Mr. Garry Breitkreuz (Yorkton—Melville, Canadian Alliance)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-205 sponsored by my colleague from Surrey Central who has done a lot of work in this area. It fixes some essential procedures here in the House.
The member for Surrey Central has worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and for the people of Canada to bring a greater degree of democratic accountability to the House of Commons. He has spent many long hours in the House and in various committees in the pursuit of parliamentary reform. This bill is a product of his experience and hard work as co-chair of the scrutiny of regulations committee. It should be given very careful consideration.
The purpose of the bill is to provide for a disallowance procedure for statutory instruments or delegated pieces of legislation which are more commonly known as regulations. Disallowance is one of the traditional means for a legislature to oversee the creation of regulations. A disallowance procedure would give parliamentarians an opportunity to reject a statutory instrument made by a delegate of Parliament.
It is significant to note that 20% of laws in Canada stem from legislation debated and passed by Parliament. The remaining 80% of laws are made up of regulations. As opposed to legislation, regulations receive virtually no debate in the House of Commons or Senate. There is no public input or study and there is no media scrutiny.
The Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations carries out the only scrutiny, which is very limited, of regulations in Parliament. This committee, although generally misunderstood, is an essential watchdog protecting democracy, controlling bureaucracy, and holding the government to account. The committee does not judge regulations on the basis of policy matter, general merit or necessity. Its study of regulations is instead limited to the questions of validity and legality. Members follow uniform and clearly defined criteria in their examination.
When the joint committee agrees that a regulation should be revoked, it makes a report to the House of Commons containing a resolution to the effect that a regulation or part thereof should be revoked. Once that report is tabled in the House the applicable procedure will depend on a decision by the responsible minister. Unfortunately, the current disallowance procedure is seriously defective.
The procedure currently practised resulted from a recommendation of the special committee on reform of the House of Commons back in 1986. Before that time there was no general disallowance procedure in place at the federal level in Canada. The government of the day placed the disallowance procedure in the Standing Orders with the intention it would remain there on an experimental and temporary basis until such time as a decision could be made to its effectiveness. If successful, it was the intention of the government to implement a statutory procedure.
In the last 16 years we have seen the effectiveness of having a so-called temporary disallowance procedure, but still nothing has been done to give it a statutory footing. The current procedure, because it is contained in the Standing Orders, limits the possibility of disallowance to the statutory instruments that are made by the governor in council or by ministers of the Crown. As a result, the considerable body of delegated legislation created, for example, by the CRTC, the Canadian Transportation Agency or the National Energy Board is not subject to the disallowance procedure provided in the Standing Orders.
All members would agree that it is desirable that all statutory instruments subject to review by Parliament under the Statutory Instruments Act be subject to disallowance. There is no reason why a regulation made by the governor in council or a minister can be disallowed by Parliament while a regulation made by some other delegate of Parliament cannot.
Another defect of the current procedure is that it relies on the cooperation of the governor in council or the minister concerned to carry out a disallowance after the House of Commons has ordered it.
In itself, an order of the House of Commons cannot effect the revocation of a regulation. The authority that made a disallowed regulation must still formally intervene in order to revoke that regulation following the creation of a disallowance order. While the House could deal with the matter as one of contempt, there are no other legal sanctions or even consequences that arise from a failure to comply with the disallowance order. An order of the House of Commons that a particular regulation be revoked is not binding on the author of the regulation and cannot be enforced by a court.
Placing the disallowance procedure on a statutory footing, as this bill recommends, would remove the need for a regulation making authority to take subsequent action to give effect to an order of this House, thus eliminating the potential for conflict between Parliament and the executive. The procedure would also be made more efficient as there would no longer be a need for the House of Commons to address an order of the cabinet ordering the revocation of a statutory instrument. The legislation itself would now deem a disallowed instrument to be revoked by eliminating the need for further action by the governor in council, or the minister who adopted the disallowed instrument. Compliance with the disallowance decision would be improved by eliminating any possibility of a regulation making authority not complying with the disallowance order of the House.
By providing a clear legislative basis for the current disallowance procedure, Bill C-205 would, first, allow Parliament's authority to extend to all instruments, subject to review under the Statutory Instruments Act, instead of only those made by the governor in council or minister. Second, it would remove the necessity for additional action on the part of the regulation making authority in order to give effect to an order of the House that a regulation be revoked. This disallowance procedure is important to restore transparency and protect democracy in the House of Commons.
Bill C-205 reflects the all party consensus of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations on the need to strengthen parliamentary oversight of the hundreds of federal regulations made each year pursuant to legislative authority delegated by Parliament.
This private member's bill should appeal to all members of the House, regardless of partisan affiliations. Currently, the powers of the governing party, and particularly the executive, are sweeping. If members are to provide the necessary checks and balances, they must be accorded certain rights. Their views are crucial to the continued functioning of Parliament. Accepting these small changes to the scrutiny of regulations would be a significant first step in our efforts to make Parliament more responsive to Canadians. I urge all members in the House to give the bill very careful consideration and to pass it as soon as possible.
In conclusion, we on this side of the House are trying constantly to improve the democracy in this place by allowing MPs to be more effective in performing their duties here. One of the things that needs to be emphasized is that so much of what happens here concerns enabling legislation. We pass enabling legislation which then allows for a lot of regulations to be made. In effect, we are now saying that those regulations must be more carefully scrutinized. There must be a process, a mechanism, to ensure that those that are disallowed, those that are scrutinized, have the proper attention given to them.
I want to thank the member for Surrey Central for all the work he has done on Bill C-205. Many people listening to this may not be fully aware of the significance of the bill. Let me assure everyone listening that this is a very important step in improving democracy in the House. I again thank the member for bringing Bill C-205 forward. I look forward to everyone passing the bill.
Subtopic: Statutory Instruments Act