Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
This committee, prior to prorogation, required that the government provide a series of documents in relation to the WE scandal. That request was very specific. It included a long list of items that would be required to fulfill the motion.
The motion specified that it would be the law clerk of the House of Commons who would be responsible for redacting any documents that were necessary to redact as a result of national security, cabinet confidence or any other legitimate purpose.
As you can appreciate, Mr. Chair, members of the committee were extremely disappointed and shocked to see that the documents submitted to the law clerk of the House of Commons were preredacted. Members of the government had covered up hundreds of sentences and at least dozens of pages through redactions, with black ink on page after page after page.
The Prime Minister promptly prorogued Parliament before this matter could be addressed at this committee, preventing me from bringing this motion then. Thus, I am bringing it forward now.
The member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands, Michael Barrett, raised a point of privilege on the floor of the House of Commons in respect of this matter. The Speaker responded by saying that the matter had to be raised at the aggrieved committee, which is this one.
This represents a breach of the privileges of parliamentarians to receive any and all documents that the committee requests. Parliamentary privilege is absolute. The government does not have the right, in our system, to withhold information that Parliament has requested.
I note that the original request was extremely generous towards the government, in that it provided a mechanism for the law clerk, who is bound by solicitor-client privilege, to remove or redact any information that would violate the government's right to cabinet confidence, protection of national security, commercial sensitivity and personal privacy.
We have a respected legal team. We have, simply put, a lawyer for the House of Commons whose job it was to carry out that work. The law clerk has informed the House that the office of the clerk was prevented from doing that job by the government's decision to do the redactions before the documents were ever handed over.
As remedy, I have a motion that I wish to introduce into the record for committee members to vote upon. Let me begin reading it.
That the Chair be instructed to present the following report to the House forthwith, provided that dissenting or supplementary—
I will have to reread that sentence, then:
Standing Order 108(2) empowers your Committee “to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operation of the department or departments of government which are assigned” to it, among other things.
Additionally, on May 26, 2020, the House adopted an order of reference permitting your Committee to meet virtually to consider matters “related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other matters” and empowering it, “in relation to [its] study of matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic”, to “receive evidence which may otherwise exceed the [committee’s] mandate under Standing Order 108”.
On July 7, 2020, the committee held a virtual meeting. It adopted the following motion:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), the committee order that any contracts concluded with We Charity and Me to We, all briefing notes, memos and emails, including the contribution agreement between the government and the organization, from senior officials prepared for or sent to any minister regarding the design and creation of the Canada Student Service Grant, as well as any written correspondence and records of other correspondence with We Charity and Me to We from March 2020 be provided to the committee no later than August 8, 2020; that matters of cabinet confidence and national security be excluded from the request; and that any redactions necessary, including to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and permanent residents whose names and personal information may be included in the documents, as well as public servants who have been providing assistance on this matter, be made by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons.
On or about August 8, 2020, several deputy heads of government departments provided the Clerk of your Committee with documents in response to the order for document production. These documents were, in accordance with the order, referred to the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel for review and redaction.
On August 18, 2020, the documents were released to the members of your Committee. The Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel also wrote to the Clerk of your Committee stating, in part:
the letters and documents indicate that the departments had also made redactions to protect personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act, to protect third party information and information on the vulnerability of their computer or communication systems, or methods employed to protect their systems. These latter grounds for exemption from disclosure are contained in the Access to Information Act..
Upon reception of the documents on August 9, 2020, you provided them to my Office so that we could make the necessary redactions to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, as well as public servants as contemplated by the production order. However, as mentioned above, the documents had already been redacted by the departments to protect personal information and on other grounds. As my Office has not been given the opportunity to see the unredacted documents, we are not able to confirm whether those redactions are consistent with the order of the Committee....
It goes on:
As mentioned above, the departments made certain redactions to the documents on grounds that were not contemplated in the order of the Committee. We note that the House’s and its committees’ power to order the production of records is absolute and unfettered as it constitutes a constitutional parliamentary privilege that supersedes statutory obligations, such as the exemptions found in the Access to Information Act. The House and its committees are the appropriate authority to determine whether any reasons for withholding the documents should be accepted or not.
Parliament was prorogued on August 18, 2020, preventing your committee from meeting to study the documents and the government's failure to comply with the July 7, 2020 order.
A question of privilege was raised in the House on this matter at the beginning of the new session of Parliament. In his decision of October 1, 2020, the Speaker of the House said:
As of today, it is not possible to know whether the committee is satisfied with these documents as provided to it. The new session is now under way. The committee, which has control over the interpretation of its order, has an opportunity to examine the documents and decide what to do with them.[...]
Given these facts and circumstances, it is my view that this is a matter for the committee to consider. If it believes that its privileges have been breached or has any other concern with respect to the situation, it can report to the House.
At its October 8, 2020, organizational meeting, your Committee considered the government’s response to the July 7, 2020, order.
Your Committee has concluded that the government’s response failed to comply with the order, and, accordingly, wishes to draw the attention of the House to what appears to be a breach of its privileges by the government’s refusal to provide documents in the manner ordered by the Committee.
Your Committee, therefore, recommends that an Order of the House do issue for the unredacted version of all documents produced by the government in response to the July 7, 2020, order of the Standing Committee on Finance, provided that these documents shall be laid upon the Table within one sitting day of the adoption of this Order.
That, Mr. Chair, is my binding motion.
Having concluded the filing of that motion and having instructed my staff members to provide your and the clerk's office with a full copy of it in order to ensure rapid precision in its recording, I will state the rationale for the motion very briefly.
We asked for documents. The documents were blacked out. We have the right to see those documents unredacted. We have a law clerk, a lawyer, who represents all of us, who has the ability, the expertise, and the confidence of this committee and our House to determine what we should and should not publish. That is the role of Parliament. My motion is now before the committee.
I look forward to our going to an immediate vote on it.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The motion makes reference to the Speaker's ruling on October 1, but it neglects to mention the part of the ruling that said “the Chair cannot”—cannot—“find that there is a prima facie question of privilege”. That, I think, is a very relevant point in addition to everything I raised earlier. There was a bit of commotion there, so I'll repeat what I said: We are in a new session of Parliament. A motion has not been adopted to review documents. The committee has not received relevant documents. The clerk has not received any relevant letter.
I would also remind the member, who's an experienced member, that these matters, as we know from the guidebook on parliamentary procedure specifically relating to the conduct of committees, are issues to be taken up by the Standing Committee on Procedure, the PROC committee. I think that's a highly relevant point. I would point my honourable colleague to a relevant section in the chapter on committees and also relating to questions of privilege. It says as follows: “If the Speaker finds there is a prima facie breach of privilege”—again, he did not find it in this case, but the text is making a general point—“the member raising the question of privilege is asked to move a motion, which is debatable, usually requesting that the matter be examined by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.”
That is the convention, Mr. Chair. Mr. Poilievre wants to bring these matters to the finance committee. Again, I made this point many weeks ago, when we were meeting in the previous session. Canadians are deeply anxious right now about COVID-19 and its economic impact. I think that's where our focus ought to be. We are again today embroiled in a debate over documents, over technical matters. I'm not dismissing the substance of those. As I put on the record many times during the WE hearings that we had, I thought serious questions had to be asked of the government. I asked, along with other Liberal colleagues, very serious questions of the government. We did not hide from that responsibility or shirk that responsibility. However, I worry that here again too we have given in, or could be giving in, to a tendency to look at matters that are not specifically relevant to the committee on finance. We need to begin to think about the pre-budget deliberations that are going to, or ought to, seize this committee. In fact, that is a responsibility of the committee if we follow the Standing Orders.
I think colleagues around the table will hold that same view. If they wish to raise their perspective on this matter, on the matter of pre-budget deliberations, I would welcome that. It would be great to get that on the record. I think it's a very relevant point. I know that a number of stakeholder organizations have expressed a deep interest in letting this committee know about where the country ought to go, where the federal government should go and what advice this particular committee should provide to the government on economic matters going forward.
For all these reasons, Mr. Chair, I have a tough time understanding the special relevance of the motion introduced by my honourable colleague. He knows conventions very well. I think it would have been more instructive and appropriate for him to raise these matters, or rather for a Conservative member to raise these matters, in the PROC committee.
I'll leave it there for now, Mr. Chair. I'm glad I had a chance to put my views on the record.
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
I want to also reiterate that we have prorogued. We have just reconstituted our committee today. We have you as chair, and we have vice-chairs. My understanding is that we as a finance committee have not accepted the documents that were indicated by Mr. Poilievre. I don't think there is any question of privilege that should be considered at this point.
I want to indicate that there was a substantial amount of time allocated to looking at the CSSG and the WE situation. It was important for us to do. It was important for us to make sure that we validated whether there was any money misspent or wasted. We've confirmed and proven that was not the case. We have also eliminated a number of the myths that were promoted by the opposition throughout the summer, including that the Liberals were giving money to their friends. That was completely not true. That the or the ministers had picked WE intentionally was not true, and that was confirmed by a number of our very senior leaders and bureaucrats within the government. There were a number of other things that we completely dispelled throughout the many hours during which we actually looked at this particular motion.
I don't know why the opposition would want to bring this back onto the table. I agree with my colleague Mr. Fragiskatos that we as the finance committee have an obligation to hear from stakeholders on pre-budget consultations. I don't know why this would not be the absolute number one priority for all of my colleagues in opposition on this committee. It's my understanding that almost 800 submissions have been made. To my understanding, the number of submissions made is historic. There are many people who are very anxious to present to our committee.
I know many of them have called our offices. I know many of them have ideas on how we can ensure that Canada has a competitive economy going forward as we come out of this pandemic. They have ideas on how we can attract more direct investment, how we can accelerate growth and how we can invest in productivity-enhancing capital, many ideas.
I know they want to make sure that, after they've heard about the Speech from the Throne, after they've heard about our vision and our direction and what our goals are moving forward, there are a number of specifics they want to be able to provide to us in terms of information, in terms of things they think we might have missed. They have ideas about how we can implement the specific commitments we've outlined in the Speech from the Throne.
Mr. Chair, I truly believe this is where we should be focusing our attention. I'm very disappointed with our opposition members that this is not what they want to be focused on. We also know there are many industries that are disproportionally impacted by the COVID pandemic. We need to hear from them. While I'm hopeful that our government has plans under way to help them in the interim, we need to hear from them on how we can help them pivot after this pandemic.
We also know there are a number of industries that are in transition. We heard an announcement by Premier Kenney last week about new industries that Alberta wants to be transitioning into. I think there are many who want to relay to us the kind of support they'd be looking for and that they need in the transition. The world is changing. We will have changed after this pandemic. We all want to be getting the very best ideas and providing the platform that's needed so that we can hear back from stakeholders, whether our industries, our companies or our non-profits, about how we can get Canadians and Canada back on track to succeed in a more sustainable and equitable way.
Mr. Chair, I'll end there.
Both of the interventions we've had from the governing party members have really not addressed the question of privilege raised by Mr. Poilievre. Both spoke at length about the necessity of this committee dealing with COVID response measures, for example. That's a bit of a rabbit hole to take away from the motion itself.
I'm going to go there and point out that the questions raised by the WE debacle are very much questions of COVID response measures. The government had announced these measures as part of its COVID response, and Canadians need to know the extent to which corruption and the rewarding of friends have extended into its COVID response measures. This is an important question.
This question of privilege is directly tied to how the Government of Canada addresses the COVID emergency. When we are talking about the disruption of the absolute and unfettered privileges of a committee to examine and receive evidence, this is not something that can simply be shrugged off because the government and its caucus members on this committee would simply rather talk about something else.
The Speaker, in his ruling, referred the matter back to this committee, and this committee is going to consider this. I wanted to make that point quite clearly. These issues are all tied together. For Canadians who want and need their government to look at the emergency response measures, the manner in which money is put out and the lengths to which the government would go to deny a committee the evidence that it needs to examine this matter cannot just simply be shrugged off. This committee is an appropriate place to have this discussion.
Coming from the health committee, I want to give an example. We had a very similar situation there. I know Ms. Dzerowicz is wondering why we would be doing this. It's because the Liberals had started making it a norm to hide information. They did the exact same thing. They redacted before it went to the law clerk. We're in the middle of a pandemic. We want Canadians to trust us. If we want Canadians to trust us, then we need to be transparent with our information.
Mr. Trudeau consistently says he wants to be transparent. In December 2015, he said, “We are committed to open, honest, transparent government.” On April 3, 2019, he said, “We believe strongly in the importance of access to information and transparency”. On May 1, 2019, he said, “Under my leadership, we have raised the bar on transparency.” On June 10, 2020, he said, “We will continue to demonstrate openness and transparency.” On June 16, 2020, he said “Mr. Chair, throughout this unprecedented pandemic, we have been open and transparent about all of the measures we've put forward.”
I said the same thing at the health committee. This is not transparency when you redact and you do not allow parliamentarians the privilege of seeing the documents as they were written. There appears to be secrecy that absolutely needs to stop if we want Canadians to trust that we are doing our very best for them. We have got to support this motion.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll cut to the chase.
I don't really care what information gets shared if it's within the rules. I do want to get on with the pre-budget consultations. It's my view, after having looked at Bosc and Gagnon's interpretation of privilege debates before committees, that we don't actually have the authority to consider this as a point of privilege.
I don't intend to take too much time. It will take me a couple of minutes. I'll read the relevant section where it discusses specifically matters of privilege raised before committee.
Unlike the Speaker, the Chair of a committee does not have the power to censure disorder or decide questions of privilege. Should a Member wish to raise a question of privilege in committee, or should some event occur in committee which appears to be a breach of privilege or contempt, the Chair of the committee will recognize the Member and hear the question of privilege, or, in the case of some incident, suggest that the committee deal with the matter.
Mr. Chair, I would suggest that you've carried out that portion of your duty by allowing Mr. Poilievre to make his motion.
I'll continue with the language:
The Chair, however, has no authority to rule that a breach of privilege or contempt has occurred. The role of the Chair in such instances is to determine whether the matter raised does in fact touch on privilege and is not a point of order, a grievance or a matter of debate. If the Chair is of the opinion that the Member's interjection deals with a point of order, a grievance or a matter of debate—
Here's the key part:
—or that the incident is within the powers of the committee to deal with, the Chair will rule accordingly giving reasons. The committee cannot then consider the matter further as a question of privilege.
The remaining part of the argument has actually already been made by members of the opposition. Mr. Poilievre, I believe, pointed out the good work of the parliamentary law clerk and counsel, who previously indicated in the letter that was referred to—I'll read from that letter if I can bring it up here momentarily—that:
In the circumstances, it is for the Committee to determine whether it is satisfied with the documents as redacted by the departments.
Further, both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Julian correctly pointed out that the chair in the House, who is master of this committee, save and except in its own uncertain circumstances, has actually referred this matter specifically to the committee.
Under my interpretation of the plain language explanation outlined in Bosc and Gagnon, you are required, Mr. Chair, to determine that this is within the power of the committee and not to be the subject of a report subjected to the House.
Moreover, Mr. Chair, should you not accept my argument, I would like to propose a simple amendment to Mr. Poilievre's motion. I would propose that, at the bottom of the motion, we add the words, “and that pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests a government response to the committee's report.”
However, that's only required should you find against my argument.
Where do I begin? At the risk of repeating what many of my colleagues have already said, as per the Speaker's ruling and as of today, it is not possible to know whether the committee is satisfied with the documents it was provided. The new session is now under way. The committee, which has control over the interpretation of its order, has an opportunity to examine the documents and decide what to do with them.
On September 23, the House adopted an order setting out a specific procedure to re-establish committees, including the Standing Committee on Finance. Given these facts and circumstances, it is my view that this is a matter for the committee to consider. If it believes its privileges have been breached or has any other concern with respect to the situation, it can report it back to the House.
For these reasons the chair cannot find there is a prima facie question of privilege. We have not received the documents. The documents were released on August 18, which was the same day Parliament was prorogued. As a consequence, the committee could not sit, could not review the documents nor report to the House, so the documents have not been reviewed by the committee.
All Canadians are watching us. We're in the second wave of COVID. They're concerned about their families. They're concerned about their health. The finance committee has very important work to do. As my colleague, Ms. Dzerowicz, mentioned earlier, we've received just south of 800 requests to appear before our committee. There is a deadline to report to the House.
I can't believe, and I'm disappointed actually, to see that parliamentarians who were so hard at work throughout the whole summer.... In the previous session, this finance committee did very important work, and we received a lot of relevant comments. It's time to start working on the very important work we have before us, without getting caught up in points of privilege and technical issues.
The average Canadian is looking to us for leadership. They're looking to us for solutions. They're looking to us to help them through this difficult time. They're looking to us to come up with recommendations on how we're going to recover from this terrible time.
I respectfully request that everybody around this table, including colleagues on my side of the aisle and all my colleagues around the table, do the important work Canadians have asked of us. It's time to move on. It's time to stop trying to trip each other up over technicalities and get to the real work that Canadians are expecting from us.
It feels like we're back in Nineteen Eighty-Four
. Let's start with the circular logic. The Speaker of the House received a point of privilege about the cover-up of these documents. He said he couldn't deal with this and that it should be sent to the committee. Here we are at committee, and now Liberal members are arguing that the committee can't deal with this and to leave that with the Speaker.
In Orwell's great work, these loudspeakers used to yell out to get people into the rhythm of circular thought and confuse them. The poem they would repeat over again was:
Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me:
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree.
Here we are, under the spreading chestnut tree, listening to the circular logic of Liberal members who try to bounce this issue back and forth, keep it out of everyone's hands so that it's nowhere and nothing. We want the truth, and we're going to pursue the truth.
Speaking of the truth, the second argument of our Liberal colleagues here is that the truth no longer exists because of prorogation. Not only did prorogation shut down the debate, but it erased history. Now they are telling us there never were any documents, they didn't exist, the committee never received a thing, and what are you talking about? That page of history has been erased by the ministry of truth. The officials there went through and erased that out of existence. There have been no documents. There is no WE. The Kielburgers, we don't have any record of their existence. “Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.”
That's what we have before us right now.
Mr. Chair, if you are still with me here in the real world, I think you will agree that we did receive documents, they were covered in ink, they did not respect the will of this committee, and a breach of our privilege has occurred. It is now only up to us to report it to the House, where it can be voted upon by members and ruled upon by the Speaker. Let us go forth and do our job. Let us put an end to the circular logic, the erasure of history and the silly games played by the members of the governing party.
Mr. Chair, these are a critical times.
The pandemic is having unprecedented health and economic consequences.
Millions of people and hundreds of thousands of businesses are experiencing great difficulties and we have a duty to listen to them and ask the government to better adapt its programs.
All the members of this committee are convinced of that. This is our raison d'être and this is what we do.
It's not just the job of Liberal MPs to do that.
At the same time, because the government is managing programs of unprecedented magnitude, it must be trustworthy.
Did the government act ethically, beyond all suspicion, to avoid creating doubt in the population?
This is another issue that is crucial and essential. It is our duty as committee members to address it. We have asked the government to provide us with documents, and they have provided us with documents that have been redacted and censored. Hence the motion of privilege that has been moved by our colleague Mr. Poilievre, which is entirely appropriate and which I will be supporting.
Will the committee suggest, as Mr. Julian asked earlier, that the House be asked to create a special committee to continue to shed light on the We Charity scandal?
I would like us to move and adopt this motion so that we can look at the pre-budget consultations and continue to hear from stakeholders on the economic impact of COVID-19.
All of this is essential, but we must not forget—this is really important—that the government must be trustworthy and beyond suspicion. This includes the documents we ask for. We want it to provide them to us, not redacted or censored.
That is why I fully support the motion presented here by our colleague Mr. Poilievre.
Mr. Chair, I want to point out that I'm not having much success using the robotic hand to wave at you. I keep pushing it and it doesn't seem to work. I had to do it the old way and use my own hand to get your attention.
I also want to say welcome to all the new members who have joined us. It's good to see some new faces around the table. Some are not so new, but welcome.
It looks like we're back in business with the finance committee. We've spent the last two hours talking about rules and procedures and documents, and about what's not a document and what should be on the table. Of course, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and COVID-19 should stay at the forefront. We also need to do the budget consultations. That can't be pushed to the sidelines. We've had many, many submissions made on pre-budget consultations. I don't want to lose sight of that.
I think people who are watching us are probably assuming that in the last session we had an opportunity to sit down and really analyze the documents, the response that the government made on the request for the WE Charity issue. I think it should be clear that our committee at that time, during that session and now, since it is our first meeting, has not had the response tabled, put in front of us as a committee, where we walk through it, analyze it, make comments and where we see things that are redacted that maybe shouldn't have been or anything of that nature.
In my opinion, that step is important. I think Pat Kelly indicated that a lot of this is tied to what the government response is. Well, let's take a look at what the government responded to. We did prorogue. That, of course, throws a twist into what this means. Prorogued means that all committee work and everything on the table comes to a standstill.
I think the motion, the point of privilege, is premature. I don't think we have taken the necessary steps to make a full assessment of what was provided. We have some new members. It's unfair to them to be voting on something where they didn't have an opportunity to really have a good number of sessions to get together and really get into the detail of this. If there's going to be a forensic look, then let's do it together as a committee. That's my point. I think we jumped a couple of steps ahead of what we need to do. I hear what the Speaker has said, that he can't deal with it and it has to go back to the committee, but how can the committee make a determination about documents that were really not formally discussed in this committee at this point?
Those are my comments, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to start where Mr. McLeod ended off.
A key point is that we at finance committee can't assess what we have not yet received. That's the first point.
The second point is that I have heard a couple of comments from Mrs. Jansen and other members of this committee about transparency. I will tell you those are not just quotes about us being transparent. I think we sometimes have a bit of a short memory and the prorogation might have shortened our memory even more.
There was an enormous amount of transparency around the dollars we have spent through this COVID crisis. There was an extraordinary effort by our former minister of finance to ensure that we had a biweekly report on every single dollar that we spent. It was given to us every two weeks, On top of that, our minister of finance came before this committee to answer any questions about the spending. Then we had government officials stay an extra hour, which was extra time to answer even more detailed questions.
There has been accountability. I don't want any Canadians listening to think that the federal government has been spending upwards of $300 billion with zero accountability. There has been a lot of accountability, and there will continue to be. It will be accountable; it will be transparent, and it is a huge commitment of our government. It's not just in words; it's also in action.
I will also say that we gave a lot of time to the Canada service grant matter. There were some very legitimate questions about whether or not there was wasting of money and whether there was any attempt by certain government leaders to select WE Charity on the side. There were some legitimate questions about why WE was selected.
An extraordinary number of hours were spent on answering those questions. We brought senior bureaucrats before this committee. For a historic moment in time we brought the of our nation before this committee.
We have heard very clearly—it is documented in the record of this finance committee—that there was no money wasted. It all came back. There was no money misspent. Even in the agreement that was signed with WE Charity there was no way for them to profit from it.
It was also very clearly stated that the and the ministers had zero hand in selecting WE Charity. We heard from the Clerk of the Privy Council, Ian Shugart. We heard from Rachel Wernick and we heard from Gina Wilson, who are both very senior bureaucrats within our civil service. We also heard from the Kielburgers under oath that none of the ministers, nor the Prime Minister, nor anybody, directed anyone to pick WE.
We responded to every single point that was brought forward. It was responded to. It is documented and it remains as part of the official record.
Did we behave in an ethical manner? I believe that the people who should make that determination are not a partisan committee such as ours. A couple of very important people, who are independent, highly competent and outstanding public servants, are looking into this matter. Can I please remind everyone that we have the Auditor General looking at our finances and how we are spending it; it's an independent person who is doing that. We also have the Ethics Commissioner looking to see whether or not any unethical actions were committed on behalf of our as well as our former minister of finance, or anyone else.
On the issue of the redaction, it seems like what has come up in the last go-round is that there is a desire from some members for us to convene another special committee, external to this body, to further investigate the WE Charity matter. I think this may be a good idea. If there is a group that believes this needs to be looked at even further, my humble and personal belief is that there is not one person who has approached me over the last few weeks who has any more questions about the WE matter right now.
What people care about right now is their kids going to school, keeping them safe, having a safe Thanksgiving, being able to continue to keep their jobs, and somehow being able to give someone a hug after this.... That is the hope. That is the stuff they care about right now. If there is a desire for a special committee, that is something that needs to be decided outside of this committee.
At committee, I proposed a motion to begin pre-budget consultations, which is what Canadians want us to focus on. They want us to focus on how to restart our Canadian economy in the best way possible, and to listen to over 800 groups. People are knocking at our door and saying they have some really great ideas. They want to make sure we have the information we need, so we can not only restart our economy in the strongest fashion possible but also build a better, more equitable, more sustainable future for our country.
I will leave it at that. I really hope we can get back to my pre-budget consultation motion, and back to work on what Canadians are asking this committee to focus on.
Mr. Chair, I have to say that I disagree with my Liberal colleagues on virtually every interpretation they have tried to put forward in terms of what privilege means and what committees are supposed to do to deal with that. It's almost like there needs to be a remedial course on rules of order.
The reality is that the Speaker gave to the committee the ability to report back on this question of privilege. That's point one. We have that responsibility to choose to report or not. That's the committee vote. I think the majority of committee members have said that they believe privilege was breached. That is sufficient to report to the Speaker and to report to the House.
Also, we have had a number of months now to look through the documents. I've looked through the documents. There is no doubt to my mind that over a thousand pages that have been completely or substantially censored is simply inappropriate for any committee.
As members of this committee, we have a number of responsibilities. It's true that we wear a number of hats. However, one thing that is foremost, and that should be foremost in the minds of every single committee member, is the importance of maintaining our parliamentary institutions. Committees have the right to request documents, and the government does not have the right to intervene and censor those documents, particularly when a motion directs that any redaction that takes place takes place through the law clerk. We have a responsibility to report to the House and a responsibility to say that this was a breach of privilege. There is no question. I think we will find that the Speaker will take a report from this committee very seriously, and I think we will see the interpretation that he makes based on parliamentary precedents.
My final point is this. A number of members have indicated that they are supportive of the idea of a special committee to investigate allegations of misspending. I'm very cheered to hear that. I just gave notice of motion, and I will be bringing this forward forthwith so that we can put in place a special committee.
Now, how does that happen? Mr. Fragiskatos is absolutely right. We report to the House. The House will have a concurrence debate, and a majority of the members of the House of Commons will decide whether or not that special committee is put into place. It's two stages. We have now given notice of motion. Hopefully at our next meeting we will be able to have that debate, make that decision and then report to the House. That would be important to do what Ms. Dzerowicz has talked about, which is to get to the pre-budget hearings as well. I would say, though, that we would be doing pre-budget hearings now if it weren't for the fact that the prorogued this committee and prorogued Parliament back in August. We would already be doing that.
That's all I have to say. I will be supporting, of course, the motion of privilege. It's defending our committee responsibilities and rights.
Mr. Chair, first of all, it's great to be back with my colleagues on the finance committee. I remember this from the summertime.
Pierre, it's nice to see you again. It's always a pleasure.
Mr. Chair, it's always a pleasure.
I see Mr. Kelly there, MP Kelly, and many good friends, so hello to everybody. There's Mr. Julian. It's wonderful to see everyone.
I do have a question. I've been following along this afternoon. This is my second committee of the day, so it seems that a lot of procedural things have been going on. We've made some headway in some committees, and in some committees it's sometimes like making sausages. You love eating the sausage, for those of us who like to eat sausages, but in order to get there, it requires a little work and effort, that's for sure.
I do wish to ask the clerk this. Is the committee in possession of or in ownership of these documents?
Okay. I just needed to clarify that the clerk is not currently in any sort of position to have these documents and does not have these documents.
This leaves me, in listening to this conversation today...and I do believe in transparency and accountability on all levels. Obviously one of the reasons I ran to be in politics and to be a public servant is that I believe in representing my constituents to the best of my ability and obtaining all the answers I need to obtain.
Having participated in the proceedings in the time we spent over the summer, a lot of information came out. I believe a lot of information came out that the Prime Minister's Office did a lot of due diligence on the Canada service student grant. It asked a lot of very, very tough questions, a lot of secondary questions, I would say. Where I worked in a prior life we would say it was a “data room”. You went through the data and you answered and made some tough questions and looked at things from top to bottom.
The impetus for this committee, I believe, is to really get at these documents that are related to the pre-budget hearings, to start looking at that. That should be the focus for the committee, to look at the submissions from all of these organizations from coast to coast to coast, at the submissions from our wonderful energy sector, how we can ensure a competitive energy sector as we move forward in Canada, whether it's in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland or northeastern B.C.
I grew up in Prince Rupert, where we have the grain elevator and coal port. Also, Pembina has a facility there. AltaGas has a facility there, exporting liquefied—what are they—the secondary condensates, the secondary derivatives. There are a lot of good things happening in our economy.
At the same time, we need to ensure that we remain competitive. The world is changing and innovation is driving that. The onus is on the committee members to continue on that track even more so. We've seen across the world, in developed and developing countries, fiscal policy, monetary policy working to support our economy, support Canadians.
I reference this, and I'm understanding that there's been some noise about forming a special committee, in terms of looking at programs that were put in place. This takes me back to a conversation I had with the committee when I sat in a few months ago when they were looking at investments we were making in the corporate sector. I brought up one sort of investment that we made in Mastercard, creating several hundred high-tech jobs in Vancouver, and how it was important for us as a government to partner in that.
Fast forward to today, and I don't think any of the opposition MPs would complain about or object to the investment made by the Province of Ontario and our government into the Ford motor facility in Oakville, Ontario.
I look today to the pre-budget submissions we've garnered here on committee, and the number of ideas and suggestions is incredible. I look at the programs we've put in place, which have been referenced by our opposition members, and suggestions that have come from constituents across this country, coast to coast, not just public servants, not just elected officials. I look at the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy, the regional relief recovery fund. I look at all of those programs and how we've supported business—the Canada emergency business account—and how we continue to support businesses.
As a finance committee, we need to go through those submissions to now, in this recovery phase, move forward. I think that should be the focus of the committee. Nonetheless, if there are questions asked on what this government has done in the last seven or eight months for Canadians, again from coast to coast to coast, I'll be very happy to participate in that endeavour. I'll be very happy to point out how we've helped Canadians receive benefits of $2,000 a month on an advanced basis, and how we transitioned the income support system we have here in Canada, the recovery benefit on the EI side, the sickness benefits.
As someone who's an economist and has worked in the financial markets for 20-some years doing many things, I'm very pleased to see what our government has done not only in terms of the supports on the income support side but also in terms of making sure our economy is competitive and moving forward in the right way.
Mr. Chair, with regard to the motions today, first going back to what Mr. Poilievre was referencing this afternoon, I always find Mr. Poilievre to be a very eloquent individual from whom I learn quite a bit and for whom I have a great deal of respect. We're friends and so forth, and I always wish him the best in all of his endeavours, but sometimes I think that the focus needs to be on what everyday Canadians are thinking and experiencing and what their worries are when they go home to their families at night.
Their worries are about where we are going with this economy and how all levels of government can work together. We're seeing that happening with the Ontario government headed by Premier Ford and our and our all working together with our regional partners and our municipal partners. We continue to do that. That's what the focus should be for the finance committee. It should be how finance committee members can generate ideas to move this committee forward, drive the economy forward and create those good middle-class jobs, independent of sector.
It doesn't matter to me where we create those jobs, but we need to be creative and we need the private sector to grow. We need them taking risks and we need them investing. We need to ensure that those conditions are present in this economy. Yes, we have opened up our fiscal firepower to assist Canadians and assure Canadians that we've built a bridge, and we've solidified that bridge until we come out of COVID, but we are seeing the second wave, Mr. Chair, across the world, whether it's Europe, the United States, or Southeast Asia, and we need to prepare for that. Our testing is ramping up today in the province of Ontario. There were 48,000 tests completed. We are doing that. We are working expeditiously. Obviously we are in a brave new world. That's why you're seeing this fundamental co-operation.
I keep referencing that, Chair, because I think the committee, in its endeavours over the next few months.... I've done pre-budget consultations, I believe, for five years in a row on this committee. I enjoyed every single minute of it, because I got to travel the entire country and see it from coast to coast to coast, and I say literally from coast to coast to coast, because we did go up to see Deputy McLeod, and I want to congratulate him on becoming a grandfather; that's awesome. We did go there and listened to those stakeholders. It's important that we continue as a committee to do that.
Now, if the opposition members—and I don't blame them, since that's their job—wish to ask other questions and focus on things that Canadians are not focusing on, that's their prerogative, and they make those decisions.
I am an MP who tries to work across party lines, chat and have conversations with all members of Parliament. I see Ms. Jansen.
Ms. Jansen, you seem to be on my screen. It's like you're looking at me right now. It's kind of weird. Everybody else has gone, so I'm not sure what's gone on, but you seem to be there. I tend to work well with everyone. I think that's what this committee does.
Mr. Chair, I can go on for a while longer, but I'm hoping that we can continue this conversation. I would like to suggest that we suspend for five minutes, Mr. Chair. Would that be all right?
The meeting is suspended.
I officially call the meeting to order.
We are now resuming the meeting that started on Thursday, October 8, of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. The committee is continuing the consideration of committee business.
Today, we are going over a few things in case we get rusty, since we haven't been at this for a while. Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be televised and made available via the House of Commons website.
I would like to mention a few rules. Interpretation will work much like a regular meeting. You have the choice of floor, English or French. It's critical, to get the best sound for those doing the interpretation, that members wear their headsets. If you plan to alternate from one language to the other, you do need to change the interpretation channel to the language you are speaking. It may be best to pause briefly when you're switching over to give the interpreters time to catch up.
I know all members knew these points in the spring, but as a refresher, all comments should be addressed through the chair. Should members need to request the floor outside of their designated time, for questions or comments, they should activate their mike and state they have a point of order.
If members wish to intervene on a point of order that has been raised by another member, they should use the “raise hand” function. That will signal to the chair and the clerk your interest to speak. In order to do so, you should click “participants” at the bottom of the screen. When the list pops up, you see, next to your name, that you can click “raise hand”.
Please mute your mike when not speaking. If technical problems arise, like audio, translation or other, please advise me, and we will wait until that is resolved.
I will now turn to the suspension of the meeting. There was some confusion over this. You will recall I stated on Mr. Poilievre's point of privilege that there was a procedural technicality with his point, and the motion following his point.
We suspended for a few minutes, and I did not get complete clarity on what was really an unusual development to a great extent related to the fact that this is a new session of Parliament. I'll get to that in a moment. The meeting was not adjourned, as some implied, but was suspended by the chair. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, page 1098, states:
Committees frequently suspend their meeting for various reasons, with the intention to resume later in the day. Suspensions may last a few seconds, several hours, or span even more than one day.
On the question of privilege, some people have asked me, “How can you interrupt a motion and go to another motion?” When you're discussing a motion, the question of privilege does take precedence, and the chair has an obligation to deal with that. The chair, under parliamentary procedure, must hear the point. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, page 1060, states:
If a member wishes to raise a question of privilege during a committee meeting, or an incident arises in connection with the committee’s proceedings that may constitute a breach of privilege, the committee Chair allows the member to explain the situation. The Chair then determines whether the question raised in fact relates to parliamentary privilege. If the Chair determines that the question does relate to parliamentary privilege, the committee may then consider presenting a report on the question to the House. The report should:
clearly describe the situation;
provide the names of the people involved, if applicable;
state that there may be a breach of privilege; and ask the House to take such measures as it deems appropriate.
Ordinarily, presentation of a report to the House is a prerequisite for any question of privilege arising from the proceedings of a committee.
Mr. Fraser did raise a point from parliamentary procedure during the discussion, but he didn't challenge the chair on that point.
It's not in the rules, but running through my mind at the time was the problem that a point of privilege could be used to jump the queue on motions.
You'll recall at the beginning of the meeting that I stated the order of motions would be Ms. Dzerowicz's motion on pre-budget consultations. We operate under a standing order of Parliament that we must do those in the fall and report by December. That's an obligation for the committee.
I spoke with Mr. Julian and I told him I would have his motion dealt with second at the committee, as the proposals came forward. His motion was on privilege and documents as well. Mr. Poilievre's staff emailed me to say that Mr. Poilievre would be putting a motion. It didn't say it would be a point of privilege. That was the way the motion came to me.
My thinking was to get to the pre-budget consultations, so that our staff, the clerks and others, could start the process and line up witnesses and meetings while we continued to discuss these other issues.
Finally, the reason I said that the motion had a technical procedural problem related to the fact that we're in session two of the 43rd Parliament and there was prorogation of session one.
On prorogation, the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, pages 975 and 976 reads, “as soon as Parliament is...prorogued...parliamentary committees (with certain exceptions) lose their orders of reference, mandates, powers and members.” All studies undertaken by committees lapse.
Also in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, page 977, under the topic “Resuming Proceedings in a New Session”, it states:
Standing and joint committees that wish to resume a study they initiated themselves can do so by...adopting a motion to this effect....
If occasion arises and they consider it appropriate, committees that have the power to do so may re-adopt orders for the appearance of witnesses or the production of papers.... It is quite common for the House or a committee to adopt an order stating that evidence heard and papers received in a preceding parliamentary session be taken into consideration in the new session.
That leaves us with the current motion from Mr. Poilievre on his point of privilege. It doesn't technically have the evidence to make his point, because the evidence doesn't have a motion in it and there hasn't been a motion to bring that evidence forward from the previous session. Therefore, the Speaker could kick it back to us and say that the evidence isn't there.
I see Mr. Julian shaking his head, but those are the facts of the matter. We all know, those of us who were on the committee, what it means, but technically that's where we're at.
I'm going to go with a couple of options.
I'm going to rule the current motion as written out of order and ask Mr. Poilievre to bring it in order by putting in an amendment or bringing it back with a proposal to bring forward that evidence from the previous committee. However, I would rule it out of order as written.
I think that these are the options. Mr. Poilievre can take the motion back, sit in position three, and we'll go back to where we were, with Ms. Dzerowicz's motion first, and then come through the line and deal with his motion as amended. He could challenge the ruling of the chair. We'll see where that goes. We would have to deal with it in that respect.
I'll give members a moment to think about that. As I said, as written, I have to rule it out of order. It can be fixed, and I would suggest that Mr. Poilievre bring it back later in the meeting.
First, I appreciate the committee ruling the way it did. I simply disagree with the ruling that you gave, Mr. Chair, with respect. I find you largely fair in what is often a difficult environment. The reality is that there is no doubt this is a breach of privilege. Given that every single member of this committee voted for the NDP motion in July asking for the documents, every single member should be supporting this motion of privilege.
If the committee had ruled otherwise and had upheld your decision, Mr. Chair, I had a privilege motion that had been vetted by the table and I would have brought that forward. We simply can't sweep this under the carpet. We have to deal with this. We have to pass this motion for many reasons. It is outrageous that over 1,000 pages of the documents we asked for were wholly or substantially redacted—in other words, censored—so that a committee in a democratic parliament has actually been denied access to information that the committee requested. It's pretty outrageous and that's why the motion of privilege is so important.
Second, the fact that every single member of this committee agreed to the motion means that we have a duty to uphold the responsibilities that come from making that decision as a committee.
Third, Mr. Chair, the Speaker has asked us to bring a report back. This is something that we cited a few days ago, but it bears repeating. The reality is that when the Speaker ruled, he said that the committee of finance has the ability to rule and bring this back to the House of Commons. For the moment, he was not able to rule when this was raised in the House of Commons prior to the committee being reconstituted, because he said it's not possible at this point to know whether the committee is satisfied with these documents, as provided to us. The Speaker says he doesn't know whether or not the committee actually agrees with the substantial censorship that took place.
We have a duty as a committee to report back and clarify to the Speaker that we are not satisfied with over 1,000 pages being substantially or wholly censored. We have a responsibility to pass this motion and to move on.
I believe firmly, Mr. Chair, that the Speaker will see this as a clear violation of privilege. We have a responsibility to move forward quickly on this. I hope that my Liberal colleagues, who seemed to want to delay a decision on this matter last week, will move promptly, so that we can have a vote, refer the proper report to the Speaker and then the Speaker can make the ruling and the House of Commons can make the decision about privilege.
This is an important matter. We shouldn't be spending a lot of time on it. We should be moving forward.
Your suggestion that we should have the clerk circulate the motion would be helpful. I don't have the written copy of Mr. Poilievre's motion in front of me. Madam Clerk, if you wouldn't mind circulating that, it would be helpful.
One thing I wanted to raise—and, Mr. Chair, you got into this during the onset of your remarks—was the nature in which the various points were made and the order in which we've been dealing with things. Obviously, the first motion on the table was for Ms. Dzerowicz to move forward with pre-budget consultations, which will be required to table a report should we choose to do pre-budget consultations several sitting days before the House rises. There is an urgency to it.
In my view, and respectfully, I think there are committee members who take a different point of view. Mr. Poilievre's point of order, in my opinion, was an attempt to jump the line in order to have this matter dealt with in advance of Ms. Dzerowicz's. You correctly pointed out that a point of privilege would take precedence in the order of discussion.
There are two points that I will make, the first quickly because we got into it during our last meeting. The second I'll try to flesh out a little.
The first really touches upon the—
If anybody walked into Ted's office, I don't think they'd be yelling at him. It's quite all right.
The first point is just to reiterate the question about whether there is in fact an issue of privilege to be dealt with.
My view upon reading the section immediately following the portion you quoted from Bosc and Gagnon is that because the committee has the ability to deal with this grievance or issue in another way—namely by reaching out to the government and saying we're not satisfied and that we can do this a different way—I think we have the ability to deal with it that way. It would make it not a point of privilege but instead an ordinary motion of the committee or a point of debate or grievance, which would negate the possibility of this committee's hearing a point of privilege.
If, however, I am incorrect on that particular issue, I don't view this to be a violation of the committee's privilege. There may be issues concerning the disclosure of documents we want to prod further into, but following the adoption of the motion in July at finance committee, the motion gained—to speak to Mr. Julian's point—significant support from all parties. Public servants got together to work really hard to gather relevant documents. They provided the committee with literally thousands of pages.
The motion adopted by the committee stipulated:
that matters of Cabinet confidence and national security be excluded from the request; and that any redactions necessary, including to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and permanent residents whose names and personal information may be included in the documents, as well as public servants who have been providing assistance on this matter, be made by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons.
Later I'll get into who was responsible for dealing with which aspect.
Exemptions were, in this instance, applied by our professional and non-partisan public service. The deputies at ESDC stated in their transmittal letter that the approach adopted was to disclose as much information as possible within the scope of the committee's motion.
No exclusions were made on the grounds of national security. A substantial amount of information that would normally fall under cabinet confidence was provided to the committee in keeping with public disclosures made by members of the Queen's Privy Council of Canada. Information that would fall under cabinet confidence but that was not related to the Canada student service grant request and, therefore, was not relevant to the committee study was in fact withheld. This was reiterated in the transmittal letter sent to the committee by relevant deputy ministers.
The motion clearly states that cabinet confidence should be excluded from the request. That's as clear as day in the way it's written. When I read the motion as it is written, it doesn't say that those particular exemptions should be made by the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons. Cabinet confidences were never in fact requested by this committee, so there would have been no duty upon the government to disclose them—which is obvious: I think we all want to protect cabinet confidences.
As outlined in the other transmittal letters to this committee, departments are obliged to protect personal information under the Privacy Act, unless the individuals to whom that information relates consent to its disclosure or disclosures otherwise authorized in certain specified circumstances, or the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any resulting invasion of privacy.
Information that would have constituted personal information was released in certain instances when these documents were disclosed, wherever it was determined, including by the Clerk of the Privy Council, that the public interest outweighed the invasion of privacy.
The clerk also made the decision, as was communicated in his transmittal letter, that for personal information in certain instances, such as the names of a public servant's family members and the phone numbers of employees at WE who were not Craig or Marc Kielburger, the public interest did not in fact outweigh the invasion of privacy in those circumstances.
The deputy minister of finance, for his part, noted, “The type of personal information that remains protected consists of the identity of unrelated third parties where their opinion or view relates to an unrelated matter to this inquiry, as well as personal e-mail addresses and phone numbers.”
The deputy minister went on to note with respect to page 190 and pages 194 through 213:
...further to consultation with the originating stakeholder, authorization to disclose this information was not given as it constitutes personal information as defined under Privacy Act. Furthermore this information is considered proprietary to the third party. The contents of this information is not relevant to the funding agreement or the Student Grant Program therefore, it has been severed in its entirety.
Additionally, the transmittal letters from the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Department of Employment and Social Development note that a limited waiver of solicitor-client privilege was issued because they believed it was in the public interest to do so.
The question of parliamentary privilege is not a black and white question. Committees no doubt can request what documents they wish, but they can't compel their disclosure. The public servants who have custody of these documents have a duty to hold in confidence some of the information that comes into their possession in the course of their duties. There is legislation that binds them.
As outlined in the document “Open and Accountable Government”, a natural “tension” exists “between that obligation and the request of parliamentarians for disclosure of that same information” that the public service feels the need to protect. They further note in that document that, “In practice, officials should endeavour to work with Members of Parliament...to find ways to respond to legitimate requests for information...within the limitations placed on them.” This comes back to my earlier point that I think we can engage in a conversation with government, rather than jump to a question of privilege before the House.
Members of the committee should also note that in 2010, the previous government reaffirmed the long-standing principle from 1973 governing the production of documents as part of their response to a report to the public accounts committee at the time. Those principles include criteria under which documents should be exempt from production, which, of course, include cabinet documents and those that include Privy Council confidence. Cabinet confidentiality, for what it's worth, is not some label you stick on something to prevent disclosure of documents. It's fundamental to our system of parliamentary democracy. It allows ministers to have candid conversations and, when appropriate, to shift their minds and be persuaded by others. It's essential that these deliberations remain private. That's recognized by the privy councillors oath. The Supreme Court of Canada has affirmed the importance of cabinet confidentiality. In fact, the court noted that judicial independence, parliamentary privilege and cabinet confidentiality all contribute to the ability of each branch of government to perform its respective role without undue influence. It's a natural tension.
On personal information, while parliamentarians are not subject to the Privacy Act restrictions, it does apply to the government institutions from which the committee sought information. This also creates tension. Providing unredacted personal information, even to the law clerk, would consist of a disclosure under the relevant legislation. As such, it requires the care and attention afforded to it by public servants. This personal information might lawfully be disclosed under certain scenarios, including when the individual at issue authorizes the release of the information and when the public interest clearly outweighs the privacy implications, as was the case, as referenced previously, in this instance.
Additionally, the information could be released for the purpose of complying with an order by a body with the jurisdiction to compel that information, but we made it pretty clear previously, as I think everybody would agree, that a House committee doesn't have such jurisdiction, so it doesn't fall under that scenario.
With all of this in mind, I find it important to note that the committee's motion asks the law clerk to make redactions in relation to information about public servants above and beyond what the government, in fact, made. These are redactions that officials did not make and would not have made in accordance with the Access to Information Act. Despite what's being suggested, this isn't a breach of our privileges as committee members.
The opposition seems to be claiming that the only option in front of this committee right now is to report the matter to the House. With great respect, I don't view that to be correct. The committee has not yet asked the government for the information that public servants applied exemptions to—and that are outlined above, in the remarks I just gave—under very narrow and specific grounds. For example, if members of the committee want information pertaining to family members of public servants, they could ask, but we haven't done that as a committee. Parliamentary privilege in no way, shape or form absolves the government of its obligations to protect personal information and cabinet confidences. In fact, the motion we put forward specifically excluded a request for cabinet documents. Despite this, the public service made a serious effort, and I would say a sincere effort, to provide as much information as possible.
In light of this information and the examples I've used, this doesn't appear to be a breach of privilege, let alone raise a matter of privilege at all.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak.
I have a lot to talk about when it comes to this motion specifically, and I have quite a bit to offer. I'm really interested in hearing what some of the other members have to say before commenting on that. I guess I'll defer talking about that until a little later.
What I really want to talk about right now, Mr. Chair, was what we just witnessed, and that was a successful challenge of a ruling from a chair. To start with, I believe that you handled that in an extremely fair way. You pointed out the problems with the ruling, which no doubt came from discussions that you had off-line with clerks and people who understand the rules even better than somebody like you who has been around for a long time. I mean that will all due respect.
The reality of the situation is that you didn't just make a ruling. You also provided an avenue for how the motion could be corrected. I find it extremely troublesome that we are now on to the second time in a committee that members of the opposition, not happy with an outcome, decide to challenge the chair. It does a massive disgrace to the institution that we have, the procedures that we have and the parliamentary establishment from where we've come.
I saw Mr. Julian shaking his head the entire time that you were making that ruling. Then, when Mr. Julian went to speak, he didn't once address a procedural problem with your ruling. In fact, he just went on to say why the motion was important to pass. That's fair enough.
Mr. Chair, you gave an avenue as to how we could get in order and put the motion in order. Mr. Julian should have taken the lead of in the PROC committee, the other time that a challenge occurred, where she too had a difficult problem in terms of wanting to see the motion passed, but she understood that the content of it was out of order. It's unfortunate, Mr. Chair, that Mr. Julian could not bring himself to see the same way Ms. Blaney did.
If I offended Mr. Julian I want to take the opportunity to say I can understand how he would be offended by that. There's probably a little bit of truth to what I'm saying that's getting to him and he feels the need to lash out against that. I understand that, but Mr. Julian perhaps should have consulted a little bit more and thought about this a little bit, or, when it was his turn to speak to it, he could have actually taken the time to tell us why he thought it was procedurally incorrect. He didn't. All he did was tell us why the motion was so important to pass.
That's why I started this off with my introductory comment by saying that you did an incredible job as a chair of not only ruling it out of order.... You could have just left it there, but you provided a path and an avenue to make this motion in order. Rather than take you up on that offer, which would have been extremely easy to do, the opposition members of this committee chose to instead use it as an opportunity to overturn your ruling.
In my opinion, that shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the importance of the chair's position and what the chair is supposed to do. Much like the Speaker, they're getting their information and they're making a ruling based on where, procedurally, things are deemed to be correct and incorrect. was able to see that in the PROC committee. She did take a lot of heat for that in the media. I imagine that Mr. Julian was concerned about the same thing. He was worried that even if it was procedurally correct, if he went down this road he'd end up looking like he was trying to support a cover-up or something like that. I understand politically why he did it. It makes perfect sense.
It's extremely disappointing to see that not just Mr. Julian—I know I'm picking on him a little bit now and I don't want to hurt his feelings as I clearly did a few minutes ago—but all members of opposing parties here would use the opportunity to challenge the chair to advance a political objective. That's exactly what they did and it's extremely discouraging to see that.
As most members know, I've only been a member of Parliament for about six years now. Before that I was involved with our city council here in Kingston. I was a city councillor and I was the mayor. At times I was in the position of having to vote on a challenge of the chair and on the receiving end of being challenged. I can honestly say that I cannot remember a time when there was a challenge that was successful. At the end of the day most members understood that the chair's job is to use the information and the advice that they receive from their clerks in order to make the best decision on behalf of the committee.
What we see today is that all members of the opposition, despite the fact that the chair laid out the reasons very clearly and the chair provided an avenue and a path to make it procedurally correct, still voted to dismiss the chair's ruling because they're motivated purely from a political agenda.
I don't know if we're going to see more of this, quite frankly. I don't know if it is indicative of parliamentary process that this happens quite a bit. This is my first time being in a minority Parliament situation, where I'm actually getting to see this unfold, but I can say that in all my years of being involved in politics and sitting around not-for-profit boards, committees and council tables, I've never seen people use a challenge of the chair in such a politically motivated way, especially when you have a chair who takes the opportunity to not only explain in detail but also provide avenues and paths to get out of this later on.
Like I said at the outset—and I have a lot more to say on this—there's a great deal to be discussed in this. I will definitely come back to it.
At this time I really want to address this point. I really find it discouraging to see members do this, especially after being on the PROC committee. There I witnessed the NDP standing up for parliamentary procedure the way that chairs are supposed to engage and the way that procedure is supposed to be interpreted, not using procedure for political motives.
There were some interesting comments from both of the last two speakers. The curious part here is that Mr. Fraser pointed out the urgency of getting on to the business of Ms. Dzerowicz's motion. Nobody denies the fundamental role of this committee on pre-budget consultations, so we do wish to get to that. It's curious that in the last meeting we listened to lengthy filibuster speeches from the other side, which had the effect of delaying getting to this other business. It really was a bit rich coming from the governing party members on the committee to suggest that it's the opposition that doesn't want to move on to those pieces. It's important business that we need to get to.
I noticed in Mr. Gerretsen's speech he said that to support the motion of the chair might have made one look like they were participating in a “cover-up”—his words to describe what's at play here.
To the point, and your ruling on this, Mr. Chair, I am prepared now to fulfill the remedy that you had proposed to us. I will move an amendment to Mr. Poilievre's motion that the motion be amended by adding, after the word “That”, where it first appears, the following: “the evidence heard and papers received by the committee during its study on government spending, WE and the Canada Student Service Grant, during the first session of the 43rd Parliament, be taken into consideration by the committee during the current session and, accordingly”.
If we make that change, that would bring us into order per your ruling. I move that amendment. I understand that the clerk likely has that from us.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's reassuring to hear Mr. Poilievre speak of the spirit of collaboration right after challenging the chair.
Where we effectively ended up with this amendment is the advice that you gave to the committee at the beginning in terms of how this motion could have been done in a way that was procedurally correct. For those procedural nerds who are paying close attention to this right now, what we've just witnessed was a full 180 from the committee. First, all opposition members challenged the ruling of the chair, and were successful in that, and then they came back and did exactly what the chair was recommending that they do. That would leave anybody watching this to conclude that the motive for challenging the chair was none other than a political motive to, in some way, have some vindictive purpose served in showing that they could challenge a ruling from the chair. The very position of a chair is supposed to be extremely and completely non-partisan, in which case I think, to what Mr. Julian said earlier, this chair does a very good job of being fair.
We've now seen this committee move an amendment, which we're talking about right now; it does exactly what the chair recommended doing in the beginning. Rather than take the ruling from the chair and then bring forward another motion, which is exactly what ended up happening through an amendment, the committee chose to overturn the ruling of the chair. I think that speaks volumes in terms of the political motive of the opposition on this committee using procedural tools to advance those political objectives.
I have no problem with the amendment, because the amendment seeks to do what the chair was suggesting we do at the outset, and that is to make sure that the documents required for this motion are brought over from the previous session of Parliament. And that's what we're seeing right now. I think it's extremely important to point that out because at the end of the day, this comes down to this whole issue of WE. It's about inflicting as much political damage as possible with a complete disregard for any collateral damage that might happen in the process, as long as it creates absolute political carnage around the and other members of Parliament as much as possible. That's really what this comes down to.
The amendment we're seeing right now...which by the way was introduced by Mr. Kelly, but then suddenly Mr. Poilievre had the French version and there was some confusion as to whether or not Mr. Kelly knew what the amendment was really all about, and he was all over the place with it, and then Mr. Poilievre jumped in and said he had the French version right here. This just underscores the fact that this is politically motivated. This entire charade is politically motivated.
I see Mr. Julian shaking his head. By the way, Mr. Julian, thank you for keeping your camera on when you're not speaking, unlike Mr. Poilievre, who does the equivalent of hiding under the table in a committee room by shutting off his video as soon as he's done talking. I appreciate your at least staying on. It's always nice to have the audience.
I made this comment earlier, when Mr. Julian raised a point about personal attacks, which I disagreed with. I disagree here, too.
I think Mr. Gerretsen puts his finger on a very important issue. I see that Mr. Poilievre is missing. I see Mr. Kelly is thankfully back at the right moment. Either way, I want to remind all colleagues, Mr. Chair, that it is expected that we be on screen during virtual meetings.
Let me quote directly from the Speaker, Mr. Chair. His findings ought to guide how we carry out business at the committee level.
On September 24, Speaker Rota said, as follows:
Before we continue, I want to take this opportunity to remind hon. members, as we get into something new, that the members in the House have to stand to be recognized, which has been done for years. I would ask those at home to please turn on their cameras...
—those at home being members of Parliament, of course—
...well in advance and not wait until the last second. That is their way of standing up remotely. It makes it easier to deal with any technological problems that we may incur as we go on.
Mr. Pat Kelly: I have a point of order.
Mr. Peter Fragiskatos: This applies to committees as well, Mr. Chair.
The Chair: You're next, Mr. Kelly.
Mr. Peter Fragiskatos: It's interesting that Mr. Kelly has now chosen to join the meeting and offer an opinion through a point of order. Mr. Poilievre is still missing, and all Liberal members have been here throughout. I'll give that courtesy to Mr. Julian as well and Mr. Ste-Marie. They've been here throughout. They have not disappeared.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Again, for folks who might have listened to Mr. Gerretsen's very wildly inaccurate interpretation of what's happened at the committee.... As you know, Mr. Chair, you made an interpretation that did not allow us to amend the motion, and that's why members of Parliament decided to overrule your decision, because otherwise we wouldn't have been able to amend it. We have now heard from a number of members of Parliament from all parties that they support the amendment; they now support the motion.
I think the logical conclusion is, rather than continuing this filibuster, which I think has been very unfortunate, particularly with the personal attacks I've heard.... I don't think that's appropriate. In any committee and in Parliament, we should be treating all members with respect, even if we disagree.
Given all of that, I call the question, because obviously all members now agree with the amendment, and agree with the motion. We should proceed to the vote.
I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I keep getting hung up on what evidence is actually before the committee. Look, maybe I'm stuck in my previous career as a litigator, but the evidence that actually makes it formally on the record is what can be considered. This amendment tries to adopt the evidence that was before this committee in the previous Parliament. I have great difficulty around the subject of what evidence is actually before the committee, or what's purported to be before the committee, should this amendment pass.
I actually question whether it's in order, given the nature of the evidence that was actually placed on the record previous to prorogation. Frankly, if I'm going to be put in a position to pass judgment as to whether my privilege has been violated or if the government has complied with a document request from this committee, I think that ask, in and of itself, would violate the privilege of members who have not received all the documents but who nevertheless have to make a finding that the government did not comply with the order.
I would ask for your guidance as to whether an amendment that contains such uncertainties is properly in order or is, in and of itself, a violation of privilege on the basis that we're going to be asked to make a finding about information that we have not received.
I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
With respect to some of the interventions that have been made, there is a key point that I've referenced a few times that is still unclear to me, not having had time to review the links that were sent out and only becoming aware of the proposed amendment during this meeting.
The hitch that I'm running into is this. There was an abnormality in the disclosure process because of the timing of prorogation previously. I'm unclear about whether the documents that have been circulated by a link—which I had trouble finding on the public website; I don't know if that's exclusively an internal link, in which case we wouldn't have seen them here—are identical to those that were formally disclosed to the committee before prorogation.
The amendment discusses papers and evidence received by the committee, or something to that effect. I'm not clear on whether the documents available at the link provided can be accurately compared to ensure that they're the same documents that are being proposed to be adopted before this committee now.
I don't know, Mr. Chair. I doubt you have that information on hand.
Madam Clerk, I'm wondering if you can confirm that the documents you circulated by link are in fact the same ones that were uploaded. David Gagnon, I believe, indicated the uploading of the documents couldn't formally be completed because of the timing of the prorogation.
I'm aware there are many documents. I've reviewed thousands. I'm unclear on which set of documents we're voting on, which is really the source of my difficulty with the proposed amendment.
One of the reasons I raise it, Mr. Chair.... I clicked one of the links. I'm trying to scan this in real time. I don't even see something as basic as the transmittal letters that were included in the correspondence that, in some instances, actually explain the nature of why certain redactions would have been made. I feel like we're dealing with two separate evidentiary records, potentially. One has been submitted through a link, very kindly, by our clerk just minutes ago. Madam Clerk, please accept my apologies; I do not mean to put you on the spot or ask for information that would be nearly impossible to have front of mind.
I still am struggling with the fact that, when we're talking about the papers and documents received, that's going to mean something. A person is going to interpret that as something. I don't have confidence, upon a quick review, that the information that you just shared with us through those links, Madam Clerk, actually matches up with the evidentiary record that was before this committee in the first session of the present Parliament.
In the absence of that certainty, I can't know specifically which documents are in or out so I can compare them with the motion to determine whether the redactions were made in an appropriate way to comply with the request of this committee. Is there a potential path forward that you see that would allow us to actually confirm that the documents we're about to vote on—which are the subjects of the present amendment to the main motion—are what certain members of this committee are saying they are?
I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
The documents in question are very clear.
The amendment you have basically refers to the conversations around WE Charity and the Canada student service grant that happened in the 43rd Parliament. It doesn't say anything about what's on a website somewhere. [Technical difficulty—Editor] website or web link. There's nothing in the motion that deals with a website or a web link. It deals with the record, which is permanently crystallized into parliamentary history from the 43rd Parliament.
It is very clear what the documents are. They are published. They are contained in something called the blues, which members should be familiar with. The documents were turned over to this committee. At that time, there was a record of receipt of those documents and transmission of those documents to all committee members.
All of that is in existence. Whether or not the clerk has put them on a website somewhere or whether there is a web link where Liberals can go and find it is absolutely irrelevant to this debate. The documents and the testimony are now permanent matters of public record. That is what the amendment refers to. When this motion is reported to the House of Commons, then the Speaker and all MPs will be able to refer to those records. There is no confusion about that.
I find it a little bit embarrassing. I feel badly for my Liberal friends who kind of embarrassed themselves by saying they haven't done their homework on what happened only a few months ago right here in this committee prior to prorogation. To say that they are oblivious to those conversations or that they have been unable, in the six or seven weeks since, to pull up those documents and look at them is kind of embarrassing. Use the basic rule that you come prepared.
Ms. Jansen, who is a new member of this committee, seems to be more informed than Mr. Fragiskatos and Mr. Fraser, who are completely oblivious to what happened right before their eyes in committee meetings they attended. I'd like to congratulate Ms. Jansen for—
Mr. Chair, I just want to say that, although Mr. Kelly would love for Mr. Poilievre to have the last word on that, I would like to weigh in on that as well.
I am a new member to the committee. He was trying to insult me by saying that I should have done my homework. I would have had no way of knowing that the Conservatives were going to bring forward this particular amendment to a motion. Therefore, there's no way that I could have been able to somehow in advance try to figure out what they were doing.
Mr. Poilievre criticizes members of this committee for not being prepared and perhaps doing other things. I'll be the first to say that I was doing something else, Mr. Chair.
I'm not sure if Mr. Poilievre is aware, but there's a global pandemic going on right now. We are in the second wave of it. Canadians are looking for assistance. I've pulled staff from my Ottawa office back to my Kingston office to assist members of my community, my constituents, in accessing a lot of the programs that they need right now, stuff that they rely on and that they're looking to the federal government for.
I apologize to Mr. Poilievre if I wasn't paying attention when he was grandstanding and waving papers around in the air trying to get attention from the media. Some of us were back in our constituencies actually helping Canadians who are looking for help right now, who are looking to access programs like CERB, and small businesses that are looking for—
With respect, the accusations Mr. Poilievre is lodging don't really bother me. However, one of the things I'd like to draw attention to is that no one—including him, with his criticism of my request for clarity on this—has actually clarified the one piece that I keep repeating. The issue here is that there are different batches of documents that we are talking about.
I understand that some were disclosed on USB keys to critics of different parties. I understand that some have been uploaded to the website. I also understand that there was a very specific and unique thing that happened during the upload of the documents, which was prorogation.
This is not a matter of not having done homework. I've been able to look at many of the documents that, in fact, I expect are the subject of the proposed amendment, but I don't even know how we can consider the amendment in order if it doesn't make clear which documents we're actually looking at.
Perhaps because I was paying attention, both at the meetings and to the various pieces of correspondence that have come through to committee members, I would say that the unique piece is whether the documents that the motion is actually going to further adopt are effectively an incomplete version of the disclosure, because of the timing of prorogation. If that is the case, obviously the right approach would be to ask the government to please table the full disclosure of documents as it was asked to do. Then we would presumably have an opportunity to look at those documents, compare them to the request we've made, and make a determination at that time as to what is appropriate.
Perhaps Mr. Poilievre is choosing not to understand that particular point, but the issue at play, from my perspective, is the fact that the amendment does not make clear to me whether we're dealing with all the documents the government had intended to disclose because of the very particular nuance around the prorogation at the time they were being uploaded.
Okay. There's nothing like saying that life is complicated.
In any event, from the clerk's point of view in discussions, the committee will see exactly what they saw in session 43-1. They're restoring the e-binders. They will be brought forward and made available to this session. Part of the problem here is that if we want to see the evidence from session 43-1, we really don't know that evidence until we ask for it. Certainly, some of us who were on the previous committee have seen that evidence. That is the link that was available prior to prorogation. Everything that was available to the committee in 43-1 is there.
I don't have an answer on it. I don't think all the evidence was in the digital binder on the documents at the time of prorogation. I know that David went a few hours after prorogation to try to get it in the digital binders.
So I can't answer on that question, but basically what I can say is that the committee will see exactly what they saw on session 43-1. This amendment is asking for that evidence. As I said at the beginning of the meeting on my order, the Speaker would definitely need that evidence in order to make a ruling.
That's where we're at on the amendment. I know there may be some objections to that—
Hon. Pierre Poilievre: A point of order.
The Chair: —and I'll go to Mr. Poilievre's point of order, but that's the best I can tell you at this time. The transmittal letters and some 5,000-plus pages of documents should be in that e-binder that was in the last session.
Mr. Chair, I apologize for coming back to this. I understand that there are documents in an e-binder that should correspond to what the committee had on record. I understand from your explanation following the recent suspension of this meeting that there is an ability to provide whatever was provided at the time the first session of the current Parliament was prorogued.
The question I still don't understand is whether the complete disclosure package that the government did in fact provide to members of this committee is actually included in what this committee will have.
This is not some nuanced technical point. One reason I'm concerned about it is that, upon a review of the documents that the clerk directed us to during suspension, I remain unable to locate the transmittal letters. I suspect that other things that were disclosed by the government are in fact not going to be made available.
Having incomplete disclosure, particularly....
I keep drawing your attention to the transmittal letters because those are the documents that explain why certain portions of documents were redacted. For example, they may have included information about the family members of public servants or just a list of email names of public servants who had personal information.
It seems foolhardy for us as a committee to demand production that we know or expect is incomplete not because the government chose not to disclose information but because it may not have been fully uploaded.
Is it possible to have someone do a comparison of the documents that were in fact provided to committee members directly—say, by the USB keys—and any information that would—?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair; and thank you to any staff involved with the comparison.
One of the things that's really important is that the transmittal letters in particular are included in the package of documents that will find its way for consideration by the committee.
You'll recall the original motion back in July that, again, gained support from both sides of the aisle, which said:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), the Committee order that any contracts concluded with We Charity and Me to We, all briefing notes, memos and emails...from senior officials prepared for or sent to any Minister regarding the design and creation of the Canada Student Service Grant, as well as any written correspondence and records of other correspondence with We Charity and Me to We from March 2020 be provided to the Committee no later than August 8, 2020;
This next part is key to the importance of the transmittal letters, and forgive my taking a bit of time to get there, but this piece is important:
that matters of Cabinet confidence and national security be excluded from the request;
Before I read the rest of the motion, I think it's important for it to sink in that the government was not requested to give documents that touched on cabinet confidence or that compromised national security.
It went on to say:
and that any redactions necessary, including to protect the privacy of Canadian citizens and permanent residents whose names and personal information may be included in the documents, as well as public servants who have been providing assistance on this matter, be made by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons.
I argued earlier in this meeting that it doesn't relieve the non-partisan public service of their obligations to comply. In any event, I'll set that argument aside for now.
The point here is that, for items that are not relevant to the committee or motion request for documents that were redacted by the professional public service, those redactions took place for good reasons. They may have involved items that were on the agenda of a cabinet meeting, the cabinet meetings in fact, perhaps, that the and his chief of staff testified to at the finance committee in the previous session; matters of national security and sensitive procurement that could hurt the government's ability to act in the national interest; or matters that, if released, could be damaging to Canada, which is frankly what we're trying to avoid the disclosure of under ordinary circumstances.
I am always in favour of protecting our national reputation and our national security before anything else and allowing government to make decisions knowing that they can have, in certain circumstances, confidential conversations.
In my view, the redactions that I've seen strike the right balance between releasing relevant information as the committee has requested and protecting cabinet confidence, which, again, this committee did expect would be respected.
In the Privy Council Office document release that the clerk circulated today, there is a synopsis of a cabinet meeting. Frankly, it's an extraordinary document, when you think of it, that would rarely be released. I don't think previous governments would have allowed that type of document disclosure of things that should be subject to cabinet confidence. The synopsis here of an entire cabinet meeting has been made public, though there are obviously items that are protected by cabinet confidence.
Items that related to the Canada student service grant were still disclosed. I don't know what other topics were discussed. There could be national security issues—we'll never know—and cabinet confidences that are not related to any of this ought to be protected for good public policy.
This was determined by the Clerk of the Privy Council, in reference to my point, in his transmittal letter specifically. These transmittal letters give context to the documents to explain precisely why certain things were redacted or not redacted.
Frankly, there are reasons that documents such as this are not normally public until long after a government's mandate has come to an end. Ensuring the confidence of cabinet deliberations is essential to peace, order and good government, which our colleagues often reflect upon publicly in their comments.
These confidences are essential to the operation of responsible government, yet in a rather extraordinary move the Clerk waived privilege on sections of this particular document as they related to cabinet discussion on the Canada student service grant. These confidences are amongst our country's most protected information. Here it is for everybody to read.
If opposition colleagues want to view documents that are subject to cabinet confidence, they should form government and be appointed to cabinet and they will have their access to cabinet confidences there, and frankly, I would defend their right to have those confidences, even in opposition.
Until then, Mr. Chair, the release of this relevant cabinet information as it relates to the Canada student service grant is going to have to suffice.
Through the PCO release, once again, what do we actually find redacted? It's a personal phone number of a staff member, an item that never would have been released in an access to information request. I think that kind of protection is important and necessary.
To conclude the point in support of the subamendment, the transmittal letters we now know were not included amongst a few other documents that were just referred to, and are not actually captured by the motion. It's difficult to imagine how we can determine the appropriateness of disclosures made by the government when we simply accept the documents but purposefully exclude the government's explanation as to why certain redactions may have been in place. As such, I would be supporting my colleague's subamendment that he's placed before the committee.
I will be supporting my colleague's amendment to the amendment to the original motion. I just wanted to respond to Ms. Jensen's comments.
Let Canadians be very clear. I put a motion on the table for us to begin pre-budget consultations. During an unprecedented pandemic, I can assure you that if there's anything that's wasting time, it is the original motion that was actually proposed by the opposition. It is not us.
If you can wave a magic wand, Ms. Jansen, and get us right back to the pre-budget consultation, I think that is where we're raring to go. We know that Canadians want to talk to us. Canadians want to share their ideas. We know that economists want to provide some advice on how we create a competitive environment in Canada.
How do we best restart the economy so that we can support our businesses moving forward?
How is it that we can make sure that we continue to support those industries that are most impacted: tourism, arts and culture, hospitality?
I can unequivocally tell you that it is not us who is wasting anybody's time. It is the original motion that was put before us. I will tell you that there is a motion that I read first. It's on the table. It's on pre-budget consultation. We were ready to start it at our last meeting.
Here is the problem with what Mr. Poilievre just said. He is basically saying, Mr. Chair, that he recognized that Ms. Dzerowicz's motion was on the floor, but didn't like the fact that we had to deal with hers, so he tried to use some procedural moves in the last meeting to jump ahead of her so we would just vote on his motion to get it out of the way, and he is happy to go back to hers.
If he can't see the problem with that, Mr. Chair, then I think he really needs to reassess his participation in this committee. It is not all about him. Maybe it is just about him on the Conservative bench, because he seems to be running the show there, which is very respectable, and his soldiers are doing a great job on his behalf.
The reality is that there was already a process in place with Ms. Dzerowicz's motion and Mr. Poilievre tried to jump ahead of it. Now he is trying to use the rationale of us voting on it to push it out of the way and then we can go to her motion, as long as what is important to him is dealt with first. I find it extremely unfortunate that he has chosen to go down that road. If he has an issue with members of the Liberal caucus taking a position on that and being offended by that, I would assure him it is a legitimate position, in my opinion at least, for Liberal members to be taking.
That is how I end up supporting the fact that maybe it is in the best interest for Mr. Poilievre to withdraw his motion, to get in the queue where he belongs and let his motion come forward properly. I believe that even Mr. Julian had one in between the one that was on the floor and his, but somehow he is the most important asset to this entire committee and the parliamentary process writ large and therefore his issues should be dealt with in great haste.
I'll just go back to the amendment we are discussing, which is my amendment to the amendment, Mr. Chair. I want to emphasize why these transmission letters are essential.
It's already a rare occurrence that cabinet confidences of a sitting government are released. The clerk took the extraordinary step to release all information as it relates to the CSSG while also maintaining that he would protect necessary and unrelated cabinet confidences. He detailed that process, as did other deputy ministers in their transmittal letters. Everything present here has been done in the spirit of that promise while respecting the committee's motion for information.
Let me give some examples of that. In the PCO release we have a summary of a full cabinet meeting. The discussion could have been related to a vaccine or PPE procurement, national security or other matters. A cabinet document such as this is rarely, if ever, made public. Cabinet confidences unrelated to the Canada student service grant are redacted per the terms of the motion adopted by the committee. Keeping with the spirit of this committee's motion, the CSSG items in particular were visible.
The second example of this is in a PCO release. We have a second cabinet note, Mr. Chair, where the document is redacted. It is the latter cabinet meeting in May of 2020. The CSSG implementation was discussed and is unredacted as ordered by this committee and agreed to by the Clerk of the Privy Council; however, the rest of the information is still redacted as it falls under cabinet confidence. Again, we do not know what the topics of discussion were. There could have been talks related to national security matters, legal discussions that are under solicitor-client privilege or key discussions related to further personal protective equipment and vaccine procurement that would have put our competitiveness at risk if released.
Mr. Chair, in conclusion, I think we have demonstrated, in an exhaustive manner, that the redactions the opposition members have been turning into political theatre are, in fact, in line with the motion that they proposed at this very committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
From the very beginning of this meeting, we've seen Liberal members try to find technicalities to try to delay what is very clearly a breach of privilege and to deny the instruction that we've received from the . The Speaker asked to find out whether the committee is satisfied with the documents as provided to it. The documents have been provided to the committee, and with slight exceptions, all of that information was available in August in the public domain. The media were very clear in reporting both the law clerk's letter and all of the other details relating to the massive censorship of these documents.
This search for a technicality I find very disturbing. This meeting now has gone on, according to the House of Commons website, for 180 hours. I know we've been suspended for much of that time, but basically, government members of Parliament have been delaying for 180 hours a clear question of privilege that we have to decide upon as a committee and then provide that decision back to the . That is our role: to defend the committee's decision. The fact is that the government clearly did not adhere to it—and the law clerk has been very clear about this—by censoring documents that they were not entitled to censor. We have that important response to give back to the Speaker. That's this motion that Mr. Poilievre has suggested, with the amendment that I think we all accept. I think any other amendments are distinctly unhelpful.
I am very frustrated and dismayed by the attitude of the government, and we've seen this in other areas. Within days of the pandemic striking, $750 billion in liquidity support was given to Canada's big banks, yet people with disabilities have been waiting now for seven months to get one cent of support from this government. The government delays when the people's interests need to be taken into consideration. When there are lobbyists, they just move right ahead. I find this deplorable.
If the government members were really interested in what has been raised as various points, given the fact that we have put forward an amendment and that the amendment was put forward in a way that should provide consensus from all members, we should be voting on the amendment and voting on the main motion. I will be voting against the latest amendment because I think it is basically a delaying tactic. We should be proceeding to inform the about our opinion on the documents that were so heavily, wholly and substantially censored. We should be able to move on to other important items.
I'm very dismayed that government members have now held up this committee hearing for 180 hours. We're in the midst of a pandemic. We should proceed to the vote. We should move on to other business.