House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

February 26th, 1998 / 3:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Diane St-Jacques Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning at approximately 6.45 I was using the exercise bicycle in the members' gymnasium when the member for Eglinton—Lawrence passed by me and said “Is not this a men's gym?” I was the only woman present in the gym at that time.

The hon. member for Kings—Hants was also there, and will confirm what I am telling the House.

Some people may think this is funny, but I certainly did not see the joke. I was offended.

This is conduct aimed at intimidating other people, and it has no place in the Parliament of Canada. The parliamentary precincts, gym included, are for all members, and whether male or female, they must feel comfortable there.

The parliamentary gymnasium is not only for men. That type of conduct from an MP is both annoying and intimidating, as well as being offensive toward all hon. members of this House.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Hon. members, I do not know that this is a question of privilege. However it is a vexatious matter for all members.

The hon. member for Eglinton—Lawrence is here in the House. He has been mentioned. Because his name has been mentioned, perhaps he could clarify the situation, which he will.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, I regret anything I might have said that might have caused such vexation. Obviously anything I did say would have been in jest. If it offended the member, I withdraw it and I apologize.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

We will let the matter rest there. I will go to next question of privilege.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege with regard to a published article reported today in the Toronto Star that Yves Landry has already been named as the head of the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation.

Mr. Landry reportedly admits to being head of the foundation and is quoted as saying “I am only one member of the board and my job is to be a facilitator”.

There is no legislation before the House setting up this foundation. Nor has the budget announcement allocating $2.5 billion in revenue to the foundation been adopted.

My question of privilege will argue that the minister responsible, his department and Mr. Landry are in contempt of parliament since they have brought the authority and dignity of the House and the Speaker into question. Members of Parliament are elected stewards of the public purse.

The government and its departments are making a habit of mocking the parliamentary system in this manner. This was raised earlier this month in the House as a question of privilege by the member for Prince George—Peace River regarding the Canadian Wheat Board.

During that question of privilege, the member for Langley—Abbotsford summed up the history of similar complaints on which I will comment briefly because it demonstrates the need for the House to finally take some action.

The member for Langley—Abbotsford pointed out that the Speaker was asked to rule on a similar complaint on March 9, 1990 regarding a pamphlet put out by the government concerning the GST.

Again on March 25, 1991 another complaint was launched on a similar issue. The member pointed out that a progressively stronger case was made on October 28, 1997 before you, Mr. Speaker, by the member for Fraser Valley.

In that instance the Department of Finance went much further and actually started to take action before the bill authorizing the department to act was passed by the House. The member argued that these actions undercut the authority of parliament.

This led to the Speaker's ruling which contained a strong statement and a strong warning.

Mr. Speaker said on November 6, 1997: “The Chair acknowledges that this matter is a matter of potential importance since it touches the role of members as legislators, a role which should not be trivialized. It is from this perspective that”—

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

My colleagues, I appeal to you. If you want to have private conversations, I invite you to go to the lobby. I would like to hear this point of privilege and there are a number of points of order after that which I also want to hear.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Diane Ablonczy Calgary—Nose Hill, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will continue to quote what you said on November 6, 1997: “The dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices”.

The member also pointed out that an earlier warning of the Speaker had been ignored, since in the ruling of November 6, 1997 Mr. Speaker additionally stated: “I trust that today's decision at this early stage of the 36th Parliament will not be forgotten by the minister and his officials and that the department and agencies will be guided by it”.

Page 250 of the second edition of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada states: “There are actions that, while not directly in a physical way obstructing the House of Commons or the members, nevertheless obstruct the House in the performance of its functions by diminishing the respect due it”.

Here we have a situation which mocks Parliament once again and diminishes the respect due it. How relevant can it be when arrangements to spend massive amounts of public money proceed without so much as a “by your leave” to the elected representatives of the people who are paying for it?

I would argue this time it goes much further than the previous questions of privilege. This time there is not a single line of legislation before this House. In the case of the CPP board there was at least legislation before the House.

How many times must we put up with this sort of mockery of our parliamentary system and disrespect for the Speaker before we take action?

As the Speaker said on November 6, the dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices.

I submit that it has been repeated often enough. It is also becoming more severe, since in this case we do not even have legislation before the House.

At page 225 of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada contempt is described as “an offence against the authority or dignity of the House”.

There appears to be an alarming trend toward regarding the parliamentary process as a mere formality that can be lightly cast aside, and the official opposition in this House notices a repeated disregard for the proper role of the House being established by this government.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, we would ask that you bear in mind that Canada's parliamentary system of government, combined with its tight system of party discipline, confers enormous executive power on the Prime Minister. With a compliant backbench it is a very simple thing for the Prime Minister and his ministers to disregard this House and subordinate it to his will.

For that reason the Speaker bears a special place and responsibility in this House to protect the parties with less than majority numbers. In so doing, he ultimately protects the privileges of all, government and opposition members alike.

The minister responsible, his department and Mr. Landry have brought the authority and dignity of this House and the Speaker into question. This is not an isolated case and, in this respect, must not go unchallenged. Accordingly, I ask that you rule this matter to be a prima facie question of privilege, at which time I will be prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, with respect, let me first indicate to the House that we had initially agreed informally that we would try to decrease questions of privilege today to allow the third party subamendment to be debated for the full day. Now we are eating up that time, contrary to what had been understood.

The second thing I want to bring to the attention of the House is the fact that the allegation made by the member is incorrect. I have in hand the press release from the Prime Minister which I am fully prepared to table regarding the invitation sent to Mr. Landry, the chairman and CEO of Chrysler, and I will read from it: “The Prime Minister is pleased to announce that Mr. Yves Landry, chairman and CEO of Chrysler Corporation, has accepted his invitation to chair the Canada millennium scholarship foundation”.

The document goes on to describe the programs the millennium scholarship foundation will manage, not the programs that are in existence now. Nor does it suggest that this program is already in place.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Colleagues, I would like hear what the government House leader has to say.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me continue briefly describing the document which I am prepared to table, a document issued by the Prime Minister. Nowhere does it suggest that any funds pursuant to the ways and means motion tabled at 4.30 on February 24 will be disbursed prior to any legislation being adopted.

There is nothing that prevents the Prime Minister from inviting anyone to perform a function on behalf of the government. What is at stake here is whether there is intention to disburse funds contrary to or in the absence of specific legislative measures that were permitted. Nothing to that effect exists here.

Finally, need I mention to the House citations 980, 981 and 982 of Beauchesne regarding ways and means motions. A ways and means motion was of course duly tabled in this House at 4.30 on Tuesday, the 24th day of February. This resolution is there to give immediate effect to the possible collection of any taxes that would be necessary.

The document itself has titled in bold “embargo until 1630” the exact time the ways and means motion was tabled.

Finally, in any case there is no intention to give effect to that until such time as the legislation is passed anyway, so all of this would be academic even if it were the intention of the government to disburse funds right away, which it is not.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, what we heard a moment ago was really just an excuse and not a legitimate reason for this point of privilege.

I do not want to challenge any rulings by the Chair in the past, but I am concerned that if we let this one go unchallenged we will be setting a precedent for future Speakers, which will make it more and more difficult for members of this House to insist on their privileges.

It has been brought up twice now in this early Parliament and two other times during Mr. Speaker's tenure in the last Parliament. All these complaints were legitimate complaints.

With respect to whether these matters constitute a prima facie contempt of Parliament, I point out that the last complaint brought to your attention by the member for Fraser Valley was pretty close to the money.

You even recognized this by your comments, Mr. Speaker. You said that if this sort of thing continues it would make a mockery of Parliament. I think this has gone on often enough and has gone way beyond mocking Parliament.

Here we are with a case more severe than all the others put together and it takes place for the second time after your warning, Mr. Speaker, of November 6, 1997. The authority to appoint Mr. Landry was based on a statement by a minister of the crown. Based on that statement which, I might add, has not been adopted by this House, the head of the foundation has assumed the position and has set the style for governing such an institution as reflected in his comments to the Toronto Star .

The article boldly states: “The foundation will award scholarships to low and middle income students, depending on financial needs, merit and mobility”.

There is even a quote from the new head of the foundation: “I am not looking at this with an agenda”.

I hate to break the news to Mr. Landry, but he does not need an agenda until he gets a foundation. He will not get a foundation until this House grants one. I do not blame him for forgetting about Parliament because this government and its bureaucrats keep forgetting about Parliament from time to time. If this keeps up, we might as well all go down to Mexico and join Senator Thompson because our roles will become as irrelevant as the Senate's.

I urge Mr. Speaker to review your own words on these matters. We cannot just stand up in this place and bluff any more. We have the authority to act and we should not be afraid to use that authority. All we ask, Mr. Speaker, is that you allow this House to decide this matter. Surely you must find this as offensive as we do.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Windsor West
Ontario

Liberal

Herb Gray Deputy Prime Minister

Mr. Speaker, I want to reiterate the important point made by my colleague, the government House leader. This press release does not speak of something being in place now. It talks of the future. It talks about how the millennium scholarship foundation “will manage the initial $2.5 billion Government of Canada endowment”, et cetera.

With respect to the role of Mr. Landry, on page 2 it states that Mr. Landry will chair the foundation's board of directors. It is clear that we are talking about something that has yet to happen. It is clear we are talking about something in the future. The whole context of this is that the announcement is subject to the will of Parliament.

Finally, I would like to put another point on the record. Mr. Landry has been accused of a breach of the privileges of this House. However, the Reform members who made the accusation have not brought forward any proof whatsoever that Mr. Landry knowingly breached the privileges of this House if such breaches took place.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

Please, colleagues, this is the fourth intervention I have made in this short period of time. We owe it to ourselves to listen to the points that we are making. Surely privilege affects the House of Commons and affects all hon. members. I would plead with you to please hear out the interveners in this point of privilege. I would like to hear them and I am sure you would too.