IN THE HOUSE ~ Point of order on omnibus bills and Bill C-56, an act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to follow up on the point of order raised by my colleague from Portage—Lisgar, the House leader of the official opposition, about omnibus bills.

In June, we as parliamentarians adopted a number of changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Among them, the following was added with regard to omnibus bills under clause 69.1, which stipulates:

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.

O'Brien and Bosc, our bible, notes the following:

The use of omnibus bills is unique to Canada. The British Parliament does enact bills that are similar in type, but its legislative practice is different, specifically in that there is much tighter control over the length of debate.

We are elected to represent our constituents on various matters, and it is important that the rules and the application of those rules allow members to do that freely. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, is correct when it says that omnibus legislation is unique to Canada. It allows the government to group together a wide variety of very different issues into one package, requiring support or opposition on a single question.

Because the matters grouped together are so different, it is sometimes impossible to allow members of Parliament to represent their constituents in a way they want, without the provisions of Standing Order 69.1, the new regulation that governs our House. Bill C-56 was a clear example that was cited by the House leader from the official opposition earlier this week.

In the case of Bill C-56, it is true that the bill deals with two very distinct subjects. It proposes amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Abolition of Early Parole Act.

On one hand, the government wants to set a 21-day limit on administrative segregation and eventually reduce it to a maximum of 15 days. On the other hand, it wants to reintroduce the possibility of early release for non-violent offenders serving a first federal sentence.

These are two very different and unrelated subjects. The problems with administrative segregation that have led to tragedies like the death of Ashley Smith have nothing to do with the possibility of early release.

Why should we as parliamentarians have to choose which way to vote on both these propositions when the possibility of voting on each is available, and better reflects our role as elected representatives?

I was impressed with the argument from my fellow House leader relating to the historical usages of a similar practice in Westminster, and the references to the rulings during the great flag debate in the early 1960s.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a plea concerning your approach to this new rule, because this is the first time you have been approached on this new rule. Be generous in your application of Standing Order 69.1. Allow the maximum ability of each MP to represent their constituents separately on each legislative issue by dividing up the issues in omnibus bills as much as is necessary to allow an independent vote on each question. Give the benefit of the doubt to the need for parliamentarians to be able to represent their constituents.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Standing Orders evolved over time, and generally along the lines of the needs of parliamentarians. Parliamentarians, all of us, need greater ability to represent our constituents on individual issues.

We have given you the ability, Mr. Speaker, with Standing Order 69.1, to determine separate votes so our constituents can be better represented. We now hope you will give a positive response to these points of order, my own and that of the official opposition House leader, and that you will allow all of us as parliamentarians to better represent our constituents with the new Standing Order 69.1.

Mr. Speaker, I will not repeat the arguments made by my colleague, the official opposition House leader. However, I do believe, as she does, that this is a very important point in the life of this House.

Standing Order 69.1 was established and put into place to give you, Mr. Speaker, the power to separate these unrelated elements within omnibus legislation and to provide to the House the ability to vote in favour of or in opposition to specific elements in legislation.

This is a real test. There is no doubt. It is an important point of order raised by the official opposition House leader. I would agree with her that the test of Bill C-56 is essentially met within Standing Order 69.1. These are unrelated clauses that should be treated as separate within the framework of the House. That can only enhance democracy.

We may come back later with further arguments to contribute to this, but we hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will be deliberating on this in a timely manner. It is extremely important for the life of this House, and we believe, for democratic values in Canada.