Interventions in the House of Commons
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View John Nater Profile
View John Nater Profile
2019-03-22 10:04 [p.26503]
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege. I have given the necessary one hour notice to the Chair of my intention to rise on such a point.
I rise on a question of privilege today related to the departure from the Liberal caucus of the hon. member for Whitby. At its heart, I believe this is a breach of privilege flowing from a violation of section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act. Allow me to explain.
On Wednesday of this week, just before question period, we learned the news of the hon. member for Whitby becoming an independent, which happened shortly after the weekly caucus meeting of the Liberal Party had broken up.
Later that afternoon, the CBC aired an interview with the hon. member, conducted by Chris Rands, a producer with that network. She told Mr. Rands:
I just think it was important to, you know, I understand that there's a lot of people that supported me that were disappointed in, you know, what I did, doing the interview that I did, and I think that it's important to understand that, you know, while I support the values and principles of the Liberal Party, that it might be good since that message did go out, that I sit as an independent for the rest of the term that I'm here.
There was more, but I will leave it there.
Those are words that I have read to the House, but I do urge the Chair to review the footage of that interview. I say this, and I want to tread delicately here, because it was the demeanour of the member that particularly struck me during that interview. The member seemed disappointed, to put it politely.
What I, and what many who watched that interview, saw was someone who was not just disappointed to part ways with her colleagues, which is understandable, or even a touch of regret with the decision, but that I saw and what I think most people would have seen was a visceral look of shock.
I do not speak about this to put the member for Whitby in an awkward place but because I genuinely believe that her so-called resignation is what some might describe as “a negotiated resignation”.
Picture the ultimatum that may have been put to her as I have perceived it, that she had until the end of the day to resign or she would be kicked out, and that it was her decision. That last part sounds familiar.
My point is that I truly believe the hon. member for Whitby was, or was threatened to be, kicked out of the Liberal caucus, that is to say her departure from caucus was not a free and voluntary action on her part.
That brings me to section 49.2 of the Parliament of Canada Act. This section provides:
A member of a caucus may only be expelled from it if:
(a) the caucus chair has received a written notice signed by at least 20% of the members of the caucus requesting that the member's membership be reviewed; and
(b) the expulsion of the member is approved by secret ballot by a majority of all caucus members.
Next, I want to refer to portions of section 49.8 of the act:
49.8 (1) At its first meeting following a general election, the caucus of every party that has a recognized membership of 12 or more persons in the House of Commons shall conduct a separate vote among the caucus members in respect of each of the following questions:
(a) whether sections 49.2 and 49.3 are to apply in respect of the caucus:
(3) The vote of each caucus member, in each vote, is to be recorded.
(4) The provisions referred to in each of paragraphs (l)(a) to (d) apply only if a majority of all caucus members vote in favour of their applicability.
(6) The outcome of each vote is binding on the caucus until the next dissolution of Parliament.
These provisions were added to the law in 2015 after the Reform Act, 2014 was enacted, a private member's bill sponsored and championed by the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills. It was a bill that was supported by several members of the Liberal caucus who today sit in the House, including the right honourable member for Papineau.
It was reported by the Canadian Press on November 5, 2015, that the Liberal caucus failed to conduct the votes required by section 49.8 of the act. Also at the time, the Ottawa Citizen reported that, “rather than vote yes or no to each of the four provisions, Liberal MPs voted during their first caucus meeting on Thursday to send the issue to the party’s biannual convention in Winnipeg next year.”
As for the vote specifically applying to section 49.2 of the act, the intergovernmental affairs minister, who was then the government House leader, was quoted at the time as saying, “Do you want a discussion in a caucus now of 184 people to reflect on what may be personal, sensitive, family matters? That is something that we weren’t prepared to decide or vote on now.” He went on to say, “I don’t know if in all circumstances it would be appropriate or even desirable…to have a caucus seized of all kinds of this personal and complicated information.”
With all due respect to the member, who is a veteran of this place, that is not what Parliament has, by the act of Parliament, ordered to happen in each parliamentary caucus after each general election. Deferring the mandatory votes to a party convention is also not an available option. Needing to bring party machinery into line is perhaps an argument to vote no to the proposals, but it is not a legitimate reason to avoid voting, which is, to say, to break the law.
After I had finished my prepared notes for this morning, I came across a Toronto Star article from this morning in which the member for Scarborough—Guildwood is quoted in reflecting on those votes that did not happen. The article says, “ Asked if there had been a recorded vote, [the member for Scarborough—Guildwood] shook his head. 'Nothing like that ever happens in caucus, it's very straightforward, it's consensus. Nobody ever really opposed it.'”
That is from yesterday's Toronto Star in an article by Tonda MacCharles. Again, it is further confirmation from a sitting member of the Liberal caucus that those four votes did not happen as required by law.
Further, the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills has written to the current Minister of Justice and Attorney General seeking clarity on whether or not the law was applied in that case. He has publicly stated that a letter would be forthcoming, clarifying one way or the other. Again, the House should be seized with the fact that the letter is expected and should have matters of substance in it to the matter at hand.
Going forward to the questions at hand, because of the events this week, these issues have rushed to the foreground and to the matters before the House. Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star wrote that, “Who decides who's in and who's out of Liberal caucus? Is it the prime minister? Is it caucus? You can be forgiven for not knowing.”
The article later reminds us that the Prime Minister “suggested it would be his call, telling reporters he was 'reflecting' on their future”, referring both to the member for Vancouver Granville and Markham—Stouffville.
As my colleague, the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills, has pointed out, the authority to expel a member of the Liberal caucus is questionable, because the Prime Minister and his leadership team deprived Liberal MPs of being able to exercise their rights at their first caucus meeting following the 2015 election. It is because of that that I believe the hon. member for Whitby has had her own rights disregarded. Her departure from caucus occurred without the safeguards and due process for backbenchers that the Reform Act contemplated. That is why I am raising this question of privilege today, and I believe that it meets the requirements for timeliness. Indeed, this is the first occasion where a consequence of the failure to vote in 2015 has come to a head.
As for the matter of honouring the statute law, I recognize that Speakers in the past have generally declined to intervene on questions of law. However, this is no regular question of law. The collective privileges of the House of Commons include the right to regulate its internal affairs, which is sometimes also known as the privilege of exclusive cognizance.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Third Edition, Bosc and Gagnon, observes on page 122 that:
The right to regulate its own internal affairs does not mean that the House is above the law. However, where the application of statute law relates to a proceeding in Parliament or a matter covered by privilege, it is the House itself which decides how the law is to apply and the House's decision cannot be reviewed in the courts.
Reference has been made to this in paragraph 34 of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Canada (House of Commons) v. Vaid, which interested members can search out if they are so curious, and I know many members would be curious.
At page 183 of Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, it states:
The privilege of control over its own affairs and the proceedings is one of the most significant attributes of an independent legislative institution.
The right to regulate its own internal affairs and procedures free from interference includes:
4. The right to administer that part of the statute law relating to its internal procedure without interference from the courts.
I would also like to refer the chair to page 102 of Erskine May, 23rd Edition, which states:
Both Houses retain the right to be the sole judge of the lawfulness of their own proceedings, and to settle or depart from their own codes of procedure. This is equally the case where the House in question is dealing with a matter which is finally decided by its sole authority, such as an order or resolution, or whether (like a bill) it is a joint concern of both Houses. The principle holds good even where the procedure of a House or the rights of its Members or officers who take part in its proceedings depends on statute.
Statutory requirements may previously have been adjudicated as matters of privilege in our House in the past. For example, on April 19, 1993, on page 18,105 of the Debates, the Chair held that the failure to produce a document required to be laid upon the table under the terms of the Customs Tariff constituted a prima facie case of privilege. Mr. Speaker Fraser, at the time, said the following:
As the hon. member succinctly stated when this very issue was raised in February 1992: “Subsection 59.5 of the Customs Tariff is a statutory provision and statutes of the highest form of command that can be given by this House. In my view the disregard of that legislative command, even if unintentional, is an affront to the authority and dignity of Parliament as a whole and of this House in particular.
It is an opinion that I share and that I expect to prevail in this Chamber. The statutory laws which have been agreed to by members of this House do serve a purpose and are meant to be respected.
The requirements contained in our rules and statutory laws have been agreed upon by this House and constitute an agreement which I think all of us realize must be respected.
More recently, statutory provisions in the Canada Elections Act concerning the right of members to sit and vote were held by the Speaker's immediate predecessor to be matters for the House of Commons to adjudicate. These rulings can be found at pages 18,550 of the Debates for June 18, 2013, and page 9,183 of the Debates for November 4, 2014.
The importance of this House adjudicating requirements of section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act are underscored by section 49.7, a provision which lawyers would refer to as a privative clause because it ousts the jurisdiction of the courts to conduct judicial review.
If you, Mr. Speaker, decline to exercise jurisdiction to entertain breaches of the statute here, then members of caucuses, like the Liberal caucus who flagrantly ignore the law, have no protection and no recourse when their rights are trampled. Because of the lack of judicial recourse, general restraint on Speakers interpreting the law and the House's privilege to manage internal affairs, I respectfully submit that the way forward, indeed the only way forward, is to allow the House to deal with this matter.
Accordingly, I urge you to find a prima facie case of privilege. I would, therefore, be prepared to move a motion to refer the matter to the procedure and House affairs committee so as to allow it to investigate this specific instance and to consider the best way forward to allow for the enforcement of the requirement to conduct votes under section 49.8 of the Parliament of Canada Act.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-03-22 10:18 [p.26505]
I thank the member for Perth—Wellington for his intervention. Obviously, this will be something that will need to be taken under advisement and looked into carefully. The matters that he raises with respect to the laws that impact on the circumstance that he describes and their relationship to privilege becomes the matter that will take some looking into in this particular case.
I am mindful of the time. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons is on his feet.
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2019-03-22 10:19 [p.26505]
Mr. Speaker, I will come back to the House business. However, initially in listening to the member across the way, it raises some concern in regard to why this mischievous behaviour, at the best of times, comes from the Conservative Party. I want to briefly highlight a couple of things that members and the Speaker might want to take into consideration.
One could reflect, for example, on the member for Beauce, and the level of discomfort that was very obvious with that particular member going from seat to seat and then ultimately leaving the party to start a new party. Probably a better example, which Canadians would be very familiar with, was with the member for Cumberland—Colchester, an individual of great integrity, when Stephen Harper made the promise of the Atlantic Accord and there was an accord that was in place, and a motion.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2019-03-22 10:21 [p.26505]
Mr. Speaker, all I ask is to be heard. Other members want to heckle. I was very patient in listening.
Here I would draw the comparison of having a member of the Conservatives, who at the time was being assured that he could deal with the issue in whatever way he would like to—
View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-03-22 10:21 [p.26505]
Order. The matter that has been posed by the hon. member for Perth—Wellington, as I indicated to him, will be taken under advisement. It would not be the intention at this point to begin to debate these matters. I have heard sufficiently from the hon. member for Perth—Wellington as to understanding the issue he is commenting upon and raising a question about on whether there has been any kind of a breach of privilege.
When we start into debate on different other examples, I am mindful of the fact that generally matters of caucus proceedings—and I said “generally”—are not matters for the Speaker to preside upon. These are matters that are taken up by respective parties in their caucus. While they use the spaces here at Parliament for their proceedings, with regard to those proceedings themselves, other than the specific instances as were referred to in the Parliament of Canada Act, there is no particular jurisdiction of the Speaker in relation to those matters.
With that in mind, the hon. parliamentary secretary noted at his opening that he might wish to come back and address the House on this particular question of privilege.
I saw the hon. member for Wellington—Halton Hills. Is this on the same question of privilege?
View Michael Chong Profile
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I want to thank the member for Perth—Wellington for raising this point of privilege in the House and indicate that I concur with the points he has made and would briefly add to those points, for your benefit, Mr. Speaker.
First, I believe that this matter is timely, because today is the first day of this Parliament that we have confirmation, from the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, that the four recorded votes did not take place in the first meeting of a recognized party in this House of Commons in this Parliament. To be clear, a recorded vote, as required under subsection 49.8(3), has a very specific process to be followed. It is not a show of hands. It is a recorded vote, much the same as we take recorded divisions in this House of Commons.
Finally, the point I want to make is that the patriation reference of 1981 made it clear that constitutional conventions could not be adjudicated by the courts, could not be taken to the courts to defend rights of members of Parliament. It also made it clear that section 18 rights, immunities and privileges, are also to be adjudicated, not in the judicial branch of government, but in this legislative branch of the state of the government.
With the matter in front of us, it is up to this chamber and you, Mr. Speaker, to adjudicate this matter. I hope that you find a prima facie case that privilege has been breached.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-03-22 10:24 [p.26506]
I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed Bill C-96, An Act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the federal public administration for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020.
View David Sweet Profile
View David Sweet Profile
2019-03-22 10:25 [p.26506]
Mr. Speaker, following my notice to you, I am rising on a question of privilege concerning a leak from Wednesday's meeting of the Ontario Liberal caucus. The leaks were reported in an online article posted on Wednesday evening, entitled “[Member for Markham—Stouffville] faced 'tough' questions from Liberal MPs in [today's] regional caucus meeting”. The first two paragraphs of the article make the following disclosures:
[The member for Markham—Stouffville], who resigned from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet earlier this month over the SNC-Lavalin affair, faced a barrage of tough questions from her Liberal colleagues [today] during a closed-door session of the Ontario caucus, sources told CBC News.
[The member for Markham—Stouffville] addressed the group at the beginning of the meeting, which lasted 30 minutes longer than scheduled and was described by people in the room as “rough” and “uncomfortable.”
The sixth paragraph of the article states:
Today, some of her fellow Liberal MPs reminded her that others in the caucus had made compromises on sensitive issues such as medical assistance in dying — one of the key pieces of legislation [the member for Markham—Stouffville] fronted as health minister, along with then-justice minister [the hon. member for Vancouver Granville].
Meanwhile, this online article was expanded upon by CBC reporter Katie Simpson, who appeared on Wednesday's edition of Power & Politics. I will quote from a transcript of her presentation, which states, “What CBC News can confirm through multiple sources is that when Ontario Liberal MPs met for their weekly meeting this morning, [the hon. member for Markham—Stouffville], who was there, was really the focus of attention at the meeting, and she faced a series of difficult questions about her actions. She, of course, very publicly quit and criticized the Prime Minister, but did not leave caucus when she decided to quit. What we are also told is that while these questions were being asked, the member was also reminded by some of her colleagues of some of the sacrifices and compromises they made to help her with some of her projects like getting the assisted dying legislation passed.... So the meeting went 30 minutes longer than it normally would go. It is described by sources as “rough” and “uncomfortable” and “rocky”, but we do know that Liberals that we were speaking with today, while these concerns may exist privately, this is a group of Liberal Ontario MPs that held this meeting.”
In a Canadian Press article entitled “Conservatives plan filibuster after Liberals shut down...motion”, also published Wednesday evening, it was reported:
Despite the efforts to unite and put the affair behind them, one source said [the hon. member for Markham—Stouffville] faced a “frank and emotional” session with her Ontario caucus colleagues prior to the national caucus meeting she did not attend....
The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss confidential caucus matters.
Every single one of us in this House was elected as a member of a party. We sit or have sat in caucuses. Caucus confidentiality is the cornerstone of parliamentary life. That is something we understand clearly, and that is very valuable to me as the national Conservative caucus chairman. It is not because we want to be furtive or secretive; it is because we need to be able to have frank and candid conversations among colleagues without the embarrassment or opprobrium that these exchanges are at risk of producing.
I generally sympathize with the hon. member for Markham—Stouffville. She did something extraordinary on the strength of her principles and convictions by resigning her ministerial commission. She does not deserve the treatment she has received, nor the embarrassment and scorn heaped upon her by her colleagues, including through this caucus leak. The same goes for the treatment that she received after being hidden from, and deterred or intimidated from attending this week's votes, as we heard from the hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill in another question of privilege.
Caucus proceedings are discussed on page 34 of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Third Edition. It states:
Although each caucus operates differently, most limit attendance to parliamentarians.
Because they are held in camera, caucus meetings allow Members to express their views and opinions freely on any matter which concerns them. Policy positions are elaborated, along with, in the case of the government party, the government's legislative proposals. Caucus provides a forum in which Members can debate their policy differences among themselves without compromising—
View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-03-22 10:29 [p.26506]
Order, please.
I thank the hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook for his question of privilege and presentation. Again, I am mindful of the time. As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, the matter of caucus proceedings is generally not within the purview. I think we all understand the characteristics of them.
I am certain that the hon. member is going to link this matter as it relates to his specific concern about a potential breach of privilege. I do not know that it is necessary to repeat the various instances of this, but if he could get to the connection he is trying to make with this particular scenario in the next few minutes, it would be appreciated. As was mentioned earlier, questions of privilege are important, but they are also not a means by which the time of the House can be taken up unnecessarily.
The hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook.
View David Sweet Profile
View David Sweet Profile
2019-03-22 10:30 [p.26506]
Mr. Speaker, I have a particular passion around this, in respect of being elected by the Conservative caucus in regard to the democratic reform bill. I think I speak for all members that their ability to be able to speak confidentially is important to the entire House, and that is why I am raising this point. I will get to some quotes in regard to parliamentary procedure. Page 57 of Australia's House of Representatives Practice reads:
All parties have party meetings in sitting weeks but usually at times when the House is not sitting. The proceedings of party meetings are regarded as confidential, and the detail of discussions is not normally made public. These meetings provide the forum, particularly for backbenchers, for internal party discussion of party policy, parliamentary activity, parliamentary tactics, the resolution of internal party disputes, the election of officers, and they provide a means of exerting backbench pressure on, and communication with, its leaders [for accountability].
Breaches in caucus confidentiality have been treated so seriously in the past as to have been held to be matters of privilege. First, I would refer the Speaker to the question of privilege raised on October 17, 1973 by David Lewis, the leader of the New Democratic Party. Mr. Lewis reported to the House the following sequence of events:
I learned at about two o'clock...that we had a bug at our caucus meeting this morning. During the meeting...the hon. member for Oshawa—Whitby (Mr. Broadbent), who is our caucus chairman, pulled a little [microphone] out from under the table, put it on top of the table, and said to me and to others: “This looks like a bugging device”. Having no knowledge of such things, I could not tell him whether it was or [was] not and we went on with the meeting.
Speaker Lamoureux then ruled, at page 6943 of the Debates, “it is obvious to the Chair that there is a prima facie case of breach of privilege involving the type of situation which is normally investigated and looked into by the Standing Committee on Privileges and Elections..”.
Instead of referring the matter for a committee to study, and because the source of the surveillance device had voluntarily identified himself and was co-operative—
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
Lib. (MB)
View Kevin Lamoureux Profile
2019-03-22 10:33 [p.26507]
Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, to a certain degree, you have already made reference to the content of the matter when raising a question of privilege. I want to add that it is important to point out to you and all members of the House that the rules around questions of privilege are very clear. They are intended to be short interventions that provide facts about an alleged breach. They are not meant to be a tool to monopolize the House's time or to obstruct debate.
I would ask that the Speaker enforce this rule as it relates to a question of privilege. I would suggest that you have even provided extra grace time when the member was reflecting about caucus, which is not the purview of the Speaker.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-03-22 10:33 [p.26507]
I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for reiterating essentially the basis of my remarks on this as well. As I mentioned to the hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook, he is taking up, at least at this point, the issue around his concern about how a potential breach of privilege is informed. I am going to ask him to get to that. It is not necessary at this stage to reach further back in terms of precedence. I get the point that he is making in his submission. We will try to wrap up and get on with other matters before the House.
The hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook.
View David Sweet Profile
View David Sweet Profile
2019-03-22 10:34 [p.26507]
Mr. Speaker, I can sum it up in about 90 seconds with a quote from a Speaker who was formerly with the Liberal Party. On March 25, 2004, Speaker Milliken found a prima facie case of privilege concerning the recording disclosure to the media and subsequent publication of confidential proceedings in a meeting of the Ontario Liberal caucus. In that case, the Speaker's own investigation determined that a human error had been made with respect to the broadcasting equipment present in the room.
Despite learning that it was a human error, the Speaker said:
The crux of the matter for the Chair is not the leak of this information, but the publication of leaked information that was manifestly from a private meeting. The concept of caucus confidentiality is central to the operations of the House and to the work of all hon. members. The decision to publish information leaked from a caucus meeting is, in my view, an egregious example of a cavalier and contemptuous attitude to the privacy of all members and that privacy is something upon which all members depend to do their work. It is a situation in my view that cannot go unanswered.
Accordingly, having examined the situation in the matter of the publication of a leak from the caucus meeting of February 25, I find that there is a prima facie breach of privilege and I am prepared to entertain a motion at this time.
I will sum up with that last quote. That pretty well summarizes exactly why I think you, Mr. Speaker, should get involved in this case. Should you find a prima facie case of privilege, I would be prepared to move the appropriate motion. I appreciate the opportunity to present the case.
View Bruce Stanton Profile
View Bruce Stanton Profile
2019-03-22 10:36 [p.26507]
I thank the hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook.
I have a notice of a question of privilege for the hon. member for Durham. As the House knows, we generally take these up in the order in which they have been submitted.
Is the hon. member for Sarnia—Lambton adding to the same question of privilege as was just introduced by the hon. member for Flamborough—Glanbrook?
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