Proceedings of the Standing Committee on
Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament

Issue 4 - Evidence - Meeting of June 21, 2005


OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament met this day at 9:37 a.m. to examine and report upon establishing a new system of numbering for Senate bills.

Senator David P. Smith (Chairman) in the chair.

[English]

The Chairman: Honourable senators, we have Senator LeBreton with us. We can now proceed.

Some of you may recall that, at our last meeting, we decided to deal with the issue of oaths at this meeting. Senator Lavigne was most anxious to be present and to comment. However, he cannot be here today and has strenuously requested, through the leadership, that we deal with that item tomorrow. As you recall, he was the senator who put the motion on the Order Paper, and it then had it referred to this committee. We will deal with it tomorrow.

Today's meeting may not be lengthy. We may revert to the working committee, particularly if Senator Di Nino is here, on the consideration of a new system of the numbering of Senate bills. There is some history to this. Our table officers will address this issue, and we will keep open minds.

Mr. Gary O'Brien, Deputy Clerk and Principal Clerk, Legislative Services, Senate of Canada: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and honourable senators. As you know, the procedure we now follow is that bills receive numbers sequentially following their presentation. Obviously, this practice has been followed for many years and stems from a time when there was no procedural distinction between government and private members' business or when, during routine proceedings, all types of bills — government bills private members' bills, public bills, private bills — were introduced one after another.

My own research indicates that Senate bills were originally given letters. Those following Bill Z were assigned a double letter, such as Bill AA or Bill BB. Commons bills were originally identified as ``Bill from the Commons.''

In 1876, this procedure changed in that bills retained the same number in the Senate that they received in the Commons. If they were sent from the Commons, they were not called Bill from the Commons. They kept the same number they had in the Commons as they progressed through the Senate.

This system remained until 1958 when Senate bills began to be identified numerically, and divorce bills were distinguished from non-divorce bills. They went away from the system of Bill A and Bill B and began to put numbers on them. As you know, there were literally hundreds of divorce bills in the Senate in the post-World War era.

Divorce bills were numbered Bill SD1, SD2, et cetera. The other types of Senate bills were simply numbered Bill S-1, Bill S-2, et cetera. Commons bills were changed, and they were now known as Bill C-1, Bill C-2, et cetera. There have been no SD bills, Senate divorce bills, since the 1964-65 session when the proclamation of the Dissolution and Annulment of Marriages Act established that divorce cases could proceed through the Senate by way of resolution, not by a bill.

In the 1980 reprint of the Senate rules, the appendix states that a senator may, without notice, present a bill at any time during the sitting of the Senate. In practice, this is done under Presentation of Petitions.

In other words, up until 1991, there was not even a specific rubric in Routine Proceedings for the introduction of bills. These were done under the rubric of Presentation of Petitions, obviously stemming from an ancient practice where all bills were based on petitions that had come from the public to Parliament.

It was in 1991 that the Rules of the Senate were amended to distinguish between three types of bills to be introduced; that is, between Senate public bills, government bills, and private bills. However, the sequential numbering of bills did not change.

Obviously, honourable senators, there has been some difficulty in recent years with regard to the grouping of private members' bills or private senators' bills with government bills. You cannot distinguish, by the numbering system, between a government bill, a senator's public bill, and a private bill.

Obviously, the order of reference that your committee received suggests that, in order to facilitate the filing and reference of each class of bill, there should be distinguished numbering systems.

One suggestion is to mirror the practice followed in the House of Commons and to begin the numbering of private senator's public bills at S-101. The traditional pro forma bill, which is introduced immediately before consideration of the Speech from the Throne, would continue to be Bill S-1, that is, an act respecting railways. I do not think there is any intention to change that.

Government bills introduced in the Senate would begin at S-2 and continue for the first 100 numbers. It is thought that all government bills introduced in a session in the Senate can be accommodated within that range of numbers, which is a very large range of numbers. Again, this mirrors the practice in the House of Commons.

With regard to private bills, those that are based on petitions where citizens want special acts of Parliament to pass that pertain to them, it is suggested that we begin, as in the House of Commons, with S-1001 and move up as more private bills are introduced. That is for your consideration.

Another option, since the volume of bills does not equal that of the Commons, is to cut the numbering system in half. S-2 to S-50 would be Senate government bills. However, that is up to you. That could cause confusion as well in the sense that, if you are used to the system in the House of Commons, you may not be sure whether a bill is a government bill or a senator's public bill.

The Chairman: Could you explain the theoretical third category? One category is obviously government bills and private bills.

Mr. Armitage: There are government bills; the private members' bills, which are public bills introduced by a private member; and then private bills. That is the third category. In the House of Commons, they are less than rare because it is far less expensive and onerous to introduce those bills in the Senate.

Mr. Charles Robert, Principal Clerk, Procedural Research Service, Senate of Canada: It might be simpler to regard them as government public/private.

Senator Joyal: Often a corporation will petition Parliament to amend its constituting statute. A corporation incorporated by a special private bill, which later seek to amendment to its original constituting statute, will petition Parliament in order to be able to do that.

What example can I give of a senator's private bill?

Mr. Robert: Lighthouses.

Senator Joyal: Yes. The lighthouses bill, declaring lighthouses as historical monuments, was personally introduced by a senator because that particular senator had a special interest.

Those are the two categories of private members' bills.

Mr. James R. Robertson, Principal, Law and Government Division, Parliamentary Research Branch, Library of Parliament: Private bills can be introduced in either chamber. However, a number of years ago, as a result of the business of the Senate being traditionally lower, a decision was taken to encourage private bills to be introduced in the Senate rather than in the House of Commons because the Senate has more time to deal with them.

As well, there is a fee for a private bill. The fees are much lower in the Senate, which is an incentive to table a private bill in the Senate. It will be dealt with in the chamber before it goes to the House of Commons.

Mr. Robert: That change was made in the 1920s. It is quite long-standing. The preference is to introduce private bills in the Senate rather than in the House of Commons.

Senator Joyal: On the first point of the government Senate bills, we are working in a special context now because, with the political configuration of the House of Commons, it is more difficult for the government to introduce regular legislation. The minority government has to negotiate regularly with the opposition, which stalls the parliamentary process in the House of Commons.

We now assist by introducing multiple government bills in the Senate. We are a house of review and we pronounce ourselves once the House of Commons has taken a stand. The procedure seems to have taken a different orientation and we have many more government bills in the Senate than we ever have had in the past. Personally, I find it puzzling. I do not agree with that, but this is not the forum to raise that point. Normally, we have a limited number of government bills in the Senate, never more than five or six in a session. Traditionally, we review the banking legislation and specifically amendments to the Bankruptcy Act. Those are always initiated in the Senate. These complex, technical issues have traditionally been introduced in the Senate because the Senate is the appropriate forum to study that type of proposed legislation. General policy is usually dealt with in the other place under the principle of responsible government.

We now find ourselves in an ambivalent situation. Perhaps that is why the problem has arisen. Had we not been in this situation, we would not be called upon to review the necessity to change the numbering system.

The Chairman: I do have a copy of the letter from the government house leader advising me, as chair of the Rules Committee, of his intent to table the order of reference. It is not translated. I do not want this to be problematic, but anyone can look at it.

We will hear from Mr. Robert, Mr. Robertson and Mr. O'Brien, and then discuss where we go from here.

Mr. Robert: As Senator Joyal pointed out, the Senate is basically a revising chamber. In that context, the number of government bills that would originate in this chamber would tend to be considerably lower. In fact, if one reviews some of the sessions in recent years, one would note that we have been at a low of zero and a maximum of 14, which was a high point in recent years for the introduction of government bills the Senate. On average, we would fluctuate around five.

This particular session is somewhat exceptional. We are up to 10. There might be something misleading in imitating directly what it is that the House of Commons does with respect to its numbering.

If the Senate wants to highlight its characteristic as a revising chamber for government bills, there is no real need to use such a high number as is required by the House of Commons. For public bills, however, where senators have the initiative to bring in legislation of a public character that does not involve the expenditure of funds, then the Senate can choose to acknowledge that this is an activity it wishes to encourage by allowing a larger span of numbers to be allotted to that category. Private bills that come to the Senate during the course of a parliamentary session are, by their nature, few in number. If you want to designate in a specific way the fact that a bill is a private bill by making it a four-digit number as opposed to a three-digit or two-digit number, then you can do that.

The Chairman: Do you have statistics on that for recent years?

Mr. Robert: Yes.

The Chairman: We do not have to be different just for the sake of it, but if 100, 200 or 300 would work, that is one option. What is the average number of private bills?

Mr. Robert: I do not have private bills per se, but it is never above 10. It is rarely above five. It more often hovers around three.

The Chairman: There is no need to go to 1,000.

Mr. Robert: I should think not.

The Chairman: If we wanted symmetry we could do that.

Does that complete your remarks?

Mr. Robert: By and large, yes, unless you want statistics about the number of government bills introduced over the past number of sessions to demonstrate the nature of the range, how small it really is.

The Chairman: Do you mean in the Senate?

Mr. Robert: Yes.

The Chairman: You say it was a maximum of 14.

Mr. Robert: And a minimum of zero.

The Chairman: Anything further?

Mr. Robert: That will be fine.

Mr. Robertson: We have provided a chart or table showing what selected provincial jurisdictions, as well as Australia, France and the United Kingdom, do in terms of numbering. Most provinces, with the exception of Ontario and Newfoundland of the ones that we surveyed, do have a numbering system that is comparable to the House of Commons and comparable to what is being suggested here.

The other countries do seem to have less of a preoccupation with referring to bills by a number, which some people might be sympathetic to, but which is probably difficult to move towards in our system.

With respect to the House of Commons in Canada, they instituted the change in 1974 by the Speaker making an announcement that he would be doing this. At that time, they reserved the first 100 bills for the government. It seems that at some subsequent date they decided they needed more room, so they went to 200 for private members' bills. Essentially it was a decision of the speaker, presumably with no objections from the chamber.

In this case, if this committee is in agreement with a proposal to change the numbering system for Senate bills, it would be appropriate for this committee to make a short report to the chamber indicating what it suggests should be done. If everyone concurs with that report, it would then become an indication to the Senate table and administration to implement this practice. It would presumably only take effect upon the next session of Parliament. It would not be appropriate to do it mid-session. It would have to wait until the next session of Parliament.

Senator Joyal: Would there be an argument against the idea of keeping the letter ``S'' for Senate and adding another letter to identify a government bill, a senator's bill and a private bill?

The Chairman: Such as ``SP'' for Senate private bill?

Senator Joyal: Exactly. I was thinking of ``SG'' for a Senate government bill, ``SB'' for a senator's bill and ``SP'' for a Senate private bill. We would keep the same number, but identify the bill by the letter. Would there be an argument against that?

Mr. O'Brien: You would want English and French to correspond. You cannot have different letters. Your nomenclature would have to be bilingual.

Senator Joyal: ``SG'' for government and ``SP'' for private would be the same. We would have to find a letter for a senator's bill that would be the same in French and in English. We would know the origins of the bill immediately by the letters instead of the numbers.

The Chairman: What about the bilingual challenge?

Senator Joyal: ``SP'' for Senate private bill and ``SG'' for Senate government bill are appropriate in both languages. We would have to find a common letter for a senator's bill and ensure that it is the same in both French and English.

Senator Maheu: Just an ``S'' period.

Senator Joyal: Maybe, yes. The letter would indicate the type of bill. I have no position on the numbering.

The Chairman: Senator Joyal, can I assume that you are sympathetic to moving to some sort of classification that can identify the nature of a Senate bill by its nomenclature?

Senator Joyal: It is a classification by letter instead of number.

The Chairman: I understand the logic.

Mr. Robert: Perhaps the solution is using an ``S'' for a Senate public bill and an ``SG'' for a Senate government bill.

Senator Joyal: An ``SB'' could be for a senator's bill.

The Chairman: I guess the question is: Do you have a fundamental problem with that?

Mr. Robert: Absolutely not.

Senator Joyal: I see no argument against it.

Mr. O'Brien: I was sympathetic to Mr. Robertson's comment when we met just before the meeting to the effect that the House is having problems with the Senate bills. They are not sure of the origin or the class of these bills. They asked if it would cause confusion if we had another arrangement.

Mr. Robertson: The current procedure of all Commons bills being ``C'' bills and all Senate bills being ``S'' bills is simple. You immediately know in what chamber it was introduced. It is simple, once have you done a bit of work, to know that anything in the House above 200 is a private member's bill, anything else is a government bill. In the Senate, a similar system would have the benefit of simplicity.

Their concern is that, at present, when they have receive an ``S'' bill, they have no way of knowing whether it was introduced by the government or by a senator and, of course, in the other place, the procedural rules for government bills versus private members' bills are significantly different, far more than in this chamber.

They are used to a numbering system that has the benefit of simplicity. Even if we were to adopt using a number of initials, as is being proposed, that would at least make it clear, once they became familiar with the system, that an SG bill should be dealt with differently from a bill with another prefix.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: Could we use the same system as the House of Commons? We do not need to reinvent the wheel. When someone is invited to explain the legislative process to students, we can make a distinction between the House of Commons and the Senate: bills beginning with ``C'' originate in the House of Commons, and the bills beginning with ``S'' originate in the Senate. When the number is under 200, it means they are government bills. I would prefer that system because of its simplicity. We do not need to change much, and it would be well understood by both houses. Are there any major objections?

[English]

The Chairman: You would have S-1 to 1000, and then S-1001 to S-2000.

Senator Robichaud: The same numbering system as the House, but then preceded by an ``S''.

The Chairman: I will let them answer. You might also ask if there are any advantages.

Mr. O'Brien: I do not see any disadvantages. In our own culture, our own work, we have ways to show we are a different chamber from the House of Commons, and I think there is something to be said about that. I think the words of the order of reference were to facilitate the identification of these bills so that one system or another would work.

The Chairman: Do you have a view, Senator LeBreton?

Senator LeBreton: I read Senator Austin's letter and I thought his proposal was more understandable. When following the Order Paper which has government bills and private bills, it is very confusing as it is now.

I support changing it, but I do not want it to become so complicated that we start numbering and lettering, so I thought this was a reasonable proposal.

The Chairman: That reserves, as I understand it, C-2 up to C-199, and the private bills kick in at 200?

Mr. Robert: Yes.

Mr. Armitage: A category for private bills that would clearly distinguish them as private bills.

Mr. Robert: I suppose if there were an objection the only one would be that it suggests a scale of work that, as a revising chamber, we do not undertake. As a chamber that is one-third the size of the House of Commons, the expectation of having so many bills introduced is perhaps unreasonable. Unreasonable is something that one can deal with. Misleading, perhaps, is an objection that might have more weight.

The Chairman: If the number is 1000 or more, you would just know automatically it is a private member's bill, whether it is ``C'' or ``S''.

Mr. Robert: Yes.

Mr. Robertson: We have not done a survey of the House of Commons numbers, and they certainly introduce more bills, both private member's bills and government bills, but assuming that private member's bills are between 200 and 1000, or 999, they very seldom get to that number. They could have picked a lower number than 1000 for private bills, but there is the potential to go through those numbers.

Mr. Robert: This may in fact originate from before the lottery process was introduced to govern the practices with respect to private member's bills. I remember that in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, before this reform was instituted, members, to prove to their constituents that they were diligent to look after their interest, had no trouble at all introducing a raft of bills that would have to be assigned a number, and the numbers could be high, in fact.

Mr. Robertson: They are currently at just over 400. They start at C-200, and they have 200. Probably 20 private members' bills have been introduced in the House since September, and that is a fairly short period of time in terms of a session.

Senator Joyal: You could expect more.

Mr. Robertson: Even though the system has changed, there is still a temptation, certainly on the part of individual members, to introduce a lot of private member's bills, which they can then send out to their constituents or to various groups.

Senator Joyal: The lottery scheme in fact has multiplied the procedure, because the more you put in the better the chance of one being picked up. The tendency is to multiply them because of the lottery scheme. It is like buying more tickets on your provincial lottery.

Mr. Robertson: Under the current procedure, in fact, there is a list of members, private members, and they can chose only one item. Each member knows that he or she will only have an opportunity to put forward a maximum of one item. Yet, they will introduce 25 or 30, and several members have introduced more than that.

Senator Joyal: There is no doubt that, if we had the same procedure, Mr. Chair, in the Senate, that we would see a multiplication of bills, especially if a senator were entitled to one bill. Now there is no limit. If we could have only one kick at the can, you would definitely have a larger number of bills, because every senator would introduce one.

The Chairman: I am sensing, and please tell me if I am misjudging this, that there is a consensus on this committee that there is logic to going in this direction, that is, taking one of the routes that has been suggested. It is so obvious that it is almost a ``no-brainer.'' Am I correct?

Senator Robichaud: Which direction?

The Chairman: I am open-minded. The public would like clarity, so we should try to accomplish that. There is a certain appeal to having more or less the same system, with the ``S'' in front. I do want to be open-minded. I do not dismiss Senator Joyal's suggestion. I would invite further comment on that. Do we need to go back to our respective caucuses, which is an almost painful exercise? If we have a strong consensus here I am happy to proceed. Perhaps we need more input.

Senator LeBreton does not look excited about going back to caucus on this ``no-brainer.''

Senator LeBreton: I think we can report the consensus here, and if someone has a serious problem, I am sure they will let us know that.

The Chairman: I already know where the our leadership stands, because it was his suggestion that it be dealt with in our committee. You have had a chance to review that letter. I have copies should anyone else wishes to see it.

Senator Robichaud, are you proposing that we adopt the same numbering system as the House of Commons, only with an S in front?

Senator Robichaud: For the sake of simplicity, we will have the same numbering system, only with an ``S'' instead of a ``C''. We will soon get to know which numbers mean what, and those who come to the Senate from the House of Commons will find it easy to learn the process.

The Chairman: We could have a report ready for our meeting tomorrow, after we have dealt with the oath issue. You may want to present the two options. I will leave it to you, Senator Joyal.

Senator Joyal: If I understand the proposal, it is that we use a different class of numbers to meet the objective of classifying the bill. We can classify a bill by letter or by number. The proposal is to classify bills by number for the sake of parallelism with the House of Commons. The House of Commons presently has that kind of classification by number.

I agree that it is practical that everyone understands the origins of a bill when it is presented in the other place. However, to distinguish a Senate bill, and the type of bill it is, I see no major problem in using lettering if that lettering is clear and easy to understand. For example, if we say ``SG'', we know it is a bill from the Senate. I think both systems offer the same kind of ease of understanding. An SP bill would be easily recognized as a Senate private bill. It does not seem to me to be confusing in terms of understanding the nature of the bill.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: Provided that the word used has the same meaning in both languages. Otherwise it could lead to confusion, because often a word that is spelled the same can have a different meaning.

Senator Joyal: So ``P'' for Private or ``Privé,'' or ``G'' for Government or ``Gouvernement.'' I do not really see the difference between those two terms.

Senator Robichaud: There is a third one.

[English]

The ``S'' would indicate a senator's bill.

[Translation]

Senator Robichaud: I opt for simplicity, Senator Joyal.

[English]

Senator LeBreton: The range of number would indicate the difference.

Senator Robichaud: The ``S'' or the ``C'' indicates the origin.

Senator LeBreton: The number would automatically indicate the type of bill.

Mr. Robertson: I would make the same point again. In the House, the ``C'' indicates that the ``C'' bill was introduced by the House of Commons. You also know by looking just at the number, if it is less than 200, it is a government bill; if it is between 200 and 999, it is a private member's bill, and if it is over 1,000, it is a private bill.

If we were to change the prefix, the letter, we could continue the current system that the Senate has of numbering consecutively. The numbers, as I understand it, would continue in sequence, and only the prefix would change. That would mean that you would not have to allocate a specific starting number for any one classification of bills. However, the only way you could tell the type of bill, would be to look at the prefix. The number would have no significance.

Mr. Robert: Another other issue to consider is that the numbers may be repeated, for example, you could have an SG-1, an SP-1. The point is that, by and large, the Arabic numeral would repeat. In the House of Commons system the numeral is a unique identifier. It is not repeated.

The Chairman: I think there is a consensus to retain a numbering system. Perhaps we could prepare a draft report for tomorrow, and, hopefully we will be able to move on this. Let us deal with that tomorrow. Do I see a consensus on that?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Robichaud: Would this apply only at the next session?

The Chairman: Yes, at the next session.

Mr. Robertson: The letter from Senator Austin did not make reference to the private bills being numbered over 1,000. We will include that in our report.

The Chairman: That completes this is item.

Thank you, gentlemen. This was a very useful session. We will continue in camera to discuss prioritization of outstanding items.

The committee continued in camera.