|| That the question of privilege regarding the free movement of Members of Parliament within the Parliamentary Precinct raised on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with the member of Parliament for on this topic.
I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your thoughtful ruling.
I do appreciate the time that the Parliamentary Protective Service puts in to making sure that our privileges, our rights, and our duties are supported in this place. I also want to thank those who provide the transport around the precinct, who I know were not at fault for what ended up happening. As I said, I truly appreciate the work they do every day to allow us to do the work we do every day here in this House on behalf of Canadians.
I thought I would give the House a bit of an idea from my perspective of what happened and why I felt so strongly in making sure that I rose on a point of personal privilege that day. As was noted in your reports, Mr. Speaker, I did arrive in time to be able to come to the Hill and, as expected, I waited for the transport to arrive. The frustrating part about it was that the transport was right there and I could see it waiting to come through security in order to bring us to the Hill. I made small talk with people at the bus shelter, including my colleague, the member of Parliament for . We waited patiently as the media bus proceeded to the Hill.
After a long period of waiting, when we realized that time was passing and the security bollard was not opening, my colleague from Beauce went over to inquire as to why the buses were not being released. The reason given was that security was waiting for the empty motorcade of the to vacate the precinct before we were allowed to go to the House to vote.
As I said, we could see the bus from where we were. We could see four or five officers who were in the area. If they had people on the bus who were members of Parliament, I was unaware, but now I understand they did. Indeed they would have seen us waiting at the bus shelter. They would have known that those waiting were members of Parliament, yet they did not know whether there were other members who were scattered among the different stops along the way to be brought to the House. Every expectation I had was that the bus would approach, that we would get on it, and we would be able to proceed to the House in order to vote.
One thing I do know about the scheduling of buses during a vote is that all efforts are taken to ensure that the system of timing is such so that members at the last minute, sometimes with one or two minutes to go, are not left stranded at their offices in any of the buildings around the precinct. As a result, careful thought is given to making sure that those last-minute buses in the six, five, and four minutes left in the ringing of the bells make it to the House in time so that members can discharge their parliamentary obligations and duties on behalf of Canadians. However, that did not happen in that case. In fact, I am very distressed to understand that it was not a single bus or even two buses, that it was three buses that were held up for nine minutes preventing members from going to vote. The reason we were prevented was that the supremacy of one was paramount over the supremacy of the members of Parliament going to vote. The supremacy was in one person, and that was the .
Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once famously said that 50 yards off the Hill, MPs are nobodies. Unfortunately, that type of arrogance seems to have bled into his son, the current , in terms of how he approaches issues. It is an incredibly arrogant statement and it is one that we reflect on a lot when we discharge our duties, because as members of Parliament we do not feel that way at all. It is unfortunate that the singular importance of that day during the budget had to do with whether or not the empty motorcade of the came off the Hill as opposed to members of Parliament coming into the House of Commons to vote. Indeed, it trumped what was, as you said, Mr. Speaker, our abilities to discharge our parliamentary responsibilities to Canadians.
We need to understand two things. First, was this done by actual order? If it was, who made the order and how was that order made, because it was a serious matter, one that you have expressed, Mr. Speaker. The second is whether this is something of an interpretation of the people who serve on the Hill that one group or one individual is far more important than the other. I do think that this is very indicative and very problematic.
Currently we have a discussion happening in PROC, the procedure and House affairs committee, with respect to the 's and the government's desire to ensure that the members of Parliament's duties, privileges, and responsibilities are curtailed. Lots is said and lots is written about the importance of tradition and rules and what we do here in this House and the precedents that are set. It is incredibly important that we stop once in a while to be assured and to ensure that what we are doing here is respected.
The fact is that a number of MPs were prohibited from voting on a day when the budget was being presented in the House of Commons. The fact is the has, through his ministers, put forth a document that seriously curtails the ability of MPs to fulfill their duties. I do not think that this is an isolated incident, and I do worry that the tone of the government being set is such that MPs are no longer important either in this place or in what we have to say in opposition.
Mr. Speaker, I hope and I support that this matter be referred to the appropriate committee so that the committee can undertake a study to determine through your two reports that I hope will be tabled, exactly what happened, who proceeded in making the decision to stop the MPs from getting on the Hill, and whether or not there was an implicit order or whether or not there was just tone being followed with respect to this matter. I am sure that my colleague, the member for , will also speak to the issue and the importance of it to his parliamentary privilege.
I greatly appreciate the time that has been put into ensuring that this was duly studied and appropriately thought through and that the time and effort of those who did the investigation did it in a timely fashion so that we could get to the facts of the matter. However, the facts are now known and what we need to understand more importantly now is the intention and the tone under which this Parliament seems to be operating that leads to the conclusion that the is paramount and supreme over the rest of us sitting here taking our seats in the House of Commons. Obviously, I reject that notion. I think that all members of Parliament in this place are incredibly important in how they represent their communities and their views, be they on the government backbench or in opposition.
I believe we should take pause to not just bat away complaints of the opposition on matters that are extremely important such as long-standing rules, long-standing conventions, agreements that we want to change things in this place, that we do so in concurrence with one another as opposed to having one side determine which path we are going to be following well into the future in terms of rules in the House.
I understand that the committee I am seeking this matter be referred to is undergoing a bit of a filibuster. I applaud my colleagues who are doing that, because they are making the point there that I am making here. It is unacceptable for a government to contemplate and think it is supreme above each and every member of Parliament that sits here, and if that arrogance is what is infiltrating the decision-making in this place by those who are serving us, then we need to throw some light on it and ensure that it does not continue, because it is completely unacceptable.
Unfortunately, my colleague from and I were both caught up in the moment where we were not allowed to be able to vote in the House. Some would say that is just a small infraction, but I would submit it is not. It is absolutely grave. We had our intention. We wanted to come to the Hill. We wanted to exercise our franchise on behalf of our constituents, and we were unable to do so because some individual, some person, we do not know yet, decided that was not going to happen because the 's motorcade, which was empty, and the convenience of having it in one place or another took precedence over the duties and the responsibilities of a duly elected member of Parliament.
It is absolutely shameful. The committee deserves to study it, and we deserve to have a report back.
Madam Speaker, as I indicated in my questions, we do take the issue of privilege and access to the House very seriously, as I believe all members of this House should, and we recognize how important it is that we have unfettered access to the floor of the House of Commons.
The has consistently said to his members of Parliament, and has suggested to all members of Parliament, that it always works much better if we represent our constituents' interests here in Ottawa, as opposed to Ottawa's interests in the constituencies. This is something our current truly believes.
In order to represent our constituents' interests here in Ottawa, we need to have that unfettered access. That is something I, as a parliamentarian for many years, take very seriously. That is why I was offended by the members' comments in regard to changing the topic. We should be taking the issue more seriously. I will provide more comments with respect to the previous presentations shortly.
I want to emphasize that we perform many roles inside this chamber and in committee rooms. I would argue that our standing committees have the potential to be the real backbone of future developments of ideas for members of Parliament to be engaged with. The House is an opportunity for individuals to be equally engaged in all sorts of different policy areas. It is absolutely critical that MPs be able to attend our institution here, including all committee rooms on the Hill and on the precinct site, which goes beyond just the Hill. We do have committees that are off the Hill.
It is of the utmost importance that we have access, especially when it comes time to vote. I have been involved previously when similar questions of privilege were raised. When that occurred, I do not believe members at the procedure and House affairs committee tried to say that the government of the day was trying to block members from being able to participate.
After listening to some of the comments coming from across the way, it needs to be made very clear to all members of this House that there is not one member of the House who would be in support of another member not having unfettered access to House. To try to imply something different is just wrong. That is not the case. I know that at least it is not the case within the Liberal caucus, and I would suggest that it applies to all caucuses.
We all, collectively, understand and appreciate the importance of what members of Parliament need to do and are obligated to do. That mandate comes from the constituents who put us here. I do take this issue very seriously.
I have listened to the statements and asked questions of the two Conservative speakers. I am of the opinion that they do not understand the ruling made by the Speaker. What I would like to do is reinforce that. Nowhere in the Speaker's ruling was there any reference, at all, in regard to the or the Prime Minister's motorcade. In fact, it would seem to me that some members are trying to tie other issues into this very important issue of privilege.
I would like to reinforce exactly what the Speaker said. I am going to quote for members who maybe were not listening quite attentively to what the Speaker was saying. They will now have the opportunity to hear it, because I am going to repeat, word for word, in good part, what the Speaker said.
The Speaker stated, “In fact, I have received two reports of the incident. The first, from the House of Commons Corporate Security Officer and Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, provides an excellent minute by minute summary of events and is supplemented by witness statements. The second report was received from the acting director of the Parliamentary Protective Service.”
I will pause there. I would like to think that no members in the House would actually question the consultation made by the Speaker and what he heard from the specific groups that helped him with the decision he shared with us just an hour ago.
His ruling further stated, “Based on those reports, here is what appears to have happened on March 22. At approximately 3:47 p.m., the bollards at the vehicle screening facility were lowered to allow for the arrival of a bus transporting journalists to Centre Block for the presentation of the budget. The media bus, under Parliamentary Protective Service escort, immediately proceeded to Centre Block. Seconds later, after the media bus had proceeded, a House of Commons shuttle bus arrived at the vehicle screening facility, but was not allowed to proceed to Centre Block. In the ensuing minutes, two more shuttle buses arrived at the vehicle screening facility and were similarly delayed. I am informed that members were on at least some of these buses. During these delays, which lasted a total of nine minutes, two members, the member for and the member for , were waiting at the bus shelter near the vehicle screening facility. At approximately 3:54 p.m., the member for Beauce entered the vehicle screening facility and made inquiries of parliamentary protective staff about the delays and then decided, at approximately 3:55 p.m.”, which is one minute later, “to leave the bus shelter and walk up the hill. As members will know, it is at around this time that a vote was commencing in the House.”
The Speaker went on to explain, through House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, page 110, as follows:
|| Incidents involving physical obstruction—such as traffic barriers, security cordons and union picket lines either impeding Members' access to the Parliamentary Precinct or blocking their free movement within the precinct...have been found to be prima facie cases of privilege.
Members across the way who would have heard that would have also heard that there was no reference whatsoever to the 's motorcade. What they would know from the ruling of the Speaker was that it was all about a media bus and an escort. That is, ultimately, what was implied in the Speaker's ruling that justified it as a prima facie case.
I listened to the member for 's response to that. This is what I love about Hansard. Members across the way can read for themselves what was said by the member. If we ask ourselves if the member relayed any sort of confidence in what the Speaker put on the record minutes before she stood, I would argue no. Her focus seemed to be politicizing the issue by talking about a former prime minister and then trying to apply it to the current .
Let us look at the word “arrogance”, and how the member across the way used it. Then she talked about other things that were taking place in the House of which members should be aware. I have thoughts on those issues too, and I would like to share some of them.
With respect to the current , I believe he has been one of the most accountable, transparent prime ministers we have seen in the House in decades. Members across the way laugh and heckle, but in my tenure as an MLA, I very closely watched the prime ministers, their attitudes, and how they interacted with the public. Never before have I seen prime ministers tour town hall style at open mics, where there were no taped or advance questions given to them, and actually answer questions.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Madam Speaker, when we look at what the member's presentation was all about, did we hear anything with regard to the media bus, which the Speaker referenced? Ultimately, the opposition members are sending a mixed message. On the one hand, they are trying to emphasize that they have a matter of privilege. I am very sympathetic to what the members have referenced in moving the motion. However, I question why the members across the way took as much time as they did. Much in their speeches was not about the privilege itself, but about other things that were not related to the privilege.
That is why it is important, and why I started to address some of those aspects. In good part, it needs to be done. The amendment to the motion asks to send this to the procedures and House affairs committee, which is the committee it should go to, and that it should be given priority. As I indicated, I have sat on PROC before. A nice thing about a standing committee is that it has the opportunity to set its own agenda. There is nothing to prevent PROC, for example, from meeting more than the two days a week for two hours a day. In fact, that is what is happening today. As we speak, PROC is meeting.
Therefore, the member's amendment to the motion really is not necessary. When I was a member of PROC, we all understood the importance of a motion that passed from the House dealing with privilege and the responsibility of that. If in fact the motion does pass, I would like to think the committee will be afforded the opportunity to set aside the time to do one or more things if it chooses to do so. This would be determined by the membership of the committee.
Just based on the two speeches before mine, my concern is that even if it does pass in the House, what will be the focus of the debate going into the procedures and House affairs committee? Is it really and truly going to be about the privilege on which the Speaker has ruled, or is it going to become an expansion of a wide variety of other issues about which the Conservative Party, in some ways working with the New Democratic Party, is going to want to talk?
That is why I believe, as government, we need to take the issue very seriously. I encourage all members to take the issue very seriously. If we believe at the core of the question of privilege, as presented by the Speaker, is about unfettered access to the Parliament buildings, then that is what it should be about.
I am hoping that by standing and speaking to the motion, members across the way will recognize that if in fact they genuinely believe, as they want me and others to believe, that this is about the privilege raised, then the comments that were made by the previous two speakers were not necessarily warranted. That was where the focus appeared to be.
That is why it is good to repeat the fact that we have a very serious issue before the chamber. I will continue to argue that what is in the best interest of this institution is that we recognize the importance of unfettered access. We are not just talking about votes. We are talking about debate, committee rooms, the chamber, and committee rooms outside the parliamentary precinct. That is what the focus of the debate should be.
I started off by saying that I was disappointed, and the reason I am disappointed is that the two previous speeches set the tone in the wrong direction. I would invite members opposite to refocus. What is important here is not the political shots but rather—
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend, the member of Parliament for .
This is déjà vu all over again. We have had this issue more than a few times in my brief time in the House of Commons. An event takes place, members of Parliament are unable to access the Hill, we redress it through the Speaker, and always, from my experience, we take it to the procedure and House affairs committee.
The “he said, she said” that is going on right now with the member for is unhelpful in actually exploring what we need to understand to make sure this does not happen again.
For folks who do not understand, or perhaps appreciate, why this is so important, the ability of members of Parliament to actually gain access to the House of Commons to cast their votes on behalf of our constituents is a right and a privilege that extends back to the creation of Parliament itself. In olden times, there were kings and queens who did not like what the commoners had to say. They did not particularly want a certain thing to pass, and they would physically bar members of Parliament from coming in, speaking, and voting.
We extend that forward. We appreciate and recognize the power of any majority government and the power of a Prime Minister. At no time could we ever allow one inch to be given over to the idea that the , or anyone connected to the , could prevent, block, or inhibit a member of Parliament from gaining access to a vote.
One can easily remember the scenario in which we had a minority Parliament, and we had many confidence votes on which the government could fall or stand. I can remember a former colleague, who has now since passed, casting a deciding vote as to whether the government would continue on in its function and duty or whether the country would return to an election. That was within the last decade. That was not that long ago.
One understands the importance of what we are talking about here today. It is paramount to the basic role and duties we have as members of Parliament.
Let us take care of one thing right away. It is the Liberals who seem to be standing in the way of taking this debate to its proper place. We are meant to be talking about the budget and some other important things in the House of Commons that concern all Canadians, yet this has come up from a Speaker's ruling we had earlier today, which takes precedence over everything else that goes on in the House of Commons. However, to properly understand and analyze what it is that happened and how to make sure it never happens again, the floor of the House of Commons is not necessarily the best place. We cannot call witnesses forward here today. We are not able to request interviews with the security officials or with my colleagues who first raised this issue. We have the debate as it takes place under our given rules. Clearly, the best place to take it is the committee, where the committee can explore and understand and bring the witnesses it needs and then, finally, support the Speaker's ruling as to what actually happened and how to make sure it never happens again.
The Liberals have decided not to accept that amendment so far. So far, they have said no, let us just keep talking about it in the House of Commons. The Liberal representative so far has also tried to infer from the Speaker's ruling that the Speaker has determined what actually happened and that it was the media bus that caused the problems.
I too have read the Speaker's ruling several times. I have read it in great detail, and in no place does the Speaker say that. All the Speaker does is recount the events of the day. There was one bus that had a bunch of media on it. It went through the gate. There were several buses behind it that contained members of Parliament and that were picking up other MPs. They were prevented. All we have is the testimony, so far, and I will call it testimony, from my friend from , who said that he went to the security official who has there and asked what the problem was, what the hold up was. He said they needed to get to the House to vote. He was told, and I believe him, because I have no reason not to, that the 's motorcade, which was empty, was in the way and that the security protocols at that time said nobody was allowed to move.
I have been in that scenario in which the 's motorcade, all MPs have seen this, is coming through the parliamentary precinct. It is long, with big, black SUVs, and on it goes and everything stops around it, as is right, because we need to have security around the . No one denies that. However, in this instance, the motorcade was empty. MPs were trying to get to a vote in the House of Commons and hear the debate on the budget. These are important things. If that was the case, if MPs were denied on that excuse, then we have a problem, because that excuse could arise at almost any time the 's motorcade wanted to just park somewhere and block the gates of Parliament, or a gate of Parliament that is often used. There is one we predominantly use if we are taking a bus up onto the Hill.
Clearly, if that is what we have in front of us, that is serious. That matters. That could, in future, and we are not suggesting it now, be an abuse of power to prevent MPs from coming in.
That could happen, if that is what took place. That is what we have. At no point in his ruling earlier this morning did the Speaker say the problem was the media bus, to correct my friend from , as loud as he would like to say it and as often as he would like to repeat it. That is not what is in the Speaker's ruling. He is entitled to his opinions, but not his own facts.
These are the facts. We have the testimony from the member for who had asked the security official. We have the Speaker's ruling in front of us, which said that all that happened is these buses lined up and could not get in.
When it comes to the Liberals, as Shakespeare would say, methinks they doth protest too much. They are asking us how we dare accuse the of trying to ramrod something through, how we dare accuse the Prime Minister of trying to bully Parliament or prevent MPs from speaking on behalf of their constituents.
Wait. What is going on at the procedure and House affairs committee right now? Right, there is a Liberal motion at committee that speaks to what is exactly relevant today, which is the ability of members of Parliament to have the privilege that is given to us, not by the government, not by the 's office, but by our constituents, the privilege of access to the Hill.
This is relevant for my friend from Winnipeg, who likes to say that there is too much heckling in the House of Commons, yet sometimes, from time to time, he just cannot seem to resist it himself. He needs to heckle and get into the debate, and then minutes later will rise to his feet or speak to the media and say that what is wrong with our democracy is that there is too much heckling. Then he returns to the House of Commons to continue his practice of heckling members of Parliament while we are trying to speak.
The question today is this. Is there some sort of pattern developing within the government? I think that is a relevant question. We see the Liberals trying to take the rules of the House of Commons and force down the throats of the opposition that the government of the day should have unfettered power to shut down debate, that it should have new prorogation rules, that it should have the only come in on Wednesdays to answer questions, and that it does not need the support of opposition parties to change the rules of the House of Commons.
We are now asking a question about access to the House of Commons, and how that access was denied. These are good questions to ask, which should be of grave concern to all parliamentarians. Liberals might enter into some delusional world in which they say that they are the government now and will be the government forever. They may think they can change the rules of Parliament to favour the government, because that will never come back to bite them. They think they can make it so that a prime minister's motorcade can block MPs from gaining access to voting on behalf of their constituents, because they are the government right now and maybe it works for them.
I remind my Liberal colleagues of recent history when it was not them in government, and that our role as we pass across this stage is to make sure that we leave the place better than we found it, to make sure that we can do the jobs that people send us here to do. It is nothing more complicated or more simple than that.
However, we see the tendency in the government to say that rules only apply to other people, but that it is special because it is Liberal. The Liberals feel they can have special rules that help Liberals. As the House leader for the Liberals said on the floor of the House of Commons, when we asked about the taking special advantages, he is the after all. Oh goodness, he is the Prime Minister after all.
When the stands in this place, he is just another member of Parliament, which is what we all are. We have the Westminster style of governance. We do not vote in prime ministers. We vote in members of Parliament. News flash to the current government members: as much Kool-Aid as they have drunk, the actual reality of how our system works is that we all have the right to access this place, the right to speak freely on behalf of the people we represent to the best of our abilities, and the right to challenge the government when it makes bad decisions, as we are doing at the procedure and House affairs committee right now.
Why, in heaven's name, is there some discussion? It is real and it is important. The Speaker has ruled that we have a prima facie case of privilege that members of Parliament, two in this case at least, had their rights of access denied, which is as serious as it gets in an open and free democracy. When members are blocked from voting, this is a question worth exploring and understanding so that it does not happen again. We have done it several times now.
The best place for this to take place, the best place for us to investigate what actually happened, to hear from security, to hear from the members who were actually present is in a House of Commons committee. The committee that handles that is the procedure and House affairs committee.
Why would Liberals want to block that particular investigation? One has to ask the question why. Are they worried about an answer that may come out of it? I do not know. Let us just do the right thing. Let us make sure that the guaranteed rights to access this place are guaranteed for all members of Parliament, and that this place functions as it should once in a while.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to an issue that concerns one of the most important rights of members of the House of Commons, which is to have unfettered access to this place at any time, and particularly when there are votes happening.
A question of privilege has been raised. Members have said they were not able to make it to a vote because they were obstructed. The Speaker has said he does think there is a prima facie case. The appropriate thing to do, and what is typically done, is that it goes to the procedures and House affairs committee. My understanding is that, typically, the committee takes that matter up forthwith and makes a determination.
My colleague from is quite right to say that it is at committee that this matter should be properly studied, because the committee has the ability to call witnesses and to delve deeper into the details of the issue.
There is some contention as to whether or not it was the media bus that was responsible for the shuttle buses being delayed and therefore members not being able to make it to the House on time for a vote, or whether it was the 's motorcade. The Speaker's ruling does not say one way or the other which one it was. That is why it would be good to find out.
The way to find out is to call on the people who were involved, in order to get an accurate representation of what happened. That way we would know. If it is something to do with the Prime Minister's motorcade, then maybe the procedures around what happens with respect to the Prime Minister's motorcade, and other vehicles on the Hill when the motorcade is present, could be modified to ensure it does not fetter members' access to the House of Commons. That is fully possible.
I have been on a bus that was sitting behind the Prime Minister's motorcade by Centre Block. I was only going back to my office at the Confederation building, but I was told by the driver that the rules are they are not allowed to pass the Prime Minister's motorcade. Maybe some bus drivers decide to do that anyway because they are trying to please members of the House, and we appreciate all their good work, but in that particular instance, I was told by that driver that he would not pass the Prime Minister's motorcade because he was under instructions not to do so.
Therefore, in my experience, there is an issue about how the Prime Minister's motorcade interacts with other vehicles on the Hill. If protocols around that are not handled correctly, there is the potential to fetter or obstruct the access of members to the Hill. I am sure all members, including government members, do not want that to be the case, so what we need to do is a detailed examination to make sure that the protocols around that are appropriate and do not get in the way of members getting to the House. The motion before us simply refers this to PROC to get that more detailed answer.
We have heard from members on the government side; well, one member actually. We always know when members of the government are not really comfortable with their own position because it is only the member for who gets up on his feet. No one else is willing to speak to those issues. We kind of know when the government feels that perhaps it is not on the right side of the issue, because the only one with the gall to get up and speak to it is the member for Winnipeg North. That has been in evidence today.
He said a few things, and I just want to zero in on some of them, because I find them troubling in a couple of different ways. One thing he said was that the amendment to this motion, which simply says that PROC will treat this issue with priority, is not a very good amendment because PROC does that anyway. That is what he said in his speech. I find that passing strange because the Liberals' contention at PROC on another issue right now is that they want certain changes, including a prime minister's question period. They have said these are good reforms and we need to get them through so we can do these things. The funny thing is that we do not need to change the Standing Orders to do that. In fact, we saw that yesterday when the undertook to answer almost every question in question period, although not every question. There were no changes to the Standing Orders required in order to do that, and yet they say they want to change the Standing Orders. If changes to motions and rules are redundant simply because one can do it anyway, then they should not be asking for a change to the Standing Orders in order to do prime minister's questions.
I fear that the member, perhaps unintentionally, and I am being generous because we are in the House of Commons, is being inconsistent, and I would not deign to say disingenuous, when he makes that particular argument.
He also said that he had reservations about sending it to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs because of the quality of the debate so far in the House and he was concerned the debate in the PROC committee would be a waste of time. It is completely wrong for members in this place to prejudge the deliberations and decisions at committees.
If he wants to be an advocate in this place, as he sometimes says he is, for the independence of committees, then he has some nerve to suggest that we might consider not referring a matter that is totally appropriate to refer to a particular committee because he already has some prejudicial notions about what members at the committee might say or do during those deliberations, or what the committee might decide. That line of argument shows a serious disrespect for committees and it is important to not let that go unanswered.
I wanted to take some time in my remarks to address those comments made by the member for . He often makes reference to his long parliamentary career, over 25 years, but if he had spent more time listening over those 25 years as opposed to talking, he would not have made the arguments he made earlier in this place. I really do think it is just wrong to make decisions about whether to refer something to committee based on speculation about what some members may or may not say at committee. When we spell it out like that, it is obvious that it is ridiculous and disrespectful to make decisions based on that kind of speculation.
That is what we want to do. We want to do what is the usual thing to do with a serious matter of privilege. I do not think one has to be a long-time parliamentarian to appreciate the problem with the idea of interfering with members' access to the chamber, particularly when there are votes. I am not saying that has been abused in this case. It was likely not intentional. One of the reasons for sending it to committee for a detailed analysis is for the committee to be able to speak to those involved and clear the air so that there are no worries or concerns that the blocking of members' access to the House was intentional.
That is what we want to do. We want to take this matter to committee, because if it does start that blocking members' access to the House of Commons is allowed, it is clear to see how a government that may not have the best of intentions—and I am not saying that is the case with the current government or governments of the past, but some hypothetical future government.
We cannot allow it to be acceptable that potentially, and we don't know, protocols around the motorcade are allowed to interfere with members' access to the House, or whether it is protocols around the media bus, or whatever it is that got in the way of these particular members reporting on time for the vote, because let us face it. We have seen procedural shenanigans around here. If we allow shenanigans to interfere with members' right of access to the House of Commons, an unscrupulous government may start to see it as a legitimate procedural tactic as to where to put media buses or a prime minister's motorcade, because it is a close vote.
I will remind members on the other side of the House, as they may not know or have forgotten, that not all parliaments are majority parliaments. It is also not in all cases, even in majority governments, that the government wins the vote. In fact, I recall a vote held last spring on Bill that was a tie vote and the Speaker had to break the tie. It is only because the vote was on the report stage of that bill that it proceeded. That is how the Speaker is traditionally required to vote in order to continue debate. Had the vote been on third reading stage, that bill would have been defeated.
Imagine if we were debating this question of privilege with respect to that vote and not what we are discussing. We can imagine that tensions would be a lot higher. It is no less an offence to block members from one vote, even though it may be known that a majority is likely going to win the vote, than it is on a tie vote, but it is harder to have the conversation around a close vote, because tensions are that much higher.
Therefore, it is important that we have the discussion now and we not wait for it to be a monumental vote, because at that point the issues of substance and procedure will become so entangled that we will not be able to make an appropriate decision.
Madam Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to take part in this debate on a question of privilege, a debate that is very important.
I had intended to speak directly to the substance of the debate, but I feel compelled to respond to the insinuations, these little things that the hon. member for said. He said several things.
First, he said that he was very concerned about the debate, but he added that members were not participating in it, especially Liberal government members. Now I am here, and I was waiting my turn to have the chance that the Speaker would give me the floor to take part in this debate. Making false accusations and misleading our honourable members is a bad way of behaving in the House. I hope that the hon. member will have the courage to apologize, because it is not true.
I know the hon. member for . We were in the same cohort of MPs in 2015. We have spoken to one another many times. I think he is an honourable man. Unfortunately, I think this debate does not reflect his abilities or generosity.
Second, the hon. member argued that there is some doubt about what happened on March 22. I will quote the Speaker of the House when he rendered his decision:
|| In fact, I have received two reports of the incident. The first, from the House of Commons Corporate Security Officer and Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, provides an excellent minute-by-minute summary of events and is supplemented by witness statements. The second was received from the acting director of the Parliamentary Protective Service.
I cannot imagine that the hon. member is making false accusations against the Speaker because it was crystal clear that there were two reports: a minute-by-minute report of what happened and a very thorough report, which he very respectfully shared with the House of Commons and all its members.
Mr. Speaker, I must mention one thing. Once again, I am a new MP, even after 18 months in the House, and I forgot to say that I would like to share my time with the hon. member for .
Questions of privilege are very important, so I would like to thank my hon. colleague from the NDP who indicated how important it is for members to have access to this place. He quoted what is on the back of his parliamentary ID:
|| Under the law of parliamentary privilege, the bearer has free and open access at all times, without obstruction or interference, to the precincts of the Houses of Parliament to which the bearer is a member.
This is important because it goes back in the history of the House to the mother of all parliaments in Westminster back in the 16th century, in terms of making sure that members of the Commons always have the privilege, the right, to be here and to take their place in this place to represent their people, to enact laws, to participate in debates, and so on.
That is a fundamental, important role of members of Parliament. We should not be impeded in doing that.
What we saw in this situation was described by the Speaker in his ruling earlier today: “Based on these reports, here is what appears to have happened on March 22nd. At approximately 3:47 p.m., the bollards at or by the vehicle screening facility were lowered to allow for the arrival of a bus transporting journalists to Centre Block for the presentation of the budget. The media bus, under Parliamentary Protective Service escort, immediately proceeded to Centre Block. Seconds later, after the media bus had proceeded, a House of Commons shuttle bus arrived at the vehicle screening facility but was not allowed to proceed to Centre Block. In the ensuing minutes, two more shuttle buses arrived at the vehicle screening facility and were similarly delayed. I am informed that members were on at least some of these buses.”
The Speaker went on to say, “During these delays, which lasted a total of nine minutes, two members, the member for Milton and the member for Beauce, were waiting at the bus shelter near the vehicle screening facility. At approximately 3:54 p.m., the member for Beauce entered the vehicle screening facility and made inquiries of parliamentary protective staff about the delays and then decided at approximately 3:55 p.m. to leave the bus shelter and walk up the Hill.”
It is perfectly clear that access to Parliament Hill and the buses transporting MPs to the House were delayed because there was a media bus. It had nothing to do with the 's motorcade. The Speaker was very clear on that point.
However, there are allegations and rumours about it being the 's fault. I think people should be very careful about what they say in the House of Commons. Not only are our remarks heard by our House colleagues and Canadians tuning into CPAC across the country, but they are also printed in the official report of the House of Commons. Those official reports will live on as long as Canada's Parliament.
Personally, I believe it is our privilege to participate in these debates and to have a seat in the House of Commons and it is our responsibility to choose our words carefully. There is no need to add fuel to the fire when it comes to questions of privilege. We need to be careful about what we say and do.
I feel that the Speaker's ruling was very clear about the problem having nothing to do with the 's security. It had to do with the bus transporting journalists to the House of Commons.
We all know that under the Standing Orders, when a question of privilege is raised it must be taken into consideration immediately. That is why we are all participating in this debate today.
I would ask my colleagues to refrain from making false accusations and spreading rumours, and instead talk about facts that are accurate, facts that were stated by the Speaker of the House in his ruling this morning.
I am pleased to have had the chance to speak in the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, as a new member, it is always an honour and a privilege to rise in the House to take part in a debate. Today's debate is very important.
I was here when the Speaker handed down his very important ruling on the question of privilege raised on March 22. It is a day we remember well because that was the day that our budget was presented.
The question raised by the hon. member for had to do with obstructed access to the Parliamentary precinct. I think that we can all confirm that as members of Parliament, access to this establishment is a privilege, but also our right so that we may continue to do our very important work of representing the people of our ridings.
It is very important today to ensure that we are accurately depicting the facts that the Speaker raised this morning. I have been here since this morning and I have heard a number of comments about our , his limousines, and all sorts of things that, in the end, have nothing to do with the Speaker's ruling.
It is really important to recap the situation because the facts are crucial and we want to ensure that they are not watered down. The first thing that the Speaker said was that he was prepared to rule on this issue today. He said:
|| In raising this matter, the member for Milton indicated that she was prevented from attending a vote in the House of Commons and, thus, impeded in the performance of her parliamentary duties when her access to the parliamentary precinct through her normal transport was temporarily blocked. The member for Beauce confirmed that he was subjected to the same delay.
All of the members of the House are well aware of their right to access and other rights, and they are obviously taking this situation very seriously. When the Speaker gave his ruling, he confirmed that it was part of his role to look into this and that he took that role very seriously. He went on to say that, as Speaker, it is his duty to ensure that the privileges of the House and the individual privileges of members are protected, including that of freedom from obstruction, for it is that privilege that gives us unfettered access to the parliamentary precinct. I think that we all agree with the facts presented by the Speaker this morning.
The Speaker further stated that he received two reports during his investigation. The first was from the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms and the Corporate Security Officer, and it provided an excellent minute-by-minute summary of events and was supplemented by witness statements.
The second report was from the Acting Director of the Parliamentary Protective Service. The Speaker's comments and his decision are based on this information and these facts. The speaker summarized these reports as follows:
|| Based on these [two] reports, here is what appears to have happened on March 22. At approximately 3:47 p.m., the bollards at the, or by the vehicle screening facility were lowered to allow for the arrival of a bus transporting journalists to Centre Block for the presentation of the budget. The media bus, under Parliamentary Protective Service escort, immediately proceeded to Centre Block. Seconds later, after the media bus had proceeded, a House of Commons shuttle bus arrived at the vehicle screening facility but was not allowed to proceed to Centre Block. In the ensuing minutes, two more shuttle buses arrived at the vehicle screening facility and were similarly delayed. I am informed that members were on at least some of these buses. During these delays, which lasted a total of nine minutes, two members, the member for Milton and the member for Beauce, were waiting at the bus shelter near the vehicle screening facility. At approximately 3:54 p.m., the member for Beauce entered the vehicle screening facility and made enquiries of parliamentary protective staff about the delays and then decided at approximately 3:55 p.m. to leave the bus shelter and walk up the Hill. As members will know, it is at around this time that a vote was commencing in the House.
Still, we can remember that March 22 was budget day, that there was a large media presence and that a lot was going on. When we read the description of the facts as reported, we understand what was happening that day.
In his decision, the Speaker said that he had done some research and provided more citations. He pointed out many things, including the following:
|| The importance of the matter of members' access to the precinct, particularly when there are votes for members to attend, cannot be overstated. It bears repeating that even a temporary denial of access, whether there is a vote or not, cannot be tolerated. The Parliamentary Protective Service needs to better familiarize itself with the operations of the House so that its posture reflects and gives priority to the needs of the House, its committees, and its members at all times, and it needs to ensure Parliamentary Protective Service staff are always alert to changing circumstances in this regard.
Therefore, it is very important to ensure that members have access to the grounds; no one is minimizing the importance of that. We always want to make sure that no MP is blocked from accessing Parliament. To continue:
|| This has come up before. In 2004, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs wrote the following in its 21st report:
|| The denial of access to Members of the House—even if temporary—is unacceptable, and constitutes a contempt of the House. Members must not be impeded or interfered with while on their way to the Chamber, or when going about their parliamentary business. To permit this would interfere with the operation of the House of Commons, and undermine the pre-eminent right of the House to the service of its Members.
I have read through this morning's ruling several times, and nowhere does it mention limousines impeding access to the Hill. There is nothing in the ruling about that, so it seems odd to me that people would make such comments today.
As members of Parliament, we believe that access to the House is an extremely important privilege. Nobody is denying that.
Mr. Speaker, it certainly is an honour and a privilege to stand to join the debate today. It is not exactly what I think most of us originally anticipated. Actually, I believed we would be talking about Bill , a bill to modernize certain aspects of Canadian corporations, co-operatives, and the like. All the same, I am very proud to stand on behalf of the citizens of Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola.
I have had some experience making a case to the Speaker of this chamber, asking for those views to be considered and receiving a response. Certainly, in the case of an Order Paper question, which I did not believe was answered factually or truthfully, I raised that directly with a Speaker. The Speaker came back and said that he had done a full examination of the issue. I felt it was a fair process. I felt heard, was happy to have had the opportunity, and was ready to move a motion. This was much the same as we saw this morning with the member for , followed by an amendment from the member for , about their concerns with respect to the incident that happened on March 22.
Before I really get into my comments on this issue, I would like to address some of the concerns that were raised earlier, particularly by the member for . He is perfectly capable of making those statements, as is the member for . It is important in a democracy that people can make their views known, and to have their constituents, as well as us, hear those words and be influenced by them.
However, before I begin to make any comments with respect to the motion or the amendment today, my comments do not undercut anyone involved. As a member of Parliament, sometimes we have to ask questions that may make others feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, as members of Parliament, we have to ask questions that may seem a little out of the box and may get a response from other people who are not necessarily happy with them.
I have complete faith in our security systems and the people who operate them. They are working within a system that is meant to protect us, not just our security but obviously to ensure Parliament can have those critical debates. However, like any system, sometimes hiccups happen. Sometimes it is a lack of training. Sometimes it is just a flood of events.
Speaking of a flood of events, I remember when the former member of Parliament from Atlantic Canada, Mr. Peter Stoffer, who is a fine and very genial individual, raised a concern in this place. We had a visiting dignitary, and he felt the security was disproportionate to the need and he was stopped. I believe he stood right behind where I sit today. He was given the chance to raise the concern. Regardless of whether the privilege was found to be in order and a prima facie case was found by the Speaker, by him standing up and raising it, it not only caused a discussion within this place but also a discussion among the officials who ran the systems to ensure members of Parliament were not impeded in the active consideration of and discharge of their duties.
That member made those concerns known, and I will give my personal opinion with respect to it. I was thinking that when we had a visiting dignitary, such as a president from another country, we expected there to be issues. Therefore, people should basically decide to make changes to their schedule to ensure things would go well. Personally, that is what I do. However, having now sat on the opposition side, I saw cases in the House where, and not yourself as the Chair, Mr. Speaker, the bearer of the title of Speaker in all things spoke to us and found prima facie cases of where members of Parliament were manhandled.
Since then, I have brought forward my own question of privilege. Therefore, my awareness of these things has increased. While a Speaker may not agree with Mr. Stoffer when he sat here as a member, or a Speaker did not agree with me, it made me feel my voice was heard and that we had a chance to deliberate and to think on our duties, and that is an important part of this conversation.
Again, I walk into this place with a great deal of respect. I also wear my ID wherever I go. The simple reason is that I want to make the job for those people who handle our security as efficient as possible. Despite all that, when we have members of Parliament who are unable to come to do the one thing that no one else can do, which is to stand in our places and vote yea or nay, or to abstain, then the voices of the people back home do not count.
Therefore, regardless of party, I would hope the members of the government and all members would agree we should stop, pause, and take note of it. Some members may take note of a particular motorcade was given as an explanation to the member for . Some may focus on a media bus. Some may focus on the fact that the prima facie case brought by the Speaker is enough for this place. We heard the say that more could be said. I am here to join that and to ensure we get as many views as possible and that when, as I really hope, this goes to PROC, my peers from parties on both sides of the House will be able to make representations, to hear witnesses.
Again, as a previous Speaker declared, and I am quoting from page 4 of the ruling, “The denial of access to Members of the House—even if temporary—is unacceptable and constitutes a contempt of the House.” A contempt of the House is a very serious thing. That is why we have committees, to bring people in to have an honest accounting from the different agencies. I asked questions specifically, saying that on page 2 the Speaker specifically laid out, “In fact, I have received two reports of the incident...Based on those reports”.
Again, we have a ruling that had an overall look at it, got some initial reports in, and said that there was a prima facie case. That is not being disrespectful of the Speaker. I would suggest it is asking if there could be more than just in a four-page summary. Absolutely I believe there could be, and that is why PROC can be there. It is not up to the Speaker to get into the intricate details. It is up to his or her peers and members of Parliament at the procedural and House affairs committee to examine these. It is the Speaker's job to say that there is a prima facie case. That is how our rules work, and they work very well.
The process we have set up is a good one. As many members have remarked, so many things happen on this precinct and the people working in it all want the same things. However, when these issues come up, where the member for has said that she was unable to vote, we should take that very seriously.
How seriously should we take it? We should take it very seriously. In the centre of this room on the table is the mace. The mace represents your authority, Mr. Speaker, but it also represents the protection of your authority that is garnered through all our members. When it is here, it means the protection is here and that you are going to help us to coordinate our business.
That is because in some parts of our collective history some Speakers were not respected, and I am going back again to Great Britain hundreds of years ago. When Speakers would go to a monarch and say “Here's what the people have said about taxation”, they risked being beheaded or imprisoned, simply because the monarch of the day did not want to hear what the House of Commons, as it was back then, had to say.
I would just point out that we need to have safety for individual members as well as the proper processes that we trust our Speaker with to ensure those things are respected.
We have three forms of government: the executive, obviously embodied in the and his cabinet; the legislative function, which we are; and the judiciary.
I will read off the back under my card, which states, “Under the law of parliamentary privilege, the bearer has free and open access at all times without obstruction or interference to the precincts of the Houses of Parliament which the bearer is a member.” The reason why I raise this is the law. This is not just a simple privilege. This is actually law. We have the ability to say in this place that we will manage our own affairs. When members are somehow stopped through a process not of their own making, that is unreasonable, unreasonable meaning that the system or the people operating it stop them from fulfilling their functions, then it bears close examination. That is what the committee process is set up for, and I really hope government members will support that process.
There was an amendment proposed by the member for , and I will read in French:
|| That the motion be amended by adding the following: “and that the committee make this matter a priority over all other business including its review of the Standing Orders and Procedure of the House and its Committees.”
As we all know, that particular committee is seized with the issue of our rights. It is seized by the issue of how this place conducts itself. Some members on the government side do not want to hear those voices. They are not happy that the committee is seized with an issue of their own making. They are not happy that parliamentarians from various parties are standing up for those rights, not just our inherited rights but the rights that this place needs to maintain in order for those who come after us to enjoy. If those rights are not taken seriously in any place, whether it be in this House, the other chamber, or in our parliamentary committees, we have a problem.
The Liberal government says that it is all about discussion. Let us discuss members not being able to vote, things that are happening now that should not be happening. We understand that when things out of anyone's control happen, forgiveness is often given, explanations though should always be made.
Our primary responsibility is to scrutinize the spending of government, to authorize the spending of government. Supply is very important. When those concerns come up, we need to be able to deftly examine the issue and hear from the individuals responsible as well as their managers to give a proper accounting of what happened, what went wrong, what could be improved, and how this could be avoided in the future. Anything less is not taking those rights seriously.
We have heard Liberal government members say that they take this seriously. Good, let us take care of it now. Let us get this to PROC. Let us give the committee the ability to see the infringements of our rights and be able to right them. Maybe during that time some position of authority of the executive will have quiet conversations saying that they have been hearing from caucus members and opposition members, and that maybe the Liberals should change their minds on how they approach things.
Just like with Motion No. 6, maybe a little space on PROC to examine this issue would allow for some of those crucial conversations between those in authority, those who obviously have pushed to have their modernizing Parliament agenda at that committee. Maybe, like Motion No. 6, the Liberals will withdraw it, because they know that people on this side of the House are going to stand up, whether it be that inadvertently our rights were denied or whether this is a plan orchestrated to make life easier for those in power.
I believe that if we send this to PROC, perhaps those things might happen. I write to my constituents about those things, that there is a proposal to have us stop sitting on Fridays, that there is a proposal to pre-program motions so the government does not even need to move time allocation and just accepts it as being a default status quo, which is wrong. It is just as wrong as it is when members rise and say they were denied their rights to discharge.
Again, I believe that members of Parliament must be responsible. Obviously there are things that happen in day-to-day life where inadvertently those rights may be pushed, but members still have a right to come here, as Mr. Stoffer did, and to raise those concerns, and for those in positions of authority to hear the feedback from a member to make sure these things are being dealt with, that people are trained and knowledgeable about the very special institution we have.
I have no doubt that many members of the security service out there know more about the Criminal Code than I do, and I sat on the justice committee. I have no doubt. By the same token, they should also be versed in at least the basics of parliamentary procedure and our law, which again stands firm. We have the ability to make laws for how we conduct ourselves in this place. It is something that was hard fought for and maintained by your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, and through the Sergeant-at-Arms and his predecessors.
That is what I contend. I contend that this ruling is fair. I believe that had this ruling happened previously, the immediate result would have been that this would have gone to PROC right away so that the government could actually start moving forward and bring in its bills instead of getting lost in these things. However, it is interesting that we see a filibuster at the procedure and House affairs committee that the government does not want to interrupt with what the member for and the member for have both said is an obvious issue that needs to be dealt with.
I just want again to thank the Speaker and his staff who definitely listen, who act quietly to ascertain the facts, to hear all of our voices, whether they be with the government or not, to ensure that this place always has a space to make sure that we are able to do our jobs. I humbly submit that if we support both the amendment and the motion, this will show faith in our parliamentary system and allow us to move forward. I plead with the government to have that conversation among its members asking if the way it is proceeding is good not just for the country but for this place, and whether this will, as the Rotarians like to say, build better friendships and a more fair use of our time.
Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate the opportunity and the comments from the member from Skeena, though I must say I have heard in this House, in this debate, people talking not only about parliamentary privilege but also about rules and regulations, and we have to have a bit of leeway for people to get to the argument that they would like to make at the end of the day.
I remember as a young kid having to plan for a certain time and to think about how I was going to get somewhere. I also remember when we had Barrack Obama here to give a speech. I was told by my party I had to be here three hours in advance, and I listened, and I still encountered some difficulties in getting past certain barricades throughout this city. I had a discussion with a police officer down by the Rideau Centre, and he said, “You cannot go right now; we are waiting for perhaps the motorcade for the President.” We had a little discussion. We talked about parliamentary privilege and I moved through to the next barricade and at some point someone called someone and security came down and made sure I was able to get to the place where I was supposed to be so I could participate in the proceedings to listen to the President of the United States, and it was a great thing.
I am not saying that the members for and were intentionally not doing something. I know they had the full intention of coming to the House to vote, and sometimes things happen. If we want, we can review again for a number of minutes and a certain period of time what exactly happened. We can read this ruling again: “At approximately 3:47 p.m., the bollards at or by the vehicle screening facility were lowered to allow for the arrival of a bus transporting journalists to Centre Block for the presentation of the budget. The media bus, under Parliamentary Protective Service escort, immediately proceeded to Centre Block. Seconds later, after the media bus had proceeded, a House of Commons shuttle bus arrived at the vehicle screening facility but was not allowed to proceed to Centre Block. In the ensuing minutes, two more shuttle buses arrived at the vehicle screening facility and were similarly delayed.”
I heard from the member for that he had to get out and start walking. According to the member from Okanagan, we all have different abilities in this place, meaning some of us cannot walk as well as others: some are younger, some are a bit older, some are younger but have a knee problem. Once in a while I have a knee problem as well.
Mr. Daniel Blaikie: That is why we have buses. We just need them to run on time.
Mr. Robert-Falcon Ouellette: Mr. Speaker, that is why we do have buses, yes. It is a good idea to have these buses.
However, at the end of the day I am also able to plan for that long-term thought about where I should be, so when I hear the bells, I try to get out. It does not mean that there has not been a case, and the Speaker has ruled conclusively on this that a case of prime facie did occur. However at the end of the day, we all have this responsibility.
For me, one of the main issues is that we are spending an awful lot of time debating something, which is very important, but there are also other issues that are far more important to be debating in this House. There is government legislation, which I am sure both the opposition members and the Canadian public would like to see us debate to ensure that the agenda that we set forth in the last election is actually put forward and implemented in a concrete way. We are delaying getting to those bills because we are spending a lot of time debating whether a bollard was in the right place and whether people knew the proper procedures. I am certain, as I have already stated, that the security staff are now fully aware, and I am sure they have always been aware of the procedures on what should be occurring.
I always find it interesting when I read the House of Commons Procedures and Practice, which we were given when we first joined the House. In fact, as part of a little ceremony, we were given the pin to indicate someone is a member of Parliament and also the fine green book, and the Clerk or Deputy Clerk said, “Good luck; I hope you enjoy your reading.” Inside it we can find on page 110 where it talks about physical obstruction, assault, and molestation. It also talks about other examples of obstruction, interference, and intimidation.
These are all very important. A number of cases are laid out, starting on page 110, previous examples that demonstrate the types of obstruction that have occurred and what was done to prevent them from occurring in the future. For instance:
|| In 1999, a number of questions of privilege were raised resulting from picket lines set up by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada at strategic locations of entry to Parliament Hill and at entrances to specific buildings used by parliamentarians. One Member stated that the strikers had used physical violence and intimidation to stop him from gaining access to his office. On this matter, Speaker Parent ruled immediately that there was a prima facie case of privilege and the matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. Other related questions of privilege focused on the difficulties some Members had had in gaining access to their offices, thus preventing them from performing their functions and meeting their obligations in a timely fashion. After consideration, Speaker Parent found that the incident constituted a prima facie case of contempt of the House and the matter was also referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. In 2004, a question of privilege was raised regarding the free movement of Members within the Parliamentary Precinct during a visit by the President of the United States, George W. Bush. A number of Members complained that, in attempting to prevent protestors from gaining entrance to Parliament Hill, police had also denied certain Members access to the Parliamentary Precinct and thus prevented them from carrying out their parliamentary functions. Speaker Milliken found a prima facie case of privilege and the matter was referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
These are also very serious, extremely serious, in the sense that there were instances of protesters, barricades, incidents of police actually preventing, in a sustained and enduring manner, members from accessing the House and carrying out their functions.
In the case at hand, which is also very serious, nonetheless, I am certain that the security personnel for the House of Commons, for Parliament, were not sustaining a way of preventing parliamentarians from carrying out their duties. We could create a scale. I know people love things to be black and white, but does black and white ever truly exist? Do we always have to have a great divide, whether it is on the left or the right? Is there not ever some grey, where truth has colour from both sides of a story? When I look at this case, while it is very serious, which all of them are, I think it is perhaps, on a scale, a little less serious than protesters actively preventing and obstructing members from gaining access to the parliamentary precinct in order to carry out their functions.
I have also been on a bus when a vote is occurring. I tried to get off the bus because it was stuck in traffic. I asked the bus driver to let me off, but he said he could not let me off because it was not safe. I insisted on being allowed to get off immediately and the driver still said he could not. After a bit of discussion, I said I had about five minutes to get to the vote and asked to please be allowed to get off. The driver looked around and said he would let me off—
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fine comments coming from the other side. It is a wonderful thing. I love the heckling in the House. It is always most enjoyable. It actually adds some theatre to this place sometimes. It is very much appreciated.
I remember when I was an elementary school teacher. In grade 1 and 2, we would often try to quiet the classes. It was not always easy. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the hard work you do in order to make this a more enjoyable place to work.
To resume, at the end of the day he was concerned about my safety. There are security concerns on this Hill, and that is a paramount issue. We have to find a balance not only between the privileges of members and our responsibilities but also to ensure that we have security. If we cannot access the House, there might be a very good reason relating to someone's personal security. For instance, if the bus driver had said to me that he was going to let me off even though he saw cars whipping by, and I had been hit by a car, I do not think we would be farther along. More rules would have been put in place.
Sometimes it takes a bit of listening, for instance, to the bus driver who is trying to do his job in a good way, trying to make a difference and do his work. He was not actively out there saying that he was going to stop a member from going to vote. Hopefully that never occurs.
In the Speaker's ruling, I enjoyed reading that he talked to the director of the Parliamentary Protective Service and indicated that one of the director's annual objectives should be “to provide mandatory training on an ongoing basis for all members of the service on the privileges, rights, immunities, and powers of the House of Commons, including unfettered access of members of the House of Commons to the parliamentary precinct.”
The Speaker also indicated he “has every confidence that the leadership of the Parliamentary Protective Service will be able to achieve this important understanding of the parliamentary community that they serve by availing themselves of all opportunities available for relevant training, including those previously offered by procedural staff of the House.”
For me, it is wonderful that we are able to actually raise these issues at any given time. However, there is also a moment when it is important for us to accept the ruling, to understand that on the procedures of the House, the bureaucracy will do its job, that they will be able to take that information and craft policy and better procedures that will help protect members and ensure that they have unfettered access to this place, allow the Speaker the opportunity to do his job in a good way, allow him to work with the parliamentary staff so that they can do their job in a good way, and allow him to work with the clerks so that they are able to inform the protective services of the rights and responsibilities of MPs in the House of Commons.
However, we have to give them the time to do so. We have to give them the time to carry out that function. We cannot immediately have knee-jerk reactions and all of a sudden slap our knee and say, “We have to do this lickety-split, right now.” Sometimes snapping our fingers and trying to get things done too quickly leads to a work environment that is not conducive to the long-term benefit of all people involved. Sometimes it is good to take the time to consult, talk, and think about things.
I very much enjoyed speaking on this issue. I was really interested in reading some of the examples.
Maybe I will highlight some other things for the House. There is a case I was reading, for instance, that described how obstruction or intimidation of members can sometimes be related to electronic surveillance, and I wanted to get this on the record. I believe it was actually Speaker Jeanne Sauvé who made a ruling on this issue. It is something that has been in the news a little lately. That is perhaps far more important to discuss. Nonetheless, buses are also very important.
I am going to finish off with a quote from elder Winston Wuttunee, who said, “Always do things in a good way, with an open heart, to offer yourself to those around who you must serve, to give yourself to your family and to your community, to your brothers and sisters, to all your relations, to not think selfishly of what you're hoping to gain from something but what you can actually give back.”
When we debate this in this place, in our House, the people's House, we need to have that foremost in our minds. We need to remember that it is not about playing political games but about how we work together and what we do in order to create a better life for more Canadians. To me, what we are actually doing for Canadians is the most important thing, because at the end of the day they are all that matters and they are the reason we are here. We are not here to play political games. We are not here to simply spend many hours debating things. While debating is very important, it is perhaps less important than many other issues that Canadians want us to deal with here and now.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate. It would be better if I did not have to, but I am certainly pleased to come to the House to offer my thoughts in this debate, coming from a number of perspectives from my own personal experience.
I, of course, spent a number of years as minister of public safety, and in that regard, had responsibility for, among other things, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who, at that time, had responsibility for security in the precinct outside this building. I also, of course, spent some time as government House leader. We had occasions when we had to deal with questions of privilege when peoples' access was denied, for one reason or another, on the Hill. As well, I had the honour of serving on the Board of Internal Economy, which wrestled with the many questions on how to deal with security and at the same time with the question of members' privileges.
The recurring theme that has become loud and clear here is that notwithstanding these repeated problems in the past, members' privileges continue to be denied. Why is that important and why is the amendment of the member for so important in that context?
There is no greater privilege a member of this House has, and no greater duty and responsibility, than the duty and obligation to be in the House to cast a vote on behalf of constituents. Hence, there is no greater violation of members' privileges than actions that deny them that most fundamental right. That is why it is taken so seriously. That is why it must be taken so seriously. That is why it is a matter of urgency, and that is why the member for is so correct in his amendment that says that not only must this be studied, but this study must be given priority and treated as an urgent and important matter. That is certainly the case here.
As I said, this is the second time. There was another occasion in this Parliament, in different circumstances, admittedly, when tempers were high and people were heated over Motion No. 6. It is funny how that happens. Every time someone is denied a chance to vote, it is at the same time as Liberals are proposing draconian rule changes to suppress the rights of members in the opposition, and lo and behold, at the same time, members of the opposition are denied their privilege and right to vote. I do not know if that is coincidence or God sending a message or some kind of literary theme at work, but it is a recurring theme. We are seeing that right now with the effort by the government to unilaterally force changes through the procedure and House affairs committee.
It is also a nice way of juxtaposing those two issues and focusing on why, indeed, the privilege of members to vote needs to take precedence at this particular time. It is a matter of urgency that could occur again tomorrow. It could occur again today, for all we know. None of the changes being talked about at that committee include this dramatic, urgent situation, but we could face the exact same problem today, tomorrow, or the next day, and we have to work to resolve it as soon as possible.
The member for set the groundwork for me on what I want to say next, when he said that the Speaker went on at length in his decision on this. I want to approach my next set of comments with sensitivity and a bit of delicacy, because I am going into what is a very delicate area.
In his ruling, the Speaker stated, “In fact, I have received two reports of the incident. The first, from the House of Commons Corporate Security Officer and Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, provides an excellent minute-by-minute summary of events and is supplemented by witness statements. The second report was received from the acting director of the Parliamentary Protective Service. Based on those reports, here is what appears to have happened on March 22. At approximately 3:47 p.m., the bollards at the vehicle screening facility were lowered to allow for the arrival of a bus transporting journalists to Centre Block for the presentation of the budget. The media bus, under Parliamentary Protective Service escort, immediately proceeded to Centre Block.”
The Speaker then continued with his interpretation of events, as reflected in these reports. He went on for some time and then wove in references to the member's presence at the gate and the inquiries that were made. It is not clear in the reports where those came from or whether they were based on the member's representation in the House when this question of privilege was argued. In any event, they are there. Why am I troubled and uncomfortable?
Those findings were in reports that were apparently made available to the Speaker. I have not seen those. I do not believe they have been tendered to this House, yet they were the evidentiary basis on which the Speaker's finding was made.
I want to make it clear that I do not take issue with the prima facie finding of the Speaker. I conclude, in fact, that it is fair and correct. However, there is a long-established principle. In the courts, for example, we know full well that if judges are hearing a case and they hear evidence before them, they are to decide that case based on the evidence. It is considered highly inappropriate, and we would have an instant appeal to the courts, if judges were to play detective, gather evidence of their own, and seek out the advice of experts on their own.
I say this because the hon. member for is saying that we should just leave it to the experts, something that is our responsibility, and we should trust them. That has already happened here, in part, in a way that I find uncomfortable, if I can put it delicately. That discomfort is that the basis of the decision in these reports was available to the Speaker but not to me, as a member of the House. It is evidence on which his finding of a prima facie case was made, but I had no opportunity to look at that evidence myself and make my submission on whether it supports or does not support a prima facie case, and that is, of course, the proper role in place in this House.
That evidence should have been before all of us before that finding was made. Certainly, I would hope, it would come out as part of what would be available to the committee when it does its study, a reason the study must go ahead and why it is urgent.
It really is not the place of the Speaker to conduct such inquiries. We have the good fortune of having had precedents on it. For example, Speaker Milliken was faced with this on one occasion. This is from October 25, 2001, where he stated the following:
|| The hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona in his remarks tried to assist the Chair by suggesting that it was for the Chair to investigate the matter and come up with the name of the culprit and so on. I respect his opinion of course in all matters, but in this matter I think his view is perhaps wrong. There is a body that is well equipped to commit acts of inquisition, and that is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which has a fearsome chairman, quite able to extract information from witnesses who appear before the committee, with the aid of capable members who form that committee of the House.
I think there the Speaker was saying that it is not the role of the Speaker to conduct inquiries, to gather evidence, and to make decisions about those him or herself.
I recognize that the Speaker has an administrative responsibility here, with the recomposition of the Parliamentary Protective Service and the unification of those on the Hill and in the House. That being said, that does not change the fundamental principle in law and in parliamentary law that if we are to be able to debate an issue and make a decision on it, if some facts or evidence, not law or previous decisions but facts or evidence, form the foundation of a Speaker's decision, it should be before all members of this House. We should all have an opportunity to evaluate it, pass comment on it, and make our submissions on it. That did not happen here. That I find a little bit troubling.
It then becomes one step more troubling. We have seen the member for make reference to these documents, suggesting that he has them. We have had the wave the documents about, yelling, “Look, it's in here, it's in the report.” Not only did the Speaker have this evidence and not present it to the House, but he apparently has presented it, or someone has, his administrative responsibility, to members of the Liberal government. It has not been presented to us in the opposition on this side, so we are handicapped in this debate to begin with.
The worst part is for the confidence of people in this House, the confidence that this House is working properly, fairly, and judiciously. We have to understand that this evidence was before everyone before the prima facie finding was made.
As I said, I believe the Speaker made the right finding in the end. My concern is the process of getting there and particularly that members of the Liberal government had access to this information.
That could lead a critic to suggest there were perhaps an unseemly, inappropriate proximity between the role of the Speaker, sitting in a quasi-judicial function deciding a question like this, and the government having and sharing information unavailable to other members of the House. By this, I do not wish to in anyway call disrespect upon the role of the Speaker and the job he has done. This ruling is a sound one in the end. It is not unusual for a sound ruling to occasionally have an error in process on the way. However, I did want to share with the House my discomfort with that process. There is a concern there.
That we have these documents floating about, which the opposition has not seen, underlines the importance of why this has to go to the procedure and House affairs committee to be studied. It also underlines why it is a matter of urgency.
There is a lot at the procedure and House affairs committee right now. The government has suggested all kinds of things that in other ways will tilt the table toward the Liberal government.
In all my time as House leader, and I am the longest-serving Conservative government House leader in Canadian history, we never, ever proposed unilateral changes to the rules. I know I am well respected for the approach I took of respecting the rules of the House and making everyone happy that we were in it. We never once sought to propose unilateral changes. In fact, my friend, who was my parliamentary secretary, the member from Regina, was very good at laying out the government's position at the procedure and House affairs committee. We agreed that changes would not made without agreement among all the parties. That is the proper approach.
Something like that can be done in the matter before the procedure and House affairs committee. If such a commitment is made, if such an agreement is arrived at, the committee need simply pass a resolution like that and we can proceed on with all the business. I do not think anyone in that context would argue that it does not make sense for our procedural matter here, the question of privilege about the rights of members to vote, to take immediate precedence.
What is so discomforting is that when we pull all these things together, there is a recurring theme again and again. It is a recurring theme where Liberals may have said one thing when they were in opposition, but now have a very different approach in government. That has never been my approach. I have tried to be consistent throughout, and tried to follow the rules of the House. They are very important and should be followed. However, to change those rules in mid-stream for partisan advantage is poisoning the well of this place. I think everyone who has been here sees how it is poisoning that well.
I feel badly for many of the Liberals, including the candidate I ran against, a fine lady, who spent much time in meetings telling their constituents they wanted to do things differently with a new respect for Parliament. They wanted to be more consensus-oriented, communicate and consult more, and work together. Apparently, that was not true. I sense that is why in these debates we see such lack of diversity in the spokespeople on the other side, because so many of them feel that discomfort. They did not campaign on the proposition of replacing or adding to time allocation, with an ability for the government to unilaterally impose it without a vote of the House, not just in each stage of the bill, but all the way through the process, to dictate it for every stage and advance, and thereby limit debate. No one ever talked about that. However, that is what the Liberal government now wants to do.
Now the Liberals think it is more important to talk about that and make that happen than it is to talk about the fundamental privileges of members of the House to vote. That is what the member for is saying. If we keep having occasions where people get denied their opportunity to vote, the most critical central part of every member of Parliament's role, what do I say? I feel for the member for Beauce and the member for . What do they say to their constituents who ask why they missed that vote?
Some people care about voting records. As leadership candidates, they may have the odd hole. However, to then have additional holes created because somebody stopped them from carrying out their duties here, how could that be? How can somebody stop them from voting? They are there to vote on behalf of their constituents. It is a difficult thing to explain. Some people may begin to arrive at arguments like that presented by the member for , that it must be the fault of the members somehow that they got stopped. That is why this is so serious.
If I can step into a place as genuinely non-partisan as possible, we had the same problems when we were in government. I wrestled with them as a member of the Board of Internal Economy, as government House leader, and as public safety minister. Why? Because people had a job to do, usually in the security service, that they took far too seriously and did not appreciate the importance of the privileges here. The thought and the hope was that by creating a single unified service on the Hill, we would finally overcome that, because the problems were always on the RCMP side. The Parliament Hill side was pretty good. It was always the RCMP.
Guess what? Notwithstanding all the changes, the problem has not been solved. That is pretty urgent. That is pretty important for us. Toward the end of our government, when these questions would come up, I would be very quick to stand and say that the member of the opposition, who was unhappy with the circumstances, was absolutely right. A member's privilege should never be violated in this fashion. Even if it is just to hear the speech of a visiting head of state who we are interested in, a member's privileges should not be denied. Certainly, when it is the question of that most profound element of our job here, to vote, it should not be denied and should not be permitted.
When this issue arose initially, I found it surprising that the government did not offer to bring to the House the evidence that the Speaker went and got on his own. We always did that. We offered to go and get that information and provide it to the House. I am surprised that did not happen. I am surprised he did not intervene to do that at all, but let it come to this without providing those kinds of answers. It is not an answer to say that it should be turned over to the experts, that the functionaries, the officials, will decide for us what our privileges are and how they shall be respected.
If we do not assert our own privileges and rights in this place, I can assure members that nobody else will. That is why I thank the Speaker for his prima facie finding. That is why I think he made the right decision. That is why I think it is so important that we study it. I do not know if this is one of the things the Liberal government has proposed in its set of changes, but there is a reason why it is built into the rules right now. When a finding like this is made, the House proceeds immediately to the motion from the member and immediately to the debate and that debate continues until the question is resolved.
The drafters of those rules cared about how this place worked. They cared about balancing the rights of members. They cared about ensuring the minority was protected in all cases. They realized this place was not here for the convenience or efficiency of this place. I keep hearing the word efficiency from the government House leader in defending what the Liberals are doing. The drafters of those rules realized that this place has certain inefficiencies which are called “protecting people's rights”. Protecting our rights means sometimes those inefficiencies. They recognized it was so important that when a finding like this was made and a motion like this came forward, it took priority over all other business of the House. That is what the Standing Orders say now.
Perhaps the Liberals want to change that. Perhaps they do not think it should have precedence. Perhaps they do not think it is the most important part of business. That is what their conduct shows. That is what it showed with Motion No. 6. That is what it shows with their work at the procedure and House affairs committee now. That is what it shows with the submissions from the member for from the Liberal Party. It shows that we should not deal with this, that it can be dealt with by officials, so never mind.
We stand on centuries of precedent in the Westminster system. These rules are there for a reason: to protect our democracy, to protect the rights of the minority. That is what this motion is for. That is what the motion moved by the member for would do and what the amendment moved by the member for would do. That is why they should indeed be approved, and why priority must be given to this most fundamental question of a member's right to vote in the House.