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.