House of Commons Hansard #68 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was money.

Topics

Gasoline Pricing
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Ottawa South
Ontario

Liberal

John Manley Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be initiating a study at the request of Liberal backbenchers. I am glad they are happy that we are doing it. Unlike the hon. member they are prepared to see us understand what the facts are, how this market works, how the prices relate to supply, and how the market functions between independents and vertically integrated suppliers.

Those are questions that are perhaps a little too sophisticated for the hon. member, but we on this side of the House think they are important.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

March 21st, 2000 / 3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Last Friday the member for London North Centre rose on a question of privilege concerning the premature release of a confidential document that was a work in progress by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. At that time I decided to reserve my decision until the committee itself dealt with the issue. The chair of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration presented a report on this matter earlier today.

I also said I would hold my decision in abeyance until the member for Lakeland had an opportunity to address the House on this matter. I would now invite the hon. member for Lakeland to do so.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that you have given me a chance to speak to this very important issue. In my presentation I will explain why I do not believe in fact that I was in contempt of parliament. I would like to elaborate on that a bit.

I will begin my statement by quoting from the constitution of our country. There are a number of procedural requirements of the House of Commons provided in the constitution. These procedural requirements make up the rules of the House. These rules must be respected by the House and by its committees.

Section 49 of the Constitution Act provides that questions arising in the House of Commons shall be decided by a majority of voices. Further, Standing Order 116 states that in a standing committee the standing orders shall apply.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration did not decide to go in camera by a majority vote. It did not decide to go in camera as a result of a motion or a vote of any kind. The committee did not make the decision. The chair made the decision unilaterally. In fact it decided the opposite and reaffirmed this on March 2, 2000.

Even though in my opinion the committee could go in camera by way of a motion pursuant to the rules and practices, it only confirmed what these rules are. Specifically the evidence from the committee meeting of March 2 shows that the committee reconfirmed the House rules and therefore committee rules requiring a vote to pass by a majority to cause the committee to go in camera.

At the very next meeting the Liberal chair of the committee decided on his own and against the clear rules of the committee to ignore the democratic process and move the proceedings away from public scrutiny.

I think it is important to note that the reason the issue came up on March 2 at the committee meeting and at previous meetings is that the chair of the committee, the hon. member for London North Centre, had unilaterally moved meetings in camera, in other words to become secret, apparently to protect the government from possible embarrassing comments that Liberal members might make during discussion of what the committee had heard. That is what the discussion was on.

The discussion was on what the committee had heard from witnesses who appeared before the committee. There was no apparent reason other than political considerations. After all, all the witnesses were heard in public. I protested this improper decision and the committee chair agreed there was no good reason to hold these discussions secretly. I fully expected of course then that the next meeting would be a public meeting.

At the same March 2 meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration the committee agreed, and I quote from the minutes of proceedings “that the draft report be considered in public”. This is from the minutes of proceedings of the Thursday, March 2, 2000 meeting, the very meeting before the chair unilaterally chose to hold this meeting in camera with no vote from the committee. I would be happy to table this document, the minutes of proceedings.

Therefore the chairman did not only breach the constitution and the rules of the House, I would argue, but he breached the committee's own internal rules and the clearly documented will of the committee.

Furthermore I would like to draw the Speaker's attention to an argument at page 10464 of Hansard . On October 9, 1997, the Speaker ruled that committees must address their work processes and be very clear about how they expect draft reports and other material relating to in camera meetings to be treated. That was your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

In my opinion the committee had set out very clearly that the draft report was to be discussed in an open meeting prior to meetings being held in camera and that prior to any meeting being held in camera a vote would be taken.

The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration was in camera illegally. If anyone were in contempt, I would charge that the chairman was in contempt of the House for usurping the authority of the House as provided for in the constitution of our country, in the rules of the House of Commons, and as decided by this committee itself. Therefore I believe the House should find the member for London North Centre in contempt for exercising authority beyond the authority granted by the committee.

For all these reasons I believe that I was not in contempt of parliament. To make it clear, the committee was not in camera. Therefore I was providing public information to the public. I am not in contempt, in my view.

There is one important and very pertinent piece of information which I feel I should present. The document I released was not the final draft of the committee report. Because the committee had gone illegally I believe in camera, this draft document was the only record I had of the proceedings of the committee. As the House knows the official record of the committee is not available to the public if the meeting is declared to be an in camera meeting.

As I have already explained, I believe the meeting was in fact a public meeting because the chair of the committee, the member for London North Centre, had illegally convened the committee in secret. The final draft of the committee has yet to be tabled in the House, but as I am sure you will find when it is tabled, Mr. Speaker, that draft is not the same as the draft of the document which I released in public.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. We are here on a question of privilege. I would prefer not to have any interruptions. I want to hear what the member has to say. I listened to the other member before, as did the House, and I want to hear what he has to say.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I really would appreciate if the chair of the committee would allow me to say my piece. That is the respectful thing to do.

Perhaps I could add a few more comments regarding the minister and the chair of the committee. The committee launched at my request into hearings on the issue of illegal migration into our country. The chair of the committee, the hon. member for London North Centre, assured members of this all-party committee that our findings would culminate in a report which would be considered by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration in developing long awaited new immigration legislation. The minister also assured committee members and Canadians right across the country that the report would be considered in developing this new legislation.

How do you think, Mr. Speaker, Canadians who are carefully following the proceedings of this committee, and especially the people who appeared as witnesses, must feel when three weeks before the committee presents its report I have received a draft copy of the new act which I released in public some two weeks ago? This new act is not to be confused with the draft committee report which I released in a media conference last Thursday.

Not only did I receive a copy of the new act, but I also received along with it the schedule called the critical path for the final stages of approval and tabling of the legislation. I have a copy of that here to be tabled, Mr. Speaker, if you would so choose to accept that document.

Of course, I would like to refer to just three dates in the critical path. It is important. The draft bill was sent to all the provinces on Monday, February 21. The final draft of the bill was to be signed by the minister on Thursday, March 7 and the act was to be introduced to parliament on March 30.

How is it that the very legislation which was supposed to have included information from the report of the committee on citizenship and immigration was a done deal before our draft report was even written? What a sick joke.

Members of the committee, each witness who appeared and all Canadians should be furious for using them like this. They presented to the committee with the best of intentions believing what they said would be taken into account in developing the new act. What a complete lack of respect for democracy and what a complete lack of respect for the Canadian public.

I am here today to answer to the government's charge that I stand in contempt of parliament for my action of releasing to the media, and to Canadians, a draft of the committee report which was marked confidential.

I believe I have made the case that in fact this report was a public document. I am here today as well to charge the chair of the committee, the member for London North Centre, with contempt of parliament for the reasons I have outlined in this presentation. I ask the Speaker to rule at his earliest convenience. I am looking forward to your ruling on both the charges which have been laid against me, contempt of parliament, and the charges which, Mr. Speaker, I am presenting to you against the chair of the committee, the member for London North Centre.

I look forward to your rulings, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you in advance.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

If members have new facts to share with the House, I want to hear them. I do not want to get into a debate. I will hear the hon. government House leader.

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, it was a little hard to go through all of this and to assume that it would work. I am sure that Your Honour probably has difficulty in that regard as well.

Mr. Speaker, on one hand we hear the hon. member say that he as a way of defence is accusing the chairman of the committee for having used an improper procedure and that is tantamount to his justification for the act he has committed.

Regardless of what occurred, that is not justification for his own behaviour. If the proper motion was not adopted by the committee for the committee to go into camera, that is a matter for the committee to discuss. The fact still remains that citation 877 of Beauchesne's still applies. It says very clearly:

No act done at any committee should be divulged before it has been reported to the House. Upon this principle the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, on April 21, 1937, resolved “That the evidence taken by any select committee—

That is the equivalent of a standing committee in the British House.

—of this House and the documents presented to such committee and which have not been reported to the House, ought not to be published by any member of such committee or by any other person”.

Not only was the document published and circulated by the hon. member, but the chair of the committee informed the House and provided both the chair and the table with written proof of a press release in which the member for Lakeland was actually advertising the fact that he was committing this act. I read further where it says:

The publication of proceedings of committees conducted with closed doors or of reports of committees before they are available to Members will, however, constitute a breach of privilege.

It does not say “and”. It says “or”.

I believe that citation was read into the record when I was in the House by the chair of the standing committee.

I do not know if the committee moved the appropriate motion to proceed to in camera or if the chair concluded that there was agreement to that effect and it was not challenged. Whichever way it was, the fact still remains that the committee was considering a report which of course was eventually going to be tabled in the House. Until it is tabled in the House, the relevant citation of Beauchesne's, 877, still applied. This was a premature disclosure.

The final argument we heard from the hon. member is that his disclosing this report was somehow immaterial. He says that the minister was not going to give the report consideration because the minister was already working on a draft of the bill. First, those two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Second, it is immaterial. Whether or not the member believes that a minister would or would not have considered the report is not justification for a breach of the rules of parliament.

If I think we are going to win a vote tonight on supply or any other issue, would that justify me or anyone else in the House dispensing with having the vote because we firmly believe that based on our numbers that we would win it anyway? That is ridiculous. That kind of defence by the hon. member clearly does not work and I suggest that it will not wash with Your Honour.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. The hon. opposition whip was on his feet. I will recognize him.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to raise a point of order arising from the intervention by my colleague from Lakeland.

During his intervention, as you noted when you tried to restore order to the House, Mr. Speaker, the chairman of the standing committee in question, the hon. member for London North Centre, was heard very clearly to shout out that my hon. colleague is an embarrassment to the House. I would ask that he retract those words. It is despicable that he would—

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I would first like to deal with this point of privilege. If such a thing occurred, then I did not hear it. We will hear one side and then the other. I do not want to get into the debate. Is there more information to offer?

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Reform

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe there is a clarification. In his reply, the hon. House leader for the government said that somehow I was using my complaints against the chair of the committee as a defence, and I was not. That is a separate issue. I only raised it at this time because the same information applies.

If I could just also mention that the hon. House leader talked about whether or not a committee goes in camera is a decision to be made by the committee. That was part of my argument. That never happened and the record will show that.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

We are getting into debate. I am looking for new facts on this particular matter.