Thank you, Marc.
Good evening, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before you following yesterday's meeting of your committee.
In addition to the duty of confidentiality imposed on House employees and referred to by the deputy clerk, I want to remind the committee that there are professional obligations imposed on me and counsel working for the House of Commons by the various law societies to which we belong also requiring us to protect confidentiality.
As you know, the trust that members put in the Office of the Law Clerk and the quality of the advice that they receive from us are of the utmost importance. I want to assure members that they can always count on us to provide neutral, non-partisan, and professional advice.
With this in mind, I am sure members will understand that I will not be able to specifically speak to the internal discussions that occurred at the board, but, as mentioned by Mr. Bosc, I will endeavour to explain the rules that apply in the current circumstances.
Perhaps I will start by summarizing the board's recent decision on this matter.
Referring to the publicly available minutes of the board's meeting of June 2, 2014, the board decided as follows.
I will quote from the minutes:
that certain New Democratic Party mailings under recent investigation were in contravention of the Board's by-laws on the grounds that they were prepared by and for the benefit of a political party; that the House Administration provide advice to the Board on appropriate remedies;that the Board's spokespersons be authorized to report to the public that the mailings have been found in contravention of the by-laws, and that the Board is seeking advice on appropriate remedies; andthat, further to a previous request for proofs of mailings, all proofs of mailings related to this matter be provided to the House Administration for analysis by June 13, 2014.
Indeed, the board issued a public statement to this effect on June 3, 2014. The board met again on June 11 and issued a statement on June 12, the next day, that described its determination that 23 NDP members contravened subsection 4(3) and sections 6 and 7 of the Members By-Law. As such, these members would be directed to personally reimburse a total of $36,309 to the Receiver General for Canada, which represents the total direct known costs to the House of Commons.
The board's statement went on to explain that since the costs related to the use of the members' free mailing privileges under the Canada Post Corporation Act are paid to Canada Post by Transport Canada, the board would be informing Transport Canada of its decision regarding the improper use of the postal privilege and that this correspondence would be shared with the Chief Electoral Officer.
Turning to the bylaws that apply in this situation, in considering the matters of these mailings, the board exercised its exclusive authority under section 52.6 of the Parliament of Canada Act to determine if the use of House resources was proper. I will read subsection 52.6(1), because, of course, it's the core provision at play here.
52.6(1) the Board has the exclusive authority to determine whether any previous, current or proposed use by a member of the House of Commons of any funds, goods, services or premises made available to that member for the carrying out of parliamentary functions is or was proper, given the discharge of the parliamentary functions of members of the House of Commons, including whether any such use is or was proper having regard to the intent and purpose of the by-laws made under subsection 52.5(1).
Following its review, the board concluded that House resources were used for those activities, established the value of those resources, and considered which action would need to be taken to rectify the situation.
When determining whether or not the use of resources is proper, the test is to establish if such use falls within the parliamentary functions of the member. With specific reference to the bylaws engaged in the board's determination, section 1 of the Members By-Law, established by the board, defines “parliamentary functions” as follows:
Duties and activities that relate to the position of member, wherever performed and whether or not performed in a partisan manner, namely, participation and activities relating to the proceedings and work of the House of Commons and activities undertaken in representing his or her constituency or constituents.
Finally, subsection 4(3) of the Members By-Law provides further clarification on what is not considered “parliamentary functions”, as follows:
(a) activities related to the private interests of a member or a member's immediate family;
(b) activities related to the administration, organization and internal communications of a political party, including participation in a party leadership campaign or convention, solicitations of contributions and solicitations of membership to a political party;
(d) activities designed, in context of a federal, provincial, or municipal election, or any other local election, to support or oppose a political party or an individual candidate;
(e) activities that are related to a meeting of an electoral district association, as defined in the Canada Elections Act, and that are carried out for nomination, electoral or sponsorship purposes or that relate to soliciting contributions or membership.
Details on the application of these bylaws are further explained in the policies of the board set out in the manual of services for members, which all members are familiar with.
With that, I will now be happy to take your questions.