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House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was companies.

Topics

IndustryOral Questions

2:55 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are news reports of a hostile takeover of BCE. BCE is one of Canada's oldest and largest corporations in Canada.

A foreign equity firm wants to snatch it up from underneath Canadians. The company that wants to do this, KKR, is so aggressive, an author entitled a book on KKR, Barbarians at the Gate.

I know the government is predisposed to actually selling off Canadian companies and New Democrats understand that the government feels an empathy to do so, but this is a loophole.

I want the Minister of Industry to guarantee right now that he will close this loophole and protect Canadian jobs and BCE.

IndustryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Beauce Québec

Conservative

Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member must know that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any speculation in a newspaper. On a future possible merger or something like that, I will not comment on any speculation nor any rumours.

IndustryOral Questions

3 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is nothing to stop the minister from taking action against equity firms stalking good Canadian companies. He can take that position and he knows he can.

I would like to know why the minister is ignoring the industry committee. Yesterday we passed a motion that called for him to actually table legislation in the House of Commons to deregulate Telecom in a public way, not behind back doors with lobbyists.

Why will that minister not do that? Why will he not listen to MPs? Why is he listening to lobbyists behind doors?

IndustryOral Questions

3 p.m.

Beauce Québec

Conservative

Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, it is very simple. We listen to all Canadians. All Canadians said last December that they wanted deregulation, they wanted better prices, they wanted competition, and they wanted good service and lower prices for Telecom.

The deregulation project we have in front of members right now is a project that will be good for all customers and all Canadians. We are listening to Canadians.

Canadian Wheat BoardOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the tainted barley vote results are clear on one point. Only 13.8% support the minister's efforts to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board and move barley to the open market.

Dual marketing is not possible and the minister knows it. The task force told him so and the farmer elected Wheat Board stated it is not a viable option.

Does the minister really believe a 13% result is enough to take marketing power away from western grain producers and transfer farmers' money to the international grain trade?

Just why does the Prime Minister support American multinationals over Canadian farmers?

Canadian Wheat BoardOral Questions

3 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.

Conservative

Chuck Strahl ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his filibuster.

Today I received a survey done by the Wheat Board. It surveyed Wheat Board farmers and this is what it found out. The majority said they will get better prices if there is competition with the Wheat Board. They said that the Wheat Board would be forced to provide better service if there were competition, and the majority said they wanted marketing choice.

Why can the member not accept that 62% of farmers want marketing choice? They deserve it and they will get it.

Senate Tenure LegislationOral Questions

March 29th, 2007 / 3 p.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, for 140 years the Senate has remained largely unchanged. It is still unelected, unaccountable, and guess what? The Liberal Senators are determined not to modernize and change it.

Ten months ago Canada's new government introduced a bill to limit the terms of Senators from a current potential of 45 years to a more reasonable eight years.

Would the Minister for Democratic Reform inform the House about the status of this legislation?

Senate Tenure LegislationOral Questions

3 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Yes, Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, March 30, marks the 10 month anniversary of the introduction of the Senate term limits bill, but after six months of delay and obstruction in the unelected Liberal Senate, we had a glimmer of hope.

A new Liberal leader was chosen and he said he supported term limits. Later he said, “Do not worry, I will get it done. The Liberal Senators will pass the bill”.

It turns out he did not get it done. The bill is still, after 10 months, mired at committee in the Senate. It is the same old Liberal story: promise it, talk about it, but just cannot get it done.

Senate Tenure LegislationOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Order. It being Thursday, I believe the hon. member for Wascana has a question.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the business of the House, I wonder if the government House leader would be good enough to inform us of what his plans are for the rest of this week and also for the first week that the House will return after the Easter break, that is, the week beginning April 16.

Specifically, I wonder if he could provide us with information on three particular points.

First, yesterday we received back from the Senate Bill C-16, having to do with--

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3 p.m.

An hon. member

Fixed date elections.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Yes, fixed date elections. There is a royal assent this afternoon. I asked earlier today in the House whether or not the government would make it possible for Bill C-16 to be approved at all remaining stages in the House and put on the list for royal assent this afternoon.

Obviously the Liberal Party is prepared to agree with that. I understand the Bloc has already given consent. It only remains for the government and the NDP to consent. I see the deputy House leader for the NDP nodding his head, so it would appear that the only thing standing in the way at this moment is the government House leader.

I wonder if he could agree to move on Bill C-16, give it the necessary unanimous consent and put it on the list for royal assent this afternoon. Fixed election dates would then be a reality.

Secondly, Bill C-29, the bill dealing with the application of official languages with respect to Air Canada, has not appeared on the business list for the government yet, and I wonder when the government House leader intends to call Bill C-29.

Finally, when will the government table the exact mandate and the exact legal authority given today to some unnamed individual to investigate the trouble in the RCMP? When will we have the tabling of the mandate and the legal authority under which the government is acting?

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, on the question of Bill C-16, it is obvious that the Liberal House leader is very concerned about having an election and wants to do anything he can to stop it. Having watched the news last night and having seen some numbers, I can understand his sentiments. That is not surprising.

However, I am also not surprised that he could not remember what the bill was about. That is because it has been out of this House for half a year while the Liberal Senate was trying to deal with it. If those members wanted it passed quickly perhaps they could have avoided making amendments to it. However, there are amendments and we have to consult about them. As well, certainly, the information about everyone having consented is very different from the information that has been provided to me by the other parties to this point.

We will continue to pursue that and we hope to move forward on democratic reform. At the same time, as we said earlier, we will invite the other parties to move forward with Bill S-4 in the Senate. If they want to see things move quickly, that would represent good democratic reform. As well, we invite them to indicate their support for Bill C-43.

However, this afternoon we will continue with the list of bills on today's Projected Order of Business.

Tomorrow we will begin debate on the budget implementation bill. When the House returns from the Easter break, it will continue with the budget implementation bill if it is not already completed tomorrow.

Also on the list of bills for that week are: Bill C-33, on income tax; Bill C-40, on the Excise Tax Act; Bill C-10, on mandatory and minimum penalties; the Senate amendment to Bill C-16, fixed dates for elections, if we can get everyone's agreement on that to move quickly; Bill C-27, on dangerous offenders; and Bill C-45, the Fisheries Act, 2007.

Thursday, April 19 shall be the first allotted day in this supply period.

The Liberal House leader continues to make comments about moving quickly today. I wish he had been over there in the Senate talking to his Senate friends for the past six months while we were waiting. Perhaps while he is busying hurrying things up he can go and talk to the senators about Bill S-4.

I have a motion that I would like to make at this time.

There have been consultations, Mr. Speaker, and I believe that you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practices of the House, the remaining debate on the motion to concur in the second report of the Standing Committee on Health be deemed to have taken place and all questions necessary to dispose of the motion be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred to Wednesday, April 18, at the end of government orders; and notwithstanding Standing Order 33(2), government orders shall conclude today at 5:30 p.m.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Does the hon. government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think we can clarify right at this moment the point that seems to be troubling the government House leader with respect to Bill C-16.

Clearly I have indicated on behalf of the official opposition that we are prepared to consent to that bill being approved in final form in the House today and put on the list for royal assent this afternoon at 5:30.

My understanding was that the Bloc Québécois made the same offer earlier today. I believe I now see the deputy House leader for the NDP again nodding the same kind of consent.

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you would ask the House if there is unanimous consent to agree to all of the final steps that are required with respect to Bill C-16 so that this bill can be put on the list for royal assent this afternoon at 5:30.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I can understand that the Liberal House leader has a lack of confidence in the ability of his leader to carry him through an election, but I did not realize he had such a lack of confidence that he thought it would take a few years for that confidence to return.

However, the amendment only just arrived. It took the Liberal senators almost six months to figure out what they wanted to do with a very short bill. I honestly have to say that I have not even seen the bill, which arrived last night in its amended form. Perhaps we should look at it as a government before we decide what we are going to do when we consider the amendments that were put to us.

I know there is a different standard on that side, in that we should do what the Liberals say in 12 hours and they should do what we say in maybe a year or two, but we think it should be a little more even.

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

There is no motion before the House, so I think we will move on.

I believe the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington is rising on a question of privilege.

Parliamentary PrecinctPrivilegeOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a matter of privilege regarding something that has been in the news the last little while.

Two members of this House, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering and the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, two days ago took several boxes of documents that they purport to have found in drawers and filing cabinets in what were formerly the Conservative offices, then the opposition offices, and have gone through them and have found and retained what they say are documents that may be of interest to the public for future release. I can quote from their press release as to exactly what they call these documents.

At any rate, they returned a number of the documents, including personnel files. With regard to retaining them, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering said that “the Liberal caucus is retaining possession of some of the documents to determine whether or not they contain other issues that are in the public interest”. This is implying that they have gone through these files in sufficient detail to set aside some for further examination.

In addition, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering said:

Today we're returning five years worth of personal performance appraisals of Conservative staffers that this government negligently left behind.

These are confidential documents on their own staff. Such gross ineptitude makes me nervous about how this government handles other issues of a private nature.

The documents then were boxed up and shipped down the street to the Langevin Building and the Prime Minister's Office.

The reason I rise on this is that, first of all, one of the members of the staff--and I believe there were about 30 members of the then opposition leader's staff whose personnel files were taken--of the then leader of the opposition, and before that of what was then the third party, the Reform Party, was myself. It seems reasonable to assume that further assurance is needed, more than simply the word of these two MPs, that these files have been returned unopened, unexamined and were not looked at and that none of them have been distributed or shown in any way.

I mention this in particular because some of what has been said by these hon. members in connection with this case appears, perhaps, to be at variance with the truth. I draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, a number of indications of this.

First of all, there are the boxes. One of them contained an address label and this is clearly visible on TV footage of the boxes being transported down Wellington Street. The address label contains in the “from” area, “145 Well”, or in other words, Room 145 or Suite 145, Wellington. I remember this well, of course, because I worked there for a period of time. Second, visible is “320-3”, with no building indicated. That is the address of the Conservative research group on the third floor of the Wellington Building, not the building to which they were being transported.

Therefore, it is highly improbable that this sticker was attached by Liberal researchers or staff. Rather, it was probably a pre-existing label. That suggests that these documents were not in fact found in locked or unlocked drawers, cabinets and so on, but rather were actually in these boxes from the very start. That is one thing.

The second thing is that I have consulted with the individual at the Prime Minister's Office who now has possession of the boxes. It is reported to me that on the sides of the boxes, or at least on one of the boxes or perhaps several of them, are the words “Conservative files for Kev”. This is a possible reference to Kevin Bosch, the lead opposition researcher who has devoted many years of his career to doing opposition research with the intention of digging up documentation that might be damaging to the parties he is opposed to. So that certainly, particularly for the Conservative Party, is a matter for concern.

This puts into question the assertion that there was gross negligence on the part of the government in leaving these documents behind. It suggests, rather, that the documents were in fact boxed up to be shipped. We do not know why they were not shipped but presumably they fell into the hands of the opposition leader's office and staff a little more than a year ago at the time that the offices were being changed.

This means that if there is negligence, in that nobody noticed they were there, then that negligence would actually fall on the Leader of the Opposition and his staff. On the other hand, there is another possibility that these documents were retained with the intention of pulling out documents that were found to be potentially embarrassing and leaking them over a period of time as we get close to an election, or even in a writ campaign, and that would seem to be a robust hypothesis given the fact that certain documents were leaked and we were told that others are being saved for future consideration.

My concern in this matter of privilege is that it is difficult for me as a member of Parliament to carry out my functions as a member of Parliament when the only assurance I have that my documentation has not been treated in such a manner is the assurance of a member of Parliament whose recount of what has happened appears on some particulars to be at variance with the facts. This as well may constitute a contempt of Parliament on the part of that member.

At the very least, I would think it would be necessary to have proactive statements confirming that the personnel documents, and my personal document in particular, were treated with extreme respect and some demonstration be made of that from the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering and the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine who certainly were the ones who showed the folders to the press two days ago, as well as from the hon. Leader of the Opposition and his predecessor, the interim opposition leader in whose office these documents were kept and whose staff must have had them in their possession prior to the time at which these two hon. members drew them to the attention of the media, first selectively, and then as they returned the documents.

I note in this regard that Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada on page 163 states:

That any act within the precincts of Parliament could constitute a matter of privilege.

He defines the precinct as the various parliamentary buildings, including the building,

--that was known, formerly the Metropolitan Life building which is now referred to as the Wellington building.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Wellington building is the building in which the events I have described took place and where the Leader of the Opposition's office is found and where my file was.

Maingot also points out on page 229,

Contempt is whatever a House finds as contempt

He cites Erskine May's definition:

Any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his “parliamentary” duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.

An example of a ruling on a new contempt of Parliament, can be found on March 12, 1996, when the Speaker found a prima facie question of privilege when it was found that a member acted inappropriately after he sent out a press release inviting Quebeckers still serving in the Canadian Forces to integrate into a Quebec armed forces in the event of a yes outcome following the Quebec referendum.

While it is certainly true that the case of the members I mentioned are not identical to the 1996 case, one could argue that their actions are just inappropriate, that they destroy the atmosphere of trust and honour that are necessary to act effectively as a House and that they, therefore, are in contempt of Parliament, that it certainly is a breach of my privileges and is worthy of examination by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, if you find that there is a prima facie case of privilege, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Parliamentary PrecinctPrivilegeOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I appreciate the work of the hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington and I assure him that I will await response from the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering and the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

I have not seen the files except in a photograph in the newspaper showing the two hon. members outside the Wellington Building wheeling a crate of files up Wellington Street, which I did recognize in the photograph. Of course, I only had what words were printed under the picture as evidence as to what was on the cart. Clearly, the Chair is not in a position to give much of an opinion on this matter at this point,

However, I am sure those hon. members will come to the House in due course and explain whatever is necessary and then the Chair will be able to make a ruling as to whether there has been a question of privilege raised by the hon. member and, if so, whether a motion to refer to the matter to the committee should be permitted. I am prepared to deal with that when the hon. members come back.

Business of Supply--Opposition Motion--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now ready to give a ruling that everybody has been waiting a week for on the point of order raised on Wednesday, March 21, 2007 by the hon. government House leader alleging the inadmissibility of the opposition motion placed on the notice paper on March 20, 2007 in the name of the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

I would like to thank the hon. Government House Leader for raising this matter, as well as the hon. member for Wascana, the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean and the hon. member for Vancouver East for their interventions.

In order to recapitulate the contributions made by the hon. House leaders and because of the complexity of the question before us, I have regrouped thematically the arguments presented.

The first argument to consider is the fundamental issue of balance between the majority and the minority in the proceedings of the House. This was raised by the government House leader when he stated that allowing the opposition motion appearing on the notice paper to proceed would “deny the minority parties...the opportunity and protections that exist in the Standing Orders for a full debate”.

The hon. member for Vancouver East also touched on this concept when stating that, “the smallest party in the House, would be the ones who would often be the victims of this kind of procedure”.

Second, the concept of the government prerogative to schedule government business was argued. The government House leader cited Standing Order 40(2) to the effect that, “Government Orders should be called and considered in such sequence as the government determines”.

Noting that the Standing Orders may be set aside temporarily only by unanimous consent and without setting a precedent, the minister contended that the motion in question proposes effectively to enact legislation under the rubric of supply, in violation of constitutional conventions reserving to the government the right to move government business.

The hon. members for Wascana and for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean invoked Standing Order 81(13) and House of Commons Procedure and Practice (Page 724) respectively, to the effect that opposition motions “may relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”.

This touches upon the third issue that I wish to address today namely, as the hon. member for Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean underscored, the “wide scope on supply” afforded to members by the Standing Orders with respect to opposition motions and the correlative practice of the Chair not to intervene unless a supply motion is, “clearly and undoubtedly irregular”, i.e., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument.

Finally, the hon. member for Vancouver East pointed out that the proposed opposition motion would, if adopted, have the effect of an omnibus bill, bundling together a group of legislative proposals in order to expedite their passage. This fourth issue, which touches on the complexity of the motion itself, also requires separate examination.

As I pointed out when I ruled the motion unacceptable, the proposed opposition motion would have the effect of imposing closure or time allocation on four bills simultaneously, something which, in my view, would be out of order even if the government were to propose it.

If the government wanted to do what this motion does, it would need to move a motion after due notice and, in the absence of agreement among the parties, it might resort to closure to have the matter decided and that would come only at a cost of at least one and one-half sitting days.

I would also note that our precedents, with the exception of cases dealing with the reinstatement of bills, would not permit the Chair to allow a government motion to deal with more than one bill in such a circumstance. At best then, the government could expedite passage of only one bill at a time through several stages using this procedure.

The arguments presented in this matter go to the essence of parliamentary procedure and provide a good opportunity for the Chair to remind the whole House of the underlying principles which support the work we do here.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 209, states that procedure is “at once the 'means' used to circumscribe the use of power and a 'process' that legitimizes the exercise of, and opposition to, power”.

Naturally, over time, our rules have evolved. The House has seen fit to adopt rules from time to time to govern how business is to be transacted and certain changes—closure in 1913 and time allocation in 1969, among others—have effectively given the government, in a majority situation, greater control over the advancement of its business. Nevertheless, to quote House of Commons Procedure and Practice (p. 210) again:

—it remains true that parliamentary procedure is intended to ensure that there is a balance between the government’s need to get its business through the House, and the opposition’s responsibility to debate that business without completely immobilizing the proceedings of the House.

At the present time, the chair occupants, like our counterparts in House committees, daily face the challenge of dealing with the pressures of a minority government, but neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.

Hon. members are all aware of situations in committees of this Parliament where, because decisions of the chair are subject to appeal, decisions that were procedurally sound have been overturned by the majority on a committee.

Unlike the situation faced by committee chairs, a Speaker's decision is not subject to appeal. All the more reason then for the Chair to exercise its awesome responsibility carefully and to ensure that the House does not, in the heat of the moment, veer dangerously off course.

The Speaker must remain ever mindful of the first principles of our great parliamentary tradition, principles best described by John George Bourinot, Clerk of this House from 1890 to 1902, who described these principles thus:

To protect the minority and restrain the improvidence and tyranny of the majority, to secure the transaction of public business in a decent and orderly manner, to enable every member to express his opinions within those limits necessary to preserve decorum and prevent an unnecessary waste of time, to give full opportunity for the consideration of every measure, and to prevent any legislative action being taken heedlessly and upon sudden impulse.

In the present case, although the government does not have a majority in the House, it still has a duty to present to the House a legislative program and is entitled to expect that it could do so with all the responsibilities but also all the protections associated with our balanced framework of parliamentary law.

It is for this reason that the issue of prerogative is so important. The government has certain prerogatives; the opposition has certain other prerogatives. Our rules now even provide that private members have certain prerogatives. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at page 390:

Different categories of business have developed over the years in response to the need to adapt to the organization of House business. Some categories are now uniquely reserved for the government or the opposition; some are reserved for private members—

As the government House leader has pointed out, these prerogatives are given effect by the Standing Orders. He has cited Standing Order 40(2) as an example but there are many more. Only a minister may move closure or time allocation. Only a minister may move to suspend the Standing Orders pursuant to Standing Order 53. Only a minister may move a motion under Standing Order 56.1 when unanimous consent has been denied. The Chair has consistently ruled--and there are Speakers' rulings from 1928, 1944, 1961 and 1982 on this point--that any motion pertaining to the arrangement of the business of the House should be introduced by the ministry.

In short, as Mr. Speaker Fraser ruled in 1988, and I refer to the debates of July 13 of that year at page 17506, it is, with very few specific exceptions “the government's unquestioned prerogative to determine the agenda of business before the House”.

In a similar vein, several of our rules give the prerogative to the opposition--Standing Order 81(4)(a) concerning the consideration of estimates in committee of the whole is an example--and an entire chapter of our Standing Orders describes the prerogatives of private members with regard to the business that they may bring forward.

Where these prerogatives intersect is with regard to supply day opposition motions. Supply is government business; the government designates supply days or allotted days on which the opposition can exercise what Marleau and Montpetit has called “the right to have its grievances addressed before it considers and approves the financial requirements of the Crown” by proposing motions for debate. I refer hon. members in this regard to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 701.

As the hon. members for Wascana and Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean reminded us, such motions “may relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”. Members “enjoy a very wide scope in proposing opposition motions on Supply days and, unless the motion is clearly and undoubtedly irregular (e.g., where the procedural aspect is not open to reasonable argument), the Chair does not intervene.”

Past interventions from the Chair have, accordingly, been rare, restricted to cases in which a motion is “clearly and undoubtedly irregular”. Speaking to this principle, Mr. Speaker Fraser declared that “the use of an allotted day ought not to be interfered with except on the clearest and most certain procedural grounds”. I quote from the Debates of June 8, 1987 at page 6820.

Still, there is nothing whatever in the relevant procedural authorities to suggest that opposition motions on supply days were ever conceived of as a means of fast-tracking bills already present elsewhere on the order paper. Indeed, it is evident from their historical background that opposition motions on supply days were never envisaged as an alternative to the legislative process.

While we are reflecting this afternoon on the nature of opposition motions on supply days, may I say that neither were they created to address concerns about House procedure. To be sure, as hon. members have pointed out, the phrasing of Standing Order 81(13) is very broad indeed, stating as it does:

Opposition motions on allotted days...may relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada--

In the same vein, I myself as Speaker in a ruling on October 31, 2002 mused that the opposition has “the right to move whatever motion it chooses to on an opposition day”. It should come as no surprise therefore that, sheltered by that very broad umbrella, the House may have strayed rather far from the original crux of the matter, namely, airing grievances before voting supply to fund the Crown's program. Perhaps the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs can review these Standing Orders to consider whether revisions to their wording might be helpful in realigning them with their original mission.

The motion which concerns us proposes to expedite the passage of four government bills simultaneously via their deemed adoption at all remaining stages. In this it is similar in form and substance to motions from government ministers which seek to expedite the legislative business of the House. There is, however, a crucial distinction between the two: although both seek the implementation of their provisions notwithstanding any rule or practice of the House, except in very well-established circumstances such as for the reinstatement of bills at the beginning of a session, for example, the government generally may not move such motions without unanimous consent.

Such motions permit the government to rearrange the business of the House by means of temporary suspensions of the Standing Orders. They represent a well-established practice whereby the government introduces motions pertaining to the arrangement of the business of the House. Furthermore, such abbreviations of the legislative process can take place only by unanimous consent, which may be difficult to obtain in respect of the simultaneous fast-tracking and adoption of more than one bill.

The very high threshold of unanimous consent creates a pivotal safeguard in ensuring that every measure before the House receives full and prudent consideration. What is being proposed not only does away with that safeguard, it takes advantage of the stringent regime governing supply days. In that regard, for example, it is important to note the precedence accorded to opposition motions over all government supply motions on allotted days.

Furthermore, recent amendments to the rules dealing with such motions offer an especially stringent regime: first, the rules provide what amounts to an automatic closure mechanism, since the motion comes to a vote at the end of the day, thus guaranteeing a decision on the motion; and second, no amendment to the motion is possible without the consent of the mover.

In stark contrast, any motion which could be brought forward by the government to expedite consideration of a bill would be debatable and amendable, and the imposition of time allocation or closure would necessitate a separate question from the motion proposing adoption of the bill at a particular stage or stages in the legislative process.

This brings the Chair to the important point raised by the hon. member for Vancouver East regarding the complexity of the motion. The motion in question seeks to fast-track not one but four separate bills. Since it is a supply motion, any amendment would require the consent of the motion's sponsor and the unanimous consent of the House would not be required for adoption of the motion.

The Chair has been unable to find any examples even of government-sponsored multi-bill motions being moved after due notice, with the exception, as noted earlier, of motions to reinstate legislation at the beginning of a session. Even in these cases, the authority of the Speaker to divide a motion is unquestioned.

On this point I refer hon. members to pages 299–300 of Debates for October 4, 2002 where I ruled that just such a motion be divided. In doing so, I quoted p. 478 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice which states:

When a complicated motion comes before the House (for example, a motion containing two or more parts each capable of standing on its own), the Speaker has the authority to modify it and thereby facilitate decision-making for the House.

This passage is supported by rulings from Mr. Speaker McNaughton in 1964, see Journals of June 15, 1964, pages 427-31, and another from Mr. Speaker Fraser in 1991, see Debates, April 10, 1991, page 19312.

There is little doubt that the motion of the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine is a complicated one since it concerns four distinct legislative proposals, each of which would be disposed of, in some cases through more than one stage, through a single vote of this House. The motion before us clearly seeks to circumvent the rules and practices governing the legislative process in a manner prejudicial to the proper consideration of proposed legislation.

By curtailing the legislative process, interrupting the consideration of bills in committee, and eliminating opportunities for amendment at various stages of the legislative process without the requirement for unanimous consent, a fertile imagination is not required to imagine that supply motions similar to this could be used to deprive the government of effective control over the content and disposition of its own bills once these have been introduced to the House. Not only would this violate the entire ethos of the business of supply, it would clearly interfere with the “unquestioned prerogative” of the government and it would do so in a manner utterly inconsistent with the limited exceptions contemplated by House of Commons Procedure and Practice and other authorities.

By way of analogy, hon. members might wish to consider their own reaction should the government seek to interfere with the consideration of private members' business in a similar fashion. In the Chair's view, any of these scenarios of usurpation, whether the opposition seeks to hijack the government's agenda or the government the opposition's or that of private members, might reasonably be characterized as a “tyranny of the majority” of a type unforeseen even by Monsieur Bourinot.

As your Speaker, it is my duty to remind the House of some of these fundamental tenets of parliamentary procedure. It is now up to the House to determine how it wishes its procedures to evolve. In the meantime, the Chair is not in doubt that in this case, the motion of the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine as it appeared on the notice paper was “clearly and undoubtedly irregular” and therefore out of order.

I apologize for taking all this time of the House to come back with these lengthy reasons, but I felt that the issue was an important one and I wanted to make very clear what the views of the Chair were on this matter.

Message from the SenateOral Questions

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill:

Bill C-37, An Act to amend the law governing financial institutions and to provide for related and consequential matters.