I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on December 8, 2011, by the member for Guelph in relation to proceedings on Bill C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts.
I would like to thank the member for having raised this matter, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the House Leader of the Official Opposition for their interventions.
In raising his concerns, the member for Guelph argued that the Federal Court finding on the actions of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board in relation to Bill C-18 supported his claim that the manner in which the government managed proceedings on the bill violated his privileges as well as those of other members, and rendered the bill and therefore the House's consideration of it, illegal. Given the court's finding, he asked me as Speaker to reconsider the basis for my previous ruling of October 24, 2011 on this same matter, in which I reminded the House that it is the responsibility of the courts and not the Speaker to rule on legal matters.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons stated that the decision of the court on this matter in no way limited Parliament's right and ability to legislate, and reminded the House of the undisputed principle that a previous Parliament cannot fetter a future one. Furthermore, he claimed that the House, having already made a decision on this bill, was no longer seized of this matter and, thus, had no jurisdiction to deal with it.
The member for Guelph argues that the decision rendered by the Federal Court has a bearing on the question of the correctness of our proceedings in relation to Bill C-18. He maintains that, despite the Chair having already answered the question in previous rulings, the court decision somehow creates new circumstances.
It is the view of the Chair that the fundamental issue remains unaltered; namely, that the member for Guelph is essentially still asking the Speaker to rule on a matter of law. This, as I have gone to great lengths to explain previously, is something the Speaker cannot do.
In my ruling of October 24, 2011, on page 2405 of the House of Commons Debates, I commented on a long-standing principle that has guided me and my predecessors on the Chair's role in interpreting constitutional and legal matters. I stated:
...it is important to delineate clearly between interpreting legal provisions of statutes—which is not within the purview of the Chair—and ensuring the soundness of the procedures and practices of the House when considering legislation—which, of course, is the role of the Chair.
At the same time, I reminded the House of Speaker Fraser's ruling of April 9, 1991, at pages 19233 and 19234 of the Debates, in which he declared that the Chair must avoid interpreting, even indirectly, the Constitution or a statute.
On April 12, 2005, at page 4953 of the House of Commons Debates, Speaker Milliken stated much the same thing when asked to rule on the admissibility of a bill that would have required him to interpret the constitutionality of a clause of proposed legislation. He stated at the time:
...the Speaker does not make rulings on matters of law; on parliamentary law perhaps, but not on the law of the Constitution or on other laws that affect us. The question of the interpretation of the section of the bill is one that would be determined by a court if the bill in fact becomes law. At the moment, it is a bill before Parliament and Speakers in the past have not ruled on the constitutionality or otherwise of clauses in a bill....Rulings of courts may chuck out some of the clauses that are adopted by this House in a bill, but that happens after the House has passed it and the Senate has passed it and it has received royal assent, because even the courts have no jurisdiction in the matter before.
In the same ruling, Speaker Milliken spelled out for the House the very limited kinds of legal and constitutional matters that Speakers may rule on when he stated:
What they may decide is whether the terms of a bill are in compliance with a prior resolution of this House, a ways and means motion, for example, or a royal recommendation in respect of a money bill, but beyond that, Speakers do not intervene in respect of the constitutionality or otherwise of provisions in the bills introduced in this House.
That the Federal Court granted a breach declaration regarding the actions of the minister with respect to the bill does not fundamentally change either the nature of the question being raised or the role of the Speaker in answering it. To find that the member was obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his duties because he participated in the legislative proceedings on a bill that was allegedly improperly before the House would require me to rule on the legality of the bill and this is simply outside the bounds of what can be considered by the Speaker.
Instead, just as I did in my ruling of October 24, 2011 on this same matter, I must again confine myself to the procedural aspects of the question. Now, as then, I can find no evidence to substantiate the member's claim that there has been an interference with members' ability to fulfill their parliamentary duties. As such, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank all members for their attention.