House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was heritage.

Topics

Privilege

October 27th, 1994 / 10 a.m.

Laval West
Québec

Liberal

Michel Dupuy Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, last March I was approached at my constituency office by a constituent whom I had not met before and whom I have not met since, to write a letter drawing the attention of the CRTC to his application for a radio licence. I explained to this constituent that as minister responsible I could not interfere with the workings of the CRTC, but I agreed as his member of Parliament to do my best to ensure that he was treated fairly.

On March 15, I wrote to the chairman of the CRTC in my capacity as an MP for this constituent asking the commission to give the application a fair hearing. This was the letter of an MP seeking to ensure that a constituent received due process.

I wish to table the letter. The letter was not meant in any way to be an endorsement of the licence application, nor was it intended to exert pressure on the CRTC. I also understand that on March 30 the CRTC acknowledged my letter, categorizing it as a letter in support of the licence applicant. That acknowledgement letter was never brought to my attention. If it had been, I would have immediately rectified the matter.

As soon as I did learn that one of the interested parties wrote to me in September regarding my "alleged support" for the licence application, I took immediate corrective action. I wrote to the interested party, clarifying my earlier letter and clearing up any misunderstanding.

In this letter dated September 30, I wrote:

My letter of March 15, 1994 to the CRTC simply asked that due consideration be given to the application. It is not intended to convey support for or opposition to the application. The CRTC is the body mandated by law to make independent decisions on all such applications. It is therefore for the CRTC to weigh the merits of the arguments raised by the applicants and the interveners.

I wish to table the letter. Members will note that I took these actions before the matter became public. I did my best to clear up and correct the situation not because of public or media pressure which did not exist at the time but because it was the right thing to do.

Being an MP and a minister is not always easy. Among other things it is a learning experience. In hindsight it was imprudent to send that original letter to the CRTC. I regret any misunderstanding it may have caused.

I assure the House that I have never for a moment had any hesitation or misunderstanding about my role or responsibilities as a minister. As I said in the House on October 3 in answer to a question from the member for Rimouski-Témiscouata, the minister of heritage cannot dictate to an independent body like the CRTC, which is also a regulating agency. It would be quite inappropriate for the Minister of Canadian Heritage to tell it what to do.

I have held to that position every moment on this job and the House has my commitment that I will continue to do so.

Privilege

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Of course the statement made to the House is a clarification. The hon. minister has not asked me to rule on a specific question of privilege at this time, and so the Chair would accept the statement as given. At least at this point there does not seem to be any reason for me to rule on a question of privilege.

Points Of Order

10:05 a.m.

Reform

Elwin Hermanson Kindersley—Lloydminster, SK

Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House there has been a standing agreement between the government and the opposition parties that ministers' statements would be given to opposition parties for their critics' perusal sufficiently ahead of time so they could prepare to respond to ministers' statements.

The agreement was that if a minister's statement were made in the morning, that statement would be given to opposition parties

the night before. This has not happened in this instance. We have had less than one hour's notice. We protest greatly. We are concerned about the minister's mismanagement of this situation and we would ask him to defer the reading of the statement until we have had proper time to review the statement so we can effectively perform our role in opposition.

Points Of Order

10:05 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I will see if I can help the matter. I will come back to the hon. secretary of state if he should so choose. From consultation I understand this is an informal agreement between the parties. Certainly the Chair is prepared to recognize the minister, as is appropriate, to make a statement.

Points Of Order

10:05 a.m.

Saint-Léonard
Québec

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Secretary of State (Parliamentary Affairs) and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, for the record, we have an agreement between parties that we will give enough advance notice with documents for ministerial statements. This has been respected in the past. I want to assure my colleague that it will continue to be respected.

Sometimes situations arise which we have to deal with immediately. This is the case, as was already explained to the hon. member previous to the opening of the House. We understand his concerns and we give the assurance that we will continue to respect the agreement we have.

This is an exceptional circumstance as the minister will explain to the House. There are some parts already public. We believe it is important to do this as soon as possible since it seems there was no agreement before the House opened that we could have done it during question period. We are proceeding. We will have the statement now.

Points Of Order

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Gaston Leroux Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, since the beginning of the 35th Parliament, it was understood by the party in power and the Official Opposition that the latter would receive prior notice of a minister's statement. We all know that our role in this House is to do our job as well as we can, in the best interest of the citizens of this country. Today, however, this understanding has been compromised by the fact that a ministerial statement will be made without prior notice to the opposition. We feel that this makes it difficult for us to play our role.

Points Of Order

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I have heard comments from both parties, but I will now proceed with Statements by Ministers.

I therefore recognize the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Cape Breton—East Richmond
Nova Scotia

Liberal

David Dingwall Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, at the outset let me say to my colleagues opposite that I apologize for any inconvenience which may have been caused to them as a result of the statement not getting there earlier as opposed to the late time they received it.

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Jim Silye Calgary Centre, AB

You knew about it for months and you cannot co-operate.

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

David Dingwall Cape Breton—East Richmond, NS

If the hon. member finds the subject matter so difficult to comprehend I will read very slowly so that he can understand each and every word. I am prepared to be fully co-operative with the opposition in every way. I was extending an apology for the inconvenience which we caused to the opposition.

However I believe the minister of state and the whip for our party informed the opposition of the miscue which took place. I felt compelled that we would come here this morning to share this information and have members of the opposition add their comments to the decisions which have been arrived at.

I want to take this opportunity to advise members of the House and Canadians whom we represent of the latest initiative related to the long range plan for the preservation and rehabilitation of our most important national symbol, the Parliament Buildings.

Over the last number of years funding for renovations to Parliament Hill has been severely restricted. The Auditor General in his 1992 report noted that the government has neglected to undertake most of the necessary repairs and renovations to the parliamentary precinct identified in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Parliament Hill requires urgent attention. The simple fact is that we can no longer afford to neglect it. Over the next 12 to 15 years, and I wish to underline this point, the buildings and grounds will require considerable attention. During that period we will in turn address the requirements of all buildings on the Hill to guarantee that in the future they remain safe for Canadians and healthy for the occupants.

We want to ensure that the buildings and grounds on Parliament Hill are energy-efficient, are relatively cheap to operate, meet environmental standards and are accessible for all Canadians. We must protect and preserve our national heritage.

The long range plan developed by the Department of Public Works and Government Services addresses in a logical sequence the need for that preservation. As recent visitors to Parliament Hill will have noticed, we are currently undertaking critical repairs to restore the Peace Tower and to stabilize the outside-

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Ken Epp Elk Island, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to call for quorum.

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I will ask the clerk to count the members present.

And the count having been taken:

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I see a quorum. I will ask the hon. minister to continue.

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

David Dingwall Cape Breton—East Richmond, NS

Mr. Speaker, the long range plan developed by the Department of Public Works and Government Services addresses in a logical sequence the need for preservation.

As recent visitors to Parliament Hill will have noticed, we are currently undertaking repairs to restore the Peace Tower and to stabilize the outside masonry of the Centre Block.

We are also installing new water mains that will make it easier to fight fires on the Hill, and of course the government is taking the requisite steps to make the Parliament Buildings conform to the National Building Code.

The first scheduled major rehabilitation project on an occupied building is the West Block.

Following the next dissolution of Parliament we will close down the West Block for a few years and use the Justice Building as alternative office space. Complete repairs to the West Block require the removal of asbestos and we cannot put the health of MPs and staff at risk by keeping the building open during the repairs.

New mechanical and electrical systems must be installed. New fire detection, alarm and sprinkler systems must be in place. New waterproofing, windows, new energy saving devices are required. Sewage facilities must be upgraded. Walls, ceilings and roofs require attention. Elevators, doors and washrooms must be modernized to accommodate the disabled.

When the West Block is reopened, renovation of the Centre Block will begin early in the next century, with MPs and staff from the Centre Block moving to the West Block.

A long range plan is absolutely vital if we are to safeguard the Parliament Buildings. The cost over a 12 to 15 year period is approximately $265 million. Of course we cannot afford to spend all that money at once nor can we afford to shut down the essential operations of Parliament. That is why the plan is over a 12 to 15 year period.

Given the current climate, we are not talking about a Cadillac renovation here. I want to be very clear on this. Consistent with our Chevrolet approach we have prioritized and addressed only the most critical of the health and safety issues that affect the parliamentary precinct. If not, that figure would have been in excess of $450 million.

During the course of renovations we will be working with the House of Commons, the Library of Parliament and the Senate to ensure continued access to visitors to Parliament Hill.

All contracts will be awarded through the open bidding system. Since Parliament Hill is the focal point of Canadian democracy, only Canadian businesses and Canadian workers will be eligible to do the rehabilitation work.

This is not about fancy new furnishings or lavish new offices. It is strictly about protecting our history and guaranteeing the safety, health, environment and accessibility of the Parliament Buildings. Canadians expect the Parliament Buildings to be preserved. They are willing to pay for the renovations if they are done in a prudent, fiscally responsible and open manner, and that is what is being accomplished.

As the minister responsible for public works and government services, I would be happy to report to the standing committee on government operations on the progress that has been made, answer questions members or other individuals might have concerning those expenditures to assure all members that the expenditures are prudent, fiscally responsible and have been carried out in a very open fashion.

On a continuous basis all attempts to minimize to the fullest extent possible potential disruptions resulting from noise, dust or interruption of services are being made.

I sincerely want to thank all members on both sides of the House for their understanding and patience during these major renovations.

May I add my thanks to the Speaker and to all parties in the House of Commons for their advice. As members opposite will know and appreciate, the Board of Internal Economy, which is represented by three political parties, proved to be most helpful on this relocation project.

I am very pleased we have the consent of all the major parties to proceed with this vital initiative which protects the health and

safety of visitors and occupants of the parliamentary buildings, Canada's most important national heritage site.

Let me repeat what I said at the beginning. I apologize to my colleagues if these deliberations and the statement has caused them inconvenience, however they are fully aware that information was provided to government employees and not to members, so I thought it only appropriate that I come to the House at the soonest possible time to share this information with all members of Parliament.

As members opposite know, the subject matter has been discussed at the Board of Internal Economy where all parties have been represented and have had an opportunity to participate. I believe that goes back, if memory serves me correctly, to some time in May of last year.

In conclusion, I regret the inconvenience we may have caused colleagues opposite but I want to indicate to them that I believe this is in the best interest of Canada's national heritage site, the parliamentary precinct.

Parliament Hill
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Bloc

Gaston Leroux Richmond—Wolfe, QC

Mr. Speaker, as my party's critic for parliamentary affairs, instead of responding to the substance of this ministerial statement, I must inform the minister that although there were discussions between the parties on the Board of Internal Economy, that is no excuse for not advising us of the content so that we can do our job.

I repeat that the basic objective of the Official Opposition in this system is to do a good job by monitoring the government and government operations and by defending the interests of our fellow citizens.

Since the beginning of this 35th Parliament, as far as parliamentary affairs are concerned, it was tacitly understood that the opposition would get the information a few hours before ministers made their statements. The purpose of this understanding was to help us do our job as well and as democratically as possible. In this particular case, we seem to be right in the parliamentary stone age.

The opposition's role is to monitor the government's administration. What disturbs us in this particular case, which concerns the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, is that we lack the detailed information we need to be able to respond, and I must say it is particularly difficult for members to obtain information from this department. This is a closed department, a department that distributes contracts and also a department where members find it extremely difficult to get information. For instance, when low-cost housing projects are officially opened in Quebec, the department, according to its own particular protocol, invites all the provincial members, mayors, and so forth, except the members of the Official Opposition. This is the kind of department and the kind of minister we find disturbing.

This morning, we cannot do our job because of the kind of behaviour that is typical of a department that is so secretive that it tables documents at the last minute.

That is why we cannot respond on the substance of this statement and, in the name of democracy, we regret that we cannot. And again, we may remind everyone, and especially the minister's colleagues, that this is the most difficult department from which to get information.