Ms. Caroline St-Hilaire (Longueuil, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to Bill C-205, which is specifically designed to strengthen parliamentary control.
I take this opportunity to thank my colleague from Surrey Central for bringing this important question to the House for debate.
As a member of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations, I obviously want, and it is my duty, to ensure that our rules are efficient and respectful of democracy.
It is important to point out that the purpose of the bill before us today is to provide a legislative basis for the disallowance procedure for statutory instruments by enshrining it in the Statutory Instruments Act. The current procedure set out in the Standing Orders of the House considerably limits our responsibility as parliamentarians to efficiently oversee delegated legislation.
Under Bill C-205, the disallowance procedure will now apply to all statutory instruments, which seems to me to be very important, given that it is currently limited to regulations made by the governor in council or by a minister of the Crown.
Many regulatory organizations, such as the CRTC or the Canadian Transportation Agency, escape our purview. If we want to extend the control we have over delegated legislation to all statutory instruments, it is imperative that it be provided for in an act, in addition to the Standing Orders of the House; all the more reason to pass this bill.
Many have been hesitant to have such organizations come under the control of Parliament, because of potential interference in organizations which are operating at arm's length to some extent. I do not think that it will prevent them from managing their affairs appropriately and in accordance with their mandates. On the contrary, I think that these organizations should be accountable, since they are publicly funded.
Our committee already reviews the bylaws of these organizations. It would therefore only make sense that we could repeal them. However, these organizations must not forget that they have regulatory power only because it was delegated to them by Parliament. We must never lose sight of the fact that the function of Parliament is to ensure the proper use of public funds and to legislate. It is normal, indeed essential, that Parliament have the right to oversee the use made of this delegated power and hold these organizations to account.
We vote on bills in the House, but we delegate the responsibility for regulating several aspects of these bills. These are aspects that can have a major impact on our constituents. Regulations can mean life or death for projects, individual rights or the economic survival of businesses.
When we consider the fact that the lion's share of the law that governs our society is contained in regulations, and not in the acts themselves, it becomes critical to ensure that regulatory power, this delegated power, is exercised in accordance with the purposes for which it was delegated and that the intent of the legislator has indeed been respected.
One specific aspect of this bill that caught my attention is the fact that after having voted in support of a resolution in the House, the text will be repealed within 30 days, whereas under existing procedure, it is simply an order of the House calling on the government to repeal the text in question.
The problem is that the government has discretionary power to decide when it will repeal a regulation and also to decide whether or not it will repeal it. There is no legal way of punishing the government for violating an order of the House.
Another aspect that also deserves our attention is the fact that prior to using a disallowance procedure, there are all kinds of exchanges, letters and even promises made by the government before it amends the regulation in question.
Years can go by from the moment a regulation is deemed to contradict the spirit of the legislation and the time the government finally decides to amend it.
The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Regulations, which the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage referred to during a previous debate, is a good example to illustrate that the government is not always quick to respond.
When the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations tabled a report recommending that certain articles of the regulations be repealed, more than seven full years had gone by from the time of the initial discussions with the government on the matter. That means that during this time, the government or the department or the organization continues to enforce the regulation illegally, which is an abuse of power. That is extremely dangerous in terms of democracy.
I believe that respect for our democratic institutions is extremely important. As it happens, I had the honour of being a guest speaker at the seminar on Parliament in the 21st century. I have also taken part in other events and published articles on democratic institutions and the importance of making changes that contribute to increasing the public's confidence in and satisfaction with their representatives.
One aspect that seems very serious and may have negative consequences for our democracy is the excessive concentration of power in the hands of executives. For instance, the governor in council and cabinet ministers have been given impressive regulatory power. But they hold this power directly from Parliament itself, and because of this, they must be accountable for the way they exercise this power. If the executive exercises its powers without respecting the spirit and the letter of enabling legislation, Parliament should have a legal means of intervening, and that is precisely the purpose of the bill before us.
Our system and our rules must be flexible enough to permit members to play their role to the fullest and to preserve in this place the rights and freedoms of those we represent. My fundamental belief is that members should have much more power within Parliament.
That brings us back to the very essence of our role as parliamentarians. We must never lose sight of our prerogatives, especially that of creating legislation. Of course, this is a complex task, and the very technical aspects of regulations and many other considerations make it necessary for us to delegate some of this power. But make no mistake, the supremacy of Parliament remains, as does our duty as parliamentarians to ensure it is respected.
Based on this principle, I fail to see why anyone would deprive us of the fundamental right to maintain control over this delegated legislation. No doubt Bill C-205 will be one step closer to the preservation of our parliamentary supremacy. The more democratic this control, the healthier our democracy will be.
We are pleased to give our support to Bill C-205.
Subtopic: Statutory Instruments Act