When I spoke to NDP House Leader Libby Davies about her Private Members' Bill yesterday, she mentioned a letter she had written to the Speaker regarding the government's attempt to say that the bill requires a Royal Recommendation. What a Royal Recommendation means is that it would require government spending – something that Private Members' Bills can't actually recommend, as it's the government that controls the treasury, even in a minority situation. (The House controls supply, which means it allows the government to spend money, not that it's done a very good job of keeping it accountable in recent years).
Suggesting that a Private Members' Bill needs a Royal Recommendation is a tactic that this government has employed many times, from Pablo Rodriguez' Kyoto bill, to Dan McTeague's RESP bill. In most cases, the Speaker rules that no, the bill is fine, and they keep debating. Sometimes, though, he'll rule that the way it's worded means that it would require such a Recommendation, and the bill will die on the Order Paper. I believe that Olivia Chow's child care bill in the previous Parliament was just such an example.
Anyway, Davies furnished me with a copy of the letter she wrote to the Speaker in defence of her bill, and I'm posting it here:
Re: Point of Order, Bill C-304 An Act to ensure secure, adequate, accessible and affordable Housing.
Dear Mr. Speaker,
Please accept the following for your consideration in the deliberation of the Point of Order made against Bill C-304 on Thursday April 2, 2009s, calling for a Royal Recommendation.
Bill C-304 directs the government to develop a national housing strategy in consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities and Aboriginal governments. Bill C-304 makes no requests for funds nor does it expand the mandate of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
The Speaker’s rulings on bills C-377 and C-292, before the House of Commons in the last session of Parliament, found that these two bills mandated the government to start a process which does not spend money, but which may eventually spend money depending on how the government responds to the process. The Speaker ruled that a Royal Recommendation is only required when the government responds to the process, and that the House cannot pre-judge spending requests it has not seen yet.
While a national housing strategy may be cause for spending, it may or may not be new spending and the spending may come from any level of government. It must be stated that the development of such a strategy is in itself not cause for spending.
Further, it must be noted, while the government argued in the House on April 2, that C-304 can only be accomplished “by making changes to the parameters governing provision by the Government of Canada of a guarantee to mortgage loan insurers operating in Canada.”, the National Housing Act, regulating the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), currently mandates the Corporation to make loans “where the loan would otherwise not be available to the borrower” and in fact under the legislated Purpose of the Act, it includes the promotion of housing finance “to protect the availability of adequate funding for housing at low cost”. And it is the CMHC that “may determine the terms and conditions on which it makes a loan.”
It is also important to note in regard to Bill C-304 changing the mandate of the CMHC lending parameters that the CMHC lists among its commitments: “Funding to create safe, affordable housing and support those individuals whose needs are not met through the marketplace.”
In regard to concerns of an expanded federal role in housing, the CMHC is currently legislated to work with all levels of government on matters pertaining to housing. Further, the National Housing Act allows for the Corporation to “make loans and contributions to a province, municipality or public housing agency for the purpose of assisting that province, municipality or agency to acquire or service land for housing purposes or for any incidental purpose and make loans to refinance debt that the Corporation is of the opinion relates to the acquisition or servicing of land for those purposes, and may forgive amounts owing on those loans.”
Thank you for your consideration of this issue.
Libby Davies, MP