I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on Monday, March 18, by the hon. member for St. Albert concerning the procedural acceptability of vote 6b under Public Works and Government Services in Supplementary Estimates (B), 2001-02.
I would like to thank the hon. member for St. Albert for having drawn this matter to the attention of the Chair and to thank as well the hon. President of the Treasury Board for her contribution on this subject.
In raising this issue the hon. member for St. Albert pointed out that the one dollar item in vote 6b under Public Works and Government Services concerning the optional services revolving fund is included expressly for the purpose of amending section 5.5 of the Revolving Funds Act, Revised Statutes of Canada, chapter R-8 as amended.
He pointed out that dollar items, that is amounts of one dollar which are included in the estimates to authorize various sorts of financial transaction using only existing funds or financial authorities, may be used only for certain very specific purposes. The hon. member for St. Albert cited House of Commons Practice and Procedure at page 733 which states:
Supplementary Estimates often include what are known as “one dollar items”, which seek an alteration in the existing allocation of funds as authorized in the Main Estimates. The purpose of a dollar item is not to seek new or additional money, but rather to spend money already authorized for a different purpose. Since “estimates” are budgetary items, they must have a dollar value. However, because no new funds are requested, the “one dollar” is merely a symbolic amount. Dollar items may be used to transfer funds from one program to another, to write-off debts, to adjust loan guarantees, to authorize grants, or to amend previous appropriation acts.
The citation continues:
The inclusion of one dollar items in the Estimates also gave rise to the issue of using Estimates to “legislate” (i.e., Estimates going beyond simply appropriating funds and attempting to obtain new legislative authority which would otherwise require separate enabling legislation through the regular legislative process, outside the Supply procedure).
Previous speakers have ruled very clearly concerning the procedural acceptability of legislating by way of an appropriation act. The hon. member for St. Albert quoted from a ruling by the hon. Speaker Jerome on March 22, 1977, who stated at page 607 of the Journals:
--it is my view that the government receives from Parliament the authority to act through the passage of legislation and receives the money to finance such authorized action through the passage by Parliament of an appropriation act. A supply item in my opinion ought not, therefore, to be used to obtain authority which is the proper subject of legislation--
The Hon. President of the Treasury Board pointed out in her remarks that, as the hon. member for St. Albert stated in raising this matter, explicit permission to amend the Revolving Funds Act by an appropriation act is provided for in the Revolving Funds Act itself. She went on to provide a number of examples when such amendments have been approved in this way.
That, I point out in passing, is the solution to the difficulty raised by the hon. member for St. Albert concerning the amount that is being affected by the recurrent request. Section 5.5(3) of the Revolving Funds Act as it appears on the justice department website indicates that the amount in the optional services revolving fund by which expenditures may exceed revenues is $200 million.
In vote 6b the government is seeking the approval of parliament to reduce the amount in that section from $75 million to $35 million. The justice department website was last updated on August 31, 2001, at which time the figure of $200 million was accurate. In December 2001 parliament, by approving Appropriation Act No. 3, 2001-02, approved the reduction of that amount from $200 million to $75 million. What is now before the House is a request to further reduce the amount from $75 million to $35 million.
As the hon. President of the Treasury Board indicated, section 12 of the Revolving Funds Act which authorizes the amendment of that act by an appropriation act was approved by parliament. Parliament has in fact used this method of amending the Revolving Funds Act on a number of occasions, as recently as this past December as I have just indicated. There exist therefore both statutory authority and past practice of the House to justify the current method of proceeding. This applies to votes 7b, 8b and 9b as well as to vote 6b. Under these circumstances I cannot find that the hon. member for St. Albert's point of order is well founded.
In addition to a ruling on the specific issue before us, the hon. member, in raising this matter, sought some guidance as to how our rules concerning one dollar items are to be understood. It might be useful in this regard to return to the words of Speaker Jerome.
In addressing the request for a decision concerning the use of one dollar items he stated at page 606 of the Journals of March 22, 1977:
--this conflict leads to some consideration of the function of the Chair, which is not to dictate what Parliament can or cannot do but, rather, to ensure that what Parliament attempts to do is procedurally correct.
In a subsequent ruling on the issue of one dollar items Mr. Speaker Jerome outlined the basis for separating substantive legislation from the supply process at page 184 of the Journals of the House of Commons of December 7, 1977:
--it has long been a tenet of the House that supply ought to be confined strictly to the process for which it was intended; that is to say, for the purpose of putting forward by the government the estimate of the money it needs, and then in turn voting by the House of that money to the government, and not to be extended in any way into the legislative area, because legislation and legislative changes in substance are not intended to be part of supply, but rather ought to be part of the legislative process in the regular way which requires three readings, committee stage, and, in other words, ample opportunity for Members to participate in debate and amendment.
He continued at page 185:
The point at issue is whether the...items seek legislative authority which does now exist or does not exist...The test to which I put them is whether or not in these items the government is putting forward a spending estimate under authority it already possesses, or whether it is seeking new legislative authority for these...items.
In the present case parliament has given its approval to the Revolving Funds Act following the usual legislative process, including the provision in section 12 which permits modification of the dollar limit in the optional services revolving fund by way of an appropriation act.
With respect to the question raised earlier today by the member for St. Albert concerning the necessity of debating the measures contained in the supply bill, I simply point out that in permitting that amendments be made to the Revolving Funds Act by an appropriation act, section 12 makes no suggestion that any other than the normal supply process be followed.
Members have the opportunity to give detailed consideration to the estimates at the committee stage. Further, there is nothing to prevent any party from making consideration of any part of the estimates the subject of an opposition supply day motion. Finally, the House could under our rules as currently framed choose to debate the supply bill at its various stages on the final supply day, provided it did so before the end of government orders and within the parameters contained in the standing orders.
Under the circumstances, while I commend the hon. member for St. Albert for his admirable vigilance in matters related to supply, I can see no justification to depart from our usual practices in this case.