Elizabeth May Point of Order on Amendments

Mr. Speaker, as you will know from a letter that was delivered to your office yesterday, I seek the opportunity to rise on a point of order to speak to the pending decision that you will be making on the appropriate nature of the amendments that I have tabled in relation to report stage for the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-59.

The order to which I refer is Standing Order 76.1(5), which of course empowers the Speaker to select or combine amendments as he or she thinks fit. In the Annotated Standing Orders, there is additional guidance that the “Speaker will normally select only motions that were not or could not be presented in committee”. It also states, “For greater certainty, the purpose of this Standing Order is, primarily, to provide Members who were not members of the committee with an opportunity to have the House consider specific amendments they wish to propose.”

I will not take much of your time or that of the assembled members in reviewing all the events that led to the concern that I am now expressing. However, I am sure members will recall, and certainly you will, Mr. Speaker, that in exercising my right as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands, recognizing that the rules, as they exist to this point today, if you seek guidance from our rules of parliamentary procedure, allow a member such as myself, a member of a recognized party with fewer than 12 members, or an independent member of Parliament, the opportunity at report stage to do something that members belonging to the larger parties no longer have, which is to put forward amendments that are substantive at report stage.

The reason for this rule came from, I suppose we would have to call it the evolution of rules in this place, which has a consistent trend line. The evolution of rules has trended toward larger parties suppressing the rights of smaller parties, and in this particular instance, of a large majority party actually attempting to suppress the rights of an individual member.

This was done through a series of decisions. The hon. government House leader tried at one point in late 2012 to put forward a novel notion, and I was specifically cited in the government House leader’s complaint, that all the amendments by the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands should be lumped together, that the Speaker should pull one at random, put it to a test vote, and if that fails, none of the rest of my amendments should be put forward at report stage.

In your ruling on December 12, 2012, you put that notion quickly to rest in pointing out that that would rather defeat the purpose of legislative review. It would seem to suggest that might makes right and why bother to study any amendments at all, or even to put legislation through scrutiny.

In making that ruling, Mr. Speaker, you made specific note of two previous Speakers’ rulings on this matter. Speaker Milliken, whom you cited with authority from March 29, 2007, pointed out “neither the political realities of the moment nor the sheer force of numbers should force us to set aside the values inherent in the parliamentary conventions and procedures by which we govern our deliberations.” Further, you cited former Speaker John Fraser from October 10, 1989, when he said, “We are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.”

In making that ruling, the clear guidance was in the following words:

Accordingly, unless and until new satisfactory ways of considering the motions of all members to amend bills in committee are found, the Chair intends to continue to protect the rights of independent members to propose amendments at report stage.

That is your role, Mr. Speaker. At page 307 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, we find this clear statement of the duty of the Speaker:

It is the responsibility of the Speaker to act as the guardian of the rights and privileges of Members and of the House as an institution.

In making that finding, Mr. Speaker, you said, “Unless and until new satisfactory ways” have been found. I believe it must have been concocted in the Prime Minister’s Office because by the following fall, identical motions appeared in all of the committees that study legislation, and each identical motion operated under the fiction that it came forward from a Conservative member of that committee to create the new rubric under which I am now complying, which says that my amendments must be tabled as those of all other members of parties under 12 members or independents, within 48 hours before the committee moves on to clause-by-clause stage.

I have been operating under that. At every stage I tend to remind the chairs of committees before whom I present amendments that they are deemed to have been presented. I am given generally about 60 seconds per amendment to explain the purpose of the amendment.

As unsatisfactory as that process is, in the case of these amendments, this is the crux of the case I put to you, Mr. Speaker, to please show flexibility. I know the committees are in charge of their own process, but in this case I am asking you to rule in relation to report stage.

An opportunity that cannot be used is surely no opportunity at all, satisfactory or otherwise. In this case, on June 2 at 9 a.m. all my amendments were due on omnibus budget Bill C-59. Subsequent to that deadline, 10 more outside witnesses appeared, as well as the Privacy Commissioner and the minister himself. Brand new, novel issues were raised by those witnesses. My amendments attempt to deal with new issues that were raised after the deadline by which I had to submit my amendments.

Unlike other members of a committee, I have no ability, nor does any other member in my situation, to put forward new amendments to deal with the new information. In other words, the ability of every member of Parliament in this place to do their work requires being able to weigh in substantively, and I hope helpfully, on amendments at report stage.

In this instance, Mr. Speaker, I am asking you to please consider in your discretion the rubric under which I am working. Under these individual motions, passed by all these different committees, which in some cases have meant that I literally race from committee to committee to submit my amendments in time and to speak to them because committee meetings are often concurrent, in the case of Bill C-59, yet again another omnibus budget bill, there was no reasonable opportunity to submit the amendments that I have included.

I have not included any amendments that had an opportunity before committee, although they were rejected. I have put forward only amendments that were not possible to have been imagined, constructed or drafted, because the witnesses who raised the issues testified before the committee after the deadline for the submission of my amendments.