Mr. Speaker, I rise today not to speak about the method you will be using for the next secret ballot on the votability of Bill C-421, which was introduced by the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, but to ask that the result of the secret ballot be announced at the same time as the result of the vote.
We therefore ask that the Speaker announce not only whether Bill C-421 is votable or not, but also the number of votes in favour and votes against.
Standing Orders 92(4)(a) and 92(4)(b) have been used only once before. Mr. Speaker, on that occasion, you followed the practice following upon the election of the Speaker, which is to announce the result of the vote with no reference to the number of ballots cast for each side of the question.
On November 27, 2017, my NDP colleague from New Westminster—Burnaby clearly articulated one of the issues surrounding the announcement of ballot results. On that day, he said:
This place runs on precedent and previous practice and the only other use of a secret ballot vote in the House is for the election of the Speaker. That procedure is prescribed by Standing Orders 2 through 7 and they are designed to show the importance of the following of these rules.
It is rather ironic to compare the election of a Speaker of the House of Commons, which falls under sections 44 and 49 of the Constitution Act of 1867, to the votability and thus the constitutionality of Bill C-421, which should be considered as part of the regular legislative work of the House.
We understand full well why it is important to protect and not undermine a new Speaker by not divulging the number of supporting votes he or she received. That helps prevent the Speaker's mandate from being challenged, but who is the government trying to protect in the case of Bill C-421?
The purpose of the secret ballot under Standing Order 92(4)(b) is to allow members to vote freely without their party whip knowing how they voted, but how would we know if the vote was in fact whipped?
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Luc Thériault: If any of the members opposite have something to say, then they should rise and say it; otherwise, they should let me talk.
The government is trying to muzzle the opposition by saying that the bill is clearly unconstitutional, when that may not in fact be the case. We are not calling into question the secret ballot, but we believe that it is essential that the number of members who are in favour and the number who are opposed be made known, precisely to counter the government's will to impose a gag order.
To put this in context, a bill can be rejected if it is clearly unconstitutional. The third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice from 2017 is very clear on the subject:
Bills and motions must not clearly violate the Constitution Acts, 1867 to 1982, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
During his testimony in committee, a House of Commons law clerk explained that Bill C-421 was not clearly unconstitutional because arguments could be made both for and against its constitutionality. Unfortunately, the Liberal majority decided otherwise, not based on whether the bill was unconstitutional, but for its own partisan reasons.
Over the next two days, members will decide whether private member's Bill C-421 can be designated votable. This matter relates to the legislative procedure governing private members' bills, which is something we have dealt with about a thousand times since the last election. It is not a constitutional matter like the election of the Speaker of the House.
It is rare that we see such an obvious imbalance between parliamentary democracy and partisan politics within the Subcommittee on Private Members’ Business of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
For the government to use its majority to defeat a bill after debate in the House is one thing, but for it to stop the debate before it begins is another thing altogether.
Civic debate must be allowed in Parliament. What is the point of debate otherwise, if not to serve a parliamentary dictatorship?
Disclosing the vote results, while respecting each member's secret vote, would fall in line with what seems to me should be the goal of this Parliament in the 21st century, namely transparency and democracy.
For the same reasons given by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, for the additional reasons I just outlined regarding the spirit in which the standing order was written, and for the reasons I mentioned about avoiding the kind of obfuscation that can undermine the vitality of parliamentary democracy, we are asking that the vote results be disclosed, specifically the number of votes in favour of the bill and the number against.