Mr. Speaker, I rise today on a very specific point of order with regard to Bill C-60, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, and the work that was done by the committees that were studying this bill, particularly the finance committee, which invoked some measures we believe are not in order and fell well outside of its mandate.
As some context for those Canadians who are not familiar with Bill C-60, this is another piece of omnibus legislation. We rose earlier on similar points of order with respect to how the bill was handled.
In its nature, being an omnibus bill under the current government's watch, with the expansion of omnibus legislation to include so many different matters, the government has faced a difficulty of its own making in that it is not purely a financial bill and it is not simply a bill to implement the budget; it would do much more. While it has an anti-democratic nature and tone for us, in various ways we have struggled with the ability for members of Parliament to properly study and amend legislation that is so broad.
I wish that you would review the motion adopted by the standing committee on May 7, as well as the proceedings that resulted from this specific motion, and that you rule to determine whether these proceedings were in order or not and whether the committee overstepped its authority when adopting this particular motion. I will refer in detail to what the motion accomplished and how it fell outside of the mandate of the committee.
We raised a very similar point of order, if you will remember, around Bill C-45. That was the second omnibus bill that followed on Bill C-38. We had deep concerns about the fact that the Standing Committee on Finance, during its consideration of that massive omnibus bill, went beyond its mandate and usurped the authority of the House when it invited other standing committees to study particular sections of Bill C-45. On their own mandate they started to carve the bill up and send it out. It then allowed these committees that were studying the bill to move amendments and then saw it as if those amendments had been moved by members of the finance committee.
We argued at the time that this went beyond the mandate and the reference from the House, from you as the Speaker.
A similar argument could be made about Bill C-60. It was introduced on April 29.
On May 7, after the government used time allocation to shut down the debate once again on discussions at second reading, it ended with the passage of the following motion, which stated:
...that Bill C-60, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to [the Standing Committee on Finance].
Hansard on that day of May 7 specifically quotes you as saying:
I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Finance.
It is pro forma and it is how bills are referred to the committee.
The committee acted outside of its powers and authority, those powers conferred on it by this House, when it adopted a motion on that very same day asking other committees to study sections of the bill, namely the standing committees on industry, science and technology; veterans affairs; human resources, skills and development; the status of persons with disabilities; citizenship and immigration; as well as foreign affairs and international development. That is where the government sought to parse out the bill.
It is very difficult to deal with omnibus legislation that is so obviously varied that it implicates so many different committees. The government has pushed, and I would argue broken the democratic limits of our legislature, by packing so much into these individual bills. In essence it is hiding from Canadians what its agenda is as these bills then come back to the House for one single vote on so many matters. This was something that the Conservatives concerned themselves with greatly when they were in opposition. You have heard me mention many of the quotes from the Prime Minister and various ministers in his cabinet on how much they disliked this tactic when the Liberals used it. It is now a tactic that the Conservatives seem to enjoy using with much relish.
Although I believe the Standing Committee on Finance went beyond its mandate to ask these five other committees to study the bill, this is not the principal concern that I want to raise with you today.
The committee went even further this time in going beyond its mandate, by adopting a motion to allow members of Parliament who are not members of a caucus represented on the committee to file amendments to the bill. It went further by directing that any amendments suggested to the committee would be deemed to be proposed during the clause-by-clause consideration on Bill C-60, even if the member who presented the amendment was not present.
Let us take a moment with this. Out of some seeking of convenience, the committee members passed the motion at their own discretion, not by any power given to them by the House, to allow amendments that came from people who do not sit on the committee, who are not recognized parties in the House. They allowed amendments to suddenly appear and be presented as if they came from somebody on committee. This goes against three fundamental principles that we hold dear in the House.
Only the House can appoint committee members. This is well known. It is done at the beginning of every session when we constitute our committees. No committee can self-appoint members. It has to come from an order in the House.
Only committee members who have been appointed by the House can move a motion. In order to move a motion, a member must be present at the time the motion is moved. We just dealt with a piece of private member's legislation before my point of order. A seconder was missing from her particular seat. The House properly waited until that member took her seat so that she was present. Motions cannot be moved if people are not here.
The rules of committee as established by the House specifically prescribe that members of a committee are designated by the House and cannot include members of a non-recognized party. This is a practice and a procedure we have used for many years. The rules established by the House also specifically prescribe that only a member of a committee can move a motion.
According to O'Brien and Bosc's House of Commons Procedure and Practice:
Only a member of the committee, or his or her designated substitute, may move an amendment or vote on an amendment.
Standing Order No. 119 stipulates that:
Any member of the House who is not a member of a standing, special or legislative committee, may, unless the House or the committee concerned otherwise orders, take part in the public proceedings of the committee, but may not vote or move any motion, nor be part of any quorum.
The O'Brien and Bosc text, on page 1019, states:
It is the House, and the House alone, that appoints the members and associate members of its committees, as well as the members who will represent it on joint committees.
The status of member of a committee is accorded to Members of the House of Commons who belong officially to that committee. This status allows them to participate fully in their committee's proceedings: members may move motions, vote and be counted for purposes of a quorum.
The Speaker has ruled that this is a fundamental right of the House. It cannot be taken away. A committee simply cannot move a motion to take such a power away from the House. I am quoting now:
The committees themselves have no powers at all in this regard.
I would like at this point to mention your ruling, Mr. Speaker, from last December. You will recall that at the time, we moved our point of order regarding the last omnibus bill, Bill C-45, specifically with respect to the role and rights of independent members in the context of report stage.
The government House leader argued that the current process by which independent members are not allowed to present motions at committee means that at report stage of bills, a single independent member has the ability, in his words, “to hold the House hostage in a voting marathon”, as if voting were somehow connected to a hostage-taking, by submitting numerous report stage amendments.
In response, Mr. Speaker, you suggested that members may try to find ways to accommodate independent members at committee in order to allow them to present motions. You said the following:
Were a satisfactory mechanism found that would afford independent members an opportunity to move motions to move bills in committee, the Chair has no doubt that its report stage selection process would adapt to the new reality.
I understand that the motion adopted for Bill C-60 at committee was somehow a response to this ruling and an attempt by the Conservative Party to cut short the proceedings at report stage. However, I believe that the Conservatives fundamentally misinterpreted your ruling to in fact allow independent members to move motions to amend bills at committees. The Conservatives should have, and must have, sought agreement of the House to allow the members to sit on that committee. That is a power they cannot take away simply by a motion at committee. Indeed, it is from the House that committees derive this power. Committees on their own do not have absolute powers.
While committees are often quoted as being masters of their own fate, I will cite from O'Brien and Bosc at page 1047:
The concept refers to the freedom committees normally have to organize their work as they see fit and the option they have of defining, on their own, certain rules of procedure that facilitate their proceedings.
A second quote, on page 1048 of O'Brien and Bosc, states:
These freedoms are not, however, total or absolute.... committees are creatures of the House. This means that they have no independent existence and are not permitted to take action unless they have been authorized/empowered to do so by the House.
A second quote on that same page states:
...committees are free to organize their proceedings as they see fit.... committees may adopt procedural rules to govern...but only to the extent the House does not prescribe anything specific.
Members of a committee, and only members of a committee, as well as associate members when they replace those members, are able to attend the committee and thus move a motion at committee.
O'Brien and Bosc further tells us that:
Standing Orders specifically exclude a non-member from voting, moving motions or being counted for purposes of quorum.
The rules also clearly state that a member must be present for the motion. This is a fact. We have never moved away from this fact or this rule or procedure. To suddenly invent a process by which a motion can be moved but the member may be absent contravenes the basic tenets of democracy and representation. We could suddenly have votes where people just call in and speak their intentions rather than be here themselves.
Where a notice of motion has been given, the Speaker will first ensure that the Member wishes to proceed with the moving of the motion. If the sponsor of a motion chooses not to proceed (either by not being present or by being present but declining to move the motion), then the motion is not proceeded with....
This has happened many times in the House. We have seen private member's bills that members chose not to move. They either made themselves absent from the House or they remained in their seats and the motion was not moved forward. Nobody else can do it on their behalf. No one can simply come in and say, “The member intended to be here, but is not. Please allow the member's private member's bill or motion to be considered”.
There is a precedent for a Speaker overruling a committee matter, because sometimes Speakers, often, and I think for good reason, have been loath to involve themselves in committee business.
I quote from O'Brien and Bosc, page 775:
Since a committee may appeal the decision of its Chair and reverse that decision, it may happen that a committee will report a bill with amendments that were initially ruled out of order by the Chair. The admissibility of those amendments, and of any other amendments made by a committee, may therefore be challenged on procedural grounds when the House resumes its consideration of the bill at report stage. The admissibility of the amendments is then determined by the Speaker of the House, whether in response to a point of order or on his or her own initiative.
Amendments were moved with no member present who was actually intent on moving that motion. People were made members of the committee, one assumes, by a motion the committee did not have the power to designate.
For the House to now consider, at report stage, Bill C-60, with these amendments in place, is strictly out of order. It is the proper role of the Speaker of the House to intervene to say that things were done improperly and have to be done right.
In 2007, a point of order was raised in the House dealing with the admissibility of three amendments contained in a bill at report stage from the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
Speaker Milliken ruled two of the amendments out of order, finding that they imported into the bill concepts and terms not present in the bill and were therefore beyond the scope of the bill.
I quote from Speaker Milliken's ruling on February 27, 2007:
...the Speaker does not intervene on matters upon which committees are competent to take decisions. However, in cases where a committee has exceeded its authority, particularly in relation to bills, the Speaker has been called upon to deal with such matters after a report has been presented to the House.
That has happened here today.
In terms of amendments adopted by committees on bills, if they were judged to be inadmissible by the Speaker, those amendments would be struck from the bill as amended because the committee did not have the authority to adopt such provisions.
This means there exists a precedent for the Speaker rejecting amendments to a bill and the process by which it was there.
Mr. Speaker, I ask you to rule and review the motion adopted by the standing committee on May 7, 2013, as well as the proceedings that resulted from that motion, and that you rule to determine whether these proceedings were in order and whether the committee overstepped its authority when it adopted the motion.
The House of Commons and Parliament, and democracy in general, have suffered much abuse under this tactic and use of omnibus legislation. We have presented ourselves many times in defence of the institution and the right of members to speak and the people we represent to clearly understand the legislation the government is attempting to move.
The abuse of omnibus legislation has been a decision by the government. The difficulty it is having in the way amendments are moved and the process by which a bill goes through are of its own making, and it has only itself to blame.
A committee cannot take powers the House did not give it. Simply accepting motions from members who are not part of a committee and are not present to move the motion, contravenes the basic tenets of this place. The presence and acknowledged presence of a standing member of any of these committees is required—it is a basic, fundamental requirement—for a motion to proceed. These motions were considered improperly. We ask that you rule in this matter.