Mr. Speaker, to restate the first part, it is my argument that part 3 of BillC-4, clauses 10 to 14 in the schedule, is sufficiently different from the remainder of the bill so as to warrant the question at second reading being divided for a separate decision. Again, that is under Standing Order 69.1. While it is true that the state of the whole bill's content is associated with the response to COVID-19, that alone does not qualify as a common element for the purposes of the standing order.
The National Assembly of Quebec has similar procedures regarding omnibus bills, which are instructive. I refer the Chair to Parliamentary Procedure in Québec, third edition, which says at page 400, “The principle or principles contained in a bill must not be confused with the field it concerns. To frame the concept of principle in that way would prevent the division of most bills, because they each apply to a specific field.”
This statement of the National Assembly's practice was endorsed by your immediate predecessor, the hon. member for Halifax West, when he ruled on March 1, 2018, at page 17574 of the Debates:
While their procedure for dividing bills is quite different from ours, the idea of distinguishing the principles of a bill from its field has stayed with me. While each bill is different and so too each case, I believe that Standing Order 69.1 can indeed be applied to a bill where all of the initiatives relate to a specific policy area, if those initiatives are sufficiently distinct to warrant a separate decision of the House.
The importance of distinguishing between principles and a field was articulated by former National Assembly vice-president Fatima Houda-Pepin, on December 11, 2007, at page 2513 of the Journal des débats:
In this case, the bill contains more than one principle. Although the bill deals with road safety, the Chair cannot consider that to be the principle of Bill 42. The principle or principles of a bill should not be confused with the topic to which it pertains. Coming up with a different concept of the notion of principle would disqualify most bills from being subject to a division motion because they deal with a specific topic. In this case, the various means of ensuring road safety included in this bill could constitute distinct principles.
The 2018 ruling in our own House concerned the former BillC-69, which was an omnibus bill with disastrous consequences for the natural resources sector in Canada. The government had argued that all of its provisions hung together on the principle of environmental protection, but the Chair ruled that the argument was not good enough to avoid dividing the question. In that case, he found there were sufficient distinctions to warrant separate votes.
A similar argument was put forward by the government for the former Bill C-59. It claimed that everything was unified by the principle of national security. As the deputy speaker ruled on June 18, 2018, at page 21196 of the Debates, “while the Chair has no trouble agreeing that all of the measures contained in Bill C- 59 relate to national security, it is the Chair's view that there are distinct initiatives that are sufficiently unrelated as to warrant dividing the question.”
Turning to BillC-4, parts 1 and 2 concern the establishment of assorted pandemic income replacement benefits for Canadians impacted by COVID-19, together with associated labour law amendments. Part 3, meanwhile, is the government's request to spend over $17 billion on a wide array of measures, bypassing the normal estimates and appropriations procedures of Parliament. One of the considerations the Chair employed in 2018 was to look at how integrated the different provisions of the impugned bill were. In the case of BillC-69, for example, two parts that were extensively linked with many cross-references were held to have a sufficiently common element between them. However, another part was, despite the presence of some cross-references, found to be not so deeply intertwined as to make a division impossible.
In the present case, part 3 of BillC-4 appears to have absolutely no cross-references or drafting links to the remainder of the bill. It was simply grafted on. The various components of the bill that are part of the response to COVID-19 are really about the only thing which could even link them together. In fact, I would argue that the long title of the bill itself gives away the fact that the link is tenuous: “An Act relating to certain measures in response to COVID-19”. If there were any stronger connection among these assorted provisions, a more descriptive long title would have been possible.
Before concluding, I will offer a couple of comments of the circumstances particular to the present case.
First, I recognize that time is of the essence in reaching a ruling, because the House is currently seized with government Motion No. 1, which would ram BillC-4 through the House with barely any debate at all. In fact, it is possible that members are on track to be called upon to vote on the bill late tomorrow night. As noted by the Speaker's immediate predecessor's ruling of November 7, 2017, at page 15116 of the Debates, points of order calling for the exercise of Standing Order 69.1 must be raised promptly. I am rising on this matter on the same afternoon the bill was introduced. To do so earlier would, frankly, have been impossible.
Second, should the House adopt government Motion No. 1, there is nothing in the motion that, in my view, would change the application of Standing Order 69.1 to BillC-4. The wording of paragraph (b) of the motion refers to voting on “all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill”. This language certainly contemplates multiple votes at the second reading stage and, of course, would be undisturbed by the amendment proposed by the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition. Moreover, the chapeau of the motion does not make any provision for it to operate notwithstanding any standing order, let alone that it would operate notwithstanding Standing Order 69.1.
In conclusion, it is my respectful submission that BillC-4 is an omnibus bill and that under the provisions of the standing order, its part 3 should be separated out for a separate vote at the second reading stage.