IN THE HOUSE ~ on upcoming votes on Bill C-352, An Act to amend the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and to provide for the development of a national strategy (abandonment of vessels)

Mr. Speaker, I am rising today concerning the practice that you will follow in the upcoming votes to determine the votability of Bill C-352, the important bill from the very dedicated and hard-working member of Parliament from Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

This is a very important and historic point in time. We have never used Standing Order 92(4)(a) and (b) before, and therefore the process that you use, Mr. Speaker, will determine the precedence for this in the future and for future parliaments. You may be tempted to follow the practice following upon the election of the Speaker, the only other time under our rules when we have this secret ballot vote. This practice has the clerk with the assistance of table officers conduct the count and, in the morning after the vote has been held, announce the decision of the vote with no reference to the number of ballots cast for each side of the question.

Mr. Speaker, I am asking for you to consider releasing the numeric results of the ballot and the names of the members of Parliament who have voted.

I understand the rationale for you, Mr. Speaker, not to release either result. 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. They clearly say that for electing the Speaker, the only folks who shall handle the count will be those from the table. Our rules are also clear that there will be no release of the numeric ballot results, only the names of the candidates still on the ballot and the naming of the winner. Mr. Speaker, you know this very well as you went through the process.

I submit to you today, Mr. Speaker, that the procedure for the conduct of the secret ballot vote to determine if Bill C-352 will be allowed a vote is not analogous to the process of electing a Speaker. I submit to you that it is not appropriate to apply a procedure for the election of a Speaker to a question being put before the House as a normal part of the legislative process.

First, these two secret ballot votes are doing very different things. Electing a Speaker is a constitutional obligation of the House of Commons. Sections 44 through 49 of the Constitution Act, 1867, the core part of our Constitution, strictly deal with the election of the Speaker and the powers vested to the Speaker therein. The election process was designed back in the 1980s for the Speaker's election. Parliamentarians at that time had an objective of allowing the free and fair election of the Speaker and the rules were designed to make sure that the newly elected Speaker had the legitimacy and freedom to perform her or his important constitutional role in the strongest way possible. Parliamentarians made sure that our most trusted officials would be those conducting the election to make it above reproach. To make sure that the Speaker has the maximum confidence of the chamber that elects her or him, the number of the ballots would not be released so the Speaker's mandate would never be questioned.

I believe that the subject of Bill C-352 is of critical importance, especially to the coastal communities it would so strongly impact, but I have no illusion that if the bill is votable is on the same procedural or constitutional level as the election of a Speaker. When the rules for votability of private members' bills were being developed, which took place 15 to 20 years after the election of our first Speaker by secret ballot, it was not envisioned that the importance of that decision was on the same level as choosing the chief presiding officer over the elected assembly of our country. The decision before members of this Parliament in the next few days will be about a specific initiative of a private member being able to have a vote in the House. It is not a constitutional question, but rather part of the legislative process for private members' business.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, we have lots of PMB votes in this House. We know the questions and we get to know the results when the vote takes place and so do Canadians. We get to know how many members voted on each side of the question and we generally value the numeric value of the vote as a transparent way where Canadians can see their democracy at work, and that helps instill confidence in our system of government. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is antithetical for this place not to know what the numbers were on any side of any question, which is part of the legislative process. Our democracy is not simply about having representatives make decisions; it is about making decisions in a way that builds confidence in the people who sent us here to make decisions on their behalf, and we do that by being open and transparent.

At each stage of a bill, we vote openly and publicly so that our constituents know how their representative voted. That is also why the final result of the vote is communicated immediately, as the Speaker just did, so that everyone can see how much support there is for a given issue.

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. This different way of voting stemmed from a desire to give members greater freedom to express themselves on private members' business and was part of a push for a clearer distinction between government business and private members' business during the reforms of 2002 and 2003. Those changes were designed to achieve a clear distinction in terms of both procedure and content.

Other aspects of this reform included the creation of the private members' draw, the exclusion of ministers and parliamentary secretaries from the process, the different voting method for members of the House, and the establishment of a separate order of precedence from government business. It was in that spirit that Standing Order 92(4)(b) was created.

Page 32 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, states that “Responsible government has long been considered an essential element of government based on the Westminster model.� It goes on to say that “responsible government means that a government must be responsive to its citizens, that it must operate responsibly (that is, be well organized in developing and implementing policy) and that its Ministers must be accountable or responsible to Parliament.� For there to be confidence in responsible government, I submit that being open and transparent is essential.

Because the appeal process that we are undertaking this week by secret ballot, starting tomorrow, has never happened in this place before, it is totally appropriate for you to decide how the result of this vote should be released, not based on the practice used for the election of the speaker, for the reasons I have just set out, but based as much as practical on the rules we use in the legislative process, those of clarity and transparency. It is up to you, Mr. Speaker, that the spirit of the drafters of this Standing Order be heard. I therefore ask that, like all other parts of the legislative process, the numerical results of the decision on the votability of Bill C-352 be made public.

Latest posts

Share this page

Are you ready to take action?

Attend an Event
Constituent Resources

Sign up for updates