Mr. Speaker, my point of order relates to the meeting held by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Monday, February 25.
I understand that the Speaker does not normally become involved with committees, but there are occasions when the Speaker is obliged to intervene, and I will lay out why I believe this situation constitutes such an occasion.
First, the Speaker may intervene in cases when committees adopt amendments to bills that go beyond the scope of the bill or require a royal recommendation. The Speaker may intervene as well when committees attempt to operate outside the authority granted to them by the House. My point of order relates to such an occasion.
To cite precedent in support of my case, on June 20, 1994, and again on November 7, 1996, the Speaker ruled that:
While it is a tradition of this House that committees are masters of their own proceedings, they cannot establish procedures which go beyond the powers conferred upon them by the House.
I would also refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Standing Order 116(1), which states:
In a standing, special or legislative committee, the Standing Orders shall apply so far as may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the election of a Speaker, seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.
As such, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to examine the following situation and provide a ruling in the context of the two points I have just stated.
The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on Monday, February 25, was interrupted by votes. The chair suspended the meeting at this point in time.
At the time of the suspension, a motion had been moved and was being debated. After, not prior to, gavelling the meeting suspended, the chair indicated that the committee would reconvene after the vote. When members returned to the committee room, we waited some time for the quorum to be met, which never occurred. Finally, the chair decided to leave the room without ever reconvening or ending the meeting.
I assumed that the meeting would continue at our next scheduled meeting on Wednesday. Conservative members came to this meeting prepared to continue debate on the motion that was being discussed on Monday, given that the meeting was suspended. To our surprise, the chair informed us that the meeting on Monday had been adjourned, despite the suspended meeting never having been reconvened.
I find this unilateral decision of the chair to adjourn a meeting outside a committee meeting and without the support of the committee members to be disturbing and in violation of the rules governing such meetings, and potentially a damaging precedent for future Parliaments.
When the committee met again, Conservatives raised a point of order to ask that meeting number 145 continue, as it was suspended and not resumed, and that the member for Brandon—Souris be allowed to resume where he left off. When this request was denied, we challenged the chair's ruling. The ruling was sustained by Liberal members.
While I appreciate that in upholding the ruling of the chair, the committee in effect made a decision and that in the normal course of things, it should be left at that. However, on the strength of the Standing Orders, the chair was prohibited from terminating debate, and a committee decision cannot override the House. As I pointed out earlier, committees cannot go beyond the powers conferred upon them by the House, and in particular, the committee cannot override Standing Order 116(2).
The committee's decision to support the chair's decision to adjourn the meeting outside of a duly called committee meeting without the consent of committee members was, in my view, an attempt to indirectly circumvent the relatively new rule found in subsection 2 of Standing Order 116. Standing Order 116(2) states:
(a) Unless a time limit has been adopted by the committee or by the House, the Chair of a standing, special or legislative committee may not bring a debate to an end while there are members present who still wish to participate. A decision of the Chair in this regard may not be subject to an appeal to the committee.
(b) A violation of paragraph (a) of this section may be brought to the attention of the Speaker by any Member and the Speaker shall have the power to rule on the matter. If, in the opinion of the Speaker, such violation has occurred, the Speaker may order that all subsequent proceedings in relation to the said violation be nullified.
The committee brought the debate to an end while the member for Brandon—Souris still had the floor and wanted to continue his remarks, a clear violation of Standing Order 116(2).
In addition, I would also argue that the Chair did not have the right to unilaterally adjourn Monday's meeting outside of a duly called committee meeting.
To first prove this point, I would draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to rules pertaining to quorum. With respect to quorum, the rules governing the House are covered in chapter 9 in Bosc and Gagnon. At page 401, it states:
If fewer than 20 Members are present, the Speaker may adjourn the House until the next sitting day. The Speaker may take such an initiative only until the moment when he House is called to order; once the sitting has begun, “control over the competence of the House is transferred from the Speaker to the House itself...the Speaker has no right to close a sitting at his own discretion”.
Pages 402 and 403 refer to the business before the House at the time quorum was lost.
However, should the House adjourn for lack of quorum, any Order of the Day under consideration at the time, with the exception of non-votable items of Private Members’ Business, retains its precedence on the Order Paper for the next sitting. The lack of quorum means only that the House adjourns for the day.
I would also argue that the chair of the standing committee went beyond his authority and breached the rules laid down by the House on a number of fronts, specifically the rules respecting the role of the chair and the business before the committee in the absence of quorum and the attempt to circumvent Standing Order 116(2)(a).
While the chair of the committee has implied consent to adjourn a meeting and if there is a loss of quorum during the sitting of a meeting, then a meeting can be adjourned. However, if a chair suspends a meeting, then the meeting must reconvene to then adjourn. The chair should not and cannot adjourn a meeting that he has suspended on his own.
When committee members questioned him about this on Wednesday, he attempted to quote precedent to justify his decision. However, he falsely quoted precedent. The instance he cited was an instance in which a committee was adjourned through all-party agreement between whips and House leaders on the last day of a sitting that was then prorogued and therefore was in no way congruent to the situation currently at hand.
In conclusion, the chair had no right to adjourn a meeting that had never started without the consent of the members, and he had no right to effectively terminate debate on a motion when there were members wishing to participate in said debate.
Should this decision of the chair be allowed to stand, it could have very serious consequences on the future democratic nature of committees.
I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you nullify all business of the committee that was conducted after the suspension of said meeting and allow the member for Brandon—Souris to continue debating the motion where he left off.