I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised raised on October 31, 2018, by the hon. member for Perth—Wellington, concerning the meeting of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association held on October 30, 2018.
I would like to thank the member for Perth—Wellington for having raised this matter, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the members for Chilliwack—Hope, Durham, Cape Breton—Canso, Kitchener—Conestoga, Langley—Aldergrove, Prince Albert, Calgary Nose Hill, Mégantic—L'Érable, Brandon—Souris, Etobicoke-Centre, Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, Elmwood—Transcona and West Nova for their comments.
When raising the matter, the member for Perth—Wellington explained that during the meeting of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association held on October 30, a point of order was raised about the validity of the meeting. He added that the chair of the association, who is the member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, ruled that the meeting had not been properly constituted and therefore adjourned the meeting. The member for Perth—Wellington alleged that one of the vice-chairs, the member for Etobicoke Centre, reconvened the group and held an illegitimate meeting during which a motion was passed to remove the chair and elect the presiding vice-chair as the new chair.
With the website of the association having been updated in consequence, the member for Perth—Wellington asked that, pursuant to Standing Order 151, the Speaker order the Clerk of the House to undo the changes made to the parliamentary records on the association's website and to advise the NATO Parliamentary Assembly that the member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill would remain the chair and the head of Canada's delegation at the 2018 session to be held in Halifax from November 16 to 19, 2018.
In addressing the matter again on November 5, he explained further in what ways he felt that the provisions of the association's constitution had been violated, including the lack of authority for vice-chairs to call meetings.
In his response, the member for Etobicoke Centre indicated that, as per our parliamentary customs and conventions, in his view, chairs of parliamentary associations are members of the governing party. Accordingly, he argued that, in deciding to become an opposition member, the member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill should have resigned her position as chair of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association. In addition, he believed that her decision to rule the meeting out of order contravened rules and procedures and, as a result, the resumption of the meeting, as well as the procedures followed during the resumed meeting, were legitimate.
Essentially, what I am being asked to do by the member for Perth—Wellington is to assume an authority as Speaker to regulate a matter internal to a parliamentary association. The only way to answer that is to understand the role of the Speaker and its inherent limitations, as well as the relationship of parliamentary associations to the House.
Let me begin by saying that I take great pride in the role played by Parliament as an active participant on the international scene and as a leader in parliamentary democracy. This notable work by our parliamentarians is achieved through various avenues, including our well respected parliamentary associations and interparliamentary groups.
Complementary to that is the Speaker’s role in parliamentary democracy, with respect to which House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, states at page 311:
…the Speaker is the representative or spokesperson for the House in its relations with authorities or persons outside Parliament.
Does this distinct role of the Speaker then intersect in such a way with Standing Order 151 as to grant the Speaker the authority being sought? That rule states:
The Clerk of the House is responsible for the safekeeping of all the papers and records of the House, and has the direction and control over all the officers and clerks employed in the offices, subject to such orders as the Clerk may, from time to time, receive from the Speaker or the House.
Specifically, does this translate, in this instance, to an authority over parliamentary association matters? Associations, unlike committees, are not “creatures” of the House. In fact, the Standing Orders fall just short of being silent about them, with only Standing Order 34(1) requiring them to report their activities to the House upon their return to Canada following a trip abroad.
Parliamentary committees, in contrast, are created by the House and empowered by its Standing Orders. Even then, as they are generally masters of their own proceedings, the Speaker does not normally reach into the business of committees unless and until a committee sees fit to report a matter to the House and there is a specific mechanism in the rules of the House for them to do just that. The fact that there is not a similar provision for parliamentary associations is telling. Some argued that being an honorary president of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, confers on the Speaker of the House an authority over parliamentary associations which allow, even obligate, me to rule on this matter. But does it?
As members well know, the scope of the Speaker’s ability to enforce and interpret the rules and practices of the House is confined to those deliberations defined as parliamentary proceedings, that is, those that are found to be what is truly necessary to the role of members as legislators. Erskine May’s 24th edition at pages 235 and 236 states:
The primary meaning of proceedings, as a technical parliamentary term…is some formal action, usually a decision, taken by the House in its collective capacity.... An individual Member takes part in a proceeding usually by speech, but also by various recognized forms of formal action, such as voting, giving notice of a motion, or presenting a petition or report from a committee, most of such actions being time-saving substitutes for speaking.
The work of parliamentary associations, while important in many respects, falls outside this definition of a parliamentary proceeding. This imposes a distinct relationship between associations and the House, through the Speaker.
Speaker Parent pointed out in his April 23, 1998, ruling, found at page 6035 of the Debates, and I quote:
The creation of Canadian interparliamentary groups is governed by certain administrative bodies within the House of Commons and the Senate. ... Interparliamentary relations are carried on under the responsibility of Parliament. There are decision making processes governing their administration.
Specifically, these processes lie first and foremost with the Joint Interparliamentary Council, commonly referred to as JIC, as well as the Standing Senate Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration and the House of Commons Board of Internal Economy. The latter two not only created the JIC in 1995 but continue to be the bodies through which the JIC derives its authority. In practical terms, the Joint Interparliamentary Council receives its funding from both Houses but is the governing body empowered to determine all budgetary and administrative matters relating to parliamentary associations.
The meetings and activities of associations are framed by constitutions containing rules specific to each association, ones that typically specify the mandate of the association, its composition and its rules of procedure, amongst others. In no way is the House, or am I as its Speaker and servant, involved in the establishment or adjudication of these rules, even if they mirror or are inspired by certain rules of the House. This independence of associations from the House is reflected in the fact that the rules and practices governing each association are decided by their members.
It is clear to the Chair that the disputed matters relating to the October 30 meeting of the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association should be resolved in a forum other than the House. A general assembly of the association or, alternatively, a meeting of its executive committee, both that can be convened at the request of members, are such forums. Should these avenues fail to settle the matter, any recourse clearly falls under the purview of the Board of Internal Economy, and specifically the Joint Interparliamentary Council, the governing body which reports to the Board of Internal Economy.
Speaker Parent reminded members in the April 23, 1998, ruling referenced earlier, that the matter would be better raised in another forum. He said at page 6035 of the Debates:
My duty however is to confine myself to the jurisprudence which exists and governs the operation of privilege. Given the preoccupation over these matters, I would suggest that this particular issue must be handled through a different avenue, namely the Board of Internal Economy, which holds statutory responsibility for such matters.
It was made clear even then, that while interparliamentary relations are carried on under the responsibility of Parliament, certain decision-making bodies governing associations are in place, namely the Joint Interparliamentary Council and the Board of Internal Economy. That aside, it would be regrettable if this procedural and, some might say, political impasse was to injure in any way the ability of parliamentarians to pursue together their important role in promoting and defending the interests of our country abroad.
I thank all hon. members for their attention in this matter.