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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-07-22 12:04 [p.2701]
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Colleagues, before we begin our proceedings, I would like to say a few words regarding the special measures in place today.
Pursuant to orders made on Tuesday, May 26, the application of Standing Order 17 will be suspended for current sittings to allow members to practice physical distancing. Members desiring to speak and address the Chair may do so from any seat in the House.
In addition, as members know, this will be a hybrid sitting of the House. Some members will be participating via video conference and some will be participating in person.
I remind all members that in order to avoid issues with sound, members participating in person should not also be connected to the video conference. I would like to remind those joining via video conference that when speaking, you should be on the same channel as the language you are speaking.
Finally, I ask that all members who are tabling a document or moving a motion to sign the document and bring it to the Table themselves.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-07-22 12:06 [p.2701]
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I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on July 20, 2020, by the Leader of the Opposition concerning remarks made by the Prime Minister in committee of the whole regarding an investigation headed by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. The Leader of the Opposition maintained that the Prime Minister had deliberately misled the House in his response to questions about his past co-operation on the investigation into SNC Lavalin matters. This question of privilege is related to the one that the Leader of the Opposition initially raised in the committee of the whole on July 8, 2020. However, he felt that, due to exceptional circumstances, the Chair should consider the matter even in the absence of the committee report.
On July 21, 2020, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons presented arguments suggesting that the question of privilege was not valid, but he did not address whether it was appropriate to raise the matter with the Speaker directly.
Let me address with this procedural issue first.
I accept that the particular circumstances of this situation, notably the challenge surrounding the committee of the whole format, do make it appropriate to bring the matter to the Speaker. While this is clearly an exceptional case, I do wonder if it would be useful for the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to look into this issue of questions of privilege arising from committee more thoroughly, since, as the Leader of the Opposition noted, it is ultimately within Parliament's authority to defend members' privileges.
In the second part of his question of privilege, the Leader of the Opposition focused on the responses from the Prime Minister that he felt were misleading. He rightfully noted that there are three criteria that the Chair must assess in order to determine whether a statement sought to deliberately mislead the House. I will take them in turn.
The first criterion is whether the statement was in fact misleading. In the response at issue, the Prime Minister said that the government had taken “the unprecedented step of waiving cabinet confidentiality and of waiving solicitor-client confidentiality in the situation so that the Ethics Commissioner could fully investigate the matter at hand.”
The Leader of the Opposition noted several passages of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner's report which referred to the latter's “inability to access all Cabinet confidences related to the matter" and which led him to conclude that he was “unable to fully discharge the investigatory duties conferred upon” him. The report also suggests that some witnesses felt constrained by what they could say during the course of the investigation because the waiver of cabinet confidence was limited. These elements of the report led the Leader of the Opposition to conclude that the Prime Minister had misled the House in stating that the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner had been able to fully investigate the matter.
The parliamentary secretary to the government House leader argued that the Prime Minister's response was being taken out of context and that it referred to the unprecedented step that the government had taken in waiving access to cabinet confidences and solicitor-client privilege in the context of this investigation.
He further argued that the commissioner had himself stated that he had “gathered sufficient factual information to properly determine the matter on its merits”.
The second criterion is whether the member making the statement knew it be incorrect. The Leader of the Opposition argued that the Prime Minister must have known that the statement was incorrect because he would have been aware of the contents of the commissioner's report and that he had been questioned extensively in the House on the extent of the government's co-operation with the investigation. In return, the parliamentary secretary's assertion was that, in the context the response was provided, it was not incorrect at all.
The third criterion is whether, in making the statement, the member intended to mislead the House. The Leader of the Opposition did not provide any argument about what he viewed as the Prime Minister's intent, while the parliamentary secretary's contention is that the Prime Minister was speaking about the rationale for waiving certain privileged information in relation to the commissioner's investigation.
In reviewing these arguments, it appears to me as though there is a disagreement as to the meaning and the context of the Prime Minister's comments. It is reasonable for members to disagree as to what constitutes a full investigation or full co-operation and thus it is not obvious to the Chair that the statement was clearly misleading.
As a previous Speaker noted in a ruling that he delivered on April 30, 2014, “Members must recognize and accept the existence of differences of fact and interpretation, which have always been a part of the normal cut and thrust of debate and question period.” I cannot therefore conclude that the first criterion was met.
If one cannot conclude definitely that a statement was misleading, it would be difficult to conclude that the member making that statement knew it to be misleading and, as a result, that the member intended to mislead the House in making it.
Therefore, based on my assessment of these three criteria, the threshold for finding a prima facie question of privilege has not been met.
I thank the members for their attention.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
Pursuant to an order made Tuesday, May 26, the House shall now resolve itself into a committee of the whole to consider matters related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other matters.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-07-22 12:13 [p.2702]
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The committee will begin its proceeding with the questioning of ministers on matters relating to the COVID-19 pandemic and other matters for a period not exceeding 95 minutes.
The Chair will call members from all recognized parties and one member who does not belong to a recognized party in a fashion consistent with the proportions observed during the special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic. Each member will be recognized for not more than five minutes, which may be used for posing questions to a minister of the Crown, and members are permitted to split their time with one or more members by so indicating to the Chair.
Please note that we will briefly suspend this part of the sitting partway through to allow members and employees who provide support for the sitting to replace each other safely.
We will now begin with the hon. Leader of the Opposition.
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View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
View Andrew Scheer Profile
2020-07-22 12:14 [p.2702]
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Mr. Speaker, what we have before us with the WE corruption scandal is an organization that receives sole-sourced contracts from the government, from the taxpayer. The organization then sets up a real estate company and gobbles up over $40 million worth of prime downtown Toronto real estate. It also pays members of the Prime Minister's immediate family cash for speaking engagements. It also provides a huge platform for Liberals to do their campaigning. The organization even did an election-style ad promoting the Prime Minister.
However, it gets into trouble. Red flags start going up about its bank covenant, members of the board resign and so it lobbies the government and the government gives it another sole-sourced contract from which it can take $40 million worth of administration.
Canadians, rightly, are concerned by this kind of “You scratch my back, I scratch your back” type of relationship with a Liberal-friendly organization. Therefore, I have a series of very simple yes or no questions to help Canadians understand the depths of this scandal.
Was the Prime Minister aware that the agreement he signed with this organization was not with the WE Charity itself but was with a shell corporation that has no assets and no history of charitable work?
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2020-07-22 12:16 [p.2703]
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Mr. Speaker, as was made clear at committee, the non-partisan public service recommended this approach as the only way to deliver this program in the timeline required this summer during COVID. Last week, I acknowledged that I should have recused myself and I apologized.
However, our goal was and is to provide opportunities for students to serve in their communities right across the country in this unprecedented time. Obviously the way it unfolded was regrettable and the program is no longer unfolding, as we have said.
In regard to aspects of the WE Charity Foundation, the public service worked to find the best possible delivery of this program to get student grants for volunteer hours. The public service worked with the WE organization to develop the agreement and the work was done and negotiated at the officials' level in those details.
We have consistently approached it as a way of empowering young people across the country, the way other governments of all stripes have worked with this organization in the past.
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View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
View Andrew Scheer Profile
2020-07-22 12:17 [p.2703]
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Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister has to understand that it is not about his recusing himself from this decision. The Clerk of the Privy Council himself said that it would be impossible for the Prime Minister and the finance minister to recuse themselves from giving a sole-source contract to an organization with such close ties to the Liberal Party and his immediate family.
Was the Prime Minister aware that the sole stated purpose of the shell corporation that signed the contracts was to hold real estate?
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View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2020-07-22 12:18 [p.2703]
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Mr. Speaker, as I said, governments of all stripes, including Stephen Harper's government, worked closely with this organization to deliver opportunities for young people. When it came to negotiating the specific contract with this organization, the civil service worked out the details of that.
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View Anthony Rota Profile
Lib. (ON)
View Anthony Rota Profile
2020-07-22 12:18 [p.2703]
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I am just going to pause and stop the clock for a second.
I understand it is very emotional and it gets very tense in here sometimes, but coaching somebody with answers probably is not the right way to have these sessions. I just want to point that out to those who are shouting across from one side or the other.
The hon. Leader of the Opposition.
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View Andrew Scheer Profile
CPC (SK)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Justin Trudeau Profile
2020-07-22 12:19 [p.2703]
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Mr. Speaker, throughout my career and throughout the life of this government we have been focused on giving opportunities to young people in a range of ways and we have continued to look to do that during this COVID crisis.
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