This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #162 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was standing.

Topics

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I see that the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston wishes to contribute to the question of privilege raised earlier today.

Before he begins, I would like to say that members have provided the Chair with substantial arguments. Of course these will be taken under advisement, and the Speaker will come back to the House with a ruling.

However, I will allow the member to make a very brief intervention before we proceed to orders of the day. I would ask the hon. member to take into consideration what has already been said, to maybe just add to it, and to be brief, so that we can get on with business.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will do my very best to take into account what has been said before. I would ask your indulgence with regard to this, for the reason that I was not present for the debate that took place here. The reason I was not present for the debate is highly germane to the subject matter of the debate. I am on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and the committee is meeting to discuss the item that the government says takes priority over the question of privilege here. That is my reason for not being here.

One ought to try to be here for debates when one is going to comment on it, but I was not. I have tried to gather information about what has been said, including getting some of the written remarks from speakers who have addressed this before. However, that is limited information, so I have had to put together my own remarks during question period in order to be able to make them here. That is my excuse or my pleading for why I may not be as organized as I would otherwise like to be. That said, I have tried to make a tabbed list of my comments in order to make them as concisely as possible.

The overarching theme that I am trying to address is simply this. It is important for the government to respect the ability of the opposition to carry on its business. We have rules in this place, Standing Orders, that govern how we behave. We have Standing Orders that are long standing, and ours are, through their lineage, the oldest in the world. The Standing Orders of the House of Commons came from the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, and, before that, the provinces of Upper Canada and Lower Canada, which takes us back to the 1790s. Before that, they came from Westminster. They extend back to the very beginning of parliamentary history.

Even words as extensive as those cannot take into account every circumstance, and so we have developed folkways, practices, conventions as to how we should deal with matters. Those practices are then captured in books, like the one written by O'Brien and Bosc, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, and also in the Annotated Standing Orders of the House of Commons, which provide some explanation for the background to the existing Standing Orders. I will be using both of these books, but particularly the Annotated Standing Orders in my remarks today.

I was trying to get at this point. There is an overarching theme of respect, not merely for what the Standing Orders involve, which is taking care of the Speaker's rulings, but also for the practices that have allowed us not to develop a Standing Order on this or that abuse of process which ought to be the subject of a Standing Order. Simply by exercising self-restraint, we are able to get business done here. One area that this revolves around is the issue of how we deal with motions of privilege. There is a method that has always been used. I say “always”, though I do not know if it has always been used. However, certainly since the current Standing Order was put in place, it has always been followed. That has been abandoned by the government today, and that is the issue at hand.

Let me deal very briefly with the relevant history here. Number one, on March 10, the government House leader introduced a discussion paper on possible changes to the Standing Orders. Number two, later that same afternoon, the day before the break week began, the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, a great member and a great friend, introduced a motion in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. It amounted to a guillotine or a closure motion on the consideration of Standing Order business, which has led members of the opposition to be afraid that the government could introduce any Standing Order change, limit debate on it, push it through at that time, and thereby cause draconian changes to the Standing Orders, including those Standing Orders that are of greatest concern to us. They are the ones that let us do our job of slowing down the business of the House long enough to draw specific issues to the public's attention.

Rather than having this or that issue vanish in the rear-view mirror before we have a chance to draw it to the attention of the public, this is the only tool available to an opposition in a majority government. It is the only thing that separates our system of checks and balances from what I would characterize as a Peronist or a Bonapartist government, in which one has the maximum leader over here, and over there are the people. There are no intermediate institutions, and every four years there is what amounts to a referendum on whether people liked the dictatorship that existed for the previous four years.

That is what we do. That is the point we are trying to preserve here. When the government says that it means this is only to be a discussion paper, not a draconian measure, it may actually be sincere. I do not know.

However, we are not in a position where we can risk taking the advice that Abraham Lincoln once gave. He said that if you want to find out the nature of a man, give him power. That is true. We would find out. However, we can see why we do not want to try doing this, because we may find out something we do not want to find out.

Here is the problem. We do not know what the agenda is. We do not know how we can let down our guard without potentially causing a catastrophe for Canadian procedural and parliamentary democracy. That is the issue.

The motion was moved. It went to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on March 10. We took up the business on March 21, the first day that the committee was back in session. At that time, the motion was moved by the member for Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, and I proposed an amendment to it.

The member's motion calls for the committee to complete its study and report its findings and recommendations back to the House no later than June 2, 2017.

The amendment I proposed says that we would delete some of that wording and add in the following:

nothwithstanding paragraph (d),

That is the paragraph in which the date is referred to, the June 2 date.

but consistent with the Committee's past practices, as discussed as its December 8, 2016 meeting, the Committee shall not report any recommendation for an amended Standing Order, provisional Standing Order, new Standing Order, Sessional Order, Special Order, or to create or revise a usual practice of the House, which is not unanimously agreed to by the Committee....

That amendment is being debated at committee. There have been a series of ongoing suspensions of the committee business, and we have returned to this. In the formalized fiction of the proceedings of that committee, it is right now March 21. We have had something in the neighbourhood of 40 or 50 hours of debate.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I do not want to take away from anything that the member across the way is saying, but there was a question of privilege that was raised today. It had more to do with the reason for why we did not have the vote take place.

I know that the member is very good at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where he presents a very strong case, but sometimes it might take him three or four hours to do so. I am wondering if the member could give some sort of indication to the House of how long he anticipates his presentation on this privilege will take, given that the Speaker made the ruling that he would like to have short and concise speeches.

I understand that the member indicated he was not here earlier today, for the good reason of being at the committee, but I do not think that is an excuse. Anyone could then make an application and say that they did not hear what was said earlier and go on indefinitely.

I want to be sympathetic to what the member is saying, but could he at least do the courtesy of providing the House with how long he believes his presentation is going to be?

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Could the member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston give some indication of how much time he will be? I have had someone else ask to speak as well, and this is after we have already said we were going to stop. Again, it is cutting into government business. It is not that a question of privilege is not important, but a lot of the arguments have already been made.

I am wondering how much longer the member would need.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know the exact time. It would actually be hard for me to guess at that.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Five minutes? Five hours?

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

No, not that long, believe me.

However, what I have just done is laid out the background. I am now going to proceed directly to the question of privilege. I wanted to give the background to explain the relevance, because ultimately that is the issue that is referred to in the remarks by a member earlier.

At any rate, I am now going to move to these items, and I hope it will become evident quite quickly that I am moving rapidly through the materials that I have at hand.

May I continue with the main remarks, or do we have to wait to deal with the point of order first?

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. parliamentary secretary was asking how much time, and I thought that was a fair request. Is there a time that would be suitable?

I would say, start and maybe continue as briefly as possible, please.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on the point of order before you.

I find it unprecedented that somehow on a matter of privilege, which is probably the most serious thing to come before the House, a matter of dealing with a member's privileges, that there would be a limit put on the amount of time that members can speak to make the case they need to make.

I find it appalling for the Parliamentary Secretary to the government House leader to suggest that there should be some kind of limit put on someone by asking this kind of question, and for the Speaker to condone it.

Is there some kind of precedent for this? To me, it seems that a member should be given an opportunity to make a case when we are talking about a breach of a member's privileges, a most serious thing. A member should have the opportunity to make the case needed for a point of privilege.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member brings up a good point, and it makes it very difficult for someone sitting in the chair to rule on this. It is a balance between how much we need to hear and how much do we need before a decision is made.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2009 edition, at page 144, states:

The Speaker also has the discretion to seek the advice of other Members to help him or her in determining whether there is prima facie a matter of privilege involved which would warrant giving the matter priority of consideration over other House business. When satisfied, the Speaker will terminate the discussion.

It really is at the discretion of the Speaker. It is not an easy call to make, and we are trying to give as much opportunity as possible. I am trying to be as fair as possible.

The hon. opposition House leader.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate the House rules as you just read them. That is our point. We do not believe that a member of the government who does not want to hear about this has the right to limit the time that a member can speak. You have been listening to the points that my colleague made, Mr. Speaker. I think that up until this point there have been new points and relevant points. That is the point that we on this side are making. It is not up to the parliamentary secretary to question the amount of time that a member is speaking.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to assure the hon. member that the discussion was taking place between the table officers and I, long before the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the government House leader brought up the point.

The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

April 7th, 2017 / 12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

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—

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I do not think it is any surprise that I am up on a point of order. It is quite obvious what the member across the way is doing.

I have seen the former Speaker, under the Harper government, demonstrate great patience in listening to what the matter of privilege is about. Then as the day proceeds, we will often find the comments are shorter.

Just so the member understands what we are talking about today, as I stated earlier, page 149, second edition, of House of Commons Procedure and Practice is clear, “a motion to proceed to Orders of the Day be adopted, then the privilege motion is superseded and dropped from the Order Paper”.

The disposition of the question of privilege raised yesterday is in order. The issue of the free movement of members within the parliamentary precinct has been raised a number of times over the years. Given the serious nature of this matter, the Liberal members gave notice of the motion at the procedure and House affairs committee to study the subject matter of this important issue respecting the privilege of members.

What we are witnessing today is a question of privilege on a question of privilege. This is not a question of privilege. It is a question of order and as such should not take precedence over the business before the House. The member should fully understand that and be relevant. If he chooses not to be relevant, it is easy then for others to look at the member and see that he wants to filibuster on a very important issue of privilege.

I would ask the member, through you, Mr. Speaker, to be relevant and concise. I respect the fact that he might not have heard what I and other members said earlier, but he seems quite content to just continue talking more than contributing to the actual privilege. If the member gets right to the privilege, then maybe it would be more relevant to the debate we currently are having.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

On the same point of order, Mr. Chair. First, it is quite rich, hearing that member talk about somebody who wants to talk on and on in the House of Commons.

On the substance of the member's point, he is trying to claim that somehow it is not a question of privilege that the member has brought here. What we are talking about is essentially all members' privileges being breached and to be able to have a debate about this issue in the House of Commons. The most serious matter that comes before Parliament is a question of privilege. The prima facie case has been established by the Speaker, and the ability of the House to then have a debate is something that is an important privilege for all members. That has been breached here.

The member can cite whatever he likes to try to indicate there is an ability to use those procedural tactics, but at the end of the day that is what has happened. Procedural tactics were used by the government to try to prevent members' privileges from being exercised.

This is, in fact, something the member should have the opportunity to raise, fully defend, and explain, prior to having a ruling on it. He is doing that. I hear him making substantive points about why this is a question of privilege, and it is appalling to hear the government representative, the parliamentary secretary, trying to shut that down and eliminate his opportunity. It might almost be another breach of privilege on top of a breach of privilege.

I hope the government will refrain, and the member will have the opportunity to make his case.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I want to thank both hon. members for the point of order and the reply. However, I believe there was a point made about being concise and not rambling on for hours on end. We do not have a lot of time. I am looking at what is going on, and I am looking at the time. We have government business to take care of. It is important that privilege be respected, but privilege also means taking care of government business. I will go back to the member, and hopefully he will be as concise as possible and finish up in short order.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, you can see my desire to be concise from the fact that I keep jumping up at the same time as you in the hopes that I can continue and then having to sit down out of appropriate respect for your position.

What the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader just did there was try to enter into the privilege discussion and make a point which is germane to—

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I would ask the hon. member to speak to the point rather than assessing what the other side said.

The hon. member for Portage—Lisgar.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I appreciate so much the task that you have before you and I just would like to remind you, as I know you are aware, that your job is not to advance the government.

You said, “We have government work to get to”. Well, the government would like to get to government work. Your job—as I know you know, and you do it very well—is to protect the rights of this House, of all members.

This question of privilege supersedes the government's agenda, and that is why it is so important that this be heard. We went through this yesterday and we saw the tricks that the government is trying to play, and we are asking that our Speaker stand up for our rights as well. The government wants to advance its agenda. That is not our job in this House. Our job is to protect democracy, to protect Canadians' rights, and to be Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. That is why it is so important that this is not about the government's agenda but about this question of privilege, a very important matter that is before us now.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

I thank the hon. member, and it is about Parliament's agenda moving forward. That is what we are working for.

The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston. Again I ask that he be as concise as possible.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, you are right, and I ought not to have intervened and offered my commentary on the Parliamentary Secretary to the House leader's commentary. There is a certain sort of meta-level to there that perhaps ought to be left to one side. Let me return, then, to the motion introduced by the member for Brossard—Saint-Lambert, which is the issue at hand.

That motion said that we will proceed to orders of the day, but what it would do is end the discussion on a question of privilege before that question of privilege has been voted on, thereby taking away the right of every member to vote on her or his privileges.

This privilege is not something that is unique to the members who were held up. Being delayed access to the House of Commons is an item of privilege that is absolutely integral. It is the foundational privilege we have here, along with freedom of speech. It goes back to the days when King Charles I and his thugs tried to stop members of Parliament from coming to the House so that he could engineer a majority by essentially locking people in their hotel rooms and waylaying them in the streets. That is where this comes from. It is a matter that was raised about two years ago by Yvon Godin, a New Democrat and member at the time for one of the New Brunswick ridings, who was delayed for other reasons, although they were similar. These are circumstances that are specific but relate to all of us.

The issue of delayed access keeps on changing as construction schedules change, as high-profile visitors arrive here, and as security risks go up and down. These are matters that are in need of constant adjustment and examination. Taking away the privilege for us to vote on it is taking away a fundamental right here. It is obvious that it was never intended that these matters would go to committee without a vote of the House, that they would be removed without a vote in the House.

The member for Brossard—Saint-Lambert introduced her motion after those earlier comments that I gave by pointing out that a member of the procedure and House affairs committee, the member for Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas, had given notice of a motion in committee that says:

That the committee examine the Question of Privilege raised by the Member for Milton regarding the free movement of Members within the Parliamentary precinct

thereby apparently obviating the need for a vote in the House. That is problem number one, which affects the privileges of all of us. We do not want a situation in which matters of privilege can be brought before the procedure and House affairs committee by the simple expedient of a member moving a motion in that committee.

For one thing, not every proposal for a question of privilege that has been found to be a prima facie question of privilege is necessarily going to be accepted by the House. I have never gone back and done any historical research, but there is a reason that we do not simply have the Speaker refer it without a vote in the House. The House's word on this is vital. If we want to change the Standing Orders so the Speaker can send this off to the House unilaterally without it, just by saying, “I think it is a prima facie case, so off we go; there will be no debate of the House”, that would be okay. However, that standing order does not exist. The current standing order does exist.

The proposal to change to the Speaker having unilateral decision-making authority on this not only does not exist, it is also not part of the government's discussion paper and it is not part of the government's vaunted promises to change Standing Orders in its election platform. It is not anywhere. It has suddenly arisen out of thin air: We will just unilaterally abrogate the Standing Orders and therefore the privileges of every member of this House on the fly.

That is unacceptable. There is a standing order—

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

If I may, just for clarification for my own use, the issue was two members not being able to make it to the House on time. The issue is there, but now we are back into, I believe, what is going on in the procedure and House affairs committee. Am I correct? I am just trying to clarify.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find alarming that this is the conclusion you have drawn after having heard submissions from me and from the member for Perth—Wellington.

What was made quite clear is that at issue is how that point of privilege was responded to and the fact that now there is an effort to try to rewrite the rules on how privilege in this House works through a motion at the committee. The government has said that it respects that the point of privilege needs to be dealt with and that the decision by the Speaker yesterday, the prima facie decision, would be dealt with and respected in that fashion. That is the basis of the government having voted to go to government orders, to have disposed of the prima facie decision of the Speaker yesterday. That is the privilege issue at stake. What we are facing is an effort to rewrite the Standing Orders of this place and centuries of tradition.

I appreciate that the Clerk wants to intervene and provide contrary arguments to mine at the same time I am taking the time to make a submission, but I have to take exception, because we just saw a demonstration that you had not appreciated what had been said earlier, likely because of such interruptions, Mr. Speaker.

The point being made is much more fundamental. It is not the same point of privilege as yesterday. It is entwined as part of it, absolutely. What is being objected to is that we are now seeing an effort by the government to rewrite the rules of centuries in this House, to rewrite the big green book, O'Brien and Bosc. It is an effort to rewrite the Standing Orders so that privilege would be dealt with in an entirely different way, diminishing privilege to a motion from a government member at a committee. That is the basis of this motion we have been discussing here. That is why everything the hon. member is saying is in order. That is why I was alarmed by your earlier intervention, Mr. Speaker, and by the interventions of others, that suggested that it might not be.

In fact, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader got up himself and spelled out that this is what has happened and has taken place at the committee. That is an important part that is intrinsic to this. It is not simply a repeat discussion of the point of privilege on which the Speaker made a prima facie finding yesterday. It is where that is leading in an effort to rewrite our rules and diminish our privileges and, in effect, extinguish the rights of this House as to privilege, and the supremacy of this House as to privilege, and to make it now depend on government motions at committees.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The hon. member for Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, if I may, it was more about being concise. It was not questioning, so I will let him continue, and again, remind him that conciseness is something we agree on.

Disposition of Prima Facie Question of PrivilegePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I actually am approaching now the conclusion of the remarks I have to make. I am looking now directly at the government motion that led to today's question of privilege. The motion was simply the apparently innocuous motion to move to orders of the day. The point is that in moving to orders of the day, the vote on the matter of privilege effectively was diverted until we do not know when. We do not know when; maybe it is never.

There is no standing order to deal with this problem. That is actually the underlying thing. No one ever contemplated that this would happen, so there is no standing order to deal with it. That is the problem. A procedural trick was used, the implication of which was not understood by those who did it. I do not see malice in this matter in this respect. I just see a problem.

Reference was made by the member for Brossard—Saint-Lambert, before she moved her motion, to a motion being made at committee. She effectively said that this is going to be dealt with, because a motion is being moved at the procedure and House affairs committee to bring this forward. There is a second problem, which is that if we allow this to go forward, motions in committee can cause questions of privilege to be dealt with. That is an issue.

The third and most substantial issue relates back to the privileges of the member for Milton, which is the matter on which a prima facie case was found yesterday by the Speaker. The issue here is this. The way the member for Hamilton West—Ancaster—Dundas worded the notice of motion at committee, the way it was introduced, removed the priority, the part that was in the member for Beauce's amendment to the motion regarding privilege:

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....

The point is that the member left that part out. It will be dealt with after this interminable debate. It guarantees it. Far from ensuring that the privilege will be dealt with, this is a way of killing or delaying this question of privilege to a point where it is not dealt with, because this debate will go on and on, like Jarndyce, in Dickens' novel Bleak House, the fictional recounting of a true court case that started in 1798 and wound up in 1915.

There is a fundamental issue here. It goes back to the endless debate in that committee, precipitated by the government's desire to unilaterally rewrite the rules, which is actually happening right now, as we speak. While that is partly a discussion about the rules of this place, and maybe is appropriately a point of order, it is relevant to bring it into our discussion on privileges, because if there is no order in this place, if the orders are to be rewritten on the fly by new ideas invented by whatever hyper-caffeinated 20-year-old in the Liberal war room has dreamed this up, then we are in a situation in which privileges are going to be violated as a matter of routine, and this is just the first example.

The fact is that the conventions of this place are being profoundly abused, I think without any malice on the part of the government members but without regard to the way this place works. We do not need malice to ruin something as delicate and organic as the pattern of folkways, the culture we have here, the practices we have, which are written down not in one place but in various places, just like our common law. They are not in one place, yet they are sacred to our liberty. Just as the common law protects the liberty of citizens, so too do our practices in this place protect us just as much as the Standing Orders, which they supplement.

My logic, my argument, is this. The privileges of everyone here were violated by this motion in two separate respects, which I will not repeat again, in the interest of brevity, and in a way that is absolutely critical to the question of privilege that was under debate yesterday. It was adjourned in an unprecedented way that was clearly in violation of the spirit of the relevant standing order, Standing Order 48(1), and probably in violation of its letter, as well.

The point is, Standing Order 48(1) was violated in a way which offends the privileges of the member for Milton and, although the ruling was not on his question, those of the member for Beauce, who was on the same bus that was delayed. That is relevant to the privileges of all of us who may find ourselves in similar circumstances. The same thing happened to Yvon Godin when the president of Germany was visiting. The member could not get to the House because the motorcade took priority over him crossing the street. It also occurred when President George W. Bush was here and members could not get through for security reasons. This may occur on other occasions as well.

This is a matter that needs constant revision and not one that gets pushed off until the government has figured out how it wants to deal with a filibuster. The government is not willing to consider just setting aside this matter in committee, this matter of the Standing Orders review that has been under discussion since March 21 in order to deal with the other matter of privilege. It does not mean that the government has to back off and give up on its plans. It means it has to push them aside a bit, as it ought to do anyway, given the other things that are on the agenda of that committee, such as a review of the Elections Act, on which the Minister of Democratic Institutions asked us to act as promptly as possible and get back to her by May 19. That deadline is impossible to meet now.

My goodness, we cannot have everything pushed aside while those hypercaffeinated teenagers in the backroom try to figure out the next thing to do. Their organizational ineptitude is no reason for us to throw aside the centuries of practices and customs we have built up in this place that protect our democracy. They can grow up at their leisure, but not, surely to goodness, at the expense of every Canadian coast to coast who is defended by the people in here only so long as we actually have privileges that are respected.