Mr. Speaker, I am rising today on a question of privilege following yesterday's proceedings concerning the question of privilege raised by the members for and . As I will establish in my argument, no other government in history has treated a Speaker's finding of a prima facie case of privilege in such a reckless and cavalier manner as we saw yesterday. The way the Liberals tried to cover it, by trying to have the committee self-initiate a privilege study, could lead to unintended but very dangerous consequences.
As we know, the Speaker found a prima facie case of privilege on this matter. The hon. member for Milton then moved the appropriate motion, and a debate ensued. After question period, the hon. member for moved that the House do now proceed to orders of the day, and the motion was adopted.
Mr. Speaker, I am now asking that you again find a prima facie case of privilege on the basis of the evidence and submissions tendered last month as well as the very relevant precedent of the Speaker's own ruling yesterday morning.
Last evening, following proceedings in the House, which I outlined, I gave notice to the Speaker, via the table, and pursuant to Standing Order 48, of my intention to rise on this question of privilege this morning when the House opened. In other words, I am raising this at the earliest opportunity.
This might seem like the movie Groundhog Day. I am asking that we have a do-over of yesterday. Let me explain why and why it is procedurally in order.
Page 148 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, makes it clear that motions to proceed to orders of the day are in order during debate on a privilege motion. Page 149 explains the consequences of such a motion being adopted. It states:
[Should] a motion to proceed to Orders of the Day be adopted, then the privilege motion is superseded and dropped from the Order Paper.
The same point is reiterated at page 541. That is why the privilege motion is not printed in today's Order Paper and is not under debate today, even though the House has not come to a decision one way or the other.
What we got yesterday from the hon. member for was some procedural legerdemain, a magic trick. She said that her colleague filed a notice of motion to initiate a study on this issue at the procedure and House affairs committee.
Though we are not generally supposed to trouble the chair with procedural matters in committee, I will say that a point of order was raised last evening concerning the inadmissibility of that notice of motion. In short, and for the context of the House, the concern is that it goes beyond the order of reference for the procedure and House Affairs committee found in Standing Order 108(3)(a). The deputy government whip noted at committee last evening that the rule contains the words “among other matters”, which she believes gives her good authority to proceed with her notice.
In my view, that phrase captures those things that are provided for in the Standing Orders, such as the automatic referral of statutory reports under Standing Order 32, such as the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the 2015 general election and the time-sensitive review of it, which has been held hostage by the government House leader's discussion paper; or by an order of reference from the House, such as bills and cases of privileges.
The chair, mere moments before midnight, informed the committee that the clerk ruled it in order. Make of that what you will, Mr. Speaker. On the strength of that so-called ruling, a majority at the procedure and House affairs committee can now, and in the future, simply decide, anytime it wishes, to study some issue and write a report leading to recommendations to find someone in contempt of Parliament, to jail people, or even to expel members. Imagine what Parliament is going to become during a minority government. As I said in my opening comments, this is an unintended but very dangerous consequence.
Let me be very clear. The Conservative Party, Her Majesty's loyal opposition, wants to see this critical issue studied by the procedure and House affairs committee. Our main concern here is that the government not disregard the rules of this place, and we feel the need to clarify whether the committee can deal with the privilege matter without a proper reference from the House.
By reviving the question of privilege in the House, we take the opportunity to ensure that the procedure and House affairs committee can study this important issue, this question of our rights as parliamentarians, with the full confidence of a sturdy procedural footing.
Turning to an explanation of the procedural consequences of yesterday's manoeuver by the government, the House did not decide for or against the merits of a committee study on this question of privilege. Therefore, the so-called “same question rule” is not triggered.
Citation 558(1) of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms of the House of Commons of Canada, sixth edition, states:
An old rule of Parliament reads: “That a question being once made and carried in the affirmative or negative, cannot be questioned again but must stand as the judgment of the House.”
In re-finding a prima facie case of privilege, you would not risk contravening this ancient rule. In fact, a consequence of the motion adopted yesterday is, I would submit, to put us back to where we started. For example, if that motion was moved during concurrence debate, it would take the actual motion debated off the Order Paper, but any other motion on notice concerning the same report could be moved the very next day. The member whose motion was flushed, so to speak, could simply re-file another notice of motion and begin anew.
The same goes for motions of instruction, which can be moved during routine proceedings. That is to say, one is back where one began and can reinitiate the same identical proceeding in the usual fashion appropriate to that class of motion. In the case of concurrence and instruction motions, that, of course, would be giving 48-hours' notice by way of the Notice Paper. In the case of a privilege motion, I say it would be in raising a question of privilege asking you to find a prima facie case of privilege and moving the appropriate privilege motion.
Canvassing O'Brien and Bosc for precedent privilege debates, where the motion offered by the hon. member for was carried, and Appendix 15 of the volume, which offers a handy table of cases between 1958 and when our current privilege procedure was set down in 2008, shows that it has never been done before. Each prima facie case of privilege catalogued from pages 1289 to 1297 shows that every privilege motion debated was either adopted or defeated by the House of Commons. Each case of privilege since 2008, again, saw the relevant motion come to a vote, with only one exception. That exception was the case of the privilege motion moved by the hon. minister of fisheries and oceans on June 18, 2013, which happened to be the last sitting day of the session. The debate had been adjourned, as governments are much more likely to propose during privilege debates. A prorogation followed before the House sat again.
Let me state clearly that never has a motion to proceed to orders of the day been before adopted during a privilege debate. This is completely unprecedented, and, I would argue, is an extremely dangerous precedent that denies members their fundamental right to vote in this place. Why is that? As a matter of logistics, I would say that it is to avoid this Groundhog Day atmosphere I described earlier. As a matter of principle, it is a simple acknowledgement of the importance of allowing the House to take a decision on a motion concerning the privileges of this House. These privileges are guaranteed in section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, often referred to by its original title, the British North America Act. The law of parliamentary privilege has been held by the Supreme Court of Canada to be a body of constitutional law, a body of law on equal footing with that of the charter.
As I said, this situation is entirely unprecedented. I think the appropriate path forward lies in the analogous situation of privilege cases that get revived following prorogation. Allow me to offer the Chair two examples.
On May 26, 2003, at page 6413 of the Debates, Mr. Speaker Milliken found a prima facie case of privilege initiated by Mr. Boudria, and the procedure and House affairs committee was tasked with a study. Parliament was prorogued that November, before the committee could report. On February 6, 2004, at page 243 of the Debates, Mr. Speaker Milliken found a prima facie case of privilege raised by Mr. Breitkreuz, which revived the earlier case.
The Chair ruled at the time, stating:
As I indicated in the previous session, this was a bona fide question of privilege. Accordingly, in my view, the question remains a question of privilege. The committee did not completely report on the matter which it is entitled to do. Accordingly I give the hon. member leave to move his motion.
In a second incident, one I referenced a moment ago, on June 18, 2013, at page 18550 of the Debates, the Speaker's predecessor, the hon. member for , found a prima facie case of privilege raised by the hon. minister of fisheries and oceans. That case, in fact, had actually been raised by the hon. member for , the member whose motion has sparked the very debate going on at the procedure and House affairs committee, on the unprecedented power grab proposed by the Liberals.
In any event, as I mentioned earlier, prorogation followed before debate could be concluded and a vote taken, so on October 17, 2013, the member made a request to revive the case of privilege, and at page 66 of the Debates, the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle said:
For the same reasons given in my ruling last session, in my view, the matter remains a prima facie question of privilege, and accordingly, I now invite the hon. member...to move his motion.
These two precedent situations stand for two different propositions I want you to consider, Mr. Speaker. First, as I mentioned in introducing them, they are analogous to the situation in which we find ourselves this morning. A prima facie case of privilege had been found, a motion had been proceeded with, and some subsequent procedural interruption came along before the privilege process could come full circle.
Second, you will note that members who raised the second question of privilege to revive the matter were not the same members who raised the initial prima facie case of privilege. For that matter, in those cases, the second motion was moved by a member of an entirely different political party.
To conclude, I do not believe that the Liberal trick yesterday was procedurally appropriate, and worse, it could create a dangerous precedent if it becomes standing operating procedure around this place.
You, Mr. Speaker, are currently seized with a couple of other questions of privilege raised by my colleague on which we eagerly await rulings. However, it becomes a natural concern to me if the Liberal government's go-to move will now be quickly to move to proceed to orders of the day, killing the privilege motions, should you find prima facie cases while there is an offer of a fig leaf of a procedurally suspect notice of motion at committee.
This is not the way to handle the serious matters raised by the Speaker's ruling, serious matters which, as a prima facie case of privilege, warrant priority consideration over all other business of this House. In fact, it smacks of utter arrogance by the government against the Speaker, the guardian of the rights and privileges of members of this House as an institution. No other government in history has, as I related moments ago, treated a Speaker's finding of a prima facie case of privilege in such a reckless and cavalier manner.
If we think about it, we are in an ironic situation. We debated a motion respecting two members being denied the opportunity to vote because of the issues addressed in yesterday's ruling. The government then resorted to a too-clever-by-half manoeuvre, which attempted to deny all 338 members of this House the right to vote on the issue concerning our privileges as parliamentarians that allow us to represent our constituents. This shocking development is sadly consistent with the earlier steps we saw in Motion No. 6 last year, and now the unilateral power grab cloaked in a pleasant-sounding label of a discussion paper.
Please note that we, Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, support our Speaker, and we understand the challenging role the Chair has and most certainly support the Speaker's first ruling. In fact, we supported it to the point of wanting to be absolutely certain that it receives the priority it deserves at the procedure and House affairs committee.
Mr. Speaker, assuming your assessment has not changed since yesterday morning's ruling, I am now prepared to move the appropriate motion to vindicate the Chair's established role in deciding prima facie questions of privilege so the House can make decisions on these serious topics.
Mr. Speaker, I do appreciate and understand the concern that the member across the way has brought forward in the form of a question of privilege. As much as I am sympathetic to the arguments presented, I do not believe that the member has a question of privilege, and I would like to expand on why I believe that to be the case.
If you were to look at House of Commons Procedure and Practice, it states at page 149:
If a motion to adjourn the debate or the House is adopted, debate on the privilege motion resumes the following sitting day. However, should the previous question be negatived, or a motion to proceed to Orders of the Day be adopted, then the privilege motion is superseded and dropped from the Order Paper.
I would suggest that what took place yesterday was indeed very much in order.
I would like to address a couple of the concerns that the member across the way has raised.
It goes without saying that unfettered access to the House of Commons means unfettered access, not just to the House itself but to the entire parliamentary precinct. That consists of this wonderful beautiful chamber in which we are having this discussion today, and our committee rooms, whether they are on or off the Hill, and our offices. We need to have unfettered access to all of these critical working environments. In most part, that is in fact what takes place. When I say “most part”, I would like to think that 99.9% of the time, we have unfettered access to these areas. However, I am aware that there are times, unfortunately, when our access has been challenged.
I have sat on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as have members across the way. Unfortunately, I have had to deal with this issue at the committee on more than one occasion. I have heard many members talk in this chamber, and, rightfully so, about being denied access. I do not question the importance of it, and this government does not question it either. No member of the House of Commons would question the importance of our having unfettered access to this place. In fact, I was quite touched by one member of the NDP who stood in his place and pulled out his identification card. If one reads the back of the identification card, it reinforces that aspect.
I have been a parliamentarian for a number of years. One of the things I have learned over the last six years is the importance of our standing committees and the fine work they do. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs has been a fairly active committee as of late. It sits twice a week, as do many other committees. Members on that committee have all sorts of things on their plate.
Yesterday, I spoke in the House about our unfettered access, and the issues raised by the member for and other members. I highlighted the fact that the standing committee understands and appreciates the issue that we were debating. I suggested that at the end of the day, this committee can establish its own priorities. As a standing committee, it has the ability to do that. It could have a subcommittee look into the matter at hand to find out how to best deal with the issue.
It is not the first time that an access issue has occurred, and maybe it is because of the construction or other activities. I believe there are a number of reasons that have caused unfettered access to be violated.
I would look to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to see what it might want to do. I only say this as a recommendation. The committee can maybe establish a subcommittee to try to get a general overview of this, given the number of times in recent years that there has been a violation. That might be something it wants to do. I do not want to tie its hands in any way.
No member who stood to speak yesterday during the debate said that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs should not deal with the issue. I believe all members of the House recognize the value of the committee dealing with the issue. In recognizing the importance of unfettered access, we should also recognize that the procedure and House affairs committee has initiated some actions already that will deal with the question of privilege addressed yesterday by the Speaker. I believe that is very encouraging.
In fact, during the debate, a member of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs moved a motion. I understand there were concerns expressed last night with respect to that particular motion. However, another motion was moved, and I would like to share that motion with the House.
This motion was moved in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs as follows:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(a), the Committee examine the subject matter of the Question of Privilege raised by the member for Milton regarding the free movement of Members within the Parliamentary precinct.
For clarification purposes, the member for gave notice of this motion yesterday, and it was ruled in order by the chair.
What we know for a fact is that the Speaker made a ruling yesterday and a debate ensued following that ruling. Then, according to our own rule book, House of Commons Procedure and Practice, a rule allowed us to go to orders of the day. There was no violation of our institution. We went to orders of the day and the day continued. Then, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs took it upon itself to deal with this. We should allow for the procedure and House affairs committee to do the fine work it does to address the issue.
With respect to the privilege that the member across the way raised, I understand and am sympathetic to what the member is talking about with respect to unfettered access. We, in government, agree with that. However, if the member were to look at our rules and procedures, he will find that what took place yesterday was in order. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs is doing a fine job in trying to deal with this issue, and we should not attempt to usurp what the individual members of Parliament in that committee are attempting to do.
I believe the matter from yesterday will be addressed in a very timely fashion. As such, I do not believe that the member's question of privilege is valid, in the sense that the rules were followed yesterday that allowed us to go to orders of the day, and the issue that was raised yesterday is being dealt with at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
With those few thoughts, we are prepared to move forward to debate Bill , if that is the desire of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I am sure that was meant for the member who just spoke, who can be long-winded at times.
I would like to add a few points to my Conservative colleague's arguments.
Yesterday, the ruling was pretty clear on the importance of the issue. With being here for nearly six years now, it is something that has come up many times. The Speaker did say:
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.
That is very important. Contrary to what the suggested, nobody is second-guessing the committee's work. What is at issue is the fact that the government prevented the House of Commons from exercising its authority on a matter before it under the Speaker's authority.
Quickly, being mindful of the request to be sensitive to the time, I want to read from O'Brien and Bosc, page 141:
Great importance is attached to matters involving privilege. [...] The function of the Speaker is limited to deciding whether the matter is of such a character as to entitle the Member who has raised the question to move a motion which will have priority over Orders of the Day; that is, in the Speaker’s opinion, there is a prima facie question of privilege. If there is, the House must take the matter into immediate consideration. Ultimately, it is the House which decides whether a breach of privilege or a contempt has been committed.
We and our Conservative colleagues believe that, by playing these procedural games, the government prevented the House from exercising its authority on this issue.
The last quote I want to read is from House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, page 62:
Any conduct which offends the authority or dignity of the House, even though no breach of any specific privilege may have been committed, is referred to as a contempt of the House. Contempt may be an act or an omission.
This is a very important issue. Considering the importance that the Speaker ascribed to this matter in his decision, considering that this is a key issue that comes up regularly, and considering that the government prevented us from proceeding with debate and prevented the House from exercising its authority, if this is not a question of privilege, it is certainly a question of contempt of the House or at least a question that has a significant impact on members' ability to do their job.
I will end on that. I think it is critical that the House be allowed to be seized with these matters, and in particular in the current context, where we see, as my Conservative colleague pointed out, the government attempting to unilaterally change the rules of this place. It is critical that we have the ability, as parliamentarians and as this place, to be able to be seized with this question and decide as a collective on this question, and not have the government unilaterally pushing us into its agenda that it feels we should be seized with.
Mr. Speaker, I am confident that what you just heard will enable you to make an informed decision on the members' ability to do their job and move forward on an issue that the Speaker considers to be crucial. The issue of members' access to the House of Commons comes up far too often. This is a vital question of privilege.
Mr. Speaker, I respectfully ask that you would allow us to weigh in on this very important issue. I understand that your job is to manage this place and to ensure that government business is able to proceed as planned.
My concern, and why I would like to make a few comments regarding this, is that this goes to the very heart of what we as parliamentarians do and how we function in this place. It has been said previously, and it has been said more and more, that power is being centralized more and more in one office, the 's Office. In this case, whereby the Liberals have the majority, if an edict from the Prime Minister comes down to the Liberal members of Parliament, they then can enforce the Prime Minister's wishes because they simply have the majority.
This is vital not just to our privileges, because somehow we as members of Parliament need a privilege, but we are elected by the people of Canada to uphold our democracy. It is the tools we have in the House of Commons, which we are able to use to uphold that democracy, that are at risk. If we let little things go, these little things become bigger and bigger. A lot of the discussion over the last couple of weeks has been around potential changes to the Standing Orders. We have not been talking always about the specifics of those changes. There have been some specifics, but a lot of the concern has been around the way the government is trying to ram through these changes.
What we saw happen yesterday is in that same vein. It is pretty well the same type of behaviour, and if it is let go and nothing happens, it is clear the government will do what it wants to do regardless of the process. Again, this is not about the end result. I think we all agree that this question of privilege should be looked at at PROC. However, there is a process and the way that PROC receives this, and that is by the House being able to vote on this question of privilege.
No one can argue that the motion moved yesterday was a privilege motion. The Speaker ruled that it was a privilege motion and as such it was granted the status that it deserved. It seems to me that any member could now put the motion that flowed from the ruling yesterday on notice and that notice should would appear as a privilege motion on the Order Paper of the next day. We see this as common sense. A superseded concurrence motion goes back on the Order Paper as a concurrence motion, as would a superseded travel motion, for example. All superseded motions can return to the Order Paper with the same status as it left the Order Paper.
If the Speaker rules that the motion should go back as something else, such as a private member's motion, then I am curious to hear what the Speaker's explanation would be as to why a privilege motion would be the only type of motion that would morph into something else by virtue of the adoption of a motion to proceed to orders of the day.
What is more disturbing in that scenario is the fact that this magical metamorphosis produces inferior results. That is an insult to every member in the House. Members' privileges are just that, privileged, and they should be treated as such. Nothing else will do. The right of due process was taken away from two members who missed the vote on March 22. It is one thing for the majority to stand in its place and vote against a privilege motion, and that might happen. However, it is another for Liberals to hide behind a superseding motion where that matter has neither been decided in the affirmative or negative.
I would respectfully say that nobody can stand by and allow the rights of members to disappear into the either. Their rights cannot be snatched away on a technical glitch, no matter how much the government would like it to be so. I know the Liberals are trying to make some case that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs will be dealing with the issue. However, they are dealing with it in an unorthodox manner, and that is not the point. That is why this is so important.
The normal due process in matters of privilege has three elements. First, the matter is raised. If the Speaker finds a prima facie question of privilege, he invites the member to move a motion. Then we have debate in the House where the members give their opinions on the matter. If the House so chooses, it can send the matter to committee. If the House chooses to send the matter to committee, then the committee has the testimony of all those members who participated in the debate to consider.
The process of yesterday is missing a few parts: the House has not pronounce itself on the question; members have not concluded their remarks, since the motion has not yet been decided or adjourned; and, the committee does not have a proper reference to consider the matter and even if it pretends that it does, it is missing all the opinions of those members who wanted to speak.
What about the fact that the two members who missed the vote were members of the opposition and their right to due process was snatched away by a majority of government members? Do we not believe and think that should be a concern to all of us and to you, Mr. Speaker? It fits right into the theme of this Parliament. Every reform idea proposed by the government attempts to strip away the rights from the opposition, from Motion No. 6 to the recent batch of Standing Orders changes and the botched attempt and approach taken by the Liberal government to process them.
I appreciate being allowed to intervene on this. It is of vital importance. I ask, Mr. Speaker, that you rule on this matter and allow the privilege motion to be decided by the House in the manner suggested by my colleague from , or by a member placing the motion back on the Order Paper, where it belongs. We need to deal with this in the proper process. We cannot allow a majority or a different unorthodox process to take this out of the House and illegitimately give it to the committee, although we agree with the result but it has to be done in the proper way. We ask that the Speaker would make that ruling.
Mr. Speaker, I find myself a bit surprised to be standing again today on another question of privilege, which is, in fact, very much related to the question of privilege to which I spoke yesterday. The accumulation of these things happening together is a signal to everybody. I hope it is particularly a signal to the Speaker that something is going very wrong in this place. It is of a matter of great importance and it is a hard thing for most normal people to understand. This has to do with centuries of history of how this place works and rules people consider to be arcane, but they are important rules. They are the foundation upon which this democracy exists and upon which it has been built for generations.
While the government said that it respected that privileges had been offended, we saw the government's double manoeuver yesterday in choosing to vote to extinguish any effort to protect those privileges. Then through another device, it tried to mislead and pretend it was protecting them in a fashion that was entirely inappropriate and not permitted under our rules.
Questions of privilege belong to this chamber. Questions of privilege are not government legislation. They take precedence over government business on the orders of the day. They take precedence because they are profound. A question of privilege and a motion of privilege are the property not of the government but of this chamber.
Yesterday, the majority government members took a decision to reject the effort to protect those privileges. They now try through words to escape the consequences of that decision and pretend they did not reject the effort to defend members' privileges. That is exactly what they did yesterday.
The more serious question is this. Are we now going to change how privilege and the defence of privileges of members works in this place from this point going forward? Is privilege no longer a question for the House to decide? Is it now a question of government motions and government initiatives that happen at a committee level? Are we going to so diminish the question of privilege in this place? Are we going to create that as the route through which it is done?
That is why this calls out for the intervention of the Speaker. There are rare occasions in the history of a Parliament when events begin to take a course and, for whatever reason, people get too clever by half. We get folks who think they can find ways to change rules, make new rules and make life more efficient for themselves. Some people call this campaign brain or political brain, and they get too clever by half. In a time like this, the circumstances cry out for a Speaker to say, no, that it is the duty of the Speaker to defend the rights and the privileges of members of this place. That is the most profound and important duty of the Speaker. That is what the Speaker is elected by the members to do, not to aid and abet a government effort to make its life more efficient. I would never suggest our Speaker has done that thus far. I am very pleased that has not happened. However, there comes a time when passivity is not sufficient.
When this question of privilege was raised, it raised a question of profound importance. It called out for that intervention to protect all of our rights and privileges. Let us remember what we talked about. The government is saying that we should not worry, that privilege can be taken care of by the initiative of a government member at a committee. I do not see that anywhere. I do not see it anywhere in the big green books. I do not see it anywhere in Erskine May. I do not see it anywhere in centuries of Speakers' decisions. Committees deal with questions of privilege after this place, sitting as a court, has taken a decision on them and referred them there. We are to sit in the second instance, with you, Mr. Speaker, in the first instance in making the prima facie finding. Then this place, as a court in the second instance, makes the decision on a reference. That is the proper process.
The government, for whatever reason, while saying it protected the privileges, took a decision yesterday to extinguish and snuff out the proper effort through the processes that belong to us to defend those privileges. Every member on that side who voted to do so took that decision that the right of a member to vote was not really important enough for them. They were going to have it drop off of the agenda of this place. Now the Liberals try, through some sleight of hand, to make the trick where they pretend they will really defend it elsewhere. It is not the process that does that, and if it does it, they are not really defending the rights and privileges of members at all. It is a profoundly troubling manoeuvre.
It comes in the context, and the context is important, of these other events that are taking place, because the Liberals are seeking to change the rules once again here. They are seeking to change the rules at a committee. They are doing so at the same time as saying, “Oh, we just want good faith discussions. Trust us.” It is the same as, “Oh, this kind of motion is another good way of doing it. Just trust us.”
One of the ways this House of Commons has worked, again for generations, has been through trust. Sure, we could have partisanship—
Mr. Speaker, I was about to commence on another element of my argument. I was certainly more than ready to stand down for the period of time to allow such a statement from the , if the government was ever going to propose it. I certainly had been expecting it at 10:30, but in any event, pending the Liberals seeking to do so, I will continue.
Where I was heading was the context in which this is occurring, the context of rules being changed and government members asking that they be trusted on their kinds of initiatives like this. However, we keep seeing a contradiction between words and deeds. The contradictions keep piling up.
Why is this important? This is important because this place works on trust. This place works on the principle that House leaders speak to each other, which apparently the on this other matter has not been doing, and communications begin to break down. That trust is very important.
There is an interesting element to this that is critically important. In the United Kingdom, the mother Parliament, they refer to something called “the usual channels”. The usual channels constitute that element of the different House leaders and whips speaking to each other. Perhaps in the U.K. the whips take the more supreme role, and here it is the House leaders who take the supreme role.
There is an excellent paper that was written called “Opening Up the Usual Channels” that discusses some of this. I want to point to some of the important elements in it, and some of the quotes they provide.
The first one comes from Erskine May, 22nd edition, 1997. It states:
The efficient and smooth running of the parliamentary machine depends largely upon the Whips.... He [the Government Chief Whip] and the Chief Whip of the largest opposition party constitute the 'usual channels', through which consultations are held with other parties and Members about business arrangements and other matters of concern to the House.
That trust, that ability to negotiate, that ability to discuss together is critical to this place working, yet the effort by the government repeatedly, whether it be through Motion No. 6 some time ago, and we recall the issues that arose out of that, whether it be through the actions at the procedure and House affairs committee and the effort to push through the government's timelines unilaterally on changes to the rules of this place, again something that is out of the usual practices of this place, and now, last night's manoeuvre, are all part and parcel of the same thing.
Mr. Speaker, we are seeing this ability of the parties to negotiate and to discuss together break down, and this could have very troubling consequences for the long term. We are seeing it right this very moment where that communication has broken down. The government is failing to do its job.
I am going quote again from this paper:
One of the most distinctive features of the Westminster Parliament is the way in which parliamentary business is organised. The initiative in arranging the parliamentary agenda lies largely with the government of the day and the ultimate decision on what is debated, when and for how long rests with the government. However, in practice the government negotiates with the opposition parties, particularly the official opposition, through what are euphemistically known as the ‘usual channels’.
It is an important mechanism, and it is part of the culture. The Speaker's staff or someone at the Clerk's table actually attends these meetings that take place in the usual channels just to speak to its importance on the practical aspects of making this place work.
If we are to allow the manouevre that took place at committee to stand in the context of the other things taking place at committee, the unilateral effort to change the rules, and the fact that there is a clear difference between what is said in this place and what is protested in this place by the government and then the deeds and actions that follow that are entirely contradictory to that, one can see that there is a need for the Speaker at this time to stand up and defend the rights of the members in this place, defend the rules that we have had for so many years, and send a message to the government, to all members, that this place has to work based on that kind of trust and straightforwardness.
In my many years as House leader, many may have taken issue with the approach that I utilized. However, one thing I do not think we will ever find anyone take issue with is that we were always straightforward, direct, told the truth, and did business in a productive and businesslike fashion. That is how it must be done. It was one where we always respected the rules and followed the rules, not one where we tried to change the rules through backdoor processes, as we are seeing right here.
Make no mistake, this is an example of the government trying to change the rules as it regards privilege in this place through a backdoor manoeuvre through this motion at committee that is being proposed. That is wholly inappropriate, wholly unacceptable, and it cries out for your intervention, Mr. Speaker.
With that, I will close my comments, but underline that it is far more troubling than the case may sound for persons unfamiliar with procedure. For those of us who are familiar with this place and have been here a long, long time, the manoeuvres and actions here are very, very troubling, and the consequences for all our privileges and how privilege is dealt with here are very profound.
Mr. Speaker, I need to weigh in on this question of parliamentary privilege, but I will be concise in recognition of the time.
I do not claim to be as educated on the rules of the House as the many members who have spoken before me, so I trust you, Mr. Speaker, to make the judgment of whether or not the things that have happened are to the letter of the procedures of the House. However, I certainly do not think they are to the spirit intended for the procedures of the House.
The Speaker found a prima facie case of parliamentary privilege. Members' privileges were violated when they could not get here to vote. We have seen votes in the House, even in the parliamentary session since I was elected, come to a point where the Speaker had to break a tie, and there was a threat that the government would be overthrown, so voting privileges are really critical.
I was here during the debate yesterday. We talked about it, but we never came to a resolution. To have members from the governing party come in with a motion that does not represent what everyone in the House was coming to a consensus on, and to not even have a chance to have input into that is almost violating our privileges again, to be part of the decisions that happen in the House.
It is clear to me that the procedure and House affairs committee has always been the place where these things immediately go, and they immediately take precedence. I have no idea why there was so much resistance to that issue. With votes coming as early as next week, we definitely need to come to a quick resolution. This is not something we should be taking a lot of time with.
I recognize that there is construction going on and there are cars coming and going. I have personally been prevented both from leaving the House and going into the House. It did not affect my ability to vote, but it is definitely something that is going on. I really feel that the things that happened yesterday do not reflect the spirit of the House and the spirit of our democracy.
Mr. Speaker, you need to look into what happened, because if that does become a precedent and people start to think that they can just use their majority to overcome the rules of the House, the rules that are supposed to preserve our democracy, that is not what we are here to do. We are here to represent Canadians. Three hundred and thirty-eight people have the right to weigh in on this issue and not have it pulled out from under them, like a rug, and not come to a good resolution.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for hearing me on this issue. I tried to be concise, but I do not think that what occurred happened in the spirit of this House, and I look to you to see whether it did indeed meet the letter of the rules.