Mr. Speaker, you will recall that on May 16 I advised you that I would be considering putting certain questions before the Chair relating to proceedings on Bill C-7, an act respecting leadership selection, administration and accountability of Indian bands, and to make related amendments to other acts.
The committee stage of the bill has been completed and the House will once again be seized with the bill at the report stage. I want to raise these points before the clock starts ticking on deadlines for the report stage.
Mr. Speaker, I recognize that you take very seriously the view that you are severely limited in your ability to intervene in the committee's affairs. However, I regret to report that the committee has not felt itself bound by the same respect for the rules of this place. You have already been made aware of proceedings that took place on April 2, during which the government majority on the committee voted to take away the rights of members to examine the clauses of the bill that was sent to the committee by the House.
That happened despite a ruling by the Chair that this action was out of order, so the clear intent of Standing Order 116 of the House was consigned to the trash bin. Members of the committee were denied the right to speak to a motion more than once, and the committee imposed time limits.
Standing Order 116 frees committees from those time limits and permits several interventions. That is not the practice in the House but it is explicitly, under Standing Order 116, the practice in committees.
At the same meeting, on a motion moved by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the member for Miramichi, the committee also passed an order that required committee members to give notice of all proposed amendments for the entire bill prior to 5 p.m. on April 4.
Sir, the committee began its study of the clauses of the bill on April 8. During all deliberations after that, regardless of the evidence received, regardless of the testimony, regardless of the passage or rejection of other amendments, it was impossible for any member to submit a new amendment for consideration by the committee.
Yesterday I attended as a member of the committee, as I had two weeks ago. Now that I am going to have a little more time for these matters, I was prepared to contribute to the bill. It is a subject on which I have some experience and some feeling. It is in fact the first committee on which I served in this House.
Again yesterday I was confronted with an erratic and arbitrary committee chair. Frankly, I cannot recall anything to compare with it during my 25 years of parliamentary experience, perhaps with the exception of the table-hopping by the minister of heritage. Members of the committee were systematically prevented from participating and the chair refused to hear points of order. It is because of this constrained and chaotic proceeding that I want to seek your guidance.
There is a real concern on this side of the House over the scope of proposed amendments that can be put down at report stage. My question is whether the Speaker will be enlarging on the guidelines that Your Honour laid down on March 21, 2001. At that time, in dealing with the question of amendments that could have been moved at committee, Your Honour stated:
...motions in amendment that could have been presented in committee will not be selected.
Accordingly, I would strongly urge all members and all parties to avail themselves fully of the opportunity to propose amendments during committee stage so that the report stage can return to the purpose for which it was created, namely for the House to consider the committee report and the work the committee has done, and to do such further work as it deems necessary to complete detailed consideration of the bill.
That is the end of the citation of your ruling.
The procedure adopted by the passage of the parliamentary secretary's motion effectively closed off any potential amendments that could have surfaced as a result of debate in committee after the date of April 4. I submit that this action by the parliamentary secretary and the government supporters on the committee has prevented the whole committee from carrying out its duty as described by Your Honour.
Therefore, I am seeking clarification of the guidelines that the Speaker will use in determining the acceptability of proposed amendments at the report stage in a case where the committee to which a bill has been referred adopts a procedure that arbitrarily or peremptorily precludes amendments.
Let me refer back to the words of the ruling on March 21, 2001, when the Speaker said:
...I would strongly urge all members and all parties to avail themselves fully of the opportunity to propose amendments during committee stage so that the report stage can return to the purpose for which it was created, namely for the House to consider the committee report and the work the committee has done, and to do such further work as it deems necessary to complete detailed consideration of the bill.
In the case of Bill C-7, there has been only a very limited ability to propose amendments in committee. There was no capacity, none at all, to take account of new ideas that might have emerged as a result of debate or new evidence or new legal opinions or, indeed, new membership on the committee.
It is clear that there exists in the House, outside of the committee, opinions that have not always been canvassed and concerns that would fall into the description of, to quote the Speaker, “such further work” as the House may deem “necessary to complete detailed consideration of the bill”. The ability of the House to determine its desire to address those other concerns will very much depend on the Speaker's selection of proposed amendments at the report stage. I submit that it would be useful for the House to know if the Speaker is willing to vary the usual practices governing the selection of report stage amendments because of the arbitrary actions that took place in committee.
In doing so, I should make it clear that this is not just a concern for those of us who sit in opposition to the government. The Speaker may be aware that strong supporters of the government have stated that this bill is in need of serious re-examination and amendment. Indeed, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is reported to have challenged the member for LaSalle—Émard to propose amendments to the bill.
Unfortunately, because of the prohibition of consideration of new amendments adopted by the committee on the motion, I repeat, of the parliamentary secretary to the minister, that possibility was foreclosed to the member for LaSalle—Émard just as it was for any other member who might have wanted to bring fresh ideas to the committee. Indeed, yesterday the committee chair said that if the Prime Minister himself proposed new amendments, the chair would reject them.
The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the peoples of the first nations are entrenched and recognized in the Constitution of Canada. The peoples of the first nations have every right to expect that the Queen's ministers and members of the Parliament of Canada would treat any matter touching them with diligence and gravity. That is what is known as our fiduciary responsibility with regard to the first nations peoples. Instead, we have had an erratic and arbitrary committee process that guarantees discord for years to come in the relations between the Government of Canada and first nations peoples.
Therefore, the House and those who would be subject to this bill, should it be enacted into law, would benefit from knowing if the Chair is prepared to grant wider latitude for proposed amendments to the bill, which is widely opposed among the people it purports to govern and has been subject to incomplete examination and arbitrary treatment in committee.