Points of Order: Report Stage Amendments

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise at this time on a point of order to address and advance my rights at report stage under Bill C-23, the fair elections act.


Mr. Speaker, you will recall this is a narrative that has come up a few times in terms of the rights of members of Parliament in positions like mine, members of Parliament of a smaller party that does not yet have 12 members and has not yet become recognized in that sense, and the rights of independent members of Parliament. We know the principles here: that in theory all members of Parliament are equal and that we are here as members of Parliament, as many of your rulings have attested, Mr. Speaker, with the right and responsibility to turn our attention to every single piece of legislation that goes through this place and to have a meaningful opportunity to present amendments to improve legislation.

My intention with this point of order is not to draw it out. I will be as succinct as I possibly can be. I would like to review the factual situation in which I find myself and then distinguish for you the current situation from the normal situation within committees.

The situation in which I find myself is that owing to the rules of parliamentary procedure, members of Parliament in my position—either members of smaller parties or independents—on the face of it have a right to present substantive amendments at report stage because we are not allowed to be full members, or members at all, of parliamentary committees.

Mr. Speaker, since you will recall it, I will not drag out with precedents and reminders of citations the occasion on which the hon. government House leader attempted in November 2012 to suggest that persons such as me—and in fact he referred to the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands as the impetus for his efforts—should not be allowed to present substantive amendments at report stage but should put forward a test amendment, and if that one failed, none of the rest of the amendments would be heard at all.

Mr. Speaker, you ruled in December 2012 that this would not be sufficient. You cited with approval the words of former Speaker John Fraser, who on October 10, 1989, said that “…we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, nor a so-called administrative democracy.”

You went on to say, Mr. Speaker, that since I did not have the right to present any amendments at committee, I must have the right to present them at report stage. Then your ruling went on to create something of a crack in the door that said that if a “satisfactory mechanism” can be found for a member in a position such as mine to have amendments considered at committee, then I would not have a double ability to come back at report stage.

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives in the House used that crack in the door from your December 2012 ruling to great effect. They created identical motions that were presented by Conservative members of Parliament in every committee right after the Speech from the Throne in the fall of 2013, and I have been living under that new set of rules.

Since my point of order at the moment deals specifically with the House committee on procedure and House affairs, I can refer to its motion, although in point of fact all the motions passed by every committee were identical. This was a motion put forward and approved by the committee on October 29, 2013. I will not read all of it. I will just summarize it.

If I and other members in my position want to have amendments considered for legislation, we must present them to the committee 48 hours ahead of when the committee begins clause-by-clause study, and the committee process will deem that the motions were moved, because not being a member of the committee, I of course cannot move them. As well, I cannot debate them and I cannot participate fully before the committee during testimony of witnesses.

I do not believe that this process is satisfactory at all. Mr. Speaker, the intent of your decision in the fall of 2012 was clear: that the process should be satisfactory to both the committee and to members in my situation.

However, I have lived with this set of rules. I am doing my best to live with this set of rules. I have endeavoured to present amendments 48 hours ahead of clause by clause and to participate, even within the very tight strictures of the rules.

However, here is the key one. At paragraph (c):

(c) during the clause-by-clause consideration of a Bill, the Chair shall allow a Member who filed suggested amendments, pursuant to paragraph (a), an opportunity to make brief representations in support of them.

Forgive me for taking a moment to say the following. The chair of the procedure and House affairs committee dealing with Bill C-23 did an exemplary job. He was fair to a fault and did an extraordinary job in terms of his personal efforts to maintain an amicable atmosphere among all parties in a very controversial and highly charged bill. I do not for one moment blame the chair for the fact that he was prevented from fulfilling a condition, a condition precedent to anything that then occurred with my involvement in committee.

I presented my amendments. They were deemed to be put forward, but I was denied in the case of the surviving 11 amendments, which were past the point of 5:00 p.m. last Thursday. There was no debate allowed on my amendments, and I was prevented from making any representation, brief or otherwise, on my amendments.

I want to go back for a moment to the normal situation. I think that many in this place, particularly some who want to deny me my rights at this point, will go back to the default position that a committee is the master of its own affairs. A committee made the decision; the committee decided it had to finish its work by five o’clock by debate so that by midnight all the clause by clause could be through. It really does not matter that democracy in this place is diminished by such a rule. The idea is that the committee made the rule and the Speaker cannot interfere.

This condition, this situation, is remarkably different. It is completely distinguished from and different from the ruling that, for instance, you gave in relation to the member for Kings—Hants, who complained of a similar process. Your ruling of November 29, 2012, deals with that particular set of parameters, a committee process in which the Speaker is not engaged. The Speaker, as I know is the usual wisdom, has no business interfering with the business of committee, because the committees are the masters of their own affairs—except in this instance.

It is only owing to your ruling that my rights at report stage can be infringed, my rights at report stage can be reduced, my rights at report stage can be essentially eliminated if a process, pursuant to your ruling, is found to be satisfactory. Only due to your ruling was this new process invented. The new process states unequivocally that the chair shall allow a member with diminished rights, no ability to participate fully, no ability to vote, no ability to even move my own amendments, no ability to ask the witnesses questions. It is a very circumscribed, limited, and I think in some ways fraudulent opportunity.

However, there is a minimum thing that this motion passed in every committee insists upon for every amendment that I have put forward for clause-by-clause consideration as a member of Parliament, with rights equal to everyone in this place. The same applies for the other independents, whether Edmonton—St. Albert, Peterborough, the members who represent the Bloc Québécois, other members within the Green Party, or the member for Ahuntsic: we have the right to work on every bill in this place, whether we are members of committee or not.

This new construct has been created. We have put ourselves within it. Many of us, not just myself, have worked very hard to present amendments during clause by clause, knowing that we will have at a minimum 60 seconds per amendment to describe our amendments and argue for them.

In this instance, I submit to you that the Conservative majority is hoist by its own petard. It cannot shut down debate at five o’clock on a Thursday and gavel through everything, thus precluding independents and smaller parties from presenting their amendments later at report stage. It can have one or the other; it cannot have both.

It forced us into this process of running from committee to committee for clause-by-clause study. At a minimum we must be allowed to present our amendments in the committee. If that right is removed unilaterally, then I submit to you that there is no question but that we revert to the general rules of parliamentary procedure, those found in O’Brien and Bosc, which are very clear that members of Parliament in my position and others in smaller parties and independents have a right to present substantive amendments at report stage. That is what I intend to do tomorrow.

I urge and I hope that you will rule that because the committee failed to live up to its own motion, it is no longer a situation of the committee making its own rules.

The committee has constructed this fake opportunity and herded members of Parliament from smaller parties and independents. We are exhorted—not just encouraged and invited, but in a sense coerced—into a process not of our choosing.

Mr. Speaker, since it was owing to your ruling that this fake process was invented, at a minimum they have to live up to it. If they fail to, then it reverts to our normal rule that we have the right to present amendments at report stage in clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-23.