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  • His favourite word is chair.

Liberal MP for Halifax West (Nova Scotia)

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

Statements in the House

Privilege June 19th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on May 29, 2018 by the hon. member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner concerning documents published on the website of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in relation to Bill C-71, an act to amend certain acts and regulations in relation to firearms.

I would like to thank the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner for having raised the matter, as well as the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for his comments.

In presenting his case, the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner contended that information on the RCMP website led readers to believe that Bill C-71 had already been enacted by acknowledging neither the parliamentary process nor the fact that the bill remains subject to parliamentary approval. He added that the presumptuous language used, including such phrases as “will be impacted”, “will become prohibited”, and “is affected”, is proof of contempt of Parliament.

The member returned to the House the next day to explain that the website in question had been updated that day to include a disclaimer about Bill C-71 in fact being a proposed law. He viewed this as an admission of fault.

For his part, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader explained that the matter raised was simply one of debate as there was clearly no presumption of anything in the information respecting Bill C-71 on the RCMP website.

As the charge being made by the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner is one of contempt, the Chair must determine if the information provided on the RCMP website does in fact anticipate a decision of Parliament. If it does, this would offend the authority of the House.

Having reviewed in detail the relevant information on the website, before the disclaimer was added, I found instances where some provisions of the bill were in fact framed as legislative proposals, using such phrases as “proposed legislation” and “is expected to be”. Despite these statements, the vast majority of the information was presented as though the provisions will definitively be coming into effect or are already the law of the land. Nowhere did I find any indication the bill was still in committee and was not yet enacted law.

Further to this, I reviewed the material to try to determine if the assertions being made could be related to existing regulations or statutory provisions. I can confirm that, although some elements of the information are rooted in existing statutory or regulatory provisions, many more would be new measures that would come into force only with the enactment of Bill C-71.

The member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner did acknowledge that some of the language is conditional but, even then, the Chair shares the member's concern that the website information suggests that the only approval required is that of the government.

Parliament's authority in scrutinizing and adopting legislative proposals remains unquestionable and should not be taken for granted. The Chair is troubled by the careless manner in which the RCMP chose to ignore this vital fact and, for more than three weeks, allowed citizens and retailers to draw improper conclusions as to their obligations under the law. Changing the website after the fact does little to alleviate these concerns. Parliamentarians and citizens should be able to trust that officials responsible for disseminating information related to legislation are paying attention to what is happening in Parliament and are providing a clear and accurate history of the bills in question.

The work of members as legislators is fundamental and any hint or suggestion of this parliamentary role and authority being bypassed or usurped is not acceptable. The government and the public service also have important roles when it comes to legislation, but these are entirely distinct from those of members as legislators. In fact, part of their responsibility is to state loud and clear that legislation comes from Parliament and nowhere else.

As the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner reminded us, some 30 years ago, Speaker Fraser had cause to state on October 10, 1989, at page 4461 of the Debates in ruling on a similar matter:

This is a case which, in my opinion, should never recur. I expect the Department of Finance and other departments to study this ruling carefully and remind everyone within the Public Service that we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.

Again, on November 6, 1997, at page 1618 of the Debates, Speaker Parent was equally clear about the respect owed to the authority of the House, stating:

This dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices.

As Speaker, I cannot turn a blind eye to an approach by a government agency that overlooks the role of Parliament. To do otherwise would make us compliant in denigrating the authority and dignity of Parliament.

Accordingly, the Chair finds this to be a prima facie matter of contempt of the House. I invite the member for Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner to move the appropriate motion.

I thank all hon. members for their attention.

Points of Order June 11th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the points of order raised on May 29, 2018 and May 30, 2018 by the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona regarding vote 40 under Treasury Board Secretariat in the main estimates 2018-19, also known as the budget implementation vote.

On May 29, I ruled on an earlier point of order of his regarding the same vote. In that ruling, I indicated that speakers have generally been reluctant to rule that an item in the estimates was out of order except in clear cases where the supply item had a legislative dimension and was not pure supply.

The hon. member, in his intervention of May 29, argued that the funds sought under vote 40 do not appear to be for a purpose under Treasury Board's legal mandate, as defined in the Financial Administration Act. Instead, it is a central fund from which Treasury Board will allocate money to other departments and agencies for them to carry out their mandates. He felt this circumvented the usual practices for supply. He also contended that this vote cannot reasonably be compared to other central funds under Treasury Board, which are all either consistent with its legal mandate or otherwise justifiable.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader responded to this point by arguing that the hon. member's reading of the Treasury Board's mandate was too narrow. In his view, there was no question that these matters fall within the legal mandate of the Treasury Board. He also cited my earlier ruling indicating there is ample precedent for monies to be granted to a central fund.

On May 30, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona argued that some of the specific initiatives in vote 40 lack proper legislative authority. In particular, he noted that initiatives relating to employment insurance and cybersecurity seem dependent on measures contained in Bill C-74, Budget Implementation Act, 2018, No. 1. As this bill is not yet law, he felt it was not proper for the government to seek appropriations for its implementation.

Finally, given that vote 40 will fund a variety of initiatives in various departments and agencies, the member felt it problematic that the vote had been referred to a single committee, the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. In his view, it would be more appropriate for the initiatives in vote 40 to have been studied by the committees directly responsible for those departments and agencies.

I will deal with this last point first. When the estimates are tabled, they are automatically referred to committee in accordance with Standing Order 81(4). As is the case with documents tabled under Standing Order 32, it is the government that determines to which committee each vote will be referred. While this used to be done by motion, the Standing Orders were amended in 2001 to make the referral automatic. The minister now provides the Table with the list of committees to which separate votes are sent for study. In the case of vote 40, it was referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, a committee with a fairly wide-ranging mandate on matters relating to estimates. In its study of vote 40, the committee is free to invite whomever it feels appropriate. I do not believe there is any role for the Speaker to become involved in the matching of votes and committees.

On the matter of the legal authority for the spending, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at page 873, indicates:

The Chair has maintained that estimates with a direct and specific legislative intent (those clearly intended to amend existing legislation) should come to the House by way of an amending bill.

My predecessors have addressed this issue in a number of different rulings. Speaker Jerome, in a ruling found on page 607 of the Journals of March 22, 1977, explained:

...the government receives from Parliament the authority to act through the passage of legislation and receives the money to finance such authorized action through the passage by Parliament of an appropriation act. A supply item in my opinion ought not, therefore, to be used to obtain authority which is the proper subject of legislation.

Nothing in the wording of vote 40, as I read it, seeks to amend existing legislation. The hon. member acknowledged as much in his intervention. He questioned whether the Treasury Board has the legal authority to spend for the purposes of the initiatives contained in vote 40. It is clear, however, from the vote wording that the funds are to be granted to the Treasury Board so that it can transfer them to other departments and agencies. As the hon. member himself concedes, the vote wording specifically says that expenditures of the funds must be for purposes “within the legal mandates of the departments or other organizations for which they are made.”

The hon. member's objection, really, is a matter about which department is seeking the funds. He does not feel it appropriate that Treasury Board requests money for a central fund on behalf of other departments or agencies. As I stated in my ruling on May 29, 2018, there is ample precedent for central funds. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona cited many of these in his intervention. While he argues that vote 40 is of a different nature than other central funds, I am not convinced that Treasury Board lacks the legal authority to manage it. As the hon. parliamentary secretary argued, this would require a rather narrow reading of the Financial Administration Act. I do not believe the vote can be ruled out of order on that basis.

Again, as I indicated in my earlier ruling, it is up to the government to determine the form its request for funds will take. It is for members to decide, in studying and voting on the estimates, whether or not the money should be granted. In the case of vote 40, some members may wish that the request had been in a different form. In the end, they are left to make a decision on the request as the government has presented it. The Chair's role is limited to determining if the request for funds is in a form that does not require any separate legislative authorization and if it respects the limits of the supply process.

This brings me to the final point raised by the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona. He argued that certain initiatives do not appear to have existing legislative authority, but instead appear to be dependent on legislation currently before Parliament or yet to be introduced. Speaker Sauvé, in a ruling found at page 10546 of the Debates of June 12, 1981, indicated, “the Appropriation Act should only seek authority to spend the money for a program that has been previously authorized by a statute” and that, by seeking funds for programs where the legislation had not yet been introduced, the government was putting the cart before the horse.

On March 21, 1983, she addressed a similar matter. Vote 10c under Industry, Trade and Commerce in that year’s supplementary estimates provided for payments under the Small Business Investment Grant Act, which was still before the House in the form of Bill C-136. In ruling the vote out of order, she stated at page 23968 of the Debates:

Vote 10c clearly anticipates legislation and, in that sense, seeks to establish a new program in the absence of other legislative authority and seeks the funds to put it into operation.

The matter to be established, then, is whether existing legislative authority is lacking for the initiatives identified by the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona. Absent this authority, it would be premature for the government to be seeking funds. Previous Speakers have noted that it is not always easy to identify the legislative authority for particular initiatives in the estimates. Unfortunately, the parliamentary secretary, in his response, did not directly address this point. This information would have been helpful for the Chair in determining whether such authority is lacking.

The hon. member asserted that, as the budget indicated that certain initiatives would be the subject of legislation, it follows that such initiatives should not receive funding through the estimates until that legislation is passed. It is not entirely clear to the Chair, however, that these activities have been shown to lack existing legislative authority. To take, for example, the matters relating to cybersecurity, according to annex 1 of the main estimates, the funds are to be transferred to the Communications Security Establishment, CSE, which has an existing legislative mandate under the National Defence Act. While Bill C-74 does indeed provide for the transfer of certain employees from other departments to the CSE, I believe that the CSE does have a mandate under existing legislation to spend for such purposes. Were the government proposing to grant funds to an organization not yet created or for an entirely new purpose, I believe there would be a valid objection, but that does not appear to be the case in the examples enumerated by the hon. member.

I must admit that, at the outset, the matters regarding Employment Insurance caused me some concern. The main estimates themselves explain, at page I-9 and I-10:

Costs related to Employment Insurance benefits and Children’s benefits are the largest components of the items excluded from the estimates. Most Employment Insurance costs are paid directly out of the Employment Insurance Operating Account, rather than a departmental appropriation, and are therefore not specifically included in estimates.

The authority to spend funds for the purposes of paying employment insurance benefits is statutory, pursuant to the Employment Insurance Act. It is not entirely clear why this request has been included in vote 40, whether it is truly additional funds or whether the amount has been included for information purposes. Regardless, the question to determine is whether legislative authority for the request is lacking. The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona indicated that the funds were to make permanent an existing pilot project for people working while on claim. While the provisions in Bill C-74 make this change to the Employment Insurance Act, it is clear to me that there was legislative authority under the existing act for the pilot project.

While the hon. member raised important questions, Speakers have generally ruled items in the estimates to be irregular only when they clearly lacked a legislative basis or when the items themselves sought to amend existing legislation. I do not believe that to be the case with vote 40, and therefore I rule that it is indeed in order.

I appreciate the hon. member’s vigilance in ensuring that proper practices are followed regarding the estimates. As this is the first time the House has been presented with a budget implementation vote of this nature, it is important to ensure that the limits of the supply process are respected. That said, I also want to remind the hon. member of my ruling of June 4, 2018, when I underscored the importance of being concise when presenting a point of order. Even on a matter as complex as the estimates, it should not require multiple lengthy interventions to make one’s point. I am certain all hon. members will keep this in mind in preparing their arguments.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Privilege June 7th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Carleton on May 31, 2018, concerning the alleged intimidation of a potential witness by the office of the Minister of Finance.

I would like to thank the member for raising the matter, as well as the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader for his comments.

According to the member for Carleton, the Canadian Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, CAMIC, received two phone calls from the office of the Minister of Finance, which he claimed were intended to stop them from raising their objections to Bill C-74, either by meeting with parliamentarians or by appearing before committee. He surmised that these comments, which he characterized as threatening, might be why this association did not even express an interest in appearing as a committee witness.

In addition to questioning the timeliness of this question of privilege, the parliamentary secretary framed the matter as one of debate and contended that actions of a civil servant have not historically qualified as breaches of privilege.

The issue of timeliness is one that the Chair has raised on several occasions recently since it is a requisite condition that members must heed. In this instance, it is a valid issue to be raised again. This question could have, and should have, been brought to the attention of the House much earlier. The article from The Globe and Mail, dated May 15, 2018, in which the member for Carleton is quoted, suggests that he was aware of this matter as early as May 15. Additionally, it could have been raised at any point since May 22, when the House returned from a break week. The fact that the member for Carleton gave notice of his question of privilege a full week prior to actually rising in the House to make his case also suggests that he could have done so earlier.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, explains at page 145 what is expected of members in this respect, when it states:

The matter of privilege to be raised in the House must have recently occurred and must call for the immediate action of the House. Therefore, the member must satisfy the Speaker that he or she is bringing the matter to the attention of the House as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the situation.

In the past, Speakers have chosen not to pursue further on a matter when it is not apparent that it is being raised at the earliest practicable time.

In fact, Speaker Sauvé determined, on March 1, 1982, in a ruling found at pages 15473 and 15474 of Debates, that a question raised by a member was not a breach of privilege, as it had not been raised at the earliest opportunity. She stated:

The first problem I have with this question of privilege is that it does not appear to have been raised at the earliest opportunity....

I must therefore decline to accord this matter precedence over the regular business of the House, particularly in view of the fact that it does not appear to have been raised at the earliest opportunity. This requirement is not a mere technicality, but indeed in some respects a test of the validity of the complaint.

Today the Chair can only come to the same conclusion. This matter was clearly not raised at the first opportunity; the member did not meet this requisite condition, and therefore the Chair will not comment further on it.

I thank all hon. members for their attention.

Privilege June 7th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on May 24, 2018, by the hon. member for Langley—Aldergrove concerning proceedings at the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Langley—Aldergrove for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. member for Battlefords—Lloydminster for her comments.

In raising the matter, the member for Langley—Aldergrove explained that the appearance of three ministers, who were at the committee to discuss the main estimates for the department of Employment and Social Development, was interrupted by a series of votes taking place in the House. According to the member, the chair of the committee had promised that committee members would be able to question the ministers after they returned from voting. However, after the committee meeting resumed and the ministers finished their presentations, the chair adjourned the meeting, leaving committee members unable to put any questions to the ministers. This, the member alleged, constituted a contempt of the House.

As I said when the matter was first raised, committees are masters of their own proceedings. The Speaker’s jurisdiction does not normally extend into committee matters, unless the committee sees fit to report one to the House. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at pages 152 and 153 states:

Speakers have consistently ruled that, except in the most extreme situations, they will hear questions of privilege arising from committee proceedings only upon presentation of a report from the committee which deals directly with the matter and not as a question of privilege raised by an individual Member.

Furthermore, on March 23, 2015, my predecessor said at page 12180 of the Debates:

This is not to suggest that the Chair is left without any discretion to intervene in committee matters but, rather, it acknowledges that such intervention is exceedingly rare and justifiable only in highly exceptional procedural as opposed to political circumstances.

In my consideration of this alleged question of privilege, I assessed whether if this was indeed a highly exceptional procedural matter. Distilled down to its basic elements, it seems to me that this is a dispute as to the procedural correctness of how the meeting was conducted and, as such, is a matter that should be managed by the committee itself.

As an option, the hon. member for Langley—Aldergrove can still raise his grievance with the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. For this reason, I cannot agree that the incident constitutes a prima facie question of privilege.

I thank members for their attention on this matter.

Points of Order June 6th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised earlier today by the member for Red Deer—Lacombe regarding the notice for time allocation given yesterday by the government House leader concerning Bill C-59, An Act respecting national security matters.

When raising the matter, the hon. member for Red Deer—Lacombe contended that nothing in the Standing Orders as written allowed a time allocation motion to cover both the report stage and third reading of a bill that had been sent to committee before second reading. To support his argument, the member referred specifically to Standing Order 78(3), which stipulates that a time allocation motion is allowed for both report stage and third reading only if the bill is sent to committee after second reading pursuant to Standing Order 76.1. Therefore, he asked the Speaker to rule the notice of time allocation motion out of order.

For guidance on this matter, I would refer members to House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at page 673, which states:

In the case of a bill referred to committee before second reading, the motion [for time allocation] can pertain to both the report stage and second reading stage as well as the third reading stage.

The member himself acknowledged that examples existed where precisely the same approach as was proposed in this time allocation motion was adopted by the House. I want to thank the hon. member for drawing the fact of these examples to my attention. Indeed, there have been at least four instances where this has occurred. I refer members to the precedents of May 6, 1996; another from November 22, 1996; one also from February 22, 2000; and, finally, one from May 28, 2015.

These precedents demonstrate that the House has seen fit to combine more than one stage in a single time allocation motion for bills that have been referred to committee prior to second reading. This forms a solid enough basis to indicate that this is now an acceptable practice with respect to time allocation motions. For this reason, I find that the government's time allocation motion is in order.

Nonetheless, I appreciate the hon. member's point. To avoid any further confusion, I would recommend that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs review the matter, with a view to clarifying Standing Order 78(3)(a) vis-à-vis our accepted practices.

I thank the House for its attention on this matter.

Privilege June 4th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on May 25, 2018, by the member for Elmwood—Transcona concerning the rights of members.

In raising his question of privilege, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona alleged that in terminating his arguments related to his point of order on the procedural propriety of vote 40 under Treasury Board in the main estimates, the Chair breached his privileges by casting aspersions on his motives for raising the point of order. The member assured the House that in raising the point of order, he was not prompted by any ulterior motive. He asked that the actions taken by the Chair be found to be a prima facie breach of privilege that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs might examine the issue.

It is well established that when making a case on either questions of privilege or points of order, members are expected to make brief presentations on the issue being raised. The Chair, once satisfied that sufficient information has been given, may inform the member accordingly. The Chair may then rule immediately or take the matter under advisement.

As I indicated when the point of order was first raised, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, states at page 638, “Under the Standing Orders, a brief presentation of arguments on the point of order is possible at the Speaker’s discretion.”

Acting Speaker Devolin explained this well on June 13, 2012, at page 9374 of the Debates, when he stated, “...the floor is not the members' until they choose to stop. The Speaker has a right to terminate that discussion...That is left to the judgment of the Speaker.” This is to say that members do not have unlimited time to speak.

Additionally, once the Speaker has ruled or determined that sufficient information has been presented, it is not in keeping with our practices that members use new points of order, for it can be perceived as undermining and questioning the authority of the Chair.

In the present case, the charge that the member for Elmwood—Transcona brought forward as a question of privilege cannot be seen as anything other than a challenge to this authority. Bosc and Gagnon at page 641 is clear:

A Member may not rise on a point of order to discuss a matter which the Speaker has already ruled was not a question of privilege or to raise a matter as a question of privilege after the Speaker has ruled that it was not a point of order.

To be clear, our procedural practices and traditions prohibit the use of questions of privilege or points of order in this fashion precisely so that the authority of the Chair is not casually or repeatedly challenged.

I also want to take a moment to address the events of May 25 more generally. The proceedings that day were disorderly to a degree rarely seen. As the speaker, I am called upon to be the guardian of the rights and privileges of all members and of the House; with this comes a responsibility to preserve order and decorum. Standing Order 10 clearly sets this out: “The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order. In deciding a point of order or practice, the Speaker shall state the Standing Order or other authority applicable to the case. No debate shall be permitted on any such decision, and no such decision shall be subject to an appeal to the House.”

In conjunction with this, it is important to remember, as my predecessor explained, at page 15799 of the Debates, on April 23, 2013, that:

...members elect a Speaker from among the membership to apply rules they themselves have devised and can amend. Thus, it is only with the active participation of the members themselves that the Speaker, who requires the support and goodwill of the House in order to carry out the duties of the office, can apply the rules.

Thus, the Speaker's authority can be effectively exercised only with the full support of all member of this House. It is in the interest of the House as an institution that members behave in a way that ensures that its deliberations are carried out properly and respectfully. It is incumbent on all of us to protect the reputation of the House of Commons and to conduct ourselves in such a way that we do not diminish it in the eyes of our fellow citizens.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs also undertook a study on order and decorum back in 2007. Conclusions stemming from the committee's 37th report should guide all of us in this place, as it stated:

The Speaker’s authority can only be exercised if he or she has the support and guidance of all parties and each Member of the House. The recognized parties in the House undertake to assist the Speaker in this regard, and not to undermine his decisions. It is incumbent upon all of us, as Members of the House, to support the Speaker in this regard. We strongly believe that it is in the interests of the House as an institution with a long and important history, and as the elected representatives of the people of Canada, that the Speaker and all Members do what is necessary to ensure that the House is viewed as a place worthy of respect and admiration.

As Speaker, I have found that what is necessary to do is not always easy, predictable, or straightforward. In other words, it is not an exact science. In fact, it is an imperfect one. The Chair understands this is equally true of what members must face, given the context in which we work. Decisions and responses of the Chair must be firmly guided by what the House has authorized as its rules and practices and, more important, what it feels is in the House's best interest in the short and long term. At the same time, these decisions are often borne in response to immediate, new, and evolving situations.

In marrying these two realities, the Chair endeavours at all times to guide the House through its deliberations in a fair manner, one that respects members individually and collectively. While the different roles and different responsibilities of members and the Chair may seem at times hard to balance, I, as Speaker and as an elected representative, firmly believe that together we are still working in pursuit of this shared objective as described in the 2017 report of the procedure and House affairs committee.

As your Speaker, I am your servant, and I preside over the proceedings based upon the rules that you have given me. We are used to robust and heated debate. I have every confidence that while in this case there is no prima facie question of privilege, we have found a productive and respective way to continue our important work.

I thank all honourable members for their attention.

Points of Order May 29th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on May 25, 2018 by the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona regarding the form of the main estimates 2018-19.

The hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona was concerned with vote 40 under Treasury Board Secretariat, also referred to as the budget implementation vote. That vote, in the amount of $7.04 billion, gives Treasury Board the authority to supplement other appropriations in support of initiatives announced in the budget of February 27, 2018.

The hon. member contended that this vote was not in the proper form, in that it failed to provide sufficient information regarding the government’s spending plans. He pointed out that many of the initiatives which vote 40 might fund are not addressed in the various departmental plans, which are considered part III of the estimates. He also felt that it was improper that the breakdown of the proposed spending is referenced in an annex to the budget documents rather than in the estimates themselves.

The hon. opposition House leader, who supported the point of order raised by the member for Elmwood—Transcona, argued that, when the Standing Orders were amended to delay the tabling of the main estimates, it was with the expectation of receiving more complete and accurate information. She did not feel that was the case with vote 40 and feared that its wording would allow the government to allocate funds without sufficient scrutiny by Parliament.

When the matter was raised, I expressed concern about whether the timing of the point of order was appropriate. I recognize that questions relating to the estimates are occasionally complex, and that my predecessors have sometimes agreed to hear arguments early to allow sufficient time to properly consider them. While the estimates are still before committee at this time, I am prepared to rule on the point of order now.

When the government presents estimates to the House, each vote contains an amount of money and a destination, which describes the purpose for which the money will be used. In some cases, the description is quite detailed and in other cases it can be rather general. That said, the estimates are referred to committee specifically to allow members to study them in further detail, which can involve calling witnesses or asking for further information regarding the government’s plans. While committees have no power to change the destination of the spending, as this would violate the crown’s right to initiate spending requests, they do have the power to reduce or even reject the amount of a vote if they are not satisfied with the information provided.

The authority of the Speaker to intervene as sought by the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona is more limited than he might wish or believe. In fact, when past Speakers have found procedural irregularities with items in the estimates, these have generally been cases where the funds requested depended on an authority that required supporting legislation.

In the present case, the hon. member is asking the Speaker to rule vote 40 out of order on the basis that it does not contain sufficient information about the proposed spending. This is not so much a procedural issue on which the Speaker can rule, but rather a policy disagreement with the government over the way it has chosen to request these funds.

The member's objection to vote 40 seems to mainly be that it is a central fund granted to Treasury Board, which has the authority to then allocate monies to various other departments.

I concede that the use of a budget implementation vote is unusual and I can understand why members may have preferred that these funds be requested in a different manner, under each of the specific departments, for example. That said, I cannot conclude that proceeding in the manner provided for in vote 40 is out of order. There are ample precedents of monies being granted to a central fund. The most well-known of these is vote 5 under Treasury Board for government contingencies.

Ultimately, the government determines the form its request for funds will take. While the government does have a responsibility to provide Parliament with sufficient information to allow it to make an informed decision, I do not believe it is for the Speaker to determine if the explanation of the particular request is sufficiently detailed or if the destination is the appropriate one. These are matters for members to consider when studying and voting on the estimates.

The Speaker’s role is limited to determining if the request for funds is in a form that does not require any separate legislative authorization, and if it respects the limits of the supply process. With that in mind, there are no grounds for the Chair to rule vote 40 out of order.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Points of Order May 29th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on two points of order raised yesterday by the hon. opposition House leader regarding government Motion No. 22. I would like to thank the hon. opposition House leader for having raised these matters, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons for his comments.

On the first matter, the hon. opposition House leader argued that, since in her view no debate had taken place on the motion on Friday, May 25, the Journals for that day were inaccurate as they state, and I quote, “debate arose thereon”. She asked that the Journals be revised accordingly.

As recognized by the opposition House leader herself, this is a point of order for which I have already ruled on last Friday. At that time, members questioned whether, due to issues with simultaneous interpretation and disorder in the chamber, the motion was properly before the House. I indicated that the motion was, in fact, properly before the House and that interpreters had successfully interpreted the reading of the motion into the record. I also indicated that the wording of the motion was available for examination in the Order Paper in both official languages. I have not changed my view on that question; consequently, the Journals accurately reflect the proceedings of last Friday.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, states the following at page 564, with respect to what is considered debate:

A Member initiates the process of debate in the Chamber by moving (i.e., proposing) a motion.

It also adds at page 566:

If the motion is found to be in order, and has been moved and seconded, the Speaker proposes it to the House. Once the Speaker has read the motion in the words of its mover, it is considered to be before the House....

After a motion has been proposed to the House, the Speaker recognizes the mover as the first to speak in debate. If the mover chooses not to speak, he or she is nonetheless deemed to have spoken (by nodding, the Member is considered to have said “I move” and this is taken as the equivalent of speech in the debate).

I also refer members to a ruling by the Acting Speaker on March 19, 1992, which can be found at pages 8479 and 8480 of the Debates, which provides clarification as to whether a mover of a motion should be counted as forming part of the debate on a motion. The Acting Speaker said:

Since the minister presented the motion, even if he did not speak, according to the Standing Orders his speaking time is deemed to have expired.

He later said:

The first speaker was for the government and is deemed to have spoken, even if he did not actually do so. The government presented a motion to table [a] bill. So that was the first speaker....

These citations confirm that the motion, having been read out by the Chair and the mover having been recognized to speak to it, initiated debate on the item.

In a ruling by Speaker Fraser on April 3, 1990, that can be found at pages 10155 and 10156 of the Debates, on a point of order that questioned whether debate had properly begun on a bill, which in turn could invalidate a notice to curtail debate on a bill, he confirmed that, despite the mover not having the opportunity to rise to speak to the item, debate had started, and the matter was properly before the House:

It is true that the hon. member for Gloucester was not on his feet on debate, but I think I would be stretching things a very long way indeed if I should rule today that the House was not seized of the Order of the Day.

Similarly, it is clear to the Chair that, as I stated on Friday, government Motion No. 22 was properly before the House, and debate on it had commenced.

I would now like to address the second point of order raised by the hon. opposition House leader immediately following the point of order by the government House leader, whereby she gave notice of closure with respect to proceedings on government Motion No. 22.

In her arguments, the opposition House leader questioned the validity of the notice on the basis that, in her view, it had yet to be determined that debate on the motion had commenced. Essentially, she contended that until the Speaker had ruled on the first point of order, notice of closure could not be given.

In his intervention, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons reiterated that page 19702 of Hansard clearly indicated that debate had commenced, and therefore the notice of closure was appropriately given.

At that point, the chair occupant indicated that:

...until such time as the Speaker has given a ruling on this question of whether the debate has begun on Motion No. 22 or not, we will reserve whether the motion for closure on Motion No. 22 is in fact in order. It is not at the moment. We will wait until such time as a decision on the previous point of order earlier today is rendered, at which point, depending on that outcome, the government House leader may then proceed accordingly.

As I have just now confirmed that debate had indeed commenced, it follows that the notice of closure, as given by the government House leader yesterday, was indeed valid.

I thank all members for their attention in this matter.

Canada's Olympic and Paralympic Athletes May 9th, 2018

On April 26, 2018, the following motion was adopted by the House of Commons:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of the House, following Question Period on Wednesday, May 9, 2018, the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole in order to welcome the athletes of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Games; provided that: a) the Speaker be permitted to preside over Committee of the Whole from the Speaker's chair and make welcoming remarks on behalf of the House; b) the names of the athletes present be deemed read and printed in the House of Commons Debates for that day; c) only authorized photographers be permitted to take photos during proceedings of the Committee; and, d) when the proceedings of the Committee have concluded, the Committee shall rise.

Members are invited to join our guests at the reception immediately following in Room 237C. As many athletes are being recognized by us today, we will welcome them into the chamber in two waves. I therefore ask for members' patience, as I will take a moment each time to acknowledge the athletes and their accomplishments.

Now it is my pleasure to welcome onto the floor of the chamber many of the athletes who competed in the 2018 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang last February. These athletes have competed in alpine skiing, para-alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, curling, wheelchair curling, figure skating, and ski jumping.

Canadians from across the country are justly proud of them. Like them, we appreciate the years of training and sacrifice and determination it takes to become a world-class athlete.

We want to be athletes, but know nothing about it.

You are all champions and an inspiration to your fellow citizens. Through your efforts, Canada finished with the highest ever Canadian winter medal count.

We are all looking forward to seeing you shortly at the reception, so I now invite the athletes to make their way through the chamber to the reception room, where members will join them shortly so we may welcome the next group of Olympians and Paralympians.

Privilege May 7th, 2018

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 17, 2018 by the hon. member for Niagara Falls concerning the alleged premature disclosure of the contents of Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Niagara Falls for having raised this matter, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the member for Berthier—Maskinongé for their submissions.

The member for Niagara Falls explained that an article by the CBC was published online eight minutes after Bill C-75 was introduced, suggesting that the only way this timeline was feasible was if the news organization was given advanced access to the contents of the bill.

Underscoring the importance of the House's right of first access to bills, the member contended that it is unacceptable that members have to “play catch-up” on a public debate on government legislation that is occurring between a well-briefed media and the Minister of Justice.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons told the House that no advance disclosure of the bill had occurred and the government had complied with all the rules. As a result, he believed that members were not impeded in their functions, nor was there any offence against the authority of the House.

Let me begin by noting that in this case, the right of members to be informed first as to the content of bills which are on notice is not in question. Rather, what is at issue is whether this customary privilege has been properly observed.

On June 8, 2017, I explained that the right of first access has to be balanced with other considerations, such as the complex policy development process that accompanies the drafting of a piece of legislation. I stated at page 12334 of the Debates:

The right of the House to first access to legislation is one of our oldest conventions. It does and must, however, coexist with the need of governments to consult widely, with the public and stakeholders alike, on issues and policies in the preparation of legislation.

This, then, must be measured against other evidence that is provided to the Chair; in other words, is there irrefutable evidence that specific legislative details about Bill C-75, beyond what could be considered as consultative information, were purposely and prematurely divulged to the media? Weighing the evidence provided in this case, as troubling as it is, it is difficult for the Chair to draw that conclusion, particularly since some details of the article in question could have come from the summary of the bill or from background information from discussions during the consultation process.

For that same reason, I can only agree with my predecessor when he noted on April 18, 2013, at page 15610 of the Debates, when referring to a question of privilege raised in relation to the premature disclosure of government legislation:

...it is a well-established practice that the contents of a bill are kept confidential until introduced in Parliament, thus making their premature disclosure a serious matter. However, in this case, a careful reading of the arguments presented to the Chair about what transpired reveals that the concerns expressed appear to be based more on conjecture and supposition than on actual evidence.

In addition, the parliamentary secretary assured the House that the government had not, in any way, divulged the contents of the bill nor its details before its introduction in the House. Therefore, although, as I said, this is very troubling, I cannot find that there is a prima facie question of privilege in this matter.

While the evidence presented may not be irrefutable in this instance, the Chair remains concerned that some members, of course, were left with the impression that they were put at a disadvantage in their ability to fulfill their duties.

When new ways, through technology or otherwise, are found to share information, it remains incumbent upon those who are responsible for legislative information to respect the primacy of Parliament by respecting the right of the House to first access. Members should never have to even so much as wonder if they were not the first to receive legislative information.

I thank all members for their attention.