House of Commons Hansard #89 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was standing.

Topics

Cida
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. minister responsible for CIDA.

Cida
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Sudbury
Ontario

Liberal

Diane Marleau Minister for International Cooperation and Minister responsible for Francophonie

Mr. Speaker, the basic solution to poverty in the developing world is no different from what it is in Canada. The need is to create jobs through private investment.

Indeed the hon. member, on February 6 in the House, said “Private investment has proven itself to be the real answer to poverty, not aid”. Two months later he is criticizing a program that encourages private investment in the developing world. Why has he changed his tune?

Coast Guard
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Rocheleau Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

The radio communication centre of the Canadian Coast Guard in the Magdalen Islands is closing down today. Yet, stakeholders from everywhere urged the minister to reconsider this irresponsible decision. The last ones to do so are the 34 volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, who handed in their resignation to protest that closure.

Considering the closure of the station and the absence of volunteer auxiliary members, how does the minister intend to ensure the safety of the 430 fishing boats and the 100 or so pleasure craft that navigate around the islands?

Coast Guard
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I assure the hon. member that the coast guard search and rescue vessel will remain at Cap-aux-Meules. We will have the capacity to handle search and rescue incidents from that station and of course others.

As he correctly indicated, some members of the volunteers, the auxiliary, have resigned. I regret that, but we will rebuild that force to make sure it too remains the effective force for search and rescue that it has been over the years.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

April 21st, 1998 / 3 p.m.

The Speaker

I draw the attention of hon. members to the presence in the gallery of Mr. Ahmed Qurie, Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and fellow members of parliament.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I would also like to draw attention to the presence in the gallery of Mr. Vitaliy Nikolaevich Klimov, Chair of the Leningrad Oblast Legislature, accompanied by members and staff of the various legislatures of the Northwest Economic Region of Russia.

Presence In Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Further to the question of privilege raised by the hon. member for Wentworth—Burlington on February 3, 1998, I wish to inform the House that the Clerk has received from the Executive Director of the Canadian Judicial Council documentation in relation to comments made by Mr. Justice Marcel Joyal of the Federal Court of Canada. I am tabling these documents now and I consider this matter to be closed.

I have notice of a question of privilege by the hon. member for Fraser Valley.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege with regard to a news release put out by the Minister for International Trade on March 30, 1998 entitled “Marchi meets with Chinese leaders in Beijing and announces Canada-China Interparliamentary Group”.

The minister announced in his release:

International Trade Minister today took part in a series of bilateral meetings with senior Chinese leaders and announced the establishment of the Canada-China Interparliamentary Group.

There is no Canada-China interparliamentary group. There has been an application to the joint interparliamentary council to establish such a group, but contrary to the minister's perceived powers and authority in these matters there is no such interparliamentary group until parliament grants such status to that group, and that has not happened to date.

I have made proposals in committee to revamp parliamentary associations to include a greater emphasis on the Asia-Pacific countries and on the Americas. However, none of the changes that the minister has proposed or that I might have proposed has ever come to pass.

For the Canada-China friendship group to advance to the status of interparliamentary group it must first apply to the Joint interparliamentary Council. It then must get approval from the House through the Board of Internal Economy and the internal economy committee of the Senate.

The minister has given the impression that this association will be sanctioned and funded by parliament. I find this to be a clear contempt of the House.

Just to go through a few precedents, Mr. Speaker, the member for Calgary—Nosehill brought a similar matter to your attention on February 26, 1998. She complained about an article in the Toronto Star naming the head of the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation. Her complaint was not who was named but the circumstances which led to the announcement.

In that case there was no legislation before the House setting up the said foundation. Nor was the budget statement containing the suggestion to set up the foundation adopted. She argued that the situation had brought the authority and dignity of the Speaker and the House into question.

The precedents are many regarding this issue. The government and its departments are continuously mocking the parliamentary system in this manner. The member for Prince George—Peace River raised a similar matter regarding the Canadian Wheat Board on February 3, 1998. During that discussion the member for Langley—Abbotsford pointed out that the Speaker was asked to rule on a similar complaint in March 1990 regarding a pamphlet about the GST.

I made a case on October 28, 1997. In that instance the Department of Finance started to take action before the bill authorizing the department to act was passed by the House. I was concerned at that time that these actions undercut the authority of parliament.

Your ruling on that question of privilege has been repeated time and time again, Mr. Speaker, and I will repeat it once more. The Chair 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 the actions of the Department are of some concern. The dismissive view of the legislative process, repeated often enough, makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices. 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.

At page 250 of the second edition of Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada it states:

—there are actions that, while not directly in a physical way obstructing the House of Commons or the Member, nevertheless obstruct the House in the performance of its functions by diminishing the respect due it.

How many times must parliament be mocked in this way? How often can we accept this disrepectful behaviour by ministers who continuously make announcements and pronouncements both here and internationally about what the House is to do when the House has not yet done it?

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”.

I would argue that these accumulated complaints, left unchallenged, will only continue to give the impression that parliament is irrelevant and that the cabinet and its bureaucrats run our lives. This I find to be an offence against our authority and dignity in the House.

Cabinet has no role to play in setting up interparliamentary groups. The process is clearly outlined in a document titled “Parliamentary Exchanges Policy” adopted by the Board of Internal Economy in January 1990. That document makes absolutely no reference to cabinet's authority in the matter of setting up interparliamentary groups.

Members of cabinet have no right to presuppose if parliament is to accept any suggestion put forward by them including legislation and the spending of taxpayers' money. Parliament must not be seen as some sort of obstacle that the bureaucrats must overcome. Parliament must be respected if we are to function in this place. Parliament must not be taken for granted by a minister who is looking for a press release or a headline in a foreign country.

I believe the House must conclude that the minister and his department are in contempt by their actions. Mr. Speaker, 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

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same question of privilege. I thank the hon. member for raising the matter. It is a serious matter that a minister of the crown should take it upon himself to announce the existence of an interparliamentary group.

This concern is twofold. First, there is the question of process and whether the minister has any right to do so. I would submit, along with the hon. Reform whip, that the minister had no right to do so. I was part of discussions prior to minister's departure for China, along with other parliamentarians from all parties, about the advisability of trying to go beyond what exists now in terms of the Canada-China friendship group and what that might be called.

I was concerned and I expressed my concern at the meeting I was invited to that not only might it be wrong for the minister to announce the existence of such a group, but it is obvious the concerns I expressed at that time about the appropriateness of calling it an interparliamentary group were also ignored.

One of the traditions of the House with respect to parliamentary associations is that parliamentary associations are associations between parliaments. There is no way whatever one thinks of communist China that one can maintain that it has a parliament in any sense of the word that we have a parliament. In fact in other parliamentary associations we have had countries expelled or temporarily suspended because they did not have a parliament that met Canadian standards of what a parliament was.

One of the concerns I expressed at the meeting to which I was invited was that we were to have some kind of elevated level of exchange with China, which I was not absolutely against but was concerned as to what we called it. I did not want it to be named in such a way as to call into question the very important tradition in the House of only having parliamentary associations between parliaments. We could call it legislative exchange or any number of things. Certainly there are legislators in China. How they are elected and whether it is a one party state and all those kinds of things do not take away from that fact, but whether or not we should call it an interparliamentary group is a very serious matter.

The minister is to be doubly condemned, first, for doing it without the permission of parliament and, second, for not having the sensitivity to call it something other than an interparliamentary group.

It just goes to show, Mr. Speaker, that it appears that they are willing to breach any principle, to destroy any tradition we might have had in the name of trade. It does not matter any more.

The communist Chinese leadership said it wanted an association, the equivalent of what we had with the United States. The old Canadian ministers were over there just doing exactly what was required of them. No matter what parliamentary process or traditions of parliamentary associations, if that is what the Chinese want they will just give it to them because they will do anything. They will kiss anything in order to get more trade. That is what this amounts to. The government will kiss anything, anywhere of anybody in order to get more trade and stomp all over parliamentary procedure and a strong parliamentary tradition about democracies and parliaments. What for? So they could please their masters in Beijing.

It is disgusting, Mr. Speaker, and I think you should rule it a contempt of parliament.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to say a few words on this matter.

I was surprised to hear the statement involving this news story. I always regret it as a parliamentarian when matters are brought to my attention through the media as opposed to the usual procedures here in this House.

I want to say two things. First, if it is a fact that a minister or a ministry acted in a way that would pre-empt a decision of this House, prejudge what the House would wish to do, prejudge what our parliamentary associations would wish to do, then that would be wrong and it would be a matter for concern here.

As a member, I cannot tell for sure all of the precise facts. However I want to make it clear, and I hope all members feel the same way, that it is simply not the place of a ministry or a minister to pre-empt and prejudge this House. Not only is it disrespectful of the House but many members in this House are active in the trade and international relations envelope. I for one have an interest in the Pacific Rim as do many members in this House.

One runs the risk of embarrassing colleagues when things like this happen. If some of us happen to be out in the field and we hear that a ministry is doing something purporting to act for the House, this would be wrong if it has occurred in that way.

The second thing I would leave with you, Mr. Speaker, is that if the minister's or ministry's announcement in China was more to the effect that it was the intention of parliamentarians here to set up and create an association or group such as that noted in the article, that would not be quite so bad as announcing that in fact the thing was to be done or that it was already done.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Reform

Randy White Langley—Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to support the comments that have been made which came from three different parties basically.

The real question is how many times is this really going to go on. I want to remind you, Mr. Speaker, of your own words in this House. I am going to spend a little bit of time on this because there is a certain amount of frustration gathering among many members in this House on these types of decisions.

Mr. Speaker, I want to remind you of your own words on November 6. You said that this dismissive view repeated often enough makes a mockery of our parliamentary conventions and practices. You concluded by saying that you trusted that your decision at that early stage of this parliament would not be forgotten by ministers and their officials and that the departments and agencies will be guided by that.

I challenge you, Mr. Speaker, to determine how often is often enough in this House. Are you not as offended as we are that parliament is mocked in this way time and time again? This is at least the third time in this parliament that this has come up. My colleagues and I are getting a little tired of quoting these words because we are beginning to wonder if they mean anything at all to the government. After all, that is what we are all here for. Our words must count for something.

Having said that, I recognize that without the authority of this House, your words, Mr. Speaker, really do not have authority do they? Without our support the Speaker's power and authority are limited. I do not think we should let our institution and our Speaker twist in the wind on this issue any longer. I say let us back up the words of our Speaker this time with some teeth. Let us show those teeth and if necessary, let us bite a few bureaucrats and ministers with those teeth.

The last time I addressed this issue I quoted from Joseph Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , page 221 and I wish to do so again. It describes a prima facie case of privilege in the parliamentary sense as one where the evidence on its face as outlined by the member is sufficiently strong for the House to be asked to debate the matter and to send it to a committee to investigate whether the privileges of the House have been breached or contempt has occurred.

I believe that the case brought forward by the member for Prince George—Peace River on February 3 represented another incremental affront on the House and the case for a prima facie contempt of parliament against the ministers and their departments had reached a flash point at that time. If the situation had reached a flash point on February 3, it caught fire on February 26 in the House when the member for Calgary—Nose Hill brought up another complaint regarding the millennium fund. Today if we do not take action we are at risk of being burnt to the ground and the mace melted into a pane of brass. The cabinet and its bureaucrats will have won and the members of this place will have lost the final battle.

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely urge you to allow the member to move his motion so we can end this mockery of parliament. This cannot go on any longer. If it continues to go like this, we will be up time and time again in the House. At some point the Speaker has got to put some teeth into this issue.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to put on the record that I understand that the minister of course was the author of the announcement in question. I will be brief and succinct. Whatever decision you deem would be the correct one, not having been the author of course I cannot be the person who would be somewhat admonished, but possibly I might be as responsible and maybe even more responsible than the author, the minister in question, on this particular issue.

As a member of that body, the Joint Interparliamentary Council, which deals with these issues, I am privy to the discussions. From time to time, as my colleagues probably do likewise, I make estimates, judgments as to where they might go.

I will have to stand on my record in terms of respect for the institution, the chair and for my individual colleagues. Whatever I might have contributed to this matter I will accept my responsibilities. However, I am certainly totally confident that there was never any intent, my own, the minister's or the government's, to be disrespectful in any way of this institution. If in fact I erred in my judgment, I will accept the responsibilities and the admonishment of the chair.

My peers, without commenting on the technical aspects of the issue raised by my esteemed colleague from the New Democratic Party, the member for Winnipeg Transcona, as to parliamentary associations and what that in itself can bring through a debate, that remains to be seen. Clearly, Mr. Speaker, to be quite frank and honest with you and with my peers and colleagues of the House, I could possibly be more responsible than the author himself on this issue.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, on the same issue I could add to what I said earlier that I do have a copy of the press release of March 30. It is my first opportunity to go through the press release and bring a copy here today. I would be prepared to table it if you would like me to do so at this time.