Canada, Senate Debates, “Special Joint Committee—Questions Respecting Proceedings—Point of Order”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (6 November 1980)
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, Senate Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1980 at 1186-1188.
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SENATE DEBATES — November 6, 1980
SPECIAL JOINT COMMITTEE—QUESTIONS RESPECTING PROCEEDINGS—POINT OF ORDER
Hon. Jacques Flynn (Leader of the Opposition): Honourable senators, now that we are blessed with the presence of Senator Hays, the joint chairman of what I suppose I can call the Constitution Committee, I wonder if I could ask him to inform the Senate of the main decisions taken at this morning’s meeting, and whether they are positive or negative.
Hon. Harry Hays: Honourable senators, I am pleased to answer the honourable gentleman’s question. The committee met this morning at 9.30 and proceeded to choose two joint chairmen, one from the House of Commons and one from the Senate. Nobody seemed to vote against the selection of either of the nominees, so I suppose they must have been satisfactory.
This was very important business because this is probably the most important committee ever convened in the last 113 years, and I think we are right on the brink of success. I certainly hope we are.
The next item of business was the appointment of the steering committee, in which we got a great deal of help from members of the opposition in the persons of Senator Flynn’s deskmate, the senator who sits immiediately behind him, and the senator who sits on Senator Roblin’s left. Senator Flynn has probably not conversed with these committee members since the meeting this morning. They were at the meeting and were of great help.
The make-up of the steering committee is the two joint chairmen, three Liberals and three Progressive Conservatives—I thought that. was a pretty fair way to do it, and I am sure the honourable senator will agree—and one member of the NDP.
Senator Olson: There are too many Conservatives.
Senator Hays: Then we moved on to whether we should advertise. This was really an organizatioii meeting which has not been completed yet. We considered how we should inform the Canadian public as to how the committee is going to piocecd, in the committee, and agreement on that was achieved by about 12.30. Anyone who wants to attend meetings of this committee will, by and large, be welcome.
Hon. Royce Frith (Deputy Leader of the Government): I rise on a point of order. Since the members opposite, particularly yesterday and earlier, displayed such an interest in compliance with the rules, I would draw their attention to chapter 9, page 129, of Beauchesne, on the subject of questions:
A question oral or written must not. . .
(hh) seek information about proceedings in a Committee which has not yet made its report to the House.
Senator Flynn: That is all right, but that is not in our rules. You can go back a hundred years but you will find that that is not in our rules. Questions here may be put to any chairman of a committee on the activities of that committee. That is what I was doing.
Are you really objecting to my question? Do you want another ruling by His Honour the Speaker? Do you want him to rule as you wish ?
Senator Frith: I am answering your question as to whether I want a ruling, and your other questions. My answer is that yesterday and previously we had honourable senators on the other side and on this side raising points of order. We sat and listened to them, and I want to put on the record that the honourable senator’s question is out of order according to
Beauchesne. Now, it may be in accordance, as frequently is the case, with the rules according to Flynn, but it is not with the rules according to Beauchesne.
Hon. Martial Asselin: Honourable senators, I have been sitting in the Senate for nearly nine years now and our rules, and indeed our customs, have always allowed senators to put questions to all committee chairmen, We have done that in many instances, and never did government representatives attempt to stop us. Comntittee chairmen have always accepted questions from senators concerning committee work, so today why should we change the rules and customs that have prevailed for all these years?
Senator Frith: It depends on whose ox is being gored. We raise a point of ordor and the objection is that it is being raised. So it depends on who is raising it. Anyway, that is what it says.
Hon. Duff Roblin (Deputy Leader of the Opposition): I would like to address the point of order, honourable senators, if I may. I refer the house to page 7 of Rules of the Senate. I do not refer to Beauchesne but to section 20 ofour own rules, which reads as follows:
(1) When the Speaker calls the question period, a senator may, without notice, address an oral question to . . .
(c) the chairman of a committee, if it is a question relating to the activities of that committee.
So the third person to whom questions may be addressed is the chairman of a committee, if they relate to the activities of that committee.
Senator Asselin: That is right.
Senator Roblin: That seems to fit precisely the proceeding initiated by my honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition. He wished to address a question to the chairman of a committee relating to the activities of that committee. I submit, according to our own rules—which, in my opinion, take precedence over Beauchesne—that the Leader of the Opposition is in order.
I will leave the point of order, seeing that it is groundless, and ask the permission of the house to make an addition to the report given us by the joint chairman
Senator Frith: Honourable senators, as the Honourable Senator Roblin says, a question to the chairman of a committee about its activities is in order, but the proceedings of, and what is taking place in, the committee are not the same as its activities. For example, it is perfectly proper to ask a question about when the committee will meet.
An Hon. Senator: You are splitting hairs.
Senator Frith: It is proper to ask if the committee intends to meet later or when it is going to meet, but it is not proper to ask about the proceedings in the course of its meetings before it has made its report. For example, there is no entitlement to ask Questions about evidence given before a committee until the committee has made its report.
Senator Flynn: I did not ask that, anyway.
Senator Roblin: That is an interesting interpretation of the word “activities”. For all I know, it may be a correct interpretation, but I don’t think it is. I think the word “activities” means exactiy what it says, namely, what went on. That is what “activity” means to me. It means what went on. We have not asked the honourable joint chairman for anything more than a short report on what went on.
Senator Frith: You were there.
Senator Roblin: But I have to say, with respect, that he omitted the most important thing that went on this morning, which I feel perhaps should be brought to the notice of this house.
Senator Perrault: What was that?
Senator Roblin: That was the question of whether or not we were going to open the windows and the doors and let the people of Canada in by means of television and electronic devices, because the proceedings of this committee could be broadcast by television and radio to all the people of Canada.
It would be out of order, I think, if I attempted to deal with any of the arguments, but I merely wish to report the fact that the matter was raised by the committee, and I am unhappy to say that the motion was defeated.
Senator Frith: Order. We are talking about a question to the chairman. Surely, honourable senators, we should try to come to some understanding about this, because this committee will be meeting every day. In my opinion, it is not good to have a scrap over this and have a ruling on it. I think we should try to come to some understanding about how we will interpret these rules, and to see if we can have a consensus on it. No one wants to choke off questions or to choke off debate, but when a question is asked to the joint chairman about the proceedings of the committee so that it becomes necessary for him to give an interim report, I submit that that is out of order. Admittedly, there is a nice distinction as to how the words in the rule should be interpreted. I understand Senator Roblin’s view and he understands mine. We do not agree with each other, but we see our two points as arguable positions.
There is another point. Will the members of the Senate who are members of that committee continue what has taken place hcrc this afternoon? Will they continue to ask the joint chairman about what has taken place at a committee meeting at which they were present?
Senator Flynn: Where decisions were taken.
Senator Frith: And will they then make comments on the answers that are given, thus, in effect, making an intervention which is tantamount to a debate on the answers given?
We should get together to see if we can find some balance on this matter, so that, while we do not totally ignore the activity of the committee, we nevertheless do not proceed to
have reports every day on what is taking place there, especially when we already have representation on the committee.
Senator Roblin: Speaking to the point of order, I was careful to ask permission of the house to add to the report given by the chairman, and I would like that point to be noted. So far as I am concerned, that permission was granted or I would not have continued with my remarks. It seems relevant to me that the most important thing the committee did should be reported.
The Hon. the Speaker: Honourable senators, the joint committee will be holding meetings every day for a considerable time. For that reason, and because I think the matter is of sufficient importance, it is my opinion that the point of order that has been raised requires some clarification so that both sides will know where they stand, not just in respect of today but for the future as well.
I do not want to be caught in the position of prematurely confirming the position of either side at the moment. I shall therefore reserve my judgment on the matter.