The government’s desperate attempt to pass Bill C-10 took another turn yesterday as the Speaker of the House of Commons declared many amendments “null and void”. The ruling came after the committee studying the bill voted on them despite a ruling from committee chair Scott Simms that doing so was a violation of the gag order limiting debate. As a result of MPs overruling the chair, the committee proceeded to vote on dozens of undisclosed amendments without any debate or discussion. The secretive law making process attracted considerable attention and once the bill returned to the House – complete with another attempt from Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault to limit debate – Conservative MP Blake Richards challenged those amendments on a point of order. The Speaker of the House agreed and declared the amendments null and void.
While the government has already tabled new motions in the House of Commons as it seeks to bring back the amendments, the Speaker ruling has several consequences. First, opposition MPs from all parties have also re-introduced their amendments. For example, the Conservatives have introduced a motion to bring back Section 4.1, the provision designed to safeguard user generated content that was removed by the government. In doing so, all MPs will now have to take a position on the issue as part of a vote. In all, there are now 22 motions before the House on Bill C-10, calling into question the viability of the government’s attempt to limit debate at this stage to just one hour. Moreover, the government is also seeking time allocation on another bill (Bill C-12) and has hours of debate left on its budget bill.
Second, the Speaker’s ruling provides an important reminder of how the government and Liberal, NDP and Bloc MPs were willing to overrule the committee chair and proceed to vote on undisclosed amendments without any debate, discussion or experts available to answer questions. The Speaker’s ruling points out how rare the gag order was to begin with:
As was recently pointed out, we have few examples of time allocation motions applied to committee consideration of bills. Until last week, we had no example of such a motion being adopted since February 2001, when the House made important Standing Order modifications in regard to committee consideration of bills and the selection of report stage motions. There are few precedents involving the imposition of such an order on a committee.
For a government that ran on strengthening committee independence to have passed a time allocation motion represents a betrayal of its electoral commitments. Further, the MPs that challenged the Simms ruling that voting on the secret amendments was a violation of the House order should be ashamed of their vote. The Simms ruling was immediately challenged by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who was joined by Liberal MPs Julie Dabrusin, Marcie Ien, Lyne Bessette, and Tim Louis along with Bloc MP Martin Champoux and NDP MP Heather McPherson. During a House of Commons debate on Monday, McPherson told the House that the committee was forced to vote on amendments without even discussing them. Only the committee wasn’t forced to do this, rather she joined other MPs in voting to do so. That vote led to the following ruling from the Speaker:
I therefore rule that the committee exceeded its authority by putting the question on amendments after the five-hour mark. However, in the list of amendments made to clauses 8 to 47, the Chair notes that the amendment made to clause 23, which added text to line 7 on page 20 and replaced line 8 on page 24 of the bill with new text, was the consequential result of an amendment previously adopted by the committee to clause 7 of the bill. Accordingly, this amendment will stand.
All other amendments made to clauses 8 to 47 are declared null and void, and will no longer form part of the bill as reported to the House. In addition, I am ordering that a reprint of the bill be published with all possible haste for use by the House at report stage to replace the reprint ordered by the committee.
Finally, with respect to the amendment that created new clause 13.1, I would agree with the member that this modifies a section of the Broadcasting Act that was not covered by Bill C-10. As such, it is a violation of the “parent Act” rule and it goes beyond the scope of the bill. Consequently, it is also declared null and void and will not form part of the bill. Report stage, the next step in the legislative process for this bill, will accord an opportunity for amendments to the bill to be made.
Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and the government can undo the Speaker ruling by bringing back the null and void amendments for a vote, but the government, the Minister and the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Heritage committee MPs cannot undo their embarrassing conduct in which they sacrificed democratic principles for the sake of rushing through Bill C-10.