Mr. Speaker, you are quite right to cite that practice. If you see me wandering away, would you point that out and I will promptly bring myself back to or terminate that point and move on. I am really trying to recount the narrative as a way of trying to make the point that there is a matter of privilege here.
What is going on in committee is highly germane to the discussion. The discussion has now taken some 40 hours to 50 hours on a single amendment to a single motion. Effectively, we have a complete impasse, and it seems unlikely that will be resolved in time for the actual motion to ever be acted upon by its June 2 deadline. This is a really important point. What happened in the House, the issue it is relating to, is an argument that we ought not to give the item of privilege priority over an item that is at the procedure and House affairs committee right now. That was explicitly stated in the comments made by the member who moved the motion. The result is that privilege effectively or status is being given to an item that has been the subject of what may already be a record-breaking meeting that started on March 21. Individual interventions have been, in one case, 12 hours long. Putting this off until then is itself highly problematic, just on its face.
Now let me go to the issue relating to what happened on March 22. Unrelated to what was going on in that committee, although it was the next day, was that the budget was introduced and two members, including the member for Milton, were delayed from coming to the House due to a delay of the white buses. The member for Milton raised this point. She asked the Speaker to come back with a prima facie case that her privileges had been violated, and the Speaker did that yesterday.
What followed from that was, as is required under our rules, the member for Milton then moved a motion that the question of privilege, with respect to the free movement of members within the parliamentary precinct raised on March 22, be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Then the member for Beauce proposed an amendment to that motion, which is permitted under the Standing Orders. I went back and checked this. The Standing Orders allow an amendment to be made to a motion of privilege. In fact, it is quite explicit that any amendment can be made. He added the following, “and that the committee make this matter a priority over all other business including its review of the Standing Orders and Procedure of the House and its Committees.”
If the amendment were allowed to go through, it would have the effect of ensuring this matter of privilege would be raised prior to any other business in the committee, including this interminable study that has been going on since March 21, which has not got past the first item of business dealing with an amendment to the original motion, and which is operating through a series of unilateral suspensions by the chair, which are certainly unprecedented. I have no way of raising this in committee, but it may even be a violation of our practices. All of this is germane.
The amendment put forward by the member for Beauce is effectively saying that we will lock ourselves in to doing something which reflects the spirit of one of our Standing Orders, the Standing Order dealing with privilege, which is Standing Order 48(1). It states, “Whenever any matter of privilege arises, it shall be taken into consideration immediately.”
That is a rule for the House, and the House did what it was supposed to do. It is not the case that committees can, in the absence of a Standing Order that permits it to do so, deviate from the practices of the House. That has been the long-standing practice of the committee on procedure and House affairs, a committee on which I am the ranking member. I have served for over a decade on it, both in government and opposition. It is never the practice to give a back seat to privilege matters. They have always been given first priority, sometimes with a considerable amount of frustration. That does not mean they come to a conclusion all the time. There is an outstanding matter of privilege relating to an incident last year, which we basically looked at and decided not to proceed with. However, they are put before us immediately.
This amendment was merely an attempt to ensure we would lock in, following these long-established practices.
To make the point further, I want to quote from the annotated Standing Orders, page 175, the commentary on Standing Order 48(1), relating to a prima facie case. It states:
If the Speaker is satisfied that the necessary conditions have been met, the Member is immediately allowed to move the motion (or move it at the first opportunity if there is a question already before the House), which usually — but not always — proposes that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for study and report.
Just to be clear, the motion the member puts forward is what usually, but not always, calls for it. It is at the discretion of the individual member, and that was the practice the member for Milton followed.
It goes on to state, “The motion is immediately open to debate. Such a motion is, like any other substantial proposal, only amendable”. Therefore, what the member for Beauce did was procedurally, from that point of view, acceptable, as was the later amendment to put this off until a later time. To that extent, both of these amendments are admissible. It goes on to state, “and it retains precedence until the House's decision is rendered”. The last part is really important.
Therefore, the precedence of the privilege motion is what is being challenged in the motion that was moved by the member for Brossard—Saint-Lambert.
The government effectively cut off debate specifically for the purpose of ensuring that traditional priority given to matters of privilege under the Standing Order and the commentary on the Standing Order I just cited. There is not question that this was done explicitly and deliberately.
To make that point, I want to quote from the commentary of the member for Brossard—Saint-Lambert in introducing her motion. She said, “This morning you ruled that you believe there are sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege. “We”, and I assume she means the government, “support your findings”. She goes on to say:
The House has debated this important issue today, and I want to thank all members for their important contributions to this debate. However, I would like to draw to the attention of members what the consequences are of what the Conservatives have done with their amendment to their own motion. Their amendment seeks to direct the procedure and House affairs committee to drop whatever else it is working on. This amendment is highly unusual, and it has one purpose: to stop the procedure and House affairs committee from continuing the debate on the important issue of how we modernize the House of Commons. Our members on the committee have been hoping to debate the substance of these ideas, and this Conservative amendment is an attempt to block this important work.
I hope you can see, Mr. Speaker, the relevance of the earlier point I was making about the length of time the committee had been discussing that amendment, my amendment, and how futile those discussions had been. That is the important work we would be stopping. We would stopping an epic filibuster that has gone exactly nowhere, but that is pushing aside all the other business with which the committee ought to be dealing.
Just to be clear. On March 10, the government House leader introduced her discussion paper, and the member—