I have already discussed the casting vote of the Speaker, albeit not in detail. It is worth revisiting the matter in light of the debate surrounding a pending vote in the Canadian House of Commons expected later this month.
I will not debate the pros and cons of Bill C-391, nor get into any of the partisan debate surrounding what has become a very contentious issue in Canada. There are plenty of bloggers writing about the issue and a quick Google or visit to Progressive Bloggers will provide any interested parties with a taste of how the debate is being framed.
I will, however, provide some context to the debate. Bill C-391 is ostensibly a Private Member’s bill aimed at repealing Canada’s long-gun registry. It was introduced by a Government backbencher. The current governing party, the Conservatives, is the only party in the House of Commons which opposes the long-gun registry and promised to abolish it. The other three parties represented in the House, the Liberals, the New Democrats (NDP) and the Bloc Québécois (BQ) all officially support the registry. The bill has survived first and second reading and was sent to committee for study. Both the Liberals and NDP did not whip their vote against the Bill at second reading, which they would have done had it been a Government bill, because traditionally, votes on Private Members’ business are free votes. Eight Liberal MPs and 12 NDP MPs voted in favour of the bill at second reading. The BQ whipped its vote and voted against it. There are reports that the Conservatives also whipped their vote.
However, opponents of the Bill have argued that Bill C-391 is a Private Member’s bill in name only; the reality, they argue, is that this is a case of the Government trying to pass through the back door a policy they could never get passed as a Government bill. There is a strong case supporting this position, but I will not comment on that. Suffice it to say, during the summer recess, the Liberals have reversed their position and the next vote on the bill will be whipped. This leaves only the NDP still allowing a free vote on the matter.
The opponents of Bill C-391 have been attacking the NDP for not whipping the vote and for sticking with the “it’s a private member’s bill” argument. The NDP, however, plan to table their own private member’s bill which would propose amendments to improve the long-gun registry, addressing the issues that have vexed some rural gun owners. Opponents of Bill C-391 argue that there is no point in doing so, because by the time the bill is tabled, the vote on C-391 will have taken place and there will be no long-gun registry to fix. Over the past couple of weeks, some NDP MPs who voted in favour of the bill on second reading have announced they will now vote against it. Current consensus is that the vote will be extremely close, perhaps forcing the Speaker to cast the deciding vote.
The debate has become increasingly confused primarily due to a combination of sloppy media reporting and a failure on the NDP’s part to clarify one important fact: the upcoming vote on Bill C-391 will not be the final vote.
The Bill was sent to committee in May, where it was studied. The Committee reported back on June 9, 2010. The next vote on Bill C-391 is the vote on the report stage. Once a bill has been examined in a committee, it is considered by the whole House. At this stage, Members may, after giving written notice, propose amendments to the text of the bill as it was reported by the committee. Those motions are then debated.
At the end of report stage of a bill that has already been read a second time, as is the case for C-391, the motion for concurrence at report stage is put forthwith, without amendment or debate. If no motion in amendment is moved at report stage, no debate takes place and consideration of report stage becomes the simple adoption (or rejection) of the motion for concurrence at report stage, before proceeding to third reading.
Third reading debate will not occur immediately, unless unanimous consent is obtained to do so, meaning after this upcoming vote, there will be another vote on Bill C-391, which will be the final vote on the Bill in the House (but it will continue on to the Senate).
In the Event of a Tie
Should the vote on report stage end in a deadlock, the Speaker will cast the deciding vote. In this instance, the Speaker would vote in favour of the bill, the rationale being to allow for further debate (third reading). However, if there are proposed amendments, and the vote on any (or all) of the amendments results in deadlock, the Speaker would vote against the amendment. The reason would be to maintain the bill in its existing form.
Motion for Third Reading
Should the vote following third reading of the bill result in a tie, then the Speaker would vote No because important decision should not be taken except by a majority in the House. It also allows for the matter to be brought back before the House at a future date.
The only thing that is important to remember here is that the vote expected on Bill C-391 later this month will not be the final vote on the bill. Contrary to what many bloggers are arguing, the vote expected next week will not be the vote that kills the long-gun registry. It is not third reading debate, it is report stage debate. As well, amendments could be proposed by MPs that would significantly alter the bill, for example, opting to improve the registry rather than repeal it, as the NDP claims it wants to do. With a minority government in place, the Opposition parties would have sufficient numbers to do just this.