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View Michael Ignatieff Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, before we start this debate, I have a few words for you. You are at the end of your term as Speaker of the House, and I would like to express how much fondness and respect we all have for you. Your rulings have left their mark on our country's history.
Mr. Speaker, you have taught us all, sometimes with a modest rebuke, sometimes with the sharp sting of focused argument, to understand, to respect and to cherish the rules of Canadian democracy, and for that your citizens will always hold you in highest honour.
This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, the democracy that you, Mr. Speaker, have served so well. I have to inform the House that the official opposition has lost confidence in the government.
The government no longer has the confidence of the official opposition.
Our motion asks the House to agree with the finding in the 27th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented on March 21. This was a historic finding. It was the first time that a parliamentary committee has found the government in contempt.
Today, with this motion, we ask the House to do the same, to find the government in contempt and to withdraw the confidence of the House.
With this motion, we are calling on members of Parliament to condemn the government for its contempt of Parliament and to withdraw the confidence of the House. This is a historic day in the life of Canadian democracy, but it is also an opportunity for us to confirm our commitment to parliamentary democracy and its fundamental principles.
What principles are we talking about? That the government has the obligation to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.
The principle at stake in this debate goes to the heart of parliamentary democracy: the obligation of a government to provide members of this House with the information they need in order to hold the government accountable to the people of Canada.
We are the people's representatives. When the government spends money, the people have a right to know what it is to be spent on. Parliament does not issue blank cheques. For four months, the opposition has asked the government to tell the Canadian people the true cost of its budget plans. For four months, we demanded to know how much Canadian taxpayers were being asked to pay for fighter jets, prisons and corporate tax breaks. For four months. this House and the Canadian people were stonewalled by the government and they are being stonewalled still.
For four months, we have been trying to hold this government accountable. For four months, we demanded to know the real cost of the fighter jets, prisons and tax breaks for major corporations. For four months, we did not get a single answer, aside from the contempt and arrogance of this government. And today, still, we have no answers.
We were shocked, but we were not surprised. After all, this is the same government that shut down Parliament twice, the same government that was forced, by one of your rulings, to hand over documents to do with Afghan prisoners, and we are still waiting for those documents.
In the case of the Afghan documents, the government's excuse for withholding the truth was national security. In the case of the budget documents, it invented something about cabinet confidence, but actually it did not even bother with an excuse at all.
But you, Mr. Speaker, would have none of it. You, Mr. Speaker, held that the rules of our democracy require the government to answer the questions that Parliament wants answered. The matter was sent back to a committee for action and it came back with a finding of contempt. That is why we are where we are today. The House must decide whether the government has broken a basic rule of our democracy and therefore, whether it can remain in office.
For our part on this side of the House, there is no doubt. You, Mr. Speaker, have spoken, the committee has spoken, and now the House must speak with a clear voice. It must say that a government that breaks the rules and conceals facts from the Canadian people does not deserve to remain in office.
With one clear voice, the House must declare that a government that does not respect democracy cannot remain in power. We have had enough. If this vote results in an election, the Canadian people will have the opportunity to replace an arrogant government with one that respects democracy.
To those who say an election is unnecessary, we reply that we did not seek an election, but if we need one to replace a government that does not respect democracy with one that does, I cannot think of a more necessary election.
It is not just democracy that the House will be called upon to affirm this afternoon. The House should also affirm Canadians' hunger, nay their longing, for change. It is time to change Canada's direction. It is time to get us on the right path. After five years of Conservative government, it is time to say enough is enough. Enough of the politics of fear. Enough of the politics of division. Enough of the politics of personal destruction.
Enough is enough. We need to look at the government's priorities. It wants to spend 1,000 times more on fighter jets than on helping students in CEGEP and university. We reject the government's priorities. It is offering less to seniors for an entire year than what it spent on one day of the G20. We say no to this kind of waste. The government wants to spend 1,000 times more on prisons than on preventing youth crime. Again, we say no. This government's priorities are not in line with the priorities of Canadian families. We have had it. Enough is enough.
The priorities of the government laid bare in that thin gruel that we saw earlier this week reveal a government out of touch and out of control. There is no credible plan to tackle the deficit because there are no numbers any reasonable person can believe in. There is no vision of how to sustain our health care system. There is not a word about affordable housing, not a word about child care, and nothing for the pressing needs of Canadian families in poverty.
Instead, we get jets, jails and giveaways to oil companies, insurance companies, and banks that are doing just fine, thank you very much.
So we need a change. We need to focus scarce resources where they really matter: early learning and child care; college and university education for all, especially for aboriginal and immigrant Canadians; energy efficiency and green jobs; family care for our loved ones in the home, and security and dignity in retirement. We need all of this plus a clear plan to clean up our country's finances and get us back to balance without adding to the tax burden on Canadian families.
These are the priorities of our people. These are the needs that we must serve. These are the priorities at home. However, let us not forget the priorities abroad. We have so much ground to catch up. We have a government that has lost our place in the world and lost our place at the Security Council of the United Nations.
We need a government that restores our honour, our credit, and our prestige on the international stage, a government that understands the deep and committed internationalism that dwells in the hearts of all Canadian citizens.
We need a government for the people, a government that is accountable to the people and that serves the people and democracy.
I want to conclude by saying a few words about democracy. Some members of this government have been charged with electoral fraud. A member of the Prime Minister's inner circle is accused of influence peddling. Enough is enough. People are fed up.
I return to where I started, to democracy, to the abuse of power. We have a government whose most senior members stand accused of electoral fraud. We have a Prime Minister who appointed, as his top adviser, someone who served prison time for stealing money from his clients, someone who now faces accusations of influence peddling, and is under an RCMP investigation.
Canadians look at that picture and they say, “We have had enough”. This House has had enough, enough of the abuse of power and enough of the bad economic choices.
We have a government with unique distinctions. We have a government with the largest deficit in Canadian history. It is the highest spending government in Canadian history. It is the most wasteful government in Canadian history. Finally, it is the first government in Canadian history to face a vote of contempt in this House.
This is a government and a Prime Minister that is out of touch and is out of control. It is time for a change.
Mr. Speaker, I urge all of the members to support our motion.
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 Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
Order, please. The hon. government House leader on a point of order.
View Peter Milliken Profile
Lib. (ON)
Order, please. I do not hear a point of order from the government House leader. Is the minister rising to table some documents?
We have an interruption.
View Scott Brison Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Scott Brison Profile
2011-03-23 15:38 [p.9141]
Mr. Speaker, all members of Parliament have the responsibility to hold the government to account. That includes Conservative members of Parliament as well. 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 support 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 to come clean and tell Canadian taxpayers how much they will have to spend to foot the bill for the Conservatives' U.S.-style prison agenda.
At first the government ignored the finance committee's order to produce the documents on how much the crime bills would cost. The government did not even so much as acknowledge the request before the deadline. Then on December 1, one full week after the deadline, the government gave its first response. In that response, the government said:
The issue of whether there are...costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.
According to that Conservative regime, members of Parliament should not know how much legislation will cost before they have to vote on these pieces of legislation. For this denial of information to Parliament, the Conservatives' reason is cabinet confidence. This is a blatant falsehood. This is arrogance and deception personified by the government.
The Conservatives believe that members of Parliament should vote blindly, but the law is clear. As members of Parliament, we have a constitutional right to that information on how much the legislation will cost.
Therefore, on February 17, my hon. colleague, the member for Wascana, moved a motion in the House demanding that the government provide this information to the House. After three months of saying that it could not provide any information, the government then responded that afternoon with a few numbers. However, the information was incomplete. The government only provided information on five of the eighteen crime bills. There was no analysis, no information on how the government arrived at the few numbers that it did provide and there was nothing about how this legislation would affect the provinces and the cost to the provinces.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer reviewed the information that the government provided, up to and including February 17. This is what the Parliamentary Budget Officer had to say about the government's response, “The Government of Canada has not provided the finance committee with most of the information that it requested”.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer went on to say:
The data tabled by the GC, does not provide FINA (or the PBO) with analysis, key assumptions, drivers, and methodologies behind the figures presented. Further, basic statistics such as headcounts, annual inflows, unit costs per inmate, per full-time...employee, and per new cell construction have not been made available.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer went further. He said, “As requested in the FINA motion, the PBO is also unable to determine whether” the data tabled by the Government of Canada would indicate whether “the requisite monies have been indeed set aside in the Fiscal Planning Framework and whether the departmental Annual Reference Levels of the affected federal government departments have been adjusted to reflect the change in requirements”.
In this report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer also had some fundamental questions, which are of great importance to the House. He first asked, “Is the information requested by FINA relevant and necessary to parliamentary decision-making?” His answer was, “Yes. It is required for parliamentarians to fulfill fiduciary obligations under the Constitution”.
Mr. Page asked a second question: “Is it collected regularly by the Government of Canada?” His answer: “Yes. The information is collected, analyzed and challenged as part of the Government of Canada's expenditure management system”.
He asked a third question: “Does Parliament have the right to the information?” To this fundamental and important question, the Parliamentary Budget Officer answered: “Yes. The Parliament of Canada is under a constitutional obligation to review any information gathered during the EMS process that it views as necessary for the discharge of its fiduciary duty to the Canadian people to properly control public monies”.
Given the Conservative government's blatant disregard for Parliament, given its continued abuse of the system and the breaking of the rules in order to hide the costs of its U.S.-style prison agenda, given all of this, I rose in the House and brought the matter before the Speaker as a matter of privilege.
On March 9, the Speaker gave his historic ruling, finding a prima facie question of privilege. With his guidance, I then moved a motion asking the procedure and House affairs committee to investigate these actions by the government and provide the committee's recommendations to this House.
The committee heard from expert witnesses on the issue of Parliament's right to know how much this legislation will cost. The committee heard from the House of Commons law clerk and parliamentary counsel, Mr. Robert Walsh, who said very clearly that the costs associated with legislation before the House are not covered by cabinet confidence. In his testimony, Mr. Walsh said:
...the basic principle is that the House should receive whatever information it seeks for it to do its function in holding the government to account or, as you mentioned, in reviewing legislation.
He went on to say:
The decisions made by the House of Commons are only as good as the information members of Parliament have to help them make those decisions.
The current Prime Minister once said:
Without adequate access to key information about government policies and programs, citizens and parliamentarians cannot make informed decisions, and incompetent or corrupt governance can be hidden under a cloak of secrecy.
That was a rare moment of candour from the Conservative Prime Minister and one must wonder, based on the Prime Minister's own words, what incompetence and corruption the Conservative government is trying to hide under its cloak of secrecy today.
During its investigation, the committee also heard from Mr. Mel Cappe, a former clerk of the Privy Council. Mr. Cappe told the committee that the government's decision to hide the information under cabinet confidence was “unjustified”. I will quote from the committee report. According to Mr. Cappe, “Once a bill has been introduced the costs of that bill cannot be considered a cabinet confidence and must be provided to parliamentarians to enable them to arrive at an informed opinion”.
The committee also heard from Mr. Alister Smith, the associate secretary at Treasury Board, who told the committee that under the Treasury Board guide to costing the government must analyze the fiscal impact of federal legislation on the provinces.
The committee heard that parliamentarians not only have the right to know how much federal legislation will cost the federal treasury, but we also have a right and a responsibility to know how much federal legislation will cost provincial governments.
On the afternoon of March 16, once again the Conservatives demonstrated their contempt for Parliament by providing over 700 pages of documents to the committee without giving committee members any time to examine the information before hearing from the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety.
It was a data dump on the committee 15 minutes before the ministers were to do their presentations. It was a publicity stunt aimed at convincing the public somehow that the government had finally come clean when, in fact, it had not come clean. It was a charade. It was another example of the government's disrespect for Parliament and another example of why Canadians cannot trust the government to tell them the truth, to give them the real facts and costs of its agenda.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer continued his work after the government dumped this data on the committee. The Parliamentary Budget Officer studied this massive binder and concluded, in a report to the committee, that:
There remain significant gaps between the information requested by parliamentarians and the documentation that was provided by the [government], which will limit the ability of parliamentarians to fulfill their fiduciary obligations.
Examining the grid in the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report to the committee, it is clear that the government failed to provide three-quarters of the information that had been requested by the finance committee and, in fact, demanded by the Speaker's ruling.
With this, the committee concluded that:
1. that the government has failed to produce all the specific documents ordered to be produced by the Standing Committee on Finance and by the House of Commons;
2. that the government has not provided a reasonable excuse;
3. that the documents tabled in the House and in Committee do not satisfy the orders for production of documents; nor do they provide a reasonable excuse;
4. that this failure impedes the House in the performance of its functions; and
5. that the government’s failure to produce documents constitutes a contempt of Parliament.
The lengths that the Conservative government has gone to hide the costs of its legislation show not only a contempt for this Parliament, but also a contempt for the people of Canada who chose this Parliament. The Conservatives are showing contempt for the Canadian taxpayer who has to foot the bill for these pieces of legislation.
I remind all members of this House, including members of the Conservative Party, that regardless of what party we represent, we all have an equally important fiduciary and constitutional responsibility to the people of Canada to demand that the government provide this information to the House of Commons.
I would remind this House, including the Conservative members, that in being complicit with the government and helping the government hide this information from Canadians, the Conservative members of Parliament are not doing their jobs. They are not standing up for Canadians. In fact, they are attacking the interests of Canadian taxpayers by not telling them how much this legislation will cost. They are not fulfilling perhaps the most important responsibility we have as members of Parliament, and that is to defend the democratic institutions that keep us free.
What I find troubling about the government is that at every turn we have a Prime Minister and a government that not only stymies Parliament and attacks this institution, but it attacks the public service, the courts and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This is an historic decision by Parliament, by the committee, to find the government in contempt. It is the first time in the history of Canadian Parliament that a government has been found to be in contempt of Parliament. It is the first time in the history of the British parliamentary system that a government has been found to be in contempt of Parliament.
This is not a good moment in Canadian history. This is a sad moment in Canadian history. It is sad for our Parliament and for Canadian citizens.
At a time when Canada should be doing more to help a troubled world build a more peaceful and stable democratic world, it has never been more important that we defend these democratic institutions that keep us free here in Canada. We will lose our moral authority to make a difference in the world and help it achieve a more peaceful and democratic future if we do not passionately demonstrate the importance of those institutions here at home.
We fully expect that the House will concur with the findings of the committee and we hope that this will help Canadians understand the importance of defending these institutions. We hope that members of the Conservative Party will wake up and recognize their responsibilities and join with us today in standing up for the people who elect us and not defend a government that is once again shutting down this Parliament and denying us the right and responsibility we have to defend the interests of Canadians.
View Harold Albrecht Profile
View Harold Albrecht Profile
2011-03-23 15:55 [p.9143]
Madam Speaker, it is a true travesty that we are spending this time dealing with this motion today.
Last week was a constituency week when members of Parliament should have been in their ridings hearing from their constituents who sent them here to represent them, but instead there was a motion that required the procedure and House affairs committee to spend three days on hearings. During that time, we heard from multiple witnesses. Three ministers of the Crown appeared. With less than a day's notice, two of them appeared for a second time to answer the questions that were asked of them by committee members. Many other witnesses appeared. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in convening our procedure and House affairs committee last week.
At the end of those hearings, that opposition member and his coalition partners presented a motion to the committee. I want members to listen carefully to the motion, which read, “that they would not allow any summary of evidence to be presented in that report”, after two full days of hearings and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get those witnesses here, as well as all of the required material that was prepared for it. At the end of that time, they had the audacity to ask that no summary of evidence be included in, what they said could be a maximum, two-page report.
How can the member stand here and defend democracy when, at the end of a two-day hearing, he actually asked that no summary of evidence be included in the record? Then, because the opposition members had the majority, they could pass any motion they wanted to pass. Of course they would pass the motion. How can that be called democracy?
View Scott Brison Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Scott Brison Profile
2011-03-23 15:57 [p.9144]
Madam Speaker, I find it curious that the hon. member is complaining that there may have been thousands of dollars spent last week to make democracy and Parliament work, when in fact we are trying to determine the costs of billions of dollars of spending by the government. He is actually saying that we should not invest a few thousands of dollars to study bills that cost billions of dollars. That is absolutely ludicrous.
If he would take the time to actually read the report that was written by the researchers of the committee, he would find quite a thorough summary of evidence and testimony in that report. What he would find is that people like Mel Cappe, the former clerk of the Privy Council; Rob Walsh; Ned Franks; and, in fact, every witness, except the ministers of the Conservative government, agreed that the government was hiding behind a phony excuse and was using cabinet confidence when no cabinet confidence applies to the costs of legislation once it is tabled in the House.
If he read the report, the hon. member would also learn that he has a responsibility. When he is in his constituency over the next 36 days, I hope his constituents ask him why he did not demand that the government tell them, as taxpayers, the truth about the costs of the crime legislation.
View Nathan Cullen Profile
View Nathan Cullen Profile
2011-03-23 15:59 [p.9144]
Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments and the questions coming from the government members.
It is interesting to hear them suddenly concerned with costs of a meeting when they expressed no such concerns about costs of building many prisons across this country. This coming from a Conservative government that claims to care about the economy and about taxpayers' dollar.
When the Parliament of Canada clearly asked the government for documents, for four months it decided not to provide them. At the eleventh hour, we saw another barrage come from the minister.
What we are debating today is contempt of Parliament. For many Canadians not familiar with the procedures of this place, which can be arcane, I thought I would look up “contempt”, so that we could help folks, particularly the Conservatives, understand what it is they are being charged with by this Parliament.
A lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike. Open disrespect for a person or a thing. Open disrespect for what this Parliament stands for.
The principle role of Parliament is to hold the government to account, regardless of party affiliation. Conservatives should be as occupied with this question of costs in building new prisons as the opposition members are.
I can remember, Madam Speaker, and you will as well, somewhat fondly, the Conservative government filibustering a climate change bill that simply asked the government to report on its efforts on climate change. That is what the bill did. The Conservatives held it in committee for months, saying that a report needed to be costed, that they would not pass any bill that had not been properly costed. I remember it well because day after day they filibustered the committee trying to do its work in an effort to fight dangerous climate change.
Now we come to this, something that obviously costs money and the government has shown contempt, not just for the members of Parliament but for who we represent and for this very place. Why suddenly this concern for costs of a meeting when we are talking about billions of dollars and contempt for our very democracy?
View Scott Brison Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Scott Brison Profile
2011-03-23 16:01 [p.9144]
Madam Speaker, the hon. member points out the hypocrisy of the Conservative members on this issue.
In fact, if the government had simply answered the questions four months ago, there would not have been any costs required. Parliament would have been given the information needed for members to do their jobs.
It is the Conservative government that is responsible for any incidental costs associated with this process that we have had to go through over the last four months.
I could never have predicted four months ago when as a member of the House of Commons finance committee, I moved a motion. I fully expected the government to comply and respond to that motion.
The member also raises a very important issue. When we are talking about initiatives around climate change and the environment or on social investment for children or for early learning and child care, the government will always say it will cost too much, or when we are talking about building new prisons, I guess for their unreported criminals, the government refuses to give us the data and implies there is no cost.
What we have here is a government that will hide the cost for its narrow neo-conservative Republican U.S.-style criminal justice agenda and will embellish the costs of actions taken to avert climate change or invest in children.
That is the deliberate misuse of information and the twisting of information in the tradition of the Republicans in the U.S. to twist the facts and deny the public the truth. It shows disrespect for taxpayers and disrespect for citizens.
View Rodger Cuzner Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Rodger Cuzner Profile
2011-03-23 16:03 [p.9145]
Madam Speaker, I did not catch the member's entire speech, but we had a discussion earlier today with regard to the tax credit for volunteer firefighters.
Although it is a sort of step in the right direction, and it has been something we have been advocating for quite some time, it certainly is not as fulsome and does not include as many firefighters as we would have included with a refundable tax credit.
Would my colleague like to comment, especially on those firefighters in rural communities who do not make a great deal of money, who are on a fixed income? Is it going to be of any benefit to them?
I know in Glace Bay there is a small honorarium paid to firefighters. They currently access the $1,000 exemption. I see where it is going to be of little help to those firefighters.
Could I get the member's comments, overall, on that provision?
View Scott Brison Profile
Lib. (NS)
View Scott Brison Profile
2011-03-23 16:04 [p.9145]
Madam Speaker, the Conservatives have failed to make this credit refundable. A Liberal government, as part of our rural Canada proposal for volunteer firefighters, would introduce a fully refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters.
This means that hard-working, low income Canadians, many of whom are juggling more than one part-time job just to pay the bills, will not be treated fairly by this Conservative plan. It means that many volunteer firefighters, who are low income Canadians in our small communities, will not benefit from the Conservative plan.
Can members imagine, and this speaks to values, a Conservative government that actually brings in an initiative that will discriminate against low income Canadians? That is what the government is all about.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
View Joe Preston Profile
View Joe Preston Profile
2011-03-23 16:05 [p.9145]
Madam Speaker, I guess I should just point out right at the outset that this is what I dealt with all last week: a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of what he is supposed to talk about; a member who just would not stay within the boundaries of his time; and, I am sorry to say, a side of the table that just would not stay in the bounds of politeness. It was about as discouraging as it might get.
I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and I am happy to admit them. Long before politics I knew the member for Kings—Hants and found him to be a very honourable gentleman. This week he has tried my patience on that one, as to whether I really truly believe it at all any more.
The other mistake is I thought I had the best job in the world. I came here as a member of Parliament some seven years ago and I thought, “I can't believe how good this is. You're representing your people and it's just incredible”.
I got to be the chair of procedure and House affairs, a chair of a committee of the House, and I have been proud of it. I have been very proud of it. It is not often that a chair will get up on a fairly partisan issue that we are talking about here, but I got to see this first-hand last week from the end of the table, not from the side of the government, not from the side of the opposition, but from the side that had to watch it, much like the TV cameras had to watch it last week. I would like to give members my view of what we are talking about here.
So, the second mistake that I have made is I came here thinking this was the best job ever and that we really, truly could get along, and do great things and things that we are all proud of.
After two very long days looking at this issue last week, I am not certain I want to share with my grandkids what I did those two days here in Parliament. I am not sure I want to share with my grandchildren, and I am sorry I do not have any yet, but my future grandchildren what I saw from an abuse of, truly, the procedures.
The member for Kings—Hants, somewhere in his, I was going to say statement of facts but I would have to assume, then, there were facts in there, got up and said that it was about defending taxpayers and it was about defending the democratic systems.
I am happy to say I am the chair of a committee that does defend democratic systems. Last week when we attempted to do that, I saw every dirty trick and every rudeness. It was just over the top. I will explain some of them to members, and Madam Speaker, I know you have seen some of them. I know you have even seen how rude some of us can be even in this House. It was over the top.
I want to tell members that there is a group of people out there who really truly do watch us on TV. We were the only act in town last week. The only thing happening was the procedure and House affairs committee and so, many people watched it. I guess if we go by the CPAC channel, we watch and see what is going on. I have to tell members there are groupies, there is a group of people out there, and I said groupies, I guess maybe we should use that term, who sent emails. I have received emails from across this nation last week about the job of being the chair of the procedure and House affairs.
There were a lot of suggestions as to what we should do to some of the members, and I have to suggest that sometimes during some of those very long sessions last week, I thought some bad thoughts about what I should do to some of those members, too.
Hon. John McKay: And they're all in your caucus.
Mr. Joe Preston: You can see, Madam Speaker, the heckling from the other side. It happened last week, too. It was that way, too. It just was.
Let us just talk a bit about what we attempted to do last week.
I do not sit on the committee for finance. As I shared with members, I chair a different committee. However, the report came to this House from the finance committee looking for information. That is what the report was about. The committee members felt they needed more information, so they moved a motion and asked the Speaker to find a case of privilege, saying that the information had not been delivered to them.
Maybe some members do not know this, so I will give them a bit of an education on what happens when a motion of privilege is moved. What we first get from the Speaker is a prima facie case, a legal term. I am not a lawyer but I understand it well enough to say that it means that the Speaker has found, on the surface, that someone else should look at the case. Therefore, the case was moved to our committee.
As a matter of convention, since I have been the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs the Speaker normally comes and explains to us how he arrived at his decision, the basis for his thought. We were not able to do that last week because, as many members know, it was not a week the House was sitting and so not all members were available to us. Thus the committee was not able to start in the way it would normally do with a study.
The other thing that was different last week, and I have already pointed this out, is that the member for Kings—Hants was there but not as a standard member of our committee. He does not usually sit on our committee.
I take pride in the fact that committee members get along. Our standard committee is made up of the whips of most of the parties and other more senior members of the other parties, including our own. I have found over the period of time I have been the chair that we have certainly been able to get along and maybe even accomplish the impossible every now and again, just by being able to get along, by not making issues partisan or over the top. It is not about trying to get that press clip on the evening news.
The committee seldom meets in public, and so it was really different to be before TV cameras all of last week and have to deal with them too, because I do find there is a difference. I will admit to being a bit at fault here also. When we know a TV camera is on us, we maybe act a little differently than usual. We might take the roundabout way to get to our point because we think it might make a nice clip on a website or on the evening news, instead of just working with the people across the table and getting to the facts and, as a member just said, defending taxpayers and democratic institutions. Instead of just working to do those two things, we chose to make a show of it. We chose to make it look like a circus at times, at other times like a daycare and at other times somewhat like warfare. It really went over the top.
The issue comes to the committee and we have to look at the whole thing to see if it really is a prima facie case and we spend a great deal of time looking for facts. The reason we hold these committee meetings is to look for facts. We call witnesses. At the beginning, we very co-operatively ask each party for a list of witnesses they would like to hear from. Each party hands in a list of people, including some experts on the system. Surprisingly enough, oftentimes the same name is on the lists provided by many of the parties.
The member for Kings—Hants mentioned Mel Cappe, an eminent former clerk of the Privy Council and a professor now at the University of Toronto. I would love to spend some time in his classroom. I really enjoyed listening to Mel Cappe while he was at committee. He is a very knowledgeable gentleman.
Rob Walsh, the House of Commons law clerk, often comes to our committee because we deal with those types of issues. He was probably on more than one witness list.
We are going to have a permanent name tag made for Ned Franks because he attends almost everything we study at the procedure and House affairs committee. He knows his constitutional law. He knows things about the House of Commons. He knows where all the bones are buried. We can pretty much ask Ned anything and he will have an opinion on it. We did find at committee that there certainly were times when Ned had two or three opinions. I mean no offence, because he would admit to it, but there were many times when after a case was made by one of the sides at the table, he would change his view and see that side.
Therefore, we all put together a witness list, including ministers such as the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety, who were both there on the first day of our study.
The member for Kings—Hants is correct that a lot of information was given. It is my understanding that some months ago, a document was given, a foolscap piece of paper, with a costing structure for all of the crime bills. It had some boxes on it and the numbers were filled in. It was fairly fulsome in what it was covering. That day, when the ministers came, they brought the supporting documents for that piece of paper. The member from Kings—Hants is correct that it was quite a show. There was a pretty good binder full of information.
My colleague said something like: “Holy, they looked like dogs that finally caught the car”. The committee did not know what to do with it, because there it was, all of the information. All of a sudden, they had the information they wanted. There it was. Then the committee said it was too much. They could not read it all. It was too much, and they complained they were only given 15 minutes to read it, which was not enough.
What did we do? We asked two very busy ministers, who were on their way to other things, to come back the next day so that we would have the time to read the documents and they could spend another hour with us and explain what was in the documents. That sounded fair.
I recognize ministers are very busy people. I know it was hard for the clerk and I, when scheduling the first witnesses and helping to set up the witness list in the first place, to get them together at the same time to do this. So we had ministers come back the next day because the members asked them for more information. It sounded great, and so we did have them back.
In-between their first and second appearances, we had a number of witnesses. We mentioned some of them, such as Mel Cappe. We had a lot of good, interesting questions about his theory on cabinet confidentiality and what information could be shared with committees, legislatures and members of Parliament so that we can make the right decisions when voting on legislation.
The member from Kings—Hants has just suggested this was what we were trying to do. I agree it was exactly what we were trying to do. We were trying to find a way for information to get into MPs' hands and therefore into their minds when looking at legislation, whether at the committee level or here in the House, so that we can do our proper due diligence. That was our “fiduciary responsibility”, I think was the term used.
Therefore, all of the committee's meetings, all of the show trial, was about answering whether the information was sufficient.
It was not sufficient when it was provided at committee, apparently. It was not sufficient when the document was tabled here in the House with a good amount of information. As I said, I was not a member of the finance committee and I do not know whether the numbers were what that committee wanted or not. However, the member from Kings—Hants has just said: “No, they weren't”.
We did not get there. We had done of all of that and had all of those witnesses and all of their testimony, then something happened that I have never seen before in my life in this whole place. Two things happened.
The night before the whole committee meeting started, there was an article in the newspaper about how the committee was going to find the government in contempt. I thought that was a little off and a bit of a predetermination of where we were going.
At the end, the very that minute that testimony stopped, a document came forward on how this was going to work out, with all of the conclusions reached by the committee, but without any evidence to prove what was said. It would only be two pages long and there were going to be five recommendations by the committee. The minute we stopped hearing the evidence, we were apparently going vote on the motion.
That is what happened in that committee. It was as blatant and over-the-top abuse of power as I have ever seen.
I have spoken a long time and I have got a little off my chest and am honestly feeling a little better.
The good thing is that the reason we have committees in this place is to do that type of investigative work. It is not to predetermine where we are going to be. I have to say to the member for Kings—Hants and the other members from his party who filled that committee on a temporary basis, it is not how we usually work. We would not think of ignoring the evidence and then just give a report. We take a summary of the evidence into account.
I move:
That the House do now proceed to the orders of the day.
View Denise Savoie Profile
View Denise Savoie Profile
2011-03-23 16:22 [p.9147]
Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
Some hon. members: No.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie): All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.
Some hon. members: Yea.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie): All those opposed will please say nay.
Some hon. members: Nay.
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie): In my opinion the yeas have it.
And five or more members having risen:
The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie): Call in the members.
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