House of Commons Hansard #11 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was health.

Topics

Oil and Gas Industry
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the government plan is quite clear. There was no change in the Speech from the Throne. It is to make sure we identify the knowledge gaps in the area in question, particularly the Queen Charlotte Basin.

Once the knowledge gaps are identified, studies will be undertaken to fill those knowledge gaps. There will in addition be public hearings to get the views of the public and separate hearings for aboriginal peoples on the coast. When that information is gathered, a decision will be made as to whether or not the moratorium should be lifted and that is appropriate.

Haiti
Oral Question Period

February 16th, 2004 / 2:55 p.m.

Bloc

Francine Lalonde Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, Haiti is on the verge of collapse. Haitians feel that the international community has let them down. Friday, the United States, CARICOM and Canada merely reiterated a request to President Aristide to make promises that he has already made on numerous occasions but has never fulfilled. The situation is urgent.

Should the Minister of Foreign Affairs not try to convince the international community of the need for a UN intervention to restore the rights and safety of Haitians, and to establish conditions that will ensure a free and democratic election?

Haiti
Oral Question Period

2:55 p.m.

Toronto Centre—Rosedale
Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, on Friday, the Secretary General of the UN General Assembly, the United States Secretary of State and officials representing the OAS and the Francophonie met in Washington. We were all represented because we want to find a political solution to this issue.

The Prime Minister of Canada clearly said in Monterrey that we are prepared to support CARICOM and the peace process on the island, but that President Aristide and the opposition must at least agree on certain things. We are pushing the peace process and we will continue to do so. We have a good policy and we also have the support of the whole international community, which is committed to this policy.

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Adams Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

The BSE issue has become a tragedy affecting not only the beef industry but all of rural Canada. In my riding alone, 1,000 families are directly affected.

I have asked before and I ask again, what is the minister doing to help farm families hit by the BSE crisis?

Agriculture
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Haldimand—Norfolk—Brant
Ontario

Liberal

Bob Speller Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member that the Canadian beef industry is in a difficult state. I have had an opportunity to consult with Canadian farmers and farm families. They have told me that they would like us to remove the slaughter provision from the cull cow program.

I am pleased to announce today that in fact we are doing that; however, more needs to be done. I want to assure all hon. members that I am working with the industry to do exactly that.

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, like the Bloc Quebecois, the Auditor General is once again condemning the surplus in the employment insurance fund. However, during the 2000 elections, many ministers came to our ridings to make empty promises. These promises were made three and one half years ago, and the Auditor General is speaking out against the raid on the employment insurance fund.

Does the government intend to take immediate action, or is it trying to pull the same trick it did last time, which was to make promises during the election campaign and then forget everything as usual?

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Eglinton—Lawrence
Ontario

Liberal

Joe Volpe Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development

Mr. Speaker, it must be noted, as I like to point out, that the employment insurance program pays regular benefits to those in need for a total in excess of $8 billion. There is an additional $2 billion allocated in special benefits, as well as transfers to the provinces of more than $2.5 billion for the implementation of programs required to meet local needs.

Employment Insurance
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons has indicated he wishes to rise on a question of privilege that arose last Thursday. I would be pleased to hear the hon. parliamentary secretary now.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to provide more detail on the three points raised in the question of privilege last Thursday, February 12, by the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby.

First, he noted that the Standing Committee on Public Accounts was considering the sponsorship program. It is actually studying the Auditor General's report. Second, he quoted from the Auditor General's report on the sponsorship program that funds appropriated by Parliament were, in the Auditor General's view, used in an inappropriate manner. Third, he noted that this was explicitly the matter before the public accounts committee.

Both the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby and his colleague, the member for St. John's West, suggested that this was a question of privilege which should be sent to a committee.

It is unrealistic and nonsensical because it is already before a committee. It is not logical on the one hand to state that the public accounts committee is studying this--we all acknowledge that--and on the other hand to assert that this is a question of privilege and should be sent to a committee.

It is inappropriate to suggest that there could be a prima facie question of privilege if a matter is already before a committee. The committee is in fact studying the matter and has not completed its work.

I suggest that we allow the public accounts committee to get on with its work and not take up the time of the House with attempts to meddle in the committee's work which is already underway.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, this was a question of privilege raised last week. I find it a bit odd that at this late stage in the game the member is trying to tell the Speaker how to rule on the question of privilege that was raised. We know the Speaker has spent a lot of time and energy determining whether or not the points raised constitute a prima facie case of privilege.

I am not sure what we are seeing here, unless it is an attempt to deflect attention away from the very serious business that the House wants to get down to.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

I will continue to take this matter under advisement. As I indicated to the House, I had left it open so that we could hear from the hon. parliamentary secretary or whoever was going to speak for the government today and we have now heard the reply. I will consider the matter and get back to the House.

I also have notice of a point of order by the member for Cariboo—Chilcotin.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Philip Mayfield Cariboo—Chilcotin, BC

Mr. Speaker, for the first time parliamentary secretaries have been sworn in as privy councillors and are thereby sitting at the cabinet table. The very scandal the public accounts committee is charged with investigating involves members of the cabinet, both past and present.

I wish to argue before you, Mr. Speaker, that it is inappropriate for any cabinet minister to sit on the public accounts committee due to the very serious and obvious conflict of interest.

There are not one nor two, but three parliamentary secretaries on the public accounts committee looking into the sponsorship program scandal. Unlike in the past, these parliamentary secretaries have a place around the cabinet table if invited to do so.

While there are no rules precluding cabinet ministers from sitting on committees, established practice has precluded them from holding membership in recent years. Marleau and Montpetit states on pages 819 and 820:

While no rule prevents any Member from being named to a committee, current practice normally excludes certain Members who have other parliamentary functions--

On that list of exclusion are cabinet ministers. The last minister to be named to a committee was Allan MacEachen who served on a striking committee from 1976-77.

In the early years of Confederation, ministers being named to standing committees were more common; however, this practice died along with the practice of a government member chairing the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in the mid-1980s.

In the mid-1980s the McGrath committee recommended that parliamentary secretaries--and we are not talking about the hybrid parliamentary secretaries/cabinet ministers of today--not participate on standing committees. The reason for the exclusion of parliamentary secretaries was for greater independence. Greater independence is also be the theme of the government's latest proposal, an action plan for democratic reform. Of course, that document was tabled before the sponsorship program corruption scandal.

I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, to rule whether there is enough precedent existing in our modern day practice to prevent parliamentary secretaries, who sit at the cabinet table, to continue on the public accounts committee, particularly as the committee undertakes a study into abuses of cabinet regarding the sponsorship program. It is a clear conflict of interest that needs to be addressed.

I think the Speaker and Canadians will agree that those privy councillors on the committee must be removed if the public accounts committee is to have any credibility during this inquiry.

On April 14, 1987, on page 5121 of Hansard , Speaker Fraser said:

When interpreting the rules of procedure, the Speaker must take account not only of their letter but of their spirit and be guided by the most basic rule of all, that of common sense

On page 219 of Marleau and Montpetit, it states:

The Standing Orders, though a vital reference, constitute a comparatively small part of the much larger body of House of Commons procedure and practice that the Speaker will consult in preparing a ruling.

It also states that there is “the fine balancing act that is often involved in adapting old rules to new situations”.

The Prime Minister has created a new procedural situation with these hybrid cabinet ministers and has created an ethical dilemma by placing three of them on the very committee that will conduct a study into a government scandal where cabinet members are actually implicated.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Sarnia—Lambton
Ontario

Liberal

Roger Gallaway Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, this is clearly not a point of order and I say that for the following reasons.

The hon. member makes the incredible assumption and jumps to the conclusion that if one is a privy councillor one is a cabinet minister. If that disqualified people from sitting on committees, there would be many members of the House who would be disqualified. In fact, there are privy councillors in other caucuses, and I refer to one member in particular of the NDP who is a member of this House and a privy councillor.

I would refer the hon. member opposite to the Hansard of the other place for February 2, 2003, and he will find contained in the record who in fact is a member of cabinet.

There are many members of the privy council. To say that somehow if one is a privy councillor, one is disqualified from sitting on a committee is preposterous and incorrect, and could never be a point of order.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Guimond Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I begin, I would like to say to the hon. member for Cariboo—Chilcotin that we are in complete agreement with the point he raised, namely, that three parliamentary secretaries sit on this very important committee, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. This is a clear case of conflict of interest. I am certain, Mr. Speaker, that with your usual wisdom and judgment, you will receive the hon. member's point of order favourably.

I would add, and I direct my remarks toward the government, that this proves that all this talk of democratic reform is just a show. I am certain that the people of Quebec and of Canada have figured it out. We are talking about a very important committee, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts. It is the only committee in our British parliamentary system that is chaired by a member of the official opposition. As a member of the 1993-1997 Parliament, I was chair of that committee in 1996 and 1997. The British parliamentary system recognizes that a member of the official opposition should chair this committee, precisely to shed light on any elements brought up by the Auditor General.

In the case at hand, we are discussing an issue of capital importance, such as has not been seen in this House in decades. We are talking about a scandal involving some $250 million, where $100 million was spent on companies close to the current government.

The current Prime Minister keeps telling us that he wants to enhance the role of ordinary MPs. If he and the members of his cabinet were serious about democratic reform— if it were more than words with which they are trying to buy votes in the coming election—they would have appointed Liberal backbenchers to really shed light on this sponsorship scandal, instead of naming three parliamentary secretaries who are members of the Privy Council.

It is one more piece of evidence that shows the words of this Prime Minister do not match his actions. I completely support the point of order raised by the hon. member.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I want to thank the hon. member for Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île-d'Orléans for his remarks on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Cariboo—Chilcotin, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House for his contribution.

I have considered the matter and it seems to me there are two important issues here.

The first is whether or not members of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada can sit on the committees in this House. I believe it has been the practice that they can.

The hon. member for Davenport, for example, has been chair of a committee in this House for many years. He is a privy councillor. The hon. the parliamentary secretary pointed out that there are others in the House who are privy councillors and who can sit on committees.

The right hon. member for Calgary Centre could have sat on a committee had his party put him forward. Whether he in fact was on a committee during the last session of Parliament I am unaware, but he could have been and was entitled to do so because of the fact that he is a member of this House.

It is certainly the practice that ministers cannot sit, but the parliamentary secretaries who have been sworn of the Privy Council are not ministers of the Crown. They are sworn of the Privy Council. They may be able to attend cabinet meetings; I do not know. They may be able to have access to cabinet documents. That has been stated to be the reason for them being sworn of the Privy Council, at least to deal with certain matters in relation to the departments for which they work, but the Chair is unaware of any move to make them members of the cabinet. In fact, the opposite, as I believe to be the case, has been stated: they are parliamentary secretaries and have been sworn of the Privy Council.

In these circumstances, I believe it is not appropriate for the Chair to render a decision on such a matter, indicating that these individuals cannot sit on House of Commons committees. In my opinion, this is not a matter relating to procedure.

Obviously, this is causing serious debate, and it is quite possible that members of this House have different opinions on who may sit on which committee, particularly when three parliamentary secretaries are members of the same committee.

However, this matter could be subject to a debate. In fact, it could be raised during a debate either in committee or in the House at a later date. In my opinion, it does not concern House procedure.

As a result, I cannot interfere by making a ruling that would prevent these members from being named to this committee or to limit the term of their membership.

The House itself adopted the report of the striking committee determining who was sitting on this committee. How is it for the Chair to say that the decision of the House was somehow incorrect or wrong or improper when the House agreed, I believe unanimously, to the adoption of the striking committee report?

In the circumstances I am not in a position to interfere. I do not believe the Chair should be. If hon. members wish to continue the debate they can do so elsewhere, or by bringing the appropriate motion to the House at a later date, perhaps on an opposition day, not that I would ever make suggestions as to what items might be discussed on an opposition day, tempting as that might be.