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Liberal MP for Halifax West (Nova Scotia)
Won his last election, in 2015, with 69% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Privilege October 18th, 2016
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on June 6, 2016, by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands concerning the rights of members from unrecognized parties to propose amendments to bills at report stage.
I would like to thank the hon. member for having raised the matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the member for Beloeil—Chambly for their comments.
In raising this question of privilege, the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands pointed out that independent members had once had the right to submit motions to amend bills at report stage. She contended that this situation changed when every committee adopted identical motions which required independent members instead to submit their amendments during clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee. By committees doing so in concert, she surmised that they were no longer masters of their proceedings and had supplanted the role of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which has the mandate to review House procedures, including report stage. With different bills at different committees, she characterized the new process as “...impractical, unworkable, and prejudicial to my rights”. She contended that the result of the procedure in question was that members from non-recognized parties were subject to a different category of rights and privileges.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons suggested that, on the contrary, the member’s ability to participate in the process of amending legislation and thus discharge her parliamentary functions, has been facilitated by committees having adopted such motions so as to allow members from non-recognized parties to propose amendments in committee.
The matter raised by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands calls into question the legitimacy of the manner in which members from non-recognized parties are required to participate in the process of amending legislation. The member is asking the Chair to agree that there is greater legitimacy in allowing such members to propose their amendments at report stage rather than in committee.
As has always been the case, there are two opportunities in the legislative process for members to propose amendments to the actual text of a bill—first, during a committee’s clause-by-clause consideration of a bill and, second, at report stage. That is not to say that both opportunities are the same in all respects. In fact, over time our rules and practices have evolved such that committees are and have been for some time the primary vehicle for amending legislation. Speaker Milliken’s ruling of March 21, 2001, emphasized this reality when he stated at page 1993 of the House of Commons Debates:
...I would strongly urge all members and all parties to avail themselves fully of the opportunity to propose amendments during committee stage so that the report stage can return to the purpose for which it was created, namely for the House to consider the committee report and the work the committee has done, and to do such further work as it deems necessary to complete detailed consideration of the bill.
In fact, modifications to Standing Order 76.1, adopted in 2001, provided that the Speaker would not normally select at report stage any amendments that were either previously ruled out of order in committee or that could have been proposed during the committee stage.
More recently, in a ruling delivered on June 9, 2015, on page 14830 of the Debates, my predecessor, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, reminded members that report stage:
...is not meant to be another opportunity for detailed consideration of the clauses of the bill. For this reason, the Chair rigorously limits the types of motions that could be considered at report stage. In so doing, the Chair rests on the presumption that a committee's clause-by-clause consideration provides ample opportunity to scrutinize the clauses of the bill and have amendments considered accordingly.
Thus, there can be no mistaking either the will of the House or the role of the Speaker when it comes to the purpose of report stage compared to that of committees with respect to amending legislation.
While the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands may recognize this in principle, she has argued that its practical application for members of non-recognized parties is fraught with difficulties, to the point of impeding her ability to fulfill her parliamentary functions. She has concluded that the adoption of identical motions by all committees constitutes proof that they are no longer masters of their own proceedings.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, explains on page 1047:
The concept refers to the freedom committees normally have to organize their work as they see fit and the option they have of defining, on their own, certain rules of procedure that facilitate their proceedings.
As recently as May 9, 2016, in a report stage ruling, I addressed this very issue. In doing so, it was made clear that, as committees continue using their flexibility as masters of their proceedings to allow all members the opportunity to propose amendments, the Chair expects members, in turn, to avail themselves of that opportunity.
At page 3045 of Debates, I stated:
...the Chair will be stricter in exercising his authority at report stage. Unless truly exceptional circumstances arise, the Chair will not select report stage motions that could have been moved in committee. I encourage all members to make efforts to have amendments dealt with in committee, so that report stage does not become a repetition of the committee clause-by-clause study of a bill.
In being asked to determine the procedural validity of committees’ actions in adopting these motions, the Chair is ever mindful of the longstanding practice that it must refrain from reaching into the internal procedures of committees, except where a committee reports back to the House requesting such intervention.
Thus, in the absence of a report from any of the committees about this matter, the Chair must presume that the correct procedures—including the requisite notice, debate, amendment and decision—were followed and that a majority of the members of each committee supported the adoption of the motions in question.
That committees are left to determine how best to proceed in order to carry out their mandate is an embedded principle. In a ruling delivered on June 6, 2013, on a similar motion adopted by the Standing Committee on Finance in the previous Parliament, my predecessor noted, on page 17797 of the Debates:
It should come as no surprise to members that the House and its committees frequently resort to procedural motions to facilitate the flow of business. Procedure in committee is particularly fluid and varied, and many committees routinely use a wide array of processes to organize their work.
In fact, committees frequently adopt substantive motions with text that is virtually identical on a variety of subjects. For instance, at an organization meeting, many committees adopt routine motions related to the distribution of documents to committee members, the treatment of in camera transcripts, the presence of staff during in camera meetings, and the reimbursement of witnesses, to name a few. That these motions are often substantially similar or even identical speaks to the development of best practices in committee procedure and to the need for the adaptation of procedure to changing circumstances.
Moreover, the Chair is unable to conclude that the various committees, by way of adopting these motions, have in any way usurped the role of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In fact, the role of that committee remains distinct and intact, as its authority in reviewing procedures and practices continues to stand concurrently with, yet separately from, committees' authority to determine their internal procedures. It is only the House that could decide otherwise.
The role of the Speaker in protecting the rights and privileges of all members is indisputably of the highest importance and one that I take very seriously. In the present circumstances, the Chair believes that the right of members of non-recognized parties to amend legislation has neither been diminished nor removed. Instead, it has been safeguarded, albeit through a process that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands evidently dislikes and finds difficult to manage.
Accordingly, I cannot find that a prima facie question of privilege exists in this case. I thank the House for its attention in this matter.
I wish to inform the House that, because of the deferred recorded divisions, government orders will be extended by 27 minutes.
Privilege September 27th, 2016
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on September 19, 2016, by the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola regarding the government's responses to written question Q-152, which was tabled in the House on June 14, 2016.
I thank the hon. member for raising this matter, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the member for Beloeil—Chambly for their comments.
In raising this matter, the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola alleged that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Natural Resources have misled the House since the responses they provided to his written question, Question No. 152, regarding the use of rented limousines for official business during the period of November 3, 2015, to April 22, 2016, were at odds with information that surfaced afterwards in the media. Specifically, he explained that the Minister of Health offered to the media that her answer to his written question could have been more clear. He characterized this as an omission of important details and a contempt of Parliament. The member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola found the same to be true by the Minister of Natural Resources not denying media reports on the matter.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader countered that, with respect to the Minister of Health, there are two separate issues at play: one is the answer she provided to Q-152, which he said reflected the question and contained the information requested; the other was her comments made outside the House regarding travel expenses, including her commitment to provide additional information in the future for greater clarity, as necessary.
With respect to the Minister of Natural Resources, he stated that the minister directly and accurately answered Q-152. As such, he viewed the matter as nothing more than a dispute as to facts.
Through this allegation of the House having been misled, the Chair is being asked to assess, by extension, the validity and truthfulness of the answers provided to Question No. 152, particularly as measured against the information reported by the media on this matter. The Chair sees several difficulties in this. It has been long established and accepted that the role of the Speaker in such circumstances is tightly prescribed and limited. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states clearly at page 522 that, “There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions”.
On February 8, 2005, Speaker Milliken, at page 3234 of Debates, confirmed this, stating:
Any dispute regarding the accuracy or appropriateness of this response is a matter of debate. It is not something upon which the Speaker is permitted to pass judgment.
This limitation on adjudicating on the accuracy of responses to questions, whether written or oral, is further compounded in this instance by the fact that the Speaker cannot pass judgment on matters that are not properly before the House. The authority of the Speaker is limited to studying evidence before the House, such as statements made in the House or matters detailed in reports from committees, and not evidence gleaned from other sources.
The member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola was correct in stating that on March 9, 2011, Speaker Milliken concluded that information provided to the House by a minister “at the very least...caused confusion”, thus ruling it to be a prima facie question of privilege. However, of note is the fact that the Speaker was able to do so only once the House was formally in possession of the relevant committee report. Before that, in his initial ruling on the matter, he stated at page 8030 of Debates on February 10, 2011, the following:
...the Chair is bound by very narrow parameters in situations such as this one. It may sound overly technical but the reality is that when adjudicating cases of this kind, the Chair is obliged to reference material fully and properly before the House.
The charge of the House having been deliberately misled is one that requires serious consideration, even given constraints on the role of the Chair. As members may recall from my ruling of May 5, 2016, I stated at page 2956 of Debates that when it is alleged that a member has misled the House, three conditions must be met in order for the Speaker to arrive at a finding of a prima facie question of privilege:
…first, the statement needs to be misleading. Second, the member making the statement has to know that the statement was incorrect when it was made. Finally, it needs to be proven that the member intended to mislead the House by making the statement.
‹ Not surprisingly, most such questions of privilege are found by the Chair to be a disagreement about the facts. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, on page 145, states:
In deliberating upon a question of privilege, the Chair will take into account the extent to which the matter complained of infringed upon any member's ability to perform his or her parliamentary functions or appears to be a contempt against the dignity of Parliament. If the question of privilege involves a disagreement between two (or more) members as to facts, the speaker typically rules that such a dispute does not prevent members from fulfilling their parliamentary functions nor does such a disagreement breach the collective privileges of the House.
In this particular instance, based on the evidence before me, I cannot conclude that the member has been impeded in the performance of his parliamentary duties and, thus, I cannot find that a prima facie breach of privilege has occurred.
Nevertheless, the concerns expressed by the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola are troubling to the Chair, particularly those in relation to the value and possible erosion of questions on the Order Paper as a tool to hold the government to account. As has been rightly stated, as Speaker and a servant of the House, I am entrusted with protecting the integrity of our procedures, including those related to written questions. The current case serves as a stark reminder of the need for and importance of such a tool that enables members to properly fulfill their obligations as legislators and representatives.
Access to information, accurate information, is one of the cornerstones of our parliamentary system. Members must be able to rely on it at all times. The integrity of many of our procedures, especially those relating to written questions, rests on the rightful expectation that ministers and the public servants who support them understand the value and utility of providing, not simply technically accurate, but also complete and transparent, answers in the written responses that they provide to members of the House.
In other words, it is incumbent upon those responding to questions to rise, in the words of the member for Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, to “the standards expected of them”.
This expectation is shared by the public as well. Citizens have placed a trust in their elected representatives that needs to be respected and upheld. After all, it must be remembered that citizens are the ultimate arbiters of the public debate generated from time to time by answers to written questions. It is in part for this reason that on January 29, 2013, at page 13395 of Debates, my predecessor stated:
I think all members would agree that members of the House have the right to expect that reasonable answers be given to reasonable questions, particularly given the critical role of written questions in our parliamentary system.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
Points of Order June 9th, 2016
I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised on April 18, 2016 by the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby concerning the procedural admissibility of Motion No. 43 standing in the name of the hon. member for Calgary Rocky Ridge.
I would like to thank the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby for raising this matter, as well as the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition and the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge for their contributions.
The member for New Westminster—Burnaby contended during his intervention that the motion in question, Motion No. 43, contravenes Standing Order 68(4), which grants ministers of the crown the power to introduce motions of instruction to a committee to study a matter and bring forth a bill based thereon. As there is no explicit provision in the Standing Orders for private members to do the same, and the very few relevant examples provide no justification, he concluded that the motion is inadmissible.
The House leader of the official opposition, as well as the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge, agreed that the Standing Orders do limit this prerogative to ministers only but continued, arguing that that alone cannot therefore be interpreted as the only way to provide such instructions to a committee.
In fact, this is precisely why the motion sponsored by the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge provides for a special order that allows the House to determine ultimately how it wishes to proceed. This, he felt, was in keeping with the regular practice of the House to adopt motions to regulate its proceedings or to provide for procedural mechanisms that are not found in its Standing Orders.
Thus, where the disagreement lies in this matter is not in whether a private member can propose a motion instructing a committee to bring in a bill pursuant to Standing Order 68(4), for there is agreement that they cannot. That is a provision that is now reserved strictly for ministers.
Instead, the question is rather the following: Do the Standing Orders or practices of this House permit the presentation of such a motion?
Since Confederation, the rules of the House of Commons have provided for two methods by which public bills can be introduced in the House; that is, either a member moves for leave to introduce a bill or a committee presents a report after having been ordered by the House to prepare and bring in a bill. The latter method has been employed only rarely.
Changes to the Standing Orders, and in particular Standing Order 68, in February 1994 specified that a minister could move such a motion under government orders, while, with the addition of paragraph (4)(b), a private member would have to do so through the process of private members’ business.
Then, in March 2003, the third report of the Special Committee on the Modernization and Improvement of the Procedures of the House of Commons recommended several provisional changes to the rules pertaining to private members' business, including the temporary suspension of Standing Orders 68(4)(b) and 7(b).
Thus, since the concurrence in the report by the House on March 17, 2003, private members have no longer been able to instruct a committee to prepare and bring in a bill pursuant to Standing Order 68. This became a permanent change to the Standing Orders on May 11, 2005, when the House concurred in the 37th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Of note is the fact that, during the time that Standing Order 68(4)(b) was suspended, notice was given of a private members’ motion instructing a committee to bring in a bill pursuant to that same Standing Order. On March 22, 2004, the Acting Speaker made a statement in the House declaring that, due to an error, motion No. 479 was improperly before the House and directing the clerk to modify the text of the motion so that it took the form of a resolution rather than an instruction.
However, while the Standing Orders describe the process for private members' business, they do not fully prescribe the limits to what is admissible as a private member's motion, other than those that exist in relation to the financial prerogative of the crown and the limit set out in Standing Order 68(4).
Other guidance can be found in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 1119, which provides a broad description of the types of motions that private members can introduce:
Private Members’ motions are used to introduce a wide range of issues and are framed either as orders or resolutions, depending on their intent. Motions attempting to make a declaration of opinion or purpose, without ordering or requiring a particular course of action, are considered resolutions....The government is not bound to adopt a specific policy or course of action as a result of the adoption of such a resolution since the House is only stating an opinion or making a declaration of purpose. This is in contrast to those motions whose object is to give a direction to committees, Members or officers of the House or to regulate House proceedings and, as such, are considered Orders once adopted by the House.
In the past, such orders by private members have not usually taken the form of instruction to a committee to bring in a bill. While it may seem that two exceptions to this are found in Motion M-411 in 2003 and Motion M-541 in 2004, as the member for New Westminster—Burnaby pointed out, their admissibility was never questioned as these items were neither placed on the order of precedence, nor moved or debated. Thus, they cannot be looked upon as precedents either way.
Given the evidence, the Chair cannot state categorically that Motion M-43, in its current form, offends the provisions and limitations of Standing Order 68(4); its wording is not so direct as to allow the Chair to draw that firm a conclusion. Instead, Motion M-43 is worded in such a way that it could in fact be viewed as an alternate path to Standing Order 68(4), as has been suggested by both the House leader for the official opposition and the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge. They indicated that, although the motion does propose an instruction to the Standing Committee on Finance, it also takes the form of a special order so that the House may proceed in a manner not stipulated in the rules of the House, should it so choose.
O'Brien and Bosc, at page 528, further supports the notion that it is ultimately up to the House to determine whether to adopt a proposal put before it:
A motion is a proposal moved by one Member in accordance with well-established rules that the House do something, order something done or express an opinion with regard to some matter. A motion initiates a discussion and gives rise to the question to be decided by the House.
Accordingly, I am prepared to permit debate on the motion standing in the name of the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge to continue in order to provide the House with the opportunity to determine whether or not it wishes to proceed in the manner outlined in the member's motion. Therefore, the motion will retain its position on the order of precedence and can proceed in its current form.
That being said, the Chair remains aware of different views expressed in reference to the admittedly unusual approach set out in Motion No. 43. In order to provide the House and the Chair with greater clarity and assurance, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs may wish to examine the matter further, with a view to reviewing the guidelines with respect to the procedural admissibility of private member’s motions and report back to the House any conclusions and recommendations at which it may arrive.
I would like to thank hon. members for their attention in this matter.
Criminal Code May 17th, 2016
There are 16 motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-14.
Motion No. 5, submitted by the hon. member for Victoria, and Motion No. 10, submitted by the hon. member for Montcalm, propose additional amendments to provisions of the bill that were previously amended in committee. Both motions seek to amend what is meant by “a grievous and irremediable medical condition”.
It should be noted that very similar definitions were proposed and defeated in committee, although they were proposed in reference to a different clause. In the view of the Chair, the objective of these motions is essentially identical to that of the amendments defeated in committee, and these motions will therefore not be selected for consideration at report stage.
The Chair has received letters sent by the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton, the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, and the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga arguing that certain motions, though previously defeated in committee, should be selected at report stage as they are of such exceptional significance as to warrant a further consideration, in accordance with the notice to Standing Order 76.1(5).
Motions Nos. 2, 11 and 15, submitted by both the hon. member for Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte and the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga, as well as Motion No. 8, submitted only by the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga, will not be selected by the Chair as they could have been presented in committee. The Chair has difficulty accepting that they should now be accepted at report stage when no attempt was made by either member to present them in committee.
Motions Nos. 4 and 9, submitted by the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton and the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, seek to ensure that a person who suffers from an underlying mental health condition has undergone a psychiatric evaluation to confirm that they are capable of giving informed consent in relation to a request for medical assistance in dying. Motion No. 14, submitted by the same two members, seeks to ensure that people are free to refuse to provide medical assistance in dying. All three motions are identical to amendments defeated in committee.
The same is true for Motion No. 6, submitted by both the hon. member for Montcalm and the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands. This motion seeks to delete paragraph 241.2(2)(d), which states that an individual's natural death must become reasonably foreseeable in order for the individual to be considered to have a grievous and irremediable medical condition.
In the case of the motions submitted by the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, Motions Nos. 7, 12 and 13 are also identical to amendments defeated in committee. Motion No. 7 seeks to amend paragraph 241.2(2)(d) to reference instead that the person's natural death must be imminent. Motion No. 12 seeks to add a paragraph providing that no substance is to be administered to a person who is capable of self-administering. Motion No. 13 provides for a review of the safeguards in relation to a request by a competent legal authority. Motion No. 3, which provides that a person must have consulted a medical practitioner regarding palliative care options prior to making a request for medical assistance in dying, is very similar to an amendment defeated in committee. The only distinction between the two is that the latter provided that such consultation had to have taken place within the 15 days prior to making the request.
The Chair appreciates the arguments put forward by hon. members as to why they consider these amendments to be of such significance as to warrant further consideration at report stage. I recognize that this is an important issue on which many members have strong and varied opinions. The Chair notes that the bill before us is unique, in its far-reaching social, moral and constitutional implications. The Chair also notes that, given the variety of opinions expressed by various members in all parties in relation to the provisions of this once-in-a-generation bill, the Chair is open to the argument of exceptional significance as contemplated in our Standing Orders. For these reasons, the Chair is prepared, on this occasion, to give members the benefit of the doubt and to select Motions Nos. 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13 and 14, even though they were previously defeated in committee or are similar to motions previously defeated in committee.
All of the other motions, Motions Nos. 1 and 16, were examined, and the Chair is satisfied that they meet the guidelines expressed in the note to Standing Order 76.1(5), which deals with the selection of motions in amendment at report stage.
Therefore, Motions Nos. 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, and 16 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.
I shall now propose these motions to the House.
Privilege May 5th, 2016
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 22, 2016, by the hon. member for Montcalm regarding alleged misleading statements made in the House by the Minister of Transport and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport with respect to BIll C-10, an act to amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act and to provide for certain other measures.
In presenting his case, the member for Montcalm alleged that both the Minister of Transport and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport deliberately misled the House by repeatedly providing inaccurate information with respect to Bill C-10 in response to oral questions and during debate.
In particular, the member claimed that the statements, which pertained to the status of litigation regarding Air Canada’s obligation to keep aircraft maintenance operations in the province of Quebec, had been refuted by the government of that province. The federal government’s assertions, he argued, led members of the House to make decisions in relation to Bill C-10 based on false information.
The Minister of Transport, for his part, stood by his statements, while pointing out that the federal government was not privy to the negotiations between Air Canada and the government of the Province of Quebec. He concluded that, in his opinion, the matter raised did not constitute a question of privilege, but was more a question of debate.
The House of Commons is a debating chamber where opposing views are passionately held and vigorously defended, and where opposition members have a duty to hold the government to account. Consequently, the need for members' access to truthful and accurate information is primordial and goes to the heart of their role and privileges as legislators.
In fact, feisty exchanges during debate and disagreements as to facts are not infrequent; the member for Montcalm acknowledged this when he stated that he understood “that disagreements between members are to be expected and are fodder for debate”.
Not surprisingly then, the allegation that a member deliberately misled the House is a most serious one. In adjudicating such matters, the Speaker has a defined but very limited role, one which prevents the chair from judging the content or accuracy of statements made in the House.
As Speaker, my role is strictly limited to determining whether, in the course of debate, a member has deliberately misled the House.
Successive Speakers have clearly set out the three conditions that must be demonstrated in order for a Speaker to arrive at such a finding. My predecessor outlined them in his ruling of April 29, 2015, when he stated at page 13197 of Debates:
…first, the statement needs to be misleading. Second, the member making the statement has to know that the statement was incorrect when it was made. Finally, it needs to be proven that the member intended to mislead the House by making the statement.
As members can appreciate, the threshold is very high, purposely so given the seriousness of the allegation and its potential consequences for members individually and collectively. From this, it stands to reason that a finding of a prima facie case of privilege is an exceedingly rare occurrence in cases with respect to disputed facts.
Speaker Jerome understood that such situations are rarely grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege when he stated on June 4, 1975, on page 6431 of Debates that:
...a dispute as to facts, a dispute as to opinions, and a dispute as to conclusions to be drawn from an allegation of fact is a matter of debate and not a question of privilege.
In the present case, no evidence has been brought forward to demonstrate either that the Minister of Transport knew that the statements he made were misleading at the time that they were made or that he intended to mislead the House.
Therefore, while the member for Montcalm has illustrated that there is a difference of opinion as to the interpretation of certain facts, it is clear to the Chair that the threshold for determining that the House was deliberately misled has not been met. As such, the Chair cannot conclude that members have been impeded in the performance of their parliamentary functions. Accordingly, I find that this matter is a dispute as to facts and not a prima facie question of privilege.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
Privilege April 19th, 2016
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 14, 2016, and again yesterday, by the House leader of the official opposition concerning the premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-14, an act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other acts (medical assistance in dying).
I would like to thank the House Leader of the Official Opposition for having raised this matter, as well as the chief government whip and the hon. member for New Westminster—Burnaby for their submissions.
In presenting his case, the House leader of the official opposition pointed out that specific and detailed information contained in Bill C-14 was reported in a newspaper article and elsewhere in the media before the bill had been introduced in the House. In describing the seriousness of this matter, which he considered to be a breach of members' privileges, he stressed the need for members to access information in order to fulfill their parliamentary duties, as well as the respect required for the essential role of the House in legislative matters.
In response, the chief government whip, acknowledging the problem, stated, “...our government takes any breach of the privilege of members and of the House very seriously”. He then noted that such a premature divulgation of the bill's contents had not been authorized and apologized unreservedly, committing to ensure that it would not happen again.
This being the first question of privilege to be raised in this Parliament, I want to take this opportunity to inform members of the role of the Speaker in this regard, particularly as it is a narrowly defined role.
As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states at page 141:
Great importance is attached to matters involving privilege. A Member wishing to raise a question of privilege in the House must first convince the Speaker that his or her concern is prima facie (on the first impression or at first glance) a question of privilege. The function of the Speaker is limited to deciding whether the matter is of such a character as to entitle the Member who has raised the question to move a motion which will have priority over Orders of the Day; that is, in the Speaker's opinion, there is a prima facie question of privilege. If there is, the House must take the matter into immediate consideration. Ultimately, it is the House which decides whether a breach of privilege or a contempt has been committed.
In adjudicating questions of privilege, the Speaker carefully considers the effect that the alleged breach has on members' ability to function. At page 145 of O'Brien and Bosc, it states:
In deliberating upon a question of privilege, the Chair will take into account the extent to which the matter complained of infringed upon any Member's ability to perform his or her parliamentary functions or appears to be a contempt against the dignity of Parliament.
As honourable members know, one of my most important responsibilities as Speaker is to safeguard the rights and privileges of members, individually and collectively. Central to the matter before us today is the fact that, due to its pre-eminent role in the legislative process, the House cannot allow precise legislative information to be distributed to others before it has been made accessible to all members. Previous Speakers have regularly upheld not only this fundamental right, but also expectation, of the House.
On October 4, 2010, on page 4711 of the House of Commons Debates, Speaker Milliken noted:
It is indisputable that it is a well-established practice and accepted convention that this House has the right of first access to the text of bills that it will consider.
This important convention exists so that members can properly exercise their functions as legislators. Speaker Milliken saw fit to reiterate it in that particular case, even though in those unique circumstances—the member admitted to having herself prematurely released the contents of her own private member's bill, so no doubt existed as to the provenance of the leak—he chose not to rule that the incident constituted a prima facie case of privilege.
It is within this context that I, as Speaker, must review each case on its own merits. Having done so, the facts are clear and undisputed in this instance: detailed information regarding the content of Bill C-14 was indeed made available through the media before the bill itself had been introduced in the House. There were no arguments raised to the contrary. Therefore, there was a direct contravention of the House's right to first access.
The chief government whip has unequivocally apologized for any breaches of confidentiality in this instance, recognizing the seriousness of the matter; this should be reassuring to all members. That being said, it would appear to the Chair, at first glance, that the leaking of the bill’s contents and, thus, the pre-empting of members’ access to legislative information, has impeded the ability of members to perform their parliamentary functions. In a strikingly similar case, quoted by the honourable opposition House leader, Speaker Milliken stated, at page 1840 of the House of Commons Debates of March 19, 2001:
The convention of the confidentiality of bills on notice is necessary, not only so that members themselves may be well informed, but also because of the pre-eminent [role] which the House plays and must play in the legislative affairs of the nation.
He concluded by affirming that it was ”a situation that the Chair cannot condone”.
In this instance, the chair must conclude that the House's right of first access to legislative information was not respected. The chair appreciates the chief government whip's assertion that no one in the government was authorized to publicly release the specific details of the bill before its introduction. Still, it did happen, and these kinds of incidents cause grave concern among hon. members. I believe it is a good reason why extra care should be taken to ensure that matters that ought properly to be brought to the House first do not in any way get out in the public domain prematurely.
Thus, the available precedents lead me to conclude that this incident constitutes a prima facie question of privilege, and I now invite the House leader of the official opposition to move the appropriate motion.
Speaker's Statement April 11th, 2016
The House will soon consider private members’ business for the first time since the opening of this Parliament. I would therefore like to make a brief statement regarding the management of private members' business. I want to remind all hon. members about the procedures governing private members’ business and the responsibilities of the Chair in the management of this process.
As members know, certain constitutional procedural realities constrain the Speaker and members insofar as legislation is concerned. One such procedural principle concerns whether or not a private member’s bill requires a royal recommendation. The Speaker has underscored this principle in a number of statements over the course of preceding Parliaments.
As noted on page 831 of the second edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice:
Under the Canadian system of government, the Crown alone initiates all public expenditure and Parliament may only authorize spending which has been recommended by the Governor General. This prerogative, referred to as the “financial initiative of the Crown”, is the basis essential to the system of responsible government and is signified by way of the “royal recommendation”.
The requirement for a royal recommendation is grounded in constitutional principles found in the Constitution Act, 1867. The language of section 54 of that act is echoed in Standing Order 79(1), which reads:
This House shall not adopt or pass any vote, resolution, address or bill for the appropriation of any part of the public revenue, or of any tax or impost, to any purpose that has not been first recommended to the House by a message from the Governor General in the session in which such vote, resolution, address or bill is proposed.
Any bill which authorizes the spending of public funds for a new and distinct purpose or effects an appropriation of public funds must be accompanied by a message from the Governor General recommending the expenditure to the House. This message, known formally as the royal recommendation, can only be transmitted to the House by a minister of the crown.
A private member’s bill that requires a royal recommendation may, however, be introduced and considered right up until and including third reading on the assumption that a royal recommendation may be provided by a minister. If none is produced by the conclusion of the third reading stage, the Speaker is required to decline to put the question on third reading.
Following the establishment, or subsequently the replenishment, during a Parliament of the order of precedence, the Chair has developed a practice of reviewing items so that the House can be alerted to bills which at first glance appear to infringe upon the financial prerogative of the crown. The aim of this practice is to allow members the opportunity to intervene in a timely manner to present their views about the need for those bills to be accompanied by a royal recommendation.
Accordingly, following the establishment of the order of precedence on February 26, 2016, I wish to draw the attention of the House to two bills which give the Chair some concern as to the spending provisions that they contemplate. These are Bill C-241, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (school authorities), standing in the name of the member for Saskatoon—Grasswood; and Bill C-243, An Act respecting the development of a national maternity assistance program strategy and amending the Employment Insurance Act (maternity benefits), standing in the name of the member for Kingston and the Islands.
I would encourage hon. members who would like to make arguments regarding the requirement of a royal recommendation for any of these bills, or with regard to any other bill now on the order of precedence, to do so at the earliest opportunity.
I thank honorable members for their attention.
It being 11:10 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
Income Tax Act February 25th, 2016
Before proceeding to the orders of the day, I wish to draw the House's attention to Bill C-222, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (Canada-Barbados Income Tax Agreement), standing in the name of the member for Joliette.
The bill is intended to amend the Income Tax Act, by including in the definition “taxable Canadian business”, any business that is entitled to a special tax benefit conferred by Barbados under the Canada-Barbados Income Tax Act Agreement, 1980. The purpose of the bill is to put an end to the tax benefits that certain companies currently enjoy under the income tax regulations. If the bill were adopted, it would increase the tax payable by these companies. Essentially, it involves eliminating a tax exemption.
As members know full well, any measures of this type raise questions about the need for ways and means motions. As it states on page 900 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, the House must adopt a ways and means motion before it can introduce a bill that imposes a tax or other charge on the taxpayer. Historically, this was referred to as charges against the people and, like today, required the adoption of a ways and means motion.
As described in the 24th edition of Erskine May, at page 761:
...'charges upon the people' may be...summarized as: (a) imposition of taxation, including the increase in rate, or extension in incidence, of existing taxation; (b) the repeal or reduction of existing alleviations of taxation, such as exemptions or drawbacks;
Further, at page 763, it states:
The requirement for a Ways and Means resolution also applies to any proposal for a change in tax law or the administration of tax collection which may lead, albeit incidentally, to an increased or accelerated tax burden for any class of taxpayers. A Ways and Means resolution was accordingly needed to authorize the Treasury to vary the way in which certain taxes have effect in relation to a transfer of property, rights or liabilities.
The question before the Chair is whether this is the case with Bill C-222. It is clear that, by obliging certain entities to bear an additional tax or charge by eliminating an exemption, the bill standing in the name of the member for Joliette would mean that the entities would pay more tax. As a result, C-222 should have been preceded by a ways and means motion. The rules in this respect are clear; such a motion can only be introduced by a minister.
When confronted with a similar situation on November 4, 2011, my predecessor ruled that the legislative steps completed, namely introduction and first reading, had not respected the provisions of the Standing Orders and were therefore null and void.
The current circumstance is the same and, as a result, the Chair must order that the second reading of Bill C-222 be deemed null and void and that the bill be discharged from the Order Paper.
The hon. member is not without recourse. He may make use of a motion if he wants to ensure that the House debates this question. I therefore invite him to consider this option.
I thank hon. members for their attention.
(Order discharged and bill withdrawn)
Centre Block Fire of 1916 February 3rd, 2016
Today, Parliament marks the 100th anniversary of the great fire of February 3, 1916, which ravaged most of the original Centre Block.
On that night, as the new deputy speaker, Edgar Nelson Rhodes of Nova Scotia, was in the Chair presiding over the House for the first time, a fire broke out in the Commons Reading Room.
The fire grew to a raging blaze that would claim seven lives: Mr. Bowman Brown Law, MP, representative of the county of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Mr. J.B.R. Laplante, Assistant Clerk, House of Commons; Mrs. Mabel Morin and Mrs. Florence Bray, who were guests of the Speaker of the House, Albert Sévigny; Mr. Randolph Fanning of the Post Office Department; Mr. Alphonse Desjardins of the Public Works Department and his nephew, also Mr. Alphonse Desjardins of the Dominion Police Force. We are honoured that descendants of some of those individuals are here with us in the gallery today.
The next morning, most of the Centre Block was nothing but smoking ruins. Only the library and the northwest wing of the building were spared.
Were it not for the quick thinking of librarian Michael Connolly MacCormac, credited for closing the Library's iron doors, this beautiful space and its thousands of irreplaceable books would have also been lost.
The House of Commons mace was destroyed in the fire, and when the first sitting of the House following the fire took place on February 4, 1916, at 3:00 p.m. in the Victoria Memorial Museum, now home to the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Senate loaned its mace to the House.
For the next three weeks, the mace belonging to the Ontario Legislature was used until a temporary mace made of wood was fashioned. That wooden mace was preserved and is being used in the chamber today, as it has been since 1977 every February 3rd.
The wooden mace will then be displayed in the House of Commons foyer. It serves as a tangible reminder of the great fire of 1916 and bears witness to the history of the Parliament of Canada.
I invite all hon. members to join me and our honoured guests after question period in room 216 North, where the Curator of the House of Commons will provide a historical review of the great fire.