House of Commons Hansard #48 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iraq.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

Order. We have moved on to the next question. The hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester has the floor.

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, on December 23 the Minister for International Trade issued a press release saying, “The government of Canada announces $15 million of support for Canadian softwood lumber associations”.

The press release implies support for associations in all regions of Canada. Are there any regions of Canada that will not receive one single cent of this support money?

Softwood Lumber
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister for International Trade

Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear that indeed we are supporting the softwood lumber industry across the country because we are going through a very difficult time with the punitive measures that the Americans are taking.

As Atlantic Canada is not affected by the countervailing duties, the Maritime Lumber Bureau has asked not to receive that assistance from the Government of Canada, not to be rolled into the American action. It is at their request that they are not receiving any money, but we stand by the rest of Canada because softwood lumber is a top priority for the government.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

I draw the attention of all hon. members to the presence in the gallery of the Hon. Heather Forsythe, Solicitor General for Alberta.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Saskatoon--Humboldt.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

January 29th, 2003 / 3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 48, and with regard to my prior notice, I rise on a question of privilege. The incident at issue, which had the effect of impeding and obstructing my duties as a parliamentarian, occurred during the parliamentary recess and resulted in a contempt of the House of Commons.

As a result of the recess, I am bringing this matter to your attention at the earliest possible opportunity, since the House only resumed this week.

In dealing with the charge of contempt I am bringing to your attention, it is essential for you, Mr. Speaker, and all members to understand that contempt as opposed to privilege cannot be enumerated or categorized.

It is on that very point that I refer to an October 29, 1980, ruling by Speaker Sauvé who stated:

--while our privileges are defined, contempt of the House has no limits.

She also said:

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.

That sentiment was duly reiterated by Speakers Fraser and Parent in their rulings made respectively on October 10, 1989 and October 9, 1997. Those rulings concerned contempt of the House where no precedent existed and for proceedings that had not been envisioned.

Those rulings are significant because the contempt I am highlighting is similar in that it is somewhat unprecedented.

In Marleau and Montpetit, 2000 edition, House of Commons Procedure and Practice , it states, at page 50, that:

“Parliamentary privilege” refers more appropriately to the rights and immunities that are deemed necessary for the House of Commons, as an institution, and its Members, as representatives of the electorate, to fulfil their functions. It also refers to the powers possessed by the House to protect itself, its Members, and its procedures from undue interference, so that it can effectively carry out its principal functions which are to inquire, to debate, and to legislate.

It is in respect of exercising my rights of inquiry as a parliamentarian that I was unduly interfered with by certain individuals within various government departments.

Specifically, on December 27, 2002, and from January 2 through January 6, 2003, I made inquiries with public servants about the discriminatory effects that the government's bilingualism scheme had on anglophones seeking employment and promotion within the federal public service. In both cases my parliamentary e-mail account was used to communicate proceedings of the House with public servants.

The information provided to civil servants on December 27, 2002, was taken directly from Hansard and contains my intervention and that of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury Board Minister during the adjournment proceedings of December 4, 2002. This information was communicated as a public service, to provide information about government policy debated in Parliament.

From January 3 until January 6, 2003, and in the absence of any effort by the federal government or unions to consult public service workers, I inquired and surveyed public servants about the extent to which discriminatory bilingualism has impacted and obstructed their careers.

At this point, I would like to reiterate my reference to Marleau and Montpetit and their emphasis on what constitutes parliamentary privilege in respect of protecting members from undue interference in the course of their duties.

Further to this point, I also refer to a ruling on a question of privilege by Speaker Francis, February 20, 1984, which established that efforts by a public servant to withhold co-operation from a member constitutes a prima facie question of privilege.

In regard to the December 27, 2002 e-mail, on January 4, 2003, an employee of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Peter Paton, directed employees in the department to not reply and to delete the e-mail.

On January 16, 2003, and in respect of the survey sent out on my parliamentary account January 3 to 6, 2003, the Secretary of the Treasury Board and Comptroller of Canada, Jim Judd, sought to undermine the confidentiality of the survey and discourage public servants from responding to the survey.

On January 17, 2003, an employee with the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Rob Wright, did the same when he advised employees in the department that my assurance of confidentiality could not be guaranteed, an effort to intimidate public servants from responding.

On January 14, 2003, Cathy McLaughlin, who is the Assistant Director of Diversity and Official Languages Program at Human Resources Development Canada, demanded that staff in the department not respond to the questionnaire.

On that same day, HRDC director Shirley Kimery instructed employees in the department to not respond to the questionnaire. Each of those unwarranted interferences breached my privilege as a member of this House as they relate to free speech, inquiry and the use of e-mail as an extension of the proceedings of Parliament. More important, if you find, Mr. Speaker, that the actions of these individuals did not breach a specific privilege, they nonetheless are a contempt of Parliament.

In that regard, I refer to Marleau and Montpetit, 2000 edition, at page 52, which points out that:

Contempt may be an act or omission; it does not have to actually obstruct or impede the House or a Member, it merely has to have the tendency to produce such results.

Over the years members have brought to the attention of the House instances in which attempts were made to impede, obstruct or interfere in members abilities to conduct their duties, but there are no hard and fast rules about the manner in which such obstruction occurs.

This is what Speaker Sauvé conveyed in her ruling of October 29, 1980, and the point Marleau and Montpetit are making on page 52. Pointedly, such instances ought not be solely viewed in the context of whether such obstruction was physical in nature, but whether the effect of the action was to impede a member's parliamentary privilege, the discharge of his or her duties or which offends the authority or dignity of the House.

In a similar vein, I refer to Erskine May's 21st edition which deals with contempt at page 115. It notes that it is not possible to list every act which might be considered to amount to contempt. Accordingly, such incidents need to be measured and weighed against the rights of members to perform their duties without undue interference.

The last point I want to make on the issue relates to the manner in which the contempt occurred. This is very significant because, as noted in Joseph Maingot's Proceedings in Parliament , at page 94:

One must not lose sight of the fact that “proceedings in Parliament” is not the only criterion or the only criterion for the House of Commons when determining whether it has jurisdiction in any matter. Contempt of Parliament rarely occurs during a “Proceeding of Parliament” but rather it emanates from outside the House...

This very point was at the heart of the issue, which Speaker Francis ruled on and to which I previously referred. In that precedent setting ruling of February 20, 1984, Speaker Francis found that the action of public servants to withhold cooperation, “would undoubtedly hinder that member in fulfilling his duties”.

By way of summary and conclusion, I am confident that a contempt of Parliament has occurred with regard to the actions of the individuals who undermined my effort to inquire and communicate with public servants.

I believe your review, Mr. Speaker, of this matter will find that I have established that the individuals named, through their actions, produced results that had the effect of impeding me as a member of Parliament in the discharge of my duties. Again I reiterate the point made in Maingot that:

Contempt of Parliament rarely occurs during a “Proceeding of Parliament” but rather it emanates from outide the House...

As such, Mr. Speaker, if you find that a contempt of the House has occurred, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I want to respond briefly to this point of privilege. There are three or four issues and I will be very brief.

The hon. member referred to free speech. I do not believe he has made a case that someone threatened him that he could not speak in the House of Commons or one of its parliamentary committees. That perhaps would be a case to be made, but I do not think it was made. It was not even alleged.

On the matter of what the hon. member called his inquiry, that is a totally inaccurate way of portraying what this aspect of privilege is about. I believe that this has to do with the fact that a parliamentary committee summons people who are supposed to give actual facts, the truth and so on. Nothing ever has said that a member of the House had a right to disrupt some 200,000 civil servants, or whatever the number, by sending them e-mails. I do not believe that anyone could allege that in any way justifies the action taken by the hon. member.

On the issue of confidentiality, has anyone ever heard of a confidential e-mail to 200,000 people? This is what the hon. member is alleging, that his confidentiality has been broken.

Finally, if senior civil servants had directed their staff not to respond to disruptions of their work, whether by a member of this House or by anyone else in the course of their actions, by receiving this material, insulting as it was because I saw it, all the power to them as far as I am concerned.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

I want to thank the hon. member for Saskatoon--Humboldt for raising his question of privilege and the government House leader for his contribution. I will take the matter under advisement and return to the House in due course.

However, while I am on the subject, I would like to take this opportunity to comment briefly on the context of the issues raised by the hon. member for Saskatoon--Humboldt.

As members know, I take very seriously my responsibility as the guardian of the rights and privileges of each member of the House and of the House as an institution.

In the matter of this member's electronic communications in recent days, it has been brought to my attention that use is being made by the hon. member of the services of the House, namely the e-mail system, and this use has presented unprecedented difficulties.

Briefly put, the volume of messages and the size of each message are such as to interfere not only with the operation of the system as a whole here at the House of Commons but with the operation of systems in place in various government departments and agencies. So toxic has been the effect on various outside recipients that a government-wide alert has been issued with regard to these mailings that are viewed as dangerous and reprehensible spamming because of their negative effect on the functioning of the receiving system.

Accordingly, as your Speaker, I had to weigh the rights of the individual member against the rights of all other hon. members and I have reached the following conclusion. Until specific guidelines have been adopted to regulate mass e-mailings, just as we regulate mass mailings by regular post, I have directed officials to contact any member whose activities impede the proper functioning of the system here at the House or the functioning of systems off the Hill to inform that member to cease such destructive activity.

Alternatives will be proposed where possible and if the member does not comply, I have instructed officials to suspend the member's account. That means there will be no e-mails.

I want to stress that these measures will only be taken to deal with abuses of the services that are provided to each member, abuses which interfere with the continued, untrammelled use of these services by all hon. members.

I thank the House for its attention.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, on that subject, I would like to inform you that when it was brought to my attention that the government's systems, which have not be upgraded since 1984, were unable to handle this, I instructed my assistant to work with the information technology people. They have worked out a system by which these e-mails can be sent in no disruptive manner, which was never my intent.

I am more than prepared to--

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member and as I indicated I will continue to monitor the situation.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, on November 14, 2002, I placed a question on the Order Paper, Question No. 47, regarding “losses of public property due to an offence or other illegal act” for the Department of National Defence.

As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, there are new rules governing the disposition of questions on the Order Paper when the government fails to respond within the requested 45 days. Standing Order 39(5)(b) states:

If such a question remains unanswered at the expiration of the said period of forty-five days, the matter of the failure of the Ministry to respond shall be deemed referred to the appropriate Standing Committee. Within five sitting days of such a referral the Chair of the committee shall convene a meeting of the committee to consider the matter of the failure of the Ministry to respond.

While I did receive a response from the Ministry of National Defence it only tabled a partial response on January 27, 2003, to the question I posed. At the conclusion of its response it stated:

However, the Department of National Defence has obtained information representing $93,000 of the $220,000 addressed in Question 47 (see attached chart) and will provide the remaining information as soon as practicable.

Mr. Speaker, I draw your attention to that last phrase, “and will provide the remaining information as soon as practicable”.

What we have is an answer, yet not the answer to the question which I posed. Technically speaking, we can say that we have received an answer from the Department of National Defence, however it openly admits that it has not answered the question and will provide the information in its words “as soon as practicable”. There is no timeframe stipulated in this answer. We are not aware if we are talking days, months or years. Therefore the department has taken the position that it can respond to Parliament on its timetable rather than on Parliament's timetable.

This is the tail wagging the dog. Serious questions posed by Parliament requesting an answer within 45 days should be tabled in this House within 45 days and not on a timetable at the discretion of the minister who has not even indicated what that timetable will be.

The information requested in Question No. 47 on November 14, 2002, used to be published as a matter of course in the Public Accounts of Canada on an individual item-by-item basis. The government has since taken it upon itself to aggregate these amounts and report them on a lump sum basis. This reduces the openness and transparency required in a democracy, and that openness and transparency would be further impaired if the department is able to provide the information as and when it sees fit.

Since Standing Order 39(5)(b) is a new procedure, I would not want us to get off on the wrong foot, and therefore I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to refer this matter either to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts or the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs on the basis that the question has not been answered.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank the hon. member for St. Albert for his question. Of course, my heart goes out to him in not getting what he regards as a proper answer. I must tell him that it is tough for the Speaker to intervene and decide whether an answer to a question is a suitable answer. Normally Speakers tend to stay away from it. He will hear more of that later. I cannot find the quote I want to put my finger on on that point. He will hear about it in due course.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there have been consultations among all parties in the House and I believe you would find consent for the following motion regarding the debate this evening. I move:

That, for the purposes of the debate pursuant to Standing Order 53.1, on this day only, the words “four hours of debate” in sub-section 3(d) of the said Standing Order shall be read as “six hours of debate”.

In other words, after this consultation we have agreed to extend the debate by two hours this evening to allow more members to participate.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

Does the government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?