Points of Order – Bill C-38

[Context: This is in response to Elizabeth’s Point of Order of June 4th.]


Hon. Peter Van Loan: Mr. Speaker, I want to rise to offer some supplementary comments to the point of order raised on Monday by the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, and further to the submissions that were just advanced by the House leader for the Liberal Party.

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands in her arguments went on to cite at some length some academics and some press clippings, but not really zeroing in on the full content of Speakers’ rulings.

She did reference a few Speakers’ rulings and did the odd selected quotation from them, but I think it would be useful for the House to hear some more complete citations or quotations from those decisions of the Chair that actually capture the essence of those decisions on how a bill such as Bill C-38 should be dealt with.

In the ruling on the 1982 energy bill, Madam Speaker Sauvé said, at page 15532 of Debates:

It may be that the House should accept rules or guidelines as to the form and content of omnibus bills, but in that case the House, and not the Speaker, must make those rules.

Therefore, having heard argument and having examined Bill C-94, I must now rule on the basis of existing precedents, which do not support the proposition that the bill should be divided or struck down.

I emphasize “or struck down” because that is what she is asking you to do in this case.

Madam Speaker Sauvé also ruled on June 20, 1983, at page 26538 of Debates, on the western grain transportation bill, as follows:

—although some occupants of the Chair have expressed concern about the practice of incorporating several distinct principles into a single bill, they have consistently found that such bills are procedurally in order and properly before the House.

This bill does not even meet that test of distinct principles. It is all one principle, the implementation of our budget.

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands also quoted some decisions of Mr. Speaker Fraser, including one reference which even she acknowledged was “at best obiter dicta”.

In his June 8, 1988 ruling on the Canada-U.S. Free-Trade Agreement, he cited the 1982 ruling of Madam Speaker Sauvé, who called it, at page 16257 of Debates, “the Chair’s traditional position”. That led Mr. Speaker Fraser to say:

Until the House adopts specific rules relating to omnibus Bills, the Chair’s role is very limited and the Speaker should remain on the sidelines as debate proceeds and the House resolves the issue.

He cited himself in his later rulings on April 1, 1992, at page 9149 of Debates, and December 7, 1992, at page 14735 of Debates.

Underpinning her submissions were what the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands described as Mr. Speaker Lamoureux’s so-called misgivings in a January 26, 1971, ruling.

Let me add to the record the paragraph she left out on page 284 of the Journals, which immediately followed the one quoted by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands.

The Speaker went on to say:

At the time, having now reached second reading and having had this bill before us for some time, I doubt whether we should take the very drastic and extreme position, as I suggest to hon. members it would be, of saying that this bill is not acceptable to the House, that it should not be put by the government and that it should not be considered by hon. members. In my view it should be the responsibility of the Chair, when such bill is introduced and given first reading, to take the initiative and raise the matter for the consideration of the House by way of a point of order.

Indeed, as the hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands opined in her opening remarks, at page 8719 of Monday’s Hansard:

—I still think there is a compelling case that the House must act to set limits around omnibus legislation.

Later, at page 8720, she conceded that:

It is clear that the Speaker is not, at present and in absence of rules from the House to limit the length and complexities of omnibus bills, entitled to rule that an omnibus bill is too long, too complex or too broad in scope. 

What she is seeking to do, through a point of order, is try to have the Speaker in fact implement new rules, effectively new Standing Orders. That is, of course, not the proper way of proceeding. Moreover, it is worth noting that over the decades of the prevailing status quo, the House has not availed itself of any opportunities to vary the status quo with regard to the Standing Orders in this matter.

I will not repeat myself from Monday afternoon when I articulated the consistent theme of Bill C-38, as it related to the implementation of this year’s budget, economic action plan 2012. It is a comprehensive suite of measures designed to ensure jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity, a package which, as you will recall, Mr. Speaker, was endorsed by a vote of the House on April 4.

Therefore, in conclusion, Bill C-38 is not only built around a consistent theme, but its construction is not, as noted by your predecessors, for the Chair to veto.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I wish to respond briefly to my hon. friend the government House leader.

I am aware of the fact that the official opposition has requested time to present its view on this extremely important point of order. I say that not out of any personal hubris but because I think it is a matter that should occupy, and has occupied previous Parliaments, but not in the form in which the House leader misconstrued my argument.

I was not selective in quotes. When I quoted Speaker Lamoureux, it was to point out that what he referred to was the problem of omnibus bills—

Hon. Peter Van Loan: Nice try.

Elizabeth May: Excuse me, Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak without the hon. gentleman trying to interrupt me.

What I was speaking to was that if it is a proper omnibus bill, in other words if it has a theme, if it has a single purpose or relevancy, then it is not for the Speaker to intervene. However, it is clear on the precedents I cited, particularly Speaker Fraser’s ruling from 1988 on the free trade agreement, that a bill must first be accepted as a proper omnibus bill. That is the first test. It does not require a rewrite of the standing rules. It is a matter of precedent. If it is not a proper omnibus bill, it violates Standing Order 68(3).

I will not replace my arguments at this time or repeat them. I want to merely distinguish for you, Mr. Speaker, that every thing the government House leader has said misses the entire legal point that I made.

A Speaker will not intervene to change the complexity, length or number of bills within an omnibus bill if it is properly an omnibus bill. This one fails that test. It is not derived from items solely found in the budget. It is not derived solely from anything that can be called one theme. There is no excuse for putting in sections that have to do with changing the oversight of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, altering fish habitat legislation or changing the role of Parks Canada wardens.

The number and scope of the changes that were never mentioned in the budget itself, combined with the number of things that hon. members from Privy Council believe to actually be in the bill, which clearly are not there, suggests the bill, as the French version of the rules says is, incomplète, or the English version, imperfect. It is imperfect in shape and form. It is not a proper omnibus bill.

I would invite you, Mr. Speaker, to await arguments from the official opposition. I look forward to what I hope and trust will be an impartial, fair judgment in the interest of protecting Westminster parliamentary democracy and the institution of this Parliament itself.