Second Reading of Appropriation Bill No. 5, 2020-21—Motion in Amendment

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: Since we’re going to have an hour to reflect, let me also provide some comments to help reflection.

Senators, I rise to speak to Senator Pate’s amendment to Bill C-17, called a reasoned amendment in parliamentary practice. At the outset, nobody can deny that Senator Pate is a strong advocate of causes that she endorses, and she does not hesitate to use this place as a platform for recording her strongly held positions. But I’m afraid her reasoned amendment ventures in dangerous territory, way beyond what the drafters of our Constitution have contemplated for the upper house of our Parliament.

The Constitution Act of 1867 provides for two houses in our Parliament: one made of individuals elected by the people and one made of individuals appointed by the Crown. Though our Constitution states that all bills must receive the consent and approval of both chambers and that each chamber can initiate bills, the drafters of our Constitution have enacted an important restriction to the powers and role of the Senate, found at section 53 of the Constitution, which reads:

Bills for appropriating any Part of the Public Revenue, or for imposing any Tax or Impost, shall originate in the House of Commons.

Bill C-17, now before us, is clearly an appropriation bill governed by section 53 of the Constitution. The restrictions found in section 53 of the Constitution flow from the very well-known principle of “no taxation without representation.”

In other words, the imposition of taxes and the appropriation of public revenue must rest first and foremost in the hands of those elected by the people.

Bill C-17 before us has been considered by the representatives of the people and adopted with the support of the majority of MPs representing four of the five political parties in the House of Commons. Now this bill is before us for our review and, possibly, our suggestions for corrections at committee review or at third reading.

Senator Pate’s amendment doesn’t seek to correct an omission or an oversight, which is possible, but not at second reading. Instead, she wants us to suspend second reading of Bill C-17 until the government implements a basic universal income, a policy that will require months, if not years, of thorough analysis and drafting. In other words, she’s inviting us to transgress our constitutional role by dictating to the elected government and the elected House of Commons how to appropriate public funds.

A basic universal income is an idea that many senators have advanced, and I am confident that the Senate will continue to look at issues around it as well as around reformed employment benefits. However, there is a major difference between facilitating debate about such issues and suspending second reading of an appropriation bill until the government enacts a given program. This far exceeds the bounds of the Senate’s constitutional role of providing sober second thought.

Before concluding, I would like to add some technical comments about the unusual procedural vehicle before us. On page 133 of the Senate Procedure in Practice, a “reasoned amendment” is described as follows:

This amendment allows a senator to state the reasons for opposing second (or third) reading of a bill by introducing another relevant proposal that replaces the original question. In other words, it provides a means to put on the record a statement or explanation as to why a bill should not receive second reading. If the reasoned amendment is adopted, the bill is dropped from the Order Paper. A reasoned amendment always supersedes second (or third) reading.

It is worth highlighting that this procedural mechanism is very rarely used, as Senator Plett has said, and even more rarely accepted, as he pointed out. He referred to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice. I have the same quote, and certainly concur with him.

I will go further. In a 1946 ruling, finding that a similar amendment was out of order, the then honourable Speaker Senator James King, added:

. . . neither in the House of Commons nor in the provincial legislatures has it been the practice to move amendments at the second reading of a bill.

Honourable colleagues, such an amendment is out of place, and I urge you to vote against it. Thank you. Bonne réflexion.

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