Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege regarding a deliberately misleading statement presented to the House by the Minister of Natural Resources.
I asked the minister, on December 5, 2019, if his department had granted any contracts to the Pembina Institute since January 1, 2017. This request was made through written Question No. 50.
The minister's answer was:
Natural Resources Canada, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Canada Energy Regulator, and the Northern Pipeline Agency have not granted any contracts to the Pembina Institute since January 1, 2017.
If you look on line, Mr. Speaker, at the government's proactive disclosure report available through the open government portal, it lists eight contracts, all awarded by the Department of Natural Resources, and all awarded to the Pembina Institute since January 1, 2017.
I am sure you are aware, Mr. Speaker, of the ruling of Speaker Jerome on December 6, 1978. Speaker Jerome found a prima facie question of privilege after the member for Northumberland—Durham was assured by the solicitor general that as a matter of policy, the RCMP did not intercept the private mail of anyone.
In testimony before the McDonald commission, the former commissioner of the RCMP stated that they did indeed intercept mail on a very restricted basis and that the practice was not one which had been concealed from ministers. The member claimed that this statement clearly conflicted with the information he had received from the then solicitor general some years earlier.
The response by the Minister of Natural Resources to my written question claimed that no contracts had been granted to the Pembina Institute since January 1, 2017. That same minister then provided conflicting information online, as I stated earlier.
Another example of a prima facie case involving conflicting information provided by a minister can be found at pages 8581-2 of the Debates of February 1, 2002. The Speaker was concerned that despite the fact that the minister of national defence stated that he had no intention of misleading the House, contradictory statements were made by the minister and the records were left with two different versions of events.
On March 9, 2011, the Speaker considered a matter where it was alleged that the minister of international cooperation made misleading statements in committee and the House. The Speaker noted that a standing committee had made material available that could be measured against other material, including statements in the House, and answers to oral and written questions. He said that the statements made by the minister had, at the very least, caused confusion. He then decided to allow the member to propose his motion to the House referring to recent precedent and mindful of a ruling by Speaker Jerome to the effect that in case of doubt on a question, the Speaker should leave it to the House to decide.
I point out that this is not a simple matter of the government just deciding not to give an answer to a written question, but a matter of a minister deciding to deliberately deny an answer by providing the wrong answer to the House while at the same time exposing this deception by providing the real answer elsewhere.
On December 16, 1980, at page 5797 of Hansard, the Speaker ruled:
While it is correct to say that the government is not required by our rules to answer written or oral questions, it would be bold to suggest that no circumstances could ever exist for a prima facie question of privilege to be made where there was a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member....
Before I conclude my remarks, I want to touch on the question of privilege raised by the member for Timmins—James Bay yesterday, because it is relevant to my question of privilege. The member argued that the information he received from the Minister of Justice regarding the legal costs of fighting indigenous children at the Human Rights Tribunal was misleading and that the minister should be held in contempt of the House.
The member brought to the attention of the Speaker other information provided by the minister to another source that was significantly different from the answer he received through his written question.
The member also asked the Speaker to apply the test used by Speakers laid out on page 85 of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, which clearly states:
...when it is alleged that a Member is in contempt for deliberately misleading the House: one, it must be proven that the statement was misleading; two, it must be established that the Member making the statement knew at the time that the statement was incorrect; and three, that in making the statement, the Member intended to mislead the House....
I want to go on record as supporting the hon. member's question of privilege and let him know that I share his frustration with a government that consistently displays a dismissive attitude toward Parliament and its members, a course that ought to be corrected in the early days of this Parliament. One way to do that is to allow this matter to be considered by the members of the House.
I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to measure the content of the answer given by the Minister of Natural Resources to my written question against the information the same minister provided in his proactive report. If this gives you any doubt or causes you confusion, then I urge you to leave it to the House to decide, as Speakers Milliken, Jerome and many others have done in the past under these circumstances.
When you are ready to allow this matter to be put to the House, Mr. Speaker, I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.