Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order regarding Bill C-15B. I needed to make this point of order before the minister moved the motion because I will be arguing that not only should he not be allowed to close off debate but also that Bill C-15B should not even be allowed to remain on the order paper because the bill lacks the procedural necessity to qualify it to exist let alone proceed to the next stage.
Mr. Speaker, you might remember that in the government House leader's argument he even admitted that Bill C-15B was a distinct bill from Bill C-15. Bill C-15B has not been read a first time nor has it been read a second time and therefore is not legitimately before the House.
On September 26, 2001, a motion was moved regarding Bill C-15. It read:
That Bill C-15, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to amend other acts, be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights;
That it be an instruction to the committee that it divide the bill into two bills, the first containing the provisions of the bill respecting protection of children from sexual exploitation, criminal harassment, disarming or attempting to disarm a peace officer, home invasions, allegations of miscarriage of justice and reform and modernization of criminal procedure; and the second containing the provisions respecting cruelty to animals and amendments to the Firearms Act;
The motion instructed the committee to bring in two new bills. While the old bill, Bill C-15, was deemed to have been read a second time, Bill C-15B had not.
If the House had deemed the bill to have been read a second time then there would be no problem but since that was overlooked I would conclude that Bill C-15B should be withdrawn.
As a result the strictest standards must apply to its application. It would be wrong to carry the second reading achievement from Bill C-15, the mother bill, to Bill C-15B, its legislative offspring.
The argument that this bill received second reading would be a stretch. Members' speeches during the second reading debate on Bill C-15B would have been significantly and dramatically different than the debate on Bill C-15.
The official opposition supported Bill C-15A, the other half of Bill C-15, and opposes Bill C-15B. Bill C-15A passed through the House without the time allocation and Bill C-15B, according to the government, appears to require time allocation.
According to the government and since Bill C-15A is no longer before the House I am not sure of its fate. If it were in jeopardy I would give the consent of the official opposition to deem Bill C-15A to have received first and second reading. Getting back to Bill C-15B, which is still before the House, I would argue that if there is doubt as to the procedural correctness of advancing Bill C-15B through the system then, Mr. Speaker, you must rule on the side of caution.
A hasty call would not be in the interest of good governance in the House. The history of Bill C-15B warrants caution.
As I argued during the question of privilege on that matter, I pointed out that the member's right to vote and to be heard properly are well established rights that indisputably make up the powers enjoyed by members of parliament. In a constitutional democracy the right of members to vote is fundamental and goes to the very heart of our parliamentary system.
The 1993 Supreme Court of Canada decision in New Brunswick Broadcasting Company v Nova Scotia confirmed the constitutional nature of parliamentary privilege on this very basis.
Most of the powers and privileges of members of the House are the result of centuries of practice and convention. The courts have clearly recognized that conventions are part of our Constitution. Our legislative procedures, including voting, are part of our historical heritage, our parliamentary traditions and indeed of the privileges collectively of the House and individually of its members.
The legislative process requires that bill be read three times. On page 607 of Marleau and Montpetit it states:
Some of the rules concerning the legislative process that were in effect at Confederation are still in effect today. Some examples are: the Standing Orders prohibiting the introduction of bills in blank or in an imperfect form, and stipulating that all bills be read three times on different days....
Page 625 describes how the standing orders of the House require that every bill receive three readings, on different days, before passed. The practice of giving every bill three separate readings derives from an ancient parliamentary practice, which originated in the United Kingdom. At that time when the technology was not yet available to reproduce large numbers of copies at low cost, bills were introduced in handwritten form, one copy at a time. In order for members to know the contents of the bill, the Clerk read the document to them. The idea of reading the bill was taken literally.
Marleau and Montpetit goes on to explain that today a bill is no longer read aloud but the formality of holding a reading is still preserved. When the Speaker declares that the motion for first reading has passed, a clerk at the table rises and announces “first reading of this bill”, thus signifying that the order of the House has been obeyed. The scenario is repeated when the House has ordered a second and then third reading of the bill.
Marleau and Montpetit describe that bills must go through the same stages of the legislative process but do not necessarily follow the same route. It describes on page 626 three avenues for the adoption of legislation. The path of Bill C-15B does not match any of the three avenues described on page 626 and fails to meet the requirements to be legitimately before the House. The three avenues are:
After appropriate notice, a Minister or a private Member may introduce a bill, which will be given first reading immediately. The bill is then debated generally at second reading stage. It is then sent to a committee for clause-by-clause study.
A Minister or a private Member may propose a motion that a committee be instructed to prepare a bill. A bill will be presented by the committee and carried through the second reading stage without debate or amendment.
A Minister may move that a bill be referred to a committee for study before second reading.
Regardless of the avenue that the House decides to take, the bill will then have to be carried through report stage, to be read a third time and be sent to the Senate....
Page 627 of Marleau and Montpetit outlines in detail the stages a bill must go through when it is introduced in the House of Commons:
Notice of motion for leave to introduce and place on the Order Paper;
Preparation of a bill by a committee (where applicable);
Introduction and first reading;
Reference to a committee before second reading (where applicable);
Second reading and reference to a committee;
Consideration in committee;
Third reading (and passage);
Consideration and passage by the Senate--
And on it goes. I point out that Bill C-15B missed a few things, like notice for leave to introduce, introduction and first reading and second reading.
I reviewed the other examples of bills being divided and what I discovered was that normally the bills are divided and presented to the House at first reading and all the constitutional and procedural hoops and loops necessary to advance the bills through the House were met. For example, at page 618 of Marleau and Montpetit there is a reference to Bill C-93 that, at the insistence of the opposition in 1982, the government withdrew the bill and introduced two separate pieces of legislation. The two new bills did not appear on the order paper at report stage, as did Bill C-15A and Bill C-15B.
In the case of Bill C-94, the energy bill that led to the famous bell ringing incident, the bill was divided into eight separate pieces of legislation. Once again there was no Bill C-94A, Bill C-94B, Bill C-94C, Bill C-94D, Bill C-94E, Bill C-94F or Bill C-94G. Bill C-94 emerged from a committee without having gone through first and second reading.
There is a major flaw here with Bill C-15B that has been overlooked.
On page 619 of Marleau and Montpetit it suggests that historically disputes over omnibus bills are brought about by political interaction. While the division of Bill C-15 was brought about by political interaction, the path the government took was different and flawed.
If you like, Mr. Speaker, we can look at other jurisdictions. In the U.K. the process is the same. Page 464 of Erskine May's twenty-second edition states that public bills have five stages: introduction and first reading; second reading; committee; report stage and third reading. The U.K. also has the restriction that successive stages of a bill must be taken up on different days.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to the legislative process. The integrity of the House is at stake here. If there is any doubt I would urge you to rule on the side of caution and withdraw Bill C-15B from the order paper. If the government has to start all over again and proceed legitimately, then so be it.
It is our responsibility to ensure that procedural requirements are observed before a bill leaves this place to become law since the courts have the legal power to inquire into the procedural history of a bill before it has been assented to.
On page 186 of Joseph Maingot's second edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , it states:
--the courts might be effective in ensuring the observance of procedural requirements imposed by the constitution with respect to the enactment of legislation.
It would be irresponsible to knowingly cast doubt upon the legitimacy of our proceedings. Bill C-15B must be withdrawn and put back on the order paper.