Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On causation

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on the Cons' micromanagement of committee questions and private members' bills, let's look in a bit more detail at how the policy could already have resulted in a violation of the Canadian Wheat Board Act.

I've noted before my disagreement with the view (seemingly held by many Wheat Board supporters) that any move to eliminate the Board's monopoly over wheat would violate the current s. 47.1 - which I'll reproduce again for convenience:
47.1 The Minister shall not cause to be introduced in Parliament a bill that would exclude any kind, type, class or grade of wheat or barley, or wheat or barley produced in any area in Canada, from the provisions of Part IV, either in whole or in part, or generally, or for any period, or that would extend the application of Part III or Part IV or both Parts III and IV to any other grain, unless

(a) the Minister has consulted with the board about the exclusion or extension; and

(b) the producers of the grain have voted in favour of the exclusion or extension, the voting process having been determined by the Minister.
On my reading, this section clearly refers only to legislative action (a "bill") rather than regulatory action, and even limits the introduction of a bill only to the extent that the Minister of Agriculture has "cause(d) (it) to be introduced". Which means that either regulatory action or an independent private members' bill (i.e. one introduced without any participation of the Minister) could result in the Board losing its monopoly without violating s. 47.1.

So much for what the Cons could have done. But thanks to Garth Turner, we now know that all Con private members' bills "have to be approved and vetted by ministers and the PMO" - which wouldn't make any sense unless it happened before bills are introduced. Which means that Chuck Strahl's approval appears to be a direct cause of the introduction of Bill C-300 - and that Strahl could thus have violated the Act by granting his approval.

Now, this interpretation is far from bulletproof; there's certainly an argument to be made that normally the only MP who "causes" a bill to be introduced is the one who actually introduces it. But if Turner is correct in saying that the Cons are keeping the lid on private members' bills, then the approval does appear to be a necessary causal factor in the introduction of C-300. And it seems to me that there has to be some scope for indirect causation to be included under s. 47.1 - after all, why else would the words "cause to be introduced" be used in the Act rather than "introduce" alone?

In turn, any violation of s. 47.1 would also be an offence under s. 68(2)(c):
(2) Every person is guilty of an offence who:...

(c) contravenes or omits to comply with this Act or any regulation or order.
It's unlikely that any prosecution would take place given the relatively technical nature of any breach which may have occurred, as well as the arguable difference in the interpretation of s. 47.1. But it's still worth highlighting this as an example of the Cons prioritizing their ability to micromanage over compliance with the law. And that should make us doubly concerned as to what other legal corners are being cut by PMS and company in their drive for power.

No comments:

Post a Comment