House of Commons Hansard #149 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Privilege

10 a.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege with regard to actions taken by officials of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration who, in my opinion, have acted in contempt of Parliament.

This morning I was told that I would not be allowed into a preview of a press conference with department officials giving details of proposed changes to legislation or regulations given by the minister. Mr. Speaker, I would like to refer you to Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , page 14 where it states that the Senate and the House of Commons have the power or right to punish actions, which, while not appearing to be breaches of any specific privilege, are offences against their authority or dignity. Such actions, though often called breaches of privilege should more properly be considered contempts.

I rise because I feel that the actions of the department of immigration have been in contempt of Parliament.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, it is the practice of this place to include opposition members when detailed briefings are given on changes to regulations. I feel that the attempt by the department to deny me access until after the media had received the information is to deny me my privilege to information.

It is time that we as members of Parliament object to departmental officials placing the needs and desires of the media ahead of members of Parliament and the House.

I would like you to consider seriously that this is a contempt of Parliament and of my privileges as a member of Parliament. The media was given information that was going to be denied to me until two hours after the fact.

Privilege

10 a.m.

Windsor West
Ontario

Liberal

Herb Gray Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Solicitor General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I understand the hon. member's feelings and I sympathize with them.

From the point of view of parliamentary privilege I would ask you to consider whether what she is saying applies to matters that are extra-parliamentary or non-parliamentary. We are not talking about a sitting of the House of Commons. We are not talking about a sitting of one of its committees. We are talking about a meeting that officials decided to have with members of the press.

If the hon. member is right, does this mean that any MP has a right to go to any meeting officials have with the press or with interest groups, et cetera? Is there no right on the part of the officials, or the minister for that matter, to say that they are entitled to have under some circumstances what amount to private meetings?

While I understand the member's desire to be informed and it is commendable in terms of what she wants to do as critic for her party, I respectfully ask the Chair to consider whether what she is complaining about is, in fact, something parliamentary, raising all the rules and considerations of parliamentary privilege.

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I wonder if the hon. member who raised the point of privilege would be kind enough to indicate where the meeting was held and who ultimately was present, who arranged the meeting and that kind of detail.

Privilege

10 a.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will. The meeting was called by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in the press building across the street on Wellington. It was a briefing of the details of the changes to the immigrant investors program. When we asked if we could attend, the department told us that we would not be allowed to attend and that I would be given the same briefing by the same departmental officials after question period, which would be more than two hours after the detailed briefing had been given to the media. The time of the briefing was nine o'clock this morning.

Privilege

10 a.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to respond to the words of the government House leader who talked about private meetings and how they relate to this matter. I cannot imagine how the government House leader would think that a briefing of the media could in any way be interpreted as a private meeting.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to Erskine May's 21st edition, page 115. It states that an offence for contempt may be treated as contempt even though there is no precedent for the offence. It is, therefore, impossible to list every act which might be considered to amount to contempt, the part punished for such an offence being of its nature discretionary.

These situations happen far too often. I refer to Commons Debates of November 20, 1996, at page 6505, when I stated in the House: That I had been advised that tomorrow''-being November 21-members of Parliament will not be given a copy of the report by the royal commission on aboriginal affairs. It will be given to the press, to the media, but not to members of Parliament.

You, Mr. Speaker, in the Chair replied that I would appreciate the word "inchoate" because it would not happen until the following day. Because I raised it as a matter of privilege, the government went out of its way to ensure that a few copies of the report of the royal commission were delivered in order that my question of privilege would be negated before the offence took place.

The meeting was at 9 a.m. it is now 10.10 a.m. Therefore I would state that the contempt has taken place and must be ruled on accordingly.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to draw your attention to a situation of some time ago where I raised a question of privilege regarding questions I have had on the Order Paper for almost two years. There have been some quotes in the newspapers-

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I do not think that is the matter we are dealing with at the moment. If the hon. member has anything further to say on the precise question that has been raised by his colleague, please deal with that.

Privilege

10 a.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I was pointing out that the issue of contempt has arisen in this area on numerous occasions. Government staff have been quoted in the media as saying that they have no intention of responding to my question on the Order Paper. These types of offences are happening far too often. Now we have another one this morning from the member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley.

I hope you take the matter seriously and report back to the House that there has been contempt.

Privilege

10 a.m.

Liberal

Herb Gray Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, in a constructive way I would like to advance a point that had not occurred to me when I spoke. The premises in question are not parliamentary buildings. They are occupied by the press gallery which I think as part of the traditional autonomy of the gallery runs the press conferences in the press theatre.

It may be that the hon. member has a complaint to the executive of the press gallery which manages the press conferences or briefings. In recent years it has become more strict about how many MPs and their staff it will allow even into the press gallery theatre to listen to open press conferences.

I am just in a constructive way adding a fact that I would have put on the table if I had thought of it when I spoke earlier. Also, do the hon. member and her colleagues intend to say that I will have a question of privilege if I am not allowed into their confidential briefings when they prepare for question period? Mr. Speaker, if that is the case I would be happy to ask you to take that into account as well.

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I am going to reserve on this matter but I will allow the hon. member to speak for a third time on the matter that has just been raised by our colleague across the floor.

Privilege

10 a.m.

Reform

Val Meredith Surrey—White Rock—South Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, it would be very tempting to do what the House leader of the government suggested.

To clarify the matter, because we felt the Department of Citizenship and Immigration did not have the right to deny us access, we did follow up by phoning the press gallery. We were told that the department did not have the right to deny me access to that building.

The point of my concern is that we had departmental officials trying to prevent members of Parliament from getting information at the same time as the media was getting information on the details of government regulations. My objection is to the treatment I was given as a member of Parliament by the staff in the office of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

Privilege

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I thank the member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley, the hon. government House leader and the member for St. Albert. The Chair will reserve on this and will get back as quickly as it can with a ruling on the matter.

The House resumed from March 19 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

The Budget
Government Orders

March 21st, 1997 / 10 a.m.

Lethbridge
Alberta

Reform

Ray Speaker Lethbridge

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to participate in the debate on the 1997 budget. I will be splitting my time with one of my colleagues, so in my 10 minutes I will talk about an issue that has aggravated western Canadians for years: the endless attempt by successive governments, Tory and Liberal, to buy Quebec's love with large amounts of federal largesse.

To understand the source of this irritation I will point out a few blatant examples from this and recent Parliaments. Second, I will talk about why successive Liberal and Tory governments have felt compelled to perpetuate this habit of favouring Quebec to the detriment of other provinces and other territories. I would like to spend my last few minutes outlining why my Reform colleagues and I feel there is a better way to address the Quebec question.

On the first point, I have watched this dance play itself out between Ottawa and Quebec for the last 30 years. Quebecers say they are unhappy with the federal system and if something is not done they will leave.

Instead of sitting down and addressing Quebec's concerns, the federal politicians in Ottawa are consistent in trying to buy its love instead of dealing with the matter. Here are a few examples.

To put it bluntly, in dollar terms Quebecers benefit disproportionately from the federation itself. For example, Quebec accounts for only 25 per cent of the Canadian population yet it receives30 per cent of all federal transfers to provinces.

The equalization program is supposed to assist the poorest provinces to provide services to their people. Quebec, the fourth richest province in Canada, receives more equalization dollars than any other provinces. It receives more than the four Atlantic provinces combined.

The separatists will dispute these facts and claim that Quebec pays more to Ottawa in taxes than it receives in transfers and program spending. This is not true. The fact is that Quebec paid22 per cent of total federal income tax, which is less than its 25 per cent share of the population and considerably less than its 30 per cent share of federal transfer dollars.

This systemic bias in favour of Quebec is not what really irritates western Canadians. Rather, what galls my constituents in Lethbridge, in southern Alberta and in other places in western Canada is the blatant political pork which successive federal administrations, Liberals and Tories, have shovelled into Quebec.

Let us take some examples. The infrastructure program was supposed to be for roads and sewers, basic infrastructure. The very first infrastructure project announced by the government was a convention centre for Quebec City. Do we need another example? How about the canoe museum in the Prime Minister's home town of Shawinigan? Then there were business subsidies. Last weekend it was $600,000 for a hotel in Shawinigan in the Prime Minister's riding. The next day it was an $8.1 million sock factory for Montreal, with the taxpayers of Canada footing the bill.

How about Bombardier? Over the past 15 years total federal subsidies to this giant corporation totalled $1.2 billion: 1.2 billion of taxpayers' dollars to a company that earned $400 million in profit last year. It had a profit. It could have gone to the market and got the money on its own without the intervention and the handout of the Liberal government in Ottawa.

The final example I would like to use is the allocation of federal funds to assist provinces with the settlement of immigrants and refugees. Under the terms of a deal signed during the Mulroney administration Quebec was guaranteed $90 million per year for that program. In turn Quebec agreed to accept 25 per cent of Canadian immigrants. Quebec has not honoured that agreement. Today Quebec only accepts 12 per cent of Canada's immigrants but continues to receive the $90 million. That is wrong. That represents roughly 30 per cent of the total funds allocated to that program.

To illustrate this geographically, British Columbia receives about $1,000 in federal funds for each immigrant. For the same immigrant in the province of Quebec the allocation is $3,327.

My constituents want to know why there is a double standard. The reason is that successive Liberal and Tory governments-and this one is as bad as the rest-have refused to address the legitimate concerns of Quebecers about the federal system. Their selfish refusal to abandon the status quo and make real change means the federal government has nothing to offer Quebecers except federal largesse. Instead of renewing the federal union to keep them in Canada the government tries to buy their loyalty instead.

It is a losing proposition. After three decades of overspending the federal government simply does not have enough money left. More important, people's loyalty or love for the nation cannot be bought with government money.

The bottom line is that Quebecers are unhappy with the way the nation works and have been for some time. Quebecers object to a domineering federal government that intrudes into provincial jurisdiction. They object to an elitist status quo that vests powers to the Prime Minister and his respective cabinet which not allow them to elect their own senators or appoint their own lieutenant governors.

It is ironic that many other Canadians object to exactly the same things, especially western Canadians. As my leader said last week in Oshawa, Quebec sent 50 BQ members to Parliament and western Canada sent 50 Reform members to Parliament because both parties articulated the contempt felt by Canadians toward the political status quo. The big difference is that Reformers offered a plan to rebuild the federation while the separatists in the House are merely offering to tear it down.

What is the new path Reformers would like to offer Canadians? It should reach the ears of some Liberals who sit rather deaf in the House. What would we like to do?

We would rebalance the federation by transferring control of jurisdictions such as resources, training, culture, housing and tourism back to the provinces where they belong. We would forbid any new encroachments on provincial jurisdiction through use of federal spending power. We would replace federal cash transfers with a tax point system of transfers to prevent future governments from slashing such transfers the way the present government has done. We would reform our democratic institutions to allow for election of senators, freer votes in the House of Commons, provincial input into judicial appointments and much more. We would give the final word on any constitutional amendment to the people of Canada in the form of a national referendum.

The bottom line is that if the next federal government continues to resist fundamental systemic changes to our federation Quebecers will more than likely choose to leave. The concern in western Canada will continue.

If, however, the next government commits itself to real change and offers all Canadians including Quebecers a new deal then the Canadian federation would finally be placed on the foundation it needs to lead us in a confident and united way into the 21st century.

As we move into the possibility of a spring election it is incumbent upon the current members of Parliament to consider that it is easy to play political games and to seek re-election for the sake of having power in the country. However, if parliamentarians and those going into the next election look at their responsibilities and their goals and are unable to say they have a new plan to build a Canada for all Canadians rather than just for a political party, we are doing a major disservice to our history. That will be the challenge of the 1997 election.

Can the Liberal Party and the Tory Party step over the bridge and away from their continuous goal for years of seeking power and of handing out federal government largesse to Quebec and maybe to other provinces just to get votes which allow them to stay in power? Can they cross over that bridge and change their ways and take responsibility for building a better nation? It is time they tried.

The Budget
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Reform

John Cummins Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague suggested, Ottawa seems consumed with appeasing Quebec. Federal funds flow into that province without reason. At the same time provincial policies drive money out of that province.

This enrages many people in the province of British Columbia and weakens the attachment of many of them to Canada. Does the favouritism shown to Quebec strengthen the national fabric of Canada?

The Budget
Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

Lethbridge
Alberta

Reform

Ray Speaker Lethbridge

Mr. Speaker, favouritism has been going on for years. Federal largesse has been handed out in an unplanned way to Quebec, the maritimes, Ontario and even to the west in an attempt to buy votes. That is one of the observations I made with respect to the current Liberal government.

When the Liberals were elected in 1993 it was over a year before we saw a budget plan. We heard about studies. We were told they were thinking about things. They were delaying. They were going to hear witnesses. They were going to do all kinds of things but they were not going to implement a plan.

What happened in the 1994-95 budget? The Minister of Finance was not ready with a plan. We lost a year in which we could have reduced the deficit significantly. We could have dealt with it when Canadians were in favour of that type of action. We had to wait until the budget of 1995-96 for the Liberals to do something.

As long as the government has as its priority handing out money to Quebec to get political support and to maintain political power, Canadians will be discontent whether they live in B.C., Alberta or the maritimes. Somewhere along the line that approach to government must stop.