I am now ready to rule on the multiple points of order raised on Friday regarding the time allocation motion for the committee stage of Bill C-10, an act to amend the Broadcasting Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other acts.
Immediately after the motion was moved, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands asked whether a motion of instruction was not a more appropriate way for the House to direct the work of a committee.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker indicated that the time-allocated motion was in order.
The member for Lethbridge then argued that the time allotted under the terms of the motion was insufficient, as all previous examples of time allocations under Standing Order 78(3) at the committee stage had been up to 10 further hours, while the present motion provided only five additional hours. As the standing order provides that the amount of time allocated may not be less than one sitting day, and since committees do not have standard sitting days the way the House does, she contended that the House should be guided by past practices and allot at least 10 further hours.
The Assistant Deputy Speaker repeated that the motion was in order and that she would return with a more detailed ruling after the 30-minute period for questions and comments.
This was followed by multiple points of order by many members who continued to challenge the admissibility of the motion and the approach the Chair was taking. These continued until the House began Statements by Members, and resumed after question period until the House began Private Members' Business.
There are four points I would like to address in relation to this matter. The first is whether this time allocation motion is in order. The second concerns the manner in which the Chair considers points of order before coming to a decision. The third relates to respect for the Chair's authority. Finally, I would like to address the status of the time allocation motion, on which proceedings were not concluded.
First, it is clear to the Chair that it is possible to move a time allocation motion in relation to the committee stage of a bill. As the member for Lethbridge acknowledged, there are three previous examples of such motions under Standing Order 78(3) for bills before standing or legislative committees, all of which providing for 10 additional hours of study by the said committees. Time allocation was invoked under the terms of Standing Order 78(3)(a) for the purpose of setting a deadline, and I quote:
…in respect of proceedings at the stage at which a public bill was then under consideration either in the House or in any committee…for the purpose of allotting a specified number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of proceedings at that stage; provided that the time allotted for any stage is not to be less than one sitting day...
The standing order makes no distinction between the stages of a bill, except for the possibility of moving one motion to cover the proceedings at both the report and the third stages. Moreover, while it is possible to allot a specific number of hours or days for the consideration of a stage, the minimum length of time is expressed in sitting days.
The member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan argued that the Chair should look at the times at which committee meetings are normally organized in the course of a day, suggesting that this could be more than 12 hours. An argument could even be made that the usual length of most committee meetings is two hours. Truth be told, while the House is set to meet and to adjourn, this is not the case in committees. Thus, the Chair can only conclude that the intention was indeed to specifically refer to the length of a sitting of the House.
What, then, is the equivalent of a sitting day when a motion is expressed in hours?
In a ruling made on June 18, 2012, a previous Speaker, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, offered a historical review on the application of Standing Order 78. In his conclusion, he stated that the average length of time for the consideration of Government Orders in a typical week is approximately 4.7 hours per day, and that accordingly a motion allotting a rounded-up number of five hours was the equivalent of a sitting day. There have been multiple examples of time allocation motions under Standing Order 78(3) allotting five hours for the second reading stage, for report stage and for third reading stage.
For all these reasons, the Chair does not see why the committee stage would be any different. I therefore rule that the motion is in keeping with the requirements of Standing Order 78(3).
The member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan expressed concerns that the motion would prevent him from proposing amendments in committee that he considers important. Indeed, one of the consequences of a time allocation motion may be that certain amendments and arguments will not be presented at the committee stage consideration of a bill. In fact, the Standing Orders provide for such situations. It is not for the Chair to consider the consequences of a motion properly before the House. That is a decision for the House. The Chair's role is limited to determining whether the motion is in order.
The second point I wish to address is the power of the Chair in relation to Points of Order.
Some members argued on Friday that the Chair is required to hear as many points of order as are raised, even equating a failure to do so with censorship or a suspension of the Standing Orders. Certain members also asserted that the Chair is required to give reasons for decisions, and that a failure to do so immediately enables members to continue questioning the Chair’s ruling. This is not the case.
In a ruling given on June 4, 2018, at page 20170 of the Debates, my predecessor, the member for Halifax West, stated, and I quote:
It is well established that when making a case on either questions of privilege or points of order, members are expected to make brief presentations on the issue being raised. The Chair, once satisfied that sufficient information has been given, may inform the member accordingly....
Acting Speaker Devolin explained this well on June 13, 2012, at page 9374 of the Debates, when he stated, “...the floor is not the members' until they choose to stop. The Speaker has a right to terminate that discussion....That is left to the judgment of the Speaker.” This is to say that members do not have unlimited time to speak.
Additionally, once the Speaker has ruled or determined that sufficient information has been presented, it is not in keeping with our practices that members use new points of order, for it can be perceived as undermining and questioning the authority of the Chair.
This makes clear that the Speaker has the authority to decide how long to listen to an intervention in order to ascertain the argument being made. The Speaker can also decide how many points of order to hear on a matter before closing the discussion. Members do not have an unfettered right to raise as many points of order as they want for as long as they want.
I wish to especially insist on this point in the context of our hybrid sittings. By activating their own microphones, members can interrupt the proceedings, cancelling out the audio of the members duly recognized, and making it impossible for the interpreters to do their work. When the Chair has indicated that a decision has been made and the discussion is over, members are expected to respect the statement and not persist in raising points of order.
When considering a point of order, the Chair may rule right away or take the matter under advisement and return with a decision later. However, it is also possible for the Chair to provide an immediate ruling and return with more detailed reasoning at a later time.
For example, on March 21, 2007, Speaker Milliken ruled that an opposition motion on the Notice Paper was out of order, returning with a more detailed explanation as to why on March 29, 2007. An even closer parallel would be on June 12, 2012, when the Deputy Speaker heard several points of order in the middle of the question and comment period on a time allocation motion. She gave a brief ruling at the end of the period, allowing the vote on the motion to proceed, with the Speaker providing a more expansive ruling on July 18, 2012. This is the ruling I referenced earlier about the length of a sitting day. Therefore, it was perfectly acceptable for the Assistant Deputy Speaker to proceed as she did on Friday.
This brings me to my third point, about the need to respect the authority of the Chair. The Speaker is elected by members to apply and enforce the rules that members themselves have adopted to govern the conduct of business in the House. In this, I am assisted by the three other Chair occupants. But to carry out our work, we rely on the support, cooperation and good will of all members.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, reminds us, at page 641, that and I quote: “Once the decision is rendered, the matter is no longer open to debate or discussion and the ruling may not be appealed.” It also states, at page 620, and I quote: “Reflections must not be cast in debate on the conduct of the Speaker or other Presiding Officers. It is unacceptable to question the integrity and impartiality of a Presiding Officer.”
The tone of debate has recently taken a turn for the worse. This past week, both sides of the House openly challenged rulings of the Chair. On Friday, derogatory remarks toward the Chair were heard. I recognize that there are moments when tensions run high and when disagreements are strong. However, disregard for our rules and established practices is not only disrespectful to those entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining order and decorum in deciding procedural questions, it is also disrespectful to the House as a whole.
On March 14, 2008, in a similar context, Speaker Milliken said, at page 4183 of the Debates:
Like all Canadians, and indeed all hon. members, I realize and respect that political exigencies often dictate the strategies adopted by parties in the House. However, as your Speaker, I appeal to those to whom the management of the business of the Parliament has been entrusted—the House leaders and the whips of all parties—to take leadership on this matter....I ask them to work together to find a balance that will allow the parties to pursue their political objectives and will permit all members to carry on their work. I am confident that working together in good faith they can come to an agreement that will return us to the equilibrium that our procedures and practices have been designed to protect.
I come now to my final point, which concerns the status of the time allocation motion moved Friday. For the first two decades of their existence, time allocation motions were subject to a two-hour debate. However, since 1991, such motions are no longer subject to debate. In 2001, following a recommendation of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons, the House instituted a 30-minute question and comment period when a time allocation motion is moved under Standing Order 78(3). The intent of this change was to promote accountability and to require the government to justify its decision. This change did not, however, render a time allocation motion debatable, set down on the Order Paper and carried over from sitting to sitting. It is to be decided forthwith, meaning immediately, that is, during the sitting in which it is moved.
Time allocation motions and closure motions are non-debatable motions where the question is not put on them right away because of the 30-minute question and comment period. What then is to be done when the House cannot complete this period?
The Chair has looked at a variety of precedents. On March 7, 2012, the House began a question and comment period at approximately 5:10 p.m. Proceedings were not interrupted at 5:30 p.m., but instead continued until 30 minutes were completed. On April 30, 2015, the question and comment period was interrupted for the first time in order to proceed to Statements by Members. In so doing, the Acting Speaker stated that he was only doing so as there would be an opportunity to complete the proceedings after Oral Questions. On June 6, 2017, the Speaker interrupted the proceedings at 5:30 p.m. to move to Private Members' Business, but the sitting hours had been extended and there was an opportunity to return to the motion later that day.
In those cases, the House resumed the question and comment period where it had left off, completed it and proceeded to the vote. Friday was the first occasion where the proceedings were interrupted for Private Members' Business and the House had no opportunity to resume the question and comment period before adjourning. In the future, the question and comment period on a time allocation motion or closure motion will only be interrupted if there is an opportunity to conclude proceedings in the same sitting. Where this is not possible, the House will continue with proceedings until a decision is made on the motion.
The Chair's role, as I said earlier, is to apply the rules the House itself has adopted. The House has provided for the time allocation motions on bills, including at committee stage, and has provided that they are to be decided forthwith after a question and comment period of 30 minutes. In the case of this motion, the appropriate notice was given, the form of the motion respects our Standing Orders, the motion was duly moved and seconded and the question and comment period began. So far, six and a half minutes have been used in that period. The appropriate course of action is now to conclude the remaining 23 and a half minutes and then proceed with a vote.
I thank the members for their attention.
Questions and comments.