Mr. Speaker, I wish to exercise my right to rise on a point of order. I am sure that you will allow me a few moments to draw to your attention a few facts which deserve your closest consideration and which I wish to raise following your ruling yesterday granting the Progressive Conservative party a votable motion.
Before looking at the impact of your ruling yesterday regarding the votable nature of the day, I think that it would be appropriate to identify some of the factors taken into account, factors which were the subject of prior discussions between the leaders.
Let us recall that, at the beginning of each parliament, the number of votable days is divided up informally between the parliamentary leaders of each of the political parties recognized in the House.
This division of days took place in the early days of the 37th parliament. All the political parties, all the leaders, reached an agreement as to the number of days allocated to the opposition and the number of days which could be votable.
At the time that we did this, this distribution reflected the representation of the political parties here in the House of Commons. The various opposition parties agreed that the distribution would be as follows: the Canadian Alliance, 11 days, eight of which would be votable; the Bloc Quebecois, six days, four of which would be votable; the NDP, two days, of which one is votable; and the PC/DR, two days, one of which is votable.
So far, some of these days have been used, but not all. Up until March 11, the Canadian Alliance had used four days, of which three were votable; the Bloc Quebecois had used three days, all of which were votable; the NDP had used two days, one of which was votable; and the PC/DR had used one day, which was votable. Therefore, the Conservative Party—it should be noted—has one non-votable day left.
Yet, yesterday you decided to grant the Conservative Party a votable day, unless the leaders of the political parties agree unanimously to a solution that is different from your ruling.
Nothing that was agreed to in the discussions between parliamentary leaders at the beginning of the Parliament can be changed, unless there is consensus among all of the leaders to go back on a decision.
In the past, you made a ruling regarding the fact that the Conservative Party is now associated in a way with a coalition of members, and the two associations form one parliamentary group. However, in your wise decision, you also asked that any changes to be made to the number of questions or on giving the right to speak in the House be made based on a consensus among leaders. This was a ruling that was to your credit, and there were discussions following your ruling.
We did not agree to a distribution of the questions in the House. However, after lengthy discussions, after having made some compromises, after the Canadian Alliance members demonstrated some flexibility, you were able to change the number of questions granted to the Conservative Party and the group of independent members.
However, the spirit of your first decision was quite clear. Parliamentary leaders will have to come to an agreement, otherwise the status quo will apply, and we will reconsider the facts following the discussions.
However, in your decision yesterday, you completely reversed the burden of proof, if I may use this expression. You agreed that the Conservative Party be given an additional votable day, beyond the number of days already provided for in the standing orders, unless parliamentary leaders determine together that this day will not be votable and that we will continue to operate within the framework that has been decided at the beginning of the 37th parliament.
Standing Order 81(16) is clear. It says that:
Not more than fourteen opposition motions in total shall be motions that shall come to a vote during the three supply periods provided pursuant to section (10) of this Standing Order.
The Standing Orders are quite clear: there are 14 opposition motions that may be declared votable. Not 15, not 16, but 14. Thus, the Speaker's decision to make the Conservative Party's motion a votable motion de facto brings the number of votable motions from 14 to 15, which in contrary to the standing orders. In doing so, the Chair is unilaterally amending the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, which provides for 14, according to Standing Order 81(16). This standing order is very clear.
Marleau-Montpetit, on page 726, first paragraph, reads as follows:
However, except in a situation where the limit of allowable votable motions in a Supply period or in any year has been reached, it is not within the competence of the Chair to rule whether or not a particular motion should be votable.
This limit has not been reached. The Standing Orders say 14 days. Marleau-Montpetit indicates to us that the Chair may not change this part of the standing orders unless the total number of days has been reached, and this is not the case.
In making such a decision, the Chair has given itself a power that neither the standing orders, nor the philosophy or the practice recognize.
Moreover, you asked parliamentary leaders to come to an agreement if we do not wish this day to become a votable day. This creates an obligation for all leaders to agree, as provided under the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and it also gives a veto to the parliamentary leader of the Conservative Party. It is pointless to think that this parliamentary leader, who is asking for an additional votable day, will achieve a consensus with his colleagues, saying that they will comply with the rules of this House. Mr. Speaker, you gave him a power that clearly exceeds the powers of a parliamentary leader. Moreover, you yourself went beyond what is provided in the standing orders by giving this power to the leader of the Conservative Party.
I am sorry, but your ruling is not based on any rule of this House, on any practice, or on any interpretation made in Marleau-Montpetit. Under these circumstances, I really cannot see how we could accept a ruling such as this one, because it clearly exceeds the powers of the Chair.
I remind the Chair that, as the authority responsible for implementing the act and the standing orders, he must ensure that they are applied, including that of Standing Order 81(16), in compliance with well established and recognized practices. The role of the Speaker of the House of Commons is to scrupulously respect the rules and, sometimes, clarify things under certain circumstances.
By granting the Conservative Party an additional day, you will have no choice but to keep following the same logic and deprive another political party from one of its opposition days. But, Mr. Speaker, you do not have that power either. No speaker has the right to make that decision. Parliamentary leaders have come to an agreement under the rules. The reasoning behind your ruling seems to be to strike a better balance as regards opposition days between the coalition and the Conservative Party. This is what I understand from this ruling. However, when we discussed the issue of oral question period, you did not make that decision.
You said that, in light of your decision as Speaker, you were asking the leaders to reach an agreement; that, if there was agreement, there would be a transfer of questions or the right to speak to the Coalition and that, if there was not agreement, then the status quo would remain.
Why, in the case of opposition days, are you reversing the burden of proof? Why, in the case of opposition days, are you allowing this unless there is no agreement? We are not going to agree, because the leader of one of the parties is the petitioning party. So saying this is tantamount to making a wish that can never be fulfilled.
In the spirit of the decision you rendered the first time, and the spirit of the application of your first decision for question period and speaking time, on which the leaders had to reach agreement and consensus, this should be exactly the same thing. You should continue using the same logic, Mr. Speaker, and rule that there could be another division of opposition days if the leaders reach agreement. If, however, there is no such agreement, with all due respect, Mr. Speaker, it is not up to you to change that agreement.
What is more, in rendering such a decision, you are entering into the jurisprudence of parliamentary law an approach that has never been used, one which is contrary to the standing orders and one which people could later on use as grounds for violating the orders.
In fact, since the opposition days have not all been used, if you maintain your decision to assign an additional day to the Conservative Party and the coalition of independent members, you will then need to give the same warm welcome and open reception to requests from my friends in the Canadian Alliance or from my own Bloc Quebecois. There will certainly be some forthcoming from the NDP. When a door is opened in this way, it is like opening the hatch of a submarine during a dive. Who can shut it?
I would therefore ask you sincerely, with the greatest respect for parliament, the greatest respect for the interpretations that have been made to date, and the greatest respect for the parliamentary leaders, to review this decision, once the parliamentary leaders have met this afternoon and discussed the matter. If no agreement is reached, I sincerely believe that your duty would be to continue in the same vein as your first decision concerning questions and speaking time, which is to leave the task of discussion to the leaders, the task of clearing the way, and then to acknowledge a new situation.
I ask you to respect the parliamentary leaders, to respect me, to respect my friend from the Canadian Alliance party, as well as my friend from the New Democratic Party and the government House leader. I ask you to respect a longstanding tradition. I also ask you to maintain your authority as the keeper of the standing orders and to review your ruling, because there is no way, relying on the standing orders, that we can accept such a ruling.
I hope that these few remarks will be enough to convince you that perhaps there has been a misinterpretation of the facts and that you should review your decision.
With all honesty and respect, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to exercise your role as Speaker, which is to see that the Standing Orders are respected. The Standing Orders are clear: this day should not be votable.