House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.

Topics

Official Languages
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Winnipeg South
Manitoba

Liberal

Reg Alcock President of the Treasury Board and Minister responsible for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, I often find the member's questions somewhat offensive and, frankly, this is no exception.

There are 100,000 students in western Canada in French immersion programs. Canada has embraced this policy and, frankly, a lot of kids are working hard to develop the skills that this program offers them.

Heritage
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, dissatisfied as they are by the results obtained so far by the Council for Canadian Unity, with its $4 million-plus outlay every year to promote federalism, Canadian Heritage assessors propose nothing less than the invasion of schools with their propaganda.

When the budgets allocated to education can barely keep up with inflation, does the Minister of Heritage not find it a cause for concern that they are contemplating invading the school rooms and using millions of dollars worth of propaganda to indoctrinate future generations? That is the question.

Heritage
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Etobicoke—Lakeshore
Ontario

Liberal

Jean Augustine Minister of State (Multiculturalism and Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important for all of us in the House to recognize the importance of young people. All of the things that are done in our schools are so important to the building of Canadian society. Any messages that we can give to our young people to ensure that they know the values of Canadian society are the things that help us to be the kind of Canada that we are.

Transport Canada
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, passenger rail is one of the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly modes of travel.

If we had federal support for rail service, including high speed rail, in the densely populated area of the Quebec-Windsor corridor, three million vehicles could be taken off the road annually. That is 16.8 million tonnes less in CO

2

emissions each year.

If the government is truly committed to the environment and the Kyoto agreement, why has it cut funding to passenger rail service?

Transport Canada
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, the government is committed to passenger rail. We are continuing to fund remote rail. We are continuing to fund regional rail. We believe that rail is important. It is important in terms of diversion from roads. It is important from an environmental perspective.

The government will continue to support rail as an effective mode of transportation.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

April 1st, 2004 / 3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the government House leader if he could outline the business for the rest of the day, tomorrow and for the first week after we return.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, this afternoon, we shall continue debate on Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004. If this is completed, we will commence second reading of Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act.

Tomorrow, we will debate a motion to refer to committee before second reading Bill C-25, an act to establish a procedure for the disclosure of wrongdoings in the public sector, including the protection of persons who disclose the wrongdoings, and hopefully deal with the Senate amendments to Bill C-8, an act to establish the Library and Archives of Canada, to amend the Copyright Act and to amend certain acts in consequence.

When the House returns on April 19, any of this business that is unfinished will be taken up, along with Bill C-11, an act to give effect to the Westbank First Nation Self-Government Agreement, Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act, and Bill C-10, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Bill C-15, an act to implement treaties and administrative arrangements on the international transfer of persons found guilty of criminal offences, Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act, Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other acts, and the bill introduced yesterday, Bill C-31, an act to give effect to a land claims and self-government agreement among the Tlicho, the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Government of Canada, to make related amendments to the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I should like to wish my colleagues a happy and pleasant holiday period and to express my hope that they return refreshed and ready for a full legislative agenda for the spring.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, during question period, when the member for Calgary—Nose Hill was asking a question in the House, the Minister of Health, which was very unusual for him, was yelling unparliamentary language across the floor. I know it was rather noisy and you may not have heard him, but I think he might wish to get up and apologize or withdraw that remark.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis
Québec

Liberal

Pierre Pettigrew Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I would withdraw anything unparliamentary that I could possibly have said.

Points of Order
Oral Question Period

3 p.m.

The Speaker

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

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Michel Gauthier Roberval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is most unusual to raise a question of privilege in this House concerning events in a committee.

However, I absolutely insist on bringing to your attention certain facts which, if not considered by the Chair, would have the effect of creating an entirely new parliamentary law, and would be of such a nature as to virtually eliminate the concept of in camera status as far as government members are concerned.

Allow me to explain. I know that you generally do not have to address such matters unless, and I quote Maingot's Parliamentary Privilege in Canada , page 249:

—it is alleged that a particular person gave the in camera proceedings to the press or some other misconduct is alleged specifically, a Speaker will be reluctant to find a prima facie case of privilege.

So this is what I wish to submit to you. The member for Toronto—Danforth has himself admitted to having made the in camera testimony by Chuck Guité public. The explanation he gave strikes me as totally implausible.

He said, and I quote:

...I take full responsibility for what I said to the media today because it was my belief that we were going to vote on a motion that was in front of this committee today in proper format and we had the numbers to make sure that motion passed...and his papers were going to be made public and that is what I said and I stand by my statements.

The member's claim that anticipating that his colleagues who were in the majority would vote in favour of doing away with the in camera status represents two errors: first, he anticipated the vote of parliamentarians, and second, basing his belief of the existence of a Liberal majority, he felt free not to respect the in camera status.

Supporting him in this—which the committee, with its government majority, has done, and I shall return to that point—would have the following result. The Chair, by not agreeing to recognize my question of privilege, and by allowing the committee to get away with its decision—a government majority, I would remind you—would be tantamount to admitting that only opposition members need to respect in camera status. Thus, in future, any government member could claim under any circumstances that in camera status no longer applies because he is certain that his colleagues in the government majority will eventually support him and make reports public the following day.

How could such a notion be accepted, a parliamentary law which imposes respect of in camera status on an opposition member, but allows a government member not to respect it out of certainty that the majority will support him the next day and make the documents public? That is the first point.

The same goes for the decision made in committee. The member can say he will not respect in camera status because he knows that the government members will vote in his favour the next day and that he will not be reprimanded since the majority rules.

I believe that the government majority on the committee made a serious error in taking the position they took. This is a flagrant breach of in camera status. The member admitted it himself. Comments were disclosed to journalists and this is causing huge problems for the committee right now. This information was allowed to be made public. The breach of in camera status came about simply because a member can claim he knows his colleagues will back him up the next day and because the majority will steamroller over the rest of Parliament.

I know that your role as Speaker of the House of Commons is to ensure that parliamentary law rises above partisanship. Parliamentary law applies to everyone, whether they are a government member or an opposition member. To allow the government majority to let the offending MP off the hook would be to say that you acknowledge that in camera status does not apply to everyone. It is in camera for members who are not part of the majority.

There is an extremely serious problem with that. I feel like my parliamentary privilege is being breached because this member blithely ignored it. He did not comply with the very strict rules of Parliament and relied on his colleagues to come to his defence the next day. The result is that all the opposition members are indignant at having their parliamentary privileges breached. Yet, all the government members, with no regard for parliamentary law or the need for fairness and respect for the rules of ethics or operation, voted right away to prevent their colleague from having to face parliamentary justice.

If you find that my question is in order, I would like to put forward the following motion:

That the member for Toronto—Danforth be suspended from the service of the House until such time as he appears at the bar of the House to apologize, in a manner found to be satisfactory by the Speaker, for his actions in contempt of the House.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the question our colleague has raised is very serious indeed. It is up to you and to the House to deal with it accordingly. We are certain that you will review all the circumstances, exactly what was said, by whom and when. There is more to it than second-hand reports; there is what really was said, and you will draw your conclusions.

Perhaps you will have to take into consideration what was already in the public domain, in connection with what is now alleged to be a breach of in camera confidentiality. I am sure you will review these facts judiciously, as you always do, and make a decision.

There are two points I would like to raise, nevertheless. Perhaps it is for the committee or for the House itself—since it is the House that makes such decisions—to decide if it should sit. The terms of the motion may be rather strong, if you were to agree with the hon. member opposite.

In particular, the second point I would like to make is that this is very much a theoretical question, since the decision to make this testimony public has already been made.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

John Reynolds West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is a very important issue. As my colleague the House leader for the Bloc has said, it affects all members of the House.

Mr. Speaker, more and more we are needing your protection from this Liberal majority and this is a great example of it.

I will quote the Liberal member for Leeds—Grenville, a member of that committee, who said, “Mr. Chair, my best imitation of Johnny Cochrane has been circumvented by [the member for Toronto—Danforth's] apparent open confession on this”.

I think we have put it in play now. Whatever steps in terms of a report the Clerk needs to draft to send this matter to the House, I do not think we have any other option and I do not see the point in continuing to discuss it.

The circumstances here are extraordinary. There is partisan influence and partisan politics are under the influence of the Prime Minister's Office on this issue: the release of this information, which is totally confidential, and a member who brags about it because he knows he can win the majority of that committee.

Mr. Speaker, we have already had discussions today about what involvement you may have in a committee, but that committee is part of this House of Commons and part of Parliament and we need some guidance here.

A member has gotten away with something sacrosanct in the House. Something totally confidential should not be leaked. There was no permission from anybody to put it out, yet his own party then voted to let him off the hook.

Mr. Speaker, that is not acceptable and the House really needs your wisdom on this issue. It is very, very serious.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to add a few comments as well. I was in committee yesterday and the evidence was quite clear that there was a prima facie breach. Indeed, there was a complete confession by the member as to his breach of the privilege, that there was certainly a prima facie breach.

Indeed, as has just been stated, the member for Leeds—Grenville--hopefully he was not paid for his advice by the member who was in breach--gave up his client and said basically that “look, I am not even going to defend this, it is so apparent”. I think that basically brought the discussion to an end. There had been a prima facie breach there by the member. There was a confession not only by the member who did it, but indeed by his most able representative, the member for Leeds—Grenville.

So we came to the committee today. I had drafted up the report in the appropriate form. It appeared that the grey wall of the PMO had descended upon these individuals, basically thumbing their noses not just at the committee, but at you, Mr. Speaker, and the respect that you are entitled to as the Speaker of the House.

You are here, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that this democratic forum and its rules are protected. What we saw in committee today is the complete subversion of democracy. It is now on your shoulders, Mr. Speaker, to set this right. Canadians are counting on you to make sure that this wrong is righted.

Privilege
Oral Question Period

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add a few comments to this point of privilege, which I take to be a serious one and refer to you for your serious consideration.

I too was at the committee throughout these last couple of days of proceedings at public accounts and was deeply disturbed by the actions of members of the government side on that committee. I do believe that in fact we are dealing with a prima facie case of privilege, a prima facie case of breach of parliamentary privilege, and I would like you to take it under serious consideration.

Let me just indicate to you very briefly, Mr. Speaker, how difficult and frustrating it has been for us. We dealt with the fact that the member for Toronto—Danforth had actually revealed in camera testimony to the media; he had made public in camera testimony from Charles Guité. That member confessed to that wrongdoing. The committee passed a motion to bring this matter to your attention. We agreed that it should be in the form of a report from our committee to the House.

You can imagine our shock and surprise, Mr. Speaker, when we arrived this morning to deal with that report only to have the Liberal members, the government members, on the public accounts committee vote against the referral of that report to the House.

I have not been here that many years, I guess, only seven or eight years, and I am astounded at the kind of dismissive way in which government members are treating this institution, at their disregard for the committee process and, more importantly, their complete disdain, in fact, for the rule of this place, with you, Mr. Speaker, being our highest authority.

There were other incidents throughout the committee's proceedings that are equally disturbing. They are not necessarily a part of this matter of privilege but ought to be taken into account.

I think, Mr. Speaker, that although you had referred the matter of what to do about in camera testimony to the committee as a matter of its own work and because it is the master of its own destiny, you probably will find it somewhat disturbing to know that the committee decided to act without waiting for your ruling and to in fact move to make testimony public, contrary to the recommendation of the Chair and despite the fact that you were in the process of ruling on a similar point of order in this House.

Altogether, Mr. Speaker, I think you will find a very disturbing set of events that treats this place as less than the highest place of authority, and I think you ought to review this matter seriously and consider taking action vis-à-vis the point of privilege that has been referred to you today.