Mr. Speaker, I want to speak a little further on the points that were raised earlier today related to section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act and the question of privilege on the potential contempt allegation that was raised by the member opposite. It was the hon. member for Malpeque who raised those questions.
Our government, of course, considers the bill, which would restore freedom to Canadian farmers, to be of great importance. We returned to office after the last election and after a broad consultation with Canadians, I hasten to add, with a clear set of issues that we promised Canadians we would tackle. Establishing marketing freedom for Canadian farmers was one of those critically important issues.
At the core of my friend's submissions, the hon. gentleman asserts that there would be a breach of section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act if that act is amended or repealed by Bill C-18 without a vote of producers. In short, Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is asking you to interpret the provisions of the statute.
As noted earlier by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, it is well established that questions of law are beyond the jurisdiction of the Chair. In addition to that straightforward argument, which I believe is correct and directly on point here, it may be of some benefit to have some precedents for reference. I would observe that none of the hon. members for Malpeque, Guelph or Winnipeg North referred to any Standing Orders or Speakers' rulings, and of course those rulings are much closer to coming within the Chair's jurisdiction to consider.
I would refer the House to page 261 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which reads as follows:
—numerous Speakers have explained that it is not up to the Speaker to rule on the “constitutionality” or “legality” of measures before the House.
Mr. Speaker Lamoureux, on July 8, 1969, at page 1319 of Journals, ruled on that point. He stated:
I have had occasion in the past to indicate that it is not the responsibility of the Chair to rule on questions of law or on constitutional questions. This ruling has been made in many instances by previous Speakers.
On May 2, 1989, a ruling by Mr. Speaker Fraser articulated at page 1175 of Debates some rationale for this perspective. He stated:
The Speaker should not sit in judgment on constitutional or legal matters. That role belongs more properly to the courts and to the administration of justice. Previous Speakers have been very careful in strictly addressing themselves to matters of a parliamentary or procedural nature while avoiding dealing with constitutional or legal matters.
Another ruling by Mr. Speaker Fraser on April 9, 1991, at page 19233 of Debates, offers a comment which I would suggest is analogous to the situation raised by the hon. member. In that case, the Chair was asked to rule whether a motion to make certain amendments to the Standing Orders contravened the Constitution and the Parliament of Canada Act. Mr. Speaker Fraser observed the following:
The Chair must avoid interpreting in any way, even indirectly, the limits set in the Constitution or the Parliament of Canada Act.
In these circumstances, I would argue that the Canadian Wheat Board Act is no different. Your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, has also made similar rulings, including those found at page 6123 of Debates on May 13, 2003, as well as page 4498 of Debates on March 23, 2005.
I would go further than that. If one is to accept the logic that has been set out by the members opposite, what they are suggesting is that one can, by passing a statute in the House, effectively fetter the future discretion of the House in passing future laws. In effect, by simply stating it is a law, they are saying that some laws stand above others and they essentially become constitutional provisions that cannot be amended by the House. Clearly, that would not be appropriate.
The precedent set by that approach would potentially create a very difficult situation to manage in the future, in the sense that any government could ensure that none of its measures could ever be repealed by a subsequent government through our democratic process simply by providing measures such as those that are referred to in section 47.1, barriers that stand in the way of modification of a statute. The fact is that Parliament reigns supreme on the question of passing statutes, and that includes amending statutes that are already in existence. The only law that stands above that is, of course, constitutional law.
Mr. Speaker, I would suggest for that reason also--that is, the practical, logical problems that would result were Parliament able to fetter the subsequent discretion of all future Parliaments in this fashion--that our democratic system would indeed be paralyzed and held back by the heavy hand of history.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would urge you to find that the claim raised by the hon. member is beyond the jurisdiction of the Chair and that therefore no prima facia question of privilege can be found here.