Thank you, Madam Chair.
I think there are opportunities. We have three kinds of bills in this House. We have ones that come from private members. We have ones that come from the government, and we have ones that seem to come from the other place, the Senate.
I think there's a value in leaving private members' business as private members' business. You know, we come to these committees all the time with legislation that comes from the government, and we propose what we think are reasonable amendments to legislation to try to make it better. These amendments are constantly being ruled out of order in committee because, by the analysis done by the clerks and the officers at the table, the amendment being proposed is out of scope, because it's not already mentioned in the bill. We're not amending the bill; we're actually changing it. We're adding something else to it.
Here we have a situation where a private member had an idea for a piece of legislation, brought it to the committee, and then somewhere along the way, the minister decides that he wants to amend it, that he has his own ideas as to what to do. Well, the minister has every right to bring a piece of legislation to the House, to amend the Citizenship Act, take ownership of it as the government, and bring it in as a government bill.
Instead, what we have here is the minister piggybacking on a private member’s bill, seeking to further politicize a piece of legislation. You know, we've come to the point where we're losing the opportunity for private members to bring their ideas forward.
This has been brought by Mr. Shory. It has been argued. We called witnesses. All these things have taken place. There's an opportunity to amend bills to a certain point, but they're trying to do two things here, and the things that they're trying to do are making a mockery of the private members' procedure in the House of Commons. I don't think that we should support this kind of request, whether it's made on the 21st of June or whether it's made on the 10th of June. I don't think it should be made at all.
I suppose it's going to be opposed on the other side because the 21st of June won't give them time to do all the things they want to do. Well, I'm on House duty on the 21st of June, so I'd be happy to debate that in the House if it comes to the House for debate and consideration. I'm sure there are honourable members who have House duty that day as well. There seems to be a lot of members interested in the issue. I see the government House leader was here a few minutes ago, and the government whip is here. It seems to be a pretty popular idea, so maybe the House will be open on the 21st of June to debate this or give consideration to this.
As I say, I'm on House duty and I'll be here, but the fact is that I don't really want this to be debated on that particular day. I don't want it to be debated or presented or requested on any day, because I think it's something that does great disservice to the whole notion of citizenship, to the whole notion of using citizenship as a political tool, in this case to denigrate certain persons. The bill goes off in two or three different directions already, in giving special citizenship rights to individuals who serve in the armed forces, taking away citizenship from other people in certain circumstances. It is legislation that is politicizing citizenship in this country to the extent that we don't like to see.
My colleague Ms. Sitsabaiesan has spoken about the things discussed in the bill, about the notion of citizenship and how that is being tampered with by this kind of legislation. Yet what we have here is an attempt to expand the scope even further, and because they haven't been able to do it within the rules of the House, they want to extend the time for consideration. They want the permission of the House to expand the time for consideration. The House hasn't given that consideration. I suppose you could say that by waiting till the end of the session, there might be the possibility that the House might be able to make a decision on it.
You would think that perhaps the members opposite would like this motion because it gives more time for the House to consider the request to expand the scope.
I'm not sure whether that's going to happen. But if the committee is waiting for a decision from the House, then putting the request on June 21 as opposed to tomorrow or the next day might be to their advantage. However, with all due respect to my colleague, I don't support this request taking place in the House on June 21. I don't support this request taking place at any time because of the concerns that have been raised about the expansion of the bill. I think it's highly unusual. I'm not aware of any precedent certainly whereby at the request of the minister the scope of the bill is expanded to allow the minister to interfere with the process of private members' business. This is highly unusual.
We're in unusual times, I suppose. We have a government on the one hand that shows very little respect for Parliament, and we've seen all the things that have happened. For example, in the last number of days we've had up to 46, 47, or 48 time allocation motions to deal with legislation, some of which has been hanging around forever. All of a sudden the government decides it's urgent. They've had little or no debate on some of these pieces of legislation before this month, and all of a sudden they're so urgent that they have to be brought before the House for the sake of government pushing an agenda or making it look like it's accomplishing something, when it's trying to divert attention from the scandals that are taking place all around us.
We can't support this kind of interference with House proceedings. It's an unusual and extraordinary measure that's being suggested here, to ask the House to give the committee the power to expand the scope of a private member's bill. There's no reason set out here. It's just a recommendation that's made that they be granted the power to join consideration of the bill to expand the scope. That turns this committee not into a committee discussing a particular private member's bill; the whole world is open then. There are no specifics here. Expanding the scope of this bill allows this committee to then bring in all sorts of amendments, amending various other aspects of the Citizenship Act, the Canadian Forces Act, the National Defence Act. Is this something we want to see a precedent developed for?
We're going to take a committee that starts in one direction and goes off in whatever direction the committee sees fit, particularly if it's going in the direction of a minister of the crown, particularly at this stage of the bill. We've gone through second reading. We're now at committee stage of a bill. At committee stage of a bill it's supposed to consider the clause-by-clause study of a piece of legislation. That's what the scope rule is for.
First reading of the bill takes place in the House. Second reading takes place in the House and people get a chance to debate the legislation within the scope of the legislation. If the bill is about a particular topic, do we like this in principle or do we not. We may like some aspects of it in principle, but we want to change certain aspects of it because it deserves further study and possible tweaking with an amendment. In the past, second reading goes to third reading or it goes to committee for consideration and clause-by-clause study. If you start changing the scope of the bill, you're effectively avoiding second reading of the bill. You're avoiding an entire stage of the bill because now your bill is in committee. Instead of having approval in principle at second reading, which you're supposed to have, you're bypassing all of that. You're going to amend the bill in committee, send it back to the House for report and third reading debate, and then a possible passing of the bill. But you've bypassed a whole stage of the bill.
If you're doing it at the behest of the government and the minister, who has his own right to bring in bills if they pass through cabinet, if they pass through the whole legislative process—they're given first and second reading, they're part of the government agenda—then that's one form of legislation that Parliament is prepared to deal with, that the rules are designed to deal with. This is a method of getting around those rules, avoiding parliamentary procedure, and showing disrespect for Parliament.
We've seen it again and again. What's being sought here is an opportunity to avoid the whole parliamentary process of providing second reading and approval in principle to something that the government wants to see happen. You can't use the back door with this kind of a motion and request to the House to get around two rules—we're trying to get around two rules here now—to allow the manipulation of a committee, the manipulation of the parliamentary process, and the manipulation and avoidance of the normal proceedings of the House.
I defy anyone opposite to give me examples of how this has been done in the past, how often it has been done, and what the circumstances were. I think there's the possibility, if you had unanimous consent, if you said you went to committee and something was brought to the attention of members...and this has happened. When government members, for example, or experts on behalf of the government or the department that might be affected by this come to a committee and say that this particular section here, the consequences that someone has talked about as a witness, would require a change in the bill that's beyond the scope, but if we had unanimous consent they might be able to fix it. That's one consideration. You would be able to improve the bill, and have an opportunity to give effect to what the intention was.
If the intention of the mover of the private member's bill was debated in the House of Commons at second reading, if it passed second reading, if the intention was approved in principle, if the debate and evidence in committee led to the result that there was a flaw that prevented the proper implementation of that particular intention to be given effect, if it was pointed out by the legislative drafters or by experts on behalf of the department that a certain amendment might be required or be in order to give full effect to what was intended, then I think if there was unanimous consent to that or if that was the nature of the change required, then that would be a different matter.
The opportunity to amend this bill is near expiry, or has already expired. We have a desire to expand the scope to talk about something completely different that wasn't part of the principle of the bill when it was brought in at second reading. It was approved in principle on the basis of the bill itself, Bill C-425. Those were the principles that were debated.
The scope rule is there to protect the parliamentary and the legislative process so that only bills that are approved in principle by Parliament are able to be considered. If you bypass this rule, then you're bypassing the opportunity for the members of the House of Commons to discuss a bill with that in it at second reading.
It requires another bill. If someone wants to bring in another private member's bill to attempt to rewrite the citizenship laws of this country and to add as a penalty for other activities or crimes a stripping of citizenship, whether it's the minister himself or someone else on his behalf, then that ought to be considered separately on its own merits.
The notion of citizenship is something very sacred to an awful lot of people. I suspect this is the first Parliament that has ever considered the stripping of citizenship of Canadians, particularly from Canadian people who have Canadian citizenship and may happen to have another citizenship for other reasons. You can be a citizen of another country without a right of residency. You can be a citizen of another country without ever having been there by virtue of birth, or your parents' birth, or your grandparents' birth in the case of some countries.
Some countries have citizenship written in such a way that people who have never been there, to the second and third generation, are citizens of that country. So are we saying that we have a class of people who happen to have another citizenship and they're subject to having their citizenship revoked under certain circumstances? That's a whole new notion. If you start messing with that, and then you want to expand the scope to something that's never even been considered at second reading, then you're going down a very rocky road and a very slippery slope of disrespect and disregard for the very notion of citizenship itself, or treating it as if were something that could be yanked at will.
People may commit crimes. Citizens of this country commit crimes in this country, or even abroad, but they can be prosecuted in this country and they will be treated by the criminal law. The criminal law is supposed to be there for all, and citizens of Canada are to be treated equally and in such a way that the full course of the law ought to be used against them. I have no difficulty with that. Despite the comments that we hear ad nauseum from members opposite, both in the House and sometimes in committee, that the members of the NDP are soft on crime, that we are coddling criminals, I have no problem with enforcing the law. The law is there to protect citizens after all, to protect Canadians and residents and visitors to Canada, not just citizens, because as it says in our Constitution, we want to live in a land of peace, order, and good government.
It is not good government when we start playing with the rules like seeking extraordinary amendments to allow playing willy-nilly with the rules of Parliament and the normal process whereby legislation has to pass through the House. There was a time when private members' business was relegated. I saw something recently that talked about the number of pieces of legislation that went through the House as private members' bills up until the early 1990s. Most of them involved the change of name of a riding. Someone wanted to change their name to something else, and they were the only ones that ever got passed.
Private members' business has been transformed as a result of a number of developments that have taken place over the last number of decades, starting with what's commonly been known as the McGrath committee, the Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons. My immediate predecessor as member of Parliament, when I was first elected in 1987, was a gentleman by the name of James McGrath, who later became Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was my immediate predecessor when I was elected in 1987, and one of his lasting legacies was that he was in charge of the committee that studied the role of the private member.
One of my former colleagues, Bill Blaikie, was a very important part of that committee as well. They looked at the role of the private member. They looked at what scope there was for private members to actually play a strong role in Parliament. I know members opposite don't want to come to this Parliament and just be, as someone said the other day, “trained seals”. They don't want to be here as trained seals, they want to have a role to play. They want to be able to bring private members' bills. They want to be able to contribute to Parliament.
They have another Conservative member, James McGrath, and my former colleague, Bill Blaikie, to thank for the role of private members being expanded in the House of Commons.
I think it's to the good. I see my colleague from the longest-named district in the country—“Sea to Sky Country” is the last part, and that's the best part. He likes that part. I think we all like hearing that, Mr. Weston. Then he has all these other great names—Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky Country, West Vancouver.
An hon. member: Copenhagen.
Mr. Jack Harris: Copenhagen? He must have slipped that in. I forgot that part, too.
But to live on the Sunshine Coast and to be near the Sea to Sky Country is probably a great blessing. I know that the member also enjoys and relishes the role of a private member in this House. We are happy that it was expanded as a result of the McGrath commission, and that one of the great benefits of it was the creation of private members' business. What bothers me, and I see the chair wondering what the relevance of this is, but what bothers me—
The Vice-Chair (Ms. Jinny Jogindera Sims): I know you will get there.
Mr. Jack Harris: I want to make sure the chair knows I will bring it right back to relevance. But what bothers me about this particular motion—whether we bring it on June 21 or June 29 or next September, or next week, early next week—is that it does injustice to the whole notion that private members' business ought to be private members' business. You go to the House of Commons, you get second reading, you get approval in principle, you go to committee, and then find you don't have total free reign. You don't then say, “We got it into the committee, now we'll use our majority in the committee to change the scope of the bill, we'll talk about something else, we'll add things to it, and if we need the help of the House we'll go back to the House and get permission, then come back and do it”, without even going to second reading on the principles contained in the expanded scope. That is what's fundamentally wrong with this approach.
I'm opposed to that. We've heard, thanks to Ms. Sitsabaiesan, what concerns were raised during the bill itself, and why—