I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on April 28, 2021 by the member for Portage—Lisgar concerning allegedly misleading statements made by the Prime Minister.
The member argued that the Prime Minister, by denying he knew of allegations of sexual misconduct against General Vance in 2018, intentionally misled the House during Oral Questions. In support of that allegation, she presented internal emails from the Privy Council Office and testimony given before the Standing Committee on National Defence. The member then reviewed the precedents in this matter. Following this, she intervened again to point out that, when there is some doubt on the matter, the Chair should let the House decide, while stressing the importance of clarity for the deliberations and the integrity of the information provided by the government.
The member for Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke then argued that it would hinder members' work if they were misled in order to prevent them from holding the government accountable. In order to determine whether some officials were negligent, members must know whether the Prime Minister or staff within his office were aware of the allegations. He also urged the Chair to take note of the testimony given before the Standing Committee on National Defence.
In response, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons stated that the Prime Minister had not misled the House and that his answers had remained consistent.
The House leader covered in detail the points raised by the member for Portage—Lisgar while citing the statements, emails and committee testimony. He argued that the facts had been twisted to raise doubt about the Prime Minister’s statements. He indicated that a simple doubt was not enough to establish a prima facie question of privilege and that, in this case, there was no possible doubt.
The member for Rivière-du-Nord added that there were differences between the Prime Minister’s statements and the testimony heard by the Standing Committee on National Defence. He also urged the Chair to take note of the testimony and asked that the matter be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs for clarifications.
The question of privilege which the Chair has been asked to rule on is the following: Did the Prime Minister's responses during Oral Questions contain contradictions that would allow one to conclude that he intentionally misled the House?
To answer this question, three elements must be proven to convince the Chair that statements were deliberately misleading: First, the statement must effectively be misleading or manifestly contradictory; second, the author of the statement must know, in making the statement, that it is false; third, the member intended to mislead the House.
Before continuing, I would be remiss if I did not mention the unusual nature of the argument put forward by the members. A thorough review of precedents, including those to which the member for Portage—Lisgar referred, shows and reveals a common trait. The remarks under review were always those made by a single member. In this case, what is being proposed is a review not only of the Prime Minister’s responses, but also of the context in which they were made. The Chair is being asked, in fact, to conduct this review in light of the proceedings of a standing committee relating to a study currently under way. There is no precedent where the Chair has used testimony from a committee without there being a report on the subject.
This aspect of the matter is a concern for the Chair. It is not for the Speaker to untangle the committee evidence to determine who knew what and when. Such an initiative would trespass on the role of committee members and constitute a breach of my duty to act with impartiality. It is up to the committee to continue its own study and to inform the House of its conclusions, if it deems it appropriate, as has been the tradition.
In this respect, the scope of my mandate is thus limited. The question of privilege raised is tantamount to asking the Chair to, on the one hand, compare the responses given by the Prime Minister during question period and, on the other hand, rule on his intention when those responses were provided.
More broadly, as Speaker Milliken summed it up on April 21, 2005, at page 5412 of Debates:
In the present case, I must determine whether the minister's responses in any way impeded members in the performance of their parliamentary duties and whether the remarks were intentionally misleading.
When previous questions of privilege concerning misleading statements have been deemed to be prima facie questions of privilege, the three elements to be proven to convince the Chair that the statements were deliberately misleading were clearly satisfied. In the example cited by the member for Portage—Lisgar from February 1, 2002, at pages 8,581 and 8,582 of Debates, and in a similar case from March 3, 2014, at pages 3,430 and 3,431 of Debates, the members involved admitted that they had made false declarations. In both cases, given the indisputable evidence before the House, previous Speakers ruled on February 1, 2002 and March 3, 2014, at the aforementioned pages in Debates, that a prima facie case had been established. Given the contradictory statements made by the members in each case, my predecessors determined that there was no choice but to have the situation referred to the appropriate committee for further consideration.
With respect to the question of privilege before us, I have reviewed the responses to Oral Questions offered by the Prime Minister on March 10, 11 and 24, 2021, and on April 27, 2021. The Chair did not find contradictions in them or elements that would allow one to conclude that they are misleading statements. There is thus no reason to continue this analysis.
I acknowledge that some members think that the Prime Minister's responses are contradicted by the information presented in committee, while others maintain that the same information confirms the validity of his responses. These disagreements occur frequently in the House, and it is not the Chair's role to adjudicate them. In the event that members are clearly and deliberately misled by deceptive statements, the Chair may have a role to play to ensure that members can perform their duties. Based on the information I have, that is not the case here.
Thus, the Chair cannot conclude that the Prime Minister deliberately misled the House. I find that there is no prima facie question of privilege.
I thank the hon. members for their attention.