Statutory Debates

Parliament has included provisions governing special statutory debates in certain statutes. These special debates are a form of parliamentary oversight and review of specific statutory provisions. In some cases, the statutory provision is designed to be permissive;183 in others, it is mandatory.

Statutory debates can be grouped into two broad categories, although the procedures pertaining to the debates are similar. The first category provides for a general review of an act or a particular aspect of it. The second and more common category provides for a debate to discuss, confirm, revoke or amend an order, regulation, declaration, proclamation, guideline or other instrument of delegated legislation issued pursuant to the statute in question.

Consequently, these statutes make regulations at times that are subject to affirmative resolution of Parliament. This obliges both Houses to adopt the regulations, by holding a debate on them, before they can come into effect.184 Conversely, regulations subject to negative resolution of Parliament are in effect until revoked by resolution of both Houses, again presumably after a debate.185

Since the 1960s, several statutory debates have taken place. In 1971, for example, pursuant to the Government Organization Act, 1970, the House considered and adopted a motion to establish a ministry of state for science and technology.186 In 1974, the House debated a motion requesting the Minister of Veterans Affairs to continue provisions of the Veterans’ Land Act scheduled to expire on March 31, 1975.187 One was held in 1977 in an attempt to advance the expiration date of the Anti-Inflation Act.188 Two occurred consecutively in late 1980 when Members sought to revoke two proclamations tabled by the government in relation to the Petroleum Administration Act: one proclamation concerned regulations prescribing maximum prices for various qualities and kinds of crude oil; the other proclamation involved regulations prescribing prices for natural gas.189 Another took place in 1985 when Members invoked a provision in the Western Grain Transportation Act to move a motion to use a sitting day to examine a progress report on the Act and any outstanding issues of interest to western farmers.190 One statutory debate took place in September 1992 when, pursuant to the Referendum Act, the House adopted a motion approving the text of a referendum question.191 A few months later, in December 1992, Members sought to amend the “Special Economic Measures (Haiti) Ships Regulations” in accordance with provisions set down in the Special Economic Measures Act for amending or revoking orders and regulations regarding economic sanctions programs.192 In 2000, on the initiative of a Minister, the House held a debate on an order amending the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, as prescribed in the statute.193 In 2007, a Minister moved, in accordance with the procedure set out in the Criminal Code, that the application of certain sections of the Code be extended for a period of three years.194

Moreover, until 1986, the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act contained provisions that allowed Members to discuss on the floor of the House their objections to a report of an Electoral Boundaries Commission. Four debates—in 1966, 1973, 1976 and 1983—were held under the Act’s provisions.195 In 1986, the Act was amended and these reports are now tabled in the House and automatically referred to a parliamentary committee established for the purpose of dealing with electoral matters.196 Objections are filed with and considered by this committee.

Initiating Debate

The manner in which statutory debates are triggered depends upon the provisions contained in each statute. For statutes which allow a debate to be held, such a debate may be initiated by a Minister who, within a specified time, files a notice of motion with the Speaker for the confirmation of an order, regulation, declaration, proclamation, guideline or other instrument of delegated legislation issued in accordance with the law.197

However, the initiation of a debate to revoke such instruments typically requires that a notice of motion signed by a minimum number of Members be filed with the Speaker.198

Furthermore, where statutes require that a debate take place on the use of an instrument of delegated legislation, the relevant provisions typically specify that a confirmation motion signed by a Minister must be laid before Parliament within a specified time.199

After notice has been filed in accordance with the Standing Orders and transferred to the Order Paper under the rubric “Statutory Order”,200 debate must take place within the set number of days, if any, prescribed in the particular statute.

For example, in 1974, debate pursuant to the Veterans’ Land Act had to take place within 15 days, and the House adopted a motion fixing the dates for the debate.201 In 1977, debate pursuant to the Anti-Inflation Act was required to take place within 15 days of the notice being filed,202 and in 1980, pursuant to the Petroleum Administration Act, within four sitting days.203 It appears that in both cases the dates for the debate were fixed through all-party consultation. In 1985, pursuant to subsection 62(6) of the Western Grain Transportation Act, which stipulated that debate had to take place within 60 days of the notice being filed, the Speaker assigned the day for the debate.204 In September 1992, pursuant to the Referendum Act, the debate on the text of the referendum question took place 24 hours after the notice was given.205 In December 1992, after a motion for a debate pursuant to the Special Economic Measures Act had been placed on the Order Paper, the Chair was asked to rule on its procedural acceptability. The Speaker ruled that the motion was acceptable and that pursuant to the Act, the House had to consider the motion within six sitting days.206 The House agreed to hold the debate later that day.207 In 2000, pursuant to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, the House of Commons adopted a Special Order setting the debate at a date and time that was consistent with the statutory requirement to hold the debate in both Houses within 20 sitting days after the order was tabled.208 The resolution to extend certain sections of the Criminal Code in 2007 was to be adopted by both Houses no later than the 15th sitting day after December 31, 2006. Consequently, the government began the debate on the matter on February 9, 2007; according to the House calendar, the House of Commons resumed business on January 29 that year.209

Duration of Debate

The duration of a statutory debate is usually prescribed in the legislation, be it one or more sitting days or only a few hours. On occasion, the House has also adopted motions setting out additional guidelines.210 For example, pursuant to subsection 1(3) of the Veterans’ Land Act, the debate was to take place over two days, without interruption, in accordance with the rules of the House; the House subsequently adopted a motion establishing the days of the debate and suspending Private Members’ Business on the first day of debate.211 The debates held pursuant to the Anti-Inflation Act and the Petroleum Administration Act lasted four and three days, respectively, in accordance with the statutes.212 Subsection 62(6) of the Western Grain Transportation Act stipulated that the progress report was to be debated without interruption for “a period not exceeding the duration of the normal business hours of the House on that day”. A motion to this effect was adopted by the House.213 The motion also indicated that the order was to be the first item of business. The debate held in September 1992 pursuant to the Referendum Act lasted two sitting days. The Act stipulates that a decision must be taken on the motion by the end of the third sitting day of the debate.214 The House passed a motion, by unanimous consent, to dispose of the motion after two days of debate.215 The length of the December 1992 statutory debate was set by subsection 7(4) of the Special Economic Measures Act, which limits debate to not more than three hours, unless the House fixes a longer period by unanimous consent. In this instance, the House adopted a Special Order that had the effect of terminating debate after only two hours.216

The Emergencies Act is exceptional in that it imposes no time limit for debate on a motion for confirmation of a declaration, or continuation of a declaration, of an emergency or for debate on a motion to revoke or amend a regulation or order. The legislation simply provides that debate continue uninterrupted until such time as the House is ready for the question.217

The debates held in 2000 and 2007 pursuant to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and the Criminal Code were not limited in length, apart from the time frames for holding the debate or for adopting the resolution extending sections of the Criminal Code.218 The amendment to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, was debated for less than 90 minutes,219 and the debate on the Criminal Code sections lasted about 10 hours and 30 minutes, over three sitting days.220

Rules of Debate

Unless otherwise specified in the statute, the rules of debate and the length of speeches during a statutory debate are determined by the Standing Orders.221 There have been two exceptions: in 1977 and 1985, the House adopted motions restricting the length of speeches.222 The House has also adopted special orders that no quorum calls, requests for unanimous consent or dilatory motions be received during the debate.223

Interruption of Debate

Many statutes that prescribe provisions for statutory debates also stipulate that the debate may not be interrupted. Nevertheless, in 1977, debate on the motion pursuant to the Anti-Inflation Act, which took place over four days, was interrupted on three occasions for the Adjournment Proceedings, after which the motion to adjourn was deemed withdrawn and debate continued, pursuant to an Order of the House adopted on May 30, 1977.224 In 1985, the debate held pursuant to the Western Grain Transportation Act was interrupted for a ministerial statement by the Minister of Finance pursuant to an Order made by the House.225

Termination of Debate

Normally, all motions moved and debated pursuant to a statutory provision are voted on at the conclusion of debate.226 A statutory debate concludes according to the provisions in the legislation. Therefore, if debate has not concluded earlier, the Speaker is required to interrupt the proceedings at the expiration of a given sitting day or the time prescribed in the legislation and put the question on the motion.227 In cases where the statute under consideration does not stipulate a specific length of time for debate, the vote is held only when no Member rises to speak, unless the House concurs in a motion of closure, or unless it adopts a special order setting a limit on the length of the debate.228

If a confirmation motion is adopted by the House of Parliament in which it was introduced, the statute will normally prescribe that a message be sent to the other House requesting its concurrence. If the motion is subsequently adopted by the other House, the regulation or Order in Council is thereby confirmed, amended or revoked.229 If a revocation motion is not adopted by the House in which it originated or by the House where it was sent for concurrence, the regulation or Order in Council comes into force or remains unaffected, as the case may be.230