Sympathetic though he may be to the plight of Prairie farmers, Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, a Saskatchewan MP, has blocked the government's efforts to force rail companies to compensate producers "adversely affected" by the recent grain transport slowdown.
It was a rare procedural defeat by the government, and a victory for Independent Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber, who lodged a point of order questioning the admissibility of the proposal earlier this month, although the defeat may be short-lived. The House voted later Thursday to try again by sending the bill back to committee.
While not included in the original bill tabled in March aimed at clearing the grain backlog, an amendment to force compensation was added at committee with all-party support.
"The minister of agriculture may believe that this is a favourable amendment, and it may very well be," Rathgeber noted while making his case to the Speaker.
"The problem is that it exceeds the authority of the original bill and provides quite an extraordinary remedy in that it gives the regulator the power to award damages in the absence of any procedural fairness, any rule of law, or any discoveries."
Chair had 'no choice'
In a decision issued earlier Thursday, the speaker agreed.
In his ruling, Scheer noted that he had no difficulty agreeing with the government that the amendment was relevant to the subject matter of the bill.
"Indeed, as a fellow Saskatchewan MP, who represents a large number of grain producers, I can certainly agree on the importance of this issue," he added.
"But as Speaker, not only can I not simply act according to my personal beliefs, I must respect House of Commons precedents which, in the case before us, are only too clear."
Relevance is not the only test to be applied in judging admissibility, he explained.
"As the amendment in question reaches back into the Parent Act to modify a section of the Act originally untouched by the bill as passed at second reading, longstanding practice leaves the chair no choice: the amendment and those consequential to it are inadmissible."
Scheer ordered the offending clauses struck from the text, and the bill reprinted.
'Follow the rules'
"The government must follow the rules of procedure when attempting to amend a bill at committee," Rathgeber told CBC News after the ruling came down.
"To give a regulator compensatory power is an extraordinary measure, and that requires consultation with stakeholders and thorough debate at second reading."
A spokesman for Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz took to Twitter to express his dismay over the decision.
"It is unfortunate that Brent Rathgeber turned a deaf ear to farmers and all shippers by attempting to deprive them of meaningful SLAs," tweeted Jeff English on behalf of the minister, using the @RitzOffice twitter account.
"These Parliamentary games are simply an unfortunate speed bump and won't deter [the government] from amending C-30 to include SLAs with penalties. We look forward to the continued support of the House as we move this important legislation through Parliament."
Ritz: "It is unfortunate that Brent Rathgeber turned a deaf ear to farmers & all shippers by attempting to deprive them of meaningful SLAs.— Jeff English (@RitzOffice) May 1, 2014
Ritz: “These Parliamentary games are simply an unfortunate speed bump & won't deter Gov't from amending C-30 to include SLAs with penalties.— Jeff English (@RitzOffice) May 1, 2014
The House voted later Thursday morning to send the bill back to committee under explicit instructions to restore the original amendment, which likely won't take long, given the support it enjoyed during the first go-round.
Barring scheduling complications, the re-amended bill may be back on the road to the Senate early next week.
Here is the full text of the Speaker's decision: