Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order as to the fundamental nature of the way the House functions and the way that you, Mr. Speaker, allow that smooth processing function to go on. My point of order is specific to Bill C-45, which the House now has before it.
I am rising on a point of order that is indirectly related to Bill C-45 insofar as I am hoping to influence your decision-making on the so-called grouping of report stage motions, which the House will receive tomorrow morning as debate begins at that stage of the bill. I will be asking you to allow for a recorded division on each motion that you select for debate, rather than grouping many of them together and having a single vote applied to more than one distinct question moved by various members of the House. Essentially, I will be making the argument that it is not for the Speaker to limit the ability of MPs to make distinct choices on how to vote on distinct questions.
For Canadians watching at home who are not familiar with our somewhat antiquated and perhaps even arcane practices, it may seem odd that I even have to make this request. I suspect that most Canadians would intuitively think that the Speaker could not have the power, and should not have the power, to require MPs to choose a single vote on multiple distinct questions. I do not think so either and I am going to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to avoid doing so for the report stage of Bill C-45 as well as to set the precedent for how Speakers deal with this matter in the future.
As you well know, Mr. Speaker, you, like your predecessors, are in the habit of grouping motions in amendment at report stage for debate and voting when there is a large number of motions on the notice paper. That has often been the case with omnibus bills, such as C-45 and C-38, which the House studied last spring, by their very nature.
The government decided to put hundreds of clauses in a single bill, and the House and its members are being forced to study them as a single block. That is their choice, not ours, and I am sure it is not your choice either.
I will quote directly from your explanation, Mr. Speaker, of the report stage groupings of Bill C-38, which took place on June 11 of this year. Your explanation to the House was as follows:
||—motions to delete clauses have always been found to be in order and it must also be noted have been selected at report stage. These motions are allowed at report stage because members may wish to express views on a clause without seeking to amend it. As is the case on such occasions, I have tried to minimize the amount of time spent in the House on this kind of motion by grouping them as tightly as possible and by applying the vote on one to as many others as possible.
While I am now raising an objection to this practice, Mr. Speaker, I know that you were simply following what has been done by the House and others on such occasions. However, when I looked into the written explanation for this practice, the practice that is written in our guidelines and practices for this place, I was somewhat surprised to find very little in the way of direct guidance for you as Speaker. In fact, what I found was very simply a passage in the Annotated Standing Orders of the House of Commons, on page 272 under Standing Order 76.1(5). To be clear, this is not the Standing Order itself, but rather, the explanation of it. All that is said is the following:
|| The Speaker determines the order in which the motions will be called and the effect of one vote on the others (for example, if the vote on one motion can be applied to another motion). The purpose of the voting scheme is to avoid the House having to vote twice on the same issue.
That is very clear. Even in this annotation to our Standing Orders, the intention of those groupings is to avoid having the House vote twice on the same issue.
There is also a similar explanation in the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, which I will, from this point on, refer to as O'Brien and Bosc. On page 784, it states:
||—the Speaker...also decides on how they will be grouped for voting, that is, the Speaker determines the order in which the motions in amendment will be called and the effect of one vote on the others. The purpose of the voting scheme is to obviate any requirement for two or more votes on the same issue.
It is pretty clear in its intention and its practice. To avoid voting more than once on the same thing is essential for the House.
Here is the problem. The groupings that you, Mr. Speaker, created for the government's last large omnibus bill were not, in my view, limited to preventing multiple votes on the same issues. Groupings were made to have only one vote applied to completely different clauses in the bill, each of which constituted a separate and distinct issue for the House to address, which is in fact our guideline in our practices, not a suggestion but an actual strict rule and guideline.
It is the government, with the help of its lawyers in the Department of Justice, that has told the House that it deemed each of the clauses to be distinct issues, not us in the opposition. If they were the same issue, they would be in the same clause.
I submit that in the ongoing effort to review and improve the living tree of our procedures and practices, saving MPs from voting on the same issue is not what Speakers have been doing during the report stage groupings. It seems to me that they have been treating motions at report stage as a nuisance and one that should be severely limited, rather than as what they are, as was referenced in the practices before.
I find this somewhat disturbing. If these motions are legitimate questions that the House is meant to deal with at report stage, the final stage, surely MPs should have a choice on how to vote on them. As it stands, MPs are forced to make one single vote on a multitude, sometimes dozens, of individual questions, which are separate in their concepts and ideas.
A clear example of this practice comes again from your report stage ruling on Bill C-38 from June 11 of this year. Motion No. 143 is a motion I know you, Mr. Speaker, remember well. It read that Bill C-38 would be amended by defeating clause 68, good old clause 68. In your ruling, Mr. Speaker, MPs were told that with regard to Motion No. 143, the choice to vote yea or nay on that question would apply to 47 other individual questions, which MPs had moved and you, as Speaker, had selected for debate in the House.
Those questions were: clauses 144 to 146, 149, 151 to 153, 156, 158, 170, 172, 174, 175, 177, 179, 194, 208, 201, 211, 213, 215 and 217, 222 to 224, 226, and 228 to 230, and 232 to 249.
It is impossible for one person, even a person as wise as the Speaker of the House of Commons, to be sure that all MPs share the same opinion on each of these 48 motions. The Speaker may be reasonably sure with respect to the members who moved the motions, and perhaps, by extension, the other members of their party, but in the case of members of other parties or independent members, that assumption cannot be made with the same degree of certainty.
The people watching these debates at home or in the gallery may get the impression that we are entering a dark maze known to some as the Ottawa bubble. In the interest of clarity, I will refer to the example given previously and provide a useful example of the possible repercussions of vote grouping.
In your grouping, Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 143 moved to delete a clause that makes a correction to the simple heading in the French version of an existing law. That is all it did. It seems to me that some members may not want to oppose that change and would therefore tend to vote against the motion. However, that choice applies automatically to Motion No. 144, a completely different idea and concept. It asked to delete clause 69 of Bill C-38. Clause 69 changed the definition of a navigable water and penalty under the act in question, which the same member could easily wish to support.
Just to be clear, we voted once in the groupings that were made by your Chair. One motion on changing the heading in a French version of the bill was also connected to the very definition of a navigable water. It is clear and obvious that a member of Parliament may have two different opinions on those ideas, yet was only being permitted to vote once. That goes against the rules and practices of the House.
As a result of those groupings and nothing else, I am afraid to say, MPs were forced to make a single choice, yea or nay, despite the fact that they would be voting against their conscience no matter which way they voted. It puts members of Parliament who try to represent their constituents into an impossible bind. Whichever way they vote, they end up voting against their conscience. That is not and should not be permissible.
I believe, and I hope you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that the man or woman in your chair should not make a decision that puts any member in a position where they are forced to make such an impossible choice.
In that way, the question of MPs voting against their conscience is one that has been raised before. In fact, the House recently spent a day debating an opposition motion that reminded us all of what the current Prime Minister had to say on a similar matter when he was the one rallying against the anti-democratic agenda of the then Liberal Canadian government, rather than driving the agenda as he does today.
In the Prime Minister's point of order of March 25, 1994, and this quote has become quite familiar in this hall, he said:
||—in the interest of democracy...How can members represent their constituents on these various [ideas] when they are forced to vote in a block on such legislation and on such concerns?...We can agree with some of the measures but oppose others.
The Prime Minister was right then. He is in fact wrong now to create these omnibus bills. However, you, as the Speaker, are obligated to maintain the ability of members to vote their conscience.
You will know, Mr. Speaker, that at the time the Prime Minister was objecting to the very existence of omnibus bills, an objection he no longer seems to hold because he has created many and some of which are large.
Speaker Parent then ruled against the point of order, as many others have in similar circumstances, because the objection was being made to the vote at second reading or another vote on the general progress of the bill.
I will quote from Speaker Parent's ruling from April 11, 1994, which was in direct response to the current Prime Minister. He stated:
|| However, it is the view of the Chair that in the adoption of a second reading motion the House gives approval in principle to a bill...then moves on to the consideration of its specific provisions in subsequent stages.
This is the stage we are at right now.
He continues “Hence, while I cannot accept the hon. member's request to divide or set aside Bill C-17”, which was an omnibus bill by the Liberal government, “I can suggest to him and to other members that should they so wish they may propose amendments to the bill in committee or at report stage and in so doing have an opportunity to express their views and vote on the specific sections of the bill”.
Therefore, in Speaker Parent's ruling, when ruling against the current Prime Minister in his effort to throw out the omnibus bill altogether, because it represented an effort to have MPs vote at cross-purposes to their conscience, he said that there was an opportunity that would come later, at report stage, in which amendments could be moved with respect to those specific sections of the bill and then not be encumbered by it anymore.
This stiff rejection of our current Prime Minister's concern is explained in Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules & Forms, sixth edition, at page 194, citation 634, which states:
||—the practice of using one bill to demand one decision on a number of quite different, although related subjects, while a matter of concern, is an issue on which the Speaker will not intervene....
That is correct. That is the ruling on omnibus bills and the nature of omnibus bills. We are talking about something quite different now and much more nefarious.
Mr. Speaker, at this point in my speech, I would like to emphasize a fact that may seem obvious to you. I am not arguing for or against the validity or even the value of omnibus bills. That is not my point.
You and your predecessors have clearly decided that we would have to deal with such bills, for better or worse. The issue I am raising today is simply the individual right of a member of Parliament to vote according to his or her conscience on issues before the House.
Given the Prime Minister's previous objection to a single vote on a bill that covers a number of issues, I hope that he will support my position on the fact that a single vote on several distinct elements of a bill forces members to vote against their conscience.
Even if the Prime Minister does not agree with my submission, and no longer agrees with himself on this point, there have been many rulings that point out the importance of the rights of members to vote on diverse components of a bill, which are its individual clauses at committee and now report stage.
In his ruling of May 11, 1977, Speaker Jerome stated:
|| I think that an hon. member of this House ought to have the right to compel the House to vote on each separate question.
He went on in the same ruling of that year to say:
||—a member ought to be able, if he wishes to attempt through motions to delete under Standing Order 75(5) to isolate those sections which he feels ought not to be amended or that ought to be voted upon separately, without offending the principle of the bill.
That is exactly what will happen at report stage on this bill.
Finally, in that same ruling:
|| I think that would give the hon. member and other hon. members an opportunity that they should enjoy, to put their position on the record, which I think ought to be known, and also to require others in the House to vote in respect of that position....where a bill is presented...which contains amendments to several different areas of the law although all connected to criminal law, a member ought to be able to use some procedure at some stage of the bill to cause the House to make separate decisions on those very subject matters.
In his decision of June 8, 1988, Speaker Fraser stated that members have the ancient privilege of voting on each separate proposition before the House. It is indeed an ancient privilege and one that we, all the other members of this institution and myself, must jealously guard.
The problem is that the grouping of report stage motions presumes that one can predict the intentions of members with respect to specific matters that have already been identified as being legitimate and substantive. Perhaps this may seem intuitive, but I would like to say that only in exceptional and extraordinary circumstances should someone be authorized to presume how members will vote on a motion before the House.
Given that omnibus bills have been routinely introduced by this government, these are not exceptional circumstances.
Speaker Milliken, your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, made this point clear when he was addressing the use of Standing Order 56.1 to presume the outcome of a vote in the House, and he said:
|| The effect of the motion adopted pursuant to Standing Order 56.1 was to predetermine the results of all the votes following the first recorded division. It is clear to the Chair that this application of the standing order goes well beyond the original intent, that is, for the presentation of routine motions as defined in Standing Order 56.1.(1)(b).
|| The standing order has never been used as a substitute for decisions which the House ought itself to make on substantive matters.
It cannot be replaced. There is no rule in the House that allows us to circumvent the right of any hon. member to have a clear and concise vote on individual subject matters. I will continue with the quote:
|| In the meantime, based on close examination of past precedents and the most recent use of Standing Order 56.1 as a tool to bypass the decision making functions of the House, I must advise the House that the motion adopted on June 12, 2001, will not be regarded as a precedent. I would urge all hon. members to be vigilant about the use of this mechanism for the Chair certainly intends to be watchful.
The regrouping of report stage amendments for the purpose of voting presumes the very same thing: how MPs will wish to vote on a question before the House. This is a right that the Speaker made very clear should be protected with vigilance.
The introduction to chapter 12 of O'Brien and Bosc sums up very well the current reality of majority governments. On page 527, there is a quote from Parliaments in the Modern World, by parliamentary expert Philip Laundy: “The principle underlying parliamentary procedure is that the minority should have its say and the majority should have its way.”
In my opinion, this means that, in a majority Parliament, the government has the right to get through its legislative agenda, and the opposition has the right to slow passage of legislation in a reasonable manner.
Having a distinct vote on each question put forward by MPs that is clear, distinct and admissible, surely falls under the umbrella of what should be considered reasonable.
In fact, the truth is that the government is directly responsible for any delay that it perceives to be unnecessary in this regard. In this and all pieces of legislation, the government decides how many clauses it wishes to include. This was not a choice by the opposition. This was not a choice by you as Speaker.
The government drafted this massive bill with so many clauses contained. In all this, in all pieces of legislation, the government chose which to include. In Bill C-45 there are now 516 separate clauses, each of which contains a separate legislative change, either to amend or eliminate entirely an existing law or to create a new one. Each is a distinct issue that must be dealt with on a distinct and individual basis.
When MPs move to delete that clause, it is an altogether different question than moving to delete another clause entirely. If it were not, they would be the same clause in the first place.
For the record, I am in full support of the Speaker's right to not select particular motions for the House to deal with at report stage. Motions that are vexatious or clearly dilatory, such as moving to turn a comma into a semicolon, should not be selected because it is a waste of Parliament's time. However, deleting individual clauses of a bill is a right that MPs can, and must be able to, exercise. To speak plainly, they are not a waste of time. Casting a distinct vote on each one is an ancient right of which all MPs should be able to avail themselves and it must be protected by your office, Mr. Speaker.
Deleting a clause of the bill is debatable and therefore a substantive motion. O'Brien and Bosc remind us, on page 782:
|| Since motions in amendment at report stage are open to debate, they fall into the category of substantive motions...
There is no question there. The effort to delete a clause is a substantive motion. Surely, MPs should be making a decision on these substantive motions individually, rather than as a group.
In conclusion, I wish to present my arguments. Although I may be giving the impression of wanting to ascribe to you the responsibility for this very serious problem, I am keenly aware of the fact that you are following what has been done by previous speakers in such matters. I do not want Canadians who are watching to believe that this is a problem specific to your tenure as Speaker of the House of Commons.
In fact, I know that you believe that the Speaker should not influence the manner in which the House of Commons deals with an omnibus bill such as Bill C-45.
On June 11, in a ruling on a point of order questioning the legitimacy of this type of bill, Mr. Speaker, you cited Speaker Fraser's ruling of June 8, 1988, on page 16257 of Debates, saying:
|| 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.
I submit that the practice of forcing MPs to make a single vote on multiple individual questions is not written in the rules of the House, by which you as Speaker are bound. Rather it is a practice followed simply because that is the way it has been done before. However, this clearly is not a justification for the ruling.
In my view, the government's use of omnibus bills, with many hundreds of clauses, sets the table for these groupings. However, given the government, and only the government is responsible, I believe that the Speaker should allow the omnibus nature of their initiative manifest itself in all aspects of the process, including the opposition's right to use the tools of the House to delay, however temporarily, the passage of the bill.
You, Mr. Speaker, have the power to right this wrong and to unburden members of this chamber from making a single choice on multiple questions. I am asking you to exercise that power when you rule on the process for the House to follow at report stage on Bill C-45.
Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the decision that you will have to make regarding the upcoming treatment of Bill C-45 at report stage is a particularly important one, because your determination will largely settle whether the opposition can effectively make a farce of the procedures of the House and shut down the legislative process, or whether you will give actual meaning to the intent of the Standing Orders and allow the business of the country to be done in a meaningful and democratic fashion.
I will refresh everyone's memory of what we are talking about. We are talking about the interpretation of Standing Order 76(5), which relates to amendments at report stage to any legislation. In particular, we are now talking about the budget implementation bill. This Standing Order sets out the Speaker's power to select and combine amendments at this stage. It states in part, “The Speaker shall have the power to select or combine amendments or clauses to be proposed at the report stage...”. The opposition House leader is advising you, Mr. Speaker, to amend unilaterally this Standing Order to render it ineffective. That should not be the case.
If there is any doubt as to how this should be interpreted, a note was added by previous governments, not a Conservative government but a Liberal government, that reads as follows:
|| The Speaker will not normally select for consideration any motion previously ruled out of order in committee.... The Speaker will normally only select motions that were not or could not be presented in committee. A motion, previously defeated in committee, will only be selected if the Speaker judges it to be of such exceptional significance as to warrant a further consideration at the report stage. The Speaker will not normally select for separate debate a repetitive series of motions which are interrelated and, in making the selection, shall consider whether individual Members will be able to express their concerns during the debate on another motion.
The most important recent addition states:
|| For greater clarity, the Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings at the report stage and, in exercising this power of selection, the Speaker shall be guided by the practice followed in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.
We recall that there was some public comment after the ruling earlier this spring and the number of amendments allowed. Here I refer to comment by the actual individuals who were involved in the preparation of that section and the changes that were proposed to the Standing Orders. They expressed some disappointment at the ruling that was made and thought that the powers were there for the Speaker to prevent the abuse that we saw earlier this spring, when the House was tied up for many hours by hundreds of votes, none of which changed a single comma, all of which were clearly and evidently an abuse of the process and a massive cost to Canadians in terms of the operation of the House and an inconvenience to members who had other business to do for the purposes of this country.
I will point out that the Standing Orders and the powers in them have a history to them; they do not exist separately and apart. If we review O'Brien and Bosc, there is some reflection on this history at page 777, which states:
|| In 1955, the House amended its Standing Orders to reflect this practice.
That referred to a previous practice of concurrence in amendments from committee. As O'Brien and Bosc note:
|| It was agreed that amendments had to be presented to the House and that the motion for concurrence in the amendments had to be disposed of forthwith before the bill was ordered for debate at third reading at the next sitting of the House. The effect of these amendments to the Standing Orders was to eliminate what then constituted the equivalent of report stage. In 1968, the House undertook a thorough revision of its legislative process with the result that all bills, except for those based on supply or ways and means motions, were thenceforth to be referred to standing or special committees, and would not be reconsidered by a Committee of the Whole House. In addition, the House restored report stage [that was the trade-off] and empowered the Speaker to select and group amendments.
That was the management aspect of it.
Therefore, in restoring report stage, effectively, it was not done carte blanche, so that everything had to be considered. There was a recognition that there were some risks. That is why the Speaker was given powers to allow the House to continue to function, powers to limit an abuse through procedural measures and unnecessary, frivolous, vexatious or duplicative amendments.
O'Brien and Bosc go on to state:
|| In recommending that report stage be restored, the 1968 Special Committee on Procedure believed that stage essential in order to provide all Members of the House, and not merely members of the committee, with an opportunity to express their views on bills under consideration and to propose amendments, where appropriate. For all that, the intent of the Committee was not for this stage to become a repetition of committee stage.
I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that with the amendments we have seen on notice so far, nothing could be closer to an effort to replicate exactly what happened at committee, or could have happened at committee. That was clearly not the intent of establishing report stage.
Report stage was to allow for that rare, unique and relatively uncommon circumstance where an idea had not occurred to someone at committee but that here in the House some felt that an amendment was appropriate, novel and different and sought to bring it forward. However, there is nothing novel in the amendments that we see on notice. There is nothing innovative. There is nothing significantly different from what has been proposed or could have been proposed earlier.
Finally, I will go to the most recent change.
Most recently, in 2001, an additional paragraph was added to the above-mentioned note. This occurred in response to the flooding of the notice paper with hundreds of amendments to certain controversial bills. The new text emphasized that the Speaker would not select motions that were “repetitive, frivolous, vexatious or serve only to prolong debate unnecessarily”. Those are overwhelmingly the amendments that we see on the order paper today. The new provision was designed to respond to the evil that was already occurring and undermining the process of the House.
When changes are made, they are generally responding to a problem that exists. Those new powers exist to deal with that. Mr. Speaker, I submit that they should be exercised by you.
When we reflect on what has happened already in the committee proceedings on the budgetary policy of the government, including ways and means Motion No. 7, the first budget implementation bill, Bill C-38, as well as the present legislation, there have already been almost 4,600 votes on the government's budgetary policy.
How much has changed as a result of all of those votes and amendments to what has been proposed by the government? Not one comma, not one word. That is the clearest evidence that the current amendments represent an abuse of process only designed to try to delay and be vexatious and prolong matters.
My submissions are centred on five points.
First, the clause deletion motions are a repetition of committee proceedings and merely seek to prolong report stage proceedings and, therefore, should not be selected.
Second, in the alternative, if the clause deletion motions are selected, they should be grouped in a manner that recognizes the anticipated will of the House.
Third, the other amendments from the New Democrats and Liberals should not be selected because they were presented at committee, or could have been presented at committee.
Fourth, some of the motions by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands should not be selected on the grounds that they were presented at committee or are similar to amendments dealt with at committee, or that they infringe on the financial prerogative of the Crown.
Fifth, the other report stage amendments from the independent members of Parliament must be grouped in a way that prevents the entire House from being detained in a marathon of votes originated at the whim of, effectively, a single member of Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, as with any bill pending at report stage, you are required to make certain decisions under, among other provisions, Standing Order 76.1(5). Again, this is the one I read earlier about your having the power to select or combine amendments or clauses to be proposed at report stage.
It is in this spirit that I do tender this advice given that the government is scheduling that report stage of Bill C-45 will start tomorrow. Mr. Speaker, I can appreciate that you have a lot to consider today and this evening. I hope you do not have any plans.
Given the duplicated notices from multiple members of each of the two recognized caucuses, for ease of reference, I will refer to those from the members for Winnipeg North, Westmount—Ville-Marie, and Kings—Hants as the Liberal motions, and those from the members for Parkdale—High Park, Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, Brossard—La Prairie and Hamilton East—Stoney Creek as the NDP motions.
I would say that the motions to delete clauses are not an effort to amend the bill, but merely repeat what we saw at committee stage. The effect of the adoption of all of the proposed motions to delete clauses would effectively be to eviscerate the bill.
On October 30, the House adopted Bill C-45 at second reading, thereby agreeing to its principle. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance reported the bill without amendment to the House on November 26, after consideration of each and every clause.
It may be justifiable in a minority Parliament for the Chair to accept any questions for the House to decide, because it is difficult to predict the intentions of the majority of members. This is not the case in a majority Parliament in general. There is no reason to substantiate an assumption that the House would use report stage to reverse itself in the decision it took at second reading of Bill C-45. In fact, the course of the almost 4,600 votes so far on the budgetary policy of the government established this quite clearly. I do not think anyone is in any suspense as to the outcome of the number of votes that we have. It is only a suspenseful question of how long the endurance test will be of the votes we will put to the House.
I submit that the report stage motions to delete the preponderance of the clauses in the bill effectively seek not only to reverse the outcome of the second reading vote on the bill, but also constitute a repetition of committee stage of the bill. As I said, that is particularly the case since each clause did carry separately in the clause-by-clause votes.
The second paragraph of the note that is in our Standing Orders accompanying Standing Order 76.1(5) with respect to the Speaker's power to select amendments states in part, “It is not meant to be a reconsideration of the committee stage of a bill”. I repeat that: report stage is not to be a repeat of the consideration that occurred at committee.
On February 27, 2001 the House added this paragraph to the note accompanying Standing Order 76.1(5):
|| For greater clarity, the Speaker will not select for debate a motion or series of motions of a repetitive, frivolous or vexatious nature or of a nature that would serve merely to prolong unnecessarily proceedings....
It then continues on about the British rules.
I read to the House the excerpt from O'Brien and Bosc about the circumstances where there was an abuse with the flooding of amendments. Therefore, we have seen it happen before. We have seen that Parliament has decided that the kind of abuse that occurred in the past should not be allowed to be repeated and, hence, it changed our Standing Orders to reflect that such abuse should not be permitted and that you, Mr. Speaker, have the power to prevent it and to prevent the undue delay.
In the present case we have again seen the notice paper flooded. Today's notice paper lists some 1,662 report stage motions respecting Bill C-45. I am not a betting man, but I am willing to bet anyone in the House that I do not foresee any of them passing.
We know that most of the motions have already been considered at committee. We know that the House has approved overwhelmingly the budget, the budgetary policy of the House and this particular legislation at second reading. By breaking these out into multiple deletion clauses and other frivolous and vexatious amendments, nothing is being achieved but a waste of time, resources and the discrediting of our parliamentary system.
I respectfully submit that the Liberal and NDP report stage motions taken as a whole simply constitute an attempt to reverse the decision of the House at second reading of the bill, but to do so in ultra-slow motion. These amendments would be a reconsideration of committee stage and are of a nature that will merely serve to prolong unnecessarily the proceedings at report stage. Ultimately, if a member seeks to oppose the entirety or the preponderance of a piece of legislation, that member's recourse should lie in voting against the motion on concurrence in the bill in report stage, not in detaining the House through round-the-clock voting.
While your ruling, Mr. Speaker, on June 11, 2012 on Bill C-38 held that clause deletion motions have always been found to be in order, and it must also be noted to have been selected at report stage, I argue that this case can be distinguished. In the present case we are dealing with a second bill to implement provisions of a budget tabled in Parliament. Therefore these clause deletion motions should not find favour under the vigorous exercise contemplated by Speaker Milliken.
I will point out that in the alternative, if selected, certainly these clause deletion motions need to be grouped in an efficient manner. Should you decline to accept my advice, Mr. Speaker, and choose to select those clause deletion motions, I would urge that you use your authority and combine and group them in a fashion that puts them to the House in a sensible and efficient fashion.
I propose that the clause deletions, should they be selected against my advice, be grouped for voting purposes into 10 subsets of economic policy. Under this approach the House would have 10 separate votes on the issue of whether to remove from Bill C-45 the government's proposals in these areas of economic policy:
First, taxation measures, those being any motions to delete clause 1 or clauses in part 1 of the bill.
Second, financial sector measures, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 1 and 3 of part 4.
Third, transportation and border measures, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 2, 5, 12, 16, 18 and 20 of part 4 of the bill.
Fourth, resource development provisions, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 4 and 21 of part 4.
Fifth, aboriginal land designation provisions, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 8 of part 4.
Sixth, labour items, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 10 and 11 of part 4.
Seventh, amendments to the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 13 of part 4.
Eighth, measures related to employment insurance, those being any motions to delete clauses in divisions 15 and 22 of part 4.
Ninth, agricultural items, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 19 of part 4.
Tenth, public sector pension reforms, those being any motions to delete clauses in division 23 of part 4.
This would allow for a broad range of votes on a broad range of topics where the opposition, clearly, is seeking to delete the proposals of the government. It would do so in a fashion that would allow that expression to be made. It would allow them to state, for the record, that they disagree with these proposals by the government. At the same time, they would not be establishing an excessive number of votes to get that point across here in the House.
The committee is, in fact, really the best venue for other NDP and Liberal motions. I understand that each of the report stage motions by the New Democrats and Liberals, which propose to make amendments to the clauses of Bill C-45, were put before the finance committee.
As for the 1,000 report stage motions from the Liberals seeking to add bodies of water to schedule 2 of the bill, I would observe that the committee dealt with a similar number of amendments at the committee level.
Since these motions were first published only this morning, I have not yet had an opportunity to determine whether they are exactly the same bodies of water proposed for inclusion at committee. On this point, I will leave my argument that generally, these motions were either dealt with at committee or could have been proposed there, as they are very similar to what was proposed there.
One additional point I would make about any motions to amend schedule 2 of the bill is on NDP amendment 72, which the finance committee considered and defeated, which I believe answers any further reference to adding bodies of water. That amendment sought to add:
|| All navigable waters situated in Canada and included in the Atlantic Ocean drainage basin, the Hudson Bay drainage basin, the Arctic Ocean drainage basin, the Pacific Ocean drainage basin or the Gulf of Mexico drainage basin.
In short, any water body not already listed in the schedule would have been addressed by that amendment.
Turning to the Green Party leader, I would suggest that some of her amendments should not be selected. Several of the motions by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands are the same, either in whole or in part, as those presented at committee.
Therefore, I submit that the following report stage motions proposed by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands should not be selected: Motion No. 28, which is the same as Liberal amendment 23; Motion No. 29, which is the same as Liberal amendment 24; Motion No. 74, which is the same as Liberal amendment 64; Motions Nos. 411 to 413 and 424 to 432, which are collectively the same as Liberal amendment 243; Motion No. 434, which is the same as Liberal amendment 249; Motion No. 436, which is the same as Liberal amendment 250; Motions Nos. 439 to 442 and 445, collectively, which are the same, in part, as Liberal amendment 252; and finally, Motion No. 463, which is the same as Liberal amendment 263.
Others are similar in nature to amendments considered at committee. I would argue that the issue was generally considered by the committee. Therefore, report stage motions should not be selected. This would apply to Motion No. 389, which covered ground similar to NDP amendment 21; Motion No. 409, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 240 and NDP amendment 223; Motion No. 440, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 253; Motion No. 441, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 252 and NDP amendment 31; and Motion No. 458, which covered ground similar to Liberal amendment 257 and NDP amendment 32.
There is also an additional concern raised by some amendments that require a royal recommendation. I have been advised that officials in the Privy Council Office note that at least two of the motions by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands would require a royal recommendation.
Motion No. 381 would increase the government's liabilities in respect of refunds for employment insurance premiums to small business for 2012-13, which expands the provisions in the bill for such refunds for 2011. By adding two additional years, this motion alters the terms and conditions of the original royal recommendation attached to Bill C-45 respecting the provision for such refunds for 2011.
Motion No. 382 also increases spending in a manner that is not currently authorized. The royal recommendation attached to Bill C-45 respecting this provision provides a limit of $1,000 on the refund of premiums, which this motion is proposing to increase to $2,000.
As a result, this would go beyond the terms and conditions of the original royal recommendation. Therefore, a new royal recommendation would be required.
Officials are reviewing the newest amendments published in this morning's notice. If I obtain further information on items that I believe will require a royal recommendation, I will be sure to send those submissions or provide them to you, Mr. Speaker, through this House.
The independent member's motions are an interesting question. They require some attention, because the independent member does not sit on committee. However, they should not be dealt with in such a manner that they represent, effectively, a harassment of the balance of the House. Compared to the several hundred amendments proposed by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands in June, on Bill C-38, her proposals as of today's date are slightly less unreasonable. However, the fact remains that the rights of individual members of Parliament must be balanced with the ability of the majority of the House to dispatch its business with some reasonable, practical speed. Allowing a single member of Parliament to hold the House hostage in a voting marathon is simply not reasonable.
I propose the following arrangement, which could, in future, extend to other government bills.
Report stage motions submitted by a member of Parliament who is not part of a recognized party shall be selected in the manner provided for by our rules. The selected motions may be grouped for debate in the usual fashion. Subject to the next point, the voting patterns for the motions would be set in the usual manner, as required by the ordinary practices of considering legislative amendments. However, one amendment per independent member of Parliament would be chosen to be a test vote. The voting pattern for the rest of that independent member's motions would only be implemented if the test motion were adopted. A rejection of the test motion would be inferred as a rejection of all that member's proposals. Therefore, the balance of the independent member's motions would not be put to the House.
In summary, any ordinary person familiar with parliamentary process, in even a passing way, would agree that more than 1,600 amendments are an abuse of process. Most should not be selected. In summary, this member's proposals are collectively a repetition of the committee stage and only seek to prolong report stage proceedings unnecessarily, particularly through the round-the-clock voting that would result.
There is no evidence that the House would willingly agree to be subjected to this. In fact, the history of how our rules have changed and the Speaker's rulings since 1968 confirm this. The Speaker's power to select amendments is clearly designed to prevent that abuse from happening. Mr. Speaker, the note that accompanies Standing Order 76.1(5) is a further clear articulation and reinforcement of the notion that part of one's obligation as Speaker is to protect not just the rights of the minority or an individual member; it is also to protect the rights of all members of Parliament not to see this place brought to discredit through procedures that are entirely frivolous, vexatious, repetitious, designed to delay and certainly designed to inconvenience all members of Parliament to an extraordinary extent.
I submit that the report stage motions, taken as a whole, run counter both to the spirit and the letter of the rules that govern our proceedings. Therefore, I recommend that most of the report stage motions on notice should not be selected and that the balance should be grouped in the manner I have proposed.
Finally, I point out, Mr. Speaker, your ruling in the spring, even though it was not seen as sufficiently aggressive in some fashion and was not seen as efficient as some would have liked in terms of respecting the ability of this House to continue to function. You clearly said, with respect to the 871 motions placed on the notice paper, the following:
|| [I]t is clearly not intended, nor do our rules and practices lend themselves to the taking of 871 consecutive votes. With respect to the voting table, substantive amendments have been grouped so as to allow for a clear expression of opinion on each of the subject areas contained in the bill. Motions to delete have been dealt with in conformity with the grouping scheme you outlined....
Mr. Speaker, I have certainly given you a proposal that I think falls squarely within the context of what you established in your spring ruling. Here we see that the effort to be frivolous and vexatious has come close to, and has perhaps by now more than doubled, the effort to do so in the spring. The result, I am quite confident, will be the same in terms of the substantive outcome of those amendments. I invite you to ensure that the processes of this House are managed in such a fashion that our proceedings are not brought into discredit and are not made into a farce. Rather, they can operate in a fashion that allows views to be expressed but that also allows the nation's business to be done.