House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pension.

Topics

Goods And Services Tax
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to answer this question, especially coming from the chairperson of the economic policy committee of our caucus.

There is no doubt that Ontario as a major exporter and as a major manufacturer would benefit enormously from sales tax harmonization. It means increased competitiveness. It means lower costs. It means less administration for both business and for government.

For the people of Ontario it would mean lower prices, as the embedded retail sales taxes within prices under the Ontario system at the present time would disappear. The fact is that sales tax harmonization would benefit Canada, and Ontario, the heartland of Confederation, would benefit enormously.

Goods And Services Tax
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

NDP

Len Taylor The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, the finance minister said yesterday that the harmonization of the sales tax programs would be good for business. The provinces have already said that the harmonization plans will cost them revenues because today's corporations pay provincial sales tax but under the new harmonized system they will not.

I assume the Minister of Finance has reviewed this carefully. Can he tell the House and the people of Canada how much of the tax burden is being transferred from the corporations to the ordinary taxpaying consumer?

Goods And Services Tax
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard
Québec

Liberal

Paul Martin Minister of Finance

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that over a four year period, and indeed that is the basis of the transition agreement with Atlantic Canada, the increased economic activity that would be generated, the number of jobs that would be generated as a result of getting away from the tremendous burden that retail sales tax places upon the provinces, would benefit consumers.

Also, the fact is that the rate will be lower in Atlantic Canada. It would be lower in other parts of Canada. Consumer prices will be lower. This is a win-win situation for business, for employers and for consumers.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

April 24th, 1996 / 3 p.m.

The Speaker

I wish to draw the attention of members to the presence in our gallery of His Excellency Dioncounda Traore, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mali.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Naming Of Member
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleagues, during the course of question period today, we had very strong exchanges on both sides which for the most part is to be expected in a question period. However there are circumstances where the wording of questions, the words that were used, are not acceptable to the House.

It is not so much any more a question of what was said or what was not said. In this sense at least, the fact is your Speaker has found some of the language which was used in question period to be unparliamentary.

I address myself of course directly to the member for Fraser Valley West. My dear colleague, I well understand in the course of heated debate and exchanges that sometimes words are used which upon reflection, if we had a chance, we would probably withdraw.

I asked you, my colleague, directly during the question period and I put off until now hoping that we could clarify this. The words you used in my view, and I speak with the full authority this House has given me, were the words "bold faced lie". I believe those are the words that were precisely used. I asked the hon. member for Fraser Valley West if he would withdraw. At the time the hon. member declined from withdrawing and I said that I would put the matter over until after question period.

I hope the member has reflected a bit on the words that were used. I would once again ask the hon. member for Fraser Valley West to withdraw those words. I put it to you squarely my dear colleague. Will you withdraw the words you used during question period?

Naming Of Member
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Fraser Valley West, BC

Mr. Speaker, I mean no disrespect to the Chair. May I supplant them with the words "deliberately misled"?

Naming Of Member
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Naming Of Member
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member puts a question to the Chair and it deserves an answer. The answer is quite simple my dear colleague. I have asked you not to rephrase the question. I have asked you to please withdraw those words. That is what I would ask you to do now.

Naming Of Member
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Fraser Valley West, BC

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I decline to do so.

Naming Of Member
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Colleagues, as your Speaker, I want you to know that I take no pleasure, none whatsoever, in naming anyone in our midst.

My dear colleague from Fraser Valley West, Mr. White, I have to name you for disregarding the authority of the Chair. Pursuant to the order granted to me by Standing Order 11, I order you to withdraw from the House for the remainder of this day's sitting. I would ask that you do so now.

[Editor's Note: And Mr. White (Fraser Valley West) having withdrawn:]

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, this is my first opportunity to rise on a question of privilege regarding a grave matter which was brought to my attention on Tuesday, April 23, 1996.

Events have led me to believe there has been a deliberate attempt by the office of the government House leader to deny me an answer to my questions on the Order Paper. I refer to questions Nos. 25 and 26. Comments made by an official from the office of the government House leader were quoted in the Ottawa Sun on April 22: ``He is outrageously seeking information and a lot of it. The government is not going to divert personnel to answer the questions''.

Mr. Speaker, I believe this constitutes a contempt of Parliament. I refer you to Beauchesne's sixth edition, citation 97:

While it is correct to say that the government is not required by our rules to answer written or oral questions, it would be bold to suggest that no circumstances could ever exist for a prima facie question of privilege to be made where there was a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member-

Questions Nos. 25 and 26 on the Order Paper to which I refer were first submitted as a single question on December 1, 1994 and have been on the Order Paper ever since. While the government failed to answer within the prescribed 45 day period, I was patient.

On June 21, 1995 I raised a point of order asking that the question be answered. The parliamentary secretary to the House leader replied that he was sorry it had taken so long and that the government had been assiduous in attending to its duties. He alluded to the fact that I could expect a response soon thereafter.

I waited until October 26, 1995, four months later, to raise a second point of order and again ask the parliamentary secretary when I could expect an answer. The parliamentary secretary replied that he would get me an answer and that it was nearing completion, but that I should be patient.

When Parliament resumed, I resubmitted the question as it is part of my parliamentary duties. However it would now seem that the government has no intention, and never had any intention, of answering the question. This obstruction of my parliamentary duties was confirmed in a Toronto Sun article published Sunday, April 21, 1996.

Erskine May's 21st edition clearly describes contempt as follows: "Any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as contempt even though there is no precedent for the offence".

I requested the information in accordance with Standing Order 39(1) which states:

Questions may be placed on the Order Paper seeking information from ministers of the crown relating to public affairs; and from other members, relating to any bill, motion or other public matter connected with the business of the House, in which such members may be concerned;

This request of mine was submitted under the rules of the House and is considered a proceeding of Parliament for the purpose of privilege.

Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , page 70, defines a proceeding of Parliament as follows: ``Since two of Parliament's constituent elements, the House of Commons and the Senate, were established for the enactment of laws, those events necessarily incidental to the enactment of laws are part of the proceedings in Parliament. However Parliament has also always been a forum to receive petitions, and the crown's satisfying the grievances of members before granting supply eventually led to straightforward requests for information''.

Therefore the events necessarily incidental to petitions, questions and notices of motions in Parliament in the 17th century and today are all events which are part of the proceedings in Parliament.

Moreover, a report of the Select Committee on the Official Secrets Act in 1939 stated that a proceeding in Parliament covers both the asking of a question and the giving written notice of such a question.

As an opposition member it is my duty to scrutinize the government and to ensure that it is spending the taxpayers' money wisely. The Order Paper is one method of seeking information from the government. The Order Paper questions are allowed under the rules of this House and as I have pointed out are a part of the proceedings of Parliament.

I am an elected member of this House performing my duties in accordance with the rules established by this House, and an official in the office of the government House leader is attempting to impede directly or indirectly in a proceeding in Parliament.

There was a case in 1973 when the member for Northumberland-Durham received a letter from the solicitor general stating that the RCMP did not make it a practice of opening mail. Subsequent questions in the House by that same member on November 9, 1977 to the then solicitor general regarding mail openings by the RCMP provided a sufficient and direct relationship with the proceedings in Parliament for the purpose of privilege. Later, remarks before a royal commission were made by the former commissioner of the RCMP stating that the practice was very often that ministers' letters were not exactly drafted on precise statements of fact. The sum of this evidence permitted the Speaker in 1978 to find a prima facie case of contempt where the RCMP were alleged to have deliberately misled a minister of the crown and the member for Northumberland-Durham, resulting in an attempt to obstruct the House by offering misleading information.

Whereas the case of the member for Northumberland-Durham dealt with a matter of an official deliberately misleading a member, what I bring to your attention is a case where an official in the minister's office is deliberately trying to interfere with me as a member of Parliament by deliberately not being forthright with resources, causing information to be withheld.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, in the case of the citation from Beauchesne, the Speaker once ruled that there could be a question of privilege where there is a deliberate attempt to deny answers to an hon. member.

I take issue with the comments of the official in the media in regard to my request. That official is quoted as saying that a request for information from a parliamentarian is outrageous. Such arrogance and insolence by an official in the face of Parliament is contemptuous. Is this how ministers' staff view requests for information from opposition members? Here we have a staff person making judgments on a request from Parliament, virtually thumbing his nose at this House.

Mr. Speaker, I refer you to citation 59 of Beauchesne's sixth edition, which reads:

Traditionally, articles in the press reflecting badly on the character of the House have been treated as contempts. Two members of the staff of the House have been dismissed for writing such articles, and in 1873 the House judged an article written by a Member to be a "scandalous, false and malicious libel upon the honour, integrity and character of this House, and of certain Members thereof, and a high contempt of the privileges and constitutional authority of this House."

Surely an official referring to a request from Parliament as "outrageous" reflects on the dignity of Parliament and of parliamentarians.

In conclusion, I want to address the issue of ministerial responsibility, which you may be tempted to factor into your decision. I draw to your attention once again the Speaker's ruling of November 9, 1978, which appears at page 966 of Hansard , where the Speaker said:

I do not think that there is procedural significance to the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, it appears that we are now embarking on a different course in having the

House, through a question of privilege, reach around the minister and examine directly the conduct of an official-it seems to me [it] is not [a] procedural matter.

The Speaker did not consider that there was a prima facie question of privilege in 1979. There is no procedural significance in this case either, Mr. Speaker, and I ask that you consider my points accordingly.

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you review this matter. Should you find that there is a prima facie question of privilege, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Saint-Léonard
Québec

Liberal

Alfonso Gagliano Minister of Labour and Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the government has been trying very hard to answer the questions on the Order Paper of the member. The questions are on the record but I would like to remind the member of the nature of those questions.

In question No. 25, the member is asking:

For each department, agency and Crown Corporation, how many employees, including parliamentary agents, Governor-in-Council appointees, armed forces personnel and RCMP personnel receive a living allowance for a second residence and/or a transportation allowance from their residence to their place of work where the distance exceeds 40km?

Question No. 26 asks:

What is the rank, position or title of each recipient of second residence allowance and/or transportation allowance from residence to place of work and, what is the cost for individual recipients and method of taxation of these benefits?

Ever since the hon. member asked those two questions, the government has tried to answer in the best way it can. However, those two questions require much work and personnel have to be taken away from their regular duties in order to answer them. We have tried. As a matter of fact, the hon. member mentioned it himself when asked about the questions in October and the then parliamentary secretary to the House leader said that the government was working on them, to be patient and he would get the answers.

The House prorogued. Now the hon. member has asked the questions again. I repeat that, yes, if he is patient he will get his answers. They are very complex answers.

However, there is no question of privilege. The government wants to answer every question.

However, I understand that the nature of the questions requires a lot of work. If the member wants a good answer he should allow the government to provide it in due course.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add briefly to the points raised by the deputy House leader for the government.

First, the hon. member in his speech to the House reflected on the parallel which he drew between his case and that of the hon. member for Northumberland-Durham some time ago. He also alleged that the wilfully giving of false information, which was the issue at the time, is synonymous with what is occurring today and that there is a deliberate attempt to deny information to him. He also stated that the request had been cited as "outrageous". He drew on citation 59 of Beauchesne.

First, written questions are similar in the standing orders to oral questions in the House of Commons. They are under the same section of the standing orders. Standing Order 39 refers to questions as questions from members. In other words, Mr. Speaker, these are private members' questions and they are to be treated as such. A request by a private member does not constitute an order of the House.

Second, I do not know if the evaluation made by someone that the question was so vast in scope that it was outrageous, is fair or not. The fact that the work required to answer the question may be very large may be one thing but that in no way suggests that the question should not be put. However, it does suggest that a lot of work may be required in order to put the answer together.

The deputy House leader has indicated the size of this project. When we are talking about a couple of hundred thousand civil servants, measuring all of the things that the member has asked for is indeed a very significant task and perhaps the word outrageous was the appropriate word.

However, there is not a deliberate attempt to deny or wilfully give false information. The case brought by the hon. member in relation to citation 59 of Beauchesne reflects those things that have to do with "reflecting badly on the character of the House".

If I understand it correctly, no one said that such a request made by the House itself would have been outrageous nor was any comment made disparaging it. In the case of the issue in question, I believe there was a parallel some years ago, known as the Doyle case, which was judged as being a contempt and insult to the House as an institution.

Nothing is parallel in the discussion today. We have a private member's request which is perhaps a legitimate request. Nevertheless, it is one that is so wide in scope that it will cost not only tens of thousands of dollars to accumulate the answer. However, I am sure that when the information is available it will be responded to. It is not a wilful attempt to deceive the House in any way but a request that is so vast in scope that it will be difficult for anyone to achieve the desired result, notwithstanding the best efforts of everyone in government.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Colleagues, with regard to the question of privilege, it would seem to me, at least at first glance, that neither privilege nor contempt are in question here.

However, after having listened to the dissertation of the hon. member for St. Albert and after hearing the contributions made by the secretary of state and the government whip, I would like to review all of the papers. If it is necessary I will return to the House with a decision on this matter.

I am sure that all hon. members will appreciate that sometimes the scope of a question is such that it could take a little bit longer to answer. On the other hand, an attempt should be made by the government to answer these questions as quickly as possible.

I will take hon. members' advice and I will study it. If necessary, I will get back to the House and give a definitive answer on the question of privilege.