House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was plan.

Topics

Hazardous Products Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Hazardous Products Act
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Hazardous Products Act
Private Members' Business

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

I declare the motion lost.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

November 25th, 2002 / 12:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, earlier this morning I gave you the required notice that I would rise on a matter of privilege at the first available opportunity to direct your attention and the attention of the House to a grave contempt of Parliament. I call your attention to an article that appeared in yesterday's edition of the Toronto Star under the byline of Allan Thompson. The headline is: “Privacy under assault: Watchdog. Government has lost 'moral compass'. Curbs made in name of war on terror”.

I am prepared to table a copy of the article but I should make it clear that at this time I am not complaining about the writer or about the newspaper, even though it is the Toronto Star . My complaint is about the conduct of the privacy commissioner and his failure to do his duty as an officer of Parliament.

In the report in the Toronto Star , the privacy commissioner makes serious allegations against several members of the House, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Minister of National Revenue and other ministers of the Crown.

Let me quote selectively from the article. He says:

Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski says historians will look back on current violations of privacy in the name of fighting terrorism as a more egregious error than the detention of Japanese Canadians during World War II.

He goes on to say:

...Radwanski noted that despite repeated requests for a meeting, he has not been able to talk to [the Prime Minister] about his concerns.

“The fact is that this government has lost its moral compass with regard to the fundamental human right of privacy” Radwanski said...

“We're not to where it can't be stopped. But six months or a year from now, we might be. Some of the biggest assaults ever are in the works right now”

He then goes on to enumerate some of his concerns. He says:

The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency plans to build a database that will retain, for six years at a time, the so-called Advance Passenger Information and Passenger Name Record information on every air traveller entering Canada. Canadians travelling outside the country would have such personal information as their destination, form of payment and seat selection, placed in what Radwanski has labelled a “Big Brother” database.

He goes on again:

The proposed Public Safety Act contains a provision that would grant the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service access to personal passenger information held by airlines...

I skip several paragraphs. He then says:

...he fears the RCMP will use the information to seek out persons wanted on warrants for Criminal Code offences that have nothing to do with terrorism.

He goes on:

...Radwanski challenged a customs practice of opening mail on behalf of the immigration department... he said the mail opening--

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:35 p.m.

The Speaker

Order please. The right hon. member is an experienced member and he knows that on a question of privilege he has to come to the point with some succinctness. I have not heard anything yet that suggests that there is a breach of a question of privilege here. I thought he said that the privacy commissioner somehow failed in his duty but I have not heard this yet.

Could the right hon. member come to the point with some alacrity so we have some idea, rather than a general discussion of the article in question, what the question of privilege is in this case?

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

I certainly shall, Mr. Speaker. It is so unusual for me to quote at length from the Toronto Star that I have perhaps succumbed to that temptation. Let me draw to the attention of the House the three important allegations in this article. It states:

Armed with legal opinions that some of the government's proposals would violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Radwanski hinted he may ultimately have to launch a court action to try to halt further erosion of privacy rights.

“I will use every legitimate avenue at my disposal to carry out my duties,” he insisted.

Radwanski also charges that bureaucrats across government are manipulating public concern about security to ram through new measures.

The Privacy Commissioner is an officer of Parliament. His duties and powers are spelled out in the Privacy Act. He has a duty under section 38 of the Privacy Act to report to Parliament. Section 38 reads:

The Privacy Commissioner shall, within three months after the termination of each financial year, submit an annual report to Parliament on the activities of the office during that financial year.

If he is unusually concerned about some issue as this article suggests he is, he has the power to submit special reports under section 39 which states:

The Privacy Commissioner may, at any time, make a special report to Parliament referring to and commenting on any matter within the scope of the powers, duties and functions of the commissioner where, in the opinion of the commissioner, the matter is of such urgency or importance that a report thereon should not be deferred until the time provided for transmission of the next annual report under section 38.

Once that is done, either an annual report or a special report, the House then and only then has a statutory right to deliberate on the contents of the special report by virtue of section 40 of the Privacy Act which reads:

(1) Every report to Parliament made by the Privacy Commissioner under section 38 or 39 shall be made by being transmitted to the Speaker of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Commons for tabling in those Houses. (2) Every report referred to in subsection (1) shall, after it is transmitted for tabling pursuant to that subsection, be referred to the committee designated or established by Parliament for the purpose of subsection 75(1).

The reports of the Privacy Commissioner are, in accordance with Standing Order 108(3)(g), referred to the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates:

The mandate of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates shall include, among other matters: the review of and report on reports of the Privacy Commissioner, the Information Commissioner, the Public Service Commission, and the Ethics Counsellor with respect to his or her responsibilities under the Lobbyists Registration Act, which shall be severally deemed permanently referred to the committee immediately after they are laid upon the Table.

The standing committees of the House are given duties and powers by this House. Lest the Privacy Commissioner think that we do not take matters seriously, let me point out the powers for all standing committees in Standing Order No. 108.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. Once again the right hon. member is providing great elucidation about the statute and the powers of the commissioner, but I have not heard yet what alleged breach of our privileges he has committed. I would like to hear that quite succinctly or I am going to move on because we have rules relating to questions of privilege in this place and I feel that the hon. member is not coming to the point. I do not know whether there is one. We are looking for something in all these readings, which are very interesting, but I am afraid we have to hear the point.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

I will come directly to the point, Mr. Speaker, but it is important to have the background as to the allegations and as to the rules.

The Journals of the House of Commons do not record the transmission of a special report of the Privacy Commissioner to the House. He is making allegations outside the House. He has not followed the rules of Parliament to make them to the House.

Sir, I have enough trust in you to know that such a report is not sitting on your desk and I have enough confidence in the support services to believe that a special report is not stuck somewhere in the mail. I am therefore left to conclude that the Privacy Commissioner has not prepared a special report to Parliament on the following matters.

First, he has serious concerns about the content of proposed changes to the laws and rights of Canadians that are presently before Parliament for consideration and possible passage into law. We should know about his concerns in the ways set out by law.

Second, he has not indicated in any formal way, although he has informally, that he, as an officer of Parliament, has not been able to gain access to the Prime Minister of Canada on matters that he thinks should be of immediate concern to the Prime Minister affecting the rights of Canadian citizens.

Third, the Privacy Commissioner believes that Parliament is about to pass legislation that infringes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He is an officer of Parliament. He is not just the subject of an interview for the Toronto Star . If he has those concerns, I have no objection to him speaking to the Toronto Star , but he has a duty to speak in the prescribed manner to the House and he has not carried out that duty.

These are matters which should be front and centre before the House of Commons of Canada and before the other place. The Privacy Commissioner has so far refused to bring these matters to our attention under section 39 of the Privacy Act as he is obliged to do.

At the same time, he is engaging in a publicity campaign that gives Canadians the impression that members of the House of Commons are derelict in their duty. A special report opens the door to the committee.

If the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates is sufficiently concerned, it can hold hearings. It can call witnesses. It can expose the issue while there is yet time to amend the proposed legislation. It can meet with other committees to seek solutions to the problem. It can call ministers, including the Prime Minister, to testify. But how can any of us take newspaper accounts seriously when the officer of Parliament in question has failed to officially draw these concerns to the attention of Parliament as he is duty bound to do?

Why has the commissioner not reported? Has someone put pressure on him not to present a special report? There must be some reason why an intelligent individual, armed with a staff of lawyers and advisers, would not utilize the most obvious arrow in his quiver. There is something very wrong with this picture.

We know the Privacy Commissioner's past connections with Liberal prime ministers have been a matter of discussion. Did anyone in the Prime Minister's Office, those people who are more concerned with spinning than with weaving good law, exert pressure to avoid the commissioner presenting members of the House with credible reasons for rejecting the power grabs that have concerned members of the House, such as the hon. member for Mount Royal and others who have stood up for civil liberties, or were concerns expressed that this sort of report might make things worse between Canada and the United States?

What is the reason the commissioner has been silent to Parliament, the one body that can do something about his concerns? There must be a reason and we must get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

It is my submission that the Privacy Commissioner's failure to report to Parliament while publicly attacking members of the House and while publicly stating that he is doing everything in his power to correct the bad situation, amounts to contempt of the House.

The ultimate decision is one for the House of Commons. Your duty as you well know, Mr. Speaker, is to determine if there is prima facie evidence that would merit your receipt of a motion to refer this matter to committee. I ask you to consider the facts.

The law permits the commissioner to present special reports. The commissioner states in an interview with a journalist from a paper that previously employed the commissioner that he has been obstructed by the Prime Minister's Office and that he has grave concerns about pending legislation and other issues of public policy. He said, “I will use every legitimate avenue at my disposal to carry out my duties”. Yet no special report has been presented to Parliament.

One can only conclude that the commissioner has no confidence in Parliament and that he has resorted to extraparliamentary measures, taking his case to his former employer rather than to his present employer. That is a constructive act of contempt that brings Parliament into disrepute. There may be another explanation. As I stated earlier, I want to know if outside influence was used to discourage the commissioner from presenting a special report.

I am prepared to move a motion to refer this matter to committee so that these clouds can be cleared away and this matter can be resolved. I ask the Chair to make a prima facie finding so that the committee can examine the question of contempt.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:45 p.m.

The Speaker

I am quite prepared to make a ruling on the matter without hearing further.

The right hon. member in his very able argument, perhaps lengthy but very able, put forward and read out to the House the section of the act directing the Privacy Commissioner in his reports to Parliament. It is quite clear that the section of the act which the right hon. member cited was in fact permissive. The Privacy Commissioner “may” report to Parliament. He is not required to do so. He may report to Parliament.

Clearly some of the matters that are raised in the article to which the right hon. member has referred us are matters that are currently before the House. In fact the public safety act, as I understand it, is currently before a legislative committee of the House. This committee can call witnesses and hear evidence from experts. I am sure that the Privacy Commissioner, as an officer of Parliament, could be called by the committee to appear before the committee and give evidence about his concerns, if any, about the public safety act and offer his opinions.

The opportunity to clear away these clouds to which the right hon. member referred at the conclusion of his remarks is readily at hand in the place of the legislative committee on Bill C-17. I am sure the right hon. member has members from his party who will be serving on that committee and he will want to ensure that the matter is raised and aired there. That deals with at least one of the matters under concern.

The others are proposals that have not come before Parliament, from what I read of the article and understand of it. At the moment they have not come here. When they do we can deal with those matters and his views on them. In the meantime it is up to the Privacy Commissioner to make up his own mind whether to file a report with the House.

I do not know how failing to do a report on any matter that he regards as important puts him in contempt of the House. I think it would be a distortion of the legislation to say that he was required to report on everything that caused him concern. I am sure that officers of Parliament who are supposed to look at a host of subjects and report to Parliament on those subjects must have many sleepless nights thinking of various things that cause them concern that do not get into a report.

We can work with these honourable men and women who are officers of the House and of Parliament and continue to encourage them to do their jobs. I am sure that all of them will note the comments of the right hon. member in that regard. However, I think it would be imprudent for the Chair to conclude that, because there had not been a report in this case that somehow the Privacy Commissioner is in contempt of the House. I accordingly decline to do so.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, earlier I gave you notice of a question of privilege relating to attempts by the government to improperly influence the deliberations of Parliament with television advertising paid for with crown funds on a matter that is before Parliament for a decision.

I was watching, as so many Canadians were, the Grey Cup game yesterday. I watched its conclusion with a somewhat heavier heart than other members of the House. However I was absolutely astonished to see during the broadcast of the Grey Cup game, which I think anyone in the House would recognize is rather prime advertising space, an advertisement from the Government of Canada promoting in effect the Kyoto protocol and the reduction of greenhouse gases.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

12:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Joe Clark Calgary Centre, AB

Members of the Liberal Party are applauding so I will quote some observations on this matter in a very precisely similar case from their former leader, the Right Hon. John Turner, on this question.

Let us put this in context. Last Thursday the government placed on the notice paper, in the name of the Minister of the Environment, notice for a resolution asking the House to approve ratification of the Kyoto protocol. On Sunday the Government of Canada, the same government, ran television advertisements during an important sports event knowing that the ad would be viewed by millions of Canadians.

The television ad spoke of the challenges of climate change. It showed a young Canadian, naturally, holding, naturally, a maple leaf. By the sheerest of coincidence, that ad began running last week before the Grey Cup game, just as the government was deciding on the date for the debate respecting ratification of the Kyoto accord. It rolled out a scroll of organizations that have pronounced themselves on climate change or on the Kyoto protocol. These are prestigious organizations, such as the Royal Society of Canada and several others, but one organization was not on that scroll. The Parliament of Canada was not on that scroll because the Parliament of Canada has not pronounced itself on that issue.

By our law and practice, policy positions of the Parliament of Canada cannot be advertised before they have been adopted by the House of Commons and by the other place.

I do not know whether the advertising contract was tendered or was simply given out to a friend who happened to be hoving by from the Liberal Party. We can only guess at the cost. It would be thousand and thousands of dollars, maybe more than that given the extent of the coverage and the prime time in question. What we do know is that it constitutes a contempt of Parliament.

The sole message to be taken from the ad is that the Kyoto protocol should be ratified. That is the very question that the government is to put to the House and to the other place for a positive or negative decision.

I contend that the practice of using public money to sway public opinion on an issue that is actively before Parliament for a decision is a constructive contempt of the House. It is a deliberate effort on the part of the crown to buy votes in the House of Commons in support of the Kyoto protocol.

The use of taxpayer money to influence a decision by Parliament has been the subject of numerous questions of privilege. I will spare the House of going through the detail and argument of each one of them but one quotation from September 25, 1989, might be to the point. It draws upon comments made by the then leader of the opposition, a former Liberal prime minister of the country, the right hon. John N. Turner. He talked about similar ads and described them this way:

These ads are a flagrant circumvention of a fundamental parliamentary principle that it is the House of Commons, the representatives of the people from every province and territory in this country; that it is we as mandated by the people of Canada; that it is we the fiduciary of the people and only we on behalf of the people of Canada, who will have full control over--

--the policy that this Parliament adopts.

Mr. Turner went on to say:

The right rests with parliament. It does not rest with a few slogan writers in a Tory advertising agency.

Well neither does it rest with writers in a Liberal advertising agency, as was the case here. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. It was a contempt then and it is a contempt now of the House of Commons.

Speaker Fraser delivered a very important ruling directly on this issue on October 10, 1989, found at pages 4457 to 4461 of Hansard. Let me take members through the context. At that time the Speaker was not prepared to make a finding of a prima facie case for a breach of privilege as such that would merit acceptance of motion by the Chair. However he was much less emphatic on the question of contempt. It is my contention that the ruling of the Speaker set the stage for acceptance in the future of a motion dealing with contempt. The Speaker put the cabinet and the public service on notice that future speakers would be entitled to be much less lenient. Let me set the context. I am reading here from the selective decisions of Mr. Speaker Fraser. The context reads:

In August 1989, during the summer recess, the Government placed an advertisement in newspapers across the country stating that the proposed new Goods and Services Tax (GST) would come into effect on January 1, 1991. When the session resumed on September 25, 1989, the Rt. Hon. John Turner (Leader of the Opposition) raised a question of privilege relating to the said advertisement. He was of the opinion that by placing newspaper advertisements announcing an effective date for the GST, the Government denied the role of Parliament in the imposition of taxes and thereby prejudiced proceedings in the House and its committees. Other members also participated in the discussion. On October 10, 1989, the Speaker delivered a ruling--

I will now quote from parts of that ruling. First, Mr. Speaker Fraser at that time distinguished the issue of privilege from the issue of contempt. I quote here from Hansard. Mr. Speaker Fraser said:

...when members claim that a certain action constitutes a breach of privilege, they must specify which privilege is affected.

Contempts, on the other hand, cannot be enumerated or categorized. As Speaker Sauvé explained in a ruling on October 29, 1980, at page 4214 of Hansard:

...“while our privileges are defined, contempt of the House has no limits. When new ways are found to interfere with our proceedings, so too will the House, in appropriate cases, be able to find that a contempt of the House has occurred”.

Broadly speaking, contempts are offences against the authority or the dignity of the House of Commons. They include situations which cannot specifically be claimed as breaches of the privileges of the House. As noted at pages 71 and 143 of Erskine May, twentieth edition:

“Each House also claims the right to punish actions, which, while not breaches of any specific privilege, are offences against its authority or dignity, such as disobedience to its legitimate commands or libels upon itself, its officers or its Members. Such actions, though often called 'breaches of privilege', are more properly distinguished as 'contempts'.

It would be vain to attempt an enumeration of every act which might be construed into a contempt, the power to punish for contempt being in its nature discretionary.... It may be stated generally that any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence”.

Mr. Speaker, that was the distinction by Mr. Speaker Fraser, your distinguished predecessor, between a contempt and a privilege.

Later in his judgment Mr. Speaker Fraser reviewed specific facts in the case then at issue with regard to the GST and, based upon a strict reading of the practices of Parliament with regard to the cases in the GST case, he concluded:

It is difficult to find prima facie contempt.

He then went on, and it is to these words that I want draw the House's attention:

However, I want the House to understand very clearly that if your Speaker ever has to consider a situation like this again, the Chair will not be as generous. This is a case which, in my opinion, should never recur.

That was Mr. Speaker Fraser then. The situation has recurred specifically in this case.

Speaker Fraser went on to say:

I expect the Department of Finance and other departments to study this ruling carefully and to remind everyone within the Public Service that we are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, not a so-called administrative democracy.

I believe it is in the interest of our parliamentary system of government to have a clear statement from the Speaker which cannot be misinterpreted either in debate or by a vote. ...which I hope will be well considered in the future by governments, departmental officials and advertising agencies retained by them. This [GST] advertisement may not be a contempt of the House in the narrow confines of a procedural definition, but it is, in my opinion, ill-conceived and it does a great disservice to the great traditions of this place.

If we do not preserve these great traditions, our freedoms are at peril and our conventions become a mockery. I insist, and I believe I am supported by the majority of moderate and responsible Members on both sides of the House, that this ad is objectionable and should never be repeated.

Mr. Speaker Fraser went on to conclude:

I have deliberately made this ruling with great care in order that if ever this issue has to be debated and considered by this House again these comments will serve to guide the House in its deliberations.

Mr. Speaker Fraser could not have been more clear. The situation that he dealt with regarding the GST was precisely the same as the situation that we are dealing with here with regard to an advertisement paid for by public funds without the authorization of Parliament, designed to try to influence the vote of members of the House of Commons and of the other place. It is wrong. It was declared to be wrong by Mr. Speaker Fraser and it is still wrong today.

There is a long history of the abuse of advertising by the government, including Groupaction, Groupe Everest, the long, dismal list of patronage and of corruption. What that meant was that in awarding advertising contracts the government regularly ignored the rules. Here, in exercising advertising contracts, it is ignoring the rights of Parliament and spitting in the face of a ruling by the distinguished former speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. Speaker Fraser.

The important point is not just that Parliament has been warned, but that the public service, the government, all of us have been on notice since 1989 that this sort of advertising was and is an affront to Parliament. Yet that affront has been repeated again by the government with a deliberate attempt to try to get ahead of Parliament and influence its views improperly.

Having been warned clearly, the government should not have stepped over the line. The fact that it has done so should be sufficient for the Speaker to now resolve the issue in favour of a prima facie finding on the issue of a possible contempt and to allow the House of Commons to determine the issue as the House may see fit.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

1:05 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

Geoff Regan Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that the important point here is that the right hon. member and his party are desperate. They are doing whatever they can to in fact avoid debating the question of Kyoto.

Mr. Speaker, let us go back to Mr. Turner's point in 1989, which of course concerned advertising done by the government of which the right hon. member was a minister. That point concerned advertising the claim that something was law that had not yet been passed but was still before Parliament.

The climate change advertising does not claim that the Kyoto protocol has been approved by Parliament. That is a very important distinction. Moreover, considering the outrage expressed by the right hon. member today, I wonder why he did not express the same outrage in 1989 with the same kind of measure if that is what he claims it is. In fact clearly it was a different case entirely, but it is odd that he did not object to it then.

The Prime Minister has said that the decision would be made. The Prime Minister has not suggested that the decision has been taken. He said it would be made. He has said a number of times that the House would make the decision, and it will.

It would seem to me that a member who has been minister of foreign affairs ought to know that ratification of a treaty in fact does not require a resolution of this House to be passed. He ought to know that. How can he not know that?

The motion that is going to be considered by the House, if we ever get to it, and I hope we will, it is in fact an advisory motion. It is not a motion to ratify. It is a motion advising the government on the question of ratifying.

It suggests to me that this series of filibuster issues is not helping us to get to the issue we really want to get to, which is to discuss the question of climate change, of Kyoto. Let us get to it. I hope this apparent malady of Kyoto avoidance syndrome which I see across the way will be overcome and that members will recover from it.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

1:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Very briefly, Mr. Speaker, I rise to participate in this question of privilege today.

As has been pointed out, the Speaker's ruling from 1989 did not rule a prima facie question of privilege, but the Speaker did say that if he ever had to consider a situation like that again he would not be as generous. Speaker Fraser was in a quandary and was not sure which side he should rule on, so he gave a warning. He warned that the next time he would rule on the side of granting a prima facie question of privilege.

This sort of thing has happened many times since Speaker Fraser spoke those words, yet no action has been taken. I believe that the government has been given enough chances.

On March 30, 1998, the Minister of Industry sent out a press release titled “Marchi meets with Chinese Leader in Beijing and announces Canada-China Interparliamentary Group”. At that time there was no Canada-China interparliamentary group. The minister gave the impression that the association existed when Parliament had not approved it, much like the ad during the Grey Cup game yesterday.

The head of the Canadian millennium scholarship foundation was announced by the government before legislation was in place to set up the foundation. A similar situation regarding appointments to the Canadian Wheat Board was raised on February 3, 1998. A similar situation arose again on October 28, 1997, regarding the Department of Finance. On Thursday, October 25, 2001, while the House was in session, the minister held a press conference to announce a $75 million bailout for Canada 3000.

These complaints resulted in many warnings from the Chair. One warning from the Speaker came on November 6, 1997. It was as strong as Speaker Fraser's warning, and it went like this:

...the Chair acknowledges that this 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 of Finance are of some concern...This 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 departments and agencies will be guided by it.

If this House is to function with authority and dignity, then it must be respected, especially by its own members.

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you rule that this matter be a prima facie question of privilege.

Privilege
Private Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Once again, I am prepared to deal with this matter, having heard the submissions from the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, the hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader and the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast.

When the right hon. member for Calgary Centre started his remarks I immediately recalled the ruling of Mr. Speaker Fraser to which he alluded so extensively in his comments. It was one of the early rulings in the House after I was first a member of this place and I certainly remember the day it happened. I remember the ruling with some considerable clarity and I certainly remember the words at the end of the ruling that the right hon. member quoted.

I certainly agreed with them, but in this case I think the matter is quite clear. I might go back to the earlier part of the ruling where he quoted the then leader of the opposition. He read part of the notice, the advertisement, that was complained of. It read as follows:

On January 1, 1991, Canada's Federal Sales Tax System will change. Please save this notice. It explains the changes and the reasons for them.

Then Mr. Speaker Fraser said:

I point out that this ad was a full-page ad and the letters were very large indeed.

Then he repeated those particular words in French. The suggestion was that these changes were in fact already passed, and the tenor of the advertisement was extremely important in this regard and very important in regard to Mr. Speaker Fraser's ruling, as he said, first of all, that the date was fixed as to when these changes would come in when in fact the act had not been passed by Parliament, and second, that it said to save the notice because there would be no changes, that this was the way the tax would be, that “you can save this notice now knowing that this is the way it is going to be on January 1, 1991”.

It was those two points that were made by Mr. Turner as objections to this particular advertising campaign and with which Mr. Speaker Fraser expressed his grave reservations at the end because of those two particular points.

I can go back to another decision of Madam Speaker Sauvé.

On October 17, 1980 a point of privilege like the one raised today by the right hon. member for Calgary Centre was raised.

She dealt with an objection to a government advertising campaign at that time, where there was the suggestion that advertising on behalf of a partisan policy or opinion before such policy or opinion had been approved by the House was a contempt of the House. She found it was not.

Generally advertising has been permitted, but what has been criticized and was criticized by Mr. Speaker Fraser, and where he had his reservations concerning the advertising campaign, was where the advertisement itself stated that there would be an implementation date and that the material in the ad was the final product. That was the objection. That, in my understanding, was the basis of the objection taken by the then leader of the opposition. It was found not to be a sound objection, but Mr. Speaker Fraser did indicate that if it happened again he might rule quite differently.

Nothing in the words that the right hon. member quoted to the Chair concerning the advertisements this weekend indicated that this was a fait accompli or that the matter was decided in a particular way. As I understand it, they indicated that the matter was before Parliament. Advertising for or against is something that has been allowed in the past, as long as the suggestion in the ad, as in this case of the goods and services tax advertisements, did not indicate that the decision had in fact been made and that no change would be made by Parliament.

That was the point of the alleged contempt which Mr. Speaker Fraser found so objectionable, and I cannot find anything in the evidence I have heard today respecting these advertisements that would indicate that this is in fact the case in these ads. While I am sure there will be differences of opinion in the House as to whether or not public funds should be spent advertising some matter that is before the House, my predecessors in this chair have consistently ruled that it is not for the Chair to interfere in that unless those advertisements themselves somehow suggest that Parliament has no say in the matter or that the whole issue is one that has been decided in advance and Parliament will decide this way on or before a certain date.

I cannot find that in the circumstances before us, and accordingly I do not find that there is valid question of privilege at this time, but obviously the content of ads sometimes changes and I am sure that the right hon. member will continue to be vigilant and if there are advertisements that he feels are objectionable he will raise them with the Chair at a later date and of course receive a hearing.