That this House reaffirm all of its well-established privileges and immunities, especially with regard to freedom of speech;
that, in order to clarify and assure those privileges, Section 3(3) of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, which is Appendix I to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, is amended by deleting the word “or” at the end of paragraph (b) and by adding the following after paragraph (b):
“(b.1) consists of being a party to a legal action relating to actions of the Member as a Member of Parliament; or”;
that, pursuant to section 28(13) of the Conflict of Interest Code, the House refer the Thibault Inquiry Report back to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for reconsideration in the light of the amendment to the Code; and
that the House affirm its confidence in the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
He said: Mr. Speaker, this is an issue that has been kicking around here for two or three months. The wording of the motion might make it seem like it is a trivial or technical thing, and it might even be seen as a little unconventional to make such a matter the subject of what we call an opposition day or a supply motion, but I and many others in the House believe this issue to be a fundamentally very important one because it has to do with my ability and the ability of all colleagues in the House to get up right now, to get up at any point in time, to do our jobs as members of Parliament.
It goes right to the core of what this place does as a place of debate, what members of Parliament do as they carry on their work of debating on public issues in the House, at committee, and actually in the constituency, out in the street.
Since parliaments began, the world has changed over that huge period of time. We now have another world of media: communications, television and text messaging all going on. The world is, of course, much bigger than what is here in our House.
There was a time not that long ago when just above us, just above where you are, Mr. Speaker, the media used to sit. We called them the press. Their benches are still there and their job was to report to Canadians on what we did in this House.
A lot has changed. The press actually do not sit there very much anymore because they can watch what we do on television. They make use of the communication facilities of the House. Indeed, by special arrangement and by special constitutional arrangements, what they do is quite special to us in the House.
We even let the media control a piece of our parliamentary precinct. The Canadian media control the press theatre downstairs. It is under their control and not the control of the political parties or the Speaker or the House, and there is a written agreement to that effect.
The point I am making here is that in the world of communications and what we do as members of Parliament, it is more than just what we say in the House. What we use to just do in the House has now moved out into the scrum area and out into the electronic universe.
Just for the record, I feel, and most members will feel, that we have to read some statement of the principle we rely on here, and I am going to read one. It is from the 1977 first report of the special committee on the rights and immunities of members of Parliament:
By far, the most important right accorded to Members of the House is the exercise of freedom of speech in parliamentary proceedings. It has been described as...a fundamental right without which they [Members of Parliament] would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents.
That refers to what is said in the House and by extension in committees. It does not necessarily, and technically perhaps, govern what is said outside the House and committees. What we are dealing with today is what is said or not said in the House and at committees.
The motion that is before us here today does not deal with communications outside the House and committees. The rules governing those communications are still out there. What we are talking about is the freedom of a member to speak freely and vote in the House of Commons.
The sequence of these events started about 20 or 25 years ago. Some lobbying went on, which has been generally spoken to and described in two separate files. One file is the airbus file and the other file is the Thyssen or Bear Head file, which are separate files but in some ways linked.
With a lot of lobbying going on 20 years or so ago, some money was moved around. The question that has come up now is whether the rules we had then were appropriate to guide public officers in either receiving, not receiving or managing those types of issues involving lobbyists.
The Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics embarked on a study and did not do too bad a job. It reported to the House. It is not that all issues have been cleared up but a number of public issues were raised in that whole sequence.
In the context of that, one of the members of that committee said something outside the House, to which a witness at that committee study, a former prime minister, took objection and commenced a lawsuit. That was a slander action and it is still out there. It was not directly connected to what we do in the House at all, at least we did not think it was.
I have another set of facts that are on a collision course now. Those facts include the decision of the House to adopt rules of conduct and a Conflict of Interest Code, which was a good step forward. The code is in place and we now have an Ethics Commissioner who assists us in the interpretation and enforcement of that code. It has worked quite well so far but my recollection is that when the code was put in place it moved fairly quickly. It involved a complex set of issues.
Most members are quite happy and proud that we now have an Ethics Commissioner and a code. However, these two facts now collide when they are taken up by the Ethics Commissioner in dealing with a complaint about the member who made the alleged slanderous remarks. She, quite professionally, looked at the code and tried to figure out whether the member has some duty or obligation in the House as a result of what happened outside the House.
Inside the House, the commissioner points out that section 3 of our Conflict of Interest Code has a provision that says that members may not further their private interests inside the House but that outside the House they can do whatever they want. However, as members of Parliament, we are bound not to further our private interests in what we do in this place and at committee.
In defining a private interest, the Ethics Commissioner looked at subsection (3)(2)(b) of the Conflict of Interest Code which states that a private interest would include “the extinguishment, or reduction in the amount, of the person’s liabilities”. That is all well enough.
We have the member for , who is being sued outside the House. Does he have a private interest? The Ethics Commissioner decided that, on the face of it, it was not clear that a lawsuit outside the House was a liability so she decided that she would include in the definition of liability the term “contingent liability”.
The Ethics Commissioner included the words “contingent liability” in our set of definitions because those words are included in Black's Law Dictionary, not because we put it in our code, and that therefore the contingent liability she would focus on is potential liability, not contingent liability, in my view, that might be there in this lawsuit.
Therefore, because the member is subject to a lawsuit that might produce a judgment, which, in the view of the commissioner, could constitute a contingent liability, it would then fall within the rule that says that we should not further a private interest. She believes the member could further his private interest, this contingent liability, this potential liability in the lawsuit, by something he might do or not do in voting or speaking in the House. That takes us right to the core of the principle here today. It was her view that this set of circumstances must, by our rule, abridge the member's right to free speech in the House and at committee, not only the right to speak but the right to vote.
We have this interpretation that comes in through the back door. It certainly was an unintended result. I cannot recall anyone around here envisaging this back door route in interpretation to secure the logic that brought us to the point that would abridge, curtail, prevent the member from voting or speaking on this particular set of issues in the House of Commons or at committee. As I have said previously, that is intolerable.
The member for is, under our Constitution, completely free and unfettered to say whatever he wants outside the House in the media, in the scrum, in his riding, in his house, in his town council and everywhere else out there. However, inside the House, according to our Ethics Commissioner, he cannot speak freely.
This House is the one place in the whole country that is supposed to have, by constitutional root going back hundreds of years, the total, unabridged right of free speech for members but somehow we have ended up in a situation where the member has had that right taken away. If he follows the guidance and decision of the Ethics Commissioner, he has broken the rule and, therefore, may not speak and may not vote on those issues.
I submit that was a totally unintended result caused by what I call this back door, circuitous interpretation of the rules. I am not saying that the Ethics Commissioner made a huge mistake. She made a fairly mechanical interpretation of the rules. It was a little bit like a law school exercise. a syllogism made two plus two equals four, and she reached the conclusion, but did she miss the big one. She missed the fundamental constitutional right of free speech for everyone who serves in this place.
By coincidence, when we adopted the Parliament of Canada Act quite a few years ago, like 140 years ago, section 5 says that the privileges we have in this place are so fundamental that outside in the real world no one has to plead them to the court because all the courts in the country are, by statute, obligated to take notice in courts judicial notice of these privileges. They are very fundamental but most of the time we take them for granted which maybe we should not.
However, in this case the Ethics Commissioner somehow missed it. Maybe we should have listed our privileges a little more clearly in the Code of Conduct but we took it for granted and did not bother, so she did not interpret it. She read in Black's Law Dictionary the definition of “contingent liability” but she did not read our fundamental rights and privileges in this place. She never got there. In a sense I am saying that she should have but I must forgive her because when we wrote the rules we wrote them in a certain way that took a lot of things for granted. In fact, we may have written the rules a little too quickly but we wrote them and it was for a good purpose.
Where do we go from here? We need to assist the Ethics Commissioner to clarify the ruling and to fix our rules. It has created what people call a kind of libel chill.
I asked a week or two ago what would happen if someone decided to sue every member in the New Democratic Party or the Bloc Québécois caucuses for something allegedly mean and nasty they were doing or had said. Would that prevent every member of the caucus having a contingent liability under these rules and this interpretation from speaking or voting on something in the House? According to the Ethics Commissioner, it would if we take the literal interpretation of her ruling. There is no other conclusion one can draw.
We need to clarify the rule. As I do that, I need to address the context in the House. We are working in a minority Parliament and most of us will agree that the debate and the exchanges in the House have been rather testy, excessively partisan and maybe less than the standard we would want to use back in our ridings. In fact, most of us get along pretty well with other MPs back in our ridings. In the House, however, it is not working too well. I am urging members, in dealing with this motion, to try to put the partisanship aside.
One has to accept that it would be natural for a political party with a political stance, in dealing with something coming from another party in debate, to want to use whatever rule or device it could to repress, knock off, set aside or defend against whatever is being alleged and said. That happens in debate.
It is possible that some members may say that the ethics rule is good because it prevents those guys from saying those things. Many may say that we should let the Ethics Commissioner's ruling be the device to prevent that person or those people from saying those things because we do not like what they say. I urge members on both sides to take a step back and look at the broader picture.
I know we have all heard the adage “I don't like what that person is saying but I will defend unto death the person's right to say it”. That adage has been around so long I do not even know who originally said it. I am not offering death at this point. I am offering nothing more than our fundamental right in this place, which is that we have the right to say it in this place, though not necessarily out there.
The lawsuits can go fast and furious out there but in this place and in committees there is an absolute unfettered right to say it. I am urging members on both sides of the House to consider this objectively and to affirm the fundamental right we have to debate, speak and uphold the constitutional traditions and conventions that we have always had and which have now been, arguably, impaired by this ruling. We need to fix the rules and get the member for West Nova back on his feet on all issues.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in respect to the debate on the motion that has been raised by the member for .
I believe that the motion would reaffirm our privileges and immunities. It would amend the conflict of interest code for members of the House of Commons. It would refer the report of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner concerning the member forback to the commissioner for reconsideration. The motion would affirm the confidence of the House in the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
My concern with respect to the motion is the amendment of the conflict of interest code. I really do object to the process which the member has chosen to take place in the House with respect to his attempt to change the conflict of interest code. I am concerned that members will not have had adequate time to consider whether the proposed change is necessary and whether it has been properly drafted.
The conflict of interest code has been the subject of careful review by parliamentarians dating back over 35 years when the Trudeau government tabled a green paper on this subject in 1973. Since then, parliamentarians have studied numerous initiatives to develop a code of conduct.
For example, in 1978 the Trudeau government introduced the independence of Parliament act. In 1988 the Mulroney government introduced the members of the Senate and House of Commons conflict of interest act. In 1993 the Mulroney government introduced the conflict of interest and public office-holders act.
In 1995 a special joint committee chaired by the current Speaker and by Senator Oliver was established to develop a code of conduct. The special joint committee recommended a code of conduct for parliamentarians in its 1997 report.
The Chrétien government tabled a draft code for parliamentarians in 2002 based on the joint committee's 1997 report. This draft code was referred to the procedure committee through a careful study by parliamentarians.
The procedure committee examined the code and held extensive consultations with members of Parliament. The committee tabled a report with a code which reflected the comments of the members of the committee as well as input from members of the House.
In its report, the procedure and House affairs committee stated:
The result of our consultations and intensive study is, we believe, a document in which all Members of the House can have confidence. We are convinced that it is a very credible step forward in the self-regulation of this House.
This report was adopted in 2004 and forms the basis for today's conflict of interest code.
The reason that I have gone through this brief history lesson is to remind members that the drafting of the code involved careful consideration and consultation by members over a great number of years. Its provisions should not be taken lightly. The code needs to be effective to ensure Canadians have the highest level of confidence in Parliament and its members. At the same time, care must be taken to ensure that the code does not unduly restrict the privileges of members of the House.
Given the importance of the code, it is not surprising that extensive deliberations took place by parliamentarians before the code was finalized. It therefore follows that changes to the code should not be done in haste without any proper consideration or consultations.
Even minor changes can have unforeseen consequences. Given the implications the code may have for members of Parliament, any changes should be carefully considered before it is adopted by the House.
Instead, the member for is proposing that a change be made to the code after only a few hours of debate in the House. In my view, it would be more appropriate for the procedure and House affairs committee to hear from experts on this issue, including the Ethics Commissioner herself.
One of the issues that I think should be explored by the procedure committee is whether the proposed change achieves the member's objectives. For example, the proposed amendment refers to “actions of the member as a member of Parliament”. This begs the question, what are the actions of a member as a member of Parliament?
I do not believe that the member for intends to refer to proceedings in Parliament, as parliamentary privilege adequately protects members of Parliament in this regard. For example, a member cannot be subject to a lawsuit for his or her statements in the House or in committee. He said that. I must therefore conclude that the member for Scarborough—Rouge River is referring to actions by members of Parliament outside the House.
What actions outside the House constitute actions as a member of Parliament? How do we distinguish between the actions of a member of Parliament as a private citizen versus actions as a member of Parliament? What statements that members of Parliament make to the media constitute actions as a member of Parliament?
In this regard, it is not clear whether this amendment would actually achieve the objectives the member for is seeking. In the case of the member for , the lawsuit that he faces is a result of statements that he made to the media outside the House. It is not clear to me that the member for West Nova was acting as a member of Parliament in making those statements to the media as any activity outside the House is not a parliamentary proceedings. There is a distinguishing factor.
In fact, very little of the functions of a member of Parliament outside the House or committee can be considered a parliamentary function. For example, in the second edition of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, Joseph Maingot states at page 84:
A clear distinction should be drawn between those things a Member does in the exercise of his capacity as a Member, only one of which is to take part in a “proceeding in Parliament,” and those he does because he is a Member: the latter are much wider and are not necessarily protected.
He further states at page 102:
The uttering of slanderous words by a Member of Parliament to a journalist outside the floor of the House is not protected by absolute privilege.
It will be ultimately up to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to interpret the proposed change. We cannot predict how she would apply this provision. On the other hand, the procedure committee would have to have been able to ask the commissioner's view on this change and receive her advice of what changes, if any, should be made to the code.
Instead, members are being asked to make a change to the code today without the benefit of such consultation. I would also note that the member for put forward at the ethics committee different wording to change the Conflict of Interest Code.
In his motion at the ethics committee he made reference to excluding, as a private interest under the code, being named as a defendant in a lawsuit regarding a matter then before Parliament or a committee of Parliament. That was, at least, a lot more precise than the motion before the House today.
The motion before us would exclude where a member is a party to a legal action. This could include a situation where a member has commenced the lawsuit as a plaintiff, and plaintiffs of course are parties to a lawsuit. Therefore, this would allow a member to commence an action in the courts and then be allowed to participate in parliamentary proceedings dealing with the subject of the suit and be allowed to participate in those proceedings and use them to advance the member's court case, and even intimidate the party the member was suing.
This shows the need for this matter to be studied much more closely by us as parliamentarians and not dealt with as a result of a hasty, short, one day debate. This also demonstrates there are alternative ways to accept to change the code, if that is necessary, and it would be appropriate to have the procedure committee examine these issues more carefully.
Members may respond by arguing that the procedure committee is not currently meeting and that therefore, today's opposition motion is the only way for the House to respond to the ethics committee's report. However, the procedure and House affairs committee is not meeting because of the tyranny of the majority of that committee which overturned a sound reading by the chair and ultimately removed the chair from his position. This is an example of the situation that the Speaker referred to on March 14 when he stated, “committees have found themselves in situations that verge on anarchy”.
I agree that we need to find a solution to the impasse at the procedure and House affairs committee and I believe that the solution is simple. When the chairs of the committee make a sound procedural ruling that is supported by the clerk of the committee, the committee has to uphold and respect that ruling. All members of Parliament should follow the rules and respect the Standing Orders.
If members think that the ethics committee's report is of urgent importance, then they should agree to work constructively in committee and respect the rules of Parliament. In that way the procedure committee can review the Ethics Commissioner's report and recommend any action it deems necessary.
This is not the first time the opposition has tried to circumvent our normal procedures to implement a change that has not been properly thought out to the Conflict of Interest Code. For example, opposition members on the access to information, privacy and ethics committee tried to ignore the Standing Orders by tabling a report recommending a change to the code. The Speaker rightly ruled the report was out of order as it was clearly beyond the mandate of that committee.
The member for has also raised a question of privilege on this issue but has chosen to move forward with his motion without waiting for a ruling by the Speaker. The Speaker noted on May 15, “In my view, there are other mechanisms available to debate and resolve the matter at hand”. In this respect, I would remind all members that section 28(10) of the code allows a member to move a motion to concur in the report. I note that the member for already has a motion on the order paper pursuant to this section. Presumably then, the House could amend the motion to express its opinion on the Ethics Commissioner's report.
In addition, section 28(13) of the code makes provision for the House to refer the ethics committee's report back to the commissioner for further consideration with instructions. Since the Conflict of Interest Act already contains provisions that allow the House to respond to the commissioner's report, I believe it is misguided to change the Conflict of Interest Code at this time.
I would also note that it is not an urgent need to make quick changes to the code. In her report, the commissioner states:
Concerns have been raised about the use of lawsuits, more particularly libel suits, to prevent a Member from performing his or her duties in the House of Commons. I cannot predict whether this may indeed become a problem and I hope it does not.
By stating she cannot predict whether this may become a problem in the future, the commissioner is implying that the use of lawsuits is currently not a problem or a significant barrier to the ability of members to perform their duties in the House.
I would also note that members of Parliament have legal remedies to respond to lawsuits. If a member feels that a lawsuit is frivolous or vexatious, they can ask the court to dismiss the case. The court has a wide range of remedies it can apply, including, most important, dismissal of the case, plus possible damage costs awarded, which would result even in disciplinary action against any lawyer who is acting for a party commencing in such a frivolous or vexatious lawsuit against a member, especially if it was motivated to interfere with a member of Parliament's duties and privileges.
However, the court is the best place to make that determination. If the court finds that a lawsuit is valid, members should not be able to use their parliamentary privilege to advance their legal position. There is therefore no compelling need to make immediate changes to the code. Instead, it would be worthwhile to have the procedure committee examine the issue to determine whether there is a problem that needs to be fixed, and if so, how to remedy the situation.
In fact, when the code was first adopted, the procedure committee recognized the need to periodically review the code's effectiveness. The committee report stated:
We realize that any document such as the proposed Code is, in effect, a work in progress. We fully expect that time and experience will indicate where changes need to be made, and we have provided for both ongoing oversight by this Committee, and a comprehensive review of its provisions and operations every five years.
Section 33 of the code, therefore, requires the procedure and House affairs committee to undertake a comprehensive review of its provisions and operations within five years after its coming into force. The code came into force at the beginning of the 38th Parliament on October 4, 2004, and therefore, a comprehensive review of the code is mandated to take place by October 2009. This would be an appropriate opportunity for the procedure committee to examine the implications of the commissioner's recent report.
I will sum up by saying that the Conflict of Interest Code was developed in a non-partisan fashion with the consensus of all parties. Given the importance of the code, parliamentarians undertook years of careful scrutiny and consultations before finalizing these measures. When tabling a draft code of conduct, former deputy prime minister John Manley stated in the House on October 23, 2002:
A code for members must be non-partisan and must serve all members in all parties. The Milliken-Oliver code, on which this document is based, was prepared by an all party committee.
He also went on to state:
The Prime Minister has stated that the government is open to considering changes which maintain an effective code and serve the interests of members and their constituents. That is why we have tabled these documents in a draft form to give the committee flexibility on these matters.
I am pleased to work the committee and all parliamentarians on these important matters.
The member for was a member of the government that recognized the need to engage parliamentarians and build consensus in the development of the Conflict of Interest Code, so I wonder why today the opposition has changed its approach on these issues.
Given that other avenues exist to respond to the Ethics Commissioner's report, and given that there is no clear need to take any immediate action, I do not understand why the opposition members would want to use one of their few opposition days on this subject. I also do not understand why the opposition would not agree to let the procedure committee work within the Standing Orders of the House of Commons so that the Ethics Commissioner's report can be properly considered.
Instead of making changes that have not been properly thought out, I would ask members to oppose this motion and allow the procedure committee to do its work in accordance with the Standing Orders.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion on this Liberal opposition day.
First of all, I would like to inform my Liberal colleagues that the Bloc Québécois will support this motion.
I listened to the last speaker from the Conservative Party, the member for , who spoke of the tyranny of the majority and who referred a number of times to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am the vice-chair. As members know, the work of this committee has been stalled. As there is no chair, the committee cannot meet. That is not the purpose of my speech, but if I have enough time at the end, I will be able to correct the nonsense being spouted by the Conservative member.
The motion moved today by the Liberal Party deals with something that is at the heart of our work as parliamentarians. We are talking about parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege derives from British parliamentary law, which serves as our reference, since this Parliament was inspired by Britain's, as was the Parliament of each province, including the Quebec National Assembly.
Over the centuries, parliamentary privilege has had to be protected repeatedly from attacks by courts, by members and by various lobby groups that did not agree that members should enjoy parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary privilege is vital, however, because if we as members have no parliamentary privilege, we could find ourselves at the mercy of any sort of interference. We could be deprived of our right to speak, our freedom of speech and our freedom to move within the parliamentary precinct without threat or aggression.
I have had occasion in the past to invoke my parliamentary privilege. A few years ago, I was the Bloc Québécois transport critic when we were looking at the merger between Air Canada and Canadian Airlines. At the end of the transport committee hearings, I had slightly rattled one witness, Mr. Schwartz, who wanted to proceed with the merger of Air Canada and Canadian Airlines, which could have meant moving Air Canada's headquarters, which is in Montreal—which suited the Bloc Québécois. Fortunately, as things turned out, Canadian Airlines was absorbed into Air Canada and not the reverse. We had had a fairly forceful, but polite exchange.
Mr. Speaker, you know my style. I am a model of patience and civility in this House. If everyone were as even-tempered as I am, things would probably go much better.
When the hearings ended, a lobbyist for Canadian Airlines started berating me. He began challenging the way I had questioned Gerald Schwartz, who had a stake in Canadian Airlines. I have to say that that lobbyist for Canadian Airlines found out what parliamentary privilege was all about. I went to see the committee chair and the sergeant-at-arms, who was then Mr. Cloutier. The lobbyist was denied access to the parliamentary precinct, the Centre Block, where the committee met. He was prevented from attending any more meetings, because he had acted to constrain a parliamentarian.
When I speak here, no one can stop me unless I say something that is out of order or contrary to public policy. As a parliamentarian—just like each and every one of us—I have the right to express myself freely.
I want to turn my attention from the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities and come back to what the hon. member for did. He expressed himself, but by all accounts, some people did not like what he said. Allow me to put this into context: he made comments on Mike Duffy's program, probably here in the foyer of the House.
Nevertheless, the purpose of the action taken by the Conservative member who spoke earlier was obviously to deny the hon. member for his parliamentary privilege. We cannot accept that no matter who it comes from or which side of the table it comes from. I am not a fan of the hon. member for West Nova or of any member of the Liberal Party, but I am a democrat and I respect these hon. members because they were democratically elected.
I ask them to accept me as well for the same reason. No one at home voted at gunpoint. I have been elected five times because the people in my riding decided they wanted me to speak on their behalf in this chamber. That is the case for the hon. member for as well.
The Conservative Party's tactic of muzzling an hon. member because his comments did not please the party is dangerous for society. Is that the kind of Canada Canadians want? Is that the kind of Quebec we want? No, we want parliamentarians to be able to express themselves.
I know—and it must be recognized—that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner sided with the Conservative member. To ignore that would be to change the facts and try to hide things. Nonetheless, with all due respect to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Ms. Dawson, that was a bad decision. She made a mistake, hence this opposition day and this motion that we will pass this evening, if the three opposition parties stick together.
I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the tyranny of the majority the hon. member mentioned. He should realize that in January 2006, the public, the electors and constituents of Canada and Quebec decided—we did not decide this individually—that the next government would be a minority government.
I encountered the minority government of the hon. member for in 2004. Again, the Liberals have a past, too. I do not want to defend the Liberals, but from 2004 to 2006, they stood up and formed a minority government.
With all due respect, although we are halfway through 2008, the Conservative Party still has not understood this. In reality, the Conservatives cannot do whatever they please, since the opposition has the majority. The leader of the Conservative Party, the , appointed Conservative ministers. That is democracy. That party must realize that it forms a minority government and it therefore cannot do as it pleases.
Incidentally, people from my riding are quite happy the Conservatives do not have a majority. What would happen if they did? It would be a step in the wrong direction.
Opposition members presented a resolution to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics and that resolution was passed. The Conservatives, however, opposed it. They raised a point of order in the House and, because of a technicality, the Speaker of the House found in their favour. Nevertheless, the substance of the issue remains.
What is the Conservative Party's main characteristic? As a government, it seeks to muzzle everyone. That is why I am very happy that we have guardians and protectors who challenge the Conservatives' desire to muzzle anyone who does not agree with their philosophy or think like they do.
Ask the people in the press gallery if they feel muzzled. The said he would answer questions during scrums if the questions were provided beforehand. He needs to wake up. That is not how it works. Reporters should be able to do their jobs without that kind of pressure. I have never been a reporter, so I do not know what it is like. I answer their questions from time to time, but I do not ask them to notify me of their questions in advance. What is going on? It has never been like this before.
Ask parliamentary reporters if they feel muzzled. Ask various women's groups, which this government neither listens to nor respects, if they feel muzzled. Ask minority groups. Ask francophones outside of Quebec and other minority groups that can no longer get funding through the court challenges program. Ask them if they feel muzzled.
This lawsuit and all of the actions related to it show, once again, that the government, not content with having muzzled certain social groups, is now trying to muzzle the opposition.
Let us not forget that in the wake of the Cadman affair, the threatened to take the Liberal Party, or rather, its leader, deputy leader and House leader, to court. In the end, he chose to take the party to court. Once again, he showed that he is out to gag the opposition.
My time is running out, and I want to save a few minutes for questions. For all of these reasons, I repeat that the Bloc Québécois will support the motion.
We should think twice before agreeing among ourselves to scale back our parliamentary privileges. Parliamentary privilege guarantees every member's freedom of speech regardless of affiliation, regardless of belonging to a political party, regardless of personal values. The 308 people who were elected to be here are all legitimate. We should think twice before defeating this important motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to enter in to this important debate. It is important to pause in the regular order of business and take one step back to make sure that the fundamental ground rules are in place so that we can do our ordinary order of business more properly.
We are faced with a situation where one of our colleagues, specifically, but all of us, generally, may be precluded from doing our job to the best of our ability and living up to our obligations due to the ruling made by the Ethics Commissioner dealing with our colleague from in the context of the Mulroney-Schreiber airbus inquiry.
The motion put forward today contains four points. It is quite thorough and comprehensive and quite well crafted in that way. It begins with a categorical statement of which we should all take note:
That this House reaffirm all of its well-established privileges and immunities, especially with regard to freedom of speech;--
My colleague from walked us through some of the history of how we arrived at that and how necessary that notion is for Parliament. In fact, he traced its history back to 1689 and the original Bill of Rights in the UK, which forms a part of our Canadian Constitution.
The second item in this comprehensive opposition day motion states:
that, in order to clarify and assure those privileges, Section 3(3) of the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, which is Appendix I to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons, is amended by deleting the word “or” at the end of paragraph (b) and by adding the following after paragraph (b):
I will paraphrase the paragraph. It should be made abundantly clear in the Standing Orders, that govern the conduct of members of Parliament, that members are not in a conflict of interest just because they are engaged in a lawsuit or a lawsuit has been filed against them. That in and of itself does not automatically put members in a position of conflict. That is the important amendment that we have to contemplate here today.
I will deal with these points one at a time after I have introduced them.
The paragraph goes on to say that the House should refer the Thibault inquiry report back to the Ethics Commissioner for reconsideration in light of the recommended change to the conflict of interest guidelines in the previous paragraph.
Finally, and important to note, the opposition day motion we are dealing with today states:
that the House affirm its confidence in the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
In other words, nothing that we are saying today in the context of this debate is to be viewed as a statement of non confidence in the Ethics Commissioner.
Most of us would agree that the Ethics Commissioner made the only ruling that she could given the current language of the Conflict of Interest Code which forms part of the Standing Orders of the House. She herself realized that her ruling may be cause for great concern.
I should begin my analysis of the opposition day motion perhaps with her final observation on the last page of the report. Ms. Dawson said:
Concerns have been raised about the use of lawsuits, more particularly libel suits, to prevent a Member from performing his or her duties in the House of Commons. I cannot predict whether this may indeed become a problem and I hope it does not. Should this become a serious concern for Members, however, the Code could be adjusted to except libel suits from the ambit of “private interest” for the purposes of sections 8 and 13. Such a step would not appear to be necessary, in any event, in relation to disclosures under section 12.
Clearly, she contemplates that her ruling, accurate as it may be, may alert members of the House of Commons that the Conflict of Interest Code may have the inadvertent effect of interfering with their privileges to speak freely in the House of Commons on issues that concern them.
Let us take a step back then, as I explain the NDP's view of this whole situation.
I should tell members at the outset that I am the vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics, and my colleague, the member for , is the other vice-chair of the committee.
This whole inquiry by the Ethics Commissioner stems from a complaint that he filed dealing with whether or not the member for should be barred from questioning our witnesses in the Mulroney-Schreiber affair on the basis that there was, in fact, a lawsuit filed by Brian Mulroney, suing Mr. Thibault for comments he made outside the House and outside of the parliamentary committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry. I was trying very hard not to use personal names. At least it shows that you are listening to my speech, so I am flattered in a sense that you could correct me that way.
The member for was accused of making libellous comments about former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He had in fact sued him.
What happened at the committee, Madam Dawson puts in her inquiry report that she tabled with the House of Commons, and the words of the member for I think are useful to us. As soon as my colleague from , the other vice-chair of the committee, raised a point of order saying that perhaps the member for West Nova should not be allowed to take part in this study because of the potential conflict of interest, the immediate gut reaction of the member for West Nova, with no research, matched exactly what my gut reaction was. He said:
As to the alleged, supposed, proposed...legal action, [which he said he had no knowledge of at that time] against a member of the committee....it wouldn't be very long before we would have 308 lawsuits in this House of Commons against everybody for minor matters, dilatory matters, to try to remove members of Parliament from being able to debate questions of interest where it would serve somebody out in society better to have them not participate.
That sums it all up. I do not need to make a 20 minute speech to explain what is potentially disastrous about the current state of affairs.
I used as an example in my comments about this that I have said some strong things about the pharmaceutical industry. I have alleged that it fixes prices and charges the public way too much for products where the industry does not really have to and that the drug patent price protections gouge Canadians.
Those are pretty strong words. I do not think they are libellous. They do not have to be libellous. Big pharma could file a statement of claim saying that I said something libellous and under these rules I would not be able to talk about big pharma again until that lawsuit was settled. That would put me at a terrible disadvantage. If big pharma was called to the health committee to talk about the drug patent laws, I would not be able to ask questions about it, even though it is a very particular interest of mine. Big pharma would have effectively silenced one of its annoying critics by simply filing that lawsuit. Even if it knew full well that it would lose the lawsuit two years later, it would have shut me up. It would have effectively put a gag order on me if we follow the strict and literal interpretation of what happened in the case of my colleague from . We cannot allow that to happen.
Some of the points made by my colleague from seem reasonable. We should be having this debate. I disagree with him that the process is flawed. He says that this is not the place to debate such a serious change to the Conflict of Interest Code. This is exactly the place. In fact if we farmed it off to a small minor subcommittee of Parliament, like procedure and House affairs, it would not be in the full context of all of Parliament debating these rules. It would be that narrow representation on a dysfunctional committee that has not sat for months. This is exactly the place in which we should be having this debate and raising the cautionary tale that is triggered by Madam Dawson's ruling.
I am speaking on behalf of my colleague from because he is not allowed to. We should make that clear. He would be making this speech today if he were not barred by this gag order. If Brian Mulroney and his lawyers had not effectively silenced my colleague from West Nova, he would be making this speech, not me, and we would not have to speak on his behalf.
Out of the esteem for my colleague, I am going to quote him a lot on Madam Dawson's report. The member for said:
So in the interest of democracy, Mr. Chairman, and of parliamentary tradition, I hope you have a serious look at this preposterous suggestion by [the member for Dufferin--Caledon].
The second question I ask is, how could [the member for Dufferin--Caledon] possibly be aware of a legal action that I'm not aware of?
In other words, even before a person is served with papers that he or she is being sued, apparently the person is barred from talking about that issue. If the statement of claim had just been filed at the courthouse even before the person was notified, apparently the person is barred from talking about it.
The member for said, “he does, with due respect to the member for , have a pecuniary interest. He is being sued for a lot of money”. Again, the member for was not aware of this yet. Somehow Brian Mulroney told the member for before he told the member for West Nova. The member for said:
That's called pecuniary interest. And it is in his personal interest that the plaintiff in that particular action look badly. I don't think he should have the right to vote in this committee, nor should he have the right to vote in Parliament.
The member for is recommending that the member for not only be silenced, but he be stripped of his right to vote on these issues as well. That speaks to the very heart and soul of a member's parliamentary privilege. If there is ever any doubt that there is overlap here in terms of parliamentary privilege, there certainly is in the mind of my colleague who initiated this whole complaint.
There is a time honoured tradition among activists. I consider myself an activist. As a trade union leader, I have been on a lot of picket lines and I have demonstrated on a lot of issues. There is a time honoured tradition in the corporate world called the SLAPP suit. If somebody is annoying someone else, let us say if Greenpeace is annoying Exxon, one way to slow down one's critics is to file a slap suit. Usually the big corporate entity has a lot better ability to withstand a prolonged legal battle than does the small citizens activist group.
The SLAPP suit has been an effective means ever since the ban the bomb movement in the late 1950s and the 1960s. If we are being too effective and we are starting to press a nerve in the corporate world, we might get our butts sued even though we know full well we are in the right and the corporate world is in the wrong. The corporate world can drag it out for year after year in the courts, and will exhaust our resources. It will effectively silence us, or it will at least handicap and hobble us.
That is what is happening here today. This is the most litigious government probably in the history of Canada. I have never heard of so many lawsuits in the course of one minority Parliament. There is a case where the government is suing the . I have noticed that the leader of the official opposition does not ask questions directly on the Cadman issue any more, even though it is a matter that the Liberal Party feels is critically vital and a matter that should be raised in the public. I presume that is the reason the leader of the official opposition stays away from that subject, because there is a lawsuit pending. Again it stems from this reasoning.
The government could do that with every annoying issue. It can and it would. I predict, as I said before, there would be lawsuits flying back and forth across this place so frequently we would think we were in a snowstorm.
The first step the Ethics Commissioner does is consult with the parties and gets their statements from them. Again, on behalf of the , I will argue his case in his words. He wrote in a letter to the Ethics Commissioner:
It is, indeed, preposterous to suggest that a legal action--whether real or merely threatened--against a Member about a very public issue automatically makes that issue one of potential private loss or gain under the Code, thereby silencing the Member with regard to that public issue.This would mean that any citizen wishing to silence any Member of Parliament need only engage a publicity agent to announce that he is commencing legal action against the Member. In conclusion, I believe [the member for Dufferin—Caledon's] position of to be a perversion of the Code, which is not and was never intended to be a vehicle for attempted gagging or intimidation of Members of Parliament.
I agree that is a perversity. It is an interpretation of the code that was never intended. We have stumbled across it now, and it is incumbent on us to deal with it now, to fix it, to correct it. I compliment my colleagues of the Liberal Party for choosing to use their opposition day motion to get this issue on the floor of the House of Commons.
We cannot allow this to continue, or I am going to get sued next, or my colleague, the member for . He is fairly outspoken and has many strongly held views on many subjects. I have no doubt he will get his butt sued sooner or later in an attempt to stop him from talking and to silence him.
It is a complex opposition day motion. It has four separate elements to it, two of which are not action oriented and two that are. One is that the House affirms its confidence in the Ethics Commissioner and that the House reaffirms all of the well-established privileges and immunities, especially with regard to freedom of speech. Those two, I suppose there can be no disagreement on. All members of Parliament know that we cannot operate without those basic rights.
I do not understand why my colleague from is alleging there are two classes of people in the country if members of Parliament have privileges that members of the public do not. There are very sound and established reasons that members of Parliament have a so-called super freedom of speech. There are checks and balances in place as well in that what a member says here cannot be used anywhere else anyway.
For my colleague to say that the member for would have had an advantage over the other player in the court action by having the ability to speak about that court action in the standing committee is kind of bogus, because whatever he says at that standing committee cannot be used in any other subsequent proceeding. It did not exist for all intents and purposes. When and if that libel action goes to court, the judge will rule on the evidence presented in the courtroom, not on what was said at a parliamentary committee, because any good lawyer would stand up and say that it is inadmissible. What the member said at the standing committee to the other player in that court action would be of no use and no value.
Whatever seems to be a special privilege is offset by a corresponding limitation. In other words, that is one of the reasons a witness at a standing committee does not have the right to remain silent. The reason is self-evident, but the safeguard, the check and balance, is that the person has to answer the question, but what he or she says cannot be used against him or her in any subsequent court proceeding. In fact, it is even fruit of the tainted tree in terms of evidence. Whoever wanted to charge one with that issue would have to find some independent body of information not related to the testimony the person gave at the committee. I think that is brilliant, frankly. It took us a thousand years or so to arrive at that, but that is one of the fundamental rules of privilege as it pertains to Parliament that we now come to understand as being fundamental.
Sometimes it is important to take one step back from the day to day events of Parliament, to pause and reflect on first, how beautiful an institution this is and how well it actually does work, and second, how we make sure that it is never eroded or undermined and that the efficacy is not chipped away at by interpretations such as this. It has to be fluid, just like the Canadian Constitution has to be flexible and adaptable. It is not static; it is dynamic. So too is Parliament and the rules that govern Parliament.
We have stumbled across an area that needs attention and it is an appropriate time to do this in a minority Parliament. In the twilight days of a parliamentary session, I think our time is well spent if we address this issue now, to lay that good foundation so that we can do more effective work in the future unencumbered.
We support this opposition day motion and will be voting in favour of it. I thank my colleagues from the Liberal Party for choosing what we have before us today as their opposition day motion .
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise and address the House on the motion of my friend and sometime mentor from , who is a very eloquent defender of parliamentary rights and privileges without respect to party calling or any other loyalty. He is loyal to this institution. This motion, I truly believe, derives from his sense that there is a wrong and we should right it.
The member for may be seen as leaping to the defence of the member for . I believe it was the Bloc intervenor who said earlier, and I am paraphrasing his French, that he is no fan of Liberals but he does defend the right of all parliamentarians to represent their communities and to speak out.
I am a fan of the member for , and I do not mind saying that, but it is very important to parse this and to say very clearly that we are not here as a party defending only the member for West Nova. We are here talking about each and every member of Parliament, and Parliament as a whole, with respect to their rights and privileges to represent the people of Canada.
We are here speaking for the institution. To paraphrase the famous Jewish rabbi, Hillel, if I do not speak for Parliament, if we do not speak for ourselves, who will? And if not now, when?
It is quite ironic, however, to say that here we are talking about a statement that was made outside the House regarding a matter that was very much part of the business of the House by way of extension in committee. That was the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. We are talking about a statement that was made about former prime minister Brian Mulroney. In almost two hours of debate now, there has been no mention of Brian Mulroney, what he did, what was said and why we are here.
Is that not the strongest evidence of the chill about speaking out to issues, about speaking to power, so to speak? I might even sound like an NDPer here, if you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker. As for speaking to issues that are before us, they are not being spoken about at all because of the de facto chill that is in this place.
This means that we are not speaking at all in these two hours about Brian Mulroney accepting cash while he was still a member of Parliament and the statement the member for made, which was that he believed Brian Mulroney accepted money while he was an office-holder, when we know after the fact from the testimony that Mr. Mulroney met with Schreiber while he was prime minister and subsequently received money. It is not a stretch. I would love to see how this lawsuit turns out, if it ever gets there.
Is this not more than just a libel chill we are talking about? Are we not really talking about a democratic chill? The libel chill is the agent used to chill democracy, to chill the right of the citizens to expect the member for and the members in the House to get up and pursue issues that are important to the continued democratic well-being of the nation.
I must get back to the idea of libel chill. Libel, of course, is something that is written. In this case, what is alleged, let us guess, is the form of defamation known as slander. There are many defences in the common law to any suit with respect to defamation, the first of which, the primordial one, is the truth. The truth is always a defence. The second, or the second branch, is the various defences of privilege, qualified and others.
I come from a municipal background. In municipal councils across this country, there is not the form of parliamentary immunity and privilege that there is here, yet there is a qualified privilege for elected officials. There is a qualified privilege for people speaking out on public issues.
I will quote now from a British House of Lords decision in 1974, without I hope offending any politician of any stripe, which puts in a nutshell why it is important for elected representatives to be able to speak out. The case refers to members of a local council at meetings or any of its committees speaking in colourful terms about issues and persons.
What was stated is that the reason there is a qualified privilege protecting non-parliamentarians but elected representatives is that:
--those who represent the local government electors should be able to speak freely and frankly, boldly and bluntly, on any matter which they believe affects the interests or welfare of the inhabitants. They may be swayed by strong political prejudice, they may be obstinate and pig-headed, stupid and obtuse; but they were chosen by the electors to speak their minds on matters of local concern and so long as they do so honestly they run no risk of liability for defamation of those who are the subjects of their criticism.
Does that not encapsulate what we really think of democracy? We are not sending to municipal councils and to this place of Parliament the most careful individuals who never say anything outrageous, of course, and as a body all of us have the right to say things that are on the minds of the people. Sometimes those statements get pretty interesting.
The principles laid down with the common law for councillors surely are expanded upon from the 1689 bill of rights, over which a king eventually lost his head, over which centuries of parliamentary privilege have evolved, to the point where what happens in this place, in the Parliament of Canada, is ruled by the rule of privilege that predated the creation of this Confederation in 1867. It certainly predates the Constitution Act of 1982 and has been ruled by the courts to be exempt from the charter of rights in almost every case.
There are exceptions with respect to the Speaker. In fact, the firing, hiring and disciplining of staff is an example, as are many other administrative issues that deal with the private rights of individuals when they brush up against parliamentary privilege, but by and large, and my friends on the other side may not like this, it is the state of the law. The parliamentary privilege is immune from the charter of rights. It is an element in being that is different from the laws of the rest of this country.
I think of other countries across the world where one can close out democracy by threatening to sue or suing someone. I do not think Canada wants to be on the list of some of these countries. In Singapore, for instance, it was de rigueur for political leaders in power to libel-chill opposition members to the point where they had to resign from Parliament and go out and make some money to defend lawsuits. It is not the kind of democracy or the vehicle for democracy that I think we want.
To pick up on the point of the member for , and let us just pick on his party because he brought it up, his party often takes on certain groups or classes of entities in our community. I can think of the rhetoric and talk regarding big oil and big profits in these days of high gas prices. If this ruling, the interpretation of the Conflict of Interest Code in this case, were to stand and if we were to do nothing, it would not be difficult to envisage the big oil companies suing the leader of the New Democratic Party and anyone else in the party who espoused the view that big oil is making horrific profits at a time when the community is suffering from high gas prices.
If that were the case, if every member of the New Democratic Party were sued for pecuniary damages and there were hearings at the natural resources committee or the environment and sustainable development committee with respect to big oil profits and gas prices, it would mean that no member of the NDP could serve on the committee, vote or ask questions.
When the Bloc member said he is no fan of the Liberal Party, I suppose I should say in fairness that per se I am no fan of the New Democratic Party, but I would defend to the death the right of the New Democratic Party to intervene on an issue that it thinks is pretty important, and which I can see from the perspective of all Canadians is important, and that is the price of gas.
This is not a wild expansion of what happened in this case. It is not something that opposition members can say would not happen, particularly with respect to the rhetoric that we have heard from the other side today.
Let us keep in mind that the conflict code says that if a member has a private interest or a conflict of interest, that member should recuse himself or herself from a matter before a committee or in Parliament. That seems pretty clear.
Where the train falls off the track and gets derailed is in the interpretation of “private interest” and “conflict of interest” and whether a lawsuit is meritorious or not.
The member for , who is very experienced in the House, has been involved in procedure and House affairs for some time, so he did not just fall off the turnip truck. He not was told to make this statement. He believes it. He said that in the case of a legitimate lawsuit against a member where there is a pecuniary interest and so on, the member should recuse himself.
With all due respect to the member and any member in the House, what is a legitimate lawsuit? An individual can go into court, start a notice of action with a statement of claim attached, at a cost of $120, and serve someone. It is considered legitimate if it is accepted by the court with a court stamp.
My friend the member for , the other twin pillar of reasoning over there, said there are remedies for that because the individual being sued can go to court and get the action thrown out. He would have us and members of the Canadian public believe that all one has to do is phone up a judge, meet him at Tim Hortons and tell him the lawsuit should be thrown out because it is vexatious. It is not that easy.
My colleague failed to mention that there are proceedings in court that have taken years with respect to whether a statement of claim discloses a cause of action or not, and the threshold is not that high. For an action to survive, one just has to show there is a scintilla of a cause of action, which will or will not be proven subsequently. As for what a “legitimate lawsuit” is, I have no idea. If it is filed and served and it is in the courts, it is a lawsuit.
The next point was, what is a “private interest”? If someone is being sued for money, it is a private interest, I guess. The member for is being sued for $2 million. That must make it a very big private interest.
However, let me get back to the subject we cannot speak about, which is Brian Mulroney. He sued for many millions of dollars and eventually accepted nothing. His lawsuit against the Government of Canada was settled for costs. He did not get anything. Is that a private interest? Was that a legitimate lawsuit? Would that have put him in a conflict of interest?
I think there are many questions are being raised by the Conservatives' interpretation of what a legitimate lawsuit is and what an actual private interest is.
Finally, do the Conservatives agree that the commissioner, Mary Dawson, overstepped and misinterpreted the code? As an officer of Parliament, she is entitled to have an opinion. She is entitled to look at the documentation, the case law and the practice and precedents of the House and come up with a determination. Her determination was that liability, in the black letter law of the Conflict of Interest Code, includes contingent liability.
One has to ask oneself, as the member for said, what does that mean? What does a contingent liability mean? Is it the same as a legitimate lawsuit? Or in the case of the member for remarks, are we now going to include potential conflicts of interest?
Is the intention of those members in opposing these changes, which every other party seems to be onside with, to say that in the case where there is a legitimate lawsuit and where there is a potential conflict of interest all members should recuse themselves from matters before the House regardless of who the litigant is?
I do have to take issue with where the member for was coming from when he asked the House on May 7 if it matters who the litigant is. I ask members to look at what he said on May 7:
Yes, I did raise the issue in committee and, yes, I did think it was improper. When a former prime minister of this country is suing him for $1 million he has no right to participate in that committee.
What if we substituted someone else for “a former prime minister”? What if we substituted Fidel Castro or someone we have low regard for, collectively or individually, when someone is suing him for $1 million, he has no right to participate in that committee?
It seems to me that there is a heavy embodiment of defence of the old regime with respect to the Conservative response to this motion. All of us should be looking to having a code by which we can all live. It strikes me that “There but for the Grace of God go I” is a good way to look at this.
Perhaps there will be a day when a Conservative member, who says something controversial having to do with matters before this House, will be sued for his or her comments by a group appearing before a committee. Perhaps that member would want to, on his or her own, suggest that he or she has a defence to the action even though it is alleged that the member made the comments. The member may decide to deal with it outside. The member may decide that he or she does not need the Ethics Commissioner or the Code of Conduct to tell him or her that he or she cannot represent his or her citizens. That is what this is all about. It is about whether we are representing the people of Canada.
We are sent here as individuals to represent the people's interest and the privileges and immunities arrive out of the fact that it is the people's interests that are being protected. It is not to protect the individuals because they wear a nice suit, live in a nice house or are nice people. It is because the people of Canada in my riding, for instance, sent me here to speak out on concerns that are important to them. I will be judged, as will every member when an eventual election occurs, on whether we spoke out in the right way on the right subjects.
However, for now we are here bringing up subjects and speaking to them. To preclude a member of Parliament from participating in a committee or voting or speaking on an issue in this House is to deny the people who sent that person the right to speak. That is the whole basis of why a Speaker, when chosen, symbolically reluctantly moves to the chair and a new member is symbolically reluctantly moved into the House. It is because there was a fear of the sovereign that he or she would do something bad to the people who spoke out for the Commonwealth, for the people, in exercising their concerns.
As the first report of the Special Committee on Rights and Immunities of Members in 1977 stated:
...a fundamental right without which they would be hampered in the performance of their duties. It permits them to speak in the House without inhibition, to refer to any matter or express any opinion as they see fit, to say what they feel needs to be said in the furtherance of the national interest and the aspirations of their constituents.
It strikes me that, if this were to be challenged and defeated, we are now in a position of whether we are going to defend the old institution of Parliament and give in to trendy views of self-loathing with respect to this institution, which seems to be the debate.
I want to refer to a couple of excerpts from David Smith's book on parliamentary democracy called The People's House of Commons. It seems to me that in some cases privilege is attacked, what people say in the House is attacked, as it says at page 23, because there is a “loss of conviction on all sides in its superiority”. That is immunity in Parliament. “Hence the power of slogans such as 'the democratic deficit', multi-partisan in appeal within the Commons and popular with press, public, and academics outside” seems to take hold.
However, there is a bright note. We had the recent Supreme Court decision on the Canada House of Commons v. Vade case of 2005. I said earlier that the Supreme Court of Canada said that there was a certain immunity of Parliament, the privileges of Parliament, from the Charter of Rights. Over time, a certain loophole has evolved with respect to private matters as they respect other private person's rights butting up against Parliament's privilege.
In this decision, the court stated that the core function of Parliament is 'to keep the government to account' and it is due to this particular function (plus the legislative and deliberative ones) that Parliament enjoys rights, powers, and immunities that keep certain aspects of Parliament and its members' activities beyond the reach of the courts.
This was the first time that the concept of keeping government accountable was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada as a foundational function for privileges of Parliament.
It seems to say that it has heightened an existing dimension with respect to privileges and immunities. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court in the future will incur upon the functions of independent officers of Parliament, like the Auditor General, who fall out of favour with the government of the day and whether Elections Canada, for instance, which has been beaten up lately, frankly, would survive an incursion.
In summary, I am happy to support the motion because it is to the benefit of all parliamentarians. Other than with respect to the actual wording and amendments to the Code of Conduct, which the member for spent most of his time speaking to, I think most members agree that Mary Dawson perhaps made a mistake in inserting the words “contingent liability”.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank all my hon. colleagues for their interventions today. I believe this is a very important debate and I am pleased to take part in it.
However, before I get into the crux of my statements and argument, I just want to make one observation. I find it very interesting that the members opposite in the Liberal Party are now introducing a motion to basically challenge a ruling of an independent officer of Parliament. I find it interesting because they were very critical of the government when we took similar action.
As is known, we have a dispute with Elections Canada right now over advertising practices and costs of the 2006 election. The Chief Electoral Officer of Canada made a ruling. We disagreed with that ruling and now we are engaged in a legal action because we believe a court of law will prove that our interpretation of the electoral law will be proven correct.
While we have taken that legal action, members of the party opposite have been very critical saying on many occasions that the ruling of the Chief Electoral Officer at Elections Canada must be correct. Elections Canada made an interpretation therefore it must be correct, yet when the Ethics Commissioner made a ruling with which the Liberal Party members disagreed, they have done the same challenge. They are not going to court to try to overturn the ruling, but they are trying to change the rules of the Conflict of Interest Code.
It appears that there is a little bit of hypocrisy going on here if, in fact, the position of the Liberal Party is that Ms. Dawson made an incorrect ruling. The Liberals certainly have a right to do what they feel they need to do to overturn the ruling or to rectify what they consider to be a wrong, as do we.
I would just point that out. Let us make sure that if we are having a debate, we keep things on an even keel and make sure apples are apples and oranges are oranges in our discussion when criticizing other political parties.
I want to begin by going back a little bit in time for those people who may be watching this debate and may be feeling a bit confused about what actually is going on here, and try to set the context of how this motion came to be, and why the debate is taking place today.
As we all know, several months ago the ethics committee, a standing committee of the House, decided to hold investigations and hearings into what is known to be the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. I do not have to go into details about what that affair is. I think all Canadians, and certainly members of this House, are well aware of the dealings between Mr. Mulroney a number of years ago and Mr. Schreiber, but in any event the ethics committee decided it should have a set of hearings to try to get more information about that.
During the course of the lead up to that committee hearing, and into the early parts of that hearing, one of the members of that committee, the Liberal member for , made some comments outside the House which Mr. Mulroney found to be defamatory. Subsequently, Mr. Mulroney filed a lawsuit against the member for West Nova.
Once that had been done, another member of the ethics committee, the Conservative member for , in a point of order, asked the member for West Nova to recuse himself because the member for Dufferin—Caledon stated that there was a private interest involved, and since the member for West Nova was being sued by Mr. Mulroney, the member for West Nova should not have the ability to question Mr. Mulroney, should not have the ability nor should he be a part of the committee that is conducting the investigations because it would be a conflict of interest.
The member for did not recuse himself so subsequent to that the member for wrote a letter of complaint to the Ethics Commissioner asking her to get involved and subsequently give her interpretation, make a ruling, whether or not the member for West Nova should in fact recuse himself.
The Ethics Commissioner did a quick investigation and came back with a report stating that, as the member for suggested, the member for should recuse himself, should not be able to participate in the hearings, and should not have been able to question or cross-examine Mr. Mulroney because there was a clear conflict of interest.
That is where we are today because that was the genesis for this motion.
The Liberal Party clearly disagrees with the ruling of Ms. Dawson and wants to change the rules that we are governed by in this place to allow, in the future, members of Parliament, who have been served with a lawsuit, the ability to speak about that very lawsuit or about issues surrounding the lawsuit.
That is the question we have before us. Is the current code of conduct and code of ethics proper or should it be amended? I would suggest, with great respect to all of the members opposite, that I do not think that the motion we have before us today for debate should be carried or passed, for a number of reasons.
Let me begin, when making my argument, talking about what the code now says and then why it says it.
Right now the code basically says that the interests of the general public should supercede private interests of MPs. In other words, we were elected to represent the general good, not to represent our own self-interests or perhaps even our own partisan interests.
Second, the code states that there should never be any conflict of interest that any member of Parliament finds himself or herself in. That sometimes is difficult to avoid, but I believe it is very easy to interpret.
The code further goes on in section 8 to say that it provides a general prohibition on members acting in any way to further their private interests, whether they intended to or not.
The code also goes on to say, in section 13, and I think this is the critical section, that it prohibits any MP from participating in any debate in the chamber or in a committee in which he or she may have a private interest.
That is what the code states. I do not think there is any confusion about that and there should not be any question that the ruling by Ms. Dawson was a correct one, because here we have a situation where there is clearly a private interest by the member for .
As I said earlier, the member for is being sued by a private citizen, a former prime minister of this country, Brian Mulroney. Therefore, any discussion about that lawsuit or any discussion about elements of the lawsuit should not be allowed.
Why is that? Why would the code of conduct put those provisions in? Quite clearly, it was done so for a very good reason. As one of my colleagues, the member for , earlier pointed out, since the member for did not recuse himself and was subsequently allowed to cross-examine Mr. Mulroney during committee hearings, he in fact was allowed to gather information which could be beneficial to him in the upcoming lawsuit. The code of conduct clearly states that should not be allowed because he is satisfying or serving his own private interests.
While it is very true, as other members have stated, that information gathered from committee hearings cannot be used in any lawsuit, the fact of the matter is that the member for was able to gather information which would benefit him in his lawsuit. He does not have to take testimony from his cross-examination. He does not have to take testimony from Mr. Mulroney and enter it as evidence in the court case, but the mere fact that he was able to gather knowledge from his questioning of Mr. Mulroney benefited him.
Second, this case was such a widely known case and garnered such interest from the Canadian public. It was covered so extensively by members of the national media. Since the committee hearings themselves were televised, all of the information that came out of those committee hearings then became a matter of public domain. Canadians from coast to coast to coast would hear daily news reports about testimony at committee.
Canadians who had a great interest in the hearings were able to tune in and watch the committee hearings live. Many committee members, including the chair of the committee, the member for , constantly appeared on political talk shows during the hearings.
To suggest that the testimony itself could not be used in a court of law and therefore it could not be of any benefit to the member for is absolutely ridiculous. Everyone in Canada, who had an interest in this case, was able to ascertain what was happening on a daily basis. In some cases, it was on a minute by minute basis if they happened to tune in to the live proceedings.
The Code of Conduct was established to disallow any member from participating in a discussion about a lawsuit involving the member of Parliament. By doing that, it could advance the private interests of the member of Parliament. This is specifically prohibited in the codes that govern us.
As I mentioned earlier, I take very seriously all the rules that govern us. As members of Parliament, we should also be very cognizant of the fact that this motion could set a very dangerous precedent. I say that because we have many, what I would loosely call, rules that govern and guide us in our day to day work. We have the bible of procedures and practices, Marleau and Montpetit, the Standing Orders and codes of conduct.
If we choose to change Standing Orders or elements of the Code of Conduct, it obviously affects all of us, and it will have consequences. That is why, before we engage in any change, the history of this place has always been to be consultative, to consult widely and broadly, not just with members of the House but with others who have an interest, a knowledge and an expertise in parliamentary affairs.
I assume the motion is brought forward with every non-partisan intent in mind. I do not believe the member for has brought it forward in a partisan way to try to benefit the Liberal Party of Canada. I believe he brought this motion forward because he believes the code should be changed. However, I argue that the ramifications and the consequences of the change, should the motion be approved, will be very detrimental to the dealings of everyone in the House.
Let me give a few examples. Some may consider these to be extreme, but I can see where some of these examples could actually happen and could quite likely happen.
If the changes are made to the code, if the motion is approved, it will allow members of Parliament to speak freely on any issue in which they may be legally involved. In other words, if private citizens decided to sue members of Parliament over any issue, those members would then be able to, in effect, use this place as a bully pulpit to speak about that issue without fear of consequence. They would be able to, either in debate, or in committee or in member statements, if they wished and depending on the subject material, speak about the issue quite freely, advance their own interests in other words and advance their own arguments before any court case was held.
In my opinion, this should not be allowed to happen. That would be giving a distinct advantage to a member of Parliament. It would allow the private interests of a member of Parliament to supercede the interests of the general public.
Second, I hear, time and time again, members opposite and members in this debate say that the way the current code is written allows for libel chill to occur. They are referring to frivolous and vexatious lawsuits being entered or being launched to try to curtail debate.
It is true, whether it be in this place or in the purview of the general public, many times individuals launch frivolous and vexatious lawsuits to try to engage in some sort of libel chill, to keep someone who is speaking the truth quiet. I suggest we do not have to alter the code to deal with that. The courts are the best judge of what is frivolous and vexatious.
We have seen this time and time again. When someone has launched a frivolous lawsuit, the defendant goes to the court, says so and asks the judge to make an interpretation. That is how we deal with frivolous lawsuits. We do not change the code because we think that in the future there will be a raft of these frivolous and vexatious lawsuits in an attempt to quiet debate and discussion. There are many legal remedies to deal with that.
However, if there is, what I call, a legitimate lawsuit, one that is proven by courts and interpreted by judges as to be not frivolous and vexatious, brought forward by a member of the general public against a sitting member of Parliament, that member of Parliament should not be allowed to use his or her privilege in this place to gain an advantage over the private citizen. Why should he or she?
The current code is absolutely correct. If we change it, we head down a very slippery slope, and not only in this case. I know this is a very narrow cast example. This was obviously brought forward because the member for did not feel it would be appropriate to disallow the ability of the member for to speak on the Mulroney-Schreiber proceedings.
What happens in the larger picture if we agree to the motion? In fact, it could happen now but I think a precedent would be set if the motion were passed. However, if any government, regardless of political stripe, gained a majority in the House and simply did not like a Standing Order, a code or any independent officer of Parliament's ability to interpret and adjudicate, is it could simply change the rules. Quite genuinely, I would hate to see that happen.
I would hate to see any government of the day, in a majority situation, have the ability if a Standing Order did not serve its partisan purposes, to use its majority and arbitrarily change it. I fear the change proposed in the motion would set a very dangerous precedent. Normally and historically, any changes to Standing Orders or any rules that govern this place and members of Parliament have not been dealt with in this manner. It has always been dealt with in a consultative way, usually through procedure and House affairs.
A number of people have referred to the fact that the procedure and House affairs committee is not sitting, and that is quite true. As a member of that committee, I have intimate knowledge of why the committee is not sitting. I suggest that if, as an example, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP all agree that procedure and House affairs could resume sitting to deal with this issue and this issue only, there would be widespread support from all members.
Unfortunately, there is a motion currently before the procedure and House affairs committee, which the committee clerk and chairman ruled to be outside its mandate. That is the stalling point, because the majority members on that committee disagreed with the chair's ruling and with the law clerk of Parliament and got rid of the committee chair. Therefore, the committee is not sitting.
I believe the procedure and House affairs committee is the right venue to discuss whether there should be changes to the Code of Conduct. It should not be done in this manner in this place in a one day debate. It should take place in a highly consultative manner through procedure and House affairs by bringing in expert witnesses and having a rational, fulsome discussion and debate. That is why I will be opposing the motion today.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this important debate on a motion raised by the member for . I must admit, when the House has been seized with some matter that is of a complex nature, whether it be interpretation of the Standing Orders or our procedures and practices, the member has always been an active participant with sage words for the House's consideration.
I believe that the member has raised appropriately, based on the initial commentary of the Speaker with regard to his former question of privilege, the fact that there are other ways to do this. We have heard some suggestions. Why do we not send the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee where it could be taken care of?
The last time that committee took care of a conflict of interest issue of review, it created a subcommittee. It sent it to the subcommittee, I think it was in November 2006, and we did not get a report back until June 2007. I think that, under any criteria, urgent decisions by this place on a clear question should not take several months to address.
I have listened to the debate. I think that there has been ample discussion and presentation on the importance of free speech which is clearly the issue here. The crafters of the Constitution of Canada and our laws now in the Constitution have extended extraordinary privileges to members of Parliament. Those privileges, in brief, would include such things as the matter to speak freely in this place, to represent the interests of constituents without having fear of being taken to another jurisdiction and have it used against one in another jurisdiction or in a court of law, as one member said
The decision to grant the privileges to parliamentarians was carefully considered and carefully done in a way in which the public interest could be served only if members had that free speech, the right to speak freely, to speak frankly, to tell it like it is as it were, because it is important in this place that this is where the debate should take place. This is where one has to push the envelope, where we have to make very strict and firm arguments.
It may not be beautiful at all times, but it is our parliamentary practice and tradition. It is not a matter of trying to perform for some esoteric reason. It is to fight on behalf of what members believe to be the truth and fairness within the laws of Canada.
We have this extraordinary privilege and what we have before us now is a situation where an extraordinary matter, the privileges of parliamentarians, is being suspended by a very ordinary act. It is simply to launch a legal action. In this case before us, it is a libel suit.
The member for , in an interview outside of this place not covered by privilege, effectively indicated that a former prime minister accepted cash when he was prime minister. Mr. Mulroney contends that he received the money only as a member of Parliament after he had stepped down as prime minister. Consequently, he launched a $2 million lawsuit, the proceeds of which he indicated would go to charity.
That is all well and good, but during the hearings there was a lot of evidence and testimony that we had during the Mulroney-Schreiber hearings. It is not clear yet, and has not been established yet, whether or not the former prime minister actually had received money while he was prime minister or the promise of money.
He could have done certain things as prime minister with payment to be made only after he stepped down, but just as there is a contingent liability, if members would like to use that term, there also could be a contingent asset. It would be in order to circumvent the rules of this place, or in fact a statute of Canada, particularly the Parliament of Canada Act, which would deal with the issue of influence peddling.
Therefore, this is an extraordinary matter that is being undermined, mitigated and even shut out by an ordinary matter.
There has been some argument that we need this to happen. There has been some argument that we need to have this recusal of the member for to participate in debate or votes or questions, because, as one member put it, members could use this place to advance their case. They could use this place and abuse it to further their own private interests.
If members want to continue to argue their case and try to remedy their situation, they can do it outside of the Parliament of Canada, outside of this chamber or committee. They can do that. There is nothing to stop them. What could they do here that they cannot do out there?
We have the situation reversed. We have a situation where members can say things in the House that they cannot say out there, but in this particular case, we have a situation where the decision of the Ethics Commissioner is that members can say anything they want out there but we will not let them say it in here. It is exactly the reverse. This is preposterous.
The motion also, and I want to be clear on this point, refers to an exemption being proposed if a member is “a party to a legal action relating to actions of the Member as a Member of Parliament”. Some will interpret the words “legal action” as meaning a lawsuit, a court action, but there are many actions out there that involve a pecuniary interest to members. It could mean appearing before some tribunal or city council trying to get costs back or a reduction of property taxes or something like that where a member has argued. A judicial review could be a legal action in the context of what is being done here.
I raise this because in this place we deal with matters which touch on virtually the full gamut of issues that have touched the lives of Canadians. We will be there arguing on behalf of the interests of our constituents and of Canadians as a whole, but sometimes we will have to participate in fora outside this place.
If I can go to a tribunal, argue a case successfully and get a judgment or a decision that would affect the public interest, that is fine. However, what if I am seeking costs, the costs of my taking the time to do it, to get the research, to pay for the transcripts and to get legal assistance or other professional expertise? In themselves, those costs, and the recovery of those costs because I have successfully argued a matter that is not a private interest, represent a private interest, which I presumably would be advancing.
The point I am trying to make here is that if this matter is not changed, things can occur which would say that members who are involved in some sort of a legal action, legal proceeding or litigious proceeding may have to be in a position to recuse themselves from discussing it in the House because they are out there trying to do something to get back costs. That is not the intent.
I did what I could to determine whether or not there was any evidence of contingent liability being a subject of discussion by those who were responsible in the House to determine what the elements of our Conflict of Interest Code could be. I could not find any.
In my view, and I hope members will look at it carefully, there is no evidence that the existence of a contingent liability was ever contemplated. It could be something like a frivolous lawsuit, somebody paying the thousand dollars and filing the necessary papers, and then the parliamentary secretary would say that the member has to wait because it is in the courts and that is the way we do this. If one gets sued, then one is going to have to recuse oneself and lose one's privileges and rights under the Constitution until that court deals with it. How long is that going to be?
There is a saying about how justice delayed is justice denied. Privileges being denied because of a frivolous and vexatious suit is an inappropriate outcome.
I also want to make the point that in the Ethics Commissioner's decision, she decided that the member for, who was the subject of a lawsuit by Mr. Mulroney, must recuse himself and could not participate in debate or vote, the reason being that we are talking about whether or not there is a pecuniary interest, a private interest. That could be assets or it could be liabilities.
If we look in a dictionary, we will see that liabilities have a whole range of definitions. One of them happens to be a contingent liability. We are not sure what it is, but it could happen. Other things have to happen in order for that to be assessed and the amount determined.
Did the crafters of our code of conduct decide that people could say that they thought someone was wrong so they would sue and find out in a couple of years from now whether or not the courts would agree, but that in the meantime before it gets to court they just might yank it and then the individual could go back? That is the problem.
There is a further problem if we have a situation like this one where other parties are related to Mr. Mulroney or where Mr. Mulroney is involved in any other business. If there is anything that we do or touch or say that would directly or indirectly affect Mr. Mulroney adversely, should the members also recuse themselves or be recused and lose their privileges in regard to discussing those things? The example I would give is the spectrum wireless issue and Quebecor and whether or not the members should recuse themselves from talking about Quebecor because Mr. Mulroney is an officer of a subsidiary of Quebecor.
There is another aspect that has not been considered. I raised it in one of the questions. If we are talking about just being sued, as is the case with the member for , and there is a recusal required, what happens if one applies the same logic that has been applied to the member for when a member of Parliament himself or herself launches a lawsuit? If that member of Parliament launches a countersuit in the case of Mr. Mulroney, or a lawsuit on any other matter that is before the House, the interpretation given by the Ethics Commissioner's report demands that the member recuse himself or herself from participation in any vote, debate or questioning on any matter related to that.
Is it the intent of our code of conduct that a member cannot sue without giving up his or her privileges? It is the reverse situation, but we always have to look at what happens when we flip it on its head, start from the bottom up, or go in reverse or inside out. We have to look at all the angles.
One of the members says that we should just send it to the procedure and House affairs committee, which has a good track record. Let me give the House example of how ridiculous it could become if we apply the rules.
We have a situation now in which Elections Canada has named 17 members of Parliament in the Conservative caucus as participants in a scheme to circumvent the election spending rules as they relate to national advertising. They have been specifically named. In fact, there were 57 Conservative candidates. Of them, 17 were elected. They are all MPs, but of the 17, 10 are ministers or parliamentary secretaries and are also subject to an even more stringent code, that being the code for public office-holders, defined as cabinet members, parliamentary secretaries and governor in council appointees.
If we were to apply the decision and the logic of the decision of the Ethics Commissioner in this regard, we would have a situation involving: the member for, the member for , the member for , the member for , the member for , the member for , the member for , the parliamentary secretaries for , , the , and , the , the , the , the former , who has just been replaced, and the . All of those 17 members of Parliament, 10 of whom are public office-holders, should be recused from voting, debating or participating in any shape or form on any matter related to Elections Canada, because that matter is before the courts. The Conservative Party of Canada has taken the matter to the courts.
Elections Canada has made a finding. Not only has Elections Canada found that the Conservative Party of Canada violated the Canada Elections Act and overspent the advertising spending limit, but it has implicated and named specifically 17 members of Parliament. Those 17 members of Parliament filed election expenses returns after they became members of Parliament and those 10 became public office-holders. They filed returns. They and their chief financial officers swore and signed and said that the returns were fair and audited and everything was in good order.
Elections Canada said no to that. Elections Canada said that in its opinion that was not the case, that the returns were false and misleading. That is the allegation before these members. It would appear on a prima facie basis that the allegation, a contingent liability to either repay or to reduce the amount one is going to get back on an election rebate, is a pecuniary interest. It is not a contingent liability. It is a contingent reduction in an asset that members have determined is theirs. Elections Canada has said no.
It will now have to go to the courts, but until that is done, and it is going to take years, perhaps those 17 members of Parliament had better pay a visit to the Elections Commissioner and suggest that because they have this thing hanging over their heads they should not be participating and they should recuse themselves and not participate.
That is how ridiculous it gets. It is certainly not my suggestion or intention that this should ever happen, but if we want to apply the rules and the intent of the Conflict of Interest Code, we cannot do it on the narrowness of determining it in the worst possible case, a frivolous and vexatious libel suit. An ordinary action could be done by almost anybody on almost anything because it is their own opinion, not the opinion of the courts. Almost anybody could commence an action, in this case a legal action, and it would take away, in whole or in part, the privileges of a member of Parliament that have been granted to that member by our Constitution. That is how serious this is.
This has the potential to get much wider and to cover more subject matters and more integrated matters, because we know that things are inextricably linked. We know there are such matters. People have friends. If my friend is touched, I am being touched. Arguments could be made.
We need to protect the privileges of members of Parliament. That is what this is all about. This is not a partisan issue. It happens to be one member of Parliament who is caught in a situation. It is being used as a proxy for us to consider whether or not we are opening ourselves up to a situation that can get very, very nasty and could virtually grind this place to a halt.
That is why it has to be dealt with now. That is why I believe the motion, the debate and the argument brought forward by the member for are cogent and wise and that this is the right thing to do. We should support this motion that is now before the House.
Mr. Speaker, I look forward to participating in this debate. I have heard my colleague from speak so passionately and knowledgeably about this issue. I will be supporting this motion because I genuinely believe the motion speaks to the core of the matter, which revolves around the concept of freedom of speech.
I want to acknowledge the hard work done by the member for who put forth this motion on behalf of the Liberal Party. Over a 20 year period he has demonstrated a tremendous knowledge of House procedure and committee procedure. He is somebody who understands the rules. It makes a great deal of sense that a person of his calibre would put forward a motion to discuss the importance of parliamentary privileges and freedom of speech. The motion is very straightforward. It states:
That this House reaffirm all of its well-established privileges and immunities, especially with regard to freedom of speech.
That is why I support the motion. As I said, this is a very important issue.
I want to quote some comments made recently in editorials in national and regional newspapers which speak to this issue. One in the Globe and Mail on May 20, 2008 said:
If it is possible to silence MPs by filing a lawsuit against them, however frivolous, it may become far more difficult for opposition parties to hold governments to account. That may not concern the Tories now that they hold power. But when they next find themselves in opposition--
--I anticipate that will happen fairly soon--
--they may come to regret endorsing the precedent set by Ms. Dawson's ruling.
There is another quote that I would like to put on the record:
Now that [the Prime Minister] has filed suit against the Liberals for allegations about the Cadman affair, does that libel suit represent a personal interest that prevents all Liberal MPs from raising the issue again in Parliament?
It's a chilling prospect.
Dawson's ruling cannot be allowed to stand. If her interpretation of the law is correct, then the law must be changed.
Freedom of speech was gained through centuries of struggle. It must not be given up without a fight.
Those two quotes speak to the matter of the motion. That is why I wanted to ensure they were on the record.
The message is very straightforward. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right of each and every member of Parliament regardless on which side of the House they sit. That is the issue here.
It does not matter if members are in an opposition party or the governing party. It speaks to any party because we reside in a democracy. This freedom is required to ensure that all members are free to serve the needs of their constituents without fear of frivolous lawsuits. It is also a freedom that the Conservatives have made every effort to trample as they try to silence the legitimate questions of opposition members regarding Conservative scandals. It is not one; there are numerous scandals, numerous problems the government is facing and it is trying to avoid opposition members speaking to those issues. That is why this motion is very important.
Today I want to speak about my personal experience on what has happened today and in the last few days. This is with respect to a larger issue. This motion does not necessarily speak to the freedom of speech, but a larger issue of political responsibility. We have seen the trend of suing MPs and political parties and that is why we are speaking to this motion. We have seen the utter disregard and disrespect for the media; blaming the bureaucracy whenever and wherever possible; civil servants who work day and night for years serving this country and the government blaming them when it has an opportunity; and misleading Canadians. This has been the way the government has dealt with political responsibility.
This morning I was in the government operations committee speaking about a very important issue with respect to a file of which we are all too well aware. It has to do with the NAFTA-gate issue, which is how it is being phrased by many. This particular issue is of importance. I have asked numerous questions in the House of Commons. A report has been completed by the Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, someone whom I respect, a public servant who has served this country with a great deal of honour, but someone who had a very limited mandate and a very limited scope.
I put forward a motion, with my colleagues' support, this morning the member for and a few days ago the member for . I will read the motion that was put forward. It is a very straightforward motion:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and given the importance of the issues contained within the “Report on the Investigation into the Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Diplomatic Information” prepared by the Privy Council Office, Mr. Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council and other relevant witnesses be immediately called to testify before the Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development on those issues and that this will occur before the Parliament rises for the summer recess.
Can anyone guess what happened this morning at the government operations committee? The chair of the committee abruptly ended the debate, hit the gavel and ran out, again, trying to prevent members of Parliament from speaking to a very important issue. That is a demonstration of what the government members are trying to do in committee and in the House with libel chills. They are trying, in any way possible, to prevent elected members from doing their jobs. I find that problematic. It goes to the core of the matter and speaks to the bigger issue of political responsibility and to the fact the government is unwilling to address the issue.
I want to remind viewers and members why the issue is so important. As we all know, it was the indiscretion of the chief of staff and the ambassador to the United States, Michael Wilson, that led to this international incident. This story was not made up overnight. It was a reflection of individuals, hand-picked by the , who had access to privileged information, having conversations with the media that led to this international incident, dubbed as NAFTA-gate.
The report states, “It appears probable that Mr. Brodie spoke to the reporter on the subject of NAFTA”.
Every time I stand in the House and ask the House leader, the government and the to give us further proof that the investigation was conducted in a manner that was open and transparent and that the mandate was enough to ensure it included Americans who were on the emails, including other people, they have chosen to neglect to mention that particular line in the report.
The other aspect of the report that is problematic is that when the--