I am now ready to rule on the point of order raised on January 31 by the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan and the question of privilege raised on February 9 by the member for Edmonton Strathcona concerning the government's responses to their written questions. While they were raised distinctly, given the procedural similarities of the two questions, the Chair intends to provide a single ruling.
The member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan shared his concerns about the accuracy and completeness of the government’s response to Question No. 2155. The member claimed that the response tabled on January 29, 2024, failed to identify the sub-implementing partners who are involved in delivering aid to Palestinian refugees. He argued that his question was seeking information about all organizations providing Canadian aid, which implies both implementing and sub‑implementing partners.
By way of a question of privilege, the member for Edmonton Strathcona made a similar complaint, expressing dissatisfaction with multiple elements of the government's responses to three of her written questions, namely, Questions No. 2068, 2069 and 2070. She argued that the inadequacy of the responses was so glaring that it interfered with her ability to carry out her parliamentary duties, including holding the government to account.
She contended that the government specifically failed to answer several sub-questions embedded in the larger questions and that one response appeared to contain the wrong information. She asked that the Chair review her questions and the responses in conjunction with relevant procedural authorities and precedents in the hope that her complaint rises to the level of a prima facie question of privilege.
On February 12, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons tabled a revised response to Question No. 2070, stating that inaccurate information had been provided in the initial response; this was due to an error. He also stated that the Minister of Foreign Affairs had apologized to the member for Edmonton Strathcona for this mistake.
Members have frequently complained to the Chair about their dissatisfaction over government responses to their written questions. There are abundant precedents from past Speakers’ rulings on these kinds of grievances. I would refer members to the Debates of April 25, 2022, at pages 4310 and 4311, for such a similar example.
While the Chair can empathize with the frustration that members may have about not receiving the type of information they think should be included in a response, precedents show that the Chair cannot direct the government to respond in a given way.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, third edition, at pages 529 and 530, summarizes the situation:
There are no provisions in the rules for the Speaker to review government responses to questions. Nonetheless, on several occasions, Members have raised questions of privilege in the House regarding the accuracy of information contained in responses to written questions; in none of these cases was the matter found to be a prima facie breach of privilege. The Speaker has ruled that it is not the role of the Chair to determine whether or not the contents of documents tabled in the House are accurate nor to “assess the likelihood of an Hon. Member knowing whether the facts contained in a document are correct”.
Having reviewed the specific concerns raised by both the members for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan and Edmonton Strathcona, the Chair is not of the view that their complaints deviate from similar ones in the past. As such, I am left with little option but to apply established precedents consistent with the approach my predecessors have taken.
Consequently, I do not find that there is a prima facie case of privilege concerning the request made by the member for Edmonton Strathcona, and I consider the matter closed for both submissions made to the Chair.
That being said, the Chair notes the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House after he supplied a revised response to Question No. 2070. He acknowledged that it is the right of members to have the best information available to do their important work.
As many Speakers before me have done, I would emphasize the essential purpose written questions serve in our parliamentary institution. Not only are Order Paper questions an important part of our accountability mechanisms, forcing the government to justify its choices, but their responses are also instrumental in helping members to better understand the government's programs, activities and expenses. When members receive complete and accurate answers to their questions so they can make informed decisions, it serves everyone, including those who elected us.
The Chair therefore strongly encourages the government to follow through on its statement and provide to members the best information available.
I thank all members for their attention.