House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Reform

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is part of what I have been speaking about. At the moment I would say that we have a tremendous number of chimneys of information, a vertical flow of information from the information or intelligence gathering, up through to the top, where the top is concerned about the management of the vertical flow of information.

The difficulty is that the government is undertaking, on behalf of the people of Canada through this law, a process that requires more than a vertical chimney of information. We do not have any effective way of creating it at this point, but we must create a horizontal pipeline of information. In other words, there could very well be information that the minister of public works should have in his possession that is resident in a department adjacent to the public works ministry.

That information, which could very well turn the tide as to whether he would certify an individual for access, could be sitting in the department literally right next door to the minister and the public works ministry could be unaware of that information. That is what we are talking about.

We are in favour of this act because it achieves the mutual objectives between our two countries, but my colleague, the critic for public works, and I are trying to drive home to the minister that because we can have intelligence in an adjacent ministry of which the public works ministry is unaware, he could indeed end up certifying people who perhaps should not be certified.

Within this government or the successor government, whether it is the Liberals, the Alliance or whoever forms the next government, the ability within government to access and manage intelligence sharing on a horizontal basis between departments must be created so that when the public works ministry, as in this case, makes a determination that a person is worthy of a certificate it will be making that determination on more than a simple rubber stamping. It will be making it based on the very best information and intelligence available.

Privilege
Government Orders

October 17th, 2000 / 4:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The Chair is ready to give a decision on the question of privilege raised earlier today by the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough alleging interference with an officer of parliament, namely the information commissioner.

As the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough noted, yesterday Mr. Speaker tabled the 1999-2000 annual report of the information commissioner. In his report the information commissioner complained about the actions of the federal government, and in particular the Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat, contending that these departments had challenged his powers and denied him resources to carry out his duties.

The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough argued that this interference constituted a contempt of the House and he called upon the Chair to rule it a prima facie case of privilege with the concomitant results.

I would first like to say that the Chair attaches considerable importance to the concerns expressed by the member. I also wish to thank the Leader of the Opposition in the House, the member for Fraser Valley, the Leader of the Bloc Quebecois in the House, the member for Roberval, the Leader of the Government in the House, the member for Winnipeg—Transcona, the member for Calgary—Nose Hill, and the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot for their comments on this matter. House of Commons Procedure and Practice makes it very clear at page 67:

—the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which...tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions; obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of the House in the discharge of their duties; or is an offence against the authority or dignity of the House, such as disobedience of its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its Members or its Officers.

The Chair must judge whether the complaints raised in the most unequivocal terms by the commissioner in his annual report constitute such an obstruction.

There can be little doubt that the information commissioner presents a colourful and impassioned case for the principle of access to information. He recalls that his very first annual report to parliament set as his objective a policy of zero tolerance for government recalcitrance in complying with freedom of information legislation.

In this second report the commissioner notes that he has refused to retreat from this zero tolerance policy and he rails at the resistance his office has continued to encounter in carrying out its work.

Despite his unforgiving assessment of the situation and his blunt annoyance, the commissioner concludes:

There is some heartening evidence that his game plan is working.

The Chair can well understand members' reaction to the cri du coeur of the information commissioner, especially in the opening section of the report entitled “Access—A Right Under Siege” and the title “Mayday—Mayday”, but the very fact that the report is couched in such bold language and takes such a strong position is in my view evidence that the commissioner has not been impeded in carrying out his work.

He may be frustrated by the attitudes he has encountered in the senior echelons of government. He may even be outraged that the government does not take his mandate as seriously as he evidently does, but the fact that he voices those frustrations in no uncertain terms does not, in the view of the Chair, provide evidence of a prima facie case of contempt, especially when he is able to present his report unimpeded and obviously in his own words.

Members also know that the enabling statute, the Access to Information Act, gives the commissioner various recourses when he is dissatisfied with a result.

In addition, the annual report is permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. When examining the report, this committee will be able to consider the concerns expressed by members with respect to these issues.

The committee can hear the information commissioner and his officials. It can call before it some of those mentioned in the report as less than fully co-operative and if as a result of this study the committee concludes from the evidence that the report does not merely document the frustrations of the commissioner but points to a climate of systematic obstruction, then the committee can report its findings to the House and ask the House to take appropriate action.

Rumours abound of a possible dissolution. However, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has this permanent reference and a new committee in a new parliament may proceed, as the current one may do, and study this issue at its leisure.

Accordingly in this particular case I find that there are various recourses immediately available to the information commissioner and to all hon. members. I therefore cannot find that a prima facie case of contempt has occurred.

I would like once again to thank the hon. member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough for drawing the commissioner's views and his own concerns to the attention of the House. Like him, I look forward to the work of the justice committee on these important questions.

I also wish to tell the House that, with respect to the request by the hon. member for Roberval for an emergency debate this evening, the Chair has decided that such a request is not in order at this time. It does not meet the requirements of the Standing Orders.

Privilege
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I will take time to review your ruling in some detail when I see it in print.

The other point of order that I raised during that period was about the tabling of the report and when it was available to all parliamentarians. I believe you said it was a problem of miscommunication between the commissioner and the Speaker.

I wonder if you could explain that because I am not sure what miscommunication means. It was tabled in the House. It should be available to members. I do not know whom I should point the finger at. I am not pointing it at the government. I am wondering what went wrong there because that information, once tabled here, should be available immediately, as I understand it.

Privilege
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I do not want to tie the Chair down to an answer on this because I think we are looking into what exactly transpired, but the best information I can provide the hon. member with at this time is that the report was sent to the Speaker with the request that it be tabled at a particular time. The additional copies were sent to the distribution office with an embargo until another time later than the time requested for tabling.

It appears the document got tabled at a time when the distribution office was not expecting to distribute the document, so when members contacted the office and asked for copies they were denied.

I have asked that this matter be investigated. I do not understand why there would have been two times but I understand there were. I can report that far to the hon. member at this stage. I believe I am correct in what I have stated, without being more precise.

I know the hon. member would be happy to raise this matter with me in private. I would be more than happy to do whatever we can to see that this situation does not continue in the future.

It is an unsatisfactory way to proceed, in my view, and I sympathize with the position the hon. member was placed in, but I stress it was a matter of communication between the office of the Speaker, the table officers of the House and the information commissioner's office, and I believe two messages came from the latter.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-25, an act to amend the Defence Production Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

On division.

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Catterall Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If you would seek it, I think you would find consent, pursuant to discussions among the parties, to proceed to further consideration of the bill at all stages, including committee of the whole.

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Notwithstanding the reference to the committee on foreign affairs, is it agreed we consider the matter now in committee of the whole and proceed with third reading?

Defence Production Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, considered in committee, reported, concurred in, read the third time and passed)

Business Of The House
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. After further consultation on the motion proposed earlier today, I would like to propose it again as amended pursuant to the conversations between House leaders. I am only moving half of the motion that was proposed earlier. I move:

That, on Thursday, October 19, 2000, the House shall sit at 9 a.m. and shall consider private members' business from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., provided that any division requested thereon shall be deferred until immediately after a division to be held on a motion to concur in a notice of ways and means, to be proposed as the first government order considered after 3 p.m. that day.

Business Of The House
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Does the government House leader have unanimous consent to move the motion?