The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
Before we resume debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, Health; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Rail Transportation; and the hon. member for Québec, The Environment.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Toronto Centre.
Resuming debate. The hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles will have just nine minutes for her speech.
It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Edmonton—Strathcona, Employment; the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Public Works and Government Services.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member forCharlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
While we support the idea that unnecessary regulatory burdens and regulatory burdens that create unnecessary paperwork are a good thing to remove from small businesses in particular, which as the parliamentary secretary earlier noted are part of the driving force behind job creation in Canada, we are concerned that this notion of somehow magically replacing one-for-one in a bill would do that job without harming health and safety or the economy generally. That is somewhat worrying to us.
We can think of numerous examples of this notion that businesses have a cost associated with regulation. When a new regulation comes forward, that cost must be calculated and a regulation of equivalent cost removed somewhere in the spectrum. We do not know if that regulation needs to be removed from that same type of business, whether it is a small business or a large business. There is no distinction in the bill as to whether or not it would apply only to small business. It would appear that it would apply to anything, including the big oil companies. We could have situations in which regulations for big oil companies, regulations that the Canadian public deem appropriate for the health and safety of Canadians, are somehow going to cost them money and therefore an equivalent regulation would have to be found somewhere else that could be removed if we want to regulate these companies.
I will give the House the example of rail safety. This past year there have been four significant accidents involving trains, one of which caused 47 lives to be lost in Lac-Mégantic. The minister has issued protective directions to, in theory, prevent some of the mechanisms that were in place, but are they regulations? If so, are those regulations going to harm the Canadian economy?
The bill itself suggests that if a regulation harms the Canadian economy, then it cannot be put in place. It says that right in the bill. We cannot amend or remove a regulation dealing with health and safety or the Canadian economy. Which wins, health and safety or the economy? I could not get a straight answer out of the minister when I asked him. We have some serious reservations about the clarity of this legislation.
Another example of the lack of clarity of this legislation is the suggestion that the environment is not something for which we can demand that there be adequate regulation. Right now, Bill C-21 is silent on whether or not regulations affecting the environment would somehow be exempt from this one-for-one rule replacement.
As a result, I need only go so far as to look at the example of the bill itself, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which was amended in 2012 by the government. Much of the authority of the Minister of the Environment in the act itself was removed. We went from thousands of assessments down to a handful. Even in the promulgation of that bill, a portion of the bill is still empty. That is schedule 2, which theoretically would be promulgated as a regulation by the government. It is still not there.
Schedule 2 is the definition of the components of the environment that would be studied by an environmental assessment. How can we have an environmental assessment if we do not even know what we are studying, and it has to deal with several subparagraphs of the bill? If this legislation takes effect, would the government be prohibited from putting forth regulations under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that would perhaps harm some big oil company? Would that company then be subject to more regulation, or if those regulations were to come forward, would something equal have to be removed from somewhere else?
It is a staggeringly thin bill. It is only a handful of pages. While that makes it easier to read, it also means there is not a whole lot of meat to it. There is not a whole lot of protection in it.
Essentially, it just says that if we are going to put in a regulation, we have to take one out. It does not say whether that is to small business or large business. It does not say whether that can include the environment. We on this side of the House have some serious reservations about where the government is going with the environment, particularly with the northern gateway pipeline approval that went through just this week against the wishes of many Canadians, including most British Columbians.
We have the labour issues. There are significant regulations in the labour world. The government has already removed some regulations in the labour world in some of its omnibus bills. However, if the government were to receive some suggestions from business that these labour regulations were somehow a burden, it might then be convinced to remove them as a part of the one-for-one deal. The government could put a regulation over here on rail safety, and as a result it would then have to remove one on labour issues from all businesses in Canada.
Does this make any kind of sense? It is so wide open. It boggles the mind. It is apparently left up to the President of the Treasury Board to decide.
I want to give a specific example. In my riding, where regulation is needed, it will show that this regulation could be simple and effective, but it would have a cost for some businesses and a savings for others. Will the cost for some businesses offset the savings for others, or will there need to be a regulation somewhere that needs to be removed?
I come back to the example I gave the other night of the small business in my riding that produces gluten-free bread for consumption by local citizens of the city of Toronto. The advantage this gentleman has is that he is producing it fresh. He is producing it daily, with a wonderful mixture of grains and other ingredients that are gluten free. All of a sudden, his business is starting to dry up, because CFIA, a regulator that is effectively imposing regulations on other businesses, has decided to allow big American companies to ship frozen bread to Toronto. It can be taken out of the freezer and stuck on the shelf to thaw; then a best-before date is stuck on it, and it is sold as fresh.
These businesses have said to this gentleman that the consumer does not need to know that this stuff is not fresh and the consumers should be kept in the dark. We on this side of the House do not think the consumers should be kept in the dark. We think there may be a necessity for a regulation to deal with this issue.
However, let us come back to the bill. How would that regulation work? It would harm the bottom line of the big companies that are selling cheap, imported bread and calling it fresh, even though it is frozen, but it would help the little company, the small businessman in my riding. There is no definition of what a small or large business is. I do not know whether the government would ever impose such a regulation. I do not know whether the government would actually take steps to stop the deception that is being imposed on Canadian consumers by the CFIA.
There is a real-world example of an issue that is crying out for regulation, but with this notion that it has to have a costing to it and the notion that the cost has to be offset by a savings in some other regulation. It boggles the mind how the government, any government, could ever figure this out in a way that is right and just.
We are concerned about the notion of how this one-for-one regulation trade system could somehow be effective and just and done in an effective and transparent way. We are also concerned about whether or not the environment would be harmed, whether or not small businesses would be harmed, and whether or not, in effect, we would be just giving the government licence to start removing regulations from large businesses and oil companies and the like. The track record speaks for itself.
I invite other members to ask me questions.
I declare the motion carried.
It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, Canada Post; and the hon. member for Québec, Veterans.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 6, 2014, by the member for Sherbrooke regarding a technical briefing offered by the Minister of State in relation to Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to certain Acts.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Sherbrooke for having raised this matter, as well as the Minister of State for Democratic Reform, the hon. House leader for the official opposition, and the members for Ottawa—Vanier, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, and York South—Weston for their interventions.
The member for Sherbrooke explained that, at the technical briefing he attended on Tuesday, February 4 on Bill C-23, the interpretation provided was often inadequate and, as he described it, “[a]t times, there was little or no interpretation or it was of poor quality.” This, he felt, had the effect of preventing parliamentarians from participating fully in subsequent debate on the bill.
The member went on to note that the protection of official languages in the House is fundamental to ensuring equality among all members.
For his part, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform recognized that no professional interpreters were present for the briefing, but claimed that parliamentarians had been provided all information in both official languages, including the presentation, information sheets, press releases, and the bill itself.
As has been pointed out by the member for Sherbrooke, the guarantee of access to and use of both official languages in parliamentary proceedings, in the record-keeping of those proceedings and in legislation is no less than a constitutional requirement—a cornerstone of our parliamentary system. As your Speaker, it remains one of my principal responsibilities to ensure that members are not impeded in their ability to carry out their parliamentary functions and that their rights and privileges are safeguarded.
In the case of official languages, the House has a long-standing practice of ensuring the availability of professional interpreters during House and committee proceedings. Indeed, this practice extends to many other activities, such as caucus meetings, briefings or any number of parliamentary activities and events. In such cases, if interpreters are not present, the activity is delayed until they arrive, or, if they are not available, the activity is rescheduled. Likewise, if a technical problem arises with the equipment, proceedings are suspended until the issue is resolved. Members will be familiar with this as it has sometimes happened here in the House.
To the Chair's knowledge, during government-sponsored activities, similar norms are observed. This is illustrated in a case brought to the attention of the House on October 23, 2013, when a technical briefing on a budget implementation bill was organized but cancelled when it became apparent that no simultaneous interpretation was available. In the Debates for that date, at page 303, the government House leader apologized to the House, and stated that:
...arrangements have been made to reschedule this meeting and to hold it properly in both official languages with that capacity available for everyone. It is certainly the expectation of this government that all business be properly conducted in both official languages.
Clearly, in that case, the government viewed the absence of professional simultaneous interpreters as a serious matter.
When a situation is brought to the Chair’s attention, it must be assessed within the somewhat narrow confines of parliamentary procedure and precedents. In this case, the member for Sherbrooke is asking the Chair to find that problems with interpretation prevented members from being able to access departmental information and that this constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
To arrive at such a conclusion, the Chair must assess whether the member has been obstructed in the discharge of his responsibilities in direct relation to proceedings in Parliament.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 2nd Edition, at page 109, states:
In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member's claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.
In addition, at page 111, it indicates that:
A Member may also be obstructed or interfered with in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions by non-physical means. In ruling on such matters, the Speaker examines the effect the incident or event had on the Member’s ability to fulfill his or her parliamentary responsibilities.
The question before the Chair is simple: does attending a departmental briefing that was delivered without full interpretation meet that litmus test? Speaker Parent's ruling of October 9, 1997, is very instructive, when he states at page 688 of the Debates:
...activities related to the seeking of information in order to prepare a question do not fall within the strict definition of what constitutes a “proceeding in Parliament” and, therefore, they are not protected by privilege.
Today's case is analogous in that, whether a member is seeking information in order to prepare a question or to participate in debate on a bill, the same fundamental definitions and principles apply. Whether a member who is preparing to participate in proceedings—whether through a technical briefing or some other means—is not participating in the proceedings themselves. While such preparation is no doubt important, it remains ancillary to, rather than part of, Parliament's proceedings.
Furthermore, in this case a government department is responsible for the situation which the member decries. On this point, Speaker Bosley stated on May 15, 1985, at page 4769 of Debates:
I think it has been recognized many times in the House that a complaint about the actions or inactions of government Departments cannot constitute a question of parliamentary privilege.
My own ruling of February 7, 2013, reached the same conclusion, when at page 13869 of Debates, I stated:
It is beyond the purview of the Chair to intervene in departmental matters or to get involved in government processes, no matter how frustrating they may appear to be to the member.
The Chair must respect the strict confines of parliamentary privilege in reaching its decision. Therefore, while it appears that the hon. member for Sherbrooke has a legitimate grievance, the Chair cannot conclude that this situation constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.
That being said, this decision does not diminish members’ need for full and equal access to information about legislation nor does it discount the value placed on the provision of such information in both official languages.
While I cannot provide the member for Sherbrooke a privilege-based parliamentary remedy to his grievance, he may wish to explore other means at his disposal by direct discussions with the minister or raising the matter with the Commissioner of Official Languages.
I thank the House for its attention.
The electoral district of Charlesbourg--Haute-Saint-Charles (Quebec) has a population of 94,522 with 79,791 registered voters and 200 polling divisions.
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