I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on April 1, 2010, by the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons regarding the admissibility of an amendment adopted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in its consideration of Bill C-304, An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable housing for Canadians. The bill containing the amendment in question was reported to the House on March 24.
I wish to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for having raised this issue as well as the hon. members for Joliette and Vancouver East for presenting their views on the matter.
The parliamentary secretary explained to the House that during the consideration of Bill C-304, the members of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities overturned a decision of the chair concerning an amendment to Bill C-304 that had been ruled inadmissible. The committee then proceeded to adopt the amendment.
He pointed out that the purpose of Bill C-304 is to create a national housing strategy and, more specifically, that clause 3 of the bill provides for the minister to consult with the provincial and territorial ministers in order to establish that strategy. The parliamentary secretary stated that the amendment, which allows the province of Quebec to opt out with full compensation, is inconsistent with the purpose of the bill. He also argued that since there was no mention of a potential provincial exemption in the bill as adopted by the House at second reading, the amendment alters the purpose and goes beyond the scope and principle of the bill.
The parliamentary secretary made reference to a committee chairman's ruling on the admissibility of a similar amendment during clause-by-clause consideration of Bill S-3, an act to amend the Official Languages Act (promotion of English and French), by the Standing Committee on Official Languages on October 20, 2005. An amendment to exclude one province from the application of that bill was moved and ruled inadmissible by the committee chair since it was contrary to the principle of the bill.
In his intervention, the member for Joliette stated that, in his view, the amendment in question is admissible since the right of Quebec to be exempted is consistent with the principle of the bill. He also provided many examples of Canada-wide programs or strategies from which the province of Quebec is exempted.
In her intervention, the member for Vancouver East made reference to a Speaker's ruling of January 29, 2008 defining the principle and the scope of the bill. She explained that the principle of Bill C-304 is to develop a housing strategy and that the scope, which encompasses the mechanisms by which the principle is attained, includes the consultations leading to the establishment of the strategy. Furthermore, she claimed that the amendment in question is permissive, not mandatory, and that it merely seeks to clarify the scope of the bill.
As the House knows, the Speaker does not ordinarily intervene on committee matters unless a report has been presented in the House. With respect to legislation, the Speaker has been called upon to deal with such matters after the bill in question has been reported to the House.
The Chair believes that it would be useful to have a look at the amendment in question. It is a new clause added after clause 3 and reads as follows:
The Government of Quebec may choose to be exempted from the application of this Act and may, if it chooses to do so, receive an unconditional payment equal to the total of the amounts that would otherwise be paid within its territory under this Act.
In the Chair's view, there are two elements to this new clause. The first is the Government of Quebec's right to opt out of the strategy, and the second relates to the right to receive financial compensation if it chooses to do so.
With regard to the first element of the amendment, the members for Joliette and Vancouver East both have given examples of Canada-wide programs and policies of which the province of Quebec is exempted. The Chair is in no way questioning that such arrangements exist in current programs or could exist in future programs within specific legislative frameworks. However, the Chair has to determine if such an arrangement as defined by the amendment in question goes against the principle or broadens the scope of this bill as adopted by the House at second reading.
The Chair refers members to clause 3 of the bill which provides elements that should be part of a housing strategy, elements that are, in fact, defining the scope of the bill. The Chair views the nature of those elements as being very different from that proposed by the amendment in question and finds that an opting out provision is a new concept which exceeds the scope as defined in clause 3.
As for the second element, that of payments to provinces, the Chair has studied the bill very closely and finds no reference to payments that could be made to a province under this Act. Payments to provincial governments are not provided for in Bill C-304, and, therefore, it is clear that this element of the amendment goes beyond the scope of the bill.
The Chair also considered a number of precedents. In addition to the example of Bill S-3 cited by the parliamentary secretary, the Chair has found an example of similar amendments submitted at report stage. In fact, when Bill C-20, an Act to give effect to the requirement for clarity as set out in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec Secession Reference, was considered at report stage, amendments seeking the exemption of the province of Quebec were submitted and were found to be inadmissible.
The Speaker then explained in his ruling of March 13, 2000 at Debates page 4375 that:
“...from a strictly procedural perspective…I remain convinced that those amendments the hon. member referred to do in fact go beyond the scope and alter the principle of the bill as already agreed to by the House.”
While the Chair appreciates the efforts to improve proposed legislation made by committees in the course of clause-by-clause consideration, the fact remains that a committee must carry out its mandate without exceeding its powers. In my view, by adopting an amendment that goes against the principle of the bill and that introduces a notion broadening its scope, a committee ventures beyond the role that the House has assigned to it.
Consequently, I must order that the amendment creating clause 3.1 adopted by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities be declared null and void and no longer form part of the bill as reported to the House.
In addition, I am ordering that a reprint of Bill C-304 be published with all possible haste for use by the House at report stage to replace the reprint ordered by the committee.
I thank the House for its attention.