Madam Speaker, I am rising in response to the point of order raised by the hon. member for Winnipeg North.
Standing Order 78(3) states that the amount of time allotted to any stage of a bill shall be not less than one sitting day. However, it also does not mean we should not take that particular reference to be interpreted as the length of the sitting day on which the bill is scheduled for debate or when the motion is moved.
Standing Order 78(3) affords the government the option to allot a specific number of “days” or “hours”. Sometimes time allocation motions allot sitting days. When a motion refers to a sitting day, we take the timeframe of a sitting day literally. It does not mean how long the day is or what the circumstances dictating the time available for government orders might be. On other occasions, time allocation motions have allotted hours. The hours allotted in those motions were respected.
Let me give some examples. On November 13, 1975, a motion allotting five further hours for the second reading stage of Bill C-58, which amended the Income Tax Act, was adopted; similar motions were adopted on March 10, 1976, for Bill C-68 amendments to the then Medical Care Act; on March 29, 1977, for Bill C-27, the Employment and Immigration Reorganization Act; and on November 22, 1977, for Bill C-11, another bill to amend the Income Tax Act. In relation to Bill C-18, the National Transportation Act, 1986, a motion allotting four hours for report stage and four hours for third reading was adopted on June 15, 1987.
Most recently, the House adopted two such motions last Thursday, June 7, 2012. One allotted five hours for third reading of Bill C-25, pooled registered pension plans act, and the other allotted seven hours for second reading of Bill C-24, the Canada–Panama free trade bill. Needless to say, both motions were in order last week and each was adopted by the House.
Of interest, regarding the 1987 case, the report and third reading stages happened to be the second order of the day called by the government on each sitting day, and the debates were interrupted by the Speaker after the expiry of the time provided for in the time allocation motion but before the end of government orders. It should be further noted that on both occasions, after Bill C-18 was dealt with, the government called a third order of the day.
Looking at our recent example of Bill C-25, yesterday's order paper said we had 2 hours and 24 minutes of debate remaining on the bill. Had we resumed debate on it at 3:00 p.m., after question period last Thursday, the debate would have ended before the end of government orders at 5:30 p.m. With routine proceedings and the consideration of procedural motions, it is not inconceivable to end up with a situation where only a few minutes are available to debate a bill on a given ordinary sitting day. Those few minutes would satisfy the minimum requirement of Standing Order 78(3) if the motion allotted one sitting day.
Our motion refers to hours. When dealing with hours, it makes more sense to interpret the minimum requirement of one sitting day differently because the number of available hours could vary from day to day.
As members are aware, not every sitting day is the same. Under the usual calendar, five and a half hours are set aside for both routine proceedings and government orders on Mondays; six and a half hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays; two and a half hours on Wednesdays and Fridays. The longer routine proceedings take, the less time there is for government orders. When allotting hours, the reference to one sitting day should be interpreted as a sitting day and not the sitting day on which the bill has been scheduled for debate.
I would argue that when referring to hours in a time allocation motion, the minimum allotment of hours should be consistent with the shortest day available under the current Standing Orders, and that is two and a half hours, and that assumes we breeze through routine proceedings in a heartbeat. Of course, our motion contemplates ten hours of debate for report stage and a further eight hours for third reading, which in both cases is at least three times the two and a half hour figure I just cited.
On three of the five sitting days each week, the time available for government business is routinely no more than five hours. Some may ask what impact there may be, given that we are operating under extended hours. I would say it should not be a relevant consideration. Calling government orders is the prerogative of the government. In other words, any item on the order paper could be called this week or this fall, when we are not in extended sittings. However, should the fact we adopted a motion yesterday under Standing Order 27(1) bear relevance to the chair's consideration, let me advance two further points.
First, Wednesday, tomorrow for example, would have at most eight hours for government orders, and the coming Friday is operating in the usual schedule, with two and a half hours for government business.
The government could, if it so chooses, call Bill C-38 on either of those dates, and yet 10 hours could not be fully used in a single day. In fact, I believe everyone understands that we will be calling Bill C-38, in part, tomorrow.
Second, the 1987 precedent that I cited earlier speaks to our present circumstances. On Friday, June 12, 1987, the House adopted a special order respecting sitting hours, effective the following Tuesday. Now, recall that the time allocation motion was adopted on Monday, June 15. The House, knowing that extended hours were upon it, adopted the time allocation order for four hours for each of two different stages of the bill.
Report stage was called on Tuesday, June 16, as the second order of the day, and after all of the recorded votes at report stage there were still a couple of hours left in the day for a third item of government business. Third reading followed the next day, when again there was more than ample time in the day to accommodate that debate.
Looking at the cases I cited earlier, but in both the case of Bill C-18 in 1987 and Bill C-25 on Thursday last week, the minimum requirement of one sitting day was not interpreted by the Speaker as the length of the days on which either bill was scheduled.
Although no ruling was then given in 1987, I would submit that Mr. Speaker Fraser likely interpreted the length of the shortest available day to be the minimum time required by the Standing Orders, and as far as I can surmise, it would also have been the view of the Speaker last week.
Accordingly, I believe our motion should be allowed to stand for the same reason that it allots a greater number of hours than the shortest day on which it could be scheduled. Indeed, it will be a longer number of hours than in the normal circumstance would be provided any day at any other time of the year that we would be debating it in the House.
I believe the precedents are amply demonstrative that the motion you have before you, Madam Speaker, is in order.