Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise a point of order in this House. I would like to be allowed to proceed calmly, because this is a matter that has very important consequences for the House and the future of our work.
First, I should say that my comments will pertain to the royal recommendation. Recently, and primarily because of the new context we find ourselves in, with a minority government, the issue of the royal recommendation has become much more important.
What we have to understand is that, in the case of a majority government, since the royal recommendation is considered less indispensable, the government can always rescue a private member's bill by a majority vote of its members. But in the case of a minority government, as the two most recent governments have been, the royal recommendation becomes very important.
When a bill is passed and accepted by the House of Commons, it becomes effective, and the government has no choice but to comply with it. If the bill involves additional expenditures of public funds, you will understand, Mr. Speaker, that it could be problematic for the government to allow the House of Commons to commit public funds without executive power. This is a privilege of the executive, the government, not the House of Commons.
However, Bill C-257 introduced by my colleague from Gatineau, which is an anti-scab bill that applies to workers who come under the Canada Labour Code, was initially deemed by the clerk to require a royal recommendation. Mr. Speaker, I know that you intended to review this whole issue in light of the complexity of the implications. You will understand my surprise when I realized that this is the first time in 17 years, during which time 10 such bills have been introduced here in this House, that the anti-scab bill has required a royal recommendation. I therefore checked the record. Mr. Speaker, I looked to your own decisions for material to use in my argument today.
When Bill C-263 was introduced by my former colleague, Roger Clavet, the Speaker said, right here in this House—you were in the chair: “Royal recommendation is particularly important, and as Speaker of the House of Commons, I must say that you have to be extremely careful, and we have to be extremely vigilant, not to commit public moneys under a minority government that could be overturned by a vote in the House of Commons”. Mr. Speaker, you were absolutely right. Except that last year, when Roger Clavet introduced his bill despite that warning—you were well aware of the dangers—you did not ask for royal recommendation for that anti-scab bill, which was exactly the same as the one introduced today.
The clerks told us that two types of expenditures may be considered for royal recommendation. The first is operational expenditures for running departments. The second is statutory expenditures, that is, expenditures automatically incurred upon the implementation of a bill.
Mr. Speaker, according to your clerks, operational expenditures do not require royal recommendation because they are part of the overall cost of running the Government of Canada. Statutory expenditures, on the other hand, require royal recommendation because they are additional expenditures made when the bill is adopted.
In our view, Bill C-257, tabled by my colleague from Gatineau, requires no royal recommendation. No one indicated to my colleague, either at the time his bill was being prepared or at the time it was tabled, that a royal recommendation would be necessary. I understand that he was not told this. Last year, you yourself deemed the bill receivable, and the context was that of a minority government. Nothing has changed in that regard. I therefore assume that everyone believed, at the time of tabling, that no royal recommendation was necessary, and no one required one of my colleague.
Now we are told in mid-course that, as the bill provides for an investigator who may be designated by the Minister of Labour—whom I salute, as he is now present in this chamber—this is a new role, and therefore an expenditure inherent in the bill. So the bill requires a royal recommendation. I point out that the work of a Department of Labour investigator, ordered by the minister, depends on the needs of the situation. Sometimes he works on this, sometimes he investigates that. That is what we call operating expenses, not statutory expenditures.
Since we are passing an antiscab bill, with due respect for the preliminary decision of the clerk, no additional inspector may be hired at the Department of Labour. There are already staff in place to perform this very work, whose job description corresponds in every respect to the investigations that the minister might request. He will not necessarily request them. So this is an expense that is possible, but possible within the operations of the department. Hence there is nothing that requires what we call a royal recommendation.
I checked, and under the Canada Labour Code, labour relations officers have this very mandate. The minister is quite aware of this. He has a certain number of tasks performed by this personnel.
I searched a little further. On March 21, 2005, you yourself rendered a decision in the case of Bill C-331 which provided for negotiations with the Ukrainian community. That bill allocated so-called public money and could have required a spending authority. In your great wisdom, you declared that the bill provided for the conduct of negotiations with the Ukrainian community, and that it could not be established in advance that there would necessarily be costs related to those negotiations. Since a royal recommendation is not necessary for things which may never in fact occur, it was not necessary for section 3 of that bill. It was thus ordered by the great wisdom of the House, your own and that of the clerk, that in the case of a bill which provided for negotiations with the Ukrainian community, it could not be predicted that there would inevitably be costs. Furthermore since the costs generated would not be immediate, they would be operating costs, costs which—according to the clerks—never require royal recommendation. So this is a good decision you made. You have made others that were just as good, about which I would like to speak to you.
On October 29, 2003, in your great wisdom, when examining a bill on restoring the lighthouses of the St. Lawrence, you recognized that:
—when heritage lighthouses are designated, there may be an expenditure of public funds. However, I would characterize those expenditures as falling within departmental operational costs, for which an appropriation would have been obtained in the usual manner. From year to year, such expenditures would vary depending on the condition and number of heritage lighthouse structures and on the effects of weather. Such operational expenditures are covered through the annual appropriation act that Parliament considers and approves.
You spoke wisely when you stated:
Therefore, after listening to the submissions of hon. members and after reviewing my previous ruling and the provisions of this bill, I would conclude that Bill S-14 does not require a royal recommendation.
In your wisdom you recognized that, for this bill, royal recommendation was not required since it involved an operational cost and not a statutory expenditure arising from the bill.
You recognized, for Bill S-14 and a number of bills, that a royal recommendation was not required when the expenditure arising from adoption of the bill was not immediate.
For 17 years, you and your predecessors recognized that the anti-scab bill did not require royal recommendation. Last year, despite your vigilance and warning to the House of Commons, you did not request a royal recommendation for the same bill.
It would not make sense that suddenly, this year, parliamentary law, tradition and rulings no longer apply and that everything has changed.
I have the utmost respect for the role played by the office of the Clerk of the House of Commons. It is to advise and support members, to ensure that they are able to enforce the rules calmly and fairly, and, in the context in which they work, present parliamentary initiatives that will serve their fellow citizens, as my colleague from Gatineau has done.
I know that this idea would not occur to you, but at no time is it the role of the Speaker or the Clerk of the House of Commons to protect the government. You are above the political fray, as we know. You are here to ensure that the rights of all members, including independent members, are respected, and to ensure that we are able to represent our fellow citizens in an atmosphere of complete serenity, comfort and security.
I do not think—based on earlier rulings and the 10 bills tabled that never, after being assessed, needed a royal recommendation, and based on the role of an inspector—that it can be said, today, that this calls for a royal recommendation, when the inspectors exist and are already doing this work, and there is nothing to say that any more inspectors will be needed after this. Nor is there anything to say that the Minister of Labour will be having to order investigation after investigation to enforce an antiscab law.
Based on all these considerations, and relying on your earlier rulings, on the wisdom of the House of Commons, on our desire that our rules be followed and, most importantly, on the fact it is not the job of anyone here, other than the government itself, to protect minority governments—any more than it is the job of the Speaker to support the opposition, other than to ensure that it is able to use the rules properly and do its job—I am certain that in a few days you will deliver a ruling on the antiscab bill. As was the case on 10 occasions in the last 17 years, you will find that this bill does not call for a royal recommendation, that it can be voted on in the House of Commons and come into force to provide the best protection for working men and women covered by the Canada Labour Code, as is the case in Quebec for workers protected by the province’s labour code.
I am certain that the Minister of Labour, who comes from Quebec, is familiar with Quebec's legislation and is not unaware of what is happening there in terms of labour relations, and that you yourself, all of Parliament, our colleagues in the Liberal opposition—who in fact gave us fairly broad support in our first attempt, as our friends in the NDP will certainly do— we will together vote to enact an antiscab bill, legislation that you will allow us to vote on and bring into force because we are in compliance with all of your earlier rulings.