National Assembly Proceedings
On Saturday, December 7, 2019, at the request of Premier Francois Legault, the Assembly held an extraordinary sitting to introduce an exceptional legislative procedure to conclude consideration of Bill 34, An Act to simplify the process for establishing electricity distribution rates. The bill was passed during the night on the following vote: Yeas 60, Nays 39, Abstentions 0.
Following the by-election held on December 2, 2019 in the electoral division of Jean-Talon, Joelle Boutin, the Coalition Avenir Quebec candidate, was declared elected. As a result, the composition of the National Assembly now stands as follows: 76 Members of the Coalition Avenir Quebec, 28 Members of the Quebec Liberal Party, 10 Members under the Quebec Solidaire banner, 9 Members of the Parti Quebecois and two independent Members.
Since October 1, 2019, the National Assembly has passed 20 bills, of which 14 were government bills, one was a private member's bill, and five were private bills. Notable among them were:
* Bill 2, An Act to tighten the regulation of cannabis;
* Bill 5, An Act to amend the Education Act and other provisions regarding preschool education services for students 4 years of age;
* Bill 17, An Act respecting remunerated passenger transportation by automobile;
* Bill 25, An Act to amend mainly the Firearms Registration Act;
* Bill 33, An Act to amend the Labour Code concerning the maintenance of essential services in public services and in the public and parapublic sectors;
* Bill 38, An Act amending certain Acts establishing public sector pension plans;
* Bill 390, An Act to replace the Act respecting the Amicale des anciens parlementaires du Quebec.
Rulings from the Chair
On November 14, 2019, the President ruled on a matter of privilege raised by the Leader of the Third Opposition Group on October 29, 2019. The matter concerned Hydro-Quebec's submissions to the Regie de l'energie with regard to Bill 34, An Act to simplify the process for establishing electricity distribution rates, within the context of a request to adjust electricity rates for 2020-2021. In the opinion of the Leader of the Third Opposition Group, Hydro-Quebec was in contempt of Parliament in the context of its submissions to the Regie and undermined the authority and dignity of the Assembly in two ways. First, the government corporation allegedly assumed that the bill would be passed and, in a number of communications, described the passage as imminent because of the majority government. Second, it allegedly sought to take advantage of provisions in the bill before they were passed by referring to specific provisions in the bill in making its case.
The news release issued by Hydro-Quebec on October 29, 2019, was published as a reaction to the information provided by an individual about the effects of Bill 34. The text of the news release merely describes the proposals in the bill; it never suggests that the bill had been passed. It therefore simply participates in a debate providing different points of view on the appropriateness of the bill. This is not contempt of Parliament.
The government corporation's other submissions, as reported by the Leader of the Third Opposition Group, were in two letters and Hydro-Quebec's presentation in a case opened by the Regie de l'energie at the request of three associations on establishing electricity rates for the 2020-2021 billing year.
Having read various passages from these documents, the Chair understands that some parliamentarians may have felt some indignation and and perceived a lack of consideration for and discrediting of the importat work they carry out when the Assembly studies a bill. Suggesting that a bill has the force of law when it has not been passed or availing oneself of legislative provisions when they are still being studied may constitute prima facie contempt of Parliament. Moreover, representing the passage of a bill as a fait accompli while completely ignoring the role of parliamentarians could be considered an affront to the dignity or authority of the Assembly and its members.
When examining such a matter, the Chair must consider the circumstances under which the information was communicated because contempt must involve a serious act. The Chair must therefore rigorously analyze the facts and actions surrounding the communication of information before finding prima facie contempt.
In this case, the context of the case before the Regie must be considered. In fact, in its arguments, HydroQuebec also sets out the criteria that the Regie must consider in its analysis of a rate application. These are the timing of the application, whether it is in the public interest and whether it is likely to have a significant effect on those involved.
The passages quoted must therefore be read in the context of a focussed argument on a point of law presented to support a submission to the decisionmakers on an administrative tribunal. Such decisionmakers are in a position to strike a balance between contradictory submissions made to them.
The Chair points out that a bill can have no legal effect until it has passed all stages of the legislative process and has come into force. It was therefore inappropriate to say that Bill 34 set any rates at all. The most that could have been said was that it proposed to set rates. But that statement should still have been accompanied by express mention of the fact that everything was still dependent on a decision by the Assembly.
Only the Assembly is competent to decide how its work shall proceed and when the legislative process comes to an end. To pretend otherwise is disrespectful not only to parliamentarians but also to the public who elected their representatives to perform the important function of enacting legislation. While it is possible that the bill may be passed by the date that HydroQuebec mentions, it is also...