Mr. Speaker, I rise in response to the government House leader's intervention yesterday afternoon with respect to the question of privilege I raised earlier in the day in regard to the legitimacy of the government's tabling Bill C-18, which in effect requires members of this House to engage in a process that, according to a statute previously passed by the House, violates a specific provision of that statute.
The government House leader appeared somewhat concerned over the fact that in my submission I failed to cite precedents. I feel obligated to address his concerns. His point, apparently, was that “....questions of law are beyond the jurisdiction of the Chair”.
What the government House leader overlooked the beginning of the quote he referenced. Perhaps it was not provided to him or perhaps it was purposely overlooked. It is on page 261 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition. I will read the whole quote. I will not leave part of it out.
Finally, while Speakers must take the Constitution and statutes into account when preparing a ruling, numerous...
Note the word “numerous”. It is not stating “all”.
....Speakers have explained that it is not up to the Speaker to rule on the “constitutionality” or “legality” of measures before the House.
The government House leader and government members generally would do well to spend a little more time reading House of Commons Procedure and Practice before venturing forth.
The following is found at page 261 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, and refers to a statement of Speaker Fraser from Debates, April 14, 1987:
Speaker Fraser summed the fine balancing act that is often involved in adapting old rules to new situations: “When interpreting the rules of procedure, the Speaker must take account not only of their letter but of their spirit and be guided by the most basic rule of all, that of common sense”.
I would also point to the conclusion contained in the same page in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which states:
Speakers have never shied away from creating new precedents when faced with an apparent contradiction between Standing Orders and contemporary values.
It is my submission that this is one of these instances.
I know, Mr. Speaker, you are our elected Speaker, new in the job, and this is really an opportunity for you, in looking at these precedents, to establish fair play that protects the interests of Canadians and prevents Parliament from violating its own acts that it passed at a previous time.
I would now draw the attention of the Speaker to the following, found at page 720 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition:
The enactment of a statute by Parliament is the final step in a long process that starts with the proposal, preparation and drafting of a bill. The drafting of a bill is a vital stage in this process—one which challenges the decision makers and drafters to take carefully into account certain constraints, since a failure to abide by these may have negative consequences in relation to the eventual interpretation and application of the law and to the proper functioning of the legislative process.
I would ask you, Mr. Speaker, to take special note of the reference to the fact that decision-makers, in this case the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food:
....take carefully into account certain constraints, since a failure to abide by these may have negative consequences in relation to the eventual interpretation and application of the law and to the proper functioning of the legislative process.
I would also reference footnote 59 at page 721 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition. It refers to the guide to making federal acts and regulations, which is found on the Government of Canada, Privy Council office website.
In the introduction to that document, the following statement is found with respect to the law-making process:
If the process is carefully planned and competently carried out, the resulting legislation will achieve the Government's goals while adhering strictly to the principles and policies underlying our legal system.
Within that same document, under the section “Acts of General Application”, the following statement is found:
Those involved in the preparation of bills will take into account the requirement of explicitness so as to ensure that any political decision to exclude the operation of a presumptively applicable law is legally effective.
Finally, I would reference the following from the document under the section entitled “Legal Practises of General Application”. It states:
In addition to rules stated in Acts of general application, there are also a number of important principles that form part of the legal system. They operate in much the same way and must also be taken into account in developing legislative proposals. The following are examples of these principles:
the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness, which require that a person whose rights or interests are affected by an administrative decision be given a reasonable notice of the proposed decision and an opportunity to be heard by an unbiased decision maker;
I do not want to take too much more time but I will now turn to the issue at hand, namely, that, in the context of this legislation, my privileges have been violated due to the expectation that I will be required to engage in and cast a vote upon legislation that begins from the premise of a deliberate and overt violation of statutes passed by the House with the expectation that those provisions would be respected most of all by members of the House.
I will quote from page 140 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition. It states:
The purpose of raising matters of “privilege” in either House of Parliament is to maintain the respect and credibility due to and required of each House in respect of these privileges, to uphold [the laws of Parliament].
In his reference to the Speaker, the government House leader attempted to claim that the question of privilege I have raised has been disposed of by rulings of previous Speakers. For example, he referenced the decision of Speaker Milliken on May 13, 2003, at pages 6123 and 6124 of Debates. Speaker Milliken, in that decision, reminded the House that the issue before him concerned an issue of regulatory authority, stating at page 6123:
I am unable to find a case where any Speaker has ruled that a government, in the exercise of a regulatory power conferred upon it by statute, has been found to have breached the privileges of the House.
Note should be taken, though, of the fact that the matter I have raised relates not to a question of regulatory authority, but rather to the matter as to whether my privileges have been violated as a result of the government tabling legislation in direct contravention to statute passed by Parliament.
I would also note that the reference made by the government House leader to the decision of Speaker Milliken on March 13, 2005 at page 4498-4500 was in relation to an issue of government reorganization in the wake of the defeat of specific legislation. Again, my point being that the decision sought was not in relation to the matter before the House and the citation of this matter as precedent is not applicable.
I would conclude by quoting from page 262 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition. It states:
Determining what is or is not a precedent is not always straightforward. Speaker Fraser once said that “a precedent is something that happened once upon a time and that everyone decided to follow. ... [I]n legal terms, it is usually the consequence of a decision made after argument has been proferred to the Chair ... on a certain point”. The mere occurrence of an event does not make it a precedent, and Speakers have on occasion ruled that a special circumstance justifies a deviation from a known precedent.
I will conclude by repeating the point I raised yesterday. I submit that to place this legislation before the House and to seek the support of the House will require members of the House to endorse legislation that begins from a premise that contravenes the existing law and, thus, places members of the House in an untenable and unacceptable position.