House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iraq.

Topics

The Budget
Oral Question Period

February 10th, 2003 / 3 p.m.

Vaughan—King—Aurora
Ontario

Liberal

Maurizio Bevilacqua Secretary of State (International Financial Institutions)

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 83(2), I request the designation of an order of the day to allow the presentation of a budget speech at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, February 18, next.

The Budget
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The Chair has received notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for St. Albert.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege.

Jack Layton, the new leader of the NDP who wants to join us in the House, and his colleague the member for Winnipeg Centre need to understand that there are some rules in the House, such as privilege and privileges of the House. That is what I want to speak to today.

Page 66 of Marleau and Montpetit states:

In December 1989, a third committee was created to review the Parliament of Canada Act regarding the powers, duties and obligations of Members--

It quotes from the third report:

The privileges, immunities and powers of the House of Commons and its Members are established by section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and section 4 of the Parliament of Canada Act. These privileges are intended to enable Members of Parliament to carry out their functions and activities and to represent Canadians. These privileges, immunities and powers must be considered and respected in the execution of search warrants--

It continues on under the heading “Privilege Versus Contempt”:

Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House.

Page 68 of Marleau and Montpetit states:

The premature disclosure of committee reports and proceedings has frequently been raised as a matter of privilege. However, in those instances where no specific individual has been identified, the matter has not been pursued even though it might appear to involve contempt.

I refer the House to an article in today's Ottawa Citizen . If the Speaker will permit me to read from the article, the headline is “Ad firm report ignores political meddling, Parliamentary panel sidesteps politicians' role in sponsorship scandal, MP charges”. The newspaper article states:

A parliamentary committee's report into the controversial sponsorship program whitewashes allegations of political interference and lays the blame on bureaucrats for mishandling the contracts at the centre of the scandal, says an NDP MP.

[The member for Winnipeg Centre] said the public accounts committee's draft report into the three contracts given to Montreal-based Groupaction “doesn't even touch” the allegations of political interference, which was a key reason the committee decided to investigate and hold hearings in the first place.

The secret report, which has yet to be tabled with Parliament, is expected to be discussed at a closed meeting of the committee today.

“To me, the report misses the whole point,” says [the member for Winnipeg Centre], who was recently removed from the committee. “There were overwhelming indications that political interference was the real story, but anyone reading the report years from now wouldn't even know political interference was even contemplated as an issue in this.”

[The member for Winnipeg Centre] said the report unfairly dumps the blame on public servants without even mentioning concerns or suspicions that bureaucrats were simply following orders from their political masters.

[The member for Winnipeg Centre] acknowledged the committee never found any evidence of political interference but said it was “offensive” to make current and former public servants the “scapegoats”. Unless changes are made, the NDP will issue a dissenting report.

I will quote one more paragraph from the article:

The committee's draft report, which was written in November, but kept secret to avoid leaks before Parliament returned from Christmas break, was to be discussed at an in camera meeting two weeks ago. The Liberal-dominated committee agreed to defer the report so committee members had more time to consider it. The report has since been leaked to the media.

The article continues on to talk about more details of the report.

Mr. Speaker, I am the chairman of the public accounts committee and the committee, as pointed out in the article, has not even deliberated on this particular report. We have not discussed it in any way. We have not agreed to anything in any way. We have not tabled any report in the House. There is in essence no report at this point in time.

This morning there was a media advisory issued by the member for Winnipeg Centre stating that he would be available for comment Monday, February 10 on a minority report he has prepared regarding the May 2002 special audit report of the Auditor General on the Groupaction affair. I have to advise also that the press conference was cancelled prior to its scheduled time.

Another question is, how can a dissenting report be prepared on something that does not exist? If one wants to dissent to something, there has to be something to dissent to and the report does not exist at this point in time.

Not only that, but the member for Winnipeg Centre is no longer a member of the public accounts committee. It is not even a member of the committee leaking a report. It is a member of the House who has been given privileged information by virtue of the fact that he used to be a member of the public accounts committee. That was when he was given the report, privileged as a confidential document, for it to be discussed by the members. However, now that he is no longer a member of the committee, he is an ordinary member of the House who has this privileged information in his possession and who has decided to talk to the media about it. He has abused the privileges of the committee and the privileges of the House.

I pointed out page 68 of Marleau and Montpetit and how, when we have been unable to identify who has leaked a report, it is very difficult to point a finger and hold someone accountable. However, in this particular instance, the member for Winnipeg Centre has been openly critical in the media and has talked about a report in the media that does not exist but may be considered by the committee.

Therefore, I believe that there is a prima facie case of a breach of parliamentary privilege. Mr. Speaker, if you agree, I am prepared to move the appropriate motion.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the comments and allegations made by the hon. member. I have spoken to the member for Winnipeg Centre.

First, if we want to go back and retrace this situation and how information is now in the public realm and is being commented on in terms of the committee's report, we should go back to at least January 31 when the National Post ran a story in which it was made clear that it had obtained a 34 page draft report.

I want to be very clear that the member for Winnipeg Centre did not breach any confidentiality. He did not release a draft report or any other report from the committee. This story became part of the public realm on January 31. There was extensive coverage of it in terms of what the committee was considering.

I want to be very clear that the member did not release a draft report to the National Post . The National Post obtained it by whatever means, but certainly not from the member. Maybe that needs to be followed up. In terms of that information then being in the public realm, certainly there were stories again today

I find it curious that the allegation is that the member has released a report. The report is not yet concluded. Clearly the member was expressing his own opinions about how the report was moving forward, his own concerns about the whole situation, but he in no way released a report. The report is not yet concluded.

I do want to say that the member for Winnipeg Centre had sent out a media advisory for a briefing on his dissenting report for today. That was cancelled when it was clear that the committee report was not yet concluded and in fact his own report is not concluded. On that point he clearly did acknowledge that he should not have done that and he cancelled the briefing.

Again I do not believe that the information the member has brought forward in any way shows that the particular member has breached confidentiality or the ethics of the House. Clearly as of 10 days ago the information was available in the National Post . It was in the public realm. The member for Winnipeg Centre then commented on his own speculation about where the report was going and his own opinions about that, but in no way has he released the report from the committee. In fact it is still under consideration in that committee today.

I do not believe that a case exists against the member and I would urge the Speaker to take that into account.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely serious situation not only in that a report has been released before actually being tabled in the House, but because it is a continuing issue. Members may remember that less than a week ago we discussed the same thing where a report that was to be tabled in the House had been in the press the previous morning.

Why do we have the type of system that we have? Committees work diligently to prepare solid reports dealing with important issues for the nation. If this process is trivialized by people running off to get a bit of press by releasing the information, then it will destroy the whole system.

Mr. Speaker, I suggest you look at this issue very seriously. If somebody is at fault here, then the proper action should be taken.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mac Harb Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I cannot begin to tell you how pleased I am to see the member for St. Albert stand in the House asking you to take appropriate action on a leak of a committee report by a member of the opposition. This is the pot calling the kettle black.

This issue started back in July 2002 on a CBC report. The chair of the committee himself made some very direct comments about an in camera meeting with one of the witnesses who had appeared before the committee. The reporter's name was Brown, and I quote:

Guite and Tremblay initially refused to appear before the public accounts committee and were issued what amounts to a subpoena. Many Liberals in the committee were also--

The chair himself stood up before the committee and said:

The Alliance MP [for St. Albert] says Guite felt as though there was a war going on between federalists and Quebec separatists and he was justified in doing anything he could through the ad program to help Ottawa's cause.

He continued:

Mr. Guite did feel that he was trying to save the country.

It is not only the member for St. Albert who in fact spilled the beans after that committee meeting, but it was also a member of the Conservative Party, who is now leading candidate for the leadership of that party, as well as a member of the NDP who today made an attempt to get a press conference in order to issue a minority report on a report not yet made public, as well as a member from the Bloc Quebecois at the time but who is no longer a member of the Bloc Quebecois. This was done after we gave assurances to the lawyer representing that particular individual that nothing would be made public.

Mr. Speaker, I beg you to get to the bottom of this issue because those guys cannot suck and blow at the same time. That is exactly what they are trying to do. Please proceed, Mr. Speaker.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt in my mind that you will get to the bottom of the issue.

I have been listening to the House leader for the New Democratic Party and I find it amazing how one of her members could call a press conference to dissent in a report that has not been completed yet and then cancel it. Mr. Speaker, I know you will get to the bottom of this issue and all members will be happy with your decision, as we always are.

Mr. Speaker, I know that Jack Layton, the new leader of the New Democratic Party is not yet a member of this place, but it may be worthwhile to send him a copy of our standing orders so he knows how we operate in the House. We do not play by stunts and we do not play by games. We play by the rules. I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will send him a copy of our standing orders as quickly as you can.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I thank all hon. members for their tremendous assistance on this dreadful issue facing the House.

We have heard quite a lot of complaints, not just about the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre but apparently a whole bunch of other members of the committee at different times and places.

The Chair is somewhat confused and will have to review the submissions of hon. members. I thank the hon. member for St. Albert for bringing the matter up, as well as the hon. member for West Vancouver--Sunshine Coast for his always helpful comments. I also thank the hon. member for Vancouver East, the hon. member for St. John's West, and the hon. member for Ottawa Centre for their assistance.

I will get back to the House in due course.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford
Ontario

Liberal

Aileen Carroll Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to nine petitions.

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sarmite Bulte Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34 I have the honour to present to the House a report from the Canadian branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association concerning the 14th seminar of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which was held in Andhra Pradesh, India from October 21 to 27, 2002.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 20th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of committees of the House, and I intend to move concurrence in the report later this day.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, of a procedural nature.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108, the committee adopted a resolution and agreed on Tuesday, February 4, to report to the House.

Income Tax Act
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-351, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (exemptions for volunteers).

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House to introduce my private member's bill. The bill calls upon the Government or Canada to amend the Income Tax Act and increase the tax exemption to $2,500 available for persons providing certain volunteer services. Some volunteers mentioned more specifically are ambulance technicians, firefighters and anyone involved in search and rescue. Across the country, we understand the importance of volunteers in this sector. Therefore it is a pleasure to introduce this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, if the House gives its consent, I move that the 20th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House today be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 I have a petition that has been signed by people across my constituency and indeed from other places in Saskatchewan. The petitioners pray that Parliament does not pass private member's Bill C-250 as they feel it will be in violation of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.