After the approval by the CRTC of a new rate structure for Bell Canada, the respondents had the option to appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal, or to apply to Cabinet to substitute its own decision for the CRTC's decision. The respondents chose this latter option, but Cabinet denied the application without reasons and did not conduct an oral hearing.appealed to the Governor General in Council. Their petitions having been denied, the respondents attacked the decisions of the Governor General in Council alleging that they had not been given a hearing in accordance with the principles of natural justice amounting to a breach of common law procedural fairness. At the Trial Division, the judge struck out the statement of claim finding there was no reasonable cause of action, which was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal. The Crown appealed this decision to the Supreme Court.
- Does the general common law duty of fairness apply to discretionary statutory powers?
Estey, writing for a unanimous court, finds that there is nothing in the discretionary section of the statute that qualifies Cabinet's authority to make any decision that it chooses, either procedurally or substantially. Therefore, as Parliament clearly spoke by granting Cabinet such discretionary powers, there are no procedural requirements. He holds that the only governing principle here is that Cabinet must act within the discretion given to it by Parliament - in this case, unlimited discretion.
It is clear, then, that the common law duty of fairness does not apply in every case. It is always a question of interpreting the statute to determine whether the legislator intended it to apply. Particularly, where an administrative decision maker has been granted authority to perform a function that was previously carried out by the legislature, procedural fairness is not implied. In cases like this, the courts must only act to ensure that Cabinet acts within its constitutional and statutory mandates.
- The common law general duty of fairness is not always implied when the statute is silent on procedural rights.
- In particular, the common law duty of fairness does not apply to broad, open-ended discretionary powers given to administrative decision makers that were once carried out by the legislatures.
- The common law duty of fairness does not apply to "legislative" decisions, or decisions of a general policy nature.