House of Commons Hansard #173 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was mace.

Topics

Canada Customs and Revenue Agency
Oral Question Period

April 22nd, 2002 / 2:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency recently issued a request for a proposal for the procurement of office supplies for all of its locations across the country. In short, CCRA is seeking to establish a procurement agreement with a single supplier. This practically eliminates small, local businesses in local communities around the country and guarantees business to those with U.S. parent companies.

How can the minister justify this in light of the fact that the department decentralized in the first place to assist the local economy?

Canada Customs and Revenue Agency
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Thornhill
Ontario

Liberal

Elinor Caplan Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, I am aware of the issue the member raises. The CCRA is exploring options to ensure that purchasing is done in the most cost effective way, which will be of assistance to not only our offices but also to taxpayers.

This issue is under review because we want to ensure that the bidding is fair and that everyone has an opportunity to supply the agency.

Research and Development
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Brent St. Denis Algoma—Manitoulin, ON

Mr. Speaker, the issues facing government are becoming increasingly more complex. They often impact greatly on our society and economy. The public relies on government to use science and technology to ensure the health, safety and well-being of Canadians.

Could the Secretary of State for Science, Research and Development advise what the government is doing to ensure that Canada is able to keep pace with the rapid rate of technological change and the advancement of science and technology?

Research and Development
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Vaughan—King—Aurora
Ontario

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Secretary of State (Science

Mr. Speaker, science and technology advice plays a key role in the government decision making process. As a matter of fact Canada is one of only two countries in the world that has a government wide policy on science and technology advice.

The framework builds on the work done by the Council of Science and Technology advisers and is currently being implemented across the federal government. In adopting this framework, our country continues to capitalize on the great opportunities generated by advances in science and technology.

Research and Development
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I have a question of privilege by the hon. the government House leader.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the House will recall that on Wednesday of last week there was a deeply troubling incident in the House which involved the unparliamentary misuse of the mace.

I signaled at that time my intention to pursue this serious and premeditated affront to the order and decorum of the House. We as members I believe cannot simply ignore it. We cannot pretend it did not happen. We have a duty to respond. Indeed, many members of parliament on all sides of the House have made this point to me over the past few days. If we at every turn do not defend the dignity of parliament, we embark upon a very slippery slope. Accordingly, nothing could justify the unparliamentary behaviour of last Wednesday.

Mr. Speaker, if you find that there is in fact here a prima facie case of privilege, I would be prepared to move an appropriate motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast
B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, on page 122 of Marleau and Montpetit it states:

A complaint on a matter of privilege must satisfy two conditions before it can be accorded precedence over the Orders of the Day. First, the Speaker must be convinced that a prima facie case of breach of privilege has been made and, second, the matter must be raised at the earliest opportunity.

I would argue that it fails on both counts. The mace is the symbol of the House's authority. The member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca hoisted it above his head in a moment of anger and frustration. What the member did was clearly wrong but he apologized immediately to the House and I and others accepted his apology.

I am not indifferent to what other members on that side have done. The Minister of Health when she was minister of justice was taken before the privileges committee and found guilty of contempt of the House. She apologized and we all accepted it. I could talk about a number of other issues just like that.

The 21st edition of Erskine May states on page 140:

Where the Member accused has made a proper apology for his offence the incriminating motion has usually been withdrawn....

On the issue of timing, this incident took place last Wednesday. There were plenty of opportunities for the government House leader to raise this and he did not.

Since the member apologized, I do not believe that we should be wasting the time of the House focusing on the incident itself. However it does give us the opportunity to discuss the reasons that may have led to the member acting in the way he did. Those of us who know the member will agree, and I know most members on that side would agree, that hoisting the mace above the head was certainly out of character for the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.The frustration with how this institute operates is increasing day to day. If anything, the minister's motion may give some of us the opportunity to blow off a little steam. It may be a long steam.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I am reluctant to get into a lengthy argument in this case at this time anyway.

In my opinion, what took place in the House was contrary to the standing orders.

In my opinion it is a situation where I believe the minister should be allowed to put his motion. I believe there has been a prima facie breach of the privileges of the House. The minister sought to raise the matter on Thursday morning and got my approval to delay it because of the events that had transpired on Wednesday night, so it was not raised at the earliest opportunity, but I indicated there would be no prejudice in respect of time because of the delay on Thursday morning.

Accordingly, in my view the motion is one that could now be brought before the House and I invite the minister to move his motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That the member for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca be suspended from the service of the House until such time as he appears at the bar of the House to apologize, in a manner found to be satisfactory by the Speaker, for his actions in disregard of the authority of the Chair and in contempt of the House.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast
B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, procedural authorities contend that the Mace itself enjoys absolutely no procedural significance whatsoever. It is not required for the House to sit, and our rights and privileges do not depend upon it. The Mace is a symbol of the House's authority.

What we do depend on, in a concrete way, is a fair Speaker to interpret the rules of procedure and to protect the rights of members.

You, Mr. Speaker, have done an excellent job since your election and I am certain that when the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca waived the Mace in front of your chair his anger and frustration were not directed at you personally or at the authority of your office. I am certain that the member has the utmost respect for the office you hold and for you personally. Your job is a difficult one. We need to support our Speaker if this place is to function at all.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the first Speaker for which we have a record was Simon de Montfort, who apparently presided over the so-called mad parliament that met at Oxford on June 11, 1258. The mad parliament was not a popular assembly. Simon de Montfort's famous parliament of 1265 introduced the principle of popular representation for the first time and set itself against the tyranny of the court. It owes its derogatory title to those whose abuses it sought to check.

If the Liberal government does not change its ways, Mr. Speaker, I am afraid you may end up presiding over the maddest parliament ever.

In the introduction of Jeffrey Simpson's book, The Friendly Dictatorship , he points out that:

Canadian parliamentary democracy, as it has evolved, places more power in the hands of the prime minister than does any other democracy, far more than the U.S. president wields, but more, too, than what political leaders exercise in other parliamentary regimes.

Those seeking a check or balance against this most unbridled Prime Minister are just frustrated by the actions of the government and the Prime Minister.

Last Wednesday may serve as a wake up call. We must get serious about reforming this institution and we can start by eliminating the only obstacle that stands in our way, this Liberal government. The anger displayed by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca was directed at the government and the tactics it used against freedom and democracy and, in this case, the interference with private members' business.

To put this in context, I have a few facts on private members' business. Two hundred and thirty-five bills have been introduced by MPs from all political parties. None have made it past third reading. Only two House private members' bills have made it to a vote at second reading, less than 1%. The two bills that did make it into committee stage in the 36th parliament were killed in committee by the Liberal majority on those committees. Liberals can avoid voting on controversial issues by not deeming them votable, and when they do, they move motions to withdraw them or kill them at committee.

With respect to Senate private members' bills, the government has demonstrated that it has more respect for the unelected Senate. The only three bills that have received royal assent have come from the Senate. They are: Bill S-10, parliamentary poet laureate, Bill S-14, Sir John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier Day, and Bill S-22, the national horse of Canada. There were 481 motions introduced and only 5 have been adopted, just over 1%. We have had over 150 hours of debate in the House during this parliament for consideration of private members' business, $45 million worth of House time used to no avail.

The procedure and House affairs committee had until April 2, 2002, to come to some sort of arrangement to make all items votable. It decided in December 2001 that it could not do anything about it. The committee motion that ended the study and quashed the hopes of the backbench was moved by the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary.

Let me remind the House that private members' business is about members of the House being able to vote both their personal and their constituents' wishes. As my colleague from Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca said “The Prime Minister's Office violated the greatest right we have. It took away our right to vote”.

I would be interested in hearing what the Liberal member for Mississauga East might have to say on this topic. In the last parliament, her bill regarding consecutive sentencing was attacked viciously by her own colleagues. They moved a motion similar to the one moved against the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca, but thanks to free votes, the amendment was defeated. I will talk more about free votes in a moment, but first I will finish this story.

The bill sponsored by the member for Mississauga East survived the first attack and was sent to committee. At committee her colleagues deleted every single clause in the bill and reported back a blank piece of paper to the House. Once again, thanks to free votes and the efforts of the opposition, the clauses were restored. The bill was attacked repeatedly again, but finally made it to the Senate. The Liberals in the Senate were more successful than those in this House and the bill was unfortunately killed.

That is what is causing great frustration in the House, not only on this side but also on the Liberal side. That is why members of all parties have come to my colleague and said that what he did was wrong, and we all agree with that, but his frustration is understood by members from all sides of the House.

The Liberal motion waged against the bill sponsored by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca was successful because it was a whipped vote. Traditionally, private members' votes are free votes. The tradition of the Mace is important, but is not the tradition of free votes just as important? There is a Biblical comparison to this type of behaviour and it is found in Luke 11:39:42:

Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but instead you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside the dish to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs but you neglect...You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone”.

In that context, I am puzzled today to see the government so focused on this issue. Normally it does not give a damn about defending the rights and traditions of this institution. Its disrespect for parliament, its members and the people who elected us is well documented.

I will return to the issue of free votes. If the vote on the motion to derail the member's bill were actually a free vote then we in the opposition would have fewer reasons to be upset. Allowing members to vote more freely would reduce some of the frustration and anxiety in this Chamber.

Do you remember, Mr. Speaker, that when my party put forward a supply motion that would have required the government to compensate hepatitis C victims the Prime Minister ordered a whipped vote and some Liberal members were actually crying when forced to vote down the motion?

Do you remember, Mr. Speaker, how embarrassed Liberal members were, and in particular the Minister of Finance who was instrumental in penning the first red book, when Liberal members had to vote against a supply motion to implement a Liberal red book promise? The promise to appoint an independent ethics counsellor who reports directly to parliament was a good idea, but the Prime Minister ordered his members to vote it down because he was never serious about that promise.

Here is another example. My party put forth a motion in the 36th parliament to “axe, scrap, abolish” the GST. The axe, scrap and abolish part of the motion was in quotations because those words were uttered by the Prime Minister and other members of the Liberal caucus during the election. Once again, Liberals had to vote down their own words.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

They didn't even choke on them.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

As an hon. member just said, they didn't even choke on them.

Why do Liberal members put up with being forced to vote against policies they believe in? In April 1998, Preston Manning told a story to the House to explain why, and I think the story is worth telling again.

Once upon a time there was a king named Jean I, who presided over a castle surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge. The inhabitants of this castle were divided into two classes: lords and ladies who occupied the front benches of the royal throne and the peasants who occupied the backbenches. One day a group of peasants, or backbenchers as they were called, went out to toil in the fields. As they crossed the moat and started down the road they passed a cave from which emerged a great dragon breathing fire and smoke. The fire consumed 50 of the backbenchers and set the rest scurrying back to the castle.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

David Pratt Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We are all interested in hearing the hon. member's comments. However I fail to see how his fairy tales could possibly be of interest to the House given the question before us.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. The hon. Leader of the Opposition is tying his stories in with a point he is seeking to make in his speech. I am prepared to hear him out.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I guess the Liberals get so many fairy tales at caucus it is a little tough to listen to them here.

As I was saying, the fire consumed 50 of the backbenchers and sent the rest scurrying back into the castle. When King Jean was told of the terrible tragedy he resolved to investigate it himself. To help he took along two of his most trusted knights: Lady Marlene, the keeper of the royal whip; and Lord Goodriavere who had just risen to high rank through faithful service to King Jean.

As they surveyed the scene of the tragedy and saw 50 fried backbenchers they observed three things. First, they said it was too bad. Second, they saw the dragon lying dead from overexertion. Third, they noticed the dragon's fire had ignited a seam of coal in the cave from which smoke continued to billow.

Lady Marlene who is a straightforward woman said the obvious: “The dragon is dead. This is good news. Let us go and tell it to the backbenchers”. However Lord Goodriavere said not so fast. Turning to King Jean he said “I see an opportunity here to maintain and increase our control over the peasants. Let us imply, indirectly of course, that the fiery dragon still lives. We can point to the smoke belching from the cave as evidence of this. Let us tell the backbenchers that henceforth they can only go out of the castle with royal permission and under the supervision of myself and Lady Marlene, for the safety and protection of themselves and the castle of course”.

King Jean thought this was a splendid idea. Thus the myth of the fiery dragon was established to coerce and control the backbenchers of the kingdom.

Like the dragon in the story, it is a myth that a government must resign if a government bill or motion is defeated or if an opposition motion or amendment is passed. The myth is used to coerce government members, especially backbenchers, to vote for government bills and motions with which they and their constituents disagree and vote against opposition motions and amendments with which they substantially agree.

We saw this when Liberal members were forced to vote down compensation for hepatitis C victims. We saw it when they were forced to vote down their own policy to scrap the GST. We saw it when they appointed an ethics counsellor who reports directly to parliament. We saw it last Wednesday when the Liberals forced the withdrawal of a private member's bill instead of giving the House an opportunity to vote on it.

In determining the guilt of the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca it is important to compare his actions to other inappropriate acts. In other words, does his behaviour live up to the standards we have established and does he deserve the punishment mentioned in the government's motion?

Let us look back at the election that first brought the government to power. No motion was tabled criticizing the members who told the public they would scrap the GST and then decided to keep it. No one on that side of the House tabled a motion to admonish the Prime Minister for flip-flopping on free trade. Nothing was done about the broken promise to restore faith in good government.

That is why today in the papers we see a poll that says 71% of Canadians think government is corrupt. Ministers caught in a jam about the truth refused to resign and were never pressured by the Prime Minister to do so. How about ministers or so-called leadership candidates accepting payments from undisclosed interests to finance their undeclared leadership races? How about my favourite issue: closure and time allocation? It has been implemented 75 times. That is a higher number than under any other government in the history of this great nation. It leads to frustration.

Mr. Speaker, you had strong words to describe the abuse of time allocation and closure when you were in opposition. On February 19, 1993 you said:

What we have here is an absolute scandal in terms of the government's unwillingness to listen to the representatives of the people in the House. Never before have we had a government so reluctant to engage in public discussion on the bills brought before this House...I suggest that the government's approach to legislating is frankly a disgrace. It cuts back the time the House is available to sit and then it applies closure to cut off the debate.

If I did not know it I would have thought the Chair was talking about the present government. He would have to work a lot harder because the list of the present government is long compared to the Tory government of the past.

Mr. Speaker, I have one more quote from you. It is a good example of how closure frustrated even a patient man such as yourself. On April 23, 1993 you said of the use of closure:

I suggest this is not the way to run Parliament. This is an abuse of the process of the House.

Mr. Speaker, I agree with you. When a government abuses the process as it did with the private member's bill for the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca it results in frustration. It is no way to run a parliament.

I will go over a couple more examples. As hon. members will recall, there was to be an independent judicial inquiry into the Somalia affair. The minister of defence shut it down. Then the Prime Minister decided it would be best if he did not testify before the APEC inquiry. There was also a certain phone call to the president of the Business Development Bank of Canada. I am sure the Chair would agree these actions are better suited for a motion of contempt than the actions of the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

My party has raised many questions of privilege of the House on important matters that attacked the authority and dignity of the House but no action was taken. Not one Liberal stood to support this institution. I will cite a few examples.

Do hon. members remember when the Minister for International Trade sent out a press release on March 30, 1998 entitled “Marchi Meets with Chinese Leaders in Beijing and Announces Canada-China Interparliamentary Group?” At the time there was no Canada-China interparliamentary group. The minister gave the impression the association existed when parliament had not approved it. That is a fine example of the respect the Liberal government gives to parliament.

Let us not forget the naming of the head of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation by the government before there was legislation to set up the foundation. Did the government think this dismissive view of the legislative process was an affront to parliament? No, it defended its actions.

I could supply the House with many more examples. However I will now turn to cases that involved the conduct of hon. members and cases found to be prima facie. In this parliament alone we have had three questions of privilege involving ministers. The Chair found all three to be prima facie. As a result they were referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Let us examine the three cases. First, the present Minister of Health when she was minister of justice leaked the contents of Bill C-15 to the media before it was tabled in the House. She was found to be in contempt by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs but the committee declined to recommend a punishment. It instead gave her a warning. The committee suggested if it ever happened again it would not be so generous. Let us compare this to the current case. They are both affronts to parliament but the Liberal minister received no punishment. She was told not to do it again. She received a mere slap on the wrist.

Second, the same minister was up on the same charge for leaking the contents of Bill C-36. The committee concluded she could not be responsible because it could not find the guilty party who leaked the bill. That is so much for ministerial responsibility. The minister got away twice without punishment.

Third, the minister of defence made misleading statements in the House. This is normally considered a grave matter. What was the outcome of the question of privilege? The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs essentially whitewashed the whole affair. The minister got off without having to receive any punishment whatsoever.

Let us go back to the 35th parliament. We had a case where a Bloc member, Mr. Jacob, wrote a letter to Quebecers in the military suggesting they defect and join a separate Quebec army in the event the referendum result turned out to be a yes. Do hon. members remember that? A Reform member, Mr. Hart, rose in the House and charged Mr. Jacob with sedition. The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs considered the matter. The Liberal majority, afraid to upset anyone in a post-referendum atmosphere, concluded that contempt had not occurred and no punishment was deserved.

Let us imagine that. In the U.S. the member would have been sent to prison and put on death row. In Canada we get more upset over someone grabbing the Mace. At least the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca has apologized. Mr. Jacob never apologized to the House for his conduct.

Let us look an identical case which occurred in the 34th parliament. In a similar moment of frustration Ian Waddell grabbed the Mace as the Sergeant-at-Arms was carrying it out of the House. The next day the government House leader moved a motion requiring Mr. Waddell to appear before the bar of the House to be admonished by the Chair. If that was the punishment for touching the Mace in the 34th parliament why is the government House leader in this parliament recommending a more severe punishment?