Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise this evening to address this bill. I have never had the honour of sitting on the statutory instruments regulations committee. It sounds as if it might be a very interesting committee. I do find it most fascinating that the government has chosen to use this particular bill, given that we are allocated four or five hours, which is probably more hours of debate than for many other pieces of legislation. However, at the end of the day, it is going to be interesting. I suspect that we might see differing opinions. We in the Liberal Party have a great deal of concern with regard to this bill. We cannot see ourselves supporting it at this time, and we will have to wait and see what happens at committee stage and see if the government is going to be able to address the issues.
We were talking about a different bill, Bill C-475, during private members' business, and it dealt with personal information. A government member stood up and made a comment on how wonderful it would be to have Bill C-12 debated, given that all sides of the House seemed to be supportive of Bill C-12. The member made the suggestion that he would even be prepared to see that bill debated right away. Maybe if the Conservatives recognize the importance of that bill, they might also want to call that; the last time it was brought before the House being back in September 2011. We will have to wait and see.
Another concern that was raised was in the form of questions that I asked both Conservative speakers in regard to the whole issue of the French language. I come from the province of Manitoba, and the French language issue in terms of laws and regulations was a critically important ruling that came from the Supreme Court of Canada. The ruling reflected on many of Manitoba's laws and, because of not having appropriate translation, the court had virtually given Manitoba a time schedule to pass all sorts of other regulations and laws in order to keep them in effect. It gave us a bit of a sunset clause in terms of needing to pass this in order to comply. Otherwise, we would have had a series of laws, whether provincial legislation or regulation, that would have become void. Therefore, we take the issue very seriously in terms of some of the things, and that is the reason I posed the questions.
In looking at Bill S-12, there are a couple of things that are really important to note. Quite often, the intent might be clear. Individuals, whether members of Parliament or those assisting in trying to create legislation or regulation, will be fairly clear on what it is they are trying to accomplish, the actual intent. The real challenge is to try to take that intent that is being expressed and put it into words, and in our case also to ensure that the translation is in essence saying the same thing whether in English or in French. That is a very important point.
As an example, one of the first issues that came up was related to Air Canada. It was an important issue, through which I suspect many individuals who might be listening in on the debate might get a better sense of the importance of converting intent into appropriate words. I recall the Air Canada Public Participation Act that was brought in a number of years ago. There is absolutely no doubt that, if we look at the debates and some of the discussions that took place in the committee, we would find that the intent that was being spoken was that communities like Winnipeg, Mississauga and Montreal would be guaranteed their overhaul maintenance positions.
This literally translated into thousands of jobs in Winnipeg, hundreds of jobs that were in essence guaranteed in that law. That was the intent.
If we read the legislation that is there today, I think most Canadians, in reading it, would come to the same conclusion to which I came. I raised that issue shortly after being elected back in December 2011. When I raised it, it was to challenge the government. It was to tell the Prime Minister that we had a law that said these overhaul maintenance bases were supposed to be guaranteed. Air Canada was legally obligated to maintain those bases.
The Prime Minister and the government responded by saying that this was not necessarily their interpretation. Apparently, the government found a lawyer somewhere who said that this was not the case, that there was no legal obligation.
It did not matter what we attempted, whether it was through postcards or petitions. Many different stakeholders and individuals read the law and said that the law was pretty clear.
I raise that because at the end of the day is it very important. When we think of a regulation or a law, we often talk about what we are hoping to achieve by passing it, but what is written down on that piece of paper and translated is what counts.
As legislators, we have to take that responsibility very seriously. In recognizing what this legislation is doing, it is offloading a great deal of responsibility. I know the record will clearly demonstrate that this has not necessarily been a government that wants to take responsibility. By allowing this legislation to pass as it is, we need to recognize that there will be more laws being put into place with less scrutiny from the House of Commons.
That is one of the effects that the passage of this bill will have. We need to be very clear on that point.
Another profound impact the legislation will have is in regard to the whole idea of incorporation by reference and what will happen in regard to that secondary language, whether it happens to be English or French. We are in a bilingual nation and there is an expectation. I will provide a little more comment on that in a few minutes.
The legislative summary that was provided by the Library of Parliament had some interesting information that is worth expressing. One point deals with the amount of regulation versus laws in terms of numbers of pages. It is interesting to note, and this is a quote from the parliamentary library, “There are, at the federal level alone, approximately 3,000 regulations comprising over 30,000 pages”. Compare that to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 450 statutes, which comprise roughly 13,000 pages.
Furthermore, departments and agencies submit to the regulations section, on average, about 1,000 draft regulations each year, whereas Parliament enacts about 80 bills during the same period. The executive therefore plays a major role in setting the rules of law that apply to Canadian citizens.
What we will find is that the number of laws in comparison to regulations is decreasing as we rely more on regulations. When we go into or finish second reading and then it goes to committee stage, how often do we hear from government representatives or policy analysts who say “this is what the clause says and further explanation will be provided via regulation?” We hear a lot of that.
Why then should we be concerned? We have to be careful that we recognize the importance of laws versus regulations and the incorporation of references into regulations.
We start off with our Constitution and our Charter of Rights. These are things that no one would question. We then go on to laws that would be passed in the House of Commons, then to regulations. Finally, we would go to the incorporation of reference.
Look at each stage and how difficult it is to change the Constitution. We do not see too much public will or interest in changing the Constitution. In terms of legislation, the same principle applies. There is a process of changing legislation. There is first reading, second reading, committee, third reading, the Senate and finally royal assent. There is a great deal of scrutiny that takes place.
What about regulations? There is a legal examination and registration that have to take place. Ultimately, publication takes place in the Canada Gazette.
We can see the difference between them. Each level has a different sense of accountability or process that we have to follow. If we take just the one component, the legal examination, the examination for the passage of legislation will come through here. There are all sorts of responsibilities that all members, particularly critics, caucuses, vested interest groups and stakeholders of a wide variety, have in ensuring there is some form of due diligence and a sense of accountability.
What about the regulation? When it comes to legal examination, we know there is an obligation for the Clerk of the Privy Council. There have been four things that were cited again, dealing specifically with this bill, that came from the Library of Parliament. Those four things in passing or ensuring that there is some form of legal examination of that regulation.
The first is, “(a) it is authorized by the statute pursuant to which it is to be made”. Another way of saying it is that if we want to change or pass a regulation, we want to ensure it is in compliance with the legislation or a current law that has been passed by the House of Commons.
The second is, “(b) it does not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority pursuant to which it is to be made”. That would be something that would obviously make a whole lot of sense. After all, it cannot override a law, like a law cannot override our Constitution.
The third is, “(c) it does not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms and is not, in any case, inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights”. We are asking that the Clerk of the Privy Council, in consultation with others, ensure that it does not contradict some of those basic rights. Before, if it was a law, it would be something where members, and in particular the Minister of Justice, would play a much stronger role in ensuring the compliance in that regard.
The fourth is, “(d) the form and draftsmanship of the proposed regulations are in accordance with established standards”. This is something where one would expect our legislative counsel and others that assist us to ensure the wording was correct. That is why at the beginning I commented on the importance of wording, that in fact one can be very clear orally what the intent is, but we have to ensure that this intent is put into proper words because it is the wording that is of critical importance.
I would like to quote from the Library of Parliament because I believe it is stated quite well in terms of what specifically, when we think of regulations, is actually at stake in dealing with Bill S-12. I quote directly from the report that has been provided to us from the Library of Parliament. It states:
When Parliament confers a power to make regulations, the regulation-maker usually exercises this power by drafting the text of the regulation to be enacted. The regulation-maker may also decide that the contents of an existing document are what should be used in the regulation it intends to enact. One way to make the contents of such a document part of the text of the regulation would be to reproduce it word for word in the regulation. Alternatively, the regulation-maker can simply refer to the title of the document in the regulation. The contents of the document will then be said to be “incorporated by reference”. The legal effect of incorporation by reference is to write the words of the incorporated document into the regulation just as if it had actually been reproduced word for word. The incorporation by reference of an existing document is no more than a drafting technique, and a regulation-maker need not be granted any specific power in order to resort to this technique. This is referred to as “closed” or “static” incorporation by reference.
We need to be very careful with that. When we talk about international standards, what we are really saying is that incorporation by referencing says that we are going to take a third party standard, whether international, provincial or it does not even have to be a government agency. It could be any sort of a third party and it could be a one paragraph document or it could be a 500-page document.
I see my time has run out. Hopefully there will be a question and I will be able to conclude my comment on that aspect of it.