I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. government House leader on May 29, 2003, concerning the procedural acceptability of the third report of the Standing Committee on Transport presented earlier that day.
I thank the hon. government House leader for having drawn this matter to the attention of the House. I would also like to thank the hon. members for Thunder Bay—Superior North; New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby; Saanich—Gulf Islands; Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel; Acadie—Bathurst; Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d’Orléans; Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan; and Ottawa West—Nepean for their comments.
In questioning the receivability of the transport committee's third report, the government House leader drew four points to the Chair's attention. He indicated, first, that in order for a properly constituted committee meeting to take place simultaneous interpretation services must be available.
Second, he contended that provision must be made for the recording of committee deliberations so that a permanent record of the deliberations, corresponding to the debates of the House, may be produced.
Third, he noted that committee meetings are usually open to the public and to members of the media, who are also entitled to simultaneous interpretation services.
Finally, the government House leader indicated that no notice had been sent out for the committee’s meeting on May 29.
The government House leader raised concerns that these four elements had been ignored by the transport committee, which met in a room in the parliamentary restaurant rather than in one of the fully equipped committee rooms. In the absence of these elements, he argued that the report of the committee must be regarded as not having been adopted at a properly constituted meeting and, therefore, the Speaker should rule it out of order.
In replying to these concerns, the chair of the transport committee, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North, stated that at its meeting on May 28 the committee had decided to continue its deliberations on the morning of May 29. When quorum was lost, the committee was prevented from taking any decisions with respect to the estimates it was studying so the chair suspended the meeting until the next day.
The chair pointed out that the committee met in a room in the parliamentary restaurant only because none of the regular committee rooms were available at 8:00 a.m. on May 29 and the committee was working to respect the reporting deadline for main estimates set out in Standing Order 81(4).
Hon. members will be familiar with the beginning lines of Standing Order 81(4), which read:
In every session the main estimates to cover the incoming fiscal year for every department of government shall be deemed referred to standing committees on or before March 1 of the then expiring fiscal year. Each such committee shall consider and shall report, or shall be deemed to have reported, the same back to the House not later than May 31 of the then current fiscal year—
This year, May 29 was the last sitting day prior to the May 31 deadline on which reports on the estimates could be presented
The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Superior North indicated that a recording was made of the proceedings at the meeting and that an interpreter from the Interpretation and Parliamentary Translation Service was present. He also stated that the quorum requirement was satisfied and that the clerk of the committee was present to ensure that the committee's decisions were properly recorded in its minutes.
Most important, the chair also pointed out that no objections to any of the committee's arrangements were raised by the members who attended the meeting.
I have examined the minutes of the transport committee Meeting No. 30, the only documents available to the Speaker since the meetings were held in camera, and the minutes confirm the committee chair's statements.
I would now like to respond to the four objections raised by the hon. government House leader with respect to this case.
First, there is the question of simultaneous interpretation. Like the hon. members who spoke to this issue, I too would like to underline the obligation that we have to respect the rights of members to use the official language of their choice. Hon. members at the committee acknowledge that ad hoc arrangements were made for interpretation and that these were considered satisfactory by the committee members present.
Second, there is the matter of recording. There is no disputing that the committee chose to meet in a room where the usual services could not be provided and that recording for transcription and subsequent publication was not available. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that, in the view of the members of the committee present, the meeting room was adequate to their needs since the committee was meeting in camera, transcription was not required and publication was not contemplated.
On the fourth point at issue, the matter of notice, here again since the meeting was in camera, neither the public, the media nor other members would be entitled to attend the meetings so the matter of notice in their regard is moot.
Your Speaker is, however, somewhat troubled by the notion of an overnight suspension of proceedings. As hon. members know, if the Speaker's attention is drawn to a lack of quorum and no quorum is found, the House must adjourn forthwith. While it may be argued that no such obligation exists for committees, I would not consider the unorthodox actions of the transport committee in this particular instance to be a precedent in committee practice.
The chair of the committee has explained the circumstances of his decision to suspend the meeting on Wednesday night having lost the quorum needed to adopt a report and to reconvene at the earliest possible moment on Thursday so as to be able to report on the estimates within the timeframe provided by the standing orders. Your Speaker is bound to accept the explanation of the hon. member.
However, the fact remains that, like my predecessors, I am very reluctant to interfere in the work of any committee. I think it is worth reminding the House of the liberty that it grants to committees. House of Commons Procedure and Practice , page 804, states:
—committees are bound to follow the procedures set out in the Standing Orders as well as any specific sessional or special orders that the House has issued to them. Committees are otherwise left free to organize their work. In this sense, committees are said to be “masters of their own proceedings”.
The actions of the Standing Committee on Transport in this instance might well have given rise to various questions perhaps about the overnight suspension, perhaps about meeting without the usual services or notice, but the fact is, as the chair of the committee has stated, no such questions were raised in the committee itself, nor did anyone who rose to speak in response to the government House leader's point of order make that claim.
Hon. members know that should they have procedural concerns about matters related to the arrangements that a committee has made for its meetings or the conduct of its business, it is in the committee itself that they should raise them.
I have said that committees are granted much liberty by the House but, along with the right to conduct their proceedings in a way that facilitates their deliberations, committees have a concomitant responsibility to see that the necessary rules and procedures are followed and the rights of members and the Canadian public are respected. Issues concerning such matters should be brought before the committee for resolution.
As I have said, in the present case, no such questions were raised and no evidence has been presented to suggest that the transport committee exceeded its authority to conduct its proceedings as its members saw fit.
On that basis, after reviewing the minutes of the transport committee's meeting and the contents of the third report itself, I find that the report was adopted by the committee in conformity with our rules and practices, that the report has been duly presented in the House and that it is now properly before the House.