Mr. Speaker, the decision that you will have to make regarding the upcoming treatment of Bill C-45 at report stage is a particularly important one, because your determination will largely settle whether the opposition can effectively make a farce of the procedures of the House and shut down the legislative process, or whether you will give actual meaning to the intent of the Standing Orders and allow the business of the country to be done in a meaningful and democratic fashion.
I will refresh everyone's memory of what we are talking about. We are talking about the interpretation of Standing Order 76(5), which relates to amendments at report stage to any legislation. In particular, we are now talking about the budget implementation bill. This Standing Order sets out the Speaker's power to select and combine amendments at this stage. It states in part, “The Speaker shall have the power to select or combine amendments or clauses to be proposed at the report stage...”. The opposition House leader is advising you, Mr. Speaker, to amend unilaterally this Standing Order to render it ineffective. That should not be the case.
If there is any doubt as to how this should be interpreted, a note was added by previous governments, not a Conservative government but a Liberal government, that reads as follows:
The Speaker will not normally select for consideration any motion previously ruled out of order in committee.... The Speaker will normally only select motions that were not or could not be presented in committee. A motion, previously defeated in committee, will only be selected if the Speaker judges it to be of such exceptional significance as to warrant a further consideration at the report stage. The Speaker will not normally select for separate debate a repetitive series of motions which are interrelated and, in making the selection, shall consider whether individual Members will be able to express their concerns during the debate on another motion.
The most important recent addition states:
For greater clarity, the Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at the report stage and, in exercising this power of selection, the Speaker shall be guided by the practice followed in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.
We recall that there was some public comment after the ruling earlier this spring and the number of amendments allowed. Here I refer to comment by the actual individuals who were involved in the preparation of that section and the changes that were proposed to the Standing Orders. They expressed some disappointment at the ruling that was made and thought that the powers were there for the Speaker to prevent the abuse that we saw earlier this spring, when the House was tied up for many hours by hundreds of votes, none of which changed a single comma, all of which were clearly and evidently an abuse of the process and a massive cost to Canadians in terms of the operation of the House and an inconvenience to members who had other business to do for the purposes of this country.
I will point out that the Standing Orders and the powers in them have a history to them; they do not exist separately and apart. If we review O'Brien and Bosc, there is some reflection on this history at page 777, which states:
In 1955, the House amended its Standing Orders to reflect this practice.
That referred to a previous practice of concurrence in amendments from committee. As O'Brien and Bosc note:
It was agreed that amendments had to be presented to the House and that the motion for concurrence in the amendments had to be disposed of forthwith before the bill was ordered for debate at third reading at the next sitting of the House. The effect of these amendments to the Standing Orders was to eliminate what then constituted the equivalent of report stage. In 1968, the House undertook a thorough revision of its legislative process with the result that all bills, except for those based on supply or ways and means motions, were thenceforth to be referred to standing or special committees, and would not be reconsidered by a Committee of the Whole House. In addition, the House restored report stage [that was the trade-off] and empowered the Speaker to select and group amendments.
That was the management aspect of it.
Therefore, in restoring report stage, effectively, it was not done carte blanche, so that everything had to be considered. There was a recognition that there were some risks. That is why the Speaker was given powers to allow the House to continue to function, powers to limit an abuse through procedural measures and unnecessary, frivolous, vexatious or duplicative amendments.
O'Brien and Bosc go on to state:
In recommending that report stage be restored, the 1968 Special Committee on Procedure believed that stage essential in order to provide all Members of the House, and not merely members of the committee, with an opportunity to express their views on bills under consideration and to propose amendments, where appropriate. For all that, the intent of the Committee was not for this stage to become a repetition of committee stage.
I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that with the amendments we have seen on notice so far, nothing could be closer to an effort to replicate exactly what happened at committee, or could have happened at committee. That was clearly not the intent of establishing report stage.
Report stage was to allow for that rare, unique and relatively uncommon circumstance where an idea had not occurred to someone at committee but that here in the House some felt that an amendment was appropriate, novel and different and sought to bring it forward. However, there is nothing novel in the amendments that we see on notice. There is nothing innovative. There is nothing significantly different from what has been proposed or could have been proposed earlier.
Finally, I will go to the most recent change.
Most recently, in 2001, an additional paragraph was added to the above-mentioned note. This occurred in response to the flooding of the notice paper with hundreds of amendments to certain controversial bills. The new text emphasized that the Speaker would not select motions that were “repetitive, frivolous, vexatious or serve only to prolong debate unnecessarily”. Those are overwhelmingly the amendments that we see on the order paper today. The new provision was designed to respond to the evil that was already occurring and undermining the process of the House.
When changes are made, they are generally responding to a problem that exists. Those new powers exist to deal with that. Mr. Speaker, I submit that they should be exercised by you.
When we reflect on what has happened already in the committee proceedings on the budgetary policy of the government, including ways and means Motion No. 7, the first budget implementation bill, Bill C-38, as well as the present legislation, there have already been almost 4,600 votes on the government's budgetary policy.
How much has changed as a result of all of those votes and amendments to what has been proposed by the government? Not one comma, not one word. That is the clearest evidence that the current amendments represent an abuse of process only designed to try to delay and be vexatious and prolong matters.
My submissions are centred on five points.
First, the clause deletion motions are a repetition of committee proceedings and merely seek to prolong report stage proceedings and, therefore, should not be selected.
Second, in the alternative, if the clause deletion motions are selected, they should be grouped in a manner that recognizes the anticipated will of the House.
Third, the other amendments from the New Democrats and Liberals should not be selected because they were presented at committee, or could have been presented at committee.
Fourth, some of the motions by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands should not be selected on the grounds that they were presented at committee or are similar to amendments dealt with at committee, or that they infringe on the financial prerogative of the Crown.
Fifth, the other report stage amendments from the independent members of Parliament must be grouped in a way that prevents the entire House from being detained in a marathon of votes originated at the whim of, effectively, a single member of Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, as with any bill pending at report stage, you are required to make certain decisions under, among other provisions, Standing Order 76.1(5). Again, this is the one I read earlier about your having the power to select or combine amendments or clauses to be proposed at report stage.
It is in this spirit that I do tender this advice given that the government is scheduling that report stage of Bill C-45 will start tomorrow. Mr. Speaker, I can appreciate that you have a lot to consider today and this evening. I hope you do not have any plans.
Given the duplicated notices from multiple members of each of the two recognized caucuses, for ease of reference, I will refer to those from the members for Winnipeg North, Westmount—Ville-Marie, and Kings—Hants as the Liberal motions, and those from the members for Parkdale—High Park, Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Brossard—La Prairie and Hamilton East—Stoney Creek as the NDP motions.
I would say that the motions to delete clauses are not an effort to amend the bill, but merely repeat what we saw at committee stage. The effect of the adoption of all of the proposed motions to delete clauses would effectively be to eviscerate the bill.
On October 30, the House adopted Bill C-45 at second reading, thereby agreeing to its principle. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance reported the bill without amendment to the House on November 26, after consideration of each and every clause.
It may be justifiable in a minority Parliament for the Chair to accept any questions for the House to decide, because it is difficult to predict the intentions of the majority of members. This is not the case in a majority Parliament in general. There is no reason to substantiate an assumption that the House would use report stage to reverse itself in the decision it took at second reading of Bill C-45. In fact, the course of the almost 4,600 votes so far on the budgetary policy of the government established this quite clearly. I do not think anyone is in any suspense as to the outcome of the number of votes that we have. It is only a suspenseful question of how long the endurance test will be of the votes we will put to the House.
I submit that the report stage motions to delete the preponderance of the clauses in the bill effectively seek not only to reverse the outcome of the second reading vote on the bill, but also constitute a repetition of committee stage of the bill. As I said, that is particularly the case since each clause did carry separately in the clause-by-clause votes.
The second paragraph of the note that is in our Standing Orders accompanying Standing Order 76.1(5) with respect to the Speaker's power to select amendments states in part, “It is not meant to be a reconsideration of the committee stage of a bill”. I repeat that: report stage is not to be a repeat of the consideration that occurred at committee.
On February 27, 2001 the House added this paragraph to the note accompanying Standing Order 76.1(5):
For greater clarity, the Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings....
It then continues on about the British rules.
I read to the House the excerpt from O'Brien and Bosc about the circumstances where there was an abuse with the flooding of amendments. Therefore, we have seen it happen before. We have seen that Parliament has decided that the kind of abuse that occurred in the past should not be allowed to be repeated and, hence, it changed our Standing Orders to reflect that such abuse should not be permitted and that you, Mr. Speaker, have the power to prevent it and to prevent the undue delay.
In the present case we have again seen the notice paper flooded. Today's notice paper lists some 1,662 report stage motions respecting Bill C-45. I am not a betting man, but I am willing to bet anyone in the House that I do not foresee any of them passing.
We know that most of the motions have already been considered at committee. We know that the House has approved overwhelmingly the budget, the budgetary policy of the House and this particular legislation at second reading. By breaking these out into multiple deletion clauses and other frivolous and vexatious amendments, nothing is being achieved but a waste of time, resources and the discrediting of our parliamentary system.
I respectfully submit that the Liberal and NDP report stage motions taken as a whole simply constitute an attempt to reverse the decision of the House at second reading of the bill, but to do so in ultra-slow motion. These amendments would be a reconsideration of committee stage and are of a nature that will merely serve to prolong unnecessarily the proceedings at report stage. Ultimately, if a member seeks to oppose the entirety or the preponderance of a piece of legislation, that member's recourse should lie in voting against the motion on concurrence in the bill in report stage, not in detaining the House through round-the-clock voting.
While your ruling, Mr. Speaker, on June 11, 2012 on Bill C-38 held that clause deletion motions have always been found to be in order, and it must also be noted to have been selected at report stage, I argue that this case can be distinguished. In the present case we are dealing with a second bill to implement provisions of a budget tabled in Parliament. Therefore these clause deletion motions should not find favour under the vigorous exercise contemplated by Speaker Milliken.
I will point out that in the alternative, if selected, certainly these clause deletion motions need to be grouped in an efficient manner. Should you decline to accept my advice, Mr. Speaker, and choose to select those clause deletion motions, I would urge that you use your authority and combine and group them in a fashion that puts them to the House in a sensible and efficient fashion.
I propose that the clause deletions, should they be selected against my advice, be grouped for voting purposes into 10 subsets of economic policy. Under this approach the House would have 10 separate votes on the issue of whether to remove from Bill C-45 the government's proposals in these areas of economic policy:
First, taxation measures, those being any motions to delete clause 1 or clauses in part 1 of the bill.
Second, financial sector measures, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 1 and 3 of part 4.
Third, transportation and border measures, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 2, 5, 12, 16, 18 and 20 of part 4 of the bill.
Fourth, resource development provisions, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 4 and 21 of part 4.
Fifth, aboriginal land designation provisions, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 8 of part 4.
Sixth, labour items, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 10 and 11 of part 4.
Seventh, amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 13 of part 4.
Eighth, measures related to employment insurance, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 15 and 22 of part 4.
Ninth, agricultural items, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 19 of part 4.
Tenth, public sector pension reforms, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 23 of part 4.
This would allow for a broad range of votes on a broad range of topics where the opposition, clearly, is seeking to delete the proposals of the government. It would do so in a fashion that would allow that expression to be made. It would allow them to state, for the record, that they disagree with these proposals by the government. At the same time, they would not be establishing an excessive number of votes to get that point across here in the House.
The committee is, in fact, really the best venue for other NDP and Liberal motions. I understand that each of the report stage motions by the New Democrats and Liberals, which propose to make amendments to the clauses of Bill C-45, were put before the finance committee.
As for the 1,000 report stage motions from the Liberals seeking to add bodies of water to schedule 2 of the bill, I would observe that the committee dealt with a similar number of amendments at the committee level.
Since these motions were first published only this morning, I have not yet had an opportunity to determine whether they are exactly the same bodies of water proposed for inclusion at committee. On this point, I will leave my argument that generally, these motions were either dealt with at committee or could have been proposed there, as they are very similar to what was proposed there.
One additional point I would make about any motions to amend schedule 2 of the bill is on NDP amendment 72, which the finance committee considered and defeated, which I believe answers any further reference to adding bodies of water. That amendment sought to add:
All navigable waters situated in Canada and included in the Atlantic Ocean drainage basin, the Hudson Bay drainage basin, the Arctic Ocean drainage basin, the Pacific Ocean drainage basin or the Gulf of Mexico drainage basin.
In short, any water body not already listed in the schedule would have been addressed by that amendment.
Turning to the Green Party leader, I would suggest that some of her amendments should not be selected. Several of the motions by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands are the same, either in whole or in part, as those presented at committee.
Therefore, I submit that the following report stage motions proposed by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands should not be selected: Motion No. 28, which is the same as Liberal amendment 23; Motion No. 29, which is the same as Liberal amendment 24; Motion No. 74, which is the same as Liberal amendment 64; Motions Nos. 411 to 413 and 424 to 432, which are collectively the same as Liberal amendment 243; Motion No. 434, which is the same as Liberal amendment 249; Motion No. 436, which is the same as Liberal amendment 250; Motions Nos. 439 to 442 and 445, collectively, which are the same, in part, as Liberal amendment 252; and finally, Motion No. 463, which is the same as Liberal amendment 263.
Others are similar in nature to amendments considered at committee. I would argue that the issue was generally considered by the committee. Therefore, report stage motions should not be selected. This would apply to Motion No. 389, which covered ground similar to NDP amendment 21; Motion No. 409, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 240 and NDP amendment 223; Motion No. 440, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 253; Motion No. 441, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 252 and NDP amendment 31; and Motion No. 458, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 257 and NDP amendment 32.
There is also an additional concern raised by some amendments that require a royal recommendation. I have been advised that officials in the Privy Council Office note that at least two of the motions by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands would require a royal recommendation.
Motion No. 381 would increase the government's liabilities in respect of refunds for employment insurance premiums to small business for 2012-13, which expands the provisions in the bill for such refunds for 2011. By adding two additional years, this motion alters the terms and conditions of the original royal recommendation attached to Bill C-45 respecting the provision for such refunds for 2011.
Motion No. 382 also increases spending in a manner that is not currently authorized. The royal recommendation attached to Bill C-45 respecting this provision provides a limit of $1,000 on the refund of premiums, which this motion is proposing to increase to $2,000.
As a result, this would go beyond the terms and conditions of the original royal recommendation. Therefore, a new royal recommendation would be required.
Officials are reviewing the newest amendments published in this morning's notice. If I obtain further information on items that I believe will require a royal recommendation, I will be sure to send those submissions or provide them to you, Mr. Speaker, through this House.
The independent member's motions are an interesting question. They require some attention, because the independent member does not sit on committee. However, they should not be dealt with in such a manner that they represent, effectively, a harassment of the balance of the House. Compared to the several hundred amendments proposed by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands in June, on Bill C-38, her proposals as of today's date are slightly less unreasonable. However, the fact remains that the rights of individual members of Parliament must be balanced with the ability of the majority of the House to dispatch its business with some reasonable, practical speed. Allowing a single member of Parliament to hold the House hostage in a voting marathon is simply not reasonable.
I propose the following arrangement, which could, in future, extend to other government bills.
Report stage motions submitted by a member of Parliament who is not part of a recognized party shall be selected in the manner provided for by our rules. The selected motions may be grouped for debate in the usual fashion. Subject to the next point, the voting patterns for the motions would be set in the usual manner, as required by the ordinary practices of considering legislative amendments. However, one amendment per independent member of Parliament would be chosen to be a test vote. The voting pattern for the rest of that independent member's motions would only be implemented if the test motion were adopted. A rejection of the test motion would be inferred as a rejection of all that member's proposals. Therefore, the balance of the independent member's motions would not be put to the House.
In summary, any ordinary person familiar with parliamentary process, in even a passing way, would agree that more than 1,600 amendments are an abuse of process. Most should not be selected. In summary, this member's proposals are collectively a repetition of the committee stage and only seek to prolong report stage proceedings unnecessarily, particularly through the round-the-clock voting that would result.
There is no evidence that the House would willingly agree to be subjected to this. In fact, the history of how our rules have changed and the Speaker's rulings since 1968 confirm this. The Speaker's power to select amendments is clearly designed to prevent that abuse from happening. Mr. Speaker, the note that accompanies Standing Order 76.1(5) is a further clear articulation and reinforcement of the notion that part of one's obligation as Speaker is to protect not just the rights of the minority or an individual member; it is also to protect the rights of all members of Parliament not to see this place brought to discredit through procedures that are entirely frivolous, vexatious, repetitious, designed to delay and certainly designed to inconvenience all members of Parliament to an extraordinary extent.
I submit that the report stage motions, taken as a whole, run counter both to the spirit and the letter of the rules that govern our proceedings. Therefore, I recommend that most of the report stage motions on notice should not be selected and that the balance should be grouped in the manner I have proposed.
Finally, I point out, Mr. Speaker, your ruling in the spring, even though it was not seen as sufficiently aggressive in some fashion and was not seen as efficient as some would have liked in terms of respecting the ability of this House to continue to function. You clearly said, with respect to the 871 motions placed on the notice paper, the following:
[I]t is clearly not intended, nor do our rules and practices lend themselves to the taking of 871 consecutive votes. With respect to the voting table, substantive amendments have been grouped so as to allow for a clear expression of opinion on each of the subject areas contained in the bill. Motions to delete have been dealt with in conformity with the grouping scheme you outlined....
Mr. Speaker, I have certainly given you a proposal that I think falls squarely within the context of what you established in your spring ruling. Here we see that the effort to be frivolous and vexatious has come close to, and has perhaps by now more than doubled, the effort to do so in the spring. The result, I am quite confident, will be the same in terms of the substantive outcome of those amendments. I invite you to ensure that the processes of this House are managed in such a fashion that our proceedings are not brought into discredit and are not made into a farce. Rather, they can operate in a fashion that allows views to be expressed but that also allows the nation's business to be done.