Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament—Third Report of CommitteePublished on 2 February 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joan Fraser
Hon. Joan Fraser:
Colleagues, when I spoke briefly yesterday, essentially responding to Senator McInnis, I noted that this report from the Rules Committee responds to Recommendation No. 17 from the interim report of the Modernization Committee. It is about adjustments to the way the Order Paper is drawn up, and the object is to make the Order Paper easier to, A, understand and, B, follow, as we go through our daily work here.
To me, one of the most mystifying things for the longest time was understanding why, under the various headings that occur in the Order Paper — for example, “Senate public bills – second reading” — there seems to be no consistency in the way they’re listed. They bounce around from number to number, and the order in which they’re listed can change every day. Most of us spend a fair amount of time flipping through the Order Paper trying to figure out where we are and when the item that we want to speak to will come up.
For example, if you look at page 7 of today’s Order Paper, you will see that, under “Senate public bills – second reading,” we find, first, Bill S-234, then Bill S-232, then Bill S-206, then back up to Bill S-221, and so on. It is confusing and difficult to follow, and the Modernization Committee, I thank them very much for this suggestion, suggested that we make it a simpler pattern.
The way the Order Paper is set up is determined by rules 4-12 and 4-13 of the Rules of the Senate. Tucked away in those rules is the requirement that items be called essentially in the order most recently proceeded. So under bills, second reading, the bill that was most recently spoken to goes to the top of the list, never mind its bill number. It is how recently something parliamentary was done to or with that bill, whether it was spoken to, whether it was reported back from committee. That would come under reports of committees.
It’s not the easiest thing in the world to follow, unless you like jumping around numbers in what looks like a random order.
What the Rules Committee is recommending, and this is based very largely on the report from the Modernization Committee, is that the ordering be a bit more rational.
The two great categories on the Order Paper are “government business” and “other business.” For government business, we do not propose changing the fact that the government can re-order government business every day in the order that seems to suit the government’s priorities, but if the government doesn’t choose to re-order things, then under this proposed rule change, in the normal way of things, government bills would be called as they are now: Bills that are at third reading stage, bills that are at reports from committee stage, bills that are at second reading stage, but within those categories, as would government motions and government inquiries, they would be called in numerical order, so that a Bill S-6 would always be called before a Bill S-8. It would not matter which bill had been most recently spoken to.
I hope that’s more or less clear.
Other items, items of government business other than bills, motions and inquiries, would be called in the order in which they were placed on the Order Paper. If something was put on the Order Paper on September 15, it would always appear on the Order Paper, within its category, before something that had been put on the Order Paper on October 27, and so on. We think this would make it a little easier to follow. The same general system is adopted for other business, non-government business.
I forgot to say that always in the Senate, Senate bills will always precede Commons bills. They will always come in ahead of Commons bills, whether it was government or other business.
For other business, the proposal is very similar. We would keep the general order, messages from the Commons, third readings of bills, reports of committees, second reading of bills, other reports of committees, motions, inquiries, and finally any other business.
Incidentally, in case you were wondering about that order of the broad categories, what it does is give priority to the items that have proceeded most through the parliamentary process to the items that are closest to being passed, closest to becoming law. That’s why messages from the House of Commons come in top of the list, because they usually consist of either telling us that they have passed a bill that we have sent to them, or that they have accepted, we hope, or sometimes rejected amendments that we have made to a bill, but the fact that we passed the bill suggests that it’s closer to becoming law than bills that have not yet gone through third reading here.
Within the general categories of third reading, we would keep Senate public bills first, then Commons public bills, followed by private bills. That same order, Senate, Commons, private, would be followed through for reports of committees on bills, second reading of bills.
Third reading, reports of committees on bills and second reading, all of those items would be called within their categories in numerical order.
On today’s Order Paper for second reading of bills, Bill S-206 follows on Bill S-232. It wouldn’t. Bill S-206 would come ahead of Bill S-207 and Bill S-208 and on to infinity, if necessary. This would make it easier to look on the Order Paper for your bill.
When we get down to other reports of committees and other business, those items would appear on the Order Paper in their calendar order, according to when they were first brought to the Senate. For example, on the Order Paper now, if you start at page 18, you will see that inquiries are listed in this order: No. 15, dating from October 25; followed by No. 2, dating from March 9; followed by No. 1, dating from December 10, 2015. It’s not rational to list them in that way. It would be rational to list them as: No. 1, which dates from December 10, 2015; No. 2, which dates from March 9, 2016; followed by No. 8, which dates from May 5, 2016, and so on, in numerical order, which actually corresponds to the calendar order.
If you wonder what happened to Inquiry No. 2 and 8, those items are no longer on the Order Paper, but their number and their date remain. So it is rational to list them in that order.
If you had an interest in Inquiry No. 7 and you looked on the Order Paper, you would know where to look for Inquiry No. 7, and unhappily you would realize that it’s not on the Order Paper anymore. You missed your chance. At least you would be able to figure that out without mental gymnastics of flipping from page to page.
That is all it does. I do not know whether my explanation is even halfway clear, but I assure you that we believe that if we made this change, we would all find dealing with the Order Paper a little less irritating and confusing. Not for only us, but for anybody who is trying to follow the proceedings of the place.
We believe in openness and transparency. An Order Paper that is incomprehensible is surely neither open nor transparent.
I move this report for your favourable consideration, colleagues.