House of Commons Hansard #186 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-55.

Topics

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

May 9th, 2002 / 3 p.m.

West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast
B.C.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds Leader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government House leader if he could tell us what will happen for the rest of today, tomorrow and the week after next? Since we do not mind the sleaze coming from the other side, would he like to sit next week and keep the House going so we can get some answers for Canadians?

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to congratulate the House on the progress that was made earlier today with respect to one very important piece of legislation, Bill C-55. I hope that progress can continue through all stages of that legislation when the House returns to it.

This afternoon and tomorrow, we will continue with Bill C-47, the excise bill, Bill S-40, respecting clearing houses, and Bill C-15B, the criminal code amendments.

Next week is a scheduled constituency week and I am sure the Leader of the Opposition knows the rather elaborate procedure that must be gone through to change that process. It is not an easy thing to do. However next week members will be at work in their constituencies.

When we return on May 21, I would expect then to return to Bill C-47, if it is not already completed. We then would turn our consideration to the very important legislation introduced earlier today with respect to reproductive technologies, that bill introduced by the Minister of Health. I would also in that week that we are back hope to make further and better progress on Bill C-5 concerning species at risk.

I would confirm the earlier commitment that I made to the Leader of the Opposition that Thursday, May 23 will be an allotted day.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I have a notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Lakeland.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Leon Benoit Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today under the provisions of Standing Order 48. I regret that I must bring this matter to your attention today. It has been demonstrated that the Minister of National Defence has once again deliberately misled the House.

Over the past year and several months, the Minister of National Defence repeatedly told the House that his planning date for the entry into service of the new maritime helicopters was 2005. The minister never wavered informing the House that this was the date being planned for by his department.

On March 16, 2001, the minister was asked the following question by the member for Calgary Northeast:

The minister has told the House and the military repeatedly that we would be getting new choppers in 2005. Does the minister still actually have a plan...

The minister responded:

I am still hopeful that we could have them by the end of 2005.

On April 30, 2001, the minister was asked a similar question by the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore. The member said:

The minister stood in the House time and time again and said that the new helicopters would be replaced and flying in the year 2005...I ask him once again: When will those helicopters be replaced?

The minister responded:

We have not changed any of the timeframes. I do not know why he raises the matter.

Again a few months later in the House, on November 27, 2001, the minister was asked by the member for Saint John:

Will the minister be up front with us today, not political but up front and tell us exactly when we will get the replacements for the Sea Kings?

The minister responded:

We will be looking to get the replacement for the Sea Kings by the end of 2005. We will work as fast as we can to achieve that.

Sadly, these statements were false and the minister new they were false. The minister had already been told on March 7, 2001, that the delivery date for the new maritime helicopters had slipped to late 2006. Since that time the delivery date has slipped even further, but throughout 2001 the minister knew that his senior departmental officials had already determined that the helicopters could not be brought into service in 2005 and that in fact would be later.

We have obtained a briefing note written by Alan Williams who is the assistant deputy minister responsible for materiel in the Department of National Defence. The briefing note is entitled, “Briefing note for the Minister of National Defence on change of schedule and estimated cost of the maritime helicopter project”. That is the title and there is no ambiguity in that title at all. It is very clear. The first sentence of that briefing note states:

To explain why the estimated delivery date for the first maritime helicopter has moved from 2005 to 2006.

That is perfectly clear. There is no ambiguity with that, saying that it has moved from 2005 to 2006. The briefing note is about a page and a half long and explains the reasons for the delay. It states that the approval of the procurement strategy was delayed during the winter because of the government's focus on the early 2000 election and because of increased interest by competitors in the competition after the government split the contract in two.

The fourth paragraph of the briefing note again leaves no doubt about the delay. It states:

The combined impact of these two events has caused the target date for delivery of the first maritime helicopter to shift from the end of 2005 to the end of 2006.

That is what it says in the speaking note. There is no ambiguity. There is no reference of any kind to there still being a possibility of delivery in 2005. In fact it says exactly the opposite.

This briefing note was drafted on February 27, 2001 and passed to the minister on March 7, 2001. Even so, one week later the minister in answering the question put by the member for Calgary Northeast in the House said that he remained committed to the date of 2005. He of course repeated this to members many times over the next several months.

On May 7, just two days ago, here in the House, he was sitting before a committee of the whole to consider the defence estimates for the coming year. The member for Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam gave the minister the opportunity to clarify these discrepancies. He gave him a chance. Extraordinarily, the minister said:

Madam Chairman, the member said it was my aim. I am an optimist. I am still trying to get the helicopters as quickly as we possibly can...I still stand by what I said, that by the end of the year we would like to have the helicopter named. I will make every effort to achieve that. I believe it is achievable.

That is what he said here just a couple of days ago. The minister went on to say:

It will be difficult to make the end of 2005 but I will not change the target until we are near the end of the year, know the helicopter and see what kind of arrangement we can then make with the company with respect to speeding up and gaining some of the lost time. I am not prepared to change my aim at this point of time until I have had that opportunity.

This is not good enough. The minister has been told by his departmental officials that the delivery date of 2005 is impossible. We have the briefing notes that say that. We now know that even 2006 is virtually impossible because the pre-qualification letter which was to have been issued last month still has not been issued and has been further delayed. Yet the minister knowing all this stood in the House two days ago and said he was sticking by that.

The minister has not apologized to the House for his misleading statements, nor has he made any attempt to clear the record in this place. In fact he has explicitly refused to do so.

I find it disturbing that the minister's officials have also misled the House. For example, on June 5, 2001, Alan Williams appeared before the standing committee on national defence. He was asked the following question by the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore:

Sir, when do you expect those helicopters to be replaced? In what year?

It is a straightforward question to which Mr. Williams replied:

Well, we won't know for sure until we complete both acquisitions. We're still hopeful for 2005. We'll have to complete both. It depends on who the winners are, whether they've had a history of working together, and how far advanced they are. We remain hopeful for 2005 while recognizing that there might be some slippage.

The truth is that Mr. Williams did know for sure because he prepared those briefing notes for the minister.

Referring to 2005, in spite of the fact that there was no question whatsoever that it would be 2006 at the earliest, and the briefing notes from Mr. Williams to the minister leaving absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever, is deliberately misleading.

I view this conduct to be inconsistent with the standards of this House and the public. It certainly is inconsistent with what we expect from members of this House. Accordingly, the minister of defence is in contempt of this House.

On February 1, in ruling on an earlier issue of privilege, Mr. Speaker, you said:

The authorities are consistent about the need for clarity in our proceedings and about the need to ensure the integrity of the information provided by the government to the House.

On page 111 of the 22nd edition of Erskine May it states:

The Commons may treat the making of a deliberately misleading statement as a contempt.

On page 141 of the 19th edition of Erskine May it states:

Conspiracy to deceive either House or any committees of either House will also be treated as a breach of privilege.

Mr. Speaker, if you find this to be a prima facie question of privilege I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

York Centre
Ontario

Liberal

Art Eggleton Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, as I received no notice of this, I would like the opportunity, if you deem it needs to go further, to respond in a more detailed fashion to what the member has put before you. However I do not believe it has any merit whatsoever.

I have expressed to the House the hope that by the end of this year we would know the name of the helicopter. I stand by that. Can we get the helicopter by 2005? I think that is still quite possible. That is what the government is aiming for.

We are talking about our goals and aims. I have said that there has been slippage in the timeframe for it but I have also indicated that we hope, once the identity of the helicopter is known and that part of the competition is completed, we will be able to make up time in the balance of the process.

That is the government position. He cites a number of official reports but those are reports of officials. They do not reflect the government position. Those are reports that officials have given to us. Yes, Mr. Williams has indicated to me that if we are not in a position to accelerate the process then we will be beyond 2005. However he has also indicated to me that there is the possibility that we could accelerate the process.

Until we get beyond this next phase, which will help determine which helicopter we will purchase in this procurement process, we do not know precisely what date we are talking about. Therefore we are not changing our aims with respect to when we want to have the helicopter. We want it as soon as we possibly can.

That is my preliminary response to the member's statement. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, if you intend to proceed with this any further I would want to respond in a more fulsome fashion, although I cannot imagine why that statement has any merit.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair is quite prepared to deal with this matter at once.

I know the hon. member for Lakeland has raised this matter believing it to be a very serious issue. It may be. However I listened very carefully to his argument and I heard the remarks of the minister in response, which only confirms the answer that he apparently gave in committee of the whole on Tuesday night, for which I have the Hansard .

The combination of the submissions to me indicate that the minister received a briefing note concerning this matter, which the hon. member for Lakeland has obtained and which contains information that would appear to contradict the minister's answers in the House.

The minister is the minister. He is not the person drafting the briefing note and is free to accept or reject the advice he receives in a briefing note, just as if I as Speaker were to receive briefing notes from the clerks advising me that something is possible or not possible I would be free to accept or reject that advice. I must make the final decision. The briefing note might be correct in my view or might not be correct and I must make the decision.

The minister in the same way is entitled to express his view as to when he will have helicopters. It may turn out that it is incorrect by circumstances but if his aim is to do it by that date and he believes that is what he will do he is entitled to make that statement. Whatever the contents of a briefing note, they are offered as advice to a minister and a minister is free to accept, reject or overrule the advice that he is receiving. It is the minister who runs the department not the persons drafting briefing notes.

Accordingly, I must say that in my view the minister has answered these questions in a way that is consistent. The hon. member in 2006 may say that they were consistently wrong but the minister has stated his reservations both in answer to the question from the hon. member for Port Moody--Coquitlam--Port Coquitlam and in response today.

In the circumstances I am afraid I am unable to find that there is anything like an attempt here to mislead the House. Accordingly, I find there is no question of privilege that the hon. member has raised at this time.

The hon. member for Hochelaga--Maisonneuve on another question of privilege.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like the consent of the House to submit to you a letter signed by 81 of your colleagues. It concerns what is believed to be a breach of privilege, in connection with what happened to the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca. As you may recall, Mr. Speaker, one of the bills introduced by the member was first deemed votable, and later declared non-votable.

Without revisiting the ruling you have made on this issue, we would like to submit this letter in which we indicate how concerned we are as parliamentarians. We are worried that the government is using its majority to take over for the subcommittee on private members' business.

Mr. Speaker, we have put our trust in you, and rightly so, because you have always stood for the rights of members of parliament. When you were elected as the Speaker of the House, you made a commitment to ensure that the rights of all parliamentarians would be upheld.

In this letter, which is a form of petition, we respectfully submit to you that, when a private member's bill deemed votable is not voted on, this is a breach of parliamentary privilege, and we are very concerned about that. All those who signed the letter and wish to submit it to you are afraid that an unfortunate precedent has been set.

We urge you, as guardian of our freedoms and spokesperson for all members of this House, to take remedial action.

The remedial action we are seeking is for our colleague from Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca to be allowed to introduce another bill, which would be deemed votable, as soon as possible, without committing to a deadline.

To conclude, Mr. Speaker, we have complete trust in your ability to defend our privileges, but if we were to learn that the government was using its majority to take over for the subcommittee on private members' business, not only would we consider this a breach of privilege but our confidence in the rules by which this House operates would be gravely shaken and undermined.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Wascana
Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, over the last number of weeks the issue of how best to handle private members' business has been a subject that has preoccupied members on all sides of the House, and I think seriously so.

There has been most recently a discussion of this matter in a round table organized by the House committee on procedure and House affairs to revisit this whole question of how private members' business, on behalf of all members of the House, not just the government or just the opposition or any party in the House, can best be advanced in the interest of parliament and in the interest of the democratic process.

My first point is that this is not a partisan matter that pits government against opposition or one party against another. We all want to see private members' business properly and respectfully managed.

Second, with respect to the particular item that was referred to by the hon. member having to do with the earlier private members' business proposed by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca, the suggestion has been made that the government in some way took steps to make that particular item of business non-votable. In fact the record will show that is not true. There was a vote on the matter. A motion was made, that motion was amended and the vote was taken. In effect, there was a vote.

The outcome that the House arrived at is that the subject matter of that bill is not dead. The subject matter of that bill is alive in a committee of this House, the special parliamentary committee on the non-medical use of drugs. I fully expect that committee, chaired by a member on this side with a very distinguished vice-chair from the opposition, will deliberate on this matter along with any other matters having to do with the nonmedical use of drugs.

In due course that committee will make a report to the House. I fully expect the House will want to act upon that report in full context at the time.

The subject matter of that particular private member's item is still very much before the parliamentary process in the context where all members of parliament will be able to deliberate upon it.

Finally, let me make this point. It is important that we find better and improved ways to deal with the management of private members' business.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Respect the rules.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

The hon. gentlemen says that we should respect the rules, and I agree entirely. That is what has happened in this case and I intend to ensure that the rules are respected.

When a motion is made it may be amended and a vote may be taken. Surely the hon. gentlemen across the way understand that at any moment in the House a member of parliament may make a motion, and it is perfectly within the rules for another member of parliament to amend the motion, and in due course a vote is taken. That is the way the rules exist at the present time.

If what we are hearing from the opposition and from other members in the House is that particular procedure ought not to apply to private members' business, then fine, let us change the rules.

Under the auspices of the House leaders and of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs very honest and sincere attempts are being made to find better ways to manage House business on behalf of all members. This is not a partisan issue. This is not an issue that sets government against opposition or one party against another. It is an issue in which all of us have a vital interest. We can deal with it substantively or we can deal with it through nonsensical heckling. I prefer to deal with it substantively, and that is what the government intends to do with the co-operation of every member of the House who intends goodwill on the subject matter.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. This is not debate. This is a point of order. The Chair is ready to put an end to this discussion at this time.

The hon. member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve has submitted a letter to the Chair. I have received it and read what it said.

However, the issue raised in the letter really concerns private members' business.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

It concerns the Speaker and the members.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:25 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. member says that it concerns the Speaker and the members. But the Speaker has already ruled on the admissibility of the amendment to this bill that was put to a vote in the House.

The member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve knows full well that the Speaker always has to draw the line between the rights of various of groups of members, on either side of the House or in party.

In this case, it has been suggested that the decision of the majority on the question put to the House regarding the amendment to the motion at second reading stage of this bill was somehow out of order.

I have already ruled otherwise. I think that the important thing here is that, if some members insist that this type of amendment is out of order, then other members will make the argument that it is in order. The Speaker is always in the middle of these arguments and has to decide.

Based on the precedents that I have examined in order to rule on this matter, I have come to the conclusion that such an amendment to any bill before the House is in order.

A study on private members' business is currently underway at the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. The government House leader strongly suggested that the committee undertake this kind of study, and the study will continue.

The hon. member for Hochelaga--Maisonneuve may have attended the committee meeting last week. I do not recall the date though. There will certainly be other opportunities for the committee to examine this issue.

What I can do—and will do so immediately this afternoon—is to send this letter to the chair of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, suggesting that the committee examine the proposals contained in this letter to change the rules concerning private members' business, as suggested by the member for Hochelaga--Maisonneuve.

I am certain that the hon. member and his colleagues who signed the letter can appear before the committee to encourage it to rule on that point and, perhaps, recommend changes to the standing orders of the House.

These are the rules that the Speaker has to enforce here in the House. I do not have the authority to change them. I have to follow the rules and be the servant to the House.

The rules whereby amendments are deemed in order or out of order are made by the House. If the House wants to change the rules, as Speaker of the House, I will be happy to implement the changes.

I can assure the hon. member that I will immediately send the letter to the chair of the committee.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order concerning the understanding of the ruling.

I thank you for your sensitivity. I was sure of it, but I want to be sure of one thing. We are appealing to you because you are the guardian of our freedoms. We do not dispute the government's right to defeat a bill but in this case, there was no vote.

What I am asking is that when you write to the chair of the subcommittee on private members business are you going to ensure that remedial action is taken concerning the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca?

We do not want generalities. We want positive remedial action in connection with the violation that our colleague has suffered.

Are you going to stress this aspect of the reason for our appealing to you?

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:30 p.m.

The Speaker

I have indicated that the amendment to the motion at second reading stage of the bill put forward by the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca was in order and admissible. The House decided to adopt it. I am not the one who came to that decision, but the majority of members, in a division in this House.

If the hon. member wishes to see a vote on the motion at second reading stage, the majority can reject that motion and refer the whole matter to committee. The majority, however, decided otherwise. As the hon. member knows very well, it is hard for the Chair to change this.

The matter will therefore be reviewed in the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs. I am sure that the hon. member, who has some very persuasive arguments, can go before the committee in order to persuade the members that his position is the right one, the accurate one, and the one the House needs to adopt.