Mr. Speaker, I rise today on this question of privilege to request, in recognition of the decision made yesterday by Mr. Justice Campbell of the Federal Court, and the need that this House be in compliance with the rule of law and be seen by all Canadians to actively demonstrate its willingness to accept and defer to the rule of law, that you reconsider the basis of your earlier ruling stemming from the question of privilege raised by my colleague, the member for Malpeque, on October 18 of this year.
It is now unambiguous that as members of Parliament our privileges have been violated as a result of our participation in the Minister of Agriculture's single-minded mission to dismantle the Wheat Board without first consulting with and determining the will of western Canadian wheat and barley farmers, as he remains required to do.
In light of the ruling of the Federal Court, dated December 7, 2011, in the case of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board et al. v. The Attorney General of Canada and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, it is now apparent that this honourable House was forced to participate in a debate that is now, and was then, contrary to the rule of law.
In his ruling yesterday, Mr. Justice Campbell ordered the following declaration be made:
--the Minister failed to comply with his statutory duty pursuant to section 47.1 of the Act, to consult with the Board and to hold a producer vote, prior to the causing to be introduced in Parliament Bill C-18,--
The very same argument was made at that juncture by the member for Malpeque, the member for Winnipeg North, and me on October 18. In fact, it has been the position put forward by this party from the very beginning of the Minister of Agriculture's quest to fulfill his ideological obsession.
Let farmers decide. It is a simple enough precept.
Indeed, prior to our last general election on May 2, 2011, a then keen Minister of Agriculture assured farmers in Minnedosa, Manitoba, and in mid-March 2011 that he would not act arbitrarily and that the wishes of farmers would be respected.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the May 2 election, having finally won the majority it coveted for so many years, the Conservative government no longer felt it necessary to grant western grain farmers the very vote on the issue they were guaranteed by statute and was assured them by the minister.
Instead, the government spoke at length about the mandate given by Canadians. Which mandate? There is no mandate that enables the government to trample on the rights of western Canadian grain farmers, or any other Canadians, with impunity. What is the evidence of this complete lack of regard for the law by the government?
In the face of the words of Mr. Justice Campbell where he said, “The second and most important effect is that the minister will be held accountable for his disregard for the rule of law”, the Minister of Agriculture replied, “I can tell you that, at the end of the day, this declaration will have no effect on continuing to move forward. Bill C-18 will pass”.
This is important. The minister does not understand that while the Conservatives can change the law, they cannot break the law while changing it any more than they can ignore procedure within this very House when we make new laws.
Why is it that Parliament or government should be any less bound to laws than they are to the procedures in the House when passing those laws?
Many prairie farmers no doubt voted Conservative, but they did not vote for Conservative candidates only to see their democratic rights stripped from them as soon as the ballots were counted.
Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to Chief Justice Fraser's comments in Reece v. the City of Edmonton, 2011, cited at paragraph 3 of Mr. Justice Campbell's ruling, where the Chief Justice states:
When government does not comply with the law, this is not merely non-compliance with a particular law, it is an affront to the rule of law itself.
Moreover, in Justice Campbell's decision at paragraph 27, he makes reference to a memorandum of fact and law of an intervenor in the case before the Federal Court, which states:
As the Applicants note, western farmers relied on the fact that the government would have to conduct a plebiscite under section 47.1 before introducing legislation to change the marketing mandate of the CWB. Disregarding the requirements of s. 47.1 deprives farmers of the most important vehicle they have for expressing their views on the fundamental question of the single desk. Furthermore the opportunity to vote in a federal election is no answer to the loss of this particular democratic franchise. Until the sudden introduction of Bill C-18, Canadian farmers would have expected the requirements of s. 47.1 to be respected.
When originally introduced by a Liberal government in 1997 and finally passed in 1998, the intention of the bill introducing section 47.1 was to empower farmers with the necessary self-determination before the government could unilaterally or fundamentally alter the Canadian Wheat Board.
At that time it was argued, and I quote:
Throughout its history the Canadian Wheat Board has been governed by a small group of up to five commissioners, all appointed by the Government of Canada without any requirement that anybody be consulted and legally responsible only to the Government of Canada. But in today's dynamic
--this was back in 1997--
and changing marketplace, producers have made it clear that they want the Canadian Wheat Board to be more accountable to them. They want more control....
...empowering producers, enshrining democratic authority which has never existed before, providing new accountability, new flexibility and responsiveness, and positioning farmers to shape the kind of wheat board they want for the future.
The institution of the Canadian Wheat Board is considered so sacrosanct that codified in the statute is a mechanism designed to protect farmers from a government arbitrarily removing the strength and clout of an agency that markets and sells wheat and barley at the best possible price on behalf of all western Canadian grain farmers.
It is for this very reason that in his ruling yesterday Mr. Justice Campbell stated, and I quote:
I accept the argument that the CWB's democratic marketing practices are “significant and fundamental' because they are long standing, and strongly supported by a large number of the some 17,000 grain producers in Western Canada.
On October 18, Mr. Speaker, you spoke to your inability to rule on the legality of a bill, as it was the responsibility of the courts to decide. Well, now the courts have spoken, and just as we argued then, without first having consulted with the Canada Wheat Board and conducting the required plebiscite pursuant to section 47.1, the bill is illegal. These are exactly the circumstances that the member for Malpeque was rightly trying to steer this House away from: a situation wherein this House and its process is in contravention of the law, as is the participation by each of its members in such process.
According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 111:
A Member may also be obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by non-physical means.
Not only have we debated and voted on a bill that was not in the proper form, but our participation and the bill itself are illegal, as the bill did not respect the rule of law, let alone the farmers it affected most. Introducing a bill that was not in the proper form and was in violation of the rule of law for failure to follow the process dictated by section 47.1 has obstructed and interfered with our privileges by non-physical means.
Our Constitution, which we are all collectively responsible to uphold, maintain and protect, is so much more than just a written text; it is also an organism that is responsive to a number of underlying quintessential elements, foremost among them the rule of law.
The government continues to argue with impunity that it need not be bound by the legislation of a past government and that Parliament is supreme. While I agree that Parliament is indeed the paramount Canadian institution, it too is subject to the rule of law. In this case, the process that the minister ought to have followed as set out in section 47.1 of the Canada Wheat Board Act. Given this abuse and other abuses the Speaker is now considering, such as the case before us for the member for Mount Royal, what further abuses can we expect?
At paragraph 67 of the Quebec secession reference, the Supreme Court wrote the following:
The consent of the governed is a value that is basic to our understanding of a free and democratic society. Yet democracy in any real sense of the word cannot exist without the rule of law. It is the law that creates the framework within which the “sovereign will” is to be ascertained and implemented. To be accorded legitimacy, democratic institutions must rest, ultimately, on a legal foundation. That is, they must allow for the participation of, and accountability to, the people, through public institutions created under the Constitution. Equally, however, a system of government cannot survive through adherence to the law alone. A political system must also possess legitimacy, and in our particular culture, that requires an interaction between the rule of law and the democratic principle.
Through any number of actions, the government time and time again demonstrates its willingness to abuse, ignore and delegitimize democratic institutions, be it the Speaker's contempt ruling of spring 2011, the thoroughly outrageous deceit it has spread in the Mount Royal area about its member of Parliament, or its complete contempt of democracy and the rule of law in dealing with the outcome of the Canadian Wheat Board.
At the end of every week, I go home to my constituents, as every member in this place does. We are accountable to them. If anything must prevail, regardless of our party's affiliation, we must be able to say to them that we followed the legal process. This is what we have fought and died for in other lands.
It is not too late for the Minister of Agriculture to appeal to the Prime Minister to ask the Leader of the Government in the Senate to suspend deliberation on the bill at least until the end of the proceedings of the appeal, because if he fails to do so and the Federal Court ruling is upheld on appeal, we shall again find ourselves in the same embarrassing, unfortunate and antidemocratic circumstances in which we find ourselves now. Should the subsequent ruling favour the Canadian Wheat Board, the government could finally and rightfully hold the farmers' vote that is so richly deserved by western wheat farmers; if it does not, then the matter can proceed.
Parliament is supreme--not the Minister of Agriculture , not the Prime Minister, not any one of the members opposite, but Parliament as an institution. Barring an immediate decision by the government to reconsider its ill-conceived actions, I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to find that the actions of the minister and the government, which Mr. Justice Campbell declared to be conduct which is “an affront to the rule of law”, have violated our privilege as members and have sullied the honour of this venerable institution.
Accordingly, I therefore submit, Mr. Speaker, that you should find the matter a prima facie case of privilege. I would be prepared to move one of the following motions: that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for further study and recommendations to the House, that a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint senators of the Federal Court ruling and ask that in light of this ruling, all action on Bill C-18 be suspended.