Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg South.
Before I start, I want to say that this could very easily be a great day for indigenous people in Canada, because just after 3 p.m., if things go according to Hoyle, which sometimes does not happen in this Parliament, there will be a discussion on the use of aboriginal languages in the House. It would be a great sign of reconciliation for indigenous youth to see their indigenous languages used at the centre of our democracy and nation. Therefore, I look forward to that discussion and hope everyone else does as well.
My speech today is on a topic that has come up quite often during this debate, which is omnibus bills. I will explain the technical aspects and how they work for new members of Parliament and new senators. Therefore, if members are not interested in hearing about the Standing Orders and how an omnibus bill works, they can go for lunch.
Since 1888 in Parliament there was no description or definition of omnibus bills until the recent government came to power. There were accusations of legislation being abused to do too many things or more than one major thing in a bill. An example would be a budget bill with a lot of clauses and things related to the environment that are unrelated to the budget speech. This was seen to be an abuse of a bill, or what some people called an “omnibus bill”. This was viewed as unacceptable.
In the last campaign, our party made a suggestion to remove the potential for such abuse by making a change with respect to that. On June 20, 2017, we made that correction so that people could no longer bring forth bills, in the general course of Parliament, that aimed to do a lot of things, or at least more than one thing, or to bring forth a budget implementation bill containing things that were not at all related to the budget. The way we fulfilled that promise was by adding Standing Order 69.1 to the Standing Orders, which we in the House, here in Parliament, approved.
There are two subsections in the new standing order. The first subsection is with respect to the general course of bringing forward legislation. Subsection 69.1(1) states:
In the case where a government bill seeks to repeal, amend or enact more than one act, and where there is not a common element connecting the various provisions or where unrelated matters are linked, the Speaker shall have the power to divide the questions, for the purposes of voting, on the motion for second reading and reference to a committee and the motion for third reading and passage of the bill. The Speaker shall have the power to combine clauses of the bill thematically and to put the aforementioned questions on each of these groups of clauses separately, provided that there will be a single debate at each stage.
That is how that was dealt with. Not only was that promise kept, but subsequently, use of that section has been requested at least twice. I will cite the two examples. On June 11, 2018, it was used with regard to a bill relating to national security, which the Speaker split into three votes. On October 31, 2017, a request for use of this new provision, which protects against abusive use of omnibus bills, was proposed for a corrections bill. However, the Speaker ruled that the items were related, and the bill was not split for the purpose of a vote.
The second potential use of an omnibus bill is with respect to a budget bill.
Those who understand legislation know that we have a budget speech, but, of course, that is not the law. We need a budget implementation bill to actually bring into force what is in the speech. As I have said, the Liberals thought there was an abuse of power in using that budget implementation speech to do a bunch of major, serious things that were not limited to the budget. Therefore, they wanted to remove that potential for abuse.
Standing Order 69.1(2), entitled “Budget implementation bills” reads:
(2) The present Standing Order shall not apply if the bill has as its main purpose the implementation of a budget and contains only provisions that were announced in the budget presentation or in the documents tabled during the budget presentation.
Budgets, as members know, often deal with the spending for dozens of departments. That is what a budget does. A budget implementation bill has to implement all of those things, and so it could be very long. It could be 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 pages. It is whatever it takes to implement what is in the budget.
Most parliamentarians would suggest that more changes to improve things in Canada would obviously make a longer bill. Whether we reduce, increase or modify expenditures, it would have to be put into the implementation bill. Therefore, the length is not relevant, unless we go off-course from what is in the budget. It could be very long, but the key is whether there is abuse, or doing something major that is not in the budget.
Standing Order 69.1(2) makes sure that we can do a budget, but it gives authority to the Speaker to split things out that were not in the budget or in the documents tabled with the budget. Therefore, in both ways, this promise was obviously fulfilled. Provisions were made to stop the abuse that was thought to be occurring on budget bills, as well as abuse in the general course of doing legislation.
In the second case, I will give members an example. Not only has this been put in place and now legislated, but it is part of the Standing Orders approved by this Parliament, and Standing Order 69.1(2) has actually been used as well since that time. It was used at least once, on November 3, 2017. The Speaker split that budget bill into five votes, because there were items that were not in that particular budget. If I remember correctly, although the Standing Order says that an item must be in the budget, the items had been in a previous budget. The Speaker did not agree to this. He then split that vote. Therefore, this provision allows the Speaker to split the bill, and it has been used.
As I said, there were no provisions for this type of protection previously, but I think it makes our legislative system better. Even with normal legislation, we cannot put a whole bunch of things in one bill that are totally unrelated. A budget bill can be really long, but it cannot include things that are not in the budget documents or in the budget speech.
Since 1888, there had been no provision to protect against this in Parliament. There were times when bills were split, but it was done through politics and not through the Standing Orders. Members may remember the great bell-ringing exercise on March 2, 1982, which convinced parliamentarians to change and split a bill, but it was not done under the authority of any Standing Order.
I just wanted to clarify and get this on the record so that people know how these types of bills get split or not, and what is more appropriate to try and improve the legislation in this Parliament.