Thank you, Chair.
Bosc and Gagnon, in the third edition of House of Commons Procedure and Practice, say on page 980—this is under chapter 20, regarding committees—under the title “To Send for Persons”:
Standing committees often need the collaboration, expertise and knowledge of a variety of individuals to assist them in their studies and investigations.
This is referring to witnesses whom this committee calls.
Usually these people appear willingly before committees when invited to do so. But situations may arise where an individual does not agree to appear and give evidence. If the committee considers that this evidence is essential to its study, it has the power to summon such a person to appear.
A committee exercises this power by adopting a motion to summon one or more individuals to appear before it at a set date, time and location. The summons, signed by the Chair of the committee, is served on each of the individuals by a bailiff. It states the name of the committee concerned, the matter for which the appearance is required, the authority under which it is ordered, and the date and location of the appearance. It also orders the witness to be available from the time of the appearance until duly released by the committee.
Under the further explanation on this, it is stated:
This power, delegated to standing committees by the House, is part of the privileges, rights and immunities which the House of Commons inherited when it was created. They were considered essential to its functions as a legislative body, so that it could investigate, debate and legislate, and are constitutional in origin.
We have heard from the House and the Speaker of the House that committees are independent. We have heard rumours that in a majority government such as we are experiencing, the PMO provides direction to the Liberal members, who will then take direction from the Prime Minister's Office and do what the Prime Minister's Office wants, and so there's a pre-determined outcome. But we are told that this is unparliamentary; that the committees are their own creatures, and we then have a level of trust that we build in working with one another.
This is the issue before us today—and this is, I believe, a sound point of order—that the chair received instruction from this committee to call two people, the minister or the parliamentary secretary, and one of those two people could be supported by officials. I respect officials, I appreciate their expertise, but we wanted the minister or the parliamentary secretary.
Those were the instructions, but this is not what we got. It was our responsibility to question the minister—and so that I don't repeat myself, it was very clear—and that was the responsibility of the chair.
What we have today is not what was directed by this committee.
I would ask you, Chair, did you, to deviate from the instructions that were given by the committee, contact either of the vice-chairs—and hopefully it was both vice-chairs who were contacted—to say, “We can't get the minister, or we can't the parliamentary secretary. Do I have your okay to continue the meeting on the topic of supplementary estimates? Can we go ahead without the minister or the parliamentary secretary?” It was clear that those were the people who were supposed to be here.
I look forward to your comment. This is not the first time this has happened, namely, that we have called for the minister to appear and the minister has refused to come to this committee. I don't know why she's refusing to come to this committee, but she has that responsibility.
My second question for you is whether we can by motion, as I've read here on page 980, summon such a person to appear. In this Parliament, does this standing committee have the power to ask a minister or a parliamentary secretary to be here, or is it a witness within the public?
It doesn't elaborate on that in this, but you have a clerk to support you in providing wise advice.
Does this committee have power or authority to call the minister or a parliamentary secretary and compel them to attend?