I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised earlier today by the hon. Leader of the Government in the House of Commons alleging the inadmissibility of the opposition motion currently being debated, standing in the name of the hon. member for Beaches—East York.
The hon. government House leader has raised a number of arguments, but has principally focused on two main points. First, he has argued that an opposition day motion cannot bring into question the conduct of an opposition party and, second, he has suggested that the use of the word “condemn” in relation to an opposition party brings the confidence convention into play, with the intended consequences on that opposition party.
On the first point, the Chair is extremely reluctant to intervene in view of the fact that Standing Order 81(13) and House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 724, make it very clear that such motions “may relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada” and that 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”.
As I stated in a ruling delivered on March 29, 2007:
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.” (Debates, June 8, 1987, p. 6820).
The government House leader's reference to a ruling from 1983, while interesting, speaks to a different era, when anyone, even the government, could move amendments to supply day opposition motions. In that particular case, it was a Progressive Conservative Party motion to which the New Democratic Party moved an amendment that did not respect the Standing Orders in that it did not “relate to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada”.
Of course, Standing Order 85, which requires the consent of the mover for an amendment, now makes that kind of manoeuvre impossible. In the circumstances, it seems unreasonable to extend this 1983 precedent to a motion which clearly has as its central theme a subject matter which falls squarely within the jurisdiction of Parliament.
The Chair does recognize, however, that it must remain vigilant in these matters. As I indicated in the March 2007 ruling referred to earlier, the original purpose of opposition motions was for “…airing grievances before voting supply to fund the Crown’s programme”. At that time, I went on to suggest that perhaps the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs could review the relevant Standing Orders to consider whether revisions to their wording might be helpful in realigning current practice on opposition motions with their original mission.
Almost a year has elapsed since I made that suggestion and I will reiterate that request again today.
On the second point raised by the government House leader, specifically the use of the word “condemn” and its significance, the Chair has considerably less sympathy with the argument being presented. I refer the House to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, at page 37, where it is stated:
What constitutes a question of confidence in the government varies with the circumstances. Confidence is not a matter of parliamentary procedure, nor is it something on which the Speaker can be asked to rule.
This seems rather conclusive and I do not see what I could usefully add.
Accordingly, for the reasons I have just explained, the Chair will allow debate to continue on the motion. I thank hon. members for their attention.