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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is pps.

Liberal MP for Halifax West (Nova Scotia)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 69% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Point of Order March 21st, 2017

I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised earlier today by the hon. member for Perth—Wellington concerning the supply bill that was distributed with Supplementary Estimates (C) for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, which will be called for debate later today.

I thank the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for raising this important issue, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the hon. member for London—Fanshawe for their observations.

In his arguments, the member for Perth—Wellington indicated that the parts of the draft appropriation act concerning the salary of certain ministers were already before the House in an amending bill, Bill C-24, an act to amend the Salaries Act and to make a consequential amendment to the Financial Administration Act. He contended that, as such items of a legislative character should not be included in the estimates, the Speaker should remove from the estimates all references to authority for ministerial salaries.

As the member has indicated, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states at page 869:

...estimates with a direct and specific legislative intent...should come to the House by way of an amending bill.

However, as the member also noted, this situation is not new. In fact, members may recall that during the current Parliament, Bill C-8, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016 and Bill C-9, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, had the exact same provisions regarding ministerial salaries. Both bills were adopted by the House without any concerns being raised either beforehand or afterwards.

As has been pointed out by the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, this procedure has been used consistently since the mid-1990s.

In reference to the specific arguments raised by the member for Perth—Wellington, the Chair would be remiss if it did not point out an important nuance, namely that outlined by Speaker Parent in his ruling November 25, 1997, found at page 2209 of Debates, when he said:

...what was objected to in the past and what different Speakers have ruled out of order were attempts to amend existing acts or legislate new programs as part of a legislative measure granting supply.

Clearly, the draft supply bills currently available to members on this last supply day are not amending existing acts or legislating new programs. Accordingly, the Chair is satisfied that the form or content of the bills is not at issue in this case.

The Chair is therefore prepared to let the estimates, and the supply bills that flow from them, proceed today in their current form.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians Act March 8th, 2017

There are seven motions in amendment standing on the Notice Paper for the report stage of Bill C-22.

The Chair has received a letter from the government House leader arguing that Motion No. 6 could not have been presented in committee, as the changes it proposes arose out of a decision of the Supreme Court rendered very shortly before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security began clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. A similar argument was made in relation to part (b) of Motion No. 3. The court decision in question was rendered on Friday, November 25, 2016, and clause-by-clause consideration began on Tuesday, November 29, 2016. The government House leader contended in her letter that there was not sufficient time to analyze the consequences of the decision and prepare amendments accordingly. For that reason, she has asked that they be selected at report stage.

The hon. member for Victoria has also sent a letter to the Chair arguing that these amendments should not be selected, as he believes they should have been presented in committee. He also argues that there are cases in the past where the Chair has refused to select motions presented by the government.

As members know, consistent with the note to Standing Order 76.1(5), the Chair would not normally select motions that could have been presented or were defeated in committee.

However, there have been exceptions. On September 22, 2014, the Speaker was faced with a similar case in relation to a motion at the report stage of Bill C-13, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act. The hon. member for Charlottetown submitted a motion arising out of a court decision rendered after clause-by-clause and, in that case, the motion was selected.

The circumstances in the present case, although not identical, are sufficiently analogous to satisfy the Chair that the motions in question should be selected for consideration at report stage.

The Chair has examined the remaining motions submitted and is satisfied they meet the criteria spelled out in Standing Order 76.1(5). Motion No. 1 could not have been presented in committee, as it requires a royal recommendation. Part (a) of Motion No. 3 and Motion No. 4 further amend changes made by the committee. Motion No. 5 restores a clause deleted by the committee. Motions Nos. 2 and 7 propose to delete clauses. These motions will all be selected.

Motions numbered 1 to 7 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I shall now propose Motions Nos. 1 to 7 to the House.

Points of Order February 15th, 2017

I am now prepared to rule on the points of order raised on December 12, 2016 and February 7, 2017 by the member for Carleton, related to the government response to written Question No. 575, which was tabled in the House on December 9, 2016, and on the point of order raised on February 1, 2017 by the member for Calgary Shepard, related to the government response to written Question No. 510, which was tabled in the House on November 14, 2016.

I would like to thank the hon. members for Carleton and for Calgary Shepard for having raised these matters, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for his comments.

In his arguments, the member for Carleton indicated that, although the minister did provide a response to his written question, he was dissatisfied with the response which, in his opinion, lacked the specific information he had requested.

He later argued that he discovered that the government had concealed information in the answer it had provided to his written question. The member even suggested: “that this matter may rise to the seriousness of contempt.” Finally, he contended that, as Speaker, I had an obligation to compel the government to provide this information.

As for the member for Calgary Shepard, he explained that, although the government did answer three sections of his written Question No. 510, he did not receive an answer to the other parts. Although satisfied with the answers that he did receive, he explained: “I am not asking you, Mr. Speaker, to review the quality or accuracy of the response. I am asking you to address the lack of a response.”

For his part, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons contended, on February 7, 2017, that it was not the role of the Speaker to judge the content or quality of answers to written questions.

Written questions are a mechanism by which members of Parliament can obtain information from the government and hold it to account. The member for Carleton was correct in his assertion that, “It is a basic right of members of Parliament to ask these questions on behalf of Canadians.”.

By raising their dissatisfaction with the responses to their written questions, both members are in effect asking the Chair to assess the quality and completeness of answers provided to written questions.

Members are fully aware that it is not the first time such issues have been raised in the House and members will note that the Chair has been consistent in its response to these concerns. My predecessor, on May 26, 2015, in ruling on a similar matter, stated on page 14137 of the Debates, and I quote:

Invariably, when members deem that the content or quality of responses to written questions falls short, the Chair is asked to adjudicate. In each instance, the Chair has sought to remind members of the clear and long-standing limitations of the role of the Speaker in this regard.

These limitations are made clear on page 522 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, which I cited on September 27, 2016, at page 5175 of Debates, in a ruling concerning a similar question. To quote it again:

There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions.

On February 8, 2005, Speaker Milliken confirmed this, at page 3234 of House of Commons Debates, stating, and I quote:

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 is much like the quality of questions and answers during question period.

My predecessor, on April 3, 2012, in ruling on a similar matter, further stated that it is not the Speaker’s role to determine if the contents of documents tabled in the House are complete.

Members place great importance on their right to hold the government to account, either by asking oral or written questions. It is a right that is legitimized by parliamentary procedure and the role of the Speaker in those instances is to make sure the rules have been followed.

In the cases before us, both the member for Carleton and the member for Calgary Shepard put their respective written questions on notice, pursuant to Standing Order 39, and pursuant to Standing Order 39(7), their questions were each made an order for return and the answer was tabled.

In view of the precedents available to me, the Chair is bound to conclude that the government has complied with the requirements of the Standing Orders. The Chair is not empowered to rule on the quality or completeness of the answers. I therefore cannot find that there has been any breach of the rules and practices of the House in these cases.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Criminal Code February 8th, 2017

Before we proceed with this evening's votes, I would like to provide guidance to the House on the process respecting recorded divisions on items of private members' business. This is a matter that was raised by the hon. member for Chilliwack—Hope on December 6, 2016, for which I thank him.

As members are aware, all votes on private members' business are conducted in reverse order, beginning with the back rows and moving forward. Starting with the yeas, the first vote is cast by the member who is sponsoring the bill or the motion in question, followed by members in the back row on the same side of the House as the sponsor, and then those members in favour on the opposite side of the House, again, beginning with the back row. The Speaker then calls on those who will vote against the motion in the same fashion.

As indicated in the first report of the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business, an appendix to the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, concurred in on November 4, 1998, this manner of proceeding is intended to “further emphasize that Private Members' Business belongs to private Members, and further distinguish it from other business of the House”.

These procedures have generally been respected since they were established in the 36th Parliament. On occasion however, members are late to rise to record their vote, standing only after their row has already been called. While this can no doubt be attributed in most cases to a brief moment of inattention, standing late can create confusion and should be avoided.

Therefore, I invite all members to pay particular attention when we are proceeding with recorded divisions, whether as party votes or as row-by-row votes under Private Members’ Business, so that all members’ votes may be recorded in an organized fashion.

I would like to thank all members for their attention to this matter and for their continued efforts in assuring the proper procedures are respected for recorded divisions during private members' business.

Points of Order January 31st, 2017

On November 30, 2016, the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition raised a point of order concerning the use of the motion to proceed to orders of the day during routine proceedings on that day. At the time, I ruled the motion in order and proceeded to put the question and committed to return to the House with a more substantive ruling, which I am now prepared to do.

I would like to thank the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Victoria, and the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for their comments.

The House Leader of the Official Opposition objected to this motion being moved during routine proceedings since it had the effect of superseding the remaining rubrics in routine proceedings, a proceeding which she characterized as an essential part of House business that needs to be protected. In doing so, she decried what she called the government's misuse of this procedure.

Citing two rulings by Speaker Fraser on November 24, 1986, and April 14, 1987, she asked the Chair to intervene to find the motion out of order until such time as the government could demonstrate that unreasonable obstruction by the opposition necessitated its use.

In response, the hon. parliamentary secretary countered that the motion to proceed to orders of the day was, in fact, in order and consistent with the rules of the House. The motion, “That the House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day”, is what is defined as, quote, “A superseding motion designed to dispose of the original question before the House, either for the time being or permanently.”

Such motions have been moved in recent years with some frequency by both the government and the opposition. In fact, as was the case on November 30, examples can be found of such motions being moved during routine proceedings and on a Wednesday, as well as prior to the moving of a motion for time allocation or the consideration of a bill subject to time allocation.

The issue then is whether its use on November 30 was procedurally appropriate; that is, was it used within the strict confines of the rules and practices of the House. The opposition House leader suggested that it was not. She cited rulings by Speaker Fraser from 1986 and 1987 in support of her contention.

While all Speaker's Rulings constitute an important point of reference in the adjudication of matters before the House, they must always be examined in the context of their era. Routine proceedings in 1986 and 1987 was conducted in a completely different order of rubrics and the circumstances of the time were vastly different. Even so, it is notable that a motion moved on November 24, 1986 to proceed to the orders of the day during routine proceedings was found to be in order by the Chair.

As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states on page 541:

The motion “That the House do now proceed to the Orders of the Day” may be moved by any Member prior to the calling of Orders of the Day…. The Chair has ruled that a motion to proceed to the Orders of the Day is in order during Routine Proceedings which, in recent practice, is the only time that it has been proposed.

I have also considered whether, as the opposition House leader contends, such situations require the intervention of the Speaker to determine if a bill or motion has received sufficient debate. My predecessor clearly indicated in a ruling on November 26, 2014, at page 9830 of Debates that “it is not for the Speaker to judge whether an issue has been sufficiently debated”. I share that view. It is not within the purview of the Speaker to express a view on whether the duration of debate has been appropriate on a measure before the House. Accordingly, it is clear to the Chair that the procedural exigencies were met when the government moved a motion to proceed to the orders of the day during routine proceedings. I can therefore confirm that the motion was in order.

I thank all members for their attention.

Points of Order December 6th, 2016

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on November 23, 2016, by the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands concerning the requirement for a royal recommendation for 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 his name.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Kingston and the Islands for having raised this important matter as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. member for Essex, the hon. member for Cambridge, and the hon. member for Perth—Wellington for their comments.

This bill is intended to provide for the development and implementation of a national maternity assistance program strategy and to amend the Employment Insurance Act. It is the latter portion of the bill that is at issue in the present case.

The purpose of clauses 6 and 7 of the bill is to allow a pregnant woman to claim employment insurance benefits if she has obtained a certificate, completed by a medical doctor, attesting that she is unable to perform the duties of her regular or usual employment or of other suitable employment, because the job functions may pose a risk to her health or to that of her unborn child.

Under the present regime of the Employment Insurance Act, any pregnant woman could have access to pregnancy benefits for a total of 15 weeks starting, at the earliest, eight weeks before her due date. The decision on when to begin receiving benefits is entirely up to the applicant, and the act is silent as to any governing reasons or criteria. The bill would provide access to these benefits starting 15 weeks before the due date if there is a health risk due to the claimant's work environment.

In other words, the claimant, instead of claiming eight weeks of benefits before her baby was born and seven weeks after, could claim the entire 15 weeks prior to the birth of the child.

The member for Kingston and the Islands argued that Bill C-243 does not need a royal recommendation, since the effect of the bill would not result in an increase of the amount of benefits paid or an increase of the benefit period or of the number of weeks an individual is entitled to claim, nor would it change the eligibility requirements to make employment insurance benefits accessible to more claimants.

Since the bill would simply shift the existing entitlements, any cost associated with the changes would be merely operational. His central argument was that protecting maternal health is already a function of maternity benefits, and since the bill aims at achieving the same result through existing entitlements, it cannot be considered to be creating a new function.

He went on to indicate that since “applicants are already permitted to take benefits during their pregnancy, up to eight weeks prior to their due date, [it] is strong evidence that maternal health and maintaining a safe pregnancy are existing purposes of maternity benefits”.

The member for Essex, the member for Cambridge, and the member for Perth—Wellington indicated in their interventions that they supported these arguments.

The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader argued that the royal recommendation attached to the Employment Insurance Act covers not only the charges envisioned by the act but also the terms and conditions of each benefit. He stated that “altering when a person is eligible to receive a benefit under the Employment Insurance Act, even if the change to the benefit would not increase the overall charge, would constitute an alteration to the terms and conditions”.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 834 states that:

A royal recommendation not only fixes the allowable charge, but also its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications. For this reason, a royal recommendation is required not only in the case where money is being appropriated, but also in the case where the authorization to spend for a specific purpose is significantly altered. Without a royal recommendation, a bill that either increases the amount of an appropriation, or extends its objects, purposes, conditions and qualifications is inadmissible on the grounds that it infringes on the Crown’s financial initiative.

In the present case, it is clear, as the sponsor of the bill argued, that there is no increase in the overall amount of benefits. The shifting of the time period would have no bearing on the total amount of money disbursed.

However, in these matters, the cost is not the only factor. The question for the Chair is whether or not the changes proposed would significantly alter the objects, purposes, conditions, and qualifications of the benefits such that they would require a royal recommendation.

On May 8, 2008, Speaker Milliken delivered a ruling that can be found at page 5587 of Debates, on Bill C-490, an act to amend the Old Age Security Act (application for supplement, retroactive payments and other amendments). While the bill clearly provided for increases in supplements, it also made changes in the manner in which people applied for benefits and the extent to which qualified persons could claim benefits retroactively. In Speaker Milliken’s view, this:

...would alter the conditions and qualifications that were originally placed on public spending on old age security payments when those benefits were approved by Parliament.

As I have reminded the House on a number of occasions, funds may only be appropriated by Parliament in the manner and, as explicitly stated in Standing Order 79(1), for purposes covered by a royal recommendation.

In this case, Bill C-243 does not impose any new charge on the public treasury but creates a new set of conditions, relating to the safety of their workplace for their pregnancy, under which pregnant women could have access to benefits related to their pregnancy from as early as 15 weeks before the birth of their child. Though the sponsor of the bill argues otherwise, the Chair is not convinced that the current act allows spending under the circumstances, in the manner, and for the purposes he proposes. This being a circumstance not yet envisioned in the Employment Insurance Act, it infringes on the terms and conditions of the initial royal recommendation that accompanied that act and therefore requires now a new royal recommendation. This remains the case, even if the total amount of benefits stays the same.

Consequently, the Chair will decline to put the question on third reading of the bill in its present form unless a royal recommendation is received.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Privilege November 22nd, 2016

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on November 3, 2016, by the hon. member for Essex regarding the tabling of treaties in Parliament.

I would like to thank the member for Essex for having raised the question, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for their comments.

In raising the question of privilege, the member for Essex contended that the government violated its own 2008 policy on the tabling of treaties in Parliament when, on Monday, October 31, 2016, the Minister of International Trade tabled in the House of Commons a copy of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the European Union and its member states without an explanatory memorandum and, immediately after, introduced implementing legislation for that treaty, Bill C-30, an act to implement the comprehensive economic and trade agreement between Canada and the European Union and its member states and to provide for certain other measures.

In particular, the member indicated that the government's policy in this regard stipulates that a waiting period of at least 21 days be observed before introducing implementing legislation in Parliament and that treaties be accompanied by an explanatory memorandum. In her view, the government's negligence in fulfilling the obligations of its own policy infringed on members' privileges, as it left them unable to scrutinize the voluminous agreement and its implementing legislation.

The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons replied that the process governing the tabling of treaties is in fact a government policy and, thus, not a matter of parliamentary procedure.

For his part, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that departmental activities do not fall under the purview of the House or the Speaker and that, in any case, CETA had been granted an exception to the 21-day waiting period pursuant to section 6.3 of the government’s policy.

Members may recall, as was mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary to the government House leader, that the Chair was faced with a very similar point of order regarding the same policy on treaties in the last Parliament. In response, my predecessor concluded on May 12, 2014, on page 5220 of the Debates, that, and I quote:

It is clear to me that the policy in question belongs to the government and not the House. It is equally clear that it is not within the Speaker's authority to adjudicate on government policies or processes, and this includes determining whether the government is in compliance with its own policies.

He went on to say:

...the distinction between governmental procedures and House procedures remains and must be acknowledged.

In fact, the member for Essex acknowledged this very distinction when she stated on page 6557 of the Debates:

I am aware that the minister's own policy on the tabling of treaties in Parliament is not governed by the Standing Orders of the House.

It bears repeating my predecessor’s explanation that, although many Standing Orders and statutes require that certain documents be tabled in the House, as described on pages 430 and 609 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, there is no mention in our Standing Orders of a specific requirement regarding the tabling of treaties or accompanying explanatory memoranda, nor of any prescribed time limits with respect to the tabling of implementing legislation.

Thus, it is clear to the Chair that, as was the case in May 2014, this policy cannot be regarded as part of the current body of rules that govern the House's procedures and practices. It is equally clear that when members request redress with respect to rules external to the House, as Speaker I can neither interpret nor enforce them. It has long been the case that the Speaker's role is limited to ensuring that the body of rules and practices that the House has adopted are respected and upheld.

Therefore, the Chair cannot find evidence to support the member's contention that she was impeded in the fulfilment of her parliamentary functions. Accordingly, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege.

I thank all hon. members for their attention.

Canada's Olympic and Paralympic Athletes November 2nd, 2016

Canadians are rightly proud of our athletes. Like them, we all appreciate the years of training and sacrifice and the determination it takes to become a world-class athlete.

Today is an opportunity to recognize the coaches, the administrators, and the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees for their support, as well as our athletes.

As we are welcoming a very large group of people into a restricted space, I would ask members not to impede the athletes' parade through the chamber. I understand there is agreement among all parties to have the names of the Olympic and Paralympic athletes who are with us today printed in the Debates. Members are all welcome to join our guests at a reception immediately following in room 237-CB.

Now it is my pleasure to welcome onto the floor of the chamber many of the athletes who competed at this year's Olympic and Paralympic summer games in Rio:

Rosie MacLennan, David Eng, Penny Oleksiak, Camille Berube, Eric Bussiere, Cody Caldwell, Tammy Cunnington, Patrice Dagenais, Marco Dispaltro, Angelina Dolezar, Theresa Ferguson, Christine Gauthier, Shelley Gautier, Nydia Langill, Pamela LeJean, Alison Levine, Charles Moreau, Cindy Ouellet, Austin Smeenk, Michelle Stilwell, Curtis Thom, Amanda Yan, Crispin Duenas, Georcy-Stéphanie Thiffeault Picard, Mathieu Bilodeau, Aaron Brown, Alicia Brown, Lucas Bruchet, Brittany Crew, Derek Drouin, Evan Dunfee, Crystal Emmanuel, Liz Gleadle, Inaki Gomez-Goroztieta, Nikkita Holder, Farah Jacques, Sekou Kaba, Segun Makinde, Noelle Montcalm, Carline Muir, Tim Nedow, Jessica O'Connell, Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, Anthony Romaniw, Andrea Seccafien, Gabriela Stafford, Taryn Suttie, Damian Warner, Sage Watson, Chris Winter, Jennifer Brown, Eva Fejes, Renee Foessel, Alister McQueen, Ness Murby, Guillaume Ouellet, Marissa Papaconstantinou, Tristan Smyth, Kevin Strybosch, Roberta Fried-Levine, Francine Hebert, Joanna Marchlewicz, Arthur Biyarslanov, Mandy Bujold, Ariane Fortin, Cameron Smedley, Michael Tayler, Ryan Cochrane, Mark de Jonge, Hugues Fournel, Emilie Fournel, Kathleen Fraser, Genevieve Orton, Adam van Koeverden, Erica Scarff, Allison Beveridge, Leandre Bouchard, Laura Brown, Karol-Ann Canuel, Raphaël Gagné, Jasmin Glaesser, Leah Kirchmann, Kirsti Lay, Kate O'Brien, Georgia Simmerling, Michael Woods, Tristen Chernove, Nicole Clermont, Alan Greer, Jean-Michel Lachance, Michael Sametz, Robbi Weldon, Ross Wilson, Maxim Bouchard, Roseline Filion, Philippe Gagné, Pamela Ware, Joseph Polossifakis, Brenden Bissett, David Carter, Taylor Curran, Adam Froese, Jagdish Gill, Gordon Johnston, Antoni Kindler, Benjamin Martin, Sukhi Panesar, Mark Pearson, Matthew Sarmento, Iain Smythe, Stephanie Labbe, Shelina Zadorsky, Whitney Bogart, Bruno Haché, Meghan Mahon, Blair Nesbitt, Douglas Ripley, Ahmad Zeividavi, Elsabeth Black, Rosannagh MacLennan, Scott Morgan, Shallon Olsen, Priscilla Gagne, Tony Walby, Melanie McCann, Curtis Halladay, Kristen Kit, Meghan Montgomery, Victoria Nolan, Julien Bahain, Will Crothers, Will Dean, Robert Gibson, Susanne Grainger, Brendan Hodge, Lindsay Jennerich, Maxwell Lattimer, Jennifer Martins, Natalie Mastracci, Conlin McCabe, Cristy Nurse, Patricia Obee, Nicolas Pratt, Lisa Roman, Christine Roper, Tim Schrijver, Antje von Seydlitz-Kurzbach, Lauren Wilkinson, Eric Woelfl, Carling Zeeman, Ghislaine Landry, Karen Paquin, Jacob Chaplin Saunders, Graeme Chaplin-Saunders, Nikola Girke, Lee Parkhill, Erin Rafuse, Luke Ramsay, Tom Ramshaw, Ryan Cochrane, Stephanie Horner, Yuri Kisil, Audrey Lacroix, Brittany MacLean, Sandrine Mainville, Kylie Masse, Martha McCabe, Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson, Kierra Smith, Markus Thormeyer, Michelle Williams, Morgan Bird, Isaac Bouckley, Sabrina Duchesne, Alexander Elliot, Devin Gotell, Benoit Huot, Jean-Michel Lavallière, James Leroux, Danial Murphy, Tess Routliffe, Katarina Roxon, Samantha Ryan, Abi Tripp, Nicolas Guy Turbide, Jacqueline Simoneau, Karine Thomas, Eugenie Bouchard, Sarah-Anne Brault, Amelie Kretz, Tyler Mislawchuk, Andrew Yorke, Stefan Daniel, Chantal Givens, Christine Robbins, Heather Bansley, Josh Binstock, Jamie Broder, Benjamin Saxton, Chaim Schalk, Kristina Valjas, Chantal Beauchesne, Leanne Muldrew, Shacarra Orr, Tessa Popoff, Amber Skyrpan, Jolan Wong, Katelyn Wright, Marie-Eve Beauchemin-Nadeau, Pascal Plamondon, Erica Gavel, Korey Jarvis, Jasmine Mian, Erica Wiebe, Dorothy Yeats.

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.