy to support an environmental studies research fund.

It is true that none of these bills gave rise to any challenge regarding financial procedure, but it is also true that all these bills originated in this House, a point I would ask hon. members to keep in mind.

A brief review of the history of Bill S-15 may be helpful here since it was mentioned by many hon. members rising to present the case for the bill going forward.

The predecessor to this bill is Bill S-13, introduced in the 36th parliament where much the same objection was raised to that bill. On December 2, 1998, Mr. Speaker Parent ruled that since the bill proposed a tax, did not originate in the House of Commons and was not preceded by a ways and means motion, it was not properly before the House. He declared first reading proceedings null and void and ordered the item withdrawn from the order paper.

Basically the same issue, that is, the establishment through an industry levy of a foundation to prevent the use of tobacco products and actively promote non-smoking by Canadian youth, is now before us, though in significantly modified form.

The original bill has been redrafted with a view to addressing the procedural difficulties identified in Mr. Speaker Parent's ruling and so make the new bill, Bill S-15, conform with House of Commons practice and procedure. Supporters of Bill S-15, led by its Commons sponsor, the hon. member for Lac-St-Louis, argue that the modifications made to the text of the bill are sufficient to ensure that it is now properly before the House and may proceed. Let us now examine the arguments.

It is not my intention to deal with all aspects of the distinction between a tax and a levy, or the various ways in which the two may be confused. For instance, while a levy may not raise funds that find their way into the consolidated revenue fund, that is not an issue in the present case, and we will therefore set it aside.

As well, it is admitted that the bill provides benefits to others besides those in the industry, but benefits of this kind are not prohibited in a bill which imposes a levy, and that question need not detain us here.

The central issue in the case before us is whether or not the levy contained in Bill S-15 is imposed for purposes beneficial to the tobacco industry.

In order to make this determination it is necessary to turn to the bill itself. Indeed several members have enjoined the Chair not to go beyond the text of the bill or to engage in speculation concerning matters not dealt with directly in the clauses of the bill. The Chair has accepted this advice in the spirit in which it is given. I intend to confine myself solely and exclusively to a consideration of the procedural issue which is before us.

The bill's supporters contend that the moneys raised to finance the work of the foundation constitute a levy, not a tax, because the creation of this foundation is beneficial to the tobacco industry. Pointing to the preamble of the bill as well as to part III, clause 34, which states the specific industry benefits of the bill, they argue that these declaratory statements constitute compelling evidence of a levy.

If such is the case then there would be no problem with the bill originating in the other place. As Mr. Speaker Parent said in his ruling on Bill S-13, and this applies equally to Bill S-15, the central issue is whether or not the charge imposed is imposed for a purpose beneficial to the tobacco industry.

In Bill S-13 no industry benefits were indicated in the text of the bill as they now are in clause 34 of Bill S-15. However a recitation of benefits in the text of the bill does not necessarily resolve this issue, particularly where it is clear from clause 3 that the bill also has a purpose that is beneficial to the public which would support the view that the charge imposed by the bill is a tax and not a levy. In that case significant impediments would remain, for as Erskine May 22nd edition explains at page 779:

Modern legislation, however, frequently makes provision for the imposition of other types of fees or payment which, although not taxes in a strict sense, have enough of the characteristics of taxation to require to be treated as “charges upon the people”.

I think any reader of the terms of Bill S-15 would agree that it serves two purposes. One is a public purpose, that is protecting young persons against possible adverse health effects derived from the use of tobacco products. The other is an industry purpose, namely attracting the benefits indicated in the bill derived from the industry supporting and being seen to support its public purpose.

In ruling on this point of order, the Chair must determine which of these two purposes is the primary purpose of the bill so that it can decide whether the charge imposed by the bill can be seen as a levy or must be considered as having “enough of the characteristics of taxation” to be considered a tax.

The summary that accompanies Bill S-15 reads as follows:

This enactment incorporates the Canadian Tobacco Youth Protection Foundation, a non-profit corporation established on behalf of the tobacco industry, whose mandate is to prevent the use of tobacco products by young persons in Canada. A levy would be imposed on tobacco manufacturers in order to provide the Foundation with the necessary funds to carry out its objects and activities.

An examination of the provisions of the bill has satisfied me that this summary is in general an accurate account of the purpose of the bill. This aim is, in the words of the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, a public policy objective, a conclusion further supported by material submitted by the hon. House leader of the official opposition, that is, advertisements by tobacco manufacturers in support of Bill S-15 which state:

The sole purpose of Bill S-15 is to protect the health of Canadian children.

Based upon my reading of the text of Bill S-15, I am satisfied that the bill seeks primarily to attain a public policy end and only secondarily seeks to attain benefits to the industry. The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis has asked:

Is a foundation created by an industry under suspicion because it carries out objectives that are completely different from those of the industry itself?

My reply is that the foundation to be created is in no way suspect, but the fact that legislation is required to establish that body and to provide it with funds remains profoundly troubling if I am to be persuaded that this bill is primarily an initiative that is of benefit to the industry.

The question could be asked: What prevents the industry itself from simply raising prices on its products so that it can fund the work of such a foundation? Why is legislation required to achieve that end?

While it is not my role to comment on such measures one way or the other, I must recognize that there is very broad public support for measures to reduce and even eliminate youth smoking. This is, in my view, germane to the issue of distinguishing between public purpose and industry purpose.

I accept on their face the statements in the preamble and in clause 34 spelling out the benefits to the tobacco industry of the enactment of this bill. Neither am I judging what has been called “the substance of (the bill) or the moral or ethical considerations of why the foundation is being created”. Nevertheless, I remain unable to regard Bill S-15 as anything other than a bill which seeks to attain, as its principal aim, a reduction in youth smoking by the imposition of a tax on the tobacco industry.

The declared benefits to the tobacco industry in Bill S-15 are expressly set out in clause 34 but it still causes the Chair considerable difficulty, for while it states the benefits which the proposed act seeks for the tobacco industry, clause 34 does not actually provide any of those benefits. It is purely declaratory in nature. In fact I have not been able to identify in the bill any dispositions that provide for the alleged benefits to the industry other than those which provide support exclusively to what is acknowledged as being a public policy objective.

Let me give the House an example of what I mean. Among the declared benefits listed in clause 34 is the claim in section (i) that in the bill:

—the basis is laid for

(i) a greater tolerance of the industry to the extent that its products are used in a legal market, and

(ii) reasonable limits on regulation of the industry.

Even accepting at face value that these two items would be beneficial to the tobacco industry, I can find no measures in the bill to promote greater tolerance or to touch in any way the current regulatory regime or limit the government in any manner with respect to the regulation of the industry.

Simply stated, I can find no indication that the declared benefits in clause 34, insofar as they are benefits to the industry, are provided for in the operative clauses of Bill S-15. The use of a levy must be one where the industry benefits sought are, if not direct, at least clear to a reasonable person. I do not speculate on whether or not these benefits would or would not accrue to the industry subsequent to the adoption of this bill, but in my view the bill itself does not provide for them.

What I have sought to do in this ruling is not to innovate or set a new standard, but only to make explicit those factors that, in my view, have always formed the basis of our practice when distinguishing levies from taxes.

As your Speaker, I have to be concerned with where the bill originates, for I am charged with defending the privileges of this House, particularly in a case such as Bill S-15 involving the constitutional primacy of this House vis-à-vis the other place in respect of the imposition of taxes.

And, in my judgment, the strict standard for accepting as legitimate a proposed levy has not been met.

As your Speaker, I am not blind to the irony of my position. In judging Bill S-15 to be imposing what amounts to a tax to fund an initiative with a worthy public policy objective, I will, in effect, be blocking that initiative. However to do otherwise, to give Bill S-15 the benefit of the doubt and turn a blind eye to the public purpose for which the levy on the industry is being imposed, would be to shirk my duty as Speaker of this House. It would be to leave open the possibility that the primacy of this House in respect of taxation, as well as the financial initiative of the crown in this House, would be compromised to where they had meaning in form only.

Accordingly, I must conclude that the levy provided for in part IV of Bill S-15 constitutes a tax. I am therefore obliged on both procedural and constitutional grounds to order that the first reading proceedings on Bill S-15 be declared null and void and that the bill be withdrawn from the order paper.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I trust the Chair will indulge me in a point of order I would like to lay before the House.

The point of order that I draw to your attention is a rather extraordinary and draconian occurrence that has occurred in the form of a motion that was moved by the government House leader this morning using the provisions of Standing Order 56(1).

Being very well versed in the standing orders, Mr. Speaker, you would know that this pertains to the use of an order which permits the government to, in effect, move a motion that has not received unanimous consent and therefore invoke what is commonly known now as the 25 member standing rule.

I do not use inflammatory language lightly in this regard, but I truly believe, and I urge the Chair to find, that there has been an abuse of process that occurred which is tantamount to a breach of the rules and the intention and interpretation thereof.

First, let me draw your attention to the final paragraph of the motion that was moved by the government House leader. It states:

That, during the consideration of the business of supply this day, if a division is requested on any motion to concur in any item or items in the Main Estimates, immediately after the taking of the said division, the questions on all subsequent motions to concur in any item or items in the Main Estimates shall be deemed to have been carried on division.

The germane part of that is “shall be deemed to have been carried on division”.

In French, these final words are “soient réputées adoptées majoritairement”. This translates into “shall be adopted by the majority”. This is the passage that is most offensive and most odious and, I would suggest, shakes the democratic process of the House.

The effect of this is to decide in the alternative all questions related to the estimates, some $166 billion, no small sum of taxpayer money. This is certainly not a routine matter that is contemplated in Standing Order 56(1). Rather, it is a substantive decision of the House to authorize the spending of public money in the amount of $166 billion.

The resulting offence is such that the House has been denied its right to vote on the expenditure of public money. There has been a coup d'état, a raid on the treasury by the government House leader. He is neutering every member of the House and the people we represent by moving this motion. This is a blatant assault on all members' privilege and, I suggest, as such is tantamount and a motion that has not been moved in a previous parliament since Confederation.

I want to stay focused on the narrow issue of the use of Standing Order 56(1). The minister is entitled to move his motion on matters related to “any routine motion” which is the definition in clause (b) which states:

For the purposes of this Standing Order, “routine motion” shall be understood to mean any motion, made upon Routine Proceedings, which may be required for the observance of the priorities of the House, the maintenance of its authority, the management of its business, the arrangement of its proceedings, the establishing of the powers of its committees, the correctness of its records or the fixing of its sitting days or the times of its meeting or adjournment.

This final clause in the motion moved by the government House leader has the effect, not of applying a previous vote of the House to other questions but of carrying these motions. In other words, it is possible that the House could vote the first item of the estimates but the remainder are deemed to have been carried on division. That decision simply does not fall within the framework of Standing Order 56(1). It has the effect of authorizing the government to enact the supply bill, and this is the key point, without the vote of the House.

The fact that 25 members do not object cannot be used to take the keys to the treasury. Substantive questions in the House are decided by a majority of votes in the House.

The government House leader will be quick to point out that it was a previous government that enacted Standing Order 56(1). Let me pre-empt that feeble argument and that feeble attempt to distract from the real issue here. I will simply state that it was wrong then and it is certainly wrong now, and to use it in this expansive way further exaggerates the harm. It was never intended to be used in such a broad and repressive manner.

The role of the Speaker, as the Speaker well knows, is to protect the rights of the minority. This is central to the success of your office. It is a high office you hold and one in which we place great trust. If this process is allowed to stand then the government can do all its business in one day and dismiss parliament with the back of its hand. The government, in its haste to take the money and run, has crossed the line.

I ask the Speaker to rule that this motion is a nullity because it has been used to bypass the proper procedures of supply and because it decides questions that do not fall under the categories of matters that can be moved under routine proceedings.

In the alternative, I would respectfully request that the Speaker, given the gravity and the effect of such an expansive and abusive use of this form of closure, hold in abeyance his ruling until such time as he might have occasion to review all the details and precedents which support this point of order.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:05 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to take much time to review this. It is quite obvious, and I think most members would agree, that the member does not have a very legitimate point.

He has identified that Standing Order 56(1) gives the authority to utilize this particular article for the management of the business of the House, the arrangement of its proceedings and so on. Therefore, it is applicable to a very broad range of usage.

The hon. member supports his argument by reading from the French text of a motion that I moved in English, translating it himself back to English and using that definition as being the one that is applicable. The Speaker will know that has absolutely no value in this place.

The motion I moved is the one that I moved, not the translation that I provided to colleagues across the way for matters of convenience. I could have moved it in French, of course, and I can move it in English, but there is no rule in the House that says I have to move it in both. I did not. I moved it in one language and the only one that I moved it in on this particular occasion happens to be the one in English.

I know the member across the way is probably still feeling the pressure as a result of question period today, but I will not be provoked by that. I will continue to refer to and respond to what has been raised.

He has referred to the unprecedented usage of the motion. The motion has been used on several occasions in the past. Standing Order 56(1) has been utilized in the management of the House to do such things as pass several readings of a bill in one day. It has been used to introduce a bill and pass it at all stages in one day. It has been used in bills that involve a charge against the crown. It has been used to provide greater compensation, including to members of parliament as early as a few days ago. It has been used on a post office bill to settle a labour dispute, and so on.

It has also been alleged that this could be used to in some way eliminate the opposition and get all bills through in one day.

I give credit to those who came before me for devising this rule and it was not even the same government. It was the government of which the leader of the member across was a member when this rule was devised. It provides that any 25 members can stop its use, which ensures that the minority will be protected. That is why in a Chamber of 301 members, 25 members can actually prevent the use of this particular device.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

It does not help small parties.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member says that is not the appropriate threshold or some such. I did not design that rule. This House in its wisdom provided that rule with that number in it. I am not here to question the wisdom of the size. It is there. I am only here to argue that it is appropriate to use the rule as it was designed.

The member is alleging that this device is being utilized to pass supply. That is factually inaccurate. The hon. member knows that this particular device today is a reference to the amendments that were put on supply. I do not know if it makes a major difference but it still makes his point incorrect.

Finally, the motions regulating business of routine proceedings of the House clearly include the management of the House business, debatable motions for instance, such as those in Standing Order 67.

The point I want to make is that the application for the motion was made in consultation with many members in the House and it was moved appropriately. Unanimous consent was sought previously, thereby notifying the entire House of my intent to use it later in the day. Several minutes passed, perhaps 15 or 20. Bills were moved, private members' bills of all and sundry in between, explanations thereof and only then did I move the actual motion pursuant to Standing Order 56(1) under motions. At the time that I did so, the House was certainly fully aware that it was my intention to do just that.

The hon. member cannot claim that he was unaware. I do not think anyone else in the House would claim that they were unaware or unwilling. The usage was done in proper form pursuant to what we have done before. Certainly the allegation that the motion was used in a way that is unprecedented just does not hold water. It was done in a way to manage the business of the House in a quite legitimate and appropriate way.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

That is false. The minister is dead wrong.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

The hon. member can respond, heckle and disagree, and that is his prerogative, I suppose, providing the Speaker wishes to tolerate it, but it does not make what he says factually correct.

Mr. Speaker, I submit that this rule was used quite appropriately today for the management of the business of the House. Heaven forbid, I am not defending Brian Mulroney.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Canadian Alliance Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member has raised a legitimate concern. I would ask the Chair to reflect on some of the things that he has raised. Standing Order 56(1) has its limits. Those limits are described in section (b) of the standing orders and in Marleau and Montpetit. They give examples of motions that have been moved.

As all of these have been raised, I will not go through entire arguments, other than to say that Standing Order 56(1) was not intended to usurp the constitutional duty of the opposition. It was not intended to offset the important balance between the government and opposition. It was meant to allow the progress of routine business. The minister's motion is much too important and substantive to get rammed through without debate or amendment.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for raising this matter.

I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider the argument that he made, particularly with respect to whether or not there is something in the nature of the way this standing order was used today that separates it out from the way it has been used in the past, the argument that the hon. member made for instance with respect to the use of this motion in respect of supply.

The government House leader argued that because it is only amendments to supply, it is not supply. However I think that was a very weak argument in itself. If it is amendments to supply, it has to do with supply, and therefore, Mr. Speaker, it merits your judgment as to whether or not the use of this standing order with respect to supply is in fact a new use of this particular standing order and one that is not in keeping either with practice or with your own understanding of that particular standing order.

Having said that, I would certainly want to indicate that I do not consider it consultation that somebody gets up to do something by unanimous consent, fails to do so and then some time later seeks to do it through this particular standing order. It may constitute some kind of notice but it does not constitute consultation.

I think it is clear that again we are meeting a Liberal deadline. There is some kind of cabinet retreat or something on Thursday and Friday, so we are faced with the use of this particular standing order.

The government has been willing to make its own sacrifices. It dropped Bill C-6. It does not want that any more. It also dropped Bill C-27. This has been one of the more unproductive sessions. Not only did we lose all the things that the government said it was going to do when it called the election, but it did not even get around to the things that were dropped, because now we are dropping them for some other Liberal deadline.

I know you want me to get to the point of order, Mr. Speaker, and I will. It seems to me that what is at stake here is the nature of this particular standing order itself. I remember when it was brought in, I believe in 1991. At that time I remember speaking to this particular change in the standing orders. If I remember correctly, I think I referred to it as a sort of parliamentary uber-menschen clause, and the way in which the government saw itself, as Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment , rising above the ordinary moral limits, as Raskolnikov did in Crime and Punishment , by killing the old lady just to show that he was not bound by ordinary morality.

Here we have the Liberals doing the same thing as the Tories did in 1991, showing that they are not bound by any kind of ordinary parliamentary morality or notion of what would be proper due process or procedure. They are quite prepared to just use whatever kind of authority they have at their disposal, which is what they did this morning.

You may say that 25 members could have stopped it. Certainly the parties that have 25 members will have to ask themselves why they did not. However this particular standing order was designed in a parliament where all parties had 25 members or more. Here again we see a kind of carryover from a previous parliament, that is to say, the parliament before 1993. I am sure when this was set up it was understood that all parties had at their disposal at least 25 members. The smallest party in the House was the NDP and we had 44 members. To say 25 members at that time was at least leaving open the possibility that if any one party objected, this would not happen.

Today we have a situation that is quite different, and certainly that standing order should have been changed by now. However, there are a number of other things in our standing orders that are still out of kilter because we have standing orders that were written to serve an entirely different parliament and entirely different political circumstances, that is to say, the political circumstances that existed prior to 1993.

I would ask you, to reflect on whether or not there is an opportunity here for you to rule, given the different nature of this parliament and of the previous parliament, that there is not something about this standing order that you might find unacceptable. Clearly it now has an effect on the rights of smaller parties which it did not have at its inception.

You, who are charged with the protection of the rights of minorities in this parliament and the rights of smaller parties, may want to consider whether you could make some ruling or give some advice to the House as to whether this particular standing order should be amended.

In doing so, Mr. Speaker, if your recommendation were to be followed, providing you make such a recommendation, we could remove from the standing orders something which is kind of a blight on our parliamentary life here: The fact that the government has this kind of power which it can use and has used on a number of occasions and which really makes a mockery of a lot of the so-called power that the opposition has.

Imagine a parliament in which no one party had 25 members except the government. Would it then be okay for the government to just deem everything to have been passed on division? I know this is a bit of a reductio ad absurdum argument but nevertheless that exists. That is a possibility within the standing orders if the Canadian public were to elect a parliament in which only the government had more than 25 members.

Points Of OrderGovernment Orders

7:20 p.m.


Lorne Nystrom NDP Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

It almost happened in 1984.