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Minutes of Proceedings

43rd Parliament, 2nd Session
Meeting 4
Wednesday, October 28, 2020, 4:23 p.m. to Wednesday, November 4, 2020, 4:10 p.m.
In Camera
Presiding
Hon. Wayne Easter, Chair (Liberal)

House of Commons
• Stephanie Bond, Procedural Clerk
• Miriam Burke, Procedural Clerk
• Angela Crandall, Procedural Clerk
• Michel Marcotte, Procedural Clerk
• Erica Pereira, Procedural Clerk
• Alexandre Roger, Procedural Clerk
• Nancy Vohl, Procedural Clerk
 
Library of Parliament
• Andrew Barton, Analyst
• Brett Capwell, Analyst
• Sylvain Fleury, Analyst
• Michaël Lambert-Racine, Analyst
The committee proceeded to the consideration of matters related to committee business.

At 5:13 p.m., the sitting was suspended.

At 5:56 p.m., the sitting resumed in public.

Motion

On Thursday, October 8, 2020, Pierre Poilievre moved, - That the Chair be instructed to present the following report to the House forthwith, provided that dissenting or supplementary opinions, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(b), shall be filed with the clerk of the committee within 24 hours of adoption of this motion.

The Standing Committee on Finance, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(a), has agreed to report the following.

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, your Committee met virtually and 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....

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 consider the documents and the government’s disregard of the July 7, 2020, order.

A question of privilege was raised in the House early in the new Session of Parliament concerning this matter. In his October 1, 2020, ruling, the Speaker stated:

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.

Amendment

On Thursday, October 15, 2020, Pat Kelly moved the following amendment, - That the motion be amended by adding, after the words "within 24 hours of adoption of this motion", the following - “That 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.”

Subamendment

On Thursday, October 15, 2020, Mark Gerretsen moved the following subamendment, - That the amendment be amended by adding after the words "current session" the following: "That the committee requests the complete package of documents provided to the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons by relevant Deputy Ministers or the signatories of the transmittal letters, as well as the final package of documents that the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons approved for release, that both of the document packages be provided to the Committee no later than October 19, 2020, and that after the committee reviews the two different versions of documents, the committee invite each of the relevant Deputy Ministers or the signatories of the transmittal letters, as well as the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons, to give testimony regarding the redactions applied to the documents that were requested and granted in the motion adopted on July 7, 2020, and that until such a time as this testimony is complete, debate on the main motion and amendment from Pierre Poilievre be suspended and that the Chair be authorized to schedule these witnesses, and convene a meeting to resume debate on Pierre Poilievre’s motion once these meetings have taken place.”

The committee resumed consideration of the subamendment of Mark Gerretsen.

At 8:04 p.m., the sitting was suspended.

At 8:15 p.m., the sitting resumed.

At 12:30 a.m., on Thursday, October 29, 2020, the sitting was suspended.

At 4:14 p.m., the sitting resumed.

Motion

Sean Fraser moved, — That the committee proceed to sit in camera.

The question was put on the motion and it was negatived on the following recorded division:

YEAS: Julie Dzerowicz, Peter Fragiskatos, Sean Fraser, Annie Koutrakis, Michael V. McLeod — 5;

NAYS: Ted Falk, Tamara Jansen, Peter Julian, Pat Kelly, Pierre Poilievre, Gabriel Ste-Marie — 6.

On motion of Pierre Poilievre, it was agreed, — That the committee proceed to sit in camera for 20 minutes.

At 4:25 p.m., the sitting was suspended.

At 4:48 p.m., the sitting resumed in camera.

At 5:16 p.m., the sitting was suspended.

At 5:31 p.m., the sitting resumed in public.

The committee resumed consideration of the subamendment of Mark Gerretsen.

At 5:47 p.m., the sitting was suspended.

At 4:04 p.m., on Wednesday, November 4, 2020, the sitting resumed.

Motion

Sean Fraser moved, — That the committee do now adjourn.

The question was put on the motion and it was agreed to on the following recorded division:

YEAS: Julie Dzerowicz, Ted Falk, Peter Fragiskatos, Sean Fraser, Tamara Jansen, Pat Kelly, Annie Koutrakis, Michael V. McLeod, Pierre Poilievre — 9;

NAYS: Peter Julian, Gabriel Ste-Marie — 2.

At 4:10 p.m., the committee adjourned to the call of the Chair.



Evelyn Lukyniuk
Clerk of the Committee