As expected, the Speaker ruled that the latest report from the Ethics committee – which recommends that the Code of Conduct be amended so that a libel suit against a sitting member would not be considered a conflict of interest – was out of order, as the Code falls under the aegis of Procedure and House Affairs, and as such, cannot be taken up by another committee.
This, even though, as he and everyone else in the House is all too aware, Procedure and House Affairs is completely and utterly broken. It’s so broken, in fact, that it can’t even be 106(4)’d back to life with a formal request for a meeting from four members, since such a request has to be received by the chair, and it doesn’t have one of those anymore.
Anyway, this really wasn’t a surprise — the ruling, that is — and somehow, I’m doubting that this is the end of the line, as far as changing the Code of Conduct goes, but it’s not clear what the next logical step would be. Obviously, a member could raise it as a question of privilege – the Code, that is, not the Speaker’s ruling, which can’t be challenged except via motion of non-confidence in Milliken himself, and I don’t think anyone is quite ready to do that yet. With the break week looming, though, I wouldn’t expect any developments until the House gets back.
In any case, here’s (some of) what the Speaker had to say:
This is a reality that continues to this day, a reality that cannot be simply set aside because of existing circumstances in another committee or by invoking the urgent need to address a subject or by arguing the gravity of that subject.
As hon. members know and as explained in House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 857, decisions of committee chairs may be appealed to the committee. However, as hon. members may recall, in my ruling of March 14 last I raised serious concerns about committees overturning procedurally sound decisions by their chairs and the problems that may arise from such actions. I find it particularly troubling in this instance that the committee chose to proceed as it did with the clear knowledge that what it was doing was beyond the committee’s mandate.
Some of the arguments presented in this case suggested that the Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics was the only venue possible to deal with this important and urgent matter in an expeditious fashion. In my view, there are other mechanisms available to debate and resolve the matter at hand. Furthermore, as I mentioned on May 14 when this issue was raised, the fact that the procedure and House affairs committee is not functioning at the moment does not permit other committees to usurp their mandates.
I wish to remind hon. members that the Chair can apply the rules of the House only as they are written. The subject matter of the Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics is clearly not within the mandate of that committee, as spelled out in Standing Order 108, and, therefore, in my view, it is out of order.
For this reason, I rule that the Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics be deemed withdrawn and that no subsequent proceedings may be taken in relation thereto. Accordingly, the two notices of motions for concurrence in this report currently on the notice paper standing in the name of the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and the hon. member for Halifax West will be withdrawn.