Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Motion No. 17 under government business.
What we seem to be losing in all of this is that if this motion is passed it will suspend Standing Order 28(2) which lays out the parliamentary calendar. We have to remember that this was a process adopted in 1982 to give adequate time to allow for Commons business and to balance it off with members' ability to structure their constituency time and their personal lives. This Standing Order provides for certainty in the parliamentary calendar and was adopted by the House after two committees studied it and recommended such a rule.
Members will know that Standing Orders can be changed or suspended by a simple majority vote but before doing so we should ensure that the change is not imposed in a capricious or arbitrary fashion.
This proposed change to the Standing Orders, as put forward in this government motion, was last undertaken on June 13, 1988. At that time the then president of the Treasury Board, speaking for the then Conservative government, stated, at page 16379 of the House of Commons Debates dated June 13, 1988:
I think it fair to say that we especially appreciate that in following this course of action the Government must pay heed to the parliamentary calendar and not change same without having a very reasoned argument for doing so.
That was said in the course of the free trade debate and legislation in 1988 and it was very time sensitive that the House deal with it.
In this motion the government House leader recognizes that the motion before us is in no way a routine or simple motion. In fact, the first line of the motion itself states, “That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice...”. This is clear evidence that this is not some limited, ordinary or trivial procedural device. This motion calls into question the general principles of the transaction of public business in an orderly and controlled fashion.
What is being proposed in this motion, in the words of the then member for Windsor West, now the right hon. Herb Gray, is an attempt “to legislate by exhaustion”. Mr. Gray spoke out as a Liberal on June 9, 1988, at great length, in opposition to an identical motion to what we have before us. He noted, quoting again from page 16294 of the House of Commons Debates dated June 9, 1988:
This is certainly the wrong way to have proper debate and consideration in the House and the wrong way to have public input. I think the government hopes its legislation, to use the words of Bourinot, will slip through “on sudden impulse”, and surely that is wrong.
In that same debate on June 9, 1988, the comments of the then member for Winnipeg--Birds Hill, who, ironically, is still in the House as the member for Elmwood—Transcona, were reported on page 16502 of the House of Commons Debates as follows:
I feel obliged to get on my feet on behalf of the members of those two reform committees that I belonged to, on behalf of Members now, and on behalf of future Members of Parliament, to say that if we sacrifice this parliamentary calendar to the Government's political agenda-and that is all it is, it is not as if there is any great emergency....
Two lines later he stated:
--I want to make the larger claim that what is at stake is the health of the parliamentary institution itself.
This is no emergency. There is no compelling reason to override Standing Order 28(2). What is contemplated, if this motion were to pass, using the same logic applied by Mr. Gray in 1988, is a dictatorship by the majority.
Let me quote the member for Winnipeg--Birds Hill, now the member for Elmwood--Transcona, from page 16302 of the Commons Debates of June 9, 1988:
All of us here, and future Parliaments, will come to rue the day we throw out the parliamentary calendar. We had it there with a little window where we had some sanity in this place. Some members are trying to chuck that out of the window and everyone will pay as long as Parliament continues to exist for the fact that the government put its own political agenda before the health of this institution.
The ultimate irony and tragedy of this motion is that it has as one of its objectives to force non-stop, sometimes 14 hours, daily debate on inter alia Bill C-38, a bill which purports to protect and uphold minority rights.
Is it not a tragedy that to protect minority rights, it calls upon the majority of this House to disrespect, to waive, and to do away with the rules which govern the orderly conduct of the business of this House and this country?
That which the government says it deplores, being the alleged suppression of minority rights, by this device, this motion, urges the majority to waive the rules of business and parliamentary law in order that it might likewise suppress what it hopes and trusts will be a minority opposed to its capricious and craven disregard for parliamentary order.
It is the duty of every member of this House to uphold and protect the traditions, the conventions and the rules of this place, as embodied in the Standing Orders. That code has evolved and has been adopted to ensure that the fundamental law of Parliament is upheld.
One can imagine the outcry from the righteous in this chamber if, for example, a majority changed the Standing Orders on quorum to decrease it to three members in the House, or simply change the Standing Orders and do away with question period. All of these things are possible. We could do it by a vote of a majority on a motion in this House, a vote to change the Standing Orders to reflect these types of objectives.
Finally, I want to comment on the wording of the motion itself, which was described to me by a journalist recently as incomprehensible. It contains the word “deemed” twice. It says “--the said motion immediately shall be deemed to have been adopted--”. Later on it says “--the House shall be deemed to stand adjourned--”.
In legislative drafting, the word deemed is to be avoided. Black's Law Dictionary , seventh edition, 1999, defines deem on page 425:
- to treat (something) as if (1) it were really something else, or (2) it has qualities that it does not have, “although the document was not in fact signed until April 21, it explicitly states that it must be deemed to have been signed on April 14”. Black's Law Dictionary continues its definition, saying:
“Deem” has been traditionally considered to be a useful word when it is necessary to establish a legal fiction either positively by “deeming” something to be what it is not or negatively by “deeming” something not to be what it is...All other uses of the word should be avoided.
Surely, having regard to the lack of urgency around all of these matters, and having regard to the abundance of legal drafters in this place, members should avoid setting such a dangerous precedent which, I would point out, was opposed and decried by the NDP and the Liberal Party in 1988.
It is a precedent which attacks the foundations of the Standing Orders which were laid out and have evolved to give order to the business of this place and which were founded on the basic premises of the law of Parliament. We are doing all of this under the guise of a legal fiction. This I would submit would be adequate reason to vote against the motion.