Mr. Speaker, all members of Parliament have the responsibility to hold the government to account. That includes Conservative members of Parliament as well. No member of Parliament should be complicit in helping the government keep Canadians in the dark. However, for four months the Conservative government, with the support of government MPs, has been stonewalling and hiding the information we need to do our jobs.
For four months, the Conservatives have ignored the democratic will of Parliament. For four months, they have refused to come clean and tell Canadian taxpayers how much they will have to spend to foot the bill for the Conservatives' U.S.-style prison agenda.
At first the government ignored the finance committee's order to produce the documents on how much the crime bills would cost. The government did not even so much as acknowledge the request before the deadline. Then on December 1, one full week after the deadline, the government gave its first response. In that response, the government said:
The issue of whether there are...costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.
According to that Conservative regime, members of Parliament should not know how much legislation will cost before they have to vote on these pieces of legislation. For this denial of information to Parliament, the Conservatives' reason is cabinet confidence. This is a blatant falsehood. This is arrogance and deception personified by the government.
The Conservatives believe that members of Parliament should vote blindly, but the law is clear. As members of Parliament, we have a constitutional right to that information on how much the legislation will cost.
Therefore, on February 17, my hon. colleague, the member for , moved a motion in the House demanding that the government provide this information to the House. After three months of saying that it could not provide any information, the government then responded that afternoon with a few numbers. However, the information was incomplete. The government only provided information on five of the eighteen crime bills. There was no analysis, no information on how the government arrived at the few numbers that it did provide and there was nothing about how this legislation would affect the provinces and the cost to the provinces.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer reviewed the information that the government provided, up to and including February 17. This is what the Parliamentary Budget Officer had to say about the government's response, “The Government of Canada has not provided the finance committee with most of the information that it requested”.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer went on to say:
The data tabled by the GC, does not provide FINA (or the PBO) with analysis, key assumptions, drivers, and methodologies behind the figures presented. Further, basic statistics such as headcounts, annual inflows, unit costs per inmate, per full-time...employee, and per new cell construction have not been made available.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer went further. He said, “As requested in the FINA motion, the PBO is also unable to determine whether” the data tabled by the Government of Canada would indicate whether “the requisite monies have been indeed set aside in the Fiscal Planning Framework and whether the departmental Annual Reference Levels of the affected federal government departments have been adjusted to reflect the change in requirements”.
In this report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer also had some fundamental questions, which are of great importance to the House. He first asked, “Is the information requested by FINA relevant and necessary to parliamentary decision-making?” His answer was, “Yes. It is required for parliamentarians to fulfill fiduciary obligations under the Constitution”.
Mr. Page asked a second question: “Is it collected regularly by the Government of Canada?” His answer: “Yes. The information is collected, analyzed and challenged as part of the Government of Canada's expenditure management system”.
He asked a third question: “Does Parliament have the right to the information?” To this fundamental and important question, the Parliamentary Budget Officer answered: “Yes. The Parliament of Canada is under a constitutional obligation to review any information gathered during the EMS process that it views as necessary for the discharge of its fiduciary duty to the Canadian people to properly control public monies”.
Given the Conservative government's blatant disregard for Parliament, given its continued abuse of the system and the breaking of the rules in order to hide the costs of its U.S.-style prison agenda, given all of this, I rose in the House and brought the matter before the Speaker as a matter of privilege.
On March 9, the Speaker gave his historic ruling, finding a prima facie question of privilege. With his guidance, I then moved a motion asking the procedure and House affairs committee to investigate these actions by the government and provide the committee's recommendations to this House.
The committee heard from expert witnesses on the issue of Parliament's right to know how much this legislation will cost. The committee heard from the House of Commons law clerk and parliamentary counsel, Mr. Robert Walsh, who said very clearly that the costs associated with legislation before the House are not covered by cabinet confidence. In his testimony, Mr. Walsh said:
...the basic principle is that the House should receive whatever information it seeks for it to do its function in holding the government to account or, as you mentioned, in reviewing legislation.
He went on to say:
The decisions made by the House of Commons are only as good as the information members of Parliament have to help them make those decisions.
The current once said:
Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.
That was a rare moment of candour from the Conservative Prime Minister and one must wonder, based on the Prime Minister's own words, what incompetence and corruption the Conservative government is trying to hide under its cloak of secrecy today.
During its investigation, the committee also heard from Mr. Mel Cappe, a former clerk of the Privy Council. Mr. Cappe told the committee that the government's decision to hide the information under cabinet confidence was “unjustified”. I will quote from the committee report. According to Mr. Cappe, “Once a bill has been introduced the costs of that bill cannot be considered a cabinet confidence and must be provided to parliamentarians to enable them to arrive at an informed opinion”.
The committee also heard from Mr. Alister Smith, the associate secretary at Treasury Board, who told the committee that under the Treasury Board guide to costing the government must analyze the fiscal impact of federal legislation on the provinces.
The committee heard that parliamentarians not only have the right to know how much federal legislation will cost the federal treasury, but we also have a right and a responsibility to know how much federal legislation will cost provincial governments.
On the afternoon of March 16, once again the Conservatives demonstrated their contempt for Parliament by providing over 700 pages of documents to the committee without giving committee members any time to examine the information before hearing from the and the .
It was a data dump on the committee 15 minutes before the ministers were to do their presentations. It was a publicity stunt aimed at convincing the public somehow that the government had finally come clean when, in fact, it had not come clean. It was a charade. It was another example of the government's disrespect for Parliament and another example of why Canadians cannot trust the government to tell them the truth, to give them the real facts and costs of its agenda.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer continued his work after the government dumped this data on the committee. The Parliamentary Budget Officer studied this massive binder and concluded, in a report to the committee, that:
There remain significant gaps between the information requested by parliamentarians and the documentation that was provided by the [government], which will limit the ability of parliamentarians to fulfill their fiduciary obligations.
Examining the grid in the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report to the committee, it is clear that the government failed to provide three-quarters of the information that had been requested by the finance committee and, in fact, demanded by the Speaker's ruling.
With this, the committee concluded that:
1. that the government has failed to produce all the specific documents ordered to be produced by the Standing Committee on Finance and by the House of Commons;
2. that the government has not provided a reasonable excuse;
3. that the documents tabled in the House and in Committee do not satisfy the orders for production of documents; nor do they provide a reasonable excuse;
4. that this failure impedes the House in the performance of its functions; and
5. that the government’s failure to produce documents constitutes a contempt of Parliament.
The lengths that the Conservative government has gone to hide the costs of its legislation show not only a contempt for this Parliament, but also a contempt for the people of Canada who chose this Parliament. The Conservatives are showing contempt for the Canadian taxpayer who has to foot the bill for these pieces of legislation.
I remind all members of this House, including members of the Conservative Party, that regardless of what party we represent, we all have an equally important fiduciary and constitutional responsibility to the people of Canada to demand that the government provide this information to the House of Commons.
I would remind this House, including the Conservative members, that in being complicit with the government and helping the government hide this information from Canadians, the Conservative members of Parliament are not doing their jobs. They are not standing up for Canadians. In fact, they are attacking the interests of Canadian taxpayers by not telling them how much this legislation will cost. They are not fulfilling perhaps the most important responsibility we have as members of Parliament, and that is to defend the democratic institutions that keep us free.
What I find troubling about the government is that at every turn we have a and a government that not only stymies Parliament and attacks this institution, but it attacks the public service, the courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is an historic decision by Parliament, by the committee, to find the government in contempt. It is the first time in the history of Canadian Parliament that a government has been found to be in contempt of Parliament. It is the first time in the history of the British parliamentary system that a government has been found to be in contempt of Parliament.
This is not a good moment in Canadian history. This is a sad moment in Canadian history. It is sad for our Parliament and for Canadian citizens.
At a time when Canada should be doing more to help a troubled world build a more peaceful and stable democratic world, it has never been more important that we defend these democratic institutions that keep us free here in Canada. We will lose our moral authority to make a difference in the world and help it achieve a more peaceful and democratic future if we do not passionately demonstrate the importance of those institutions here at home.
We fully expect that the House will concur with the findings of the committee and we hope that this will help Canadians understand the importance of defending these institutions. We hope that members of the Conservative Party will wake up and recognize their responsibilities and join with us today in standing up for the people who elect us and not defend a government that is once again shutting down this Parliament and denying us the right and responsibility we have to defend the interests of Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I guess I should just point out right at the outset that this is what I dealt with all last week: a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of what he is supposed to talk about; a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of his time; and, I am sorry to say, a side of the table that just would not stay in the bounds of politeness. It was about as discouraging as it might get.
I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and I am happy to admit them. Long before politics I knew the member for and found him to be a very honourable gentleman. This week he has tried my patience on that one, as to whether I really truly believe it at all any more.
The other mistake is I thought I had the best job in the world. I came here as a member of Parliament some seven years ago and I thought, “I can't believe how good this is. You're representing your people and it's just incredible”.
I got to be the chair of procedure and House affairs, a chair of a committee of the House, and I have been proud of it. I have been very proud of it. It is not often that a chair will get up on a fairly partisan issue that we are talking about here, but I got to see this first-hand last week from the end of the table, not from the side of the government, not from the side of the opposition, but from the side that had to watch it, much like the TV cameras had to watch it last week. I would like to give members my view of what we are talking about here.
So, the second mistake that I have made is I came here thinking this was the best job ever and that we really, truly could get along, and do great things and things that we are all proud of.
After two very long days looking at this issue last week, I am not certain I want to share with my grandkids what I did those two days here in Parliament. I am not sure I want to share with my grandchildren, and I am sorry I do not have any yet, but my future grandchildren what I saw from an abuse of, truly, the procedures.
The member for , somewhere in his, I was going to say statement of facts but I would have to assume, then, there were facts in there, got up and said that it was about defending taxpayers and it was about defending the democratic systems.
I am happy to say I am the chair of a committee that does defend democratic systems. Last week when we attempted to do that, I saw every dirty trick and every rudeness. It was just over the top. I will explain some of them to members, and Madam Speaker, I know you have seen some of them. I know you have even seen how rude some of us can be even in this House. It was over the top.
I want to tell members that there is a group of people out there who really truly do watch us on TV. We were the only act in town last week. The only thing happening was the procedure and House affairs committee and so, many people watched it. I guess if we go by the CPAC channel, we watch and see what is going on. I have to tell members there are groupies, there is a group of people out there, and I said groupies, I guess maybe we should use that term, who sent emails. I have received emails from across this nation last week about the job of being the chair of the procedure and House affairs.
There were a lot of suggestions as to what we should do to some of the members, and I have to suggest that sometimes during some of those very long sessions last week, I thought some bad thoughts about what I should do to some of those members, too.
Hon. John McKay: And they're all in your caucus.
Mr. Joe Preston: You can see, Madam Speaker, the heckling from the other side. It happened last week, too. It was that way, too. It just was.
Let us just talk a bit about what we attempted to do last week.
I do not sit on the committee for finance. As I shared with members, I chair a different committee. However, the report came to this House from the finance committee looking for information. That is what the report was about. The committee members felt they needed more information, so they moved a motion and asked the Speaker to find a case of privilege, saying that the information had not been delivered to them.
Maybe some members do not know this, so I will give them a bit of an education on what happens when a motion of privilege is moved. What we first get from the Speaker is a prima facie case, a legal term. I am not a lawyer but I understand it well enough to say that it means that the Speaker has found, on the surface, that someone else should look at the case. Therefore, the case was moved to our committee.
As a matter of convention, since I have been the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs the Speaker normally comes and explains to us how he arrived at his decision, the basis for his thought. We were not able to do that last week because, as many members know, it was not a week the House was sitting and so not all members were available to us. Thus the committee was not able to start in the way it would normally do with a study.
The other thing that was different last week, and I have already pointed this out, is that the member for was there but not as a standard member of our committee. He does not usually sit on our committee.
I take pride in the fact that committee members get along. Our standard committee is made up of the whips of most of the parties and other more senior members of the other parties, including our own. I have found over the period of time I have been the chair that we have certainly been able to get along and maybe even accomplish the impossible every now and again, just by being able to get along, by not making issues partisan or over the top. It is not about trying to get that press clip on the evening news.
The committee seldom meets in public, and so it was really different to be before TV cameras all of last week and have to deal with them too, because I do find there is a difference. I will admit to being a bit at fault here also. When we know a TV camera is on us, we maybe act a little differently than usual. We might take the roundabout way to get to our point because we think it might make a nice clip on a website or on the evening news, instead of just working with the people across the table and getting to the facts and, as a member just said, defending taxpayers and democratic institutions. Instead of just working to do those two things, we chose to make a show of it. We chose to make it look like a circus at times, at other times like a daycare and at other times somewhat like warfare. It really went over the top.
The issue comes to the committee and we have to look at the whole thing to see if it really is a prima facie case and we spend a great deal of time looking for facts. The reason we hold these committee meetings is to look for facts. We call witnesses. At the beginning, we very co-operatively ask each party for a list of witnesses they would like to hear from. Each party hands in a list of people, including some experts on the system. Surprisingly enough, oftentimes the same name is on the lists provided by many of the parties.
The member for mentioned Mel Cappe, an eminent former clerk of the Privy Council and a professor now at the University of Toronto. I would love to spend some time in his classroom. I really enjoyed listening to Mel Cappe while he was at committee. He is a very knowledgeable gentleman.
Rob Walsh, the House of Commons law clerk, often comes to our committee because we deal with those types of issues. He was probably on more than one witness list.
We are going to have a permanent name tag made for Ned Franks because he attends almost everything we study at the procedure and House affairs committee. He knows his constitutional law. He knows things about the House of Commons. He knows where all the bones are buried. We can pretty much ask Ned anything and he will have an opinion on it. We did find at committee that there certainly were times when Ned had two or three opinions. I mean no offence, because he would admit to it, but there were many times when after a case was made by one of the sides at the table, he would change his view and see that side.
Therefore, we all put together a witness list, including ministers such as the and the , who were both there on the first day of our study.
The member for is correct that a lot of information was given. It is my understanding that some months ago, a document was given, a foolscap piece of paper, with a costing structure for all of the crime bills. It had some boxes on it and the numbers were filled in. It was fairly fulsome in what it was covering. That day, when the ministers came, they brought the supporting documents for that piece of paper. The member from is correct that it was quite a show. There was a pretty good binder full of information.
My colleague said something like: “Holy, they looked like dogs that finally caught the car”. The committee did not know what to do with it, because there it was, all of the information. All of a sudden, they had the information they wanted. There it was. Then the committee said it was too much. They could not read it all. It was too much, and they complained they were only given 15 minutes to read it, which was not enough.
What did we do? We asked two very busy ministers, who were on their way to other things, to come back the next day so that we would have the time to read the documents and they could spend another hour with us and explain what was in the documents. That sounded fair.
I recognize ministers are very busy people. I know it was hard for the clerk and I, when scheduling the first witnesses and helping to set up the witness list in the first place, to get them together at the same time to do this. So we had ministers come back the next day because the members asked them for more information. It sounded great, and so we did have them back.
In-between their first and second appearances, we had a number of witnesses. We mentioned some of them, such as Mel Cappe. We had a lot of good, interesting questions about his theory on cabinet confidentiality and what information could be shared with committees, legislatures and members of Parliament so that we can make the right decisions when voting on legislation.
The member from has just suggested this was what we were trying to do. I agree it was exactly what we were trying to do. We were trying to find a way for information to get into MPs' hands and therefore into their minds when looking at legislation, whether at the committee level or here in the House, so that we can do our proper due diligence. That was our “fiduciary responsibility”, I think was the term used.
Therefore, all of the committee's meetings, all of the show trial, was about answering whether the information was sufficient.
It was not sufficient when it was provided at committee, apparently. It was not sufficient when the document was tabled here in the House with a good amount of information. As I said, I was not a member of the finance committee and I do not know whether the numbers were what that committee wanted or not. However, the member from has just said: “No, they weren't”.
We did not get there. We had done of all of that and had all of those witnesses and all of their testimony, then something happened that I have never seen before in my life in this whole place. Two things happened.
The night before the whole committee meeting started, there was an article in the newspaper about how the committee was going to find the government in contempt. I thought that was a little off and a bit of a predetermination of where we were going.
At the end, the very that minute that testimony stopped, a document came forward on how this was going to work out, with all of the conclusions reached by the committee, but without any evidence to prove what was said. It would only be two pages long and there were going to be five recommendations by the committee. The minute we stopped hearing the evidence, we were apparently going vote on the motion.
That is what happened in that committee. It was as blatant and over-the-top abuse of power as I have ever seen.
I have spoken a long time and I have got a little off my chest and am honestly feeling a little better.
The good thing is that the reason we have committees in this place is to do that type of investigative work. It is not to predetermine where we are going to be. I have to say to the member for and the other members from his party who filled that committee on a temporary basis, it is not how we usually work. We would not think of ignoring the evidence and then just give a report. We take a summary of the evidence into account.
That the House do now proceed to the orders of the day.