House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was life.

Topics

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in regard to the Minister of Justice deceiving the House and its members, falsifying documents, misleading the House, and impeding my ability to perform my duties as a member of Parliament.

On December 12, 2002, during a statement in the House in regard to the firearms registry boondoggle, the minister said:

I will report back to the House with an accounting of how we manage any shortfalls. I will be open. I will be transparent.

This would be in keeping with ministerial responsibility as outlined in the 22nd edition of Erskine May at page 63:

...ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their departments...it is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament...Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation...ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament...

We were off to a good start on December 12. However, I have learned that the justice minister held back a crucial document from the House of Commons when he tabled reports from two inquiries into the controversial firearms registry this week. By so doing the minister is in contempt for withholding a complete version of one of the reports.

The minister tabled two reports in the House on Monday concerning the gun registry: a 27 page report from former top bureaucrat Ray Hession about management failures in the program, and a separate 27 page report from KPMG accountants.

The minister held back the 65 page report on which Mr. Hession's report and recommendations were based. I was not aware of the existence of the 65 page report until I read about it in the newspapers the next morning. The Journals branch did not have a copy of the 65 page report and the Library of Parliament was not able to locate one until 5:30 p.m. yesterday.

The 65 page report contains 10 year spending and revenue forecasts for the registry and licensing system that were not included in the report tabled by the minister in the House.

The report tabled in Parliament acted like a decoy. As a member of Parliament I assumed the report would be complete and I conducted my business as a member of Parliament accordingly. Meanwhile, a more complete version was released upon demand by the media and others. The House was not even told of the existence of the 65 page report. That was and is clear deception.

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

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

The forecasts in the unedited version are crucial for the accurate picture of how the government intends to manage the registry, particularly after the Auditor General was critical of the minister's department last December for allowing the program's budget to balloon to $1 billion over the original 1995 forecast price of $2 million.

The forecasts in the 65 page report that was withheld from Parliament predict the gun registry will cost another $500 million over the next 10 years unless the government makes drastic changes to streamline the program and begins collecting stiff registration and licensing fees from firearms owners.

The 65 page report also reveals the cost of the gun registry. It reveals that the cost of the gun registry for 2003-04 and 2004-05 will be higher than the government's 2002-03 estimates of $95 million and $80 million respectively. The 65 page report also reveals the actual cost will balloon once again to $115.4 million and $103.4 million for each of the next two fiscal years.

The edited version of Mr. Hession's report that was tabled in the House of Commons does not contain those forecasts. As a result, there is no record in the House of the spending forecasts. The House was deceived and my privileges were breached.

In addition, if the Speaker finds the minister did in fact edit a report paid for with public funds and promised to the House, that, in my opinion, would constitute falsifying a document meant to be tabled in the House which is also considered contempt. I refer to Erskine May, Twenty-first Edition, which describes contempt as:

...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 contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.

Since the minister on December 12 told the House that he would be open and transparent and was not, I would add the charge of deliberately misleading the House.

In summary, the minister deceived the House and its members. He falsified documents, misled the House, and impeded my ability to perform my duties as a member of Parliament.

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 think this is much ado about nothing. I refer to page 371 of Marleau and Montpetit which states:

In 1968, the Standing Orders were amended to allow a Minister, or his or her Parliamentary Secretary, to table any report or paper so long as it dealt with a matter within the administrative competence of the government.

Notice the word “allow”. It continues:

Since 1982, the government has also been required to table a comprehensive response to a committee report--

and so on, and makes references to other such documents. Clearly what we are talking about here is--

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

High-handedness.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

We are not talking about rent control for basement apartments here. We are talking about something important.

Let me continue with this. The issue then is, is this something that is required or is this something that the minister tabled of his own volition? Nothing has been said that the minister had to table anything.

I would also submit, through you, Mr. Speaker, that in fact what we are talking about here is that a document was tabled of the free will of the minister.

That being the case, the minister was free to table whatever he wanted to table or, indeed, not to table anything. To say that he tabled something that was incomplete in that regard simply is moot. It cannot apply.

Be that as it may, the minister tabled two documents in the House. What is being referred to here is a risk analysis document, a backgrounder of sorts, to the work that was done. A briefing was given to members of Parliament. As a matter of fact I was involved in that process with the minister to ensure that a briefing was offered.

Specifically, the briefing was offered to members of Parliament before, not even at the same time as it was offered to the media. It was offered before to ensure that anything that was tabled in the House was given to members of Parliament first and to the media later. That was done.

At the briefing session that was offered to members of Parliament, and later to the media, it was indicated, and I have a copy, and as a matter of fact it is still indicated. It is even on the minister's website through his press release that there is the existence of this particular technical document. It is on page 2 of the press release, which I am willing to table. It says:

Supporting technical documentation available at the Department of Justice.

There is a phone number and so on.

I am also told that members who attended the briefing to members of Parliament, as well as those who attended the media briefing, were cognizant of that fact and that these documents were actually physically present in the room.

Finally, the Speaker will no doubt know, and I am sure the Speaker knows this more than anyone else--we all know it or we all should--that, in any case, the minister could not have tabled a document that was not translated.

That document has not been translated because it was a supporting document prepared for Mr. Hession and others perhaps who were doing this work. There was no necessity to do that and it was not. I am not saying that he wanted to table it anyway. There was no necessity for him to do so. What I am saying is that even had he wanted to table the document it was not even possible and that is a condition that still exists today.

I believe that these accusations made against the hon. Minister of Justice are unwarranted. He made no attempt to withhold information, deliberately or otherwise, from the House. This is not factual. There was no attempt to give inaccurate information. The press release refers to, and I have it here, the supporting technical documents being available. It is on the website for anyone to see right now and that is still the case.

It was so easily available that others saw it, including the media, proof that in fact the information not only was in the public domain, remains in the public domain, and is even verifiable by way of the document which I am prepared to table and, of course, by way of the information that exists right now on the Internet site.

This is not a genuine and proper accusation against a very respectable minister. He was quite forthright. The minister, again, is doing his absolute very best to provide for the safety of Canadians and to ensure that this excellent program continues and continues in a way that will be best administered for all Canadians.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to say a few words on this question of privilege. I was in the House when the minister made his statement a couple of days ago. We have just heard from the government House leader that he believes the minister was very forthright with transparency in the documents he tabled.

I was also at the briefing session where we heard from the two consultants. I would like to be very clear. I was not aware another document was available. Although some of the numbers were referred to, clearly in the statement the minister made in the House there was no suggestion that a risk analysis document was also available.

On that basis there has been a lack of clarity about whether there really was transparency and whether the minister was clear about all the documents that he was tabling.

I was at the briefing and it was not clear another document was in existence, even though the consultants did make some reference to the numbers, which I now understand are contained in that document.

I would like to suggest, Mr. Speaker, that if this was put forward in a forthright manner, there was certainly a lack of clarity by the minister about the fact that other documents were in existence and were not clearly tabled in the House when he made his statement and told members of the House that it was on the basis of transparency and him tabling the documents.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add a few comments on this issue. I agree wholeheartedly with the House leader of the NDP. I was also at the briefing and no reference was made whatsoever to another document.

However it is not strange for us to find out that the minister perhaps has put out a document that might put a slightly different colour on this issue. From day one he has been trying to defuse the whole issue, including calling it the gun control documents.

We are not talking about gun control. We are talking about registration that is out of hand.

Let me quote from the “Guide for Ministers and Secretaries of State”. It states:

In the context of their accountability to the House of Commons, Ministers are required to answer parliamentary questions within their areas of statutory authority as clearly and fully as possible. It is of paramountimportance for Ministers to give accurate and truthful information to Parliament...

That is what is in question, Mr. Speaker, and the decision will be in your hands whether the minister was truthful and forthcoming in the House.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to emphasize what I believe to be the gravity of the situation in respect of the operation of Parliament.

In her report on the gun registry, the Auditor General advised Canadians that the government withheld crucial financial information from Parliament for years. That is the context in which we are discussing this issue. Every member here knows that the government withheld crucial information. By withholding that crucial information, Parliament was unable to follow the ballooning costs of the registry. That is why the costs went unchecked from a net $2 million to a billion dollars.

In that context then, the minister, realizing the political gravity of the situation, continued with the tradition of withholding a report on gun registry cost estimates. There is an oblique reference that the House leader for the Liberals has made in a news release but he has failed to table it in Parliament.

Perhaps in another context one might be able to think of a reasonable excuse as to why he would have done that. However in this context there is no reasonable basis upon which the minister could have reasonably assumed that this information would not be of crucial importance for every member of the House.

The minister decided to gamble on withholding information that he knew Parliament needed. The minister tried to hide a report disclosing a $500 million cost estimate for the gun registry. It is a clumsy attempt. He knew better but he failed to do the right thing.

I wanted to add that contextual background to buttress the argument that has been made by my colleague and other opposition members that the minister has failed in his duty to Parliament.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:20 p.m.

The Speaker

I want to thank the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville for having raised the matter before the House. I also want to thank the hon. Minister of State and Leader of the Government in the House, the member for Vancouver East, the member for St. John's West and the member for Provencher for their assistance.

I will take the matter under advisement and get back to the House in due course.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Halifax West
Nova Scotia

Liberal

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

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

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34, I have the honour to table in the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian section of the Assemblée parlementaire de la Francophonie, and the related financial report.

The report concerns the meeting held in Strasbourg, France, from January 13 to 16, 2003.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

February 5th, 2003 / 3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 18th report of the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs regarding the reports of the electoral boundary commissions for Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan. The report informs the House that no objections to either report were received from members.

I also have the honour to present the 19th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership and associate membership of the committees of the House, and I intend to move concurrence in the report later this day.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Tom Wappel Scarborough Southwest, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to table in the House, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on Canadian Coast Guard--Marine Communications and Traffic Services.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to the report. However, notwithstanding the deadline of 150 days stipulated in the Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the comprehensive response to the report be tabled within 90 days of today.

This unanimous report, prepared after firsthand visits by the committee to MCTS sites on both the west and east coasts, identifies numerous serious problems with the services, including chronic underfunding, understaffing, overwork, stress, breakdown of equipment and gaps in Canada's coastal security. It makes six concrete recommendations to help alleviate these problems.

The committee hereby urges the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to alert the Minister of Finance to these serious problems to urge the Minister of Finance to provide sufficient funds in his upcoming budget to help rectify the problems the committee has identified.

Right to Work Act
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-350, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Public Service Employment Act and the Public Service Staff Relations Act (trade union membership to be optional).

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this enactment is to allow workers to decide whether they wish to join or be represented by a trade union and to provide that no union dues are to be deducted effective July 1, 2003, from the wages or salary of employees who are members of unions.

It also prevents discrimination by the Public Service Commission against any person applying for employment on the basis of whether they are or wish to be a member of a union.

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

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the 19th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs presented to the House earlier this day be concurred in.

(Motion agreed to)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Pankiw Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to seek unanimous consent of the House that Motion No. 337, which seeks to revoke the Order of Canada given to David Ahenakew, be deemed votable and placed in the order of precedence.