That, given your finding that a prima facie breach of the privileges of Parliament has been committed by the government for failing to fully provide the documents as ordered by the House, the matter be hereby referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for a final determination on the government's compliance, or lack thereof, and that the committee report back its findings and recommendations no later than March 21, 2011.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my remarks by thanking you for your very thoughtful and considerate ruling on this issue of Parliament's right to information. As you know, what is at stake here is nothing less than Parliament's ability to function and hold the government accountable.
Parliamentarians have ordered the Conservative government to provide documents detailing the costs of its U.S.-style prison agenda. Parliament has a right to these documents, as has been pointed out. We need this information to do our jobs as members of Parliament. Under the Canadian rule of law, it is the role of government to propose legislation and the role of Parliament to evaluate that legislation and control the government's purse strings, for in our democracy it is Parliament that has the supreme authority over government spending and as parliamentarians we have a fiduciary obligation to Canadians.
When a constituent asks us how much this legislation just voted for actually costs, we have a moral responsibility and a parliamentary obligation to be able to answer that question. This applies to all members of Parliament, including Conservative members. It is important to note that not only is the government keeping opposition members in the dark as to the cost of its legislation, it is also keeping its own Conservative members of Parliament in the dark.
No one should be complicit in helping the government keep Canadians in the dark. As members of Parliament, it is our duty to thoroughly and publicly evaluate the government's spending plans before allowing the government to spend that money. It is our job to make sure that when the government spends Canadians' hard-earned tax dollars, it is done with respect, transparency and in a way that reflects the priorities of Canadians. That is what Canadians elect us to do. That is why we are here. However, without information, we as members of Parliament simply cannot do our jobs.
We live in a wonderful country, but one that is also facing some very serious and complex challenges. As parliamentarians, we must work to manage these challenges. We have a rapidly aging population with growing demands for health care and other government programs. We have a dwindling tax base due to a demographic shift, a dwindling tax base to pay for those services.
Canadians are worried about their pensions and savings and at the same time Canadians are facing dangerous levels of personal debt. Too many simply cannot afford to retire and too many seniors who have retired are living in poverty. Canadian families from coast to coast to coast are struggling to make ends meet. They face rising food prices and other increasing costs of living.
Although the Canadian economy has had a statistical recovery, we are still facing a human recession. For far too many Canadians, full-time jobs have been replaced by part-time work. Our constituents want the government to invest in health care, family care, education, retraining and pensions. At the same time, they want the Conservatives to be held to account because it is the Conservatives who have spent Canada into a record $56 billion deficit.
Therefore, as parliamentarians we must evaluate all of these competing demands for tax dollars while we put Canada back on a path toward balanced budgets, but we cannot make informed decisions between these competing demands if we do not know how much the government's legislation would cost.
In June of last year, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report on how much the Conservatives' truth in sentencing act would cost Canadian taxpayers. He estimated the cost at $1 billion a year for the federal government and, on top of that, more than $1 billion a year in costs for provinces. That is more than $2 billion of Canadian taxpayers' dollars each and every year, which must now go toward building prisons instead of providing hospital beds and hiring nurses.
This is despite the fact that the minister has told us this legislation would only cost $90 million over two years. The $2 billion annual price tag is just one of the Conservatives' crime bills. The Standing Committee on Finance responded to this new information by ordering the government to provide the committee with detailed cost estimates for 18 additional Conservative criminal justice bills.
For each crime bill, the committee ordered the government to provide a breakdown of incremental cost estimates; a breakdown of baseline departmental funding requirements, excluding the impacts of the bills; the total departmental annual reference levels; and, a detailed cost accounting analysis and projections, including assumptions for each of the crime bills conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board guide to costing.
We have asked for these detailed cost breakdowns because Canadians have a right to know and we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to demand.
How much would these crime bills cost? How much does the government plan to pay? Do the Conservatives plan to reallocate existing money within the department? For example, are we going to see cuts to front-line policing and disaster relief in order to pay for bigger prisons, or does the government plan to find the money elsewhere through cuts to health care or education?
The Conservative government still refuses to provide Parliament with these cost breakdowns. The Conservatives continue to falsely hide behind cabinet confidence without even trying to provide an explanation as to why they believe cabinet confidence applies. They will not provide any explanation because they know their excuses are without merit. By hiding this information, the Conservatives are treating Parliament and indeed all Canadians with contempt.
On February 25, 2011, the Parliamentary Budget Officer published a report evaluating the government's response to the finance committee's request for information on the cost of the 18 crime bills. The PBO report states clearly that the Government of Canada has not provided the finance committee with most of the information that it requested.
In that report, the PBO recognizes that Parliament has a right to the information that has been requested and the report states clearly that this information is, “required for parliamentarians to fulfill fiduciary obligations under the Constitution”.
However, the Conservative government refuses to respect the rules and provide the documents on how much the crime bills would cost.
The government did give us the bare bones annual cost for five of the 18 crime bills, but that is it. The government did not provide us with any cost breakdowns, as requested. The government did not provide the baseline departmental funding requirements that were requested. The government did not provide the total departmental annual reference levels that were requested. The government did not provide the detailed cost analysis required by Treasury Board that was requested by the committee. Nor did the government provide any reasonable explanation as to why none of this information could be provided.
This pathetic response from the government is an affront to Parliament and an insult to Canadians. The government is demonstrating contempt of Parliament and disrespect to taxpayers.
We know from the Parliamentary Budget Officer that the financial cost of these bills is in the billions of dollars. We know it is big, but we do not know how big.
As parliamentarians, we find ourselves in the situation where we cannot determine how seriously these crime bills would impact the federal treasury. We cannot make informed decisions between competing demands for money. We do not know how many hospital beds we will be able to afford in the future because we do not know how many prisons the government has effectively committed to build as a result of this legislation. Simply put, we do not have the basic information we need to evaluate the government's books and the government will not explain why it will not provide the documents to Parliament.
Either the government is breaking the rules in order to hide the true costs of its crime legislation from Canadians, or it is a matter of extreme incompetence where the government broke the rules in the first place by never bothering to actually find out how much the crime bills would cost. This is particularly unacceptable at a time when we have a record $56 billion Conservative deficit. Either way, it is clear that the government has broken the rules and is in contempt of Parliament.
Once again, accordingly, and given the finding that a prima facie breach of the privileges of Parliament has been committed by the government for failing to provide the documents as ordered by the House, we ask that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for a final determination on the government's compliance, or lack thereof, and that the committee report its findings and recommendations back to the House no later than March 21, 2011.
Mr. Speaker, the NDP will be supporting the motion by the member for .
Like him, I am a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, and like him, I was outraged at the Conservative government's attempts to hide behind the false argument of cabinet confidence.
Just as the member for Kings—Hants was a minister, I was a minister for a number of years in the National Assembly of Quebec, which has the same strict parliamentary rules for cabinet discussions. However, in this case, it is completely beside the point.
We often make the mistake of taking our institutions for granted. Today's courageous decision was made by a Speaker who has sat in the chair for longer than any other Speaker in Canadian history and who is such a unanimous choice that he has now served twice under a government led by a party other than his own. That is the quality of the Speaker we have.
In his courageous decision today, he again stood up for the defence of our institutions, as he did before Christmas, when it was revealed that the staffer of a Conservative member of Parliament, for his own purposes, sent out a confidential report of the same finance committee to a bunch of lobbyists to curry favour with them. That issue was also declared to be a question of confidence, and it is now before another committee. I cannot say more about that.
However, this is a pattern of behaviour that we are starting to see on the part of the Conservatives, a pattern of behaviour that seeks to undermine, to suborn and to damage our parliamentary institutions. With brazen arrogance, they replied that they no longer had to tell Parliament how much things would cost. One of the basic rules of the House is that we get to decide how money is spent. That is one of the most basic things we do here.
The government has the obligation to provide Parliament with information. The hypocrisy of this is the Conservatives were the ones who boasted they would bring in more accountability. They said that they would create an independent authority called the Parliamentary Budget Officer. They shackled him once by saying that he was a subaltern of the parliamentary librarian. Then we found out he was not even going to be able to get his full budget, so he could not hold on to his best staff. Then we found out that, like us, he could not even have access to real information that would allow members of Parliament to do their jobs. This is all about that.
This is about allowing Parliament to perform one of its most fundamental roles: holding the government to account in terms of how it spends public money.
It is not the first time we have seen the Conservatives behave like this, but it is becoming a pattern of behaviour and it is time for the members of the House to stand up to the Conservatives and say “enough”, that they are not going to trammel on our obligations and rights or our ability to get our jobs done in the public interest anymore. This is a fundamental role of Parliament and our democracy.
We again congratulate the member for for bringing the motion and the Speaker for his courageous ruling. The NDP will be there four square voting for it and working on it to try to have the rights of this institution respected by the Conservative government.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for your thoughtful ruling. I was very impressed as you went through the entire matter.
At this point, we generally have an opportunity to refer the matter to a committee, which is the usual form, or to have the House deal with it directly. That is a form which had been used, but it has fallen into disuse lately.
Mr. Speaker, I invite you to give consideration to this form of motion which would have the House deal with it rather than the committee itself. My argument is founded in Maingot.
First, the motion, as I would propose it, would be that the actions and words of the member for in relation to the decision to de-fund KAIROS, including the doctoring of documents, and blatantly misleading answers in the House and its standing committees, which have already been subject to two committee studies, demonstrate a clear contempt for Parliament, and that the member be suspended from the service of the House until such time as she appears at the Bar of the House to purge her contempt by apologizing in a manner found satisfactory to the Speaker. This would be seconded by the member for
My argument is found in Maingot, at page 263. It states:
To have someone attend at the Bar to be questioned respecting alleged contempt or breach of privilege would be too cumbersome, particularly where witnesses would be called. Each question to the person of the Bar must be the subject of a debatable and amendable motion....
The usual reason for referencing to a committee is, in fact, that witnesses are called, evidence is taken and other fresh material may be done in the form of a committee which cannot be done here. I submit that in this instance it is somewhat different. In fact, the House has before it all the evidence there is. There is no more evidence. We have reviewed questions in question period, access to information requests, order paper inquiries, et cetera. The entire and full body of evidence is presently before the House. Therefore, there are no other questions or witnesses to be put as one would normally do in a committee proceeding.
My motion would be that we proceed directly to the House being seized of this matter and that the House then debate the motion as is. If the vote on the debate turns out one way, then the member would be asked to apologize to the House.
I defer to your guidance on this matter, Mr. Speaker. As you said in your ruling, the Speaker does have the ultimate “robust” authority with respect to how a motion might be phrased.
My argument is that it is unnecessary to refer this to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, let me join my hon. colleague from in thanking the Speaker for his ruling today.
I will take up some of this place's time to comment on the situation that we have before us, certainly with no intent to challenge the ruling of the Speaker but merely to add to the commentary of the Speaker when referring to the wish that committees clear the air on this issue.
I think that is a very telling point, because it appeared to me when I was listening very carefully to the Speaker's ruling that there was no admonishment directed toward the minister in question. It was merely an attempt to try to clear up the confusion that may be in the minds of some of the members opposite.
Therefore, I think it is very important to go back over the circumstances that brought us to this point today. I do think there is some confusion in the minds not only of the members of this place but perhaps also in the minds of many of the Canadian public as to what exactly happened. If I may, I want to take just a few moments to try to set the record straight.
All of this seemed to be precipitated by the appearance of the in December of last year at committee, at which time the members opposite had the opportunity to ask the minister one simple question about the insertion of the word “not” in an internal document that was communicated between CIDA officials and the minister.
The question was whether the “not” was inserted by members of CIDA or by the minister. As I pointed out in my intervention in response to the member's point of privilege a few weeks ago, the minister answered very truthfully, very accurately and very precisely when asked the question: did she know who had inserted the word “not” into that internal document. The said “no.”
I know that may confuse members opposite, but to me it seems to be a fairly simple, precise and accurate answer to a very simple question. That was an honest response to the question.
I know that the member for seems to find this funny in seeming to laugh at this. I would remind the member that this is a place where we are supposed to have a meaningful debate. Apparently his time in the provincial legislature of Ontario has clouded his memory as to what meaningful debate truly is.
Mr. Speaker, perhaps you could even inform the member for that he might have an opportunity to speak in this place. Perhaps he might even say something on which we could actually engage in meaningful debate. Until that time, perhaps he should sit in his place and listen to my words.
Now, we have both the member for and the member for .
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.): I am one of the B-team guys.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Okay, and that is showing the member's character more than mine, I would point out.
Let me go back to what I was attempting to say before I was interrupted, which was simply that the minister responsible answered accurately and honestly when she said she did not know who had inserted the word “not”, because at the time, she did not. She explained that it was an internal document. She explained that she had instructed her staff to tell CIDA officials that she was not in favour of funding KAIROS.
One of her staff members, of her own volition, inserted the word “not” and sent it back with the electronic signature of the minister to convey to the officials at CIDA that the minister was not in favour of funding KAIROS.
At committee, officials from CIDA, including the president of CIDA, testified to the committee that they found that to have been appropriate. There were no surprises. In fact, it communicated accurately the minister's wishes not to fund KAIROS.
Quite frankly, who put the word “not” in the internal document is irrelevant, because what the minister was attempting to do, and did do, was to convey to her own officials that she, as minister, did not wish to fund KAIROS. That message was conveyed and accepted by the officials of CIDA, as they testified in committee. They were totally aware, by the insertion of the word “not”, that it was the minister's decision.
The CIDA officials also testified that they did not feel there was anything untoward by her putting in the word “not”. They testified that they did not think the minister was trying to deceive anyone as to the intent of that document, because it was an internal document; it was not a parliamentary document. It was meant to convey the minister's wishes back to her own officials.
In fact, the President of CIDA later testified that they are now taking steps to modify those internal documents to allow the minister to register her displeasure or dissatisfaction or opposition to a recommendation by having a separate box the minister could sign off on, a box saying, “I do not accept this recommendation”. Unfortunately, the way the documents were presented at the time did not include that separate opportunity for the minister to say, “I do not accept this recommendation”.
Therefore, when the minister instructed her own ministerial staff to convey back to CIDA officials that she did not wish to fund KAIROS, one of her staff members put in the word “not” and the document was signed with an electronic arm, since the minister was off on travel. The officials at CIDA responded by saying, “We totally understand what the minister's wishes are: she does not want to fund KAIROS. Message received. Message accepted”.
From that, we find ourselves in a situation where the opposition is contending that the minister was trying to deceive both Parliament and Canadian public. It contends that by the insertion of the word “not”, the minister was trying to deceive Parliament by inferring that the CIDA officials who originally recommended funding KAIROS were the ones who did not want to fund KAIROS.
Mr. Speaker, if you go back and check the records of the committee meeting in December 2010, the minister responsible for CIDA, on 11 separate occasions, stated before committee that it was her decision and her decision alone not to fund KAIROS. Thus how can there be any intent whatsoever at deception if the minister, in testifying before committee, stated that it was not CIDA officials who recommended not to fund KAIROS but her own decision?
I do not know where the confusion rests, other than to suggest that the opposition is using this as an opportunity, once again, to try to create a scandal where none exists. If it had been a parliamentary document, we might be having a different discussion and different debate here today. However, we are talking simply about an internal document between officials and the minister, a document aimed at determining whether or not the minister would accept the recommendation to fund the KAIROS group with $7 million. It was an internal document. The minister told her officials that she did not wish to fund KAIROS. Accordingly, there should be no confusion whatsoever.
However, the opposition seems to be making a major issue of this by suggesting that the minister was intending to deceive. Nowhere in testimony before committee or before this House has the minister suggested that she was trying to deceive anyone. As I pointed out in my original intervention, in responding to the question of privilege by the member for , the statements made in committee and the statements made in this House are not contradictory. In fact, they complement each another because when she was asked the precise question, the minister gave a precise answer.
Unfortunately for the member for , he did not follow up his line of questioning. Had he simply asked, “If you don't know who inserted the word 'not', were you aware that the word 'not' was inserted, or were you instructing your department not to fund KAIROS?”. Had he asked that simple question or series of questions to that end, he would have had an affirmative response from the minister.
She would have been able to tell the committee at the time that certainly she instructed her officials to convey to the CIDA officials who made the recommendation initially that she was against the recommendation.
Because the member for did not follow up with further questions does not mean that the minister responsible for CIDA was trying to deceive anyone. It simply means that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, nor the rest of the opposition members, did not ask the probative questions they should have asked.
Should the minister be condemned, castigated, ridiculed or have her reputation sullied because she answered a precise question with a precise answer? I would suggest she should not be subjected to the type of abuse she has been subjected to for the last several weeks.
When is it a fault of anyone in this place to answer a direct question with a direct answer? How can anyone say, when giving a precise answer to a precise question, that one is trying to deceive Parliament?
If anyone in this place can cite one example where that has been proven or ruled upon as being deceptive, I would appreciate that member standing today to cite the example. No one can because there has not been, and never will be, an example of giving an honest and precise answer to a precise question that is considered deceptive. The minister responded accurately, yet members of the opposition seem to consider that to be a deception.
I also will comment on the motion that the member for made to refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I have great concerns about that committee being able to honestly and in a non-partisan way try to arbitrate this question and the motion. The Speaker has said quite clearly that the attempt is to clear the air. The reason he invited a motion was to have a committee examine the situation and clear the air to remove any confusion that members may have.
I am not sure if the procedure and House affairs committee will be able to do that. I say that quite sincerely because we have seen, over the course of the past few months, a number of issues come before the procedure and House affairs committee and, in my view, the opposition coalition members who hold a majority on that committee, do not want to ask questions in a non-partisan manner to try to find answers to real questions. They are merely using their ability as the majority, the tyranny of the majority I would suggest, to attempt once again to embarrass the government.
I would point out an example that came before the procedure and House affairs committee very recently to illustrate my concerns. Not long ago, as I am sure all members of the House are aware, there was a very serious incident in which there was a breach of confidentiality concerning the finance committee in which a staff member leaked a draft report from the Standing Committee on Finance to a number of registered lobbyists. The staff member worked for the member for and as the chair has noted, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar went to extraordinary lengths to inform this place about the leak and how it happened.
As I pointed out in committee, had the member for not done so, probably this whole issue would not have been discussed. At committee we found that rather than having opposition members applaud the actions by the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar they went out of their way to try to condemn her, to try to suggest that she was at fault.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who know the hon. member for know, as I do, that there is probably not a more upstanding, honest and forthright individual in Parliament today.
By her own volition, she took the unprecedented action to inform members of the finance committee, the Speaker of the House, the clerk of the committee and the chief information officer of the House as to the leak of confidential information. For that, even the chair admitted she should be congratulated for her actions. Yet opposition members who sit on the procedure and House affairs committee thought otherwise.
A report has been under discussion. While that report has not been tabled in the House, and I certainly cannot comment on the contents of the report since all of these discussions were in camera, I can say that the attitude of the members from the opposition coalition has certainly not been helpful and they have not, in my view at least, reflected accurately the testimony that was heard at committee. I would suggest that if the same attitude prevails with this new question of privilege, we will not end up clearing the air, as the Speaker has requested the committee to do.
I would suggest that it would be far better for a separate committee to examine this issue, hopefully a committee that would take this matter seriously and consider all of the elements that brought us here today, including the fact that the minister responsible for CIDA did not at any time deceive the committee that she first appeared before in December of last year.
Hopefully the committee would take into account the fact that the minister responsible for CIDA was completely honest in all of her comments to committee and Parliament. Hopefully the committee would recognize the fact that if there has been confusion in the minds of members of this place and of some Canadians, it was not because of the actions of the minister but of those in the opposition coalition who want to use this as a partisan method to try to bring forward an issue which has no real relevance before Parliament.
On another day at another time this issue would not be before this place. This issue would have been dealt with expeditiously and succinctly, in a spirit of honesty, in the spirit of Parliament's traditions, which is to ensure that testimony in this place and before committees is the one thing that should be preserved above all else. That is exactly what the minister responsible for CIDA has done. She has not tried to deceive or mislead. She has merely answered every single question honestly, and on top of that, informed committee members on many occasions that it was her decision and her decision solely not to fund KAIROS.
Since I do not believe that we will be able to get a fair hearing before the procedure and House affairs committee, I would move an amendment to the motion brought forward by the member for that the motion be referred to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for further study and ask her to report her findings to the House.
Mr. Speaker, I am not going to take too much time in speaking to the prima facie
case of privilege, but it is important that we understand a couple of things about this issue.
I want to get back to the issue, that of KAIROS, because often that gets forgotten in this place. This is an organization which, as referenced earlier, has done stellar work. If we examine the evaluations of the department and consider the history of KAIROS, it has done stellar work for over 35 years.
The foreign affairs committee considered the issue of Sudan and the referendum that was about to happen. We studied the issue of Sudan, in particular, the south of Sudan. The referendum went fairly smoothly, but we needed experts before committee to tell us what was happening on the ground in Sudan. The committee asked to have KAIROS appear before the committee. This was after the decision was made by the minister to cut funding to KAIROS. The representatives from KAIROS provided very cogent arguments as to what the government should be doing.
It is important that we consider what we are talking about. It is not some partisan group. It is an ecumenical group. It is a group of churches that has been doing work abroad for 35 years. As someone who has travelled a bit in Africa and elsewhere, I can say that we need people on the ground who know what is going on in these areas. The department knows that. The minister knows that.
Seven million dollars is not a lot of money, but it is an important amount. It would also leverage money. KAIROS, as a group, was also able to raise money. Leveraging money is a responsible fiscal decision as well. It is really important that we understand what the issue is. It is about KAIROS. It is about the way the decision was made.
KAIROS is known around the world for the work it does. It is not about partisanship. It is not about the notion some on the other side have of KAIROS advocating on certain issues. That has been dealt with and I am not going to open that up again. The advocacy that was done, which I would be happy to share with some of my colleagues, was on things like dealing with impunity on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I laud the government for recently bringing out an action plan with respect to UN resolution 1325 to deal with the profound challenges of violence against women and the use of women in conflict. The gravity of this issue is such that we have a UN resolution, to which the government responded with an action plan. It was something we all wanted to see. We would like to see more money and action with respect to that action plan, but we know that we must have people on the ground who know what they are doing and what they are talking about.
We heard about the horrific gender violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The government said it was concerned about the military being able to get away with sexual crimes and that it was happy with some actions that were being taken. What it forgot to consider was the people who had been doing the work on the ground to help women and girls, who are extremely vulnerable in the DRC, to fight sexual violence and to make sure that this culture of impunity is challenged. KAIROS was doing that work. It was helping young women. It was helping girls to fight against the culture of impunity. Yes, it was advocacy.
If we examine the evaluations of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and of CIDA, we will actually find that one of the categories under which it puts its program funding is advocacy. Advocacy is not a dirty word. Advocacy is what we do when we help people take control of a situation, in a chaotic situation, in a precarious situation such as what is happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When we look at the merit of the work that KAIROS does, it is really important that we understand why this decision was made, not just the way the information came out from the minister. It is important to understand the government's decision.
The government has said many times, in both the House and at committee, that it could not fund everyone. We understand that. It said that it would provide funding for other programs, giving the impression that it was unable to fund KAIROS because there was not enough money.
People believed the reason KAIROS did not get the funding was because there was not enough money. The problem with that is it is counter to the decision that was made and contrary to the advice given by the department. The deputy minister signed off on this funding. This program was in line with the programs the department believed should be funded. It was never made clear that there was not enough money throughout the debate or in the documents on record.
The minister said that it was her decision. What was that decision? Was her decision not in line with the government's policies, even though the department recommended funding? The buck stops with the minister. Yes, she has the authority to decide whether funding goes ahead or not.
However, the confusion lies in the impression that was given to members of the House and committee. The government said that it would like to fund KAIROS but it did not have the money. Then we were told, and this is the party line now, that what KAIROS was doing was not in line with the government's priorities. That obviously needs to be cleared up.
There is one other thing that I find difficult to comprehend from the responses I have heard from the government. The minister had the application by KAIROS on her desk for two months. Why did the minister suddenly feel the need to doctor the document, which is what some members have called it? Others have called it a fraudulent document.
The fact is the minister had the document in front of her for two months. The story provided to us was that she was out of town and asked someone to use her signature stamp on the application. At some point, she directed someone to put the word “not” in the document. What is slightly unbelievable is that in 2010 we have not come up with a procedure or a form that would allow a minister to decline the advice of a department. That is hard to conceive.
That begs another question. Were there other applications in which the minister or someone else did the deed and inserted the word not? Members of the House and committee were told that the government wished it had a paper process in place, but it did not, so someone was directed to put the “not” in the document thereby changing the decision. I find that difficult to understand. Some members find it difficult to believe. I will leave that as it is.
What other decisions were made in that manner? Government members make it sound like there was a procedural problem. They tell us that problem has been changed so everything is fine now. What other documents went to the minister and she made her decision by inserting a word into the document? That is important for us to understand.
At the end of the day, when we have the evidence that was in front of us at committee, the evidence that was in front of us in the House and the evidence that the Speaker ruled on, it leaves some holes in terms of full disclosure. Full disclosure is important. If we look at the argument I made on this privilege motion, it goes back to Speaker Jerome's decision of 1978 with regard to the RCMP and the opening of people's mail without people knowing it.
The assertion at the time was the minister of the day said that this was not happening. The McDonald commission was established, following many allegations of improper conduct by the RCMP of the day. Alas, it came out during the McDonald commission that the RCMP was opening people's mail without their knowing it.
The minister was obliged to know those facts. That is why that reference was made by us in this decision. It is important for the minister, who asked someone to put the “not” in the document, would know who the person was. It is a basic notion of accountability. If ministers are directing people to change documents, it is incumbent upon them to at least tell us who those people are.
This is not about, guess what I am thinking. That is what the government seems to put forward as an argument. Because we did not ask the right question, therefore the minister is off the hook, so to speak. In our system the minister, as a cabinet minister, should be held to the highest standard. It should not be about a minister waiting to see if we ask a certain question and then giving us a certain answer.
It is about full disclosure for full accountability. That is where I find the issue of privilege to be most cogent. The minister did say at committee that she did not know, and she was confused at times. She clarified later that she did not mean to convey that she was in line with the department's decision.
However, she did say that she did not know who put the word in that changed the outcome of the decision. Most reasonable people reading that, and certainly I was in the room when it happened, would be under the impression that she had nothing to do with it. Why do I say that? If people are asked if they are responsible for changing a document and they say that they do not know, we would assume they were not involved in that process. It is that simple and that is what we are left with.
If the minister had been living up to the standard of full disclosure and accountability, and frankly the standard that we should hold all cabinet ministers to, she would have said that she did not know who put the word in, but that she did direct someone to do it. I think that would have helped.
The way it has framed by the government is that nobody asked the exact question of who put the “not”. We asked the minister who did it. We have to ask ourselves if it has come to this. We are talking about basic accountability.
What we want to know, further to what we have already had, is why the minister, after having this document on her desk for two months, rushed to have someone else doctor the document, someone she claimed to not even know?
Even if we find that she told us everything she knows, we have a problem with accountability. Basically the minister phoned in a decision to someone, we do not know who, to change the work that was done by KAIROS and all of the people in the department who had looked over this application and said that it should be endorsed.
I do not think we can have confidence in is the kind of procedure, where a minister out of town, phoning in and saying that he or she wants someone to insert a word to negate the decision that was signed off on and not know who that person is. We still have no idea who the person was.
You know what it is like around here, Mr. Speaker. People are hired by all of us to do our work. We are talking about a $7 million application and I want to know that the minister is aware of who is doing the work and, in this case, who has inserted the word. We should at least know who did that. We also need to know the timing.
As has already been expressed, other cabinet ministers were in other parts of the world talking about why the government denied KAIROS funding. We now know they have seen the error of their ways and it was erroneous information. The had no idea what he was talking about. He was talking about a different organization. A minister who is not even related to the portfolio was making claim on why a decision was made. Then there is the minister herself directing people to change documents and we do not know who the person is.
In the end, the decision of the Speaker was a wise one and we will need answers to these questions in the procedure and House affairs committee.