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View Scott Brison Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Scott Brison Profile
2011-03-23 15:22 [p.9141]
Mr. Speaker, I move that the 27th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, presented on Monday, March 21, be concurred in.
For the first time in Canadian history, a parliamentary committee has found the government in contempt. The Conservatives are breaking the rules to attack the ability of Parliament to function and to hold the government to account. It is breaking the rules to hide the cost of its ideological agenda. That Conservative regime expects members of Parliament to vote on legislation without knowing how much that legislation will cost Canadian taxpayers. It is fiscally irresponsible, negligent and fundamentally undemocratic.
Four months ago members of the finance committee ordered the Conservative government to provide documents detailing the cost of its crime legislation. We asked for the numbers and analyses behind 18 U.S.-style crime bills. Parliament has a right to this information, as you pointed out so clearly in your ruling, Mr. Speaker. As members of Parliament, we must have this information in order to do our jobs on behalf of Canadians.
Canadian taxpayers have a right to know how much this legislation will cost them. After all, they are the ones footing the bill. All members of Parliament have a fiduciary responsibility to Canadian citizens. When a constituent asks how much the legislation we just voted on will actually cost, we have a moral and fiduciary responsibility to answer that question.
We must do our homework and examine the government's books. We must ask the government questions about its assumptions so we know how it arrived at the numbers in its legislation and budget. We must determine whether the government's spending plan is sensible, realistic and reflects the priorities of Canadians.
All members of Parliament have this responsibility. That includes members from the Conservative Party on the government side. No member of Parliament should be complicit in helping the government keep Canadians in the dark. However, for four months the Conservative government, with the help of government MPs, has been stonewalling and hiding the information we need to do our jobs. For four months the Conservatives have ignored the democratic will of Parliament. For four months, they have refused—
View Joe Preston Profile
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 27th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the question of privilege relating to the failure of the government to fully provide the documents as ordered by the House.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 7, 2011, by the hon. member for Kings—Hants concerning the production of documents ordered by the Standing Committee on Finance.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Kings—Hants for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, and the members for Mississauga South, Windsor—Tecumseh and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine for their interventions.
The member for Kings—Hants explained that on November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance adopted a motion ordering the production of documents relating to corporate profits and taxes and the costs of various justice bills. The government, citing cabinet confidence as a reason, declined on three separate occasions to produce the information sought. The committee then presented its 10th report to the House on February 7, 2011, to draw the attention of the House to this matter.
More specifically, the member for Kings—Hants contended that the refusal to provide the information constituted a breach of this House's privileges and, moreover, the refusal to provide a reasonable explanation as to why the information was deemed to constitute a cabinet confidence was tantamount to contempt.
There was a considerable lapse of time before the government formally responded to this question of privilege. Before it did so on February 17, 2011, in the Debates, at page 8324, the government House leader rose in the House to table “information on our government's low-cost and tough-on-crime agenda as requested by certain members of Parliament”.
Only after this, on February 28, 2011, did the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader returned to the House to present his case on the question of privilege. He argued that even though, in his view, the Standing Committee on Finance, in its 10th report, did not ask the House to order the production of the documents in question, the government, despite the absence of such a House order, had willingly tabled information which preserved “the confidentiality required around documents which are classified as cabinet confidences yet meets the request for specific data contained within the documents which by its nature is not a cabinet confidence”.
Later the same day, the member for Kings—Hants made further arguments in the House to indicate his dissatisfaction with the government's response. He stated that he believed the government had “failed both to provide all the documents or provide any reasonable explanation as to why these documents cannot be provided”.
In interventions since that time, the government has maintained that the government has provided the information requested, implying that all of it has been provided.
It should be noted that at the same time as interventions were being made on this question of privilege, the House was proceeding on a separate track on what was essentially the same matter.
Thus, on February 17, 2011, the House was debating an opposition motion ordering the production of the same documents demanded by the Standing Committee on Finance. In a subsequent vote on the motion, held on February 28, 2011, the House adopted the motion, thus setting a deadline of March 7, 2011 for the production of the documents in question.
Dealing first with the question of whether or not the House or its committees have the authority to order the production of documents, let me restate in part my April 27, 2010, ruling with respect to the production of documents related to Afghan detainees.
At the time I stated, at page 2043 of the Debates:
—procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of government documents...Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question.
I also quoted House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at pages 978 and 979, which states:
The Standing Orders do not delimit the power to order the production of papers and records. The result is a broad, absolute power that on the surface appears to be without restriction. There is no limit on the type of papers likely to be requested, the only prerequisite is that the papers exist—in hard copy or electronic format—and that they are located in Canada....
No statute or practice diminishes the fullness of the power rooted in the House privileges unless there is an explicit legal provision to that effect, or unless the House adopts a specific resolution limiting the power. The House has never set a limit on its power to order the production of papers and records.
With respect to the power of committees to order the production of documents, Standing Order 108(1)(a) is clear, that they can “...send for persons, papers and records....” O’Brien and Bosc, at page 978, expands on this point:
The Standing Orders state that standing committees have the power to order the production of papers and records, another privilege rooted in the Constitution that is delegated by the House....
Thus, the power of committees of the House to order papers is indistinguishable from that of the House.
With these well-established privileges and principles in mind, and in order to assess properly whether or not the order flowing from the Standing Committee on Finance has been complied with, I undertook a review of what was tabled. The Chair was helped in this by the committee's order, which was quite explicit in the information it sought, even going so far as to list the bills for which information was required. While the Chair does not judge the quality of documents tabled in the House, it is clear from a cursory examination of the material tabled that, on its face, it does not provide all the information ordered by the committee.
While the Chair finds this in and of itself unsettling, what is of greater concern is the absence of an explanation for the omissions. At the very least, based on the indisputable right of the committee to order these documents, this is required. Only then can the House determine whether the reasons given are sufficient or satisfactory. The need to provide reasons to the House is clear. On page 281 of Bourinot's Parliamentary Procedure and Practice in the Dominion of Canada, fourth edition, it states:
But is must be remembered that under all circumstances it is for the house to consider whether the reasons given for refusing the information are sufficient. The right of Parliament to obtain every possible information on public questions is undoubted, and the circumstances must be exceptional, and the reasons very cogent, when it cannot be at once laid before the houses.
The Chair has reviewed the debates on this question, and while initially cabinet confidence was cited as a reason not to produce any of the documents, despite this, the government saw fit to partially comply with the committee order and a tabling of some material did eventually take place. Since then, no further reasons have been given as to why the balance of the documents should not or will not be tabled.
It may be that valid reasons exist. That is not for the Chair to judge. A committee empowered to investigate the matter might, but the Chair is ill-equipped to do so. However, there is no doubt that an order to produce documents is not being fully complied with, and this is a serious matter that goes to the heart of the House's undoubted role in holding the government to account.
For these reasons, the Chair finds that there are sufficient grounds for finding a prima facie question of privilege in this matter.
Before I invite the member for Kings—Hants to move his motion, however, the Chair wishes to explain the procedural parameters that govern such motions.
House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at pages 146 and 147 states:
In cases where the motion is not known in advance, the Speaker may provide assistance to the Member if the terms of the proposed motion are substantially different from the matter originally raised. The Speaker would be reluctant to allow a matter as important as a privilege motion to fail on the ground of improper form. The terms of the motion have generally provided that the matter be referred to committee for study or have been amended to that effect.
I hasten to add that the powers of the Speaker in these matters are robust and well known. In 1966, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux, having come to a finding of prima facie privilege on a matter ruled a number of motions out of order. As House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, tells us at page 147, footnote 371, in doing so, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux “more than once pointed out that it was Canadian practice to refer such matters to committee for study and suggested that this should be the avenue pursued”.
The Chair is of course aware of exceptions to this practice, but in most if not all of these cases, circumstances were such that a deviation from the normal practice was deemed acceptable, or there was a unanimous desire on the part of the House to proceed in that fashion.
With this guidance in mind, I will soon recognize the hon. member for Kings—Hants so that he can propose his motion, but before he proceeds, I have a ruling on another matter, which I will deliver.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 17, 2011, by the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood, stemming from the presentation of the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, and the allegedly misleading statements made by the Minister of International Cooperation.
I would like to thank the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, and the members for Ottawa Centre, Joliette, Scarborough—Rouge River, Vancouver East, Guelph, Eglinton—Lawrence, Beaches—East York, Yukon and Winnipeg North for their contributions on this important matter.
As members will know, this matter was first raised by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood on December 13, 2010. In my ruling of February 10, 2011, I explained that I was unable to “find evidence in documents properly before the House to suggest that the minister's statements to the House were deliberately misleading”. Accordingly, I declined to find that a prima facie question of privilege existed.
On February 14, 2011, the Minister of International Cooperation made a statement in the House to clarify matters related to the funding application for KAIROS. While acknowledging that the way in which this case has been handled was unfortunate, she asserted that she had neither intentionally nor knowingly misled the House or the committee. She also stated that:
If some were led to conclude that my language implied that the department and I were of one mind on this application, then I apologize.
On February 17, 2011, the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development was presented to the House. It is a short report which focuses primarily on testimony by the minister and her officials on December 9, 2010, in relation to the process that led to the rejection of a funding application by KAIROS.
In particular, much attention is given to determining how the word “not” made its way into the assessment of the KAIROS funding application submitted to the minister for approval. The last part of the report links this testimony with “other information before the House” and draws “attention to what appears to be a possible breach of privilege”.
The member for Scarborough—Guildwood and other members have argued that the minister has made statements in committee that are different from those made in the House or provided to the House in written form. Indeed, these members have argued that the material available shows that contradictory information has been provided. As a result, they argue, this demonstrates that the minister has deliberately misled the House and that as such, a prima facie case of privilege exists.
For his part, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that the sixth report of the standing committee contained no accusations or other suggestions that the rights or dignity of the House had been compromised or that the committee had been misled, either unintentionally or deliberately. Claiming that in fact no direct accusation had been made, he asked, “What charge is there to be answered?” He suggested that it was improper for a committee to report that “an undescribed and undefined breach of privilege may have occurred”, and emphasized that the minister had given clear, accurate and honest answers. He also stated that it was not contradictory for the minister to state that while she did not know who inserted the word “not”, it had indeed been done on her instructions.
Now that the standing committee, in its sixth report, has made available to the House material not previously before us, I must take its findings into consideration, measuring them against other material, including statements in the House and answers to oral and written questions.
But I caution that the Speaker has a very particular and limited role in the conclusions to be drawn. In a ruling given on March 21, 1978, at page 3975 of Debates, which is also referred to in Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada, second edition, at page 227, Mr. Speaker Jerome quoted a British procedure committee report of 1967, which states in part:
--the Speaker should ask himself, when he has to decide whether to grant precedence over other public business to a motion which a Member who has complained of some act or conduct as constituting a breach of privilege desires to move, should be not--do I consider that, assuming that the facts are as stated, the act or conduct constitutes a breach of privilege, but could it reasonably be held to be a breach of privilege, or to put it shortly, has the Member an arguable point? If the Speaker feels any doubt on the question, he should, in my view, leave it to the House.
It is with this principle in mind that I have taken great care to study the evidence in view of the very serious allegations regarding the conduct of a minister, who as a result has been subjected to harsh and public criticism which has been potentially damaging to her reputation.
The crux of the matter, it seems to me, is this: as the committee has reported, when asked who inserted the word “not” in the assessment of the KAIROS funding application, in testimony the minister twice replied that she did not know. In a February 14 statement to the House, while she did not indicate that she knew who inserted the word “not”, the minister addressed this matter by stating that the “not” was inserted at her direction. At the very least, it can be said that this has caused confusion. The minister has acknowledged this, and has characterized her own handling of the matter as “unfortunate”. Yet as is evident from hearing the various interventions that have been made since then, the confusion persists. As the member for Scarborough—Rouge River told the House, this “has confused me. It has confused Parliament. It has confused us in our exercise of holding the government to account, whether it is the Privy Council, whether it is the minister, whether it is public officials; we cannot do our job when there is that type of confusion”.
The Chair has faced a somewhat analogous situation before. In January 2002 the Minister of National Defence had made statements in the House regarding Afghan detainees that ultimately also caused confusion and led to a question of privilege being raised. In that case, two versions of events had been presented to the House. In that case, as in this one, the minister assured the House that there was no intention to mislead. At that time, in finding a prima facie case, I stated at page 8581 of the Debates of February 1, 2002, that I was “prepared as I must be to accept the minister's assertion that he had no intention to mislead the House. Nevertheless this remains a very difficult situation”. I then went on to conclude that “the situation before us where the House is left with two versions of events is one that merits further consideration by an appropriate committee, if only to clear the air”.
In keeping with this fairly recent precedent, and mindful of the ruling by Mr. Speaker Jerome cited earlier, the Chair is of the view that sufficient doubt exists to warrant a finding of prima facie privilege in this case. Accordingly, I will invite the member for Scarborough—Guildwood to move his motion in due course, but at the moment I will return to the hon. member for Kings—Hants to move his motion on the earlier case.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank you for your thoughtful ruling. I was very impressed as you went through the entire matter.
At this point, we generally have an opportunity to refer the matter to a committee, which is the usual form, or to have the House deal with it directly. That is a form which had been used, but it has fallen into disuse lately.
Mr. Speaker, I invite you to give consideration to this form of motion which would have the House deal with it rather than the committee itself. My argument is founded in Maingot.
First, the motion, as I would propose it, would be that the actions and words of the member for Durham in relation to the decision to de-fund KAIROS, including the doctoring of documents, and blatantly misleading answers in the House and its standing committees, which have already been subject to two committee studies, demonstrate a clear contempt for Parliament, and that the member be suspended from the service of the House until such time as she appears at the Bar of the House to purge her contempt by apologizing in a manner found satisfactory to the Speaker. This would be seconded by the member for Guelph
My argument is found in Maingot, at page 263. It states:
To have someone attend at the Bar to be questioned respecting alleged contempt or breach of privilege would be too cumbersome, particularly where witnesses would be called. Each question to the person of the Bar must be the subject of a debatable and amendable motion....
The usual reason for referencing to a committee is, in fact, that witnesses are called, evidence is taken and other fresh material may be done in the form of a committee which cannot be done here. I submit that in this instance it is somewhat different. In fact, the House has before it all the evidence there is. There is no more evidence. We have reviewed questions in question period, access to information requests, order paper inquiries, et cetera. The entire and full body of evidence is presently before the House. Therefore, there are no other questions or witnesses to be put as one would normally do in a committee proceeding.
My motion would be that we proceed directly to the House being seized of this matter and that the House then debate the motion as is. If the vote on the debate turns out one way, then the member would be asked to apologize to the House.
I defer to your guidance on this matter, Mr. Speaker. As you said in your ruling, the Speaker does have the ultimate “robust” authority with respect to how a motion might be phrased.
My argument is that it is unnecessary to refer this to a committee.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
I indicated in my ruling, both in the two rulings that I gave today, that the normal practice of the House was to refer these matters to committee for study. In this case in particular, I think I made it clear that this could clear the air on the matter if the proper questions were asked in the committee and the matter clarified.
Accordingly I am sticking with my initial statement that this can go to committee. Otherwise, I am not accepting another motion and I would not accept this motion were the hon. member to propose it.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether you would consider a modified motion. The modified motion would be in the same manner up to the word “studies”, but then that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and that the committee report back no later than March 25, 2011. We would delete the words after the word “demonstrate” and then the motion would therefore read that it be referred to the standing committee.
Would that be in order?
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
I suggest the member just move that the matter be referred to the standing committee. It is unnecessary to make other statements about the House's view on this at this stage. The committee can look at it and then the House can express its view when the matter comes back.
I would urge him to move that it be referred to the standing committee with a report date if he wishes. That, of course, can be subject to amendment in the House if there is not agreement on the date. I suggest that is what he do.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
I do not intend to belabour this point. You have certainly heard a great deal of debate about this. The House has been subject to something in excess of 90 questions in question period about this matter, several order paper questions and access to information requests, and two committee hearings. I do not intend to rehash old ground.
While this may well be a specific ruling about a specific minister and the way in which she has conducted herself, I believe there is in fact a larger issue and, more importantly, an indictment of the government of this country, the Government of Canada or as it has renamed itself. This is one of the issues on which I actually have some sympathy for the minister.
I believe the minister actually made a decision favouring KAIROS and then was instructed to reverse that decision. While she may have been somewhat clumsy in doing so, and certainly her explanation of her reversal of her decision left something to be desired, she has actually been taking the fall for someone else. If anything, she should be given a loyalty badge for her attempt to be a loyal soldier of the Conservative government.
I have asked quite a number of questions of the particular minister. Hon. members have asked quite a number of questions of the minister. Mr. Speaker, you have found that her answers were not fulsome. This issue is going to be referred to a committee. I do not know that a great deal will be added by further debate in this chamber.
With that said, I thank you for your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for your analysis and thoughtfulness.
View Tom Lukiwski Profile
Mr. Speaker, let me join my hon. colleague from Scarborough—Guildwood in thanking the Speaker for his ruling today.
I will take up some of this place's time to comment on the situation that we have before us, certainly with no intent to challenge the ruling of the Speaker but merely to add to the commentary of the Speaker when referring to the wish that committees clear the air on this issue.
I think that is a very telling point, because it appeared to me when I was listening very carefully to the Speaker's ruling that there was no admonishment directed toward the minister in question. It was merely an attempt to try to clear up the confusion that may be in the minds of some of the members opposite.
Therefore, I think it is very important to go back over the circumstances that brought us to this point today. I do think there is some confusion in the minds not only of the members of this place but perhaps also in the minds of many of the Canadian public as to what exactly happened. If I may, I want to take just a few moments to try to set the record straight.
All of this seemed to be precipitated by the appearance of the Minister of International Cooperation in December of last year at committee, at which time the members opposite had the opportunity to ask the minister one simple question about the insertion of the word “not” in an internal document that was communicated between CIDA officials and the minister.
The question was whether the “not” was inserted by members of CIDA or by the minister. As I pointed out in my intervention in response to the member's point of privilege a few weeks ago, the minister answered very truthfully, very accurately and very precisely when asked the question: did she know who had inserted the word “not” into that internal document. The Minister of International Cooperation said “no.”
I know that may confuse members opposite, but to me it seems to be a fairly simple, precise and accurate answer to a very simple question. That was an honest response to the question.
I know that the member for Toronto Centre seems to find this funny in seeming to laugh at this. I would remind the member that this is a place where we are supposed to have a meaningful debate. Apparently his time in the provincial legislature of Ontario has clouded his memory as to what meaningful debate truly is.
Mr. Speaker, perhaps you could even inform the member for Toronto Centre that he might have an opportunity to speak in this place. Perhaps he might even say something on which we could actually engage in meaningful debate. Until that time, perhaps he should sit in his place and listen to my words.
Now, we have both the member for Kings—Hants and the member for Toronto Centre.
Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.): I am one of the B-team guys.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski: Okay, and that is showing the member's character more than mine, I would point out.
Let me go back to what I was attempting to say before I was interrupted, which was simply that the minister responsible answered accurately and honestly when she said she did not know who had inserted the word “not”, because at the time, she did not. She explained that it was an internal document. She explained that she had instructed her staff to tell CIDA officials that she was not in favour of funding KAIROS.
One of her staff members, of her own volition, inserted the word “not” and sent it back with the electronic signature of the minister to convey to the officials at CIDA that the minister was not in favour of funding KAIROS.
At committee, officials from CIDA, including the president of CIDA, testified to the committee that they found that to have been appropriate. There were no surprises. In fact, it communicated accurately the minister's wishes not to fund KAIROS.
Quite frankly, who put the word “not” in the internal document is irrelevant, because what the minister was attempting to do, and did do, was to convey to her own officials that she, as minister, did not wish to fund KAIROS. That message was conveyed and accepted by the officials of CIDA, as they testified in committee. They were totally aware, by the insertion of the word “not”, that it was the minister's decision.
The CIDA officials also testified that they did not feel there was anything untoward by her putting in the word “not”. They testified that they did not think the minister was trying to deceive anyone as to the intent of that document, because it was an internal document; it was not a parliamentary document. It was meant to convey the minister's wishes back to her own officials.
In fact, the President of CIDA later testified that they are now taking steps to modify those internal documents to allow the minister to register her displeasure or dissatisfaction or opposition to a recommendation by having a separate box the minister could sign off on, a box saying, “I do not accept this recommendation”. Unfortunately, the way the documents were presented at the time did not include that separate opportunity for the minister to say, “I do not accept this recommendation”.
Therefore, when the minister instructed her own ministerial staff to convey back to CIDA officials that she did not wish to fund KAIROS, one of her staff members put in the word “not” and the document was signed with an electronic arm, since the minister was off on travel. The officials at CIDA responded by saying, “We totally understand what the minister's wishes are: she does not want to fund KAIROS. Message received. Message accepted”.
From that, we find ourselves in a situation where the opposition is contending that the minister was trying to deceive both Parliament and Canadian public. It contends that by the insertion of the word “not”, the minister was trying to deceive Parliament by inferring that the CIDA officials who originally recommended funding KAIROS were the ones who did not want to fund KAIROS.
Mr. Speaker, if you go back and check the records of the committee meeting in December 2010, the minister responsible for CIDA, on 11 separate occasions, stated before committee that it was her decision and her decision alone not to fund KAIROS. Thus how can there be any intent whatsoever at deception if the minister, in testifying before committee, stated that it was not CIDA officials who recommended not to fund KAIROS but her own decision?
I do not know where the confusion rests, other than to suggest that the opposition is using this as an opportunity, once again, to try to create a scandal where none exists. If it had been a parliamentary document, we might be having a different discussion and different debate here today. However, we are talking simply about an internal document between officials and the minister, a document aimed at determining whether or not the minister would accept the recommendation to fund the KAIROS group with $7 million. It was an internal document. The minister told her officials that she did not wish to fund KAIROS. Accordingly, there should be no confusion whatsoever.
However, the opposition seems to be making a major issue of this by suggesting that the minister was intending to deceive. Nowhere in testimony before committee or before this House has the minister suggested that she was trying to deceive anyone. As I pointed out in my original intervention, in responding to the question of privilege by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, the statements made in committee and the statements made in this House are not contradictory. In fact, they complement each another because when she was asked the precise question, the minister gave a precise answer.
Unfortunately for the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, he did not follow up his line of questioning. Had he simply asked, “If you don't know who inserted the word 'not', were you aware that the word 'not' was inserted, or were you instructing your department not to fund KAIROS?”. Had he asked that simple question or series of questions to that end, he would have had an affirmative response from the minister.
She would have been able to tell the committee at the time that certainly she instructed her officials to convey to the CIDA officials who made the recommendation initially that she was against the recommendation.
Because the member for Scarborough—Guildwood did not follow up with further questions does not mean that the minister responsible for CIDA was trying to deceive anyone. It simply means that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, nor the rest of the opposition members, did not ask the probative questions they should have asked.
Should the minister be condemned, castigated, ridiculed or have her reputation sullied because she answered a precise question with a precise answer? I would suggest she should not be subjected to the type of abuse she has been subjected to for the last several weeks.
When is it a fault of anyone in this place to answer a direct question with a direct answer? How can anyone say, when giving a precise answer to a precise question, that one is trying to deceive Parliament?
If anyone in this place can cite one example where that has been proven or ruled upon as being deceptive, I would appreciate that member standing today to cite the example. No one can because there has not been, and never will be, an example of giving an honest and precise answer to a precise question that is considered deceptive. The minister responded accurately, yet members of the opposition seem to consider that to be a deception.
I also will comment on the motion that the member for Scarborough—Guildwood made to refer this matter to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I have great concerns about that committee being able to honestly and in a non-partisan way try to arbitrate this question and the motion. The Speaker has said quite clearly that the attempt is to clear the air. The reason he invited a motion was to have a committee examine the situation and clear the air to remove any confusion that members may have.
I am not sure if the procedure and House affairs committee will be able to do that. I say that quite sincerely because we have seen, over the course of the past few months, a number of issues come before the procedure and House affairs committee and, in my view, the opposition coalition members who hold a majority on that committee, do not want to ask questions in a non-partisan manner to try to find answers to real questions. They are merely using their ability as the majority, the tyranny of the majority I would suggest, to attempt once again to embarrass the government.
I would point out an example that came before the procedure and House affairs committee very recently to illustrate my concerns. Not long ago, as I am sure all members of the House are aware, there was a very serious incident in which there was a breach of confidentiality concerning the finance committee in which a staff member leaked a draft report from the Standing Committee on Finance to a number of registered lobbyists. The staff member worked for the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar and as the chair has noted, the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar went to extraordinary lengths to inform this place about the leak and how it happened.
As I pointed out in committee, had the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar not done so, probably this whole issue would not have been discussed. At committee we found that rather than having opposition members applaud the actions by the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar they went out of their way to try to condemn her, to try to suggest that she was at fault.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who know the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar know, as I do, that there is probably not a more upstanding, honest and forthright individual in Parliament today.
By her own volition, she took the unprecedented action to inform members of the finance committee, the Speaker of the House, the clerk of the committee and the chief information officer of the House as to the leak of confidential information. For that, even the chair admitted she should be congratulated for her actions. Yet opposition members who sit on the procedure and House affairs committee thought otherwise.
A report has been under discussion. While that report has not been tabled in the House, and I certainly cannot comment on the contents of the report since all of these discussions were in camera, I can say that the attitude of the members from the opposition coalition has certainly not been helpful and they have not, in my view at least, reflected accurately the testimony that was heard at committee. I would suggest that if the same attitude prevails with this new question of privilege, we will not end up clearing the air, as the Speaker has requested the committee to do.
I would suggest that it would be far better for a separate committee to examine this issue, hopefully a committee that would take this matter seriously and consider all of the elements that brought us here today, including the fact that the minister responsible for CIDA did not at any time deceive the committee that she first appeared before in December of last year.
Hopefully the committee would take into account the fact that the minister responsible for CIDA was completely honest in all of her comments to committee and Parliament. Hopefully the committee would recognize the fact that if there has been confusion in the minds of members of this place and of some Canadians, it was not because of the actions of the minister but of those in the opposition coalition who want to use this as a partisan method to try to bring forward an issue which has no real relevance before Parliament.
On another day at another time this issue would not be before this place. This issue would have been dealt with expeditiously and succinctly, in a spirit of honesty, in the spirit of Parliament's traditions, which is to ensure that testimony in this place and before committees is the one thing that should be preserved above all else. That is exactly what the minister responsible for CIDA has done. She has not tried to deceive or mislead. She has merely answered every single question honestly, and on top of that, informed committee members on many occasions that it was her decision and her decision solely not to fund KAIROS.
Since I do not believe that we will be able to get a fair hearing before the procedure and House affairs committee, I would move an amendment to the motion brought forward by the member for Scarborough—Guildwood that the motion be referred to the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner for further study and ask her to report her findings to the House.
View Paul Szabo Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Paul Szabo Profile
2011-03-09 16:57 [p.8851]
Mr. Speaker, if you check, you will see that under Standing Order 108 the mandate of the procedure and House affairs committee is in fact clear that this particular matter is specifically the mandate of procedure and House affairs and that to suggest it go to any other body outside of Parliament would be inappropriate. I therefore suggest that the amendment is out of order.
View Paul Dewar Profile
View Paul Dewar Profile
2011-03-09 16:58 [p.8851]
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Liberal Party who moved the motion, initially unsuccessfully had moved a motion to have this dealt with through another process. It was the Speaker who turned him down. It was very clear to me and other members of Parliament that the reference to the procedure and House affairs committee was the advice that the Speaker. He said he did not think the proposal in the initial motion was the way to go. It is pretty clear that what was accepted by the Speaker was that it go through the regular process, and that is to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
Therefore, I am a little confused. My friend from the Conservative Party would want us to deal with this in a straightforward manner as he said, a non-partisan manner as he said, as he talked about coalitions, but I will leave it to others to figure out what he was up to.
It is about due process and these matters are usually, as the Speaker suggested, referred to procedure and House affairs. We should leave it there and move on so we can actually get to a resolution on this issue.
View John McKay Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the hon. member's desire to have this matter dealt with some place other than the procedure and House affairs committee. I wonder whether the hon. member would have supported, had he been able to, my initial desire to have the House deal with this matter, as I argued.
All of the evidence that is evidence is actually before the House. All of the relevant people to be questioned are before the House. All the material that is necessary to make a disposition is before the House.
My first question for the hon. member is: Would he have supported, had he been given the opportunity, the initial motion, which was to have the matter dealt with in the House and have the hon. member apologize to the House in front of the bar of Parliament?
My second question has to do with his argument that I should have asked specific questions, longer questions and quite a number of questions. I wonder which particular questions he thinks I should have asked.
I said, “Madam Minister, you've just said that you signed off. You were the one--” Then I was cut off by the minister, who said, “I sign off on all of the documents”. I said, “Yes, and you were the one who wrote the 'not'”. The minister said, “I did not say I was the one who wrote the 'not'”. I asked, “Who did, then?” The minister responded, “I do not know”. I asked, “You don't know?” The minister said, “I do not know”. I stated, “That's a remarkable statement”. It is still a remarkable statement.
We have had so many explanations of what happened. Had the hon. member been giving me advice at the time, would he have told me what other question I could have asked or specifically what other answer the minister could have given which would not have brought us to this point, i.e., an honest answer?
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